I’ve broken up with Sarah Silverman over BDS

January 11, 2021 • 11:00 am

I am very sad today. What Jewish lad could not love Sarah Silverman? She’s Jewish, has that swarthy attractiveness that bores into our hearts, is proud of being an atheist Jew, has a smart and sassy mouth, and is a good liberal. And she’s funny. And it’s not just secular Jews like me who are smitten: I believe that Dan Dennett also has a case of Silvermanitis—he follows her on Twitter, and has even spoken to her.

Yes, some of her humor is edgy, and sometimes too edgy, to the point of being cringeworthy. But by and large her humor is thoughtful and absorbing. PLUS she did a great acting job in the so-so movie I Smile Back, playing a depressive alcoholic/drug addict. Her depression is real, too, and also appeals to those of us who have Black Dog tendencies. (Jews tend to be on the “half empty” side: who wouldn’t when we’ve been fleeing pogroms and anti-Semitism for two millennia?)

And so I loved The Divine Sarah—until yesterday, when I saw her 3-minute Instagram video (click on screenshot below) where she expresses support of BDS—a support totally ignorant of what BDS really stands for. In fact, she makes so many errors and misguided assertions here that the only real truth in her words is when she says, “I am talking out of my ass.”

Let’s “unpack” her claims.

First of all, the BDS movement isn’t just criticizing the Israeli government for the “occupation”; BDS wants an end to Israel as the country it is now. They do this by calling for a “right of return” of Palestinians who left Israel during the first war (often at the behest of Arab states!) and also for the return of all their descendants as well. That would turn into Israel into a majority-Palestinian state, and you know what that means. A bloodbath, for one thing. No, BDS is not fooling around when its advocates cry, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”

Many Israelis and Jews throughout the world have criticized the Israeli government; why do you think that Netanyahu is on thin ice? But BDS is not just calling for reform of the Israeli government; it’s calling for its elimination.  If Silverman doesn’t know that, then she’s butt-ignorant, and it pains me to say that.

Further, BDS doesn’t just want to boycott the government, it wants to boycott Israeli academics, who are seen as complicit with the government. People like me are not, for example, supposed to go to academic conferences in Israel. Screw that.

It goes even further: BDS calls for a boycott of Israeli artists, writers, singers, and so on—and I presume Israeli comedians like Silverman. That, again, is a boycott not of a government, but of Israelis themselves: Jews. You don’t have to think too hard to see the anti-Semitism inherent in BDS.

Silverman makes an oblique reference to Israel as practicing apartheid. That, too, is arrant nonsense. Arabs in Israel live with all the rights of citizens, including the right to be judges, sit in the Knesset, and so on. If there is truly an apartheid territory in that area, it’s Palestine, where Jews are not allowed to live and are vilified constantly by the government.  And the Palestinian government, either by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, is brutal, repressive, and unempathic towards its people. Gays and apostates are guilty of capital crimes; women are oppressed. There is no freedom of speech. Does Sarah know that? Certainly the American Far Left should, but they ignore it.

Silverman’s claim that the boycotts against South Africa (in which I participated!) were effective is a dubious claim. Grania used to tell me, and she lived in South Africa then, that it was the moral suasion, not the boycott, that finally ended apartheid. I’m not a historian, so I will just drop that here and move on.

As for the West Bank, one can make a valid claim that, under international law, Israelis have a right to that territory, which was occupied by Jordan until 1967. At that time, when Israel reclaimed it after the war, Israel still was willing to give up the West Bank to Palestinians in return for peace. The Palestinians refused. Now, however, it would be suicide to turn the West Bank over to the Palestinians, who would simply use it and its height to fire rockets at vital parts of Israel that are very close. And don’t forget that Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza to placate world opinion, turning that area and its resources completely over to the Palestinians. That didn’t work, either: Hamas is using Gaza as a convenient platform to fire rockets into southern Israel and launch terror attacks.

At any rate, Silverman should know better than to spout this nonsense. She appears to know nothing about BDS or the history of Israel, and yet she makes videos like this. I could attribute her palaver to the possibility that she might be high, for she surely looks to be in a bit of other-consciousness, but I’ll take her words seriously. Sarah, if you want to discuss your claims, give me a call. 🙂

h/t: Eli

Another critic writes in touting the scientific rationality of Islam and decrying the moral failures of atheism

December 15, 2020 • 9:00 am

Since Yahoo! News reprinted my essay from The Conversation arguing that science and religion are incompatible, I’ve been getting lots of emails, nearly all from people who disagree with me. The accommodationists are, of course, religionists, and don’t like to hear that their faith puts them at odds with science. Many of them, like the reader below, also takes atheism to task. I’ve redacted this writer’s name because, unlike the Vatican Vice Astronomer, I don’t think the name is relevant.

This correspondent tries to make two points. First, Islam is not nearly as strongly at odds with science as is Christianity. Second, that religion gives us a moral framework but atheism doesn’t.  Both points are wrong, and I’ll respond to each separately.  The quotes the writer gives within his/her email are put in italics and quotation marks, for the “extra indent” feature isn’t working right now.

