Sunday, November 17, 2013

Touring the Village of New Square, NY

Touring the Village of New Square, NY
© (2013) Photographs by Vicki Polin
Music by Johnny Mathis - "Kol Nidre"

I want to thank rabbi Dovid Twersky for the wonderful escort service he provided to my friends and I while we drove through the Village of New Square back in November to insure our safety.

Prior to entering the town you will see a sign posted regarding the village ordnance's regarding modesty in one's attire. Also throughout the town you will see signs posted in Yiddish regarding which side of the street is for men and which side is for women. To the best of my knowledge, New Square is the only town in the United States with segregated sidewalks. I'm guessing the town found some sort of exemption to the civil rights movement?

While watching this video think about think about the civil rights movement, especially regarding both women and children.

FYI: It's important to note that there is only one road and out of Village New Square, NY. 

I was told by my tour guide that there are times the Village of New Square will block the road with a bus, to prevent people from coming in or leaving.

For more background information on New Square see below the following film clip:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The quasi-orthodox Jewish world compared to the BITE Model of Cult Mind Control

(This article was originally published by The Awareness Center on November 6, 2013, and republished by The Times of Israel on October 12, 2015)

Over the last fifteen years of my life I’ve been working within various movements of Judaism, from the unaffiliated to the ultra-orthodox. When I first got started I was unaware of the many facets of orthodox Judaism. What I used to consider extremely observant, is actually considered to be modern orthodox. As the years progressed I started to understand the diverse populations within the Jewish orthodox world. The vast majority of orthodox Jews do not fall into the category of being considered cult like. Yet there are some small splinter groups within the far-right movement of Judaism, which appear to fall into this category.

Recently I decided to go through Steve Hassan’sBITE Model of Cult Mind Control” to compare these splinter groups of the Jewish orthodox world to see if they would fall within the BITE Model to verify if my hypothesis was correct. Below are some of my findings when answering the 15 questions under the Behavior category. 

While reading the following please be aware that I am NOT comparing “mainstream orthodox Judaism" to the "BITE Model", only the extremist groups within ultra-orthodox communities; such communities as those in which Jewish survivors of sex crimes in the past have shared that they were not allowed to make hot-line reports when they suspect a child is being abused or neglected to the secular authorities without the permission of their rabbis first. It is in these types of communities, rabbis’ regulate just about everything that goes on in their community members life.

1. Regulate individual’s physical reality: In mainstream Judaism, a person who keeps kosher and shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) is considered an Orthodox Jew. In the eyes of many of those living within the eruv of an ultra-orthodox, extremist group, an individual is not even considered Jewish, let alone a Torah observant Jew –– unless the individual does exactly what their particular rabbi says to do. In these types of communities if one goes to a rabbi with a question and does not like the answer, they are NOT allowed to go to another rabbi to get another response. To do so is consider heresy. 

2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates. In some of the extremist groups, and depending on how insulated the community is, the rabbi will dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates with. 

The whole concept of the shadchan (matchmaker) is an example of this. One can not just find a mate and get married, there is a process to getting married. In many of these communities parents will hire a shadchun who will present possible suitors for a potential bride. If the woman is from the right kind of family then the possible mate may be a rabbi or from a prominent family. It’s sort of like what happens when trying to marry off someone from a royal family or like the concept of using a dowry.

If the child is not from ‘the right kind of family’ they may not be introduced to someone who has any standing within the community. Instead they most likely would be told by the shadchan they need to settle for someone who they do not feel comfortable with. If the individual looking for a mate is a troublemaker (doesn’t keep to the rules of the community or questions authority), they will not be able to find a good marriage partner. If the individual is male, they also may not be able to get into a good yeshiva (Jewish day school, high school or seminary). In these type of extremist communities, this almost like getting a death sentence. Without being able to study Torah under the right rabbi, could basically influence the standing within the community the rest of his life.

3. When, how and with whom the member has sex. In the more extremist orthodox communities, the issue of modesty runs rampant to the degree that no male over the age of 13 is allowed to touch a woman, except for a woman after he is married. In a more liberal chassidic or yeshivish community a woman is allowed to be hugged by her father and male siblings, even after she reaches the age of 13. In the more main stream orthodox community this is a non-issue. 

