27 June 2008

Barry and Frank - Embarrassing

Jewish Reps Bash McCain- Forward

By Nathan Guttman, Thu. Jun 26, 2008

Washington - Jewish Democrats are ratcheting up criticism against Republican candidate John McCain by attempting to focus attention on a 2005 vote in which McCain opposed toughening restrictions on business ties with Iran.

In a June 26 press conference on Capitol Hill, organized by the National Jewish Democratic Council, Democratic lawmakers praised the Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama, and attacked the presumptive Republican nominee for what they characterized as his refusal to close loopholes that allow firms like Halliburton to continue doing business with the regime in Tehran.

“Obama has already shown that he will fight against Iran, while McCain tries to give the impression that he is tough on Iran,” said Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, “but when it comes to facing Halliburton and big oil industry, he does not stand up.”

The McCain campaign has argued that McCain did vote in favor of a similar amendment proposed by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. The Collins amendment was adopted by both parties as an acceptable compromise and was approved in a 97-0 vote.

Lautenberg proposed the 2005 amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill, with a declared aim “to stop corporations from financing terrorism.”

The amendment sought to repair what Democratic lawmakers saw as the existing legislation’s loophole, which allowed American firms and individuals to bypass sanctions against Iran by conducting their business through offshore subsidiaries.

When the amendment came to the Senate floor, it was voted down with a 51-47 count, roughly split along party lines. McCain and most other Republican senators voted against the amendment, while almost all Democrats, including Obama and Hillary Clinton, voted to approve it.

According to press reports, Halliburton, which was headed in the past by Vice President Dick Cheney, was among the American firms that benefited from the arrangement.

Democratic sources said they saw importance in raising the issue, since McCain claimed that his Democratic rival is soft on the matter of Iran and does not support tough measures against the regime.

The attendees of the press conference were Senators Lautenberg and Ben Cardin, and Reps. Russ Carnahan, Sander Levin, Steve Rothman, Jan Schakowsky and Brad Sherman.

Leave it to the Forward. Is this the best the Obama at any price crowd can do? Wave a Senate vote in which the entire Republican caucas voted no along with McCain to a sanctions amendment as a way to "obfuscate" (see Barack Obama - Myths, Facts, and Obfuscating. At least the Forward had the decency to point out that a similar competing amendment was supported by a 97-0 vote (including McCain). Well, since the amendment that passed did so missing 3 possible Senate votes, did Obama support the compromise? (see how easy this is).

And Lautenberg, time to hang it up.
“Obama has already shown that he will fight against Iran, while McCain tries to give the impression that he is tough on Iran,” said Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, “but when it comes to facing Halliburton and big oil industry, he does not stand up.”

First, it is Obama, as we all know who wishes to begin no pre-condition negotiations with Iran as soon as he becomes president(G-d forbid) along with other nations who call the US their enemy. One could call this policy theory, "Peace through Kowtow".

It would be comedy indeed, if not the words of a US Senator, that Lautenberg by juxtaposing Halliburton to Iran, seems to believe that Halliburton is as much a threat to the US as Iran. I haven't heard Halliburton threaten do blow any other country off the face of earth recently, and certainly I doubt the corporation is either harboring or sponsoring Islamo-terrorism. If this is the best the Obamaniacs can do, the November 2008 election may become quite the classic.

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26 June 2008

Liberal Judaism's Convergence of Beliefs

Liberal Judaism backs Christian Aid climate change campaign -Christian Today Posted: Friday, June 20, 2008, 10:48 (BST)

Representatives of the Jewish movement Liberal Judaism this week joined forces with international development agency Christian Aid to press for a Climate Change Bill that will help protect poor and vulnerable communities around the world.

A delegation petitioned MP Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs for the Bill at present going through Parliament to include a commitment to cut 80 per cent of carbon emissions by 2050.

Delegates, including representatives from Liberal Judaism Social Action and the Liberal Jewish youth movement LJY-Netzer, were led by Rabbi Danny Rich, Liberal Judaism’s chief executive.

Liberal Judaism, the third largest strand of Judaism in the UK with more than 30 congregations and 10,000 members across the country, adopted the campaign after talks with Christian Aid, which has accused the Government of ‘eviscerating’ the proposed legislation.

It is the second time Liberal Judaism has supported Christian Aid’s stand on climate change. In 2007 they joined Christian Aid’s cut the carbon march – the longest protest march in British history, which started in Northern Ireland and ended in London.

Dr Nigel Varndell, Christian Aid’s Inter-Community Initiatives Manager, said: "Liberal Judaism came to us to discuss the possibility of aligning themselves with our campaign work over the Bill.

"An 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions is crucial if global warming is to be held below 2oC – the point beyond which it is feared that climate change will become irreversible.

"Poor and vulnerable communities around the world are already bearing the brunt of extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. A commitment in the bill to 80 per cent cuts will send a clear signal to the rest of the international community about what should be done."

Christian Aid is concerned that the Government appears to be losing its nerve over the legislation. Earlier this month Phil Woolas MP, Minister of State for the Environment, announced that an amendment Christian Aid had campaigned for, that would have made it mandatory for publicly listed companies in Britain to declare their annual carbon emissions, was to be dropped.

The Government also removed an undertaking to ensure that UK emissions of greenhouse gases do not exceed the level necessary to limit global temperature rises to not more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels.

Another disappointment is the failure of the Bill to ensure that at least 70 per cent of its targets had to be met through emission cuts within the UK, rather than by purchasing carbon off-sets from poorer countries.

"At present the proposed target in cuts is 60 per cent. With the Bill at present going through the committee stage in the House of Commons, we want that upped to 80 per cent," said Dr Varndell.

Rabbi Rich said: "The Psalmist says, ‘The earth is the Eternal God’s and all that is within it.’ And as such, all faith groups have a duty to act to safeguard the environment, and to bring their collective voices to the powers that be in Westminster to urge them to do the same.

"Liberal Judaism is delighted to be working alongside Christian Aid in this campaign."

In the US the "Liberal Judaism" equivalent is the Reform(ist) movement whose policies on the environment mirrors what is presented above.

But Reform(ism) has more in common with leftism than environmental policies. Peruse the issue data bank at the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism. There, you can find every liberal/leftist cause addressed as a matter of Tikkun Olam and Jewish necessity. Everything which matters with the exception of living a Torah Jewish life can be found there. This is certainly not a chidush. Everyone who observes (so to speak) the American Jewish experience knows that Reform Judaism in the US, (like the Liberal Judaism in the UK) is merely another liberal political action committee wearing a kipah, (without actually wearing the kipah because it is optional depending on if it is a spiritual, meaningful experience). So why bother with all of this again? Ask Eric Yoffie the face of Reform Judaism and their primary advocate.

When it comes to Jews working with conservatives to support Israel, Yoffie is of a different mind. Here he makes it clear that support from John Hagee is certainly not wanted. Now, I do not pretend to know what is going on in Hagee's mind, whether his support for Israel is motivated by a kindness or his theology. What I do know is that he commands lots of attention and Christians who are willing to open their wallets for Israel and visit Israel and vote for Israel listen to him. That Yoffie or "Liberal Judaism" in the UK can team up with the most extreme leftist organizations which advocate extreme leftist positions, is of course free from aveirah while Jews who advocate working with non-Jewish conservative political groups are an anathema. It is clear that in social and economic political discussion, Orthodox Jewry, (ie Torah, halachic Jewry) has more in common with the Christian right than our Reform(ist) brethren (those who are actually Jewish). This has been true for some time now. The appearance that Yoffie and his friends transmit is one of petty politics. It is a shame that the Torah and tradition we hold in common distances us from each other both religiously and politically.

To be an active Reform(ist) today is not dependant on a definition of theology or statement of belief. It is the opposite. The theology is one that does not require belief in anything but one's ability to make decisions. Most often those decisions, should I do this or this, should I support that or that, find their foundations in liberal policy advocacy more so than Jewish tradition. Worse, is the merger of the two. Torah becomes a statement of religion politics, something that liberals usually loathe unless they are the ones doing the merging. Keep the social action aspects of Torah (those laws believed to be for the benefit of mankind) and toss those which are Judeo-centric and considered to be restrictive. Reform(ism)to be relevant to the Jewish future needs new leadership and vision. Jewish leadership and vision cannot be found at the DNC.

Liberal Judaism backgrounder

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Where the Boys Are

Women outnumber men in rabbinical schools (JewishMadison.org)
BOSTON, Jun 22, 2008 (UPI via COMTEX) -- Women significantly outnumber men studying in U.S. rabbinical schools, Jewish leaders say.

The Boston Globe reported Sunday that women are significantly outnumber men in several segments of non-Orthodox Jewish community life.

