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Facebook Search promotes Holocaust denial groups …

Posted By on July 21, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg defended the presence of Holocaust deniers on Facebook this week despite widespread criticism, arguing that the company’s algorithm will punish misinformation to restrict its circulation on the social network rather than deleting it outright.

But Facebook is still prominently showcasing groups that promote Holocaust denial at the top of its search results, Business Insider has found.

If a user searches for “Holocaust” on Facebook, some of the top results are for user-created groups that falsely claim the Nazi murder of millions of Jews was fabricated. These appear on the first page of the search results, as well as on the dedicated Groups tab of the search results.

The prominence of these groups in Facebook’s search results reveal a gaping hole in Facebook’s defenses to stop the spread of falsehoods on its service and raise new questions about the effectiveness, and seriousness, of Facebook’s policies.

In contrast to Facebook’s search results, if a user searches for “Holocaust” on Google, the first-page results are a mixture of news articles, legitimate informational websites, and other results, none of which suggest the Holocaust did not occur. The same is true of Yahoo, Microsoft-owned search engine Bing, and privacy-centric search engine DuckDuckGo.

Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We find Holocaust denial to be repugnant and ignorant. Mark [Zuckerberg] has made that clear – and we agree that we ‘find Holocaust denial deeply offensive.’ We don’t allow people to celebrate or defend or try to justify the Holocaust. We also remove any content that mocks Holocaust victims or survivors.”

Unlike other major search engines, the first page of Facebook’s search results for “Holocaust” includes a group that promotes Holocaust denialism, “The Open Holocaust Debate.” BI

On Wednesday, technology news site Recode published a wide-ranging interview with CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It came on the back a furor over conspiracy theory website Infowars’ use of Facebook, and Zuckerberg argued that the company did not feel comfortable restricting the “voice” of its users, even if they were clearly wrong.

Instead, he said, Facebook penalized hoaxers and misinformation spreaders with its algorithm, which ensures that such posts get far less traction and views in the News Feed. Zuckerberg cited Holocaust denialism as an example of content that was penalized but not banned.

“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened,” the Facebook founder said. “I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong.”

But the News Feed is not the only way Facebook users can find and consume information on the social network. Holocaust denial groups rank highly in Facebook’s Search results, mixed in alongside non-conspiracy-theorist groups.

The Groups search results for “Holocaust” includes two groups in its top ten promoting Holocaust denial material, “The Open Holocaust Debate” and “Holocaust Revisionism.” BI

The groups vary slightly in their search ranking position from user to user. One such group, “The Open Holocaust Debate,” has more than 1,600 members and frequently ranks in the top three search results. Billed as a “study group,” its users frequently post anti-Semitic messages and deny that the Holocaust occurred.

Another in the top-ten results is the 1,000-member “Holocaust Revisionism,” which has a description that reads in part: “many people are starting to wake up, and find out that the official story which we have been told about the Holocaust may not be 100% true … the truth of the matter is that Hitler was a Zionist puppet from start to finish… and that the whole Holocaust thing was part of a Messianic agenda in order to fulfill a Sabbatean Frankist version of prophecy.”

One of the posts in “The Open Holocaust Debate” disputing the existence of the Holocaust. BI

In an emailed statement, a Facebook spokesperson said that search results are unique to each user: “They’re ordered algorithmically based on a combination of many factors. A few of the factors that determine what Groups appear in the Groups module on the search results page include relevance to what you type into the search bar, if you are connected to members of the Group and the activity level of the Group. ”

However, Business Insider tested the “Holocaust” search with four different users, and Holocaust denial groups appeared highly every time indicating this is likely a widespread issue. For two of the users, “The Open Holocaust Debate” was ranked third, and “Holocaust Revisionism” was ranked sixth. For one user, the former was ranked second and the latter was ranked eighth. And for another, “The Open Holocaust Debate” was ranked sixth.

The spokesperson added that Facebook blocks Holocaust denial content in countries where it is illegal, and takes down groups if they “[devolve] into threats or statements of hate.”

The prominence of Holocaust denial groups in Facebook’s search results risk misinforming users seeking more information about the historic atrocity, especially as Facebook increasingly encourages the Groups feature as a way to make connections on the platform.

A recent survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 11% of US adults were not sure if they had heard of the Holocaust and that 2 out of 3 Americans between 18 and 34 years of age could not identify Auschwitz.

While Facebook has begun taking greater steps to stop the spread of misinformation in its NewsFeed, it’s not clear to what extent the company is policing the other corners of its 2-billion member internet service.

With its engineering resources and capital, Facebook should be capable of solving the problem with technology.

After all, no other major search engine promotes Holocaust denial material on its first page of results for “Holocaust.”

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Facebook Search promotes Holocaust denial groups …

Mark Zuckerberg’s remarks on Holocaust denial …

Posted By on July 21, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg has been criticised by Jewish groups and anti-racism organisations for suggesting Holocaust denial should be allowed on Facebook because it could be unintentional.

In an interview on Wednesday, the Facebook founder said he found Holocaust denial deeply offensive, but added: I dont believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I dont think that theyre intentionally getting it wrong Its hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.

Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, later retracted his remarks, issuing an update that said: I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didnt intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.

But his comment came too late to stop criticism from Jewish groups, both for the specifics of his statement and the general practice of allowing Holocaust denial to thrive on his platform.

Stephen Silverman, director of investigations and enforcement at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, told the Guardian: Mark Zuckerbergs remarks are deeply irresponsible. There is no such thing as benign Holocaust denial.

It is solely a means of inciting hatred against Jews by claiming that we fabricated the genocide of our people to extort money in the form of reparations. It is utterly abusive and Mark Zuckerberg must take responsibility for excising it from Facebook.

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the US-based Anti-Defamation League, said: Holocaust denial is a wilful, deliberate and longstanding deception tactic by antisemites that is incontrovertibly hateful, hurtful and threatening to Jews. Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination.

ADL will continue to challenge Facebook on this position and call on them to regard Holocaust denial as a violation of their community guidelines.

Matthew McGregor, campaigns director of HOPE not hate, told the Guardian: The Holocaust is one of the great evils of history, an industrial genocide levelled against the Jewish people. It did happen and it is more than just deeply offensive: it is incredibly dangerous to give any credence or platform to those who deny it.

Facebook, as a publisher of content, has a responsibility to ensure that the violence inherent in the message of Holocaust deniers must not be able to flourish without being challenged or held in check. This is not about getting it wrong, it is about not enabling dangerous people to spread a vile message of hate.

Facebooks community guidelines, published in detail in April, a year after the Guardian obtained the then secret documents in a leak, ban hate speech because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.

But the companys definition of hate speech requires violent or dehumanising speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation, which it says does not cover Holocaust denial.

Facebook removes Holocaust denial in some countries, such as Germany, where it is illegal. Monika Bickert, Facebooks head of global policy, explained the distinction in May, telling an event at Oxford University that something might be illegal in 10 countries, but if only two countries say this is important to us, its illegal, remove it, we will do it. And if the others dont, we will not remove it.

Sometimes countries may have laws on the books this is certainly true in the United States, I can say as an American lawyer that are really out of date with how that culture thinks about speech, that are no longer enforced. So we wait for that government to make a request about it.

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Mark Zuckerberg’s remarks on Holocaust denial …

Zuckerberg clarifies: I personally find Holocaust denial …

Posted By on July 21, 2018

I just got this email from Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, clarifying remarks he made in a Recode Decode podcast interview I did with him yesterday.

First, read it in its entirety:

I enjoyed our conversation yesterday, but theres one thing I want to clear up. I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didnt intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.

Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.

I look forward to catching up again soon.


For those who dont know the back story, Zuckerberg talked about a range of things in the 90-minute interview, from privacy to news to China to who is responsible for the Russian election meddling on the powerful social media platform he created (he is!).

But one series of remarks he made to illustrate how he and the company think about controversial and false content that is allowed on the platform has attracted some criticism. After I asked about what Facebook should do about false news, such as some of the content that is published on a site like Infowars, Zuckerberg gave an unprompted example of Holocaust deniers to make his point about allowing hoaxes to be published on the site.

Here is the whole exchange between us:

Okay. Sandy Hook didnt happen is not a debate. It is false. You cant just take that down?

I agree that it is false.


I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, Hey, no, youre a liar that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, lets take this whole closer to home …


Im Jewish, and theres a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.

Yes, theres a lot.

I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I dont believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I dont think that theyre intentionally getting it wrong, but I think …

In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.

Its hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. Im sure you do. Im sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just dont think that it is the right thing to say, Were going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times. What we will do is well say, Okay, you have your page, and if youre not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive. But that doesnt mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed. I think we, actually, to the contrary …

So you move them down? Versus, in Myanmar, where you remove it?


Some on Twitter found Zuckerbergs point that Holocaust deniers do not intend to impart false information and cause damage was, um, problematic.

Heres just one from longtime tech entrepreneur Mitch Kapor, for example:

In any case, its clear the contentious debate about the power and responsibility of Facebook around what content the world sees and does not see on its massive network is not going away soon.

Sign up for our Recode Daily newsletter to get the top tech and business news stories delivered to your inbox.

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Zuckerberg clarifies: I personally find Holocaust denial …

Mark Zuckerberg Seeks to Clarify Remarks About Holocaust …

Posted By on July 21, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, said in an interview published Wednesday that he would not automatically remove denials that the Holocaust took place from the site, a remark that caused an uproar online.

Mr. Zuckerbergs comments were made during an interview with the tech journalist Kara Swisher that was published on the site Recode. (Read the full transcript here.) Hours later, Mr. Zuckerberg tried to clarify his comments in an email to Recode.

In the interview, Mr. Zuckerberg had been discussing what content Facebook would remove from the site, and noted that in countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka, the dissemination of hate speech can have immediate and dire consequences. Moments earlier, he had also defended his companys decision to allow content from the conspiracy site Infowars to be distributed on Facebook.

[Facebook plans to remove misinformation that could lead to physical harm.]

The principles that we have on what we remove from the service are: If its going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if youre attacking individuals, then that content shouldnt be on the platform, he said.

Theres a lot of categories of that that we can get into, but then theres broad debate.

Ms. Swisher, who will become an Opinion contributor with The New York Times later this summer, challenged Mr. Zuckerberg.

Sandy Hook didnt happen is not a debate, she said, referring to the Connecticut school massacre in 2012, which Infowars has spread conspiracy theories about. It is false. You cant just take that down?

Mr. Zuckerberg countered that the context of the remark mattered.

I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, Hey, no, youre a liar that is harassment, and we actually will take that down, he said.

Thats when Mr. Zuckerberg brought up the Holocaust.

But over all, lets take this whole closer to home, he continued. Im Jewish, and theres a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I dont believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I dont think that theyre intentionally getting it wrong.

Ms. Swisher interrupted him: In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.

Mr. Zuckerbergs response was somewhat muddled.

Its hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent, he said, adding that he also gets things wrong when he speaks publicly, and other public figures do as well.

I just dont think that it is the right thing to say, Were going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times, he said.

Instead, Facebook would allow the content to exist on its site, but would move it down in the News Feed so that fewer users see it, he said.

In his follow-up statement, the Facebook chief executive tried to clarify his remarks.

Theres one thing I want to clear up. I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didnt intend to defend the intent of people who deny that, he wrote in the email.

If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution, he wrote, adding that any post advocating for violence or hate against a particular group would be removed.

These issues are very challenging, he added, but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.

But the interview had already set off a reaction from online commenters and drew widespread news coverage.

Benjy Sarlin of NBC News seemed baffled by Mr. Zuckerbergs choice of words.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that Holocaust denial is a willful, deliberate and longstanding deception tactic by anti-Semites.

Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination, he wrote.

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Mark Zuckerberg Seeks to Clarify Remarks About Holocaust …

The Inayati-Maimuni Order

Posted By on July 17, 2018

WHEREAS the sacred traditions of the faiths of Beni IsraelJudaism, Christianity, and Islamderive from the prophecy of Abraham, who “was the first to bring the knowledge of mysticism from Egypt, where he was initiated in the most ancient order of esotericism”;

AND WHEREAS the early Sufis of Islam were deeply studied in Judaica (Isra’iliyyat);

AND WHEREAS Rabbi Abraham Maimonides observed, “the ways of the ancient saints of Israel … have now become the practice of the Sufis of Islam,” and developed a school of Hasidic Sufism in thirteenth-century Cairo;

AND WHEREAS Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan founded, in London in 1914, the Sufi Order in the West, a new order of universalist Sufism rooted in the transmission of four unbroken lineages: Chishtiyya, Suhrawardiyya, Qadiriyya, and Naqshbandiyya;

AND WHEREAS Hazrat Inayat Khan appointed Pir Vilayat Inayat-Khan as his Sajjada-nishin, and Pir Vilayat has in turn appointed this faqir as his own Sajjada-nishin;

AND WHEREAS in California in 1975 and New York City in 1976, invoking the names of Melchizedek and Abraham, Pir Vilayat and Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi performed mutual initiations, bestowing the titles of Shaikh and Kohen l’El Eliyon respectively;

AND WHEREAS as a duly authorized Sufi Shaikh and Hasidic Rebbe, Reb Zalman has masterfully integrated the authentic traditions of the Sufis and the Hasidim, in the manner of a “merging of two oceans”;

NOW, THEREFORE it is with jubilation of heart that I hereby recognize the establishment of the Maimuniyya, as a new order of Hasidic Sufism, reviving the tradition of the Egyptian Hasidic school and bearing the initiatory trans mission of the Sufi Order in the West, whereby it is vested with the baraka of Hazrat Inayat Khan and the fourfold chain of Pir-o-murshidan preceding him.

IT IS MY PRAYER that the Maimuniyya will bring healing to the tragically divided family of Abraham and guide many sincere seekers on the path that leads to the fulfillment of life’s purpose. May the Message of God reach far and wide!

IN WITNESS THEREOF I have signed this deed at The Abode of the Message on the 6th of May, 2004.


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The Inayati-Maimuni Order

Secretly seduced by science, Hasidic atheists lead a …

Posted By on July 17, 2018

The moment Solomon lost his faith, he was standing on the D train, swaying back and forth with its movement as if in prayer. But it wasnt a prayer book that the young law student was reading he had already been to synagogue, where he had wrapped himself in the leather thongs that bound him to Orthodox Judaism, laying phylacteries and reciting the prayers three times daily.

The tome in his hands now was Alan Dershowitzs The Genesis of Justice (2000), which used Talmudic and Hasidic interpretations of the Bible to argue that stories in the book of Genesis, from Adam and Eve eating the apple to Noah and his ark, constituted Gods learning curve a means of establishing a moral code and the rules of justice that prevail today.

What struck him about the book was its depth, and a complexity of thought that he had been raised to believe was the exclusive domain of the rabbis whose authority commanded his community of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The books brilliance, coupled with its unabashed heresy, created the first of many cracks in Solomons faith. Seeing the scriptures interpreted in methods so compelling and yet entirely inconsistent with the dogmas of his youth caused Solomon to question everything he believed to be true.

From Dershowitz, Solomon moved on to evolutionary biology, and then to Stephen Hawking and cosmology, and then biblical criticism, until finally, he was unable to deny the conclusion his newly developed capacity for critical thinking had led him to: he no longer believed in the existence of God.

It was the most devastating moment of my life, he told me. I wish to this day that I could find the holy grail that proves that Im wrong, that its all true.

And yet 15 years later, Solomons life looks exactly the way it did the day of that fateful train ride, give or take a few infractions. Solomon is still leading the life of an Orthodox Jew. He is married to an Orthodox Jew. His children are Orthodox Jews who go to study the Torah at yeshiva. His parents are ultra-Orthodox Jews. And so, with his new-found atheism, Solomon did nothing.

Solomon is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men and women whose encounters with evolution, science, new atheism and biblical criticism have led them to the conclusion that there is no God, and yet whose social, economic and familial connections to the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities prevent them from giving up the rituals of faith. Those I spoke to could not bring themselves to upend their families and their childrens lives. With too much integrity to believe, they also have too much to leave behind, and so they remain closeted atheists within ultra-Orthodox communities. Names and some places have been changed every person spoke to me for this story on condition of anonymity. Part of a secret, underground intellectual elite, these people live in fear of being discovered and penalised by an increasingly insular society.

Religious fundamentalists want to have a monopoly on truth, a monopoly on morality, but the internet undermines those facades

But they are also proof of the increasing challenges fundamentalist religious groups face in the age of the internet and a globalised world. With so much information so readily available, such groups can no longer rely on physical and intellectual isolation to maintain their boundaries. In addition to exposing religious adherents to information that challenges the hegemony of their belief systems, the internet gives individuals living in restrictive environments an alternative community.

It helps people find others in the same boat, said Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in California who studies apostates and secularism. Twenty, thirty years ago, if you were living in Borough Park, Brooklyn, or Alabama and you were surrounded by Hasids or Pentecostal Christians and you started to have doubts, well, you were alone. Now, you can find someone right away who is in the same boat as you and is also sharing your doubts. You can find community, you can find a connection that bolsters your own situation and gives you support intellectual and emotional. Religious fundamentalists want to have a monopoly on truth, a monopoly on lifestyle, a monopoly on morality, a monopoly on authority, but the internet undermines all those facades.

Yanky cut an incongruous figure. A tall ultra-Orthodox man with a short, scruffy beard and short side-locks wrapped behind his ears, wearing traditional Hasidic black-and-white garb, he was sitting on a barstool in an out-of-the-way dive bar in South Brooklyn on a Monday afternoon, sipping a Corona. But Yanky is an incongruous man. Like Solomon, he lives in an Orthodox neighbourhood, has many children who attend yeshivas, goes to synagogue to pray, hosts meals on Sabbath. His life, like the life of any Orthodox Jew, is punctuated a hundred times a day by the small demands the religion makes on its adherents lifestyle, demands on what they can eat, what they can wear, where they can go, what they can read, whom they can speak to, what they can touch, when they can touch it, and how often.

Somewhat tragically for a person so occupied, Yanky doesnt believe in God.

Things didnt start out that way. Yanky, who has a gentle, defeated air about him, and a shy, cynical sense of humour, was among the most fervent scholars of his cohort. Its hard to describe how earnest a person I was before, he told me. He had spent many years studying the Torah in the most prestigious yeshivas. I had really suffered to be there, he said, by way of explaining how much it had meant to him and how deeply invested in the holy texts he once was. He even worked as a rabbi on the side, answering questions pertaining to religious law for lay people in his community.

But Yanky had always had philosophical questions, even as a child. At some point, all of the questions added up, coming to a head when his rabbi asked him to study with a man who had recently become observant. This newly religious man needed a study partner to take him through the religious answers to scientific questions. While able to answer the mans religious queries, the partnership forced Yanky to think deeply about the issues he had been avoiding, such as the conflicts between the Bibles claims and those made by science. He tried to put an end to their study sessions, but his rabbi was confident in his ability to stay the course. No, no, itll be fine, itll be fine, Yanky remembers his rabbi telling him.

It wasnt fine.

Thats when his newly observant study partner took Yanky to a presentation by the British scientist and New Atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion (2006). It wasnt so much that Dawkins was so convincing, or interesting even, Yanky told me between short sips of beer. It was just, I was sitting there with this whole group of people who were having this one viewpoint. He experienced for the first time what religion looked like from the outside, a series of often ridiculous and always questionable ideas shattering its absolute hold on his psyche.

And something else crystalised at that Dawkins talk: Yanky had at that point hundreds of questions which no one had ever been able to answer to his satisfaction, ranging from scientific questions about the veracity of the Old Testaments narrative (woman very clearly wasnt taken from man; ancient humans were not vegetarians, he elaborated) to questions concerning the claims made in the Talmud (the laws of cooking on Shabbos and kosher cooking laws dont match up with thermodynamics; bugs dont spontaneously generate from plants). It felt like there was a separate, unsatisfying answer for every burning question. And as Dawkins spoke, Yanky realised that there was one answer that took care of all of his questions God did not write the Torah because He does not exist. So that was basically it for me, he said.

he was an atheist forced to stay under wraps lest his boss fire him, his wife divorce him, and his children get thrown out of school

Yanky was devastated by his realisation that there is no God. It was very upsetting, he said, talking quickly. I remember laying in bed and feeling like the world had come to an end. It wasnt a relief. It was very painful.

He was so upset that his first move after this realisation was to search out the smartest and most learned rabbis, hoping that they would have answers for him and be able to convince him that he was wrong that there is a God, that the Torah is true. He wrote anonymous letters to a few respected rabbis, and posted them snail-mail (though this was 2000, he had little to no contact with the internet, as the most pious Jews dont). The letters contained his questions, mostly culled from the contradictions between the first chapters of the Old Testament and evolutionary theory: evolution suggests that snakes, descended from lizards, lost their legs long before humans evolved but Genesis states that they lost them after an encounter with man. The Adam and Eve story suggests that humans were created instantaneously, in a single day a mere 6,000 years ago yet science reveals the slow evolution of human life on Earth, describing the gradual rise of our hominid predecessors over many millions of years.

The explanations he got from rabbinic scholars were weak and obscure. One rabbi sent him a bizarre note, including a story about sitting in a boat, an elaborate allegory intending to describe how we only coast along over the deep waters of the Torah, Yanky recalled. It was cool, but it didnt help me. Thanks Rabbi. With nowhere left to turn, he was finally forced to admit what he was: an atheist leading a double life, forced to stay under wraps lest his boss fire him, his wife divorce him, and his children get thrown out of school.

They call themselves Orthoprax those of correct practice to distinguish themselves from the Orthodox those of correct belief. Every time I met one, they would introduce me to a few of their friends, though many refused to speak for fear of being discovered. There are far fewer women in this situation than men, and the women were even harder to draw out. They risk losing their children, especially in New York State, where custody is often given to the more religious parent.

Yet things have changed: once so isolated in their atheism, double-lifers passing for Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and Yeshivish (known for devouring the Talmud) all gather online in chat rooms. I met undercover atheists from many different Hasidic sects Satmar, Skver, Bobov where the focus is mystical. They live in Williamsburg, Long Island, New Skver, Jerusalem. Wherever there is an insular Jewish enclave, there are individuals who have come to the conclusion that God does not exist, and yet they maintain their religious cover for social, familial and economic reasons. Many are well-established in their communities, even leaders. Many are financially successful, family men and women, moral people. I am your neighbour with kids in your childrens class, wrote one undercover atheist anonymously on a blog. I am one of the weekly sponsors of the Kiddush club I was your counselor in camp I do not believe in God.

The Orthodox community has grown exponentially in the past 50 years. Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic enclaves such as Lakewood in New Jersey and Kiryas Joel in Upstate New York have the lowest median ages in the entire United States due to their high birthrate. It is normal for families to have anywhere from five to 12 children.

Were talking about a ghetto thats locked from the inside

These communities are organised around religion, explains Samuel Heilman, a sociologist at Queens College in New York, who studies contemporaryOrthodox Jewish movements. As the population has expanded, so have attempts to keep members in line. But it has been a losing battle, overall. As a sociological principle, one size can never fit all, he told me, and the larger the community, the more difficult it is to control.

That hasnt stopped efforts. One method of control is limiting secular education for children in subjects such as mathematics and even English. The lack of skills necessary to navigate the outside world can be crippling to most who consider leaving their communities. Another strategy is turning everyone else into an enemy. The tactic is hardly unique. Every fundamentalist group demonises the other they tend to be very dualist; youre either with us or without us. In the case of the ultra-Orthodox, Were talking about a ghetto thats locked from the inside, Heilman said. You have to create a threat from the outside to keep those doors locked.

But even for those such as Solomon and Yanky who were educated enough to pursue outside professions, their own psychological states work just as well as any external rules to keep them put. The self-policing mechanism kicked in most strongly through the matchmaking apparatus, the place where status is determined in these communities. A person leaving the community puts a blight on their entire family, stigmatising parents, siblings, children, and even cousins, limiting their ability to marry into good families with no such stain.

Are double-lifers a danger to the fold? It depends on your point of view.

For every one of them, theres five kids, 10 kids born, Heilman said.

We have 10,000 kids in school in Williamsburg alone. The majority will stay where they are, said a Satmar friend a believer in agreement.

I could pick off a person a day if I wanted to, countered an undercover atheist Ill call Moishe.

If anything, the double-lifers are more like agent provocateurs inside a besieged system, Heilman contends. They know whats real and whats not real. They know how to game the system. And they have their own signals. Surely its only a matter of time before they begin to share their ideas with those who are still believers.

Im sitting with Moishe, a scholarly luminary in the ultra-Orthodox world, in Solomons office in Manhattan; the two are colleagues and confidantes. Moishe is Hasidic, wears a graying beard, lives in the bosom of a Hasidic sect in Brooklyn and has many children. He has written books of exegesis that are studied in many yeshivas, uncovering the hidden secrets of the Torah.

Solomon, too, lives in Brooklyn, has a wife and a bunch of children, and a good job. He is clean-shaven, wears a suit to work and a black velvet yarmulke. Though both are staunch atheists, neither Moishe nor Solomon has any intention of leaving the Orthodox world.

But the similarities end there Solomon is deeply emotional, the kind of man whose obvious kindness comes from bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. He is still dogged by the emotional loss of faith. I have an emotional bond to a God that I know does not exist, as he puts it.

Moishe, on the other hand, is driven only by the pursuit of truth, with that almost childlike quality that geniuses display during discovery, and a sense of humour wide enough to encompass all of his own foibles. Solomon suffers from intense guilt; the psychological toll of leading a double life weighs heavily on him. I used to be tormented by doubt, he said. But now Im tormented by certainty. Moishe cant understand these feelings. He experienced his new-found intellectual freedom with the joy that comes from liberation.

Moishe is still publicly Hasidic. He wears a shtreimel the traditional fur hat on Sabbath. At one point, the Hasidic rabbi leading his sect asked him to become even more religious, referred to as going right.

At that time I was like, what do you mean more right? Im already at the end! Whats north of the North Pole? But he knew what he was talking about. Moishes journey from believer to atheist happened in a matter of weeks, after a few passages from Maimonides convinced him that the greatest Jewish scholar was, like himself, an undercover atheist.

Moishe explained: on the one hand, Maimonides felt that the belief that the earth was eternal could be destructive to the Jewish religion. On the other hand, he also said that if the infinite character of the earth could be proven, he would accept it as true. Moishes conclusion? Maimonides knew the first part of the Torah was iffy at best and bunk at worst. Moreover, Maimonides attempts to reconcile what he thought was true with what he claimed was true were, in Moishes words, an epic fail.

the greatest tragedy for undercover atheists is the barrier it erects between them and their loved ones

Nothing he said made any actