Hasidic Judaism

Politico's attempt to link Trump and Putin via Chabad movement falls as flat as matzah

Politico's attempt to link Trump and Putin via Chabad movement falls as flat as matzah

Is there a newspaper or television station out there that hasn't been contacted by a representative of the Hasidic Jewish organization Chabad pitching a story about local kids helping to bake matzah dough in the days leading up to Passover?

Ah, p.r. manna -- quickie content that beats having to actually ferret out yet another obligatory pre-Passover holiday feature. And what cute visuals; eager kids working alongside cheerful young men sporting classic rabbinic beards dusted with flour.

But Chabad, also known as Chabad-Lubavitcher, is about way more than quickie Passover stories. In case you're not aware of this, let it be said that Chabad is one of the planet's most powerful and far-reaching Jewish religious organizations.

Like all global religious players, it's deeply involved in political gamesmanship, which it plays with considerable skill. Chabad excels at swimming with political sharks of all sorts -- from Nepal to Nigeria, from Ukraine to Uruguay, from Hawaii to Capitol Hill and the White House.

Its supporters lavish donations and praise -- Chabad was key to the survival of traditional Jewish religious practice during the Soviet Union's darkest days. Its critics attack it for a willingness to work with some pretty vile authoritarian governments, its hyper-competitive and often dismissive stance toward other Jewish religious organizations and, yes, its promulgation of ultra-Orthodox religious practice in a liberal age.

An example of this criticism is a recent piece published by Politico that sought to link American President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Chabad cast as some shady go between.

I'll of course say more about this lengthy story, including whether it was blatantly anti-Semitic, as some have alleged

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Next on religious-liberty beat: Orthodox Jews organize against their former high schools

Next on religious-liberty beat: Orthodox Jews organize against their former high schools

An important intra-Jewish dispute in the New York City area has been featured in parochial papers like The Forward and The Jewish Week, as well as in mainstream local news outlets, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the PBS-TV “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” broadcast.

What happens next? Follow-up coverage should examine a significant religious liberty angle that’s  been downplayed or omitted in media accounts.

Three years ago, graduates of yeshivas operated by the strict Haredim or so-called “ultra-Orthodox” Jews, including Hasidic groups, founded Young Advocates For Fair Education (YAFFED.org). Their legal advisor is Norman Siegel, former executive director of the New York City Liberties Union. These Jews complain that their limited high school educations left them ill-equipped to support themselves as adults, and demand that the city and state education departments enforce laws on minimum school standards.

Last year YAFFED organized 52 parents, former students and former teachers to send officials the names of 39 New York City yeshivas where, they contended, boys receive inadequate general education. The officials promised an investigation but no progress has been reported. The campaign gained traction this year with two crackdown bills introduced in the state legislature in January and then in May.

Though state law mandates basic course requirements for religious as well as public schools, Haredi leaders strongly resist change, seeking to perpetuate their traditions and protect youths from secular influences. News accounts indicate politicians go along.

YAFFED Executive Director Naftuli Moster and Johns Hopkins University Professor Seth Kaplan co-wrote an op-ed in the Forward titled “Why Do Jewish Leaders Keep Ignoring Ultra-Orthodox Education Crisis?” They pleaded with non-Orthodox communal organizations like the UJA-Federation of New York to take up the cause.

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Crucial, symbolic details in the Jerusalem attack: Why the 'Twersky' name was so important

Crucial, symbolic details in the Jerusalem attack: Why the 'Twersky' name was so important

Anyone who wants to follow the daily flow of news and commentary -- light and serious -- about Jewish life knows that they need to be signed up for the daily newsletters from The Forward. I mean where else are you going to turn for key questions linked to the music of Pink Floyd?

Seriously, readers looking for the fine details on the lives of those lost in this week's bloody slaughter in the West Jerusalem synagogue (click here for the earlier Jim Davis post on the coverage) knew what they would find in the wave of coverage at The Forward. Whose blood was shed with those guns and knives and that ax? What made this attack so unique and disturbing? This is what specialty publications do -- offer depth.

In this case, that meant grasping the symbolic details at the heart of trends in modern Orthodox Judaism

It was all about the names "Twersky" and "Soloveitchik." This was, as is so often the case in Jewish news, about the past, the present and the future.

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