At the Reform movement's seminary, for instance, 60 percent of the rabbinical students and 84 percent of those studying to become cantors are female, the newspaper reported.

Moreover, girls outnumber boys by as much as 2 to 1 among adolescents participating in youth group programs and summer camps, while women outnumber men in a variety of congregational leadership roles, the Union for Reform Judaism says.

"After bar mitzvah, the boys just drop out," said Sylvia Barack Fishman, a professor of contemporary Jewish life at Brandeis University and the co-author of a study on "Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life," which was released recently.

Some scholars say they are concerned by the diminished participation by men in Judaism.

"Men need to be encouraged to come back into the synagogue," said Stuart Matlins, editor in chief of Jewish Lights Publishing. "The welcoming of women into leadership positions is something I have worked very hard on, but we don't want to lose the men." URL: www.upi.com

What could be the real reason why men do not wish to participate in Reformist and increasingly in Conservativist congregations and no longer in significant numbers go to the seminaries of these "movements"? Why have the men been sent away?

The real irony of this development is that egalitarianism was supposed to make the religious experience more family (defined differently by each "movement")friendly. Whole families could sit together sharing in the worship service. Mom and Dad and the cute little kids could share in the spiritual harmony of a religious experience.

Additionally, women religious professionals were supposed to make the services more interesting adding a soft more emotional feeling to the prayer services, a sense of feeling that men just couldn't portray.

All of this effort would fully empower the female membership to be an "active" part of the religious experience. So what happened?

As it turns out, it is a fair observation to say that most men (the insensitive, not in touch with there feelings type, still harboring American style ruggedness at least in a remote place in their psyche) opted out. Somehow, other things just became more important than the Friday night at the Temple outing or the Saturday morning Synagogue trip. Maybe it was work. Maybe it was the "guys". Maybe it was the game or fishing trip. Maybe, it was just, "I can find better things to do with my time".

So the boys have gone. The girls are in charge. Where does this leave "progressive" Judaism other than progressively dis-interesting to the flawed and easily bruised ego of the male?

Where it leads to is congregations with female "rabbis" and "cantors", with mostly intermarried women and their children in attendance, some of these women with their partners (other women)and the only men in attendance "married" to other men. But don't tell Eric Yoffie or Arnie Eisen. They will tell you that their "movements" have large affiliations and "meaningful religious and spiritual observance". Just don't ask them to define what a "meaningful religious and spiritual observance" is.

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25 June 2008

Barack Obama - Myths, Facts, and Obfuscating (Bloggers Beware)

note: all links will open a new browser window, click away!
Is guilt by association fair? Many blogs and websites, including APRPEH have made an argument that Barry Obama's true feelings towards Jews and Israel can be measured by his associations. Undeniable facts about Obama, many of them posed as questions left unanswered or not answered in a credible or believeable fashion have formed the core of the No-Bama effort. These questions remain legitimate campaign issues and concerns. Obama DID indeed maintain a 20+ year relationship as a member of TUCC in the Jeremiah Wright flock, listening to what is undeniably anti-US and antiJew rhetoric only distancing himself when his crusade for the Presidency was jeopardized.

Who are Obama's friends and associates for which he should be measured? Let's take a closer look using easy to find world wide web references.

Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Barack Obama Obama's special friend, Rashid Khalidi, former spokesman for the scumbag Yasir Arafat who held fundraisers for Obama, was honored with a speech by State Sen. Barack Obama in a 2003 going away party. Khalidi, according to the LA Times story is described as "internationally known scholar, critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights.

Then there is Ali Abunimah, described in the same LA Times article as " a Palestinian rights activist in Chicago who helps run Electronic Intifada, and quoted as saying:

Abunimah quoted Obama as saying that he was sorry he wasn't talking more about the Palestinian cause, but that his primary campaign had constrained what he could say.

Now, lets add to the mix the Obama foreign policy advisors who have come and gone. I am not even sure I remember them all. Please feel free to add to the list in the comments:

Samantha Powers - NRO story

Joseph Cirincione - WND article

Robert Malley - Yid With Lid blog post
APRPEH post 1
APRPEH post 2

Merrill Tony McPeak - YNET article

Zbigniew Bzrezinski - American Thinker article
Ed Lasko at American Thinker adds:
The appointment of Brzezenski elicited much dismay among supporters of Israel since Brzezinski is well known for his aggressive dislike of Israel. . He has been an ardent foe of Israel for over three decades and newspaper files are littered with his screeds against Israel. Brzezinski has publicly defended the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that the relationship between America and Israel is based not on shared values and common threats but is the product of Jewish pressure. Brzezinski also signed a letter demanding dialogue with Hamas-a group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and is filled with threats to Jews around the world.

Financial support from not very friendly to Israel, George Soros can be added to the equation as well even though Obama has attempted to distance himself from the billionaire contributer. If Obama really wants to distance himself from the tens of thousands of dollars contributed through Soros connections has he offered to return any recent donations and asked Soros and his Moveon.org friends to stop supporting his campaign?

Obama Rebuffs Soros

George Soros and Obama's veep

And while it is not necessarily Jewish related, how can we forget Syrian born friend Tony Rezko, former donor and fundraiser for Obama, convicted recently on corruption related charges. Tony Rezko - Wikipedia article.

Obama's relationship with terrorist and political indoctrination specialist William Ayers William Ayers wikipedia article along with former "Weatherman" and wife Bernadine Dorhn Bernadine Dorhn Wikipedia article is well documented and factual. WND backgrounder

additional references
Powerline Obama's Friends

APRPEH's previous Obama Articles

So what is the point of going through this exercise, re-hashing the well published reports you might ask? The Obama fans and possibly Obama campaign are behind an effort to obfuscate.
Can Obama fight Web-driven lies?

Snap Judgment: Have you read the latest Obama e-mail? Unbelievable!

ob·fus·cate (bf-skt, b-fskt)
tr.v. ob·fus·cat·ed, ob·fus·cat·ing, ob·fus·cates
1. To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand: "A great effort was made . . . to obscure or obfuscate the truth" Robert Conquest.
2. To render indistinct or dim; darken: The fog obfuscated the shore.

It is true that a considerable amount of email and internet garbage is floating around alleging all sorts of BS about Obama. It is also true that email based urban myth is one of the downsides of the electronic world. Our email boxes are flooded with Nigerian scam email, phishing, and urban myths begging the reader to perpetuate the falsity.

In fact, call it reverse guilt by association. It is with this understanding that the agenda of the Obama camp to label every blog post, every email, every warning about Obama as driven by crazies with a hate filled, anti-Muslim or racist agenda is underway. Some, they may say are just plain crazy. But all of them, all criticism is illegitimate (according to this strategy) because it is someone's opinion, not the truth - just another one of those "myths".

This policy must be confronted strongly and clearly. The list above is composed of undeniable fact. The effort to re-cast the past of Obama as something else, something different, something sweet and innocent is a fraud and should be called a fraud.

Obama cannot reasonably claim that he had no knowledge of the offensive, disgusting, and criminal aspects of his friends in the past as he cannot claim that he has no knowledge of our doesn't agree with the antiJew and anti-Israel opinions of his foreign policy team. If he really had no knowledge, he is the most ignorant man who has ever run for the Presidency.

Of course, some Obama staffer can just say all of this is campaign rhetoric and to take it as a grain of salt. Afterall, it IS the internet. Or readers and concerned, thoughtful Americans can expose the truth, continue writing to the newspapers, calling talk radio, writing blogs, responding to blogs and talking to their friends who may be on the fence. Freedom is not free and free speech is under assault by the Obama people, a telling foretaste of an Obama administration.

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20 June 2008

Heartland Jews Amidst Flooded Iowa

Chabad Flood Relief

1,000 pounds of meat donated by Agriprocessors distributed by Chabad through the Red Cross

more photos here

Its been called the greatest flood in Iowa history, a "500 year flood". Cities have been submerged, lives lost, homes washed away in torrents of rain, thunder and tornadoes. It seems like daily a new story of a levy on the verge of collapse or giving way to the rush of out of control rivers, stills the hearts of Americans. People await the answers to their prayerful calls for help.

In response, Americans have donated money and volunteered for relief operations. Yet two stories on opposite ends of a spectrum have caught my attention. While in no way to diminish in any way the suffering, displacement and heart break experienced by the people of Iowa, I was moved by thoughts of gratitude for the actions taken by the Jewish community in Iowa, namely the Chabad Flood Relief
program. It seems that everytime, no matter where a disaster occurs, a Chabadnik is there managing a volunteer effort, sending food, coordinating contacts between the disaster victims and their families, and in some cases actively involved in rescue operations not to mention serving in a pastoral role.

