From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
I nestled into my window seat, 18A, overjoyed that the seat next to me was unoccupied. Two seats to my right in 18C was a Sephardic woman who was reading Tehillim from a book with Hebrew on one side of the page and Arabic on the opposite page.
Four rows behind me sat a young woman with a newborn that had begun crying as soon as they entered the jetway. I was tired and wanted to nap. I plugged in my earphones and the sound of country music filled my ears, drowning out the infant’s cries emanating from row 22. But my respite was short-lived.
Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. The woman directly behind me in 19A informed me that the music I was listening to was too loud, disturbing her efforts to grab some shut-eye. I turned the volume down on my headset, stretched out my legs, and closed my eyes with the hope of deep sleep only moments away.
Ten seconds later the woman taps me on the shoulder again. “It’s still too loud,” she exclaimed. I was too tired to fight. I shut off the music and tried to go to sleep without a lullaby.
I was rudely awakened five minutes later when the woman in 19C made friends with the woman behind me in 19A. For the next five hours, I kid you not, at a noise level ten times louder than the music I had been listening to, and almost as loud as the jet engines themselves, those two ladies talked about how Americans eat way too much of sugar, salt, and sodium and are creating a national health crisis.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I know what I wanted to do to them, but there are probably laws against that. On and on they went about the evils of salt and sugar. I couldn’t just sit there. I had to do something.
There is a saying, “Revenge is sweet.” In this case it was sweet and salty. I rang the button that alerted the flight attendant that I was in need of service, and, loudly enough for the two food scientists sitting behind me to hear, I ordered one bag of salty potato chips, one bag of salty peanuts, one bag of salty Fritos, and a cup of coffee with 12 packets of sugar on the side. The women actually screamed at me that I was ruining America.
While it is true that there might be too much salt and sugar in our food, there needs to be more seasoning in our religion.
While there are many Jewish outreach organizations that are successful in capturing and enrapturing the unaffiliated, we are losing ground with teenagers and, in some circles, women.
Chanukah is a very appropriate time to examine this issue, as the entire focus of this eight-day celebration is to cast our heritage in its best light, every pun intended.
Shul davening and yeshiva learning must be made more relevant to today’s teenager. There are simply too many contemporary pursuits that provide messages of fulfillment and distraction that davening and learning must compete with. Curricula in the classroom should include an analysis of daily and Shabbos prayers, with discussion of their application to present-day issues affecting our youth. How would King David have composed a psalm dealing with a present-day issue? That would be an appropriate assignment or discussion in a classroom.
When that teenager arrives in shul the following Shabbos, he or she can make that connection to the text written generations ago and the modern-day issue discussed a day earlier in class. There is a natural tendency to eschew any break from tradition, and I am not advocating anything along the lines of what is seen in some Conservative or some Reform synagogues. I am simply pointing out that we need to stay ahead of the curve and think a few years down the line in terms of involving our youth in the services and making talking to G‑d more relevant. Every Shabbos cannot be the same, or we will lose our kids to texting on Shabbos, yes on Shabbos, when they should be davening, learning, or enjoying family and friends.
Teachers should provide their students with handouts that each week relate some or all of the Shabbos prayers to an event that occurred that week or to an issue that is important to a particular student. That handout should be made available to the rabbi, who can incorporate it into his remarks, further involving the teenager in the process. This is but one example.
There is another arena where we are losing a segment of the population. Women going through a divorce are being forced to choose between receiving their get or surrendering either their children or monetary support for themselves and their children. They are subject to blackmail by their husbands and believe that beis din is a losing proposition for them.
Men, too, can suffer from the blackmail of a wife who refuses to accept a get unless her conditions are met. But in the overwhelming majority of instances, it is the man, with the cooperation and backing of beis din, that refuses to give the get unless his demands are met.
It has reached epidemic proportions in terms of women who have lost all faith in beis din, and the next step is their rejection of Orthodox Judaism. I have seen it time and time again, twice just this week. Unless and until the beis din process is fixed, we will have more Jewish women leave the fold, and simply remarry and have children without receiving a get. The problem with that is obvious and becomes a problem down the road for all Orthodox Jews trying to marry off children.
Even the courts in the State of New York have had their fill with rulings of beis din. New York courts don’t allow the beis din to make decisions regarding child support unless they conform with what the court itself would have decided. They do not allow beis din to make custody decisions.
Whether a particular beis din is corrupt or the process is corrupt is almost irrelevant. The perception is that it is corrupt, and therefore women are avoiding the process, opting to either remain single or remarry without obtaining a get.
A blue-ribbon panel needs to be constituted to address this growing problem, with input from frum lawyers and women and men that have been abused or feel they have been abused by the process. A judge should sit on the panel as well, to guide the panel as to where the recent decisions and processes employed by the beis din are flawed.
Chanukah is a time of dedication and, more so, rededication. We would be well served to reexamine the flavor by which we impart our beautiful heritage to our people. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.