Read and weep:


Thank you for the article Yes, there is a war between science and religion. There are two reasons why I would argue that the article reflects atheism in denial of its own shortcomings. You write

“In the end, it’s irrational to decide what’s true in your daily life using empirical evidence, but then rely on wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions to judge the ‘truths’ undergirding your faith. This leads to a mind (no matter how scientifically renowned) at war with itself, producing the cognitive dissonance that prompts accommodationism. If you decide to have good reasons for holding any beliefs, then you must choose between faith and reason. And as facts become increasingly important for the welfare of our species and our planet, people should see faith for what it is: not a virtue but a defect.”

Here you are clearly extrapolating your own experiences with Christian apologists to followers of other religions: in particular Islam. I’d argue that Muslims have no need for “wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions” when forming a judgement about the reliability of their religion. It is common for atheists to  assume that the conflicts between the Bible and scientific evidence (e.g. the descriptions of the Flood, the Exodus or age of the earth) applies equally to the Quran. However, to my knowledge there has been no serious scholarly effort to support this assumption or more generally to show that the Quranic accounts and claims are in conflict with what we have learned through science.

For example, a reading of the Quranic account of the Flood would reveal that it occurred over a short period (a couple of days), the animals preserved were only those required to support a small human settlement and there is no mention of the whole earth being flooded. In regard to the Exodus, the Moses leads a small group of people into the desert, much less in number than the Pharaoh’s pursuing army, so one would not expect to find evidence of over 1 million people roaming the desert for 40 years. In addition, the Quran predicts the preservation of the Pharaoh’s body for future generations. Finally while there is no mention of the Earth’s age, there is a description of the creation of the universe which appears consistent with what we’ve been able to learn through science.

So I think its fair to say that atheists have a lot more work to do to make their case than many are prepared to acknowledge.

The email went on, but let me stop and respond:

As I pointed out in an email to this person, there is a growing literature on the incompatibility of science and Islam.  Here’s how I responded when the person asked for even one piece of literature pointing out an Islamic incompatibility between science and faith.

First, there’s Taner Edis’s book (click on screenshot):

Another book by Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy on the stifling of scientific thought and rationality by modern Islam (and how that contrasts with the faith’s more open attitude centuries ago). 


An article from Discover Magazine (click on screenshot:


A quote from the article:

“This tendency [of Muslim accommodationists] to use their knowledge of science to ‘prove’ that the religious interpretations of life are correct is really corrupting,” he tells me. Soltan, who got his doctorate at the University of Northern Illinois, works in a small office that’s pungent with tobacco smoke; journals and newspapers lie stacked on his desk and floor. “Their methodology is bad,” he says. Soltan explains that Islamic scientists start with a conclusion (the Koran says the body has 360 joints) and then work toward proving that conclusion. To reach the necessary answer they will, in this instance, count things that some orthopedists might not call a joint. “They’re sure about everything, about how the universe was created, who created it, and they just need to control nature rather than interpret it,” Soltan adds. “But the driving force behind any scientific pursuit is that the truth is still out there.”

“Researchers who don’t agree with Islamic thinking ‘avoid questions or research agendas’ that could put them in opposition to authorities — thus steering clear of intellectual debate. In other words, if you are a scientist who is not an Islamic extremist, you simply direct your work toward what is useful. Scientists who contradict the Koran ‘would have to keep a low profile.”’When pressed for examples, Soltan does not elaborate.”

I talk about this kind of Islamic confirmation bias in Faith Versus Fact. It’s pervasive and at once annoying and amusing.

I’ve personally encountered Qur’anic opposition to science—and especially evolution—many times, as has Richard Dawkins. It often comes in the form, as Pitock notes, of saying that the Qur’an is remarkably prescient about science, with its human creation myth coincident with the evolutionary scenario. If you think that’s true, just read about the Qur’anic account itself.  Page 105 of Faith versus Fact shows the desperate lengths that some Muslim scientists go to comport science with the Qur’an.

The resistance of Islam to evolution is not, of course, universal, even within Muslim countries. Surprisingly, Iran doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with evolution being taught in its schools, while Iraq, on the other hand, has always had problems teaching evolution, and has dropped it from secondary-school curricula. Turkey, increasingly becoming a theocracy, did the same thing a few years ago.

The problem comes because many Muslims are Qur’anic literalists. Here are two plots from a 2012 Pew Poll: the first on the proportion of people in (mostly African) Muslim-majority countries who think the Qur’an should be read literally, and then the proportion of people in different Muslim-majority countries who accept evolution. Note that countries like Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia were not surveyed.

Then my correspondent goes on about morality:

The second way in which the article highlights atheist denialism an shortcomings, is in failing to tackling the issue of morality. What are the consequences of a world where ‘moral judgements’ are mere ‘value judgements’ to be decided by each individual. Magnas Bradshaw’s From Humanism to Nihilism: The Eclipse of Secular Ethics (CMC Papers, No. 6) addresses this question. One the one hand we have the teachings of New Atheism, such as Richard Dawkins who writes “‘the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pointless indifference’.” and Francis Crick who is even more explicit, “you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules… ‘‘you’re nothing but a pack of neurons’’.”

On the other hand we have its practitioners, the rationalists, those who take this stuff seriously, such as Ted Bundy, trained lawyer and serial killer, who reasons thus

Then I learned that all moral judgments are ‘value judgments’, that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself – what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself – that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any ‘reason’ to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring – the strength of character – to throw off its shackles…I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable ‘value judgment’ that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others’? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’? That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me – after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self

Bundy’s reasoning is impeccable and based on the teachings of atheists. “Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than  any other animal?” or, “Why shouldn’t Trump tear down the institutions supporting U.S. democracy if he wants?”. Care to answer?