Iowa's Jewish population according to the Jewish Virtual Library is all of 6,140 (I would venture there are street blocks in Brooklyn with equivalent census numbers) out of a state population of 2,966,334 registering 0.2 percent of the state's population (including Postville). Jews, no matter how well represented in the overall population seem to always contribute to the cause when the chips are down. However, Jews are already pretty visible in Iowa these days, thanks to the media coverage of the Agriprocessors ICE bust. It should be noted (see picture above) that Agriprocessors donated 1,000 pounds of meat to the relief effort. I wonder if those people who refuse to buy Rubashkin meat and who look forward to every opportunity to skewer the company and it's founding family, would accept Agriprocessor meat in times of need? Is it good enough only when you have lost everything? How about a mere "thank you"?

This leads me to the next not so nice subject found in the IsraelEnews report below.

Anti-semitic attack on Mikey Weinstein`s home; Jewish vet blamed for Iowa flood - IsraelEnews.

How ironic, in light of the above relief operation story to find this piece of nostalgic antiJewism. Nostalgic, in a sense that in these days, religious Jews are led to believe that they have nothing to fear from their Christian neighbors and for the most part this is true. Maybe it makes a difference when Jews point out a fundamental difference, a irreconcilable separation between Jewry and Christian doctrine. Jews as children of G-d and American citizens have a right to oppose and reject missionizing. This is indeed an issue which has been brought to public attention in Israel of late. And in America, where proselytizing has always gone on, it seems that some Christians do not take too kindly to being told to go the hell away.

Intruders attacked the Albuquerque home of Mikey Weinstein, a leading critic of fundamentalist Christian activity in the armed services. The attack came after nightfall, according to Weinstein, who said family members heard someone running across the roof; they subsequently found a swastikas and a cross scrawled next to the front door.

Weinstein has reported receiving dozens of threatening telephone calls in the years since he filed a lawsuit against the Air Force for religious coercion of Air Force Academy cadets and established the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which represents members of the armed services who have been subjected to aggressive fundamentalist Christian proselytizing. Authorities are investigating the attack on Weinstein's home.

Meanwhile, in flooded Iowa City, neighbors today blamed a disabled Jewish veteran for the rising water. David Akiva Miller, who is fighting the Veterans Administration over aggressive Christian proselytizing during his hospitalization (see our earlier report), was buying groceries on Sunday when an older couple, also shopping, approached him. In an email, Miller wrote that
The man said something to the lady I couldn't quite make out, and they turned around and stepped back towards me. The man said to me, "You're that Jewish fella that's been stirring up trouble over at the Veterans Hospital, aren't ya?" (Okay, I'll admit I kind of stick out in Iowa City with my long beard, kippah and tzit tzit.) I said, "Excuse me?" And he said, "It's because of folks like you that we got this flood." Mikey Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation is representing Miller in his struggle with the Veterans Administration.

David Akiva Miller is a disabled Navy veteran and an observant Jew. When he moved to Iowa City and went for care at the Veterans Administration Hospital there, he endured repeated efforts by Protestant chaplains to evangelize him in his hospital bed. Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, held a news conference with Miller in Iowa City and declared his support for the vet -- including a lawsuit, should that become necessary.

Not to drag a drama play into a disaster story, but I wonder how wide spread these thoughts are amongst our non-Jewish neighbors? I would like to think such ideas are not very common however world history begs to differ. But since there are those from within Jewry (see Lazar Brody's comments) that the natural disasters that have occurred in America in the last few years are punishments for forcing unneeded and unwanted negotiations on Israel than I guess the Iowa flood conspiracies can be filed in the "all's fair..." category. Rabbi Brody, I presume has explanations for the natural disasters that occurred in America and elsewhere prior to the last 10 years or so.

Now, I am not one who insistently says that HaShem does not have a plan for the world, that reward and punishment is a fable, and that the biblical promises given to the Patriarchs an eternal promise that those that bless the Jews will be blessed is untrue. It is very much true. I am not in a position to point to specific events and say, "see there is the proof". Maybe Rabbi Brody can. Maybe the Rebbe could (probably did), all is in divine hands. What we can say is that the efforts of one Jew to prevent other Jews from being evangelized in a US military hospital or in the military in general is hardly the reason for a 500 year flood. If anything, we would like to say it is the reverse. I hope the "neighbor" buying groceries is afforded the opportunity to read this. Those who bless you, will be blessed, those who curse you, I will curse.

Coralville, Iowa DOT

Cedar Rapids - ENS Newswire

Counties declared disaster area by Governor Culver's Proclamation.

General flood information - Iowa Governor's office

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17 June 2008

Reform"ism" Analyzed

What Does Reform Judaism Stand For? Commentary Magazine

Below, find a long but interesting take on the Reformist sect of Judaism by Jack Wertheimer professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary (the Conservatist school) in New York.

Like old entertainers, Reformism has become a silly stereotype of itself. It reflects all the bad habits of a liberal movement in chaos and headed to self-imposed irrelevancy: egalitarianism driven into imposition of opposite favoritism on behalf of women, embrace of homo sexuality, an idolatrous sense of people knowing more than G-d, disconnection from the larger Jewish world, disconnection from the larger Jewish past, old lessons lost in favor of the flavor of the day, creative and experimental liturgy, ritual without purpose or meaning, lack of knowledge which cannot be recognized due to over-sensitive egos, style over substance, "feelgoodism", need to "belong" replacing the need to actively participate, liberal political agenda replacing halacha, law, and legitimate Jewish philosophic approach. The list can go on. It isn't really hard to understand but you won't find a "scholarly" analysis which identifies either the symptoms or the cures. Judaism was never meant to be a cafeteria plan nor a chef's surprise.

It is by now a well-documented fact that liberal Protestant denominations in the United States have fallen on hard times. In the mainline churches that once dominated American religious life—and from which emerged the country’s political and cultural elites—the pews have been emptying since as long ago as the 1960’s.1 As the average age of churchgoers edges ever upward, the challenge of recruiting both members and qualified clergy looms larger still, adding to the general sense of demoralization and desuetude. In the meantime, membership in conservative Christian denominations, particularly the evangelical churches, has been swelling.

Against this backdrop, the seeming growth and high morale of Reform Judaism—the Jewish analogue to the liberal Protestant denominations—are nothing short of astonishing. Rather than losing “market share” to its more conservative counterparts, the Reform movement has become the label selected by the plurality of those who identify themselves with the Jewish religion. Nor is its success a matter only of numbers. The movement’s internal decisions—on everything from synagogue liturgy to the religious status of gays and lesbians to rabbinic officiation at intermarriages—are widely regarded as bellwethers of American Jewish life at large. The voice of Reform leaders is also heeded on issues of American public policy, and as its base has grown, the movement has come to expect its views on these issues to carry considerable weight in the councils of the American Jewish community, if not beyond.

Understandably enough, Reform seems to attract the greatest attention when it appears to be acting contrary to type. Late last year, for example, articles in the general and Jewish press marveled at the release of a new Reform prayer book incorporating a much more “traditionalist” attitude toward long-discarded practices and modes of Jewish worship. What could this signify? A healthy openness and self-confidence or, perhaps, a sudden loss of direction? In either case, the time is ripe for a look at the successes Reform has achieved in the last decades, and at the obstacles that may lie in wait for it.

As it happens, shifts in direction, even radical ones, are nothing new in the history of Reform Judaism. The movement proudly declares its name to be both a noun and a verb, and ever since its emergence in America 150 years ago, it has self-consciously striven to adjust to the rhythm of the times.

In its first period of growth, Reform appealed primarily to Americanized Jews of Central European origin whose families had arrived here in the early and middle decades of the 19th century. By the post-Civil War era, this population had achieved economic success and high social status, and in the process had sloughed off most traditional Jewish practices like observance of the dietary laws (kashrut) and home-based Sabbath rituals. Their synagogues, too, were undergoing what seemed to be an inexorable tide of reformation, introducing organ music, a formal “High Church” aesthetic, abbreviated services, a liturgy largely in English, and rabbinic sermons delivered with oratorical panache.

On the organizational side of Reform, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati spearheaded an effort to weld individual congregations into a Union of American Hebrew Congregations. This body, in turn, founded the Hebrew Union College (HUC) to train rabbis. By the early 20th century, Reform Judaism had become the dominant religious expression of the native elite of the Jewish community (as opposed to the newly arrived immigrants from Eastern Europe and their families who, insofar as they affiliated themselves with religious observance, tended to join more traditionalist synagogues).

