Thursday, March 24, 2005

Forward: Agunot leaders split on support/criticism of Rabbi Mordechai Tendler. JWB: Time for a regime change in the Agunot movement.


At 8:52 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

They're supposed to advocate, help and protect agunot, not those who exploit and abuse them. We already have an organization that does that it's called "the old-boy's club".

Over the past few years both Rabbi Mordechai Tendler and Rabbi Ephraim Bryks have been very active working and counselling agunot. Are there others? Most certainly. Will the RCA deal with others as quietly? Will the leadership of agunot organizations continue to send women to them?

What is wrong with the leadership of our community that this is tolerated? What is wrong with our community that tolerates this? Where is the outrage?

If you are involved or give funding to ANY agunot orgaizations, phone up those in charge over the next few days and demand answers. Better yet, get involved and do something.

Ask your RCA member Rabbi why there is silence on this issue.

This must and WILL change.

Forward article:
Feminists Criticized Over Silence
By Eric J. Greenberg
March 25, 2005

Posted on the Web site of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance is a prayer composed by Rabbi Mordecai Tendler on behalf of agunot — Jewish women who are unable to obtain a religious divorce decree from their husbands.

Tendler's touching supplication, asking God to "deliver all the agunot from the bonds of their plight," aptly reflects the close relationship between him and the feminist alliance, believed to be the only multi-issue Orthodox women's advocacy group in America.

The prayer was still on JOFA's Web site this week, several days after Tendler was expelled from the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbis union. The expulsion followed an eight-month investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Tendler made by at least seven Orthodox women.

Agunah advocates say Tendler was one of the only rabbis in America they could count on to help women trapped in broken marriages; his expulsion, they say, is devastating to their cause.

Some stunned feminists are still not ready to criticize him, despite the RCA's finding that he engaged "in conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi" and refused to cooperate with the organization's investigation.

"If agunah activists and women's organizations are not in a great rush to start throwing stones at him, it is because he has been one of the very very few people who did the right and courageous thing and was honest enough to do what all the rabbis should be doing, and he did it for no monetary gain and no glory," said Rivka Haut, a caseworker for the agunah advocacy group organization Get Equal Treatment.

But some critics say that the feminist activists betrayed their mission to protect women by keeping silent about Tendler — some even continuing to refer agunot to him — while rumors circulated about his alleged sexual harassment in recent years.

Several RCA members, in interviews with the Forward, noted that while rabbis are often accused of being insensitive or indifferent to the plight of sexual harassment victims, in this case it was agunah advocates who generally ignored the allegations voiced by women.

When the RCA investigation became public in August 2004 JOFA founder and leading Orthodox feminist Blu Greenberg praised Tendler in an interview with the Forward. "He is very sensitive to the agunah's plight," she said. "He spares no effort, and does an intensive investigation of each case. I hope and pray that the allegations against him will be found in a court to be not true."

In the summer of 2004, a private debate raged among Orthodox feminists on the Women's Tefillah Network, a closed discussion group on the Internet, about how to approach the allegations against Tendler. Some feminist leaders recommended staying silent because of Tendler's past cooperation, according to several postings seen by the Forward.

Some agunah advocates said they quietly stopped referring women to Tendler this past summer, after it became public that RCA was investigating him. But they did not alert the wider Orthodox community of the situation.

"The thinking was, 'Why should we be the ones to jump to conclusions, especially since he's been so helpful to women?'" said one Orthodox feminist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

JOFA president Carol Newman told the Forward this week that when the allegations against Tendler became public, "we did nothing except wait to hear what the outcome would be." Newman, who called Tendler a hero, declined to say how many women JOFA sent to him or whether the group ever stopped referring people to him.

Susan Aranoff, co-founder and director of Agunah International, Inc., another women's advocacy group, criticized Orthodox feminists who defended Tendler while ignoring the women who came forward in the face of heavy intimidation. She disputed the notion that Tendler's past help was a rationale for silence.

"People in positions of power who use that as an opportunity to abuse others always have positive accomplishments to their credit" Aranoff said. "That's what makes them so dangerous, because it gives them access to potential victims."