Yes, of course I could answer, but would this person listen? Not a snowball’s chance in hell! But wait! There’s more!

Atheism is leaving people with no guidance on how they should conduct themselves, and what they should expect from others. That’s the reality. And logically, that is what one would expect when people do not believe in a soul capable of oppressing itself through its oppression of others or even simply contemplating words of repentance and aspiration such as : “You that turn stones to gold.. change me.”(Rumi). If you want to claim that such notions are the result of “wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions” then first offer the scholarly work that demonstrates that the Quran is indeed incompatible with what we have learned through science, and hence unreliable.

Name redacted

Where to start here? First of all, neither Dawkins nor Crick would deny that there is a morality that can be derived from humanism; Dawkins, as well as his colleagues Dan Dennett and Anthony Grayling, have been quite explicit on this point.  Indeed, unless you’re one of the few “moral objectivists”, even religious morality must come from “value judgements.”  This is the crux of the Euthyphro argument: if you say that God is good, and wouldn’t give us bad moral guidance, you are assuming there are criteria for “good” and “bad” that are independent of God. (Theologians such as William Craig, who adhere to “divine command theory which stipulates that God is the sole determinant of good, are exceptions, and their morality isn’t so hot anyway. Craig doesn’t oppose the many genocides in the Old Testament, since God ordered them.) Even religious moral judgments, then, are almost always based on “value judgments”. But so what? Different judgments have different consequences for society. You can, for example, be a utilitarian, and base your morality on what acts will do the most good or cause the least harm. Other criteria lead to other moralities, but all of them are superior to the “morality” of the Catholic Church or Islam.

Further, there is a long history of writing and philosophy on secular ethics and morality, beginning with the Greeks, extending through Kant and Hume down to Rawls, Russell, and Grayling in modern times. It is not at all true that atheists haven’t grappled with the problem or morality. To use Ted Bundy as a secular arbiter of morality is simply ridiculous!

And, of course, humanistic morality is far superior to religious morality. The latter has given us things like dictates about genital cutting, the oppression of women and gays, the diktat to kill apostates and infidels, the terrorizing of children with thoughts of hell, the abnegation of modern medicine (Christian science and other faith-healing sects), the prohibition of divorce and regulations about how to have sex and when, and the propagandizing of innocent children, who get turned into little Amish people or Orthodox Jews, deprived of opportunity and education—all because of religious morality.

When I reread the email above, I realized that the writer hadn’t really investigated the rich tradition of secular ethics, and was also woefully—and perhaps willfully—ignorant of what many Muslims think about science. I’m not sure why, but I did write him/her a summary of what I’ve said above.

You should feel free yourself to address the writer’s remarks, and I’ll call that person’s attention to this thread tomorrow.

Lagniappe (h/t Peter N.):

Religion infects everyone

November 25, 2020 • 2:15 pm

If you click on the screenshot below from LiveLeak, or go to an article in the New York Post, you’ll see a pretty horrifying sight: an assemblage of thousands of unmasked and singing religionists celebrating during the pandemic in defiance of New York regulations:

What is it? An Orthodox Jewish wedding. The Post explains:

A Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn planned the wedding of a chief rabbi’s grandson with such secrecy, it was able to host thousands of maskless celebrants without the city catching on.

Despite a surge in COVID-19 cases, guests crammed shoulder to shoulder inside the Yetev Lev temple in Williamsburg for the Nov. 8 nuptials — stomping, dancing and singing at the top of their lungs without a mask in sight, videos obtained by The Post show.

Organizers schemed to hide the wedding of Yoel Teitelbaum, grandson of Satmar Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, from “the ravenous press and government officials,” says a detailed account in the Yiddish newspaper Der Blatt, the publication of the Satmar sect.

“Due to the ongoing situation with government restrictions, preparations were made secretly and discreetly, so as not to draw attention from strangers,” the paper reported in its Nov. 13 edition.

. . .The synagogue’s stunning willingness to host a potential superspreader event underscores what critics call the Hasidic community’s ongoing disregard and outright defiance of efforts to control the deadly coronavirus, which has killed nearly 25,000 people in New York City.

Ironically, the synagogue’s own president, R’Mayer Zelig Rispler, who openly urged Brooklyn’s Orthodox community to abide by coronavirus safety measures, died of COVID-19 last month at age 70.

Note as well that there’s only one woman in the crowd: the bride. The rest of the women are either absent or watching from screened alcoves above. This is one of the ways the Orthodox turn their women into second-class citizens.

Singing loudly is a great way to spread the virus, especially if you’re jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with other maskless people. And those fur hats must be great traps for respiratory particles.  Let’s hope this doesn’t convert one wedding into a bunch of funerals.


Yet another case of a woman asked to move so she wouldn’t give cooties to Orthodox Jews

August 29, 2020 • 1:00 pm

I figured that this kind of report was over and done with, as surely airlines know that it’s gender discrimination to ask a passenger to move to accommodate a religiously-based request not to sit next to someone of the opposite sex. Yet, despite lawsuits won by women who complain about being forced to move, the incidents persist. And the situations invariably involve male ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jewish men, who consider themselves polluted and violating the dictates of Yahweh should they touch a woman.