Historians have debated the reasons for the movement’s rapid spread. Much of the debate is academic, but one question has continued to reverberate: was American Reform built upon a structured ideology—on strongly held principles—or did it primarily reflect a series of pragmatic adjustments to the shifting scene? Perhaps the most sustained attempt to articulate a true ideology was the “Pittsburgh Platform” of 1885. According to that document, drafted at a conclave of Reform rabbis, the movement was committed to Judaism as a religion of ethical monotheism; to a highly rationalistic understanding of the deity, presented as a “God Idea”; to the pursuit of social justice for all; and to a definition of Jewishness as solely a matter of confession. On the negative side, much of the ritual structure of Judaism was dismissed as a throwback to an era now rendered anachronistic by the advances of science and human reason. In particular, the movement rejected “such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress.” By the same token, it also rejected any national component to Jewish identity or hope for the restoration of Jews to Zion.

We cannot know for certain how ardently these principles were held by ordinary Reform Jews, as distinct from their rabbis. In Reform congregations, however, men were forbidden to wear a head covering or prayer shawl; dietary laws were openly flouted; and the prayer services pointedly eschewed any reference to the national aspirations of the Jewish people.

This period of what is known as “classical” Reform lasted until nearly the outbreak of World War II, when the movement experienced an influx of new leaders with a different set of assumptions. As the children of East European immigrants became a force within both the membership base and eventually the rabbinate, and with the growth of the Nazi menace in Europe, Reform’s longstanding opposition to Zionism began to collapse. By 1937, the Reform rabbinate had accepted a neutral (as distinct from hostile) stance on the issue. During the war, this would give way in turn to a positive embrace of the Jewish national movement, compelling anti-Zionist Reform rabbis to break away and found the American Council for Judaism.

Throughout this period, Reform Jews continued to dominate the leadership of the American Jewish community at large—including the top positions within the Zionist camp, occupied by Rabbis Stephen S. Wise and Abba Hillel Silver. But Reform attitudes were increasingly out of synch with the sentiments of the large majority of Jews in the country, a majority now made up of second-generation Americans who held a generally more positive view of ritual observance and found Reform “temples,” with their socially exclusive policies and their emphasis on strict decorum, to be alien places.

As the new Jewish majority moved out of the inner cities and into the burgeoning suburbs, Reform began to adapt. Suddenly, temples were sponsoring such formerly unheard-of rites as bar-mitzvah and, later, bat-mitzvah ceremonies. The shofar replaced trumpet blasts on the Jewish New Year, and head coverings and prayer shawls made a slow comeback.

Some of this “increased ritualism,” as it was dubbed by its antagonists, represented a self-conscious effort to compete more effectively with Conservative Judaism, which during the 1950’s would overtake Reform as the preferred religious choice of the plurality of American Jews. But many within the movement saw it as a move in precisely the wrong direction, into the benighted past. The historian Jacob Rader Marcus, a revered professor at HUC, spoke for them:

There are today too many Reform Jews who have ceased to be [religious] liberals. Their Reform, crystallized into a new Orthodoxy, is no longer dynamic. . . . We cannot lead our people forward by standing backward.
Sounding a similar note, rabbis contributing to a 1960 symposium urged Reform to stick to its pristine agenda. As one respondent declared: “We should not fear to be different.”

For the next few decades, the movement zigged and zagged without a defined direction. Clearly, it had repented of large parts of its “classical” ideology. But what it stood for was harder to say. For the centenary of its founding in 1973, the movement had hoped to produce a timely statement of principles; the document finally appeared three years later.

At some point in the 1980’s, however, things appear to have changed again, and Reform emerged stronger, more unified, and more sure of itself. This is the Reform we know today. Several related initiatives undertaken by the movement help explain the turn in its fortunes. Their common watchwords are “inclusiveness” and “choice.”

For one thing, the movement incorporated sexual egalitarianism as a cardinal principle. Initially this meant that women would be treated as complete equals in all aspects of religious and synagogue life. In 1972, HUC had been the first American Jewish seminary to ordain a woman rabbi, a precedent it followed by becoming the first to graduate a woman as a cantor. Over the ensuing decades, women assumed key positions in the governance of congregations and in the movement’s national institutions. In time, Reform also embraced openly homosexual Jews, welcomed so-called gay synagogues into its congregational body, ordained open gays as rabbis and cantors, and sanctioned wedding and/or commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Nor were these the only moves toward inclusiveness. Hoping to retain the allegiance of Jews who had married or who wished to marry non-Jews, significant numbers of Reform rabbis began to bless interfaith unions, thereby overturning a long history of opposition to the practice. Congregations, meanwhile, launched “outreach activities” to draw in intermarried Jews and their families. In 1983, the Reform rabbinate turned aside the accepted rabbinic definition of a person qualifying as a born Jew—the traditional criterion is a person whose mother was Jewish—so as to include anyone who had one Jewish parent of either sex and who took part in public acts of Jewish identification (for instance, by attending a synagogue).

In terms of demographics, this particular initiative produced dramatic results: by the turn of the 21st century, over 25 percent of the member families in Reform temples were intermarried.2 And no less open-armed was Reform’s new approach to diverse types of Jewish expression. In ritual matters, the movement now happily accommodated head coverings and prayer shawls for both men and women during services, while continuing to welcome those who eschewed such garb; synagogues and other institutions began to provide for members wishing to observe aspects of Jewish dietary laws, even as they respected the desires of those partial to prohibited foods. And so forth.

Here the guiding principle has been autonomy and choice. Each individual Jew has the inalienable right to define which aspects of the faith are personally meaningful to him; so long as these choices are “informed,” the movement not only tolerates but endorses them.

On two fronts, leaders have pressed hard for their own point of view; in each case, their instincts have appeared to be wholly in tune with the temper of the times. The first concerns synagogue services, which were deemed hopelessly deadening and in desperate need of revision. As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the congregational body, put it:

[F]ar too often, our services are tedious, predictable, and dull. Far too often, our members pray without fervor or concentration. Far too often, our music is dirge-like and our Torah readings lifeless, and we are unable to trigger true emotion and assent.
In response, congregations began to experiment with liturgies combining traditional prayers with newly composed prayers and poems; organ and choir music gave way to singing accompanied by flutes, stringed instruments, and drums; rabbis dropped their formal sermons in favor of open discussion. Most noticeably, Reform temples in which congregants were accustomed to sitting passively in pews now freed them to move around the sanctuary—carrying the Torah, dancing during prayers, greeting one another as fellow worshippers.

The final step in this process came last year with the release of the radically revised prayer book for Sabbath and holidays.3 As was immediately noticed, the new volume incorporates many more Hebrew prayers than its predecessors and restores much of the structure of the traditional worship service. At the same time, though, in the regnant spirit of inclusiveness and choice, it also provides ample room for each synagogue to tailor the liturgy however it sees fit.

The second front is the political. Until recently, it was possible to find Reform rabbis and lay leaders active in both the Republican and Democratic parties, and the movement’s pronouncements on matters of public policy retained at least a studied semblance of political neutrality. This is no longer the case. In recent years, Reform Judaism, at the prodding of its Washington arm, the Religious Action Center, has issued resolution after resolution in support of Left-liberal positions across an array of political and social issues. It has opposed the war in Iraq and the nomination of Justice Samuel Alito; sharply rebuked the Christian Right; and vigorously supported the left-wing Democratic stance on gay marriage, affirmative action, and school vouchers.

In all of these areas, the Reform movement has aligned itself perfectly with positions adopted by mainstream liberal Protestantism. But Protestant denominations have split badly over questions like liturgical innovation, abortion rights, and gay ordination. In contrast, on some of the most divisive issues of our time, Reform leaders have not only avoided schism but have evidently built a strong consensus.

Although the new prayer book was completed only after an agonizingly long period of testing and discussion, for example, the movement as a whole seems to have weathered its larger “synagogue revolution” (to use Rabbi Yoffie’s phrase) without serious resistance. In the course of that revolution, religious ideology has been replaced by a pragmatic tolerance of pluralism, religious services have become dizzyingly eclectic, drawing upon multiple sources and varying from congregation to congregation, and congregations themselves have absorbed a continuous and apparently frictionless flow of recruits from the ranks of other denominations, from the gay and lesbian community, and from intermarried households. This is to say nothing of Reform’s openly partisan stance on political matters.

In sum, whatever tempests have rocked the ship of liberal Christianity, Reform Judaism would seem not only to have navigated the storms but to be moving forward with the wind in its sails.

Needless to say, a vibrant Reform Judaism would be good news under any circumstances, and all the more so now that Reform has become the largest Jewish religious movement in the country. If Reform were to fail, large numbers of American Jews would likely be lost to organized Jewish life altogether. But is the movement thriving as heartily as its upbeat leaders and spokesmen insist? Is it, by its own standards, succeeding in not only retaining its members but inspiring them to intensive religious engagement?

The answer is a highly equivocal one, and it begins with some stark demographic facts. Aside from the minority who actually belong to synagogues, only 15 percent of self-identified Reform Jews report any involvement at all in Jewish organizational life. More than half, moreover, say they have not attended a synagogue within the past year, nearly half cannot read Hebrew, and 30 percent say they feel distant from Israel.

What we know about persons raised within the Reform movement itself is no less sobering. In 2000, fully 70 percent of Jews saying they were raised Reform were not members of any kind of synagogue, a figure that holds steady across the generational board: among older Jews, baby-boomers, and the so-called gen-x and gen-y populations. Seventeen percent of individuals raised Reform do not identify with the Jewish religion, period. Among intermarried Jews who were raised Reform, this figure rises to 28 percent.

Nor is there any evidence that Reform synagogue membership has grown over the past few decades. If temples are holding their own, it is mainly by attracting people from outside, chiefly from the Conservative movement, which has been commensurately shrinking, and from the ranks of Gentiles married to Jews. Whatever this says about Reform’s appeal to outsiders, it suggests a serious weakness when it comes to transmitting a strong sense of Jewish religious identification and commitment to those raised within Reform itself.4

What is the cause of this weakness? A new study of schooling under Reform auspices points to one culprit: the lack of a proper education. For the overwhelming majority of children in the movement, formal Jewish schooling ends at bar- or bat-mitzvah age. More than half drop out of supplementary classes after the seventh grade; of those who continue their studies, two-thirds are gone by grades nine or ten. Despite the declared aspirations of the movement to engage Jews in “lifelong Jewish learning,” its teens and adults have so far declined to heed the message.

The same goes for regular attendance at religious services. According to the 2000 NJPS, fewer than ten percent of Reform synagogue members attend once a week. Sabbath-morning services in most Reform temples attract only the family and friends of the bar or bat mitzvah for a ceremony in which, in the words of Rabbi Yoffie, “worship of God gives way to worship of the child.” The central weekly religious gathering remains a one-hour service on Friday evening. This has been the object of major reforms in liturgy and music, and rabbis do report a consequent increase in attendance; but even so, the number of regulars rarely climbs above 10-15 percent of membership.

When the overwhelming majority shun religious study, how are individual Reform Jews expected to make the “informed choices” on which the movement prides itself? When the overwhelming majority cannot be counted on to participate in religious services, what precisely is thriving in Reform temples?

The initiatives to include once-marginalized populations show equally ambiguous and no doubt unanticipated results. Reform institutions are open as never before to women, welcoming them into positions of authority and leadership. Yet even as women have moved from the periphery to the center, Reform men have been moving rapidly in the opposite direction. As numerous congregational rabbis have testified, the declining presence of men is palpable in the sanctuary, in committee meetings, in national study programs, even in the biennial conventions of congregational leaders. Matters have reached such a pass that at the most recent convention, an all-male religious service, something usually associated with Orthodox Judaism, was sanctioned as an experiment in “bonding.”

Boys, too, seem to have drifted away. Youth groups and summer camps are filled with female teens who, according to one West Coast rabbi, “wonder where their male counterparts are.” In one recent study, boys made up only 12 percent of participants in a leadership camp for ninth graders. On college campuses, similarly, Reform programs struggle to attract males. At HUC, men now constitute only one-quarter of students training to become rabbis, cantors, and educators.

“If you look carefully at the most hands-on people who are running Jewish institutional life today, you are seeing fewer and fewer men,” says Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, the former president of HUC—an observation manifestly not true of other denominations but very true of Reform. And an analogous situation seems to obtain on the home front. The sociologist Sylvia Barack Fishman has found that within Reform families, fathers participate much less than mothers in the Jewish upbringing of the children. This is particularly the case among intermarried Jewish men—to the point where Fishman concludes that “Reform Jewish men who marry non-Jewish women [are] the ‘weak link’ in American Jewish life today.”

In a movement so proudly identified with egalitarian ideals, the fact that men are fleeing institutional life is mystifying—unless we posit a vast gap between Reform’s professed values and the religious desires of its male adherents. In any event, the ironic fact remains that a movement that led the way toward sexual equality in Judaism is now the least balanced internally between the sexes. On this score, too, Reform today resembles liberal Protestantism, where men form a dwindling minority in the pews, in congregational leadership, and in the seminaries. Even within Reform, however, few count this fact as a sign of success.

Similarly fraught with complications is Reform outreach to the intermarried. The numbers themselves are undeniably impressive. Among intermarried families in the United States, 62 percent of those joining a synagogue opt for Reform. But this large population has posed a massive educational challenge. How are synagogues to teach non-Jews about Judaism while simultaneously working to increase the knowledge of their Jewish members? One Reform rabbi has waved away this dilemma by noting that in his congregation, Jews and non-Jews possess exactly the same (i.e., minimal) level of Jewish literacy. Others acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, but are at a loss to remedy it.

Congregational schools now draw half their enrollment from families in which one parent was not born Jewish and only a minority of such parents have converted to Judaism. One can only sympathize with teachers trying to cope with the mixed signals sent to children about the diverse religious practices on display in the homes of intermarried families. So far, there seems neither much willingness to recognize the sheer magnitude of the responsibility the movement has taken on nor any sign of appropriate resources being channeled to address it through schools, camps, youth movements, or college programs.

In fact, there is little critical talk at all about the consequences of having integrated so large a population of non-Jews and their families into Reform synagogues. Non-Jewish parents who devotedly bring their children to services and classes are now publicly honored as “heroes.” But the movement has been silent on the need to maintain an unambiguously Jewish orientation within the family so as to minimize confusion and foster a strong identification with Judaism. In 2005, Rabbi Yoffie floated the idea of tactfully conveying to Gentile spouses that they were welcome to convert to Judaism and would be eagerly embraced. The response from the movement’s rabbinic and lay leadership was swift and direct. His proposal was deemed to be offensive to the sensibilities of both non-Jews and their Jewish family members, and was soon a dead letter.

According to the head of a major Reform organization, intermarriage is now so taken for granted in the movement that most Reform Jews no longer see anything problematic about it. This has created a bind for the minority of Reform rabbis and rabbinical candidates who do not wish to officiate at so-called inter-weddings—and who know that they may be denied a pulpit for sticking to their principles. Rather anomalously, movement policy still formally discourages rabbinic officiation at such unions, while respecting the right of individual rabbis to follow the dictates of their conscience. But a commission has been formed to re-examine the matter, and expectations are that it will revoke the present policy in favor of a more “inclusive” one, thereby further undermining those wanting to hold the line.

Inclusiveness, in short, has brought a number of short-term gains to Reform while exacting a very high price in unintended consequences. So has the movement’s stress on the principle of individual choice.

For one thing, by emphasizing autonomy, Reform Judaism has inadvertently weakened the commitment of many of its adherents to the collective needs of the Jewish people. Though the leadership remains intensely attached to Israel and to the welfare of Jews around the world, and has invested in a Reform presence in many parts of the globe, a connection to the Jewish people does not rank high in the priorities of many self-professed Reform Jews. In a recent survey, 44 percent disagreed with the statement, “I have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people,” and only 21 percent claimed to feel “very emotionally attached to Israel.”

Undoubtedly, this connection is even more attenuated among intermarried families and their children. But the emphasis on personalism has clearly enfeebled the allegiances of many born Jews as well. Rabbi David Ellenson, the current president of HUC, declares that the future of American Judaism is “contingent, to a large extent, upon the success Reform rabbis will have in instilling communitarian religious values and commitments.” It is hard to fathom how rabbis will succeed at this task given the movement’s insistence on the priority of individual choice.

To make matters worse, while rabbis must respect the autonomous right of their congregants to choose which aspects of Judaism they value, congregants need not and do not necessarily respect the autonomous choices of their rabbis, let alone their rabbis’ authority to create a hierarchy of choices rooted in traditional Jewish texts and practices. In this connection, it is by no means clear that many of today’s Reform Jews have adopted the positive approach of a sizable number of younger rabbis toward those traditional practices.

It is not even clear that the movement’s leadership is in accord on this matter. In a remarkable statement issued last summer, Rabbi Yoffie distinguished the Judaism practiced by Reform from other forms of Judaism in these words: “If you take it all upon yourself as an obligation rather than as a choice, you’ve reached the point at which you’re no longer a Reform Jew.”

Here, at last, is a candidly non-inclusive position. What it suggests is that in today’s Reform, red lines continue to exist to the Right: for a rabbi or a congregant to flirt with the basic concept of religious obligation, or venture too close to traditional Jewish observances, is to rule oneself out.

What of red lines to the religious Left? Are there any limits there? True, the movement disapproves of such outlying phenomena as the Society for Humanistic Judaism with its denial of a personal God, or Jews for Jesus. But, as we have seen, it has accommodated all sorts of other innovation under the rubric of legitimate Jewish expression, and has been remarkably silent on what it would consider beyond the pale.