When a woman gets married and starts her monthly menstrual cycle –– up until the time her rabbi says she is allowed to go to the Mikvah her, husband is not allowed to touch her. This includes shaking hands or any other type of physical contact. In the more extreme orthodox communities, once a woman’s period is over she must wait 7 days before her husband will bring a pair of her panties to the rav or rebbe of the community, who will look at the underwear to determine if she’s “clean”. Meaning there’s no stains. In these more extreme orthodox communities, a trained rabbi will also be able to tell from the underwear (or a cloth used to wipe themselves to bring to their rabbi) if the woman needs to seek medical attention from an OB/GYNE for gynecological care. A woman can go at any time to see a doctor, as long as it’s a doctor recommended by the rav or rebbe. In a few of these communities there is NO such thing as confidentiality or doctors following HIPPA . Many Jewish survivors, who came from these more insulated communities described that they learned that it was vitally important for all doctors and mental health professionals to report their findings to their rav or rebbe, so the rav or rebbe can keep tabs on everyone. 

Once a rav or rebbe (rabbi) clears a woman, she can go to the mikvah. In some of the more extremist types of ultra-orthodox communities, once a woman has gone to the mikvah, she must return straight home and have sexual relations with her husband right away –– because at that time she is considered clean and pure. 

Again in some of the more extremist communities one of the beliefs for having sexual relations, is for procreating; yet it is also important to note that it is the man’s responsibility to please his wife.

The belief in many orthodox communities is that while making love, one must have only pure and holy thoughts. Afterwards both the husband and the wife should thank Hashem for the possibility of life. 

According to halacha (Jewish Law), it’s a sin for a man to have sexual relations outside of the marriage. Yet it is a forgive able sin as long as the act is with an unmarried woman or a non-Jew. The only exception to this rule is if a man is a kohan, and the the rules get changed up. A kohan can never have sexual relations with anyone except the woman he is married to, or else he can loose his status of a Kohan. If a male is sexually abused as a child, he then has to ask G-d for forgiveness to maintain his status as a Kohan. A Kohan is someone who is a descendant of Aaron. 

According to halacha, adultery only occurs when both the man and the woman are married to other people. This view is often taught in the yeshivish and chasidic world. In the more modern orthodox world this definition no longer is true, yet in the more extremist groups they believe halacha is halacha (Jewish Law). 

Getting back to the Mikvah. In a few of the more extremely insulated charedi communities, after the rav or rebbe gives the husband permission to have sexual relations with his wife, and sees the man the next day, the custom is to go up to him and say “Mazel tov”. Because having sexual relations is the potential of bringing a new life into the world.

It’s important to note that the reason why a man does not have sexual relations with his wife once she gets her period, is NOT because she’s “unclean”. It has to do with the fact that the belief is that she and her body is in a state of mourning -- for the potential life that never became a reality. 

4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles. The local orthodox rabbi or Vaad (rabbinical counsel) will determine what clothing and hair styles are appropriate for people to wear. A married woman will never show her hair in public. It will be covered by a snood or sheitle (wig). The only person who can see a married woman’s hair is her husband or children. In some groups, boys can only see their mother’s hair if the child is under the age of 13. Female children it doesn’t matter. 

A woman’s neck line should always be covered. No one but her husband should ever see her collar bone, elbows or knees. In some insulated communities, a woman always is wearing stockings so that her skin doesn’t show on her legs, including her feet. You’ll find this in the chassidic world and in some of the more yeshivish communities.

5. Regulate diet - food and drink, hunger and/or fasting. The rules of kashrut changes from community to community. It all can get extremely political. The idea of hechshers is relatively new. Prior to WWII most people shechitaled (slaughtered) their own cows and chickens, and knew how to clean food properly to insure there were no bugs or other insects and also to be sure that what they were eating followed halacha. 

Today very few people kill their own animals or watch them being slaughtered (except in the more ultra-orthodox chassidic world, where people watch to make sure it’s being done correctly prior to buying meat). Also many people will only buy frozen vegetables what have the correct hechsher from the proper kashering group set by the standards of the rabbi they follow. Also to ensure food is kosher, there needs to be someone who is called the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) to supervise food preparations to insure everything is done properly at various gatherings and restaurants. 