The most famous incident even has its own Wikipedia page: the case of Renee Rabinowitz, an American-Israeli psychologist. Flying to Tel Aviv in business class in 2015, she was forced by the El Al flight attendants to change seats at the request of a Haredi male. She sued for discrimination, and won a settlement of 6500 shekels (about $1800) plus a promise from El Al that it would change its policy so it was nondiscriminatory.

Curiously, the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), which helped Rabinowitz win her case, then tried to put ads in the Ben Gurion Airport informing women of their rights. The airport refused, which is really bad form, and a decision that makes little sense. I like the ads: here’s one that was proposed:

But I digress. Now there’s a new and similar case reported in the Guardian (click on screenshot below):

The details:

A British-Israeli woman is suing easyJet after the low-cost airline asked her to move seats on a flight from Tel Aviv to London following objections from ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who refused to sit next to a female passenger.

Melanie Wolfson, 38, is claiming 66,438 shekels (almost £15,000) compensation in a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), which won a similar case in 2017 brought against El Al, the Israeli national carrier.

Wolfson, a professional fundraiser who moved to Israel 13 years ago and lives in Tel Aviv, is also asking that easyJet bans its cabin crew from asking women to switch seats because of their gender.

According to the lawsuit, Wolfson paid extra for an aisle seat on her flight last October. An ultra-Orthodox man and his son, who were sitting in the row when she arrived, asked Wolfson to switch seats with a man a few rows ahead.

Wolfson says she was “insulted and humiliated” by the request. “It was the first time in my adult life that I was discriminated against for being a woman,” she told Haaretz.

They offered her a free hot drink if she moved, but what the bloody hell is that? A free hot drink? What kind of pikers is this company?  But they shouldn’t have asked her at all. Instead, they should have made the men move. Other flight attendants told Wolfson that they often ask women to switch seats away from Haredi men. The sad thing is that some women, and Wolfson is one, are nice and agree to move, but that doesn’t obviate their right to sue.  Israeli law prohibits discrimination like this on the basis of sex and other issues.

This happened again two months later, but Wolfson, fed up, refused to move. Two other women did move to allow the Orthodox men to have their seats.

Yes, I’m a secular Jew, but I’m not going easy on this kind of religious misogyny no matter who practices it. I tweeted to easyJet (below), but I doubt I’ll get a response. You can also contact easyJet using a form found here, or use Messenger here to send them a quick message. Maybe if enough people object, they’ll stop this practice.

h/t; Ginger K.

Orthodox Jewish women faced with a pandemic dilemma: purify themselves after menstruation in a communal pool, or disobey their G-d

April 20, 2020 • 1:45 pm

This article in The Atlantic discusses a dilemma that shouldn’t exist in a rational world—a world without faith and, in this case, without the attendant and ridiculous notion that menstruating women are unclean. Read and weep:

For many Orthodox Jews, a menstruating woman is described as being in the state of “niddah“, which means that she’s sexually impure. As Green says in her article above,

Each month, when they get their period, some Jewish women observe a time of niddah, or ritual impurity. As long as they’re bleeding, and often for at least a week afterward, they can’t have sex with their partner. Many couples won’t hug or kiss, sleep in the same bed, or even pass objects to each other. Under any circumstances, this can be challenging to maintain. Imagine what it’s like under quarantine.

She remains “impure” until her period ends and she immerses herself in a ritual bath called a mikveh, a small, lukewarm bath holding one person. The requirements for that pool are stringent (see here), and include the use of rainwater, though a small amount of tap water is permitted. Mikvehs are also used to prepare a bride for a wedding and to immerse a non-Jew undergoing the onerous conversion to Judaism. And until you dunk yourself after your period, you can’t have sex with your husband.

Here’s what a mikveh looks like:

View of a luxury mikveh (ritual bath) for women, in the Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut on August 25, 2015. A mikveh is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Photo by Gershon Elinson/FLASH90


So you can understand the issue: right now, these things are not something you want to touch, much less immerse yourself in. There’s water, railings, preparation rooms, and so on. And even though some mikvehs ruthlessly sanitize the spaces, wiping down the railings and using chemicals in the water, it’s not something I’d want to dip into once a month.  And there are the religious requirements. As the article notes,

The mikvah dilemma is especially excruciating for women who are trying to get pregnant. If they don’t immerse after their period, they can’t have sex, meaning that they may have to delay conceiving. For most women who observe niddah, skipping immersion and having sex anyway is likely out of the question: “It would be like eating pig,” Bat Sheva Marcus, an Orthodox Jewish sex therapist, told me. Since the pandemic started, social media has been flooded with women debating what to do about immersion. “It’s wrenching,” Marcus said. “Do something that you feel religiously not okay with, or do something that makes you feel unsafe? Neither of those are good options. They’re terrible options.” The pandemic has already created immense challenges for women struggling with infertility: In mid-March, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued new guidelines advising doctors to suspend new IVF cycles and cancel elective surgeries and embryo transfers. For women who want to be pregnant, the mikvah can be another reminder that they are not. “My community is in a tremendous amount of pain,” said Baron, the Riverdale mom, who leads an online community for women dealing with fertility issues.