Aranoff also censured colleagues for keeping silent when they first learned of the accusations against Tendler.

"Anybody who is an agunah activist who had known before it became public had a responsibility to inform other activists so that we would know to warn those who might go to Tendler that these allegations have been made," she said.

All the activists interviewed for this article said that they did not know Tendler's accusers and they declined to speculate about the veracity of their charges.

Meanwhile Haut criticized the RCA's handling of the case. "The fact that the RCA is being so ambiguous [about the expulsion] is very harmful," she said. "They are leaving the door open for people to maintain his innocence and women will continue to go to him."

In fact, she said, she knows of one agunah "who still goes to him because he is the only rabbi she will trust."

At 10:12 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Among the few brave community leaders that advocated for these women, there was one organization that showed backbone, one organization that advocated for these women, one organization that tried to find resources for them even when it had none of its own, one organization that did not betray these women, one organization that was not quiet and one orgaization that put its reputation on the line for these women:

That one organization?

The Awareness Center.

If ever there was proof of the need for an advocacy organization like the Awareness center, it is stories like this.

At 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JEWISHIDEA.BLOGSPOT.COM is now accepting blogs from Anyone. You can post anonymously if you wish. For an interesting perspective on the Tendler controversy, visit JEWISHIDEA.BLOGSPOT.COM

At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget about

At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to make an observation of feminist Orthodox rabbis. Many of them are in the business of feminism for the side-benefits -- that is, attracting women, especially weak ones. Rabbi Tendler is not the only one. The former Rabbi of Lincoln Square, a very popular feminist, ended up abandoning his wife and kids for a convert whose conversion he himself performed.

At 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not fair to attack the former Rabbi of LSS and even compare him to RMT. Very Very different. Your assertion about this type of person(Rabbi MT here)who are a part of some Womens rights groups are correct. But no, the LSS Rabbi didn't abuse his Rabbinate. He didn't commit sexual mis-conduct, harass sexually many women or even have affairs. He had trouble in his marriage and fell in love with one of the congregants whom he re-married to. They love eachother to this day. He was a very good Torah person,who helped many.

At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Grey Pickle said...

JWB: do you have any personal knowledge in how the aguna situation is faring?

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Sheina Madele said...

Beauty Pageant to Choose Miss Fachnyukt

BORO PARK, BROOKLYN - [] There is a catwalk banquet, hordes of journalists, traditional dancing and time-consuming hair styling - but at Boro Park's beauty pageant every competitor must be fachnyukt.

At a palm tree-studded resort and conference center in the Avenue Plaza Hotel, twelve girls are competing this weekend for the title "Miss Fachnyukt and Proud of it."

Miss Frummy Ehrlich, front-runner in the Miss Fachnyukt pageant
"We are saying here we are, we are fachnyukt and it doesn't mean it's the end of the line," 33 year old reigning Miss Fachnyukt Shvertzi Zanayid told Reuters in her cluttered one room apartment with twelve mezuzas, where she displays trophies of her win in 2004.

Boro Park, the world's largest Bas Yisroel producer, has one of the highest fachnyukt rates in the world with an estimated third of the population infected.

The city is using its shnorer wealth to provide quality-of-life prolonging anti-fachnyukt drugs - but many do not know their fachnyukt status or are unwilling to come forward for treatment, in case the doctor asks them to open their shirt so he can check their heartbeats or lung condition. Organizers say the pageant aims to tackle that stigma.

"After I started the medicine, I became better and better," said Zanayid, who was diagnosed in 2001.

"We are trying to say there is life with this medication. Some don't believe I'm fachnyukt positive because I'm so healthy. I mean, just yesterday, I allowed a male cashier to place money directly into my hand," she said.

FARFRUMT (Farkakte Ausvorfs Reefen Far Rintz Usteen Maneh Tzidkes) groups welcome the pageant, which is sponsored by Bank Leumi. "It may just be a pageant, but it is important because it brings together fachnyukt people who are open about their status," said Aufgeh Bindin, spokesman for the Brooklyn Comprehensive Fachnyukt Program.

"They need support, they need to come out and get acceptance for their condition. And when they win, they need to be proud to trip over their heel-length skirts before asking the trophy awarder to place the award on the floor so they can take it from him without touching him."