There are TWO major fast days in Judaism and 7 minor types of fast days. How you do these are often regulated by rabboinm. If someone can’t fast for a fast day, they must get clearance from the rav prior to the fast day. Even if a doctor says it’s dangerous to fast the rav has got to give you permission to eat, and often he will instruct you in how to eat, i.e. small bits of food and small sips of water throughout the day, etc.

6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep. I've never heard of this happening in any Jewish groups, except on shavout, when men stay up all night studying Torah, yet some men at one point do go to sleep.

7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence. This is a tricky one. Rabbis of communities may determine where you can shop and the type of things you are allowed to buy. In a particular type of Chabad community you are not allowed to buy your children anything with animals on it, except if the animal is something you can eat. The same goes for children’s books. Because food has to be kosher and you may only be allowed to buy food at a particular store or with a particular kashering label, it can cost you 3 to 4 times as much as no kosher food. 

You can also only send your children to the schools chosen by your rabbi. These schools are extremely expensive. If you follow the rules and regulations you might be able to get discounts, scholarships, etc for your kids to attend school; along with several other types of perks given to those who are under the thumb of the rebbe or rav.

8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time. A rav or rebbe will determine what kinds of leisure activities are kosher, along with things you do for entertainment and vacation time. An example of this is during Halamod Pesach (the days in between the holy days passover), a religious group will rent out Hershey Park and make it kosher food available They make it into a huge party of sorts and it is over taken by the mostly frum population, yet they do allow anyone to come in.

When it comes to entertainment you are not allowed to have a television in your home and computer use is regulated. You are NOT allowed to go to movies, except at a shul or other Jewish establishment and the the movies are chosen by the rav or rebbe. Music is also censored. Your rabbi will determine what music is allowable and what is not. This includes concerts. Women are allowed to hear both men and women sing, but men are banned from hearing women sing, except if it’s their wife in private and their own children as long as the female children are under the age of 13. The issue is that a woman’s singing voice can an arose a man, and it is the woman’s responsibility not to be sexually arousing to men. According to the ultra-orthodox extremist groups, men can not control their impulses. This is also why they believe women get raped -- because it’s something the woman or female child has done. The same thing goes for dancing. That is why at weddings and other celebrations women are behind a mechitza (fence). I’ve attended weddings where the women are seated in a totally different room or even in an alternative building. 

9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the internet. I already spoke about the internet. Men are supposed to spend their days studying torah or learning with the rebbe or rav. In some communities this all they do throughout their lives and it’s the woman who not only cares for the children and home, but also works outside the home. 

10. Permission required for major decisions. This is required in almost all orthodox communities including in a few living in the more modern orthodox world.

11. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors This happens all the time, including in some modern orthodox communities. They believe it’s one of those checks and balances to keep a community cohesive.

12. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative. The answer to this in the ultra-orthodox extremist groups is ALWAYS. As long as you do what you’re told it’s amazing how kind folks are to you. You’d be amazed at the love blasting that goes on when someone first enters the community in a BT (Baal Teshuva) community. In the more chassidic world this is not necessarily true, because they don’t trust outsiders. Yet, if you don’t do what the rabbi says, your home could be set on fire, you can loose your job, your kids kicked out of the yeshivas, and or you can’t get a good marriage partner.

13. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think. In the more insular extremist groups, this is absolutely true. Remember it’s unthinkable to question authority. If you think for yourself you are considered either a troublemaker or mentally ill.

14. Impose rigid rules and regulations. In the more extremist orthodox communities one must always follow the rules and regulations set down by the local vaad (Jewish religious court), or by the head rabbi of the community. In the more insulated communities, every aspect of a persons life is regulated by their rabbi. In these extremist, insulated communities if one does not follow the rules, their children will no longer be allowed to attend the local day schools or yeshivas, their children will not get good marriage partners which is an essential part of the more charedi lifestyle, and also if they own a business, community members will no longer be allowed to shop there. 

15. Instill dependency and obedience. In the more insulated, extremist types of orthodox communities this is absolutely. Your rav or rebbe because G-d like. They be come your ultimate parent (father). You are nothing without them. You need them to make every decision there can be to make. If you disobey them, your life and that of everyone you know and love can be ruined.