Well, they can eliminate the pain by suspending this ridiculous requirement, and the attendant Biblical notion that menstruating women are “impure”—at least for the duration of the pandemic. Remember, too, that Orthodox Jews have been violating the quarantine requirements big time, regularly gathering for Sabbath worship, weddings and funerals. In some ways they are more resistant to legal requirements that contravene their faith than are evangelical Christians. Here’s a quote:

 Although people outside of the Orthodox community might say that these women should just stay home, going to the mikvah is not optional in the way that praying together in synagogue or attending family gatherings is, according to Ruth Balinsky Friedman, a clergywoman at Ohev Shalom, an Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C. “I very much understand the impulse to see religion as more symbolic—something that we do when we’re able to, but in a time of crisis, we put aside,” she told me. But “you can’t cancel” the commandments governing sex, she said. “That’s the word of God.”

Well, the Hebrew G_d has always been vengeful compared to the New Testament God, even though they’re the same one. You can say that G_d should understand that a shower at home should be sufficient, during these troubled times, to make you fit for sex, and so you don’t have to endanger yourself. But hey, it’s YAHWEH, Jake! He makes the rules!

h/t: Chris

“The world is much more than I ever knew”: the constricted lives of Haredi Jewish children

December 6, 2019 • 9:15 am

Haredim” refers to ultra-Orthodox Jews, who constitute over 10% of the population of Israel. There are also many in New York State. They willingly live a cloistered life, having very little contact with other communities or even with less orthodox Jews.  In fact, they’re the most cloistered religious community I know of, though Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Islamic communities can be pretty cloistered, with all of these having the practice of disowning those who leave the faith.

The worst part of all such groups, and especially the Haredim, is their inculcation of the religion in children who never have a choice. This propagandizing, and forcing children to live in a restricted way, is considered by Richard Dawkins to be child abuse, and I agree. If I had my way, children wouldn’t be forced to adopt a religious belief until they had the maturity to choose, but that’s hardly possible with groups like the Haredim, whose children are raised entirely in the faith. And what a constricted life it is! Cut off from the rest of the world, boys are forced to study the Torah for hours a day, while girls are groomed to be wives whose duty is submission and breeding. Education is almost entirely religious, and few go to college. They know virtually nothing of the outside world.

The costs of this abuse are graphically outlined in a new article in the Washington Post (click on screenshot below), detailing the life of Ruth Borovski, an Israeli Haredi Jew who left the faith—and was of course shunned by her family afterwards—after turning to an organization called Hillel, which specializes in integrating ex-Haredim into the “regular” world. (This is not the same Hillel that is an organization on college campuses.)

And it’s a hard job. Until now I hadn’t realized how very isolated these children are. Here’s a list of things that Borovski faced as a girl growing up in this oppressive sect. Note that she was 27 years old when she left, and yet:

  • She never heard of a smartphone
  • She never rode a bus
  • She never heard a radio or saw a television, nor even knew of their existence
  • She never used the Internet nor knew of it
  • She never traveled further than 500 yards from her house
  • She had never talked to a stranger
  • She had 12 brothers and sisters (Haredi women are breeders, as I said)
  • She was denied any secular education. (The result is that now she spends her days in the library voraciously reading anything and everything)
  • She had never eaten non-kosher food (of course)
  • She never swam in a pool nor sat on a beach
  • She was married at 23 to a man whom she met only once: when she was introduced to him by the rabbi. (The marriage was a disaster.)
  • She spoke only Yiddish, and didn’t know either Hebrew or English (she’s learning both)

If this isn’t child abuse, I don’t know what is. And it’s Borovski who said “The world is so much more than I ever knew.”  Ultimately, her story is heartening as she discovers all the good things she was denied as a prisoner of orthodox Judaism, but think of all the Haredi children who, propagandized in the faith, don’t even contemplate ever leaving it. And even Borovski lost nearly three decades of her life.  Would such children choose to live that way if they were exposed to the world before they could choose a religion?

All I can say is thank g-d for Hillel and organizations that help these people find their footing in the nonreligious world. (The Haredim regularly remove Hillel’s posters offering to help those contemplating deconversion.)

This kind of child abuse angers me immensely, for it robs children of their lives, forcing them into a constricted and regimented existence in fealty to a god who doesn’t exist. People may quarrel with Hitchens’s statement that “religion poisons everything,” but in the case of Borovski and her fellow Haredi children, it’s certainly poisoned their entire existence.

h/t: Chris

Anti-vaxer Hasidic Jews, lying about vaccination, intensify measles outbreak in New York

April 11, 2019 • 2:00 pm

On the plane from Brussels back to the U.S., a young Orthodox Jewish couple boarded, the man decked out in his black clothes and tallit, the woman wearing a wig. They had a young child, and when I saw it I thought, “That kid doesn’t have a chance.” It will likely grow up either an uneducated but hyper-religious man, or a subservient and perpetually pregnant woman. It will be brainwashed, its options in life severely limited by religion. At that time I didn’t know it might also have had its health endangered by its parents’ faith.

The latest measles outbreak in the U.S., and it’s a serious one, is in Brooklyn, New York, and is largely spread by unvaccinated ultra-Orthodox Jews—Hasidic ones. According to the NYT article below, the virus was carried by American Jews who visited Israel, where there was an outbreak last fall, back to the U.S. Since then most of the 300 cases in New York City have been among the Hasidim.

The main reason for the lack of vaccination among the Haredim is misinformation, spread by those who may know they’re lying. Here are some bogus excuses for not getting kids vaccinated:

a. The vaccinations may not be kosher:

“The Vaccine Safety Handbook” appears innocuous, a slick magazine for parents who want to raise healthy children. But tucked inside its 40 pages are false warnings that vaccines cause autism and contain cells from aborted human fetuses.

“It is our belief that there is no greater threat to public health than vaccines,” the publication concludes, contradicting the scientific consensus that vaccines are generally safe and highly effective.

The handbook, created by a group called Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health, or Peach, is targeted at ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose expanding and insular communities are at the epicenter of one of the largest measles outbreaks in the United States in decades.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn in an effort to contain the spread of measles in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods there. He said unvaccinated individuals would be required to receive the measles vaccine — or be subjected to a fine — as the city escalated its campaign to stem the outbreak.

Peach’s handbook — with letters signed by rabbis and sections like “Halachic Points of Interest” — has become one of the main vehicles for misinformation among ultra-Orthodox groups, including Hasidim. Its message is being shared on hotlines and in group text messages.

“Vaccines contain monkey, rat and pig DNA as well as cow-serum blood, all of which are forbidden for consumption according to kosher dietary law,” Moishe Kahan, a contributing editor for Peach magazine, said in an email.

Vaccines are often grown in a broth of animal cells, but the final product is highly purified. Most prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis agree that vaccines are kosher, and urge observant Jews to be immunized.

b. The vaccinations may be dangerous:

A Hasidic mother who lives in Rockland County and participated in the call told The New York Times that none of her three children were vaccinated, and all of them recently had measles. The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said that she did not report the cases to doctors and that the children recovered in a matter of days.

“The body is not a machine,” she said. “The body is something that reacts to toxins in certain ways. I’ve heard firsthand of cases of SIDS after children getting a vaccine,” she added, referring to sudden infant death syndrome. Many studies have concluded that vaccines do not cause SIDS.

b. Seeking answers in religious scripture:

Yosef Rapaport, a Hasidic journalist in Borough Park who has written about the importance of vaccination, said parents who do not want to immunize their children will seek rabbinical counsel that aligns with their views.

“You make up your mind and then try to find the interpretation in the Talmud,” he said. “You can always find some rabbi who will express doubt.”

c. Fear of the authorities.

Some Hasidim have said that longstanding tension between members of the ultra-Orthodox community and the government have made them wary of officials’ efforts to contain the outbreak.

The past persecution of the Jewish people is still a factor, they said. And more recently, quarrels with secular leaders over a circumcision ritual that has transmitted fatal herpes infections to infants and the government’s oversight of ultra-Orthodox Jewish private schools known as yeshivas have only soured relations.

d. Lack of proper science education. Many Hasidim get almost no formal education, and what they get is largely religious in nature. Many of them don’t accept either evolution or vaccination:

“The lack of a comprehensive secular education has raised a generation of some parents who do not appreciate modern science and do not have trust in the health system,” said Dov Bleich, a Hasidic father of two who lives in Monsey and emphasized that most rabbis are supportive of vaccines.

“It’s leaving them vulnerable to the anti-vaccine crusade.”

e. The claim that measles is not dangerous. 

. . .  opponents of vaccination ardently maintain that diseases like measles are not dangerous.

“The adverse events from getting measles, they’re very, very, very low,” Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, a pediatrician in New York, said on the recent conference call. There have been no reported deaths in New York State linked to the recent outbreak. But measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017, according to the World Health Organization.

But these Jews put a much larger (and non-Jewish) population at risk, though the risk is attenuated because Hasidic children don’t mingle much with kids from outside the faith. But it doesn’t take much to spread the virus, and there are now fines mandated for parents who won’t vaccinate their kids. In this case, as in Quebec, the interests of the country as a whole supersede adherence to dogma. And an unvaccinated Hasidic child doesn’t have a choice.

To be fair, most Hasids do accept science and do get their kids vaccinated. But it’s clear that what is causing this outbreak is fear bred by religion.

h/r: József

Orthodox Jews force El Al planes to divert and land so they wouldn’t be flying on the Sabbath

November 19, 2018 • 11:45 am

UPDATE: A more recent piece in Tablet reports that some of the assertions in the sources of this article may be incorrect, including the claim that the Haredim were physically and/or verbally abusive to the El Al staff, that the passengers knew the plane was flying to Tel Aviv rather than returning to the gates, and so on. Further, the videos in this piece appear to have been doctored. See my more recent report for a correction.



A regular feature of this site are reports of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish men refusing to sit next to women, often involving kerfuffles and lawsuits.  The lawsuits have been successful, and this is one example of how religious customs that interfere with secular regulations should be put aside, especially during airline flights.

Now, however, according to the Times of Israel (click on screenshot below), there’s another version of the Flying Jew Tsouris:

Two El Al airliners took off from New York last Thursday, bound for Israel. Both, however, were late because of dire weather conditions, which got the Haredim very anxious, for Jewish law dictates that you can’t travel in cars and airplanes on the Sabbath, which happens to start at sundown on Friday.  The Haredim got aggressive, either yelling at or even hitting flight attendants, accusing the airlines of lying to them, and demanding to disembark after the plane was already on the runway.  The two videos below show the anxiety in the flying Haredim:

Amazingly, one of the planes actually landed in Athens to let the Haredim disembark so that Yahweh wouldn’t be mad at them, and the other was going to divert to Rome, but continued on instead to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv because of the medical condition of one woman on the flight—a woman who needed to get to Israel.

I’m amazed that El Al actually diverted one of its flights to allow its Orthodox passengers to disembark, which was nice of them (although an annoyance for the passengers whose God didn’t mind them flying), and almost diverted the other flight. But it’s simply ridiculous that this happened in the first place. If the Haredim in New York thought that the delay would put them in the air on Friday sundown, they didn’t have to get on the flight (note: some of them claim that El Al assured them they’d get to Israel before sundown).

The truth here may be a bit hazy, but surely a decent G-d would forgive a Jew flying on the Sabbath if it resulted from a snowstorm. After all, G-d made the snowstorm—and could have stopped it! The Haredim need to chill.


h/t: Mole at the counter

More dumb antievolution statements from Jews

November 2, 2018 • 1:00 pm

I suppose that, as a secular Jew (yes, Dave Silverman, they exist!), I am biased, but it really rankles me a lot when Jews come out against evolution. We’re supposed to be down with science, for crying out loud, and a Jew who opposes evolution seems like a lion who opposes carnivory.

But apparently the pages of The Jewish Press a major Jewish website, has been having a debate about whether “a frum [very pious] Jew can – or should – accept the theory of evolution considering that it doesn’t easily fit the text of Parshas Bereishis [Genesis, Chapter 1]”. That’s like debating whether a pious Jew can accept a spherical earth given that Scripture implies that the earth is flat.

I haven’t followed this debate, but the final contribution to the “discourse” is the piece below, written by Josh Greenberger, identified as “author of Fossil Discoveries Disprove Evolution Beyond A Doubt.” He also wrote a previous and similar creationist piece for this “newspaper,” “No, evolution is not a scientific fact,” which was handily taken apart by the Sensuous Curmudgeon.

Well, read the link below and weep, and weep harder if you’re a Jew, for one of your own has shown himself to be irredeemably stupid—or willfully ignorant in the service of G-d, which is suppose is the same thing.

A few quotes (indented) and my brief and my ascerbic responserew (flush left):sarrfrrr

Charles Darwin, the “father” of evolution, was neither a scientist nor an authority in any endeavor that might have made him an authority on biological life.

The profession of “scientist” wasn’t as established in the mid-19th century as it is today, but of course Darwin was a scientist, as he practiced what everyone would recognize as science. And as for his qualifications, he studied biology in school and throughout his entire life as an autodidact. Do note that Mendel, whom Greenberger much prefers to Darwin, wasn’t a scientist in that sense, either: he was a monk.

But let’s proceed:

Upon observing many life forms and some fossils, Darwin concluded that all species of organisms develop via small incremental changes and the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the organism’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. But Darwin never ran any experiments or discovered any empirical evidence to support his beliefs. Basically, his theory was based on pure imagination.

This is complete hogwash, or muttonwash if you need a kosher metaphor. Of course Darwin did experiments, and, more important, larded his books, including the seminal Origin of Species, with empirical information: information about embryology, morphology, biogeography, development, and artificial selection, all of this evidence so strong that within a decade virtually all rational people accepted the idea of evolution and common descent (acceptance of natural selection took longer).

Darwin himself remarked: “the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great.” The fossil record, though, shows life forms appearing fully formed – a “serious” difficulty in Darwin’s eyes.

The fossil record was indeed scanty in Darwin’s time, but now, as I show in Why Evolution is True, we have innumerable fossilized transitional forms between “kinds,” including between fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, reptiles and mammals, reptiles and birds, and, of course, between our earlier ancestors and modern humans. Darwin’s difficult is no longer an issue.

Gregor Mendel, a contemporary of Darwin – and much more qualified to opine on biological life – challenged Darwin’s views. Darwin assumed there were no limits to biological variation and that, given enough time, a fish could eventually evolve into a human being. Mendel challenged this assumption, claiming evolution was restricted to within “kinds.” A drastic development, such as a fish evolving into a human being, could never happen no matter how much time was allowed, he said.

Mendel carefully designed and meticulously executed experiments involving nearly 30,000 pea plants followed over eight generations. However, the importance of his work only gained wide understanding in the 1890s, after his death, when other scientists working on similar problems rediscovered his research.

Mendel was wrong about evolution not occurring between “kinds”, no matter how you define them. As I said above, we have evidence from fossils, genes, and development for common ancestry of what are surely different “kinds”, like reptiles and birds. And Mendel didn’t ever study evolution: he studied genetics and never published a comprehensive theory of evolution.

Greenberger then recounts the experiments of Rich Lenski, wrongly characterizing them as showing that laboratory evolution aways produces the same result over and over again. But it didn’t!

More than a century later, experiments by evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski of Michigan State University, showed that Mendel was right and Darwin was wrong. In experiments that began in 1988 and continued for at least 20 years, Lenski demonstrated very clearly that speciation is the result of underlying genetic design, not chaos and randomness.

Lenski didn’t study speciation: he studied evolutionary change within a species: the bacterium E. coli. And he showed that different lines responded to selection in different ways: just what you’d expect if evolution depends on unpredictable (“random”) mutations that occur regardless of their adaptive value.

Lenski’s experiments demonstrated that Darwin’s notion that there were no limits to biological variation was false, and that beneficial biological changes are the result of a genetic predisposition that allows for very specific, predefined forms of life. A good analogy might be: If you hit balls on a pool table at random, they will fall into random pockets. But they can only fall into pockets prepared by the pool table manufacturer; the balls cannot drill new pockets on their own. In the same way, the evolution of life is only “random” in that it can choose, perhaps randomly, from a list of predefined organisms.

