Thursday, February 28, 2008

Economic Terrorism

There is a very disturbing trend, witnessed in Eretz Yisrael, that seems to have hit the shores here in America recently. You don't have to go back further than the past two months for two examples of what I would only consider economic terrorism: the threats made to a wig store on Coney Island Ave and the cancellation of a concert dubbed "The Big Event."

The wig store story is bad enough. What is purported to have went down with "The Big Event" concert is just downright scary, even if you have little interest in pop Jewish music, don't ever plan to take your kids to a J-Music concert, or prefer a "goyish" philharmonic concerts as I do. Stories of Economic Terrorism in the frum community should concern you greatly.

The short of the long, based on what I can deduce, is that a concert was scheduled for March 9, in Madison Square Garden, featuring two singers, Lipa Schmeltzer and Shlomie Gertner with a charitable beneficiary (Simchat Zion, that makes weddings for orphans). Some Askanim (one by the name of Asher Friedman who reportedly heads a different charitable organization that gives tuition assistance) set out to shut Schmeltzer down and convinced nearly three dozen known rabbonim to sign a Kol Koreh.

All involved in the concert (tickets had already been purchased and advertisers had paid for space in the booklet) where unexpectedly rear ended. Lipa backed out of the concert first. Shortly after, he announced he was doing "teshuva" and turning a new leaf with his music. Next, he backed out of yet another already planned concert in London. Shortly after, the show was completely cancelled. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost to the concert organizer (interviewed here), to say nothing of what was lost to the charitable beneficiary.

The whole thing is a massive train wreck. Down payments were made, services were procured and completed. Money has been lost and more money will have to be found to reimburse advertisers and ticket holders. Judging by the interview of the Concert Organizer linked to above, there is some sort of money that will be made available somehow to even the score. OBVIOUSLY since money doesn't grow from trees, if/when money is raised to reimburse those who lost money, less money will be available for other causes. [I don't have the play-by-play nor do I have time to get the play by play, but Chaim Rubin seems to have most of it].

The Jewish Star interviewed signator Rabbi Shmuel Kaminensky, who says that “[the request for a ban came] from rabbis in Eretz Yisroel. We didn’t want to differ with them," "[The request was] from mouth to ear and everyone went along with them,” "They [presumably the community activists/busy bodies] said was that it was a request from Rav Elyashiv and Rav Steinman. I didn’t confirm that,” and "Usually we meet together. This time, with time pressing, we did not get together. And maybe it was not the right thing.”

Yeshiva World commenters are praising Lipa for listening to Da'as Torah (practically crowing him the next "gadol hador") and praising Rabbi Kaminensky for his 'anivus.' The Concert Organizer is begging everyone not to blame the Rabbis and saying just how helpful they have been. Others are saying the entire Kol Korei was a fake or doesn't make sense (Rabbi Shafran), But, no matter what, there is a lot of damage is done.

I'm glad some can find the positive in all of this because I am REPULSED by what I have read and listen to, and I've only skimmed the surface and have no contacts. Others might be able to find the positive, but I have pieced together an ugly story of deception, sloppiness, and economic terrorism. I am repulsed that mafia men are allowed to run wild terrorizing Rabbonim, businessmen, and musicians, endangering others parnasah. If there is a need for change (and there probably is a need for change), this is clearly NOT the way to bring about change. I am repulsed that these mafia men have the tools to terrorize, and unfortunately the tool of choice is these Rabbonim who seem to be holding a rubber stamp. I am repulsed that Rabbonim appear to be used again and again and have yet to create (or called on others to create) a better system to disseminate information. I am repulsed that Rabbonim take their rubber stamp without doing their own homework. I spent a number of years in auditing and learned that you can't be too trusting, even when the person should be someone trustworthy. You always must do your own homework. I'm sorry to be so harsh, but where is the concern for other people's parnasah? Where is the concern for the community's money?

And what about others who make their parnasah partially or primarily through working with other people in the community. Would you want to go into business in this environment? Fortunately, I'm only an observer living outside of NY and Eretz Yisrael. But who knows when heavy handed economic terrorism will hit other large frum communities (I can think of examples of smaller terrors).

Ultimately, no matter who pays who, you can't "even the score." No matter how you play with the numbers, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been taken from the klal.

(Please do try to keep it civil, even though that IS asking a lot. I will be away from my computer starting tomorrow).


BrooklynWolf said...