If Reform Judaism were a movement in its adolescence, this perpetual hankering after innovation, this hunger to be in tune with the latest cultural assumptions, this writing and revising of liturgy, this seemingly blithe indifference to the consequences of the choices one has made might be characterized, indulgently, as passing fecklessness. In a mature organization that is also the largest Jewish denomination in America, one would expect a measure of constancy over the long term and a far-reaching vision for deepening the engagement of its adherents. If Reform’s leaders have actually thought deeply about the present and future religious needs of the many Jews and non-Jews in their care, or resolved upon ways of raising their levels of Jewish literacy, teaching them the skills needed for a Jewish life, and defining for them Reform’s ideal criteria of Jewish observance, there has been precious little evidence of it.

What does all this augur for Reform itself? The movement has wagered its future on the gamble that a coherent and vibrant Judaism can be built on the idea of a big tent, on the informed choice of each Reform Jew, and on a highly elastic definition of both “Reform” and “Jew.” Both in what it cannot accept and in what it cannot but accommodate, the movement is very much at one with the individualistic and “pluralist” ethos of contemporary American culture. But for how long will significant numbers of people continue to be drawn to, or stick with, a religious movement that cannot or will not define standards for committed living, and that, except when it comes to political imperatives, has self-consciously shunned the very notion of imperatives? In this regard, the dramatic decline of liberal Protestant denominations may truly serve as a warning of what lies ahead.

No less urgent is the question of what Reform’s present position augurs for Judaism as a whole, or for the Jewish people. When one puts together the increasing reliance on large numbers of non-Jewish members, the emphasis on personal autonomy, the minimal level of literacy expected by leaders, the freedom of each congregation to shape its own liturgy and synagogue music, and the low identification with Israel expressed by the rank and file, the inescapable impression is of a movement whose policies, intentionally or not, systematically discount any notion of a collective Jewish enterprise or the solidarity needed to sustain it.

Liturgy, literacy, and religious norms serve in Judaism as binding forces of a common belief system and a common vocabulary; Israel serves as a focal point for common action. All of these are of low priority to a great many Reform Jews and will necessarily become of even lower priority as more non-Jews enter the movement’s synagogues, with no requirements imposed or expected. From the point of view of the future unity and distinctiveness of the Jewish people, one can only hope that it is not too late for this movement, which has reversed course so often in the past, to reform itself yet again.

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06 June 2008

Data Breaches and Perceived Liability

Researchers Say Notification Laws Not Lowering ID Theft Robert McMillan, IDG News Service - Thu Jun 5, 12:00 AM ET

Over the past five years, 43 U.S. states have adopted data breach notification laws, but has all of this legislation actually cut down on identity theft? Not according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University who have published a state-by-state analysis of data supplied by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

"There doesn't seem to be any evidence that the laws actually reduce identity theft," said Sasha Romanosky, a Ph.D student at Carnegie Mellon who is one of the paper's authors.

Romanosky's team took a state-by-state look at FTC identity theft complaints filed between 2002 and 2006 to see whether there was a noticeable impact on complaints in states that had adopted data breach notification laws such as California's SB 1386, which compels companies and institutions to notify state residents when their personal information has been lost or stolen. Their paper is set to be presented at a conference on Information Security Economics held at Dartmouth College later this month.

Since 1999 the FTC has invited identity theft victims to log information about their cases on its Web site. The data are then made accessible to law enforcement, which uses the information to help analyze crime trends. A lot of people complain, but it represents only a subsection of all identity theft cases. In 2006, for example, the FTC logged 246,035 identity theft complaints, while a Javelin Strategy survey estimated that there were 8.9 million ID theft victims that year.

The FTC doesn't break down identity theft complaints on a state-by-state basis. However, the Carnegie Mellon researchers were able to access to this information using a Freedom of Information Act request. This allowed them to see whether or not there was a change in the rate of reported identity thefts before and after data breach laws went on the books. Looking at the complaints on a month-by-month basis, they didn't find any statistically significant effect, Romanosky said.

However, they found that other factors, such as the state's population, gross domestic product and fraud rate did have a significant effect on identity theft rates.

Because reports to the FTC are incomplete, it's hard to draw conclusions from the data, said Gartner analyst Avivah Litan. But she noted that while breach laws have made lost laptops front-page news, many companies have responded to tighter laws and regulations by focusing more on compliance than on security.

Often, that's not good enough to protect customers from ID theft, she said. "If you just meet the letter of the law you may pass an audit, but you have to pass the spirit of the law."

Romanosky admits that there may be problems in the methodology used by his team. And while he noted that the data-- compiled from self-reported complaints-- may not be perfect, the FTC database is the only source of this type of information.

In fact, there may be good reasons that explain why breach laws have not cut down on identity theft. Many consumers simply ignore breach notification letters. And Romanosky believes that security firms are still not doing enough to protect data themselves. "In so many of these cases, the breaches occur because of ridiculous security practices," he said.

Romanosky knows something about information security in the corporate world. Before deciding to pursue his Ph.D, he worked in the security groups of companies such as Morgan Stanley and eBay.

The researchers suggest a few next steps to better understand identity theft. The federal government should adopt a unified breach law in order to "reduce conflict between states laws and lower the barrier for compliance," they write in their paper.

Also, there should be standardized notification requirements so that victims learn pertinent information about the breach. Finally, they said that some kind of oversight committee should be set up as the definitive source of breach data, so that there is better information for consumers, policy makers, and researchers.

Gartner's Litan offered one more observation that might explain Carnegie Mellon's findings: The fraudsters are also getting better at what they do, she added. "If you talk to the largest banks, they will tell you that fraud has really increased in the past 18 months," she said. "And they project it going up very significantly in the next two years."

"The thieves are just getting better and there's more fraud," she said.

It has long been known that it is hard to link actual events of identity theft with known occasions of data breaches. With notable exceptions matching up actual victims to actual data breaches just doesn't happen often. What consumers who read this should as a precursor understand, is that there are different types of data breaches. These are distinguished by the nature of the data breach. Since methodology of theft of data is only marginally accounted for in notification laws and in data breach publicity, the study referred to above may be skewed based upon this factor.

Now, I haven't seen the report and when it comes out maybe my points will be put to rest. Think about data breaches in terms of intent since not all breaches are alike. The data breach laws pretty much say if personal identifying information (PII) for which you are responsible is made available to an unauthorized party, notification is necessary to the party whose information was breached.

However, what happens to the information that was lost? What if the PII stolen was not the objective of the criminal act even though it was still exposed? A good example of this is a wallet or purse theft. The criminal wants cash, things, maybe a credit card but has no interest in attempting to open accounts, work under or pose as the victim? PII is still lost and in the hands of an unauthorized individual but identity theft is not likely to result (as opposed to a possible account takeover). An unaccounted for occurrence is whether the pick pocket or purse snatcher realizes he holds a commodity and sells or trades the PII to someone who will try to use it to open fraudulent accounts? Maybe the second possessor of the PII transfers it yet again to another party? This chain could continue many times until the PII is used, maybe popping up across country and being used for work by an undocumented worker. How is it possible to determine who each party was who transferred the data (each time a felony) and from where the information originated if it were breach related instead of originating with our fictitious pick pocket?

In any event, we began by introducing the idea of different types of breaches and how these different types of breaches can be used (at least initially) as predictors of identity theft based upon the intent of the perpetrator. A malicious hack of data, targeted directly at a server location where HR information is kept should indicate a greater likelihood of identity crimes occurring than a simple stolen computer which still carries more risk than a disk which goes missing in transit. Security and information officers in the victim organizations must make a decision how to handle each sort of event. For events that are less likely to result in fraud, should the organization do any more than notify the parties whose PII was exposed? In the event of the malicious hack, time is of the essence and not only should notification occur swiftly but a program of id theft prevention be implemented including plans for consumer identity restoration services for the actual victims of identity theft. Exposed PII does not make a consumer a victim of identity theft. PII used for criminal purposes makes a consumer a victim of id theft.

Prior to notification laws, many organizations were convinced that the responsible thing to do was to notify the affected parties either because it was the "right" thing to do, it was the best move to protect business (vs. if no notification was made and the breach consequently discovered resulting in bad PR) or out of the need to counter liability. All of these are legitimate reasons and do not exist exclusive of each other. How long should this responsibility continue? As pointed out above, it could be years before the stolen PII is used for criminal purposes. Does the effect of time and the fact that information is fluid change responsibility? Reasonably, the organization that was breached must have liability for a fixed period of time. But how, with the large number of breaches and relative ease of stealing information other ways can one act of identity theft be related to a breached company say, two years after the breach without evidence of the source of the PII used in the crime? What if a consumer has been notified by multiple organizations of separate breaches? Is it left up to the consumer to decide which company has the biggest check book to approach with a liability claim? Clearly, some rules and precedents need to be set.

To conclude, as a reader who has made it this far will understand, the jury is out as to the worth of this research. But we will stand for now with reserved judgment bred in benefit of the doubt until the official release. Maybe it will afford me the opportunity to back track.

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04 June 2008

Agriprocessors - 'Cause Celeb' of the Leftists

Rubashkin: It's all a lie (JTA) Ben Harris - Speaking out for the first time, the owner of Agriprocessors was visibly angered by the flood of charges that have imperiled his business, the country's largest kosher slaughterhouse.

Published: 06/03/2008

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Aaron Rubashkin, the owner of the embattled kosher slaughterhouse Agriprocessors, denies he has engaged in unethical labor practices and blames the failure of U.S. immigration policy for his mostly illegal workforce.

In the first substantive comments by an Agriprocessors representative since the government rounded up more than a third of its employees on immigration charges in a May 12 raid of its Iowa plant, Rubashkin flatly denied allegations of worker mistreatment and plant mismanagement.

"Everything is a lie," Rubashkin told JTA.

In a more than hourlong interview May 30 outside his Brooklyn butcher shop in the heavily Orthodox enclave of Borough Park, the 80-year-old Rubashkin was visibly angered by the flood of charges that have imperiled his business, the country's largest kosher slaughterhouse.

The raid has reduced Agriprocessors' output significantly and sparked fears of a national shortage of kosher meat.

A government affidavit cites claims that the drug methamphetamine was being produced at the company's Postville plant, that undocumented workers were paid $5 per hour and that a Jewish kosher supervisor duct-taped a worker's eyes and abused him with a meat hook.

In the weeks since the raid, workers have also charged that female employees were offered improved working conditions in exchange for sexual favors and that underage workers were employed at the plant in defiance of Iowa labor laws.

"We got 21 or 23 inspectors," Rubashkin said in a thick Yiddish accent. "Every minute the plant is open, there is USDA inspector. We got maybe 30 rabbis. How can we do something which is wrong? If I want to, God forbid! We are ethical people. We don't do no injustice to nobody, not to a cat."

Dressed in a blue cotton shirt and black fedora, Rubashkin acknowledged that he was concerned the company may be brought up on criminal charges, but said he was "a hundred percent confident" that he would prevail in court.

"I believe in the American system, and I did nothing wrong," said Rubashkin, who opened his shop in 1953, the same year he emigrated from Russia.

Asked why he was replacing his son Sholom as vice president if the charges are phony, Rubashkin threw back his shoulders and arched his eyebrows.

"For the business," he said. "In order to enforce, after such a shock, we want to beef up management -- change management, change rules, to do different ways."

Rubashkin emphasized that the management change was for the sake of the company, "not for the people."

"We treat people -- I wish everybody should be treated like we treat people," he said.

Agriprocessors sells meat products under various labels that include Aaron's Best, Rubashkin's, Shor Habor, Iowa's Best Beef and Supreme Kosher.

Federal authorities have not brought criminal charges against the company or its executives. The bulk of the accusations, particularly those concerning worker mistreatment, remain unsubstantiated.

But nearly 300 former employees have pleaded guilty to various forms of fraud involving fake work documents and are facing deportation. The affidavit cites claims that Agriprocessors had assisted workers in securing false documentation.

Rubashkin denied underpaying his workers, saying that all new hires start at $8.60 per hour -- above the federal minimum wage of $5.85, that workers are paid time-and-a-half for overtime and that they are provided with paid vacation and health care. He further said he had no idea that his workers were illegal and that they had produced what appeared to be legitimate work documents.

The affidavit states that Agriprocessors received five separate notices from the Social Security Administration of 500 Social Security number discrepancies.

"People coming there looking for jobs -- they bring ID with a photo, with a number," Rubashkin said. "With the same card the person go to the bank. With the same card he got his credit card. With the same card he bought a car."

"19 million illegals here? I don't bring 'em here. I pay taxes and the government supposed to control the stuff."

Rubashkin also had harsh words for the media, which he mockingly referred to as the "free press" and twice compared to the Soviet, state-run media.

"A lynching press," he called it.

He accused the media of harping on the negative and ignoring the good he has done for the Postville community. Rubashkin said he offered full medical coverage to workers and their families, paid for cancer treatments for sick workers at the renowned Mayo Clinic 100 miles to the north and helped set up a day-care center for the children of employees.

Katie Hageman, who runs Postville Child Care Services, told JTA the Rubashkins donated $20,000 to the construction of the center, which caters primarily to the children Agriprocessors' employees.

Rubashkin sees himself as a victim of an immigration system that Washington has steadfastly refused to fix. He has bitter words for the Jewish social justice activists who have spoken out most vigorously since the raid.

The Conservative movement has urged kosher consumers to "consider" whether they should purchase Agriprocessors' products, while Uri L'tzedek, a social justice initiative launched by liberal Orthodox rabbinical students, circulated a petition threatening a boycott of the company.

"I'm against tzedek?" Rubashkin asked, using the Hebrew word for justice. "It's a very nice word, but what kind of tzedek? Tzedek is when you give a person what to live. Tzedek is when you give 'em a salary he should be able to pay rent. Tzedek is when you sick, you should have a doctor. This is tzedek."

Long prominent in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Rubashkin was interrupted several times during the interview by well-wishers, including a bearded man who used a Hebrew expression to wish Rubashkin success in his business. And while the butcher himself was loath to speculate on why he was being singled out, his customers were not so reticent.

"It's only anti-Semitism," said a woman who identified herself only as Esther, as she wheeled a half-dozen Rubashkin's bags to her vehicle.

Esther compared Rubashkin's plight to that of Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who was slapped with a harsher sentence -- life imprisonment -- for spying for Israel than others who had spied for enemy states.

"Everything is the same," Esther said.

Other customers offered different theories to explain the controversy swirling around their longtime neighborhood butcher.

"I think they took him as a scapegoat because he's a big company," said a Borough Park resident who identified himself as Motti. "All the big guys suffer at the end. What's his name, Mike Tyson, was put into jail because he had too much money. O.J. Simpson was nailed in some ways because he has a lot of money. And on and on."

Though their explanations differed, all agreed that they would continue to patronize Rubashkin, even if the charges against him were proved to be true.

The Orthodox Union, by contrast, one of two kosher certification agencies supervising Agriprocessors, has said it would withdraw supervision if charges are brought against the company.

"I would have a problem, but I again realize that the world has come to that," said customer Shaya Mayer. "Nobody cares about somebody else. The meat's nice, the meat's good, I'm going to continue to buy it."

Unlike his customers, Rubashkin refused to endorse the anti-Semitism thesis as the explanation for his troubles -- but he didn't seem entirely unconvinced, either. Several times he invoked classical anti-Semitic canards, like the infamous libel that Jews used the blood of Christian children to bake matzah, to underscore what he sees as the baselessness of the claims against him.

"We got a big mess, no question about it," he said. "Why? Because somebody say I was 15 years when I came to work there."

RCA Statement Regarding Recent Developments at Agriprocessors

June 3, 2008 - (The Yeshiva World)
The Rabbinical Council of America has been following recent developments taking place at the AgriProcessors kosher meat plant in Postville, Iowa. Like many others, both within and beyond the Jewish community, we have been concerned to determine the facts and the realities surrounding the many reports that have appeared in the print and online media, so as to respond appropriately, and responsibly.

Given the gravity of the allegations, and the potential impact on the Jewish community and kosher consumers, it would be inappropriate to rush to judgment before all relevant facts are clarified. It is important to keep in mind that to date conflicting reports have been issued, denials of improper behavior have been heard, and the recent events have occurred against a background of long-standing conflicts involving competing interest groups. Nonetheless it is important even at this time to clarify what in our view should be guiding principles in addressing this issue, once the facts will be known.

Relevant Principles of Jewish Law

The Torah, Halacha, and our sacred tradition require that we show ethical sensitivity on many levels:

1)We are required to respect our fellow human beings, who must be treated with fairness and dignity at all times. This applies whether they be Jew or non-Jew, rich or poor, and for that legal or illegal immigrants.
2)Inseparable from the requirement of ethical treatment of our fellows is the requirement to not judge them prematurely, without knowledge of the facts, and without providing an opportunity to rebut allegations in appropriate fashion.
3)We are required to obey all of the laws and regulations of the land if promulgated lawfully, and enforced without discrimination, to adhere to them in letter as well as in spirit, whether or not we approve or make sense of them.
4)We must show sensitivity to needless animal suffering, preventing it where possible, and minimizing it when unavoidable. This is particularly true when it comes to practicing humane methods of animal slaughter, a matter of great concern to rabbis in every generation.
5)We must above all take every reasonable step to prevent the disgrace, even in appearance, of the Jewish people and the Torah. Thus even if an act is technically permitted, if it nonetheless brings discredit to us and our faith, be it in Jewish or non-Jews eyes, it must be avoided.