Lenski did no such thing—he showed that random mutation in some lines of the bacterium could enable them to adapt to a novel substrate, and different lines responded in different ways. That is evolution, and it’s evolution by natural selection. Those are two of the major points in Darwin’s “theory” of evolution. To buttress his Jewish faith, Greenberger is simply distorting what Lenski showed.

Finally, Greenberger has to deal with the question of why so many scientists accept evolution if there’s no evidence for it. His answer is the usual one, but again he’s wrong:

If there’s so much solid scientific evidence against Darwinian evolution, why do people embrace it? In my opinion, they do so because it allows them to believe in a universe without God. But for those to whom scientific truth and honesty mean something, there’s no getting around the fact that Mendel and Lenski demonstrated undeniable design in what appears to be genetic chaos and biological randomness. If that means there must be a God, so be it.

In fact, more than half of American scientists claim some kind of religious belief, so why would religious scientists like, say, Francis Collins and Ken Miller embrace evolution? Those two men are, respectively, an evangelical Christian and a Catholic. It’s risible, bogus, and reprehensible to say that scientists accept evolution because it buttresses their atheism. The fact that most scientists are not atheists is sufficient to refute this.

I have no words to describe how infuriating stuff like this is. Greenberger is obviously not insane, but he looks that way because he’s marinated in his faith. But, as I mention in Faith versus Fact, a 2006 poll of randomly-selected Americans showed that 64% of them would reject a scientific fact if it went against the tenets of their belief. Evolution is one of those facts, and Greenberger is one of the rejectors.

h/t: reader Mark

Critic of Israel denied chance to study in that country

October 11, 2018 • 8:00 am

Several readers, perhaps assuming I’d be taking Israel’s side, sent me article about an incident that happened about a week ago. As CNN reports, Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American student of Palestinian descent, flew to Israel with a visa, intending to study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She never made it out of the airport, and as of yesterday she’d been detained there for a week. Why? Because the Israelis discovered that Alqasem was active in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. As CNN report,

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which handles BDS cases, called Alqasem a “prominent activist” who met the criteria of being refused entry into Israel.

In a statement to CNN, Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said: “Israel, like every democracy, has the right to prevent the entry of foreign nationals, especially those working to harm the country. Therefore we work to prevent the entry of those who promote the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, which calls for Israel’s destruction.”

The ministry added that Alqasem is free to return to the United States anytime. Bechor said her client still hopes to attend the university and wants to fight the ministry’s decision in Israel, not as a BDS protest, but because she can’t afford to fly back and forth while the case continues.

To their credit, the faculty senate of Hebrew University has condemned Alqasem’s detention and called for her release into Israel. Her case is being heard today by an Israeli court.

As you can guess from what I wrote already, I think the detention of Alqasem is wrong, and that she should be allowed to study in Israel. Yes, she is an apparent supporter of a movement meant to pressure Israel by boycotting its products and visits to the country, and yes, BDS’s aim is clearly the elimination of the state of Israel, although they keep that under wraps. (Their cry, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is obviously a call for Israel to be eliminated.) But there are already plenty of vociferous critics of Israel who are residents of the country, so what does it matter if they let in a young woman who will join their ranks for a while before returning to the U.S.?

I know that Israel has the right to refuse entry to anyone, as does any country, and that countries like the UK or France often refuse entry to critics. But Alqasem is not a terrorist or someone who poses an immediate danger to Israel. Israel is supposed to be a secular and liberal state, and it’s unseemly to detail Alqasem for a week before deciding whether to let her in. Just let her in, already! It would be a generous gesture, and one that would speak to Israel’s professed freedom of thought and speech.

I agree, then, with the op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times written by Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss (Weiss’s critics will be flummoxed by this one). Click on the screenshot to see it:

Two excerpts from the piece:

Israelis have good reason to see the B.D.S. campaign as a thinly veiled form of bigotry. Boycotts of Jewish businesses have a particularly foul pedigree in Nazi Germany. And the same activists who obsessively seek to punish and isolate Israel for its occupation of the West Bank rarely if ever display the same passion for protesting against China for its occupation of Tibet, or Russia for its occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

It’s also true that Students for Justice in Palestine has received funding and other assistance from a group called American Muslims for Palestine, some of whose leaders have links to groups flagged by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for their ties to the terrorist group Hamas. The group seeks to end Israel’s “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” along with “promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes” — language that has long been code for dismantling the Jewish state.

Israel, like all countries, has a right to protect its borders and to determine who is allowed in and out. But Israel is also a state that prides itself on being a liberal democracy — a fact that goes far to explain the longstanding support for Israel among American Jews and non-Jews alike. If liberalism is about anything, it’s about deep tolerance for opinions we find foolish, dangerous and antithetical to our own.

The case for such liberalism today is both pragmatic and principled. In practice, expelling visitors who favor the B.D.S. movement does little if anything to make Israel more secure. But it powerfully reinforces the prejudice of those visitors (along with their supporters) that Israel is a discriminatory police state.

. . . Societies that shun or expel their critics aren’t protecting themselves. They are advertising their weakness.

Stephens and Weiss conclude that critics of Israel should not only be tolerated, but invited to visit the country. Perhaps they’ll change their minds; most likely they won’t. But what does the country have to hide by refusing entry to a student who adheres to BDS? And, as Weiss says, it just makes Israel look illiberal and bad.

h/t: Simon