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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Spending What on What?!?!

Hat Tip: Haemtza


I thought this was Purim Torah and I was enjoying a chuckle until I realized the article was dead serious. The Agudah is spending a quarter of a mil on a stadium mechitza to be used for a single night. Read on [emphasis mine]:

Fresh off the exciting Super Bowl win of one of its tenants, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, can expect increased revenue next year. However, in this challenging economy, no opportunity to develop a new source of revenue should be overlooked. The stadium found just the source it was looking for: Orthodox Jews.

Our community has unique cultural and religious requirements, so MetLife Stadium worked hand-in-hand with Agudath Israel of America to accommodate religious fans. A major breakthrough has been announced: MetLife Stadium will build a mechitzah across the entire stadium to accommodate separate seating for men and women. The mechitzah will run through all seating levels. The result: over 20,000 seats available for a women’s section.

This will mark the first time in United States history that a mechitzah of this magnitude will be built. Negotiations to build this mechitzah could not have been easy. Flimsy movable partitions are not an option when public safety is involved. This will be a solidly installed mechitzah which will be supported by beams that are drilled into the stadium’s new concrete walls. The mechitzah construction carries a price tag of no less than a quarter of a million dollars.
Will women now be able to perform “the wave” at sports events with complete privacy? Unfortunately, current plans call for the mechitzah to be dismantled after the Siyum HaShas in August. Currently, the plans are to return the stadium to the same condition it was in before the mechitzah was installed. (But maybe MetLife Stadium will alter its plans after witnessing the tremendous kiddush Hashem.) Repairing the holes in the concrete is one reason why the mechitzah carries such a high price tag.

One can debate whether a mechitzah is actually necessary at this event. Yet, to encourage all segments of the Orthodox population to attend, there is no question that having a mechitzah is important.

If I wasn't convinced before, I am now that "we" have lost our minds. And the irony can't be missed re: the dedication. “This siyum, like others before it, will honor the memory of the six million kedoshim who perished in the fires of Churban Europe. It will be a powerful testament to the eternity of Torah and the idea that it alone can preserve our past and ensure our future.”

I'd suggest organizations stop flushing money down the toilet or there won't be any kemach to preserve Torah. This is the definition of spending like a drunken solider.

(Oh, as per the Agudah's psak your ticket, priced from $18 to $1000 is tax deductible: "Regarding a tax deduction for attending the siyum, the tax experts at Agudath Israel have advised the community that purchasing seats to attend a religious siyum ceremony is no different than purchasing a High Holy Day seat in a synagogue. You may take the ticket price as a tax deduction, but not the food purchased at concession stands." I won't comment, but consult your own tax advisor.)

49 comments:

tesyaa said...

I think the siyum ends up being a huge public relations bonanza for the Agudah, and the amount they will raise in funds due to the siyum itself and the attendant publicity will be far, far in excess of $250,000.

I am sure that the mechitza will attract some big donors who would otherwise shun the event.

You have to spend money to make money.

(Not saying I agree with waste - but I am cognizant of the power of a symbol).

Orthonomics said...

Making a siyum at MetLife stadium is a pretty big splash regardless.

They have a rain date too. Can't even begin to imagine the overhead.

tesyaa said...

I wouldn't be surprised if a big donor said flat out that they wouldn't participate without a mechitza. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

It might help if we stopped thinking of the Agudah as a religious organization.

JS said...

I think our religion has officially jumped the shark. I also thought the article was tongue-in-cheek or not completely serious when I read it.

Of course tesyaa is right, this will be a huge financial and PR boon to Agudah. That said, this just embarrasses me.

JS said...

Oh, and I'll add that I find it offensive when organizations seek to honor the memory of Holocaust victims when they refuse to acknowledge or observe national Holocaust remembrance days or refuse to say special prayers for those victims, and to top it all off likely wouldn't even consider a vast portion of those victims to be Jews.

Shmilda said...

Has there been any confirmation of the $250k expenditure aside from this article? It sounds too ridiculous.

And were their previous events in other stadiums and arenas, with separate men's and women's sections not tznius enough?

I am clearly out of touch with their reality

Shoshana Z. said...

oh my...

JS said...

Is it acceptable yet to just say "Well, that's what those people do." or "Well, what do you expect?" the same way people might react if they read an article in which a Conservative shul hired a female rabbi or a Reform organization held a Friday night service with an orchestra and choir?

Just wondering.

tesyaa said...

You know, my relatives, who are fine, idealistic, wonderful young religious people, would probably feel more comfortable with a mechitza. I'm wondering why the commenters here feel it's such a terrible thing. It's not as if the $250,000 would otherwise be spent on the poor on on developing affordable education.

I personally do not give the Agudah a penny, which might be why I'm more sanguine.

tesyaa said...

JS, your comment is spot on. The reason commenters here are perturbedi is that they feel some connection to the Agudah or to Agudah-type communities. I do not.

JS said...

tesyaa,

Yeah, that was my point. You feel a need to speak out when someone attacks your own group or a negative implication is made against you because of your affiliation with that group.

Someone makes a derisive comment against Reform or Conservative and most Orthodox people would shrug while some would vehemently agree. Even factual statements (like those I made above) are not seen as offensive to Orthodox sensibilities - it's just what those groups do and has no bearing on "us" as Orthodox Jews.

But, even though there's very little connection to this group and their actions, they're lumped together with Orthodox Jews, so people feel the need to defend the practice or distance themselves from it, lest negative aspersions be cast on them. If someone makes the old stereotype that Hassidic Jews do it through a hole in the sheet, all Orthodox Jews are offended even if the person making the remark didn't think you were part of that group. I would venture that Conservative and Reform Jews would not have a similar reaction because they don't consider themselves part of that group. They would likely correct the misinformation, but not because they feel it reflects on them.

I find it very interesting and I wonder how different practices within Orthodoxy have to get before the group dynamic changes such that the groups see each other as "others".

I don't give Agudah a penny either. What bothers me is the affinity to the group and the fact that this group is looked to for leadership and is thought of as practicing a purer form of the religion and is to be emulated.

Not saying this will happen, but it wouldn't surprise me if this pushes other Orthodox groups and families to be more restrictive with separating the sexes and calling for more mechitzahs.

tesyaa said...

I think $250,000 is nothing in the big scheme of things. Certainly chasidishe rebbes spend this amount, each, annually on their entourages, and an additionally $250,000 or so if they make a wedding. Why no outcry here on Orthonomics?

If they were spending $25,000,000 on the mechitza I might be slightly annoyed. But $250,000 is not much for a symbolic act they'll probably make back and more in donations.

AztecQueen2000 said...

They want to make it acceptable to all segments of Judaism--or do they mean all segments of Orthodoxy? A woman who learns Talmud in a Conservative synagogue may not find the idea of a not-necessary mechitza acceptable at all.

JS said...

Forget the Conservative female Gemara learner...think they're have a single YU Rosh Yeshiva speak? Think a YU Rosh Yeshiva will even be allowed at the main dais? Would they allow a female scholar to speak? How about Rabbi Weiss or anyone from Chovevei? How about a women's minyan when they daven micha/maariv? Would they let a woman say kadish?

I'd argue all of the above fit into the umbrella of Orthodoxy, though some may be on the left. But, are any of them more on the left than the mechitza idea is on the right?

The fact that the answer to all of the above questions is a resounding "no" can be filed under my above comment about "other".

Orthonomics said...

I care! As irrelevant as the Agudah may be in my day to day life, the standard that they set is relevant to my life as an Orthodox Jew. This is a culture issue and worthy of protest.

And, since you brought of the grand events in of the Chassidim. . . . well, I'm quite concerned with that culture as it makes headway into the more mainstream Orthodox culture.

Jacqueline said...

Oddly enough, the idea of the mechitza doesn't inherently bother me, but the price tag does. I also kind of wonder if any of the people planning have ever set foot in a stadium. Because I've been a few-and they are round. Now, yes, part of the goal of a mechitza is a barrier, but isn't also to help prevent staring? Because unless they're staggering the seating, you're going to be able to look directly across into a seating section for the opposite gender. Furthermore, most of the time, only one or two sections can be reached from any given doorway into the seats. So, there are really only one or two sections where it matters. Actually, if it really bothers you, do it by levels-put one gender down nearer the field and the other up by the nose bleed seats. Then they'll only mix on the way up...

tesyaa said...

the standard that they set is relevant to my life as an Orthodox Jew

The question JS and I are asking is why. Why not the standard of YU or YCT? If the reason is hashkafa, perhaps you should investigate what it is about the Agudah hashkafa that you identify with. After all, the wives of YU rashei yeshiva cover their hair too.

Clearly one cannot always expect to agree with all the standards set by all major "Orthodox" institutions.

Orthonomics said...

tesyaa, There is plenty of crossover and some families have a spectrum of observances.

Dave said...

So,the first question is:

Will the Mechitza bring in sufficient additional attendance such that the profit on those people exceeds the cost of the Mechitza?

If yes, we're done, it's a wise business decision.

If not, the second question is, will the Mechitza bring in sufficient additional donations such that the donations and the profits from any additional attendance in our first question exceed the cost of the Mechitza?

Again, if yes, we're done.

It's only if the Mechitza is a net-money-loser for the event that the question comes up.

tesyaa said...

Good analysis, Dave. Part of the reason people seem so up in arms is that the see the mechitza as unnecessary or divisive (pun not intended!). But if a donor is paying or if the mechitza pays for itself, why is it an issue? Maybe the Agudah is not being disingenuous when they say they would like to see the make sure the more stringent factions feel comfortable.

Of course we would like to see the funds diverted to nobler causes, but that is not an available option.

For those decrying the cost of the mechitza, why not decry other expensive chumras? I''ll bet the incremental cost of using Cholov yisroel easily exceeds $250,000 each year. Why no complaints?

Anonymous said...

It's not even clear that there's no halachic need. They will be davening, and if they seated all the women in the upper deck, people would complain they don't respect women.

Think how much money is spent customizing venues for a rock concert or a political rally. For this huge event, the extra for a mechitza is not excessive.

Anonymous said...

wow. 250,000 = about 10,000 tuitions or more.
tuition crisis anyone?

tesyaa said...

Where is tuition twenty-five dollars??

Mark said...

it's a wise business decision.

I suppose it all depends on how you look at it. When it comes to religion, I consider the "unit" to be the community. So in this case, if the community is ponying up the $250,000 and then giving it to Agudah, and Agudah is giving that money to external contractors to built and to take apart, then that is a net loss to the community of $250,000. And that in my book is NOT a wise business decision.

Mark said...

tesyaa - Where is tuition twenty-five dollars??

Somewhere without a strong math program? :-)

Mr. Cohen said...

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein OBM permitted mixed seating at
weddings in his Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim, volume 1, siman 41.

If he were alive today, the Agudah would not be wasting $250,000 on a mechitzah which is not required by halachah.

Last but not least, if the Agudahreally wanted to be machmir, they would simply have no women at the siyum at all; that would save $250,000 on the mechitzah.

Abba said...

JS:

your comment above about the agudah and the holocaust is pure slander.
beleive me, i have no love for agudah, but there is plenty to be critical about with fabricating gross lies.

and big deal, so they don't invite YU figures. who cares? one of MO's problems is insecurity and a childish desire for recognition from the right-wing. we know they don't recognize MO. get over it. those who think it it is so important for YU rabbonim (or YCT or whatever) to sit at a dais should just organize their own siyyum!

Abba said...

and people, how about the bright side, at least agudah is letting women come!

also, $250k is probably a drop in the bucket in the context of the budget for this siyyum.

JS said...

Abba,

Show me what I said that is "pure slander". Which point?

I couldn't care less about the Agudah and I wish other Orthodox Jews didn't either, but it's hypocritical for them to build this mechitzah saying that it's intended to be inclusive of all Orthodox Jews. My points were solely related to that hypocrisy.

Abba said...

JS:

this is slander:

"they refuse to acknowledge or observe national Holocaust remembrance days or refuse to say special prayers for those victims, and to top it all off likely wouldn't even consider a vast portion of those victims to be Jews."

i'm not a lawyer and it's a long time since i learned about the laws of slander in high school. if you are objecting to me specifically charging you with slander because i'm misusing the term then i take it back. maybe it's libel. maybe just a plain lie. whatever the case, it's certainly false.

Abba said...

JS:

just to clarify:

"they refuse to acknowledge or observe national Holocaust remembrance days"

you mean they refuse to observe the day designated by the keneset? so what? this might be more of an issue in israel, particularly wrt to the siren issue, but outside israel? so agudah types prefer tisha beav, etc.? what's the difference to you? even in israel there was tension wrt yom hashoah among the (then RZ) rabbanut, which preferred asarah be-tevet (see for example rav lau's writings, although he's willing to accept both as complementary). and honestly, it would seem to me that most MO in america don't do anything special to commemorate yom hashoah either.

"refuse to say special prayers for those victims"

there are kinos for shoah victims by the bobover rebbe and rav schwab (printed in standard artscroll kinnos). and the artscroll siddur (yes, the non-rca ed.) has a kel male for the shoah victims in yizkor.

"and to top it all off likely wouldn't even consider a vast portion of those victims to be Jews."

doubtlessly some might claim that many of the victims weren't good jews (just like they would say about you and i), but not to consider them jews altogether? where you have seen this asserted by a mainstream agudah-type rav?

ProfK said...

I'm not surprised that the Aguda would need a mechitza for one of its functions--it uses them for all their other functions as well. They have no mixed seating functions for their broadly sponsored programs nor in their individual member shuls. What does surprise me is that they would pick a Siyum Hashas to put up the mechitza.

The Aguda does not encourage public participation by women in other areas. There are no women on the Aguda Board, nor do they publish pictures of women in attendance at Aguda functions. "Aguda-type" schools do NOT teach Shas to their female students. So why make a public point of having women at a Siyum in celebration of material not studied by those women? Easy answer: money.

If there is going to be space for 20,000 women, even at the minimum cost of $18 for a ticket, they are going to be making a profit above the cost of the mechitza. And I'm sure they are confident (and are right in being confident) that many of those women will be paying far, far more than the minimum $18. They well might have trouble attracting another 20,000 men to the siyum, but add in wives/mothers of those men who will attend and you are talking real money coming in. Even at "only" $36 averaged out per woman, they will be bringing in $720K. And at $54 as an average that would be $1,080,000. That's money they would not otherwise be able to collect unless they included women in the function, and they won't include the women without a mechitza.

Etana Hecht said...

Like you, I also feel zero affiliation with the Aguadah and feel it in no way represents myself or my community.

Having said that, I do acknowledge that they represent a decent amount of Jews in America and am therefore horrified that they think such a large amount of people see a need for this. How, exactly is separate seating with a couple empty rows in between not good enough??

I'm scared for the future of yeshivish/chareidi Judaism, this being just one of many examples where something that's completely halachicly unnecessary will become a norm.

Etana Hecht said...

BTW, do you have a facebook page?

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

Without a Mechitza the Chassidim will boycott, and that will remove Agudah's claim that they represent "all orthodox jews".

That itself is worth 250K to them.

Orthonomics said...

Etana,
I don't have Facebook for the blog, only the old fashioned blog. Kind of the story of my life.

Thank you for reading.

And JS, please can we not put out inflammatory info that is factually incorrect, but concentrate on this massive waste of money that is just so obscene.

Maybe we should all email that siyum hashas email in protest because this is worth saying something about.

JS said...

I don't see why what I said was inflammatory and what I said was true. They don't observe Yom HaShoah. You can pooh pooh that all you want and say it's Israel's day or it's just a holiday initiated by Knesset, but the fact remains it is a national day of observance. Every MO shul I am aware of observes the day and holds programming for it. Federations and JCCs and such hold programming for it. Hillels hold programming for it. Conservative and Reform shuls do as well. The day is mentioned in secular news articles and press pieces about dwindling survivors telling their stories. Every single person observes the day except for the Agudah.

All the MO shuls and I'm sure lots of other non-Agudah shuls are saying special kinot on that day as well - but not them. And even on tisha b'av when they think it should be commemorated it gets second billing, as one would expect, to the churban or even minor (in comparison) pogroms from 1,000 years ago.

The Agudah don't acknowledge many Reform or Conservative Jews as actual Jews. Heck, they don't recognize converts by certain "unapproved" Orthodox institutions as Jews. Hitler sure didn't care. You can't count 6 million Jews without all those people Hitler thought were Jews that the Agudah doesn't think are Jews.

I only brought this up because they dedicated the event to the Holocaust victims. I thought that was hypocritical given the above. I know my grandparents, were they still alive, would have thought the same thing having lost many, many family members in that atrocity. The agudah's stance was very upsetting to them during their lifetime - they couldn't comprehend how Jews couldn't all come together for something so important that occurred in such recent history.

The comment went unnoticed until Abba brought it up. I'm just as happy to let it go now as well.

Mark said...

Maybe the mechitza is necessary, I mean really necessary, for a different much more mundane reason. Maybe it's because of economics. What if their projections showed that limiting it to men only either wouldn't fill it up this year, or would result in less money coming in? Then the smart economic choice (for Agudah, not for the community at large) is to spend the money (donated of course, as is all Agudah funds) on the mechitza.

Abba - what's the difference to you?

This almost completely illustrates the problem most non-Charedi Jews have with Charedim. Somehow, we non-Charedim (MO, Dati Leumi, Conservative, masorati, secular, etc) are expected to do things to accommodate the Charedim and their sensitivities. Yet, the Charedim refuse to do anything to accommodate non-Charedim.

it would seem to me that most MO in america don't do anything special to commemorate yom hashoah either.

Are you kidding? Every single MO school has huge programs and most shuls have special programs in the evening as well. My shul has a very interesting program each year on Yom Hashoah, sometimes a famous speaker, sometimes screening a related movie, etc. And the shul is full, sometimes PACKED!

suzanne said...

I attended the last siyum hashas, which was held in Madison Square Garden. They didn't have mechizot, they just divided different sections of the balconies for men and women. There were no curtains or anything.
The event was actually pretty nice, though I only understood the speeches that were given in English (some were yiddish- there was simultaneous translation but the system didn't work too well). I enjoyed praying arvit together with thousands of people. You wouldn't believe how happy the police officers were who covered the event. They seemed thrilled to be at an event where nobody got drunk or rowdy, and nobody had to be arrested.

getting too old for this said...

1) A bit late to the game, but Orthonomics should realize the $250k is an economic decision. Pay $250k, sell an extra X tickets to chasidim (men and women) and they win, economically.

2) For those who haven't been paying attention, there has been a not-so-subtle chasidshe invasion into RW yeshivishe orthodoxy. "Upsherin"s being an obvious one; payuos for kids is another one (the father doesn't and never did; the kids all have). The separation of the sexes is just another example.

3) The siyum is a MAJOR fund raiser for the Agudah. It only happens once every 7 years (like Hakhail in the bais hamikdosh) so they need to cash in as best as possible. Many of their other fund rasiers (convention) are no longer as fruitful as they used to be.

4) The siyum is awesome for its davening, tehillim, and singing upon completion of shas. A speech or two is nice. But at the last one, they went overboard trying to please everyone by letting "all" segments - from the RW to the ultra-RW - be represented. For some of them (the yiddish ones) it got downright noisy. Hopefully they learned their lesson.

Anonymous said...

250,000 is not that much money compared to the cost of the event.

However, it is part of a bigger picture where chumrot cause significant extra expenses for a community where a majority of households, sadly, are struggling financially.

Abba said...

JS:

"but the fact remains it is a national day of observance.

i do think it is important to observe yom hashoah, but i can't blame agudah for not accepting keneset law as binding

"Every MO shul I am aware of observes the day and holds programming for it."

i didn't say that most MO institutions don't observe it. i meant most MO individuals. i stand by that. for all the packed shuls, jccs, etc., my impression is that most people are just too busy to attened. (and the same goes for yom haatzmaut. how many people who make hallel the litmus test of true zionism don't bother going to minyan on yom haatzmaut?)

"Every single person observes the day except for the Agudah."

really? i'm willing to bet that the average reform- and conservative-affiliated jew can't even find yom hashoah on a calendar. to say nothing of unaffiliated jews.

"The Agudah don't acknowledge many Reform or Conservative Jews as actual Jews."

we can discuss this separately, but it is a matter with reference to a contemporary situation. nothing to do with how agudah views non-orthodox shoah victims. and it is non-ortho shoah victims to which you originally referred, so don't move the goal posts. again i ask you, when has agudah claimed that a "vast portion of those victims" weren't jews?

"All the MO shuls and I'm sure lots of other non-Agudah shuls are saying special kinot on that day as well - but not them"

i already stated that artscroll kinos includes kinos for the shoah by the bobover rebbe and rav schwab as well as the kel male for the shoah. are you questioning their agudah credentials or artscroll's? (i don't recall either way for kinos, but i've certainly been to agudah shuls that recite the kel male at yizkor)

"I only brought this up because they dedicated the event to the Holocaust victims. I thought that was hypocritical given the above"

agudah values torah learning and is honoring the memory of shoah victims with something that they value. that is meaningful. how is this hypocritical? just because they don't do it our way doesn't mean it's wrong.

Abba said...

MARK:

yes, most MO schools, shuls, etc. have yom hashoah events, but i think that many, probably a majority, of MO people do not actually go. e.g., take a shul like the YI of woodmere. it has many minyanim, so many that they've bought houses around the neighborhood to accomdate some of these minyanim because there isn't enough space in what is already an incredibly large shul. and they are still packed and overflowing shabbat morning. you think yom hashoah night has this overflow problem also or does the main sanctuary alone suffice? sure some people go the schools, etc., but this doesn't explain the discrepancy.
same goes for yom haatzmaut, which hardly anyone treats as a real holiday.

aaron from L.A. said...

women should not be allowed at the Agudah event.and just in case some do manage to sneak in,come, we should also not allow men either.

aunt of nephew aka female life actuary said...

I can't for the life of me understand why a mechitza is necessary at all. Simply designate the sections next to women for people who don't mind that a woman will be in their general proximity. That is probably a majority of people, but it will only need to be a few hundred. The chassidim can be accommodated by seating them in their own section far away.
A sad waste of tzedakah money. $250,000 is not pocket money

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Anonymous said...

The question of whether or not MO individuals "observe" Yom Hashoah or Yom HaAtzmaut as a holy day is totally unimportant. I'm sure the majority of chareidi Jews who, when saying kinos for the victims of the Shoah on Tisha B'Av are just as likely to run through the text with no "deep down sadness" or motivation. That's not the point.

The point is, there are specific days that have been established within a Jewish (both Israeli AND international community) as the days of remembrance for particular recent events in Jewish history. For the Agudah--an organization that always touts the "inclusiveness" of their events and the "achdus" that occurs when you're willing to do things on their terms; and is often very vocal about people who choose not to attend THEIR events as "breaking the achdus of our people" . . . not participating in events, observances or commemorations that truly DO promote "achdus" across the Jewish spectrum . . . Let's just say it's easy to find them somewhat disingenuous.

S. said...

The more important question is, 7 years ago at the siyum in MSG there were women and no mechitzah (they were in the nosebleed seats). All the points people raised - "stadiums are round" - "how will they daven" - "they also want the additional revenue of women" - already applied in the same scenario. Women, davening, no mechitzah. Oh, and there were plenty of Yiddish speaking Chassidishe sheine yeeden there 7 years ago.

This is either chumra-creep or a hedonistic display of economic power, or some combination. I wish I could also say "sincere piety," but again, what is different in 2012 from 2005?

(Re davening, at almost every wedding I've ever been to in my life the men run off to daven maariv somewhere on the side, and in 99% of the time women are around. No mechitzas. Halacha, at least according to the Orthodox interpetation, requires a mechitza in shul, not to daven altogether. The Met Life stadium is not a shul and won't be a shul for that night.)

fed up said...

maybe we all need to flood the agudfah with protest emails? siyumhashas@agudathisrael.org