At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A MUM is so frustrated by the Croydon school admissions fiasco that she is considering teaching her son at home.

Cassandra Thompson, a parent governor at West Thornton Primary school in Croydon, says she may be forced to educate son Jamel, 11, after he had no success with any of the five secondary schools he applied for.

Hundreds of children were left in a similar position after the failure of Croydon Council's school admission software led to pupils being sent multiple offers - or none at all.

Jamel was one of 370 pupils left with no secondary school place when offer letters were sent out three weeks ago.

Mrs Thompson wanted her son to go to Shirley High in Croydon or Dunraven in Streatham.

She also applied to Mitcham Vale in Mitcham and St Andrew's CofE High School in Croydon, even though she thought they would not be suitable.

The 40-year-old was eventually offered a place for Jamel at Selsdon High. His older brother went to the school but Mrs Thompson said Jamel would not fare so well. He is now on the waiting lists for Dunraven and Shirley High.

She said if no place at these two schools or another suitable school appears she will teach him herself at home.

The mum-of-two, from Norbury, said: "My first son who's at Shirley High has done very well but he is a totally different child from the second one. He is not a soft touch but he does follow the rules. If someone throws a punch he will not punch back."

The new pan-London admissions system was supposed to make it easier for neighbouring education authorities to co-operate when deciding on school offers.

But Mrs Thomspon said: "The system this year is a load of rubbish, to put it politely. It's just really difficult for us parents who want to choose. At the moment they lead people to believe that they really have a choice."

She added: "I have just spent all day going between Croydon Council and all the other councils and everywhere you go you get told a different story.

"My son is on two waiting lists but in the meantime I have to try to secure a place somewhere else. I have been told that I should try Bromley, Lewisham and Wandsworth, all areas I was told not to apply to in the beginning because I am out of their area."

She said the council's education welfare department had been helpful but could only get involved once a child fails to secure a place at school in September.

A council spokesman said: "The number of pupils without places is about half what it was in 2004. We know that numbers will start to fall as schools delete duplicate offers and then make offers further down the waiting lists. There are plenty of places available for all pupils who want them, but perhaps not always in schools for which parents have expressed a preference."

* Have you been affected by the schools admission problems? Call the newsdesk on 020 8763 6666.

How education authorities exchange pupils

Parents have more problems in some areas of Croydon than in others - and here is why . . .


LAST year Lambeth took 742 Croydon children, while Croydon taught 1,790 of Lambeth's children.

Lambeth Council said Croydon is just one of the neighbouring areas it sends "a significant number" of children to be educated in.

But it is optimistic the situation will improve with the building of two new schools in Lambeth, which should free up capacity and places in Croydon. The new schools will provide about 1,000 new school places within the next five years.

A spokesman said: "I accept that Lambeth doesn't have many schools. We're hoping to build two schools and we have bid for Government money for that. We do accept that we do not have enough places and we would never deny that. Long term what we would hope is that we would have some very good new schools. The tide will turn. We know that we need them and we are going to build them."


LAST year Bromley took 1,910 Croydon children, while Croydon taught 719 of Bromley's children.

Bromley said it is in the process of completing a new secondary school. Bishop Justus School started taking pupils in September. It will eventually take 1,200 pupils.

Bromley provides school places for 22,000 children and just over 5,000 of them come from outside the borough. It said parents have made remarks about how fair it is giving so many places to children who live outside the borough.


LAST year Sutton took 2,262 Croydon children and Croydon taught 748 of Sutton's children.

The authority said: "The vast majority of our students living in Sutton who want a Sutton school place will get it."

Sutton is expanding Cheam High School to take the building of more houses in the area into account, even though the birth rate is dropping. It has already seen a drop in demand for primary school places. It said there was a fair exchange of pupils between Croydon and Sutton.


LAST year Surrey took 1,834 Croydon children and Croydon taught 574 Surrey children.

Surrey County Council said it takes far more pupils from Croydon than it sends to Croydon. Its children usually get their first preference. But the area does not have enough demand to warrant building any new schools and did not have many problems with the admissions process this year, according to a spokesman.


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