I feel that a better system is needed both for the rabbanim to discern what needs a ban and how to deliver that ban. I agree with you that it is terrible losses were inflicted on other people for little or no reason.

If you get a chance, check out my post on how how the Gedolim relate to us. I'm definitely open to new ideas on the subject.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I believe that this comes from a place of absolute evil - by which I mean "doing evil in the name of doing good." I wrote about it here.

MoChassid said...

I posted this yesterday morning.

Anonymous said...


I'm so glad to see you mention the sheitel store ban and the cancelling of the "big event". I was going to write to you to suggest a post about this but decided against it because it was a political topic and I wasn't sure if you wanted to go into it.

I'm glad you have the strength of character and will to post something about this, but honestly more people need to stand up and express their outrage. Right now it feels like Orthodox Judaism is being run by a bunch of hooligans - and the worst part is that these same hooligans have the rabbonim backing them giving them an air of legitimacy and holiness.

I don't want to insult the rabbonim since I don't know the circumstances involved, but I hope they realize the public perception of their actions. Rav Kamminetsky admits he had no idea what the ban was about, it was rushed, and that it was all done because some people were upset. Are our rabbonim truly this callous with the weight of their position and the honor and respect people accord their opinions and signatures? Shouldn't they at least put in the same effort, patience, and dilligence, the same investigating all sources, looking at an issue from all sides that they do when looking into a sugya as they do issuing a ban? I simply can't believe how easy it is to manipulate the landscape of Orthodoxy and that rabbonim are actively involved in it.

It seems that yiddishkeit is becoming more emotional and less intellectual. Someone doesn't like something so they set out to ban it. What happened to the "good old days" of responsa when someone asked a question of a Rav and the Rav gave a long and detailed answer explaining the sources and the issues at hand before arriving at a solution? Nowadays the general Orthodox philosophy seems to be "err on the side of caution...ban it".

And it's not just the hooligans (or as they call themselves, the kanna'im) or the rabbonim who are at fault. Every single person who hears about a new chumra, a new ban, etc is responsible. For example, someone could wake up tomorrow and say "I don't think its right that shuls have a mixed kiddush, it promotes frovolity and improper mixing of the sexes". A ban would be issued, many shuls would feel compelled to follow suit, those that don't would be harassed, people attending those shuls would have their kashrut questioned, etc. But if no one says anything or if people just think "well, I guess it can't hurt" or "it's in the name of hashem" or "better a move to be more religious than less religious" it sets a dangerous trend. And this is what is happening nowadays, these hooligans clothe themselves in frumkeit and people feel powerless to stop them because they feel guilty for saying people shouldn't be more frum. But this is a mistaken attitude in my opinion. Frumkeit shouldn't be defined by what we ban or prevent.

In the end, I think so many people are going to be left with a bad taste in their mouths. I can't speak for others, but when I read this kind of stuff it just makes me think "I'm co-religionists with these nutjobs?" It honestly makes me embarassed to be Jewish let alone frum. Furthermore, it makes me think more and more every day that I want to have less and less to do with "organized" orthodoxy. If this trend continues I truly see Orthodoxy splitting in 2 or more pieces.

Also, they want to ban all future concerts too it seems. Also, all music that has a "goyishe" source, for example Yidden or Shlock Rock, etc. I fear we're slowly heading into Taliban territory (but of course THOSE people are crazy, we're just frum).

Anyways, this all came out in a rush, maybe I'll have more to say later.

ProfK said...

"Act in haste, repent in leisure." We've seen an awful lot of the hasty actions, but where is the repenting?

The first rule of parenthood is that you cannot tell your children "Do as I say, not as I do." Doesn't seem like those who are "in charge" ever learned that lesson. Do they really think that we are so blinded that we will look at the actions taken and meekly say "yes sir"?

Anonymous said...

I'm horrified, but my perspective is as the outsider (not-frum, not living in NYC).

I would have to say, that from where I sit, it is the enormous penalties (especially in the Hareidi communities) for non-conformity that give this such

When wearing the wrong color shirt, the wrong hat, reading the wrong book, or other similar issues can have strong and persistent penalties not just to the individual, but socially to the family, any kind of social pressure is going to magnify.

I've seen this referred to in places as the Talibanization of Yiddishkeit, and I can't really find disagreement with that term (especially given the stone throwing and rioting from the far right wing in Israel).

Leah Goodman said...

When will people realize that being more machmir isn't being more frum?