Public Interest Principles

The availability of reliably supervised kosher meat (as with other kosher food) at a reasonable cost to the consumer is essential to Jewish life (and indeed to many who are not Jewish.) This requires an appropriate understanding of current business models as well as the requirements of Jewish law in providing and supervising such products.

Without necessarily impugning the current motives of various parties involved in any given dispute, we must keep in mind lessons learned during the course of the long history of unwarranted attacks on kosher slaughter practices in Europe and elsewhere, carried out by groups with agendas of their own.

In this connection one can raise for consideration whether or not the laws of the land, in themselves entirely legal and proper, have been consistently enforced, or whether a particular group or company has been singled out for such enforcement or legal action.

The Proper Parameters of Kosher Food Supervision

There are some who have called on kosher supervising agencies to take responsibility for comprehensive supervision of all “ethical” aspects of the kosher food industry. They would have rabbis provide informed and reliable judgments regarding financial auditing, human resource department practices involving hiring, firing, promotion, workplace safety issues, treatment of animals, tax and financial compliance, compliance with immigration law, et al. In our view such expectations of kosher supervising agencies are unreasonable, impractical, and without merit. Kashrus agencies do not have the expertise, resources, or enforcement powers to adjudicate such matters.

Extending kosher supervision to the full gamut of business practices raises many difficult questions. For instance, do we want ethical certification of practices involved in the production and distribution anywhere in the world of clothing, appliances, and furniture? This type of certification requires very different skills, and a very different arena of activity, from that involved in kosher certification. It requires looking at the company’s books, human resources practices, suppliers and distributors, all by experts in the field – at significant cost to the consumers who, even if such broad-ranging review is possible, will end up paying for such investigations.

On the other hand it is certainly appropriate for supervising agencies to incorporate into contractual agreements from the outset, an expectation of adherence to the principles outlined above. It is also appropriate that if improper practices are found to have occurred as a result of regulatory or other substantiated revelations, the kashrus agencies should review their relationship to the businesses involved. Such review should consider, and balance, all of the relevant factors, including

a. The nature, severity, and frequency of the infractions involved. Who was responsible for them – ownership, management, a failure in oversight by government or other supervisory agencies?

b. The likely impact on kosher consumers of continuation or discontinuation of supervision, including the availability and cost of the products in question.

c. The likelihood of continued improper activity by the company, versus its willingness to improve its record going forward in verifiable fashion.

The Rights and Responsibilities of Individual Consumers

Kosher consumers certainly should be free, at any time, to choose to purchase kosher products based on whatever halachic or ethical criteria they value. Some may choose to withhold their business even on the basis of rumor or media reports until such time as the facts emerge. That is their right.

At the same, in the absence of hard facts, they too should exercise appropriate restraint, and not rush to premature judgments that might unnecessarily imperil the availability or affordability of kosher products and services, or impute guilt where none, or little, exists.

They should also be wary of any group that would seek to exploit the kosher food industry, or any particular company, based on ulterior motives of an economic, philosophical, or even religious, nature. Here the principle of caveat emptor, in its broadest meaning, applies.


In the matter of recent allegations against Agriprocessors and its company policies, the RCA is certainly concerned at news reports published to date. But both Jewish Law (Halacha) and civil law require a presumption of innocence by all parties, including the concerned public, as well as an understanding of the broad implications involved on all sides, until the facts will have been clarified, especially in a case that is as complex as the one at hand.

The first thought that came to my mind is how reasoned and cautious the RCA comments were. While the comments left on The Yeshiva World blog are less than useful themselves, criticizing the RCA for making in the words of a few of the posts, "useless", to the contrary, they are quite important and almost ground breaking. The RCA had to comment, had to leave the door open for sanctions, yet had to be clear not to draw conclusions until all the investigations have been complete into the legal matters facing Agriprocessors. What cannot be missed is that the facts however, speak for themselves. No matter who was responsible whether Agriprocessors (and at whatever level) or the government as suggested by Aaron Rubashkin in the interview above, undocumented workers were arrested and have been convicted. What is left is the blame game.

The RCA did the right thing by pointing out the enforcement consistency in the immigration law and by implication, the standards of the meat industry. This is no excuse for identity theft, and APRPEH has been clearly on the side of little tolerance for breaking the law. The RCA, however, is looking at the issue through the eyes of kashrus and the precedent being set for oversight. It is personally interesting to note that much of what is found in the RCA statement could have been read on this blog in previous entries. APRPEH discussed the separation of kashrus and law in this previous post pointing out that there can be an advisory role and even upfront expectations placed on an agreement to extend a heksher to a company but the rabbinic role is to insure kashrus while the government role is to insure safe working conditions, baselines for compensation, protections against harrassment, etc. This isn't the job that the rabbis do. As the RCA points out, what's next? What industry standards must the rabbis learn in order to intervene in the non-food market if the expectation of acceptable practice and use is forced upon the batei dinim? <B<; span>r>
And, thus we have swerved into concerns raised in the APRPEH post linked above. The JTA article offers the following:
The Conservative movement has urged kosher consumers to "consider" whether they should purchase Agriprocessors' products, while Uri L'tzedek, a social justice initiative launched by liberal Orthodox rabbinical students, circulated a petition threatening a boycott of the company.

The APRPEH post revealed the Conservativist and Reformist agendas
of seeking relevancy through the woes of fellow Jews, the Rubashkin family. Now, we see the entry of the "liberal Orthodoxy".

Like many proponents of liberalism, who use the vehicles of poverty, homelessness, access to healthcare, disparity of income, the environment, world wide expansion of freedom, etc., not to propose ways to advance the cause of liberty (comprised of tearing down the imposed barriers to the access to information, the ability to build coalitions based upon common purpose, to achieve equal access to the means to resolve their own problems, demonstrating that all matters of social and economic prosperity are achievable by everyone, thereby lifting everyone) but to tear apart the structure of society, break apart the sources of influence and to impose an equality of outcome. This is the method and true agenda of the leftist. This is the cause of social revolution. This is the dogma of leftism. This is, I am afraid, the cause de jour of a crowd who aligns itself with Jewish leftism circulating through the organs of such groups as the Jewish Funds for Justice (formerly the Shefa fund) (some background can be found in the essay on the Uri L'Tzdek website A Jewish Liberation Theology). For additional background on social revolution and Saul Alinsky see here.

The motivation to make social revolution, not social justice, AKA the old mantra of Reformism posing as tikkun olam, a Jewish enterprise based in Torah is an idea which is bubbling beneath the surface of awareness in much of the Jewish world. The throwback to this 1960's idea seems to be in the eyes of it's advocates, a path to Jewish unity. Targeting the institutions of kashrus, seeking to infiltrate the socialist agenda into the duties of a kashrus supervisor is a dangerous and risky calculation on the part of the leftists who advocate it in my opinion. This battle of ideas needs to play out in the public domain and be discussed openly, not in secret. What will be the role of Modern Orthodoxy in American Jewish life? If you are advocating leftist solutions to social problems, say so. If you hide your agenda, you will be exposed.

In the mean time, the battle ground is in Postville, IA, the US courts, and Brooklyn. The offices of the OU and RCA have now staked a position and the Rubashkins are playing the role of sacrificial lamb.

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What Words Offend Arabs? The Truth.

Children's Poetry Booklet Recalled After Arabs Complain
(Israeli censorship kowtows to Arabs.
When Will We Tell The Truth Without Fear)

(IsraelNN.com 7 Sivan 5768/June 10, '08) Ynet's web site and Arab complaints against a ten-year-old boy's poem about terrorists has resulted in the recall of all of the Nes Ziona municipality's children's poetry booklets.

Ynet boasts that its coverage of the poem resulted in its being recalled.

The text of the poem (Ynet's translation):

Ahmed's bunker has surprises galore: Grenades, rifles are hung on the wall. Ahmed is planning another bombing!What a bunker Ahmed has, who causes daily harm.Ahmed knows how to make a bomb. Ahmed is Ahmed, that's who he is, so don't forget to be careful of him.We get blasted while they have a blast!Ahmed and his friends could be wealthy and sunny, if only they wouldn't buy rockets with all their money.

Poetry competition director Marika Berkowitz, who published the booklet, was surprised at the protests and told Ynet: "This is the boy's creation and this is what he wanted to express. Of course there should be a limit, but I think the there is no racism here. 'Ahmed' is a general term for the enemy. These are the murmurings of an innocent child."

The Education Ministry told Ynet: "The local authority that published the booklet should have guided the students in a more correct manner through the schools. The district will investigate the issue with the local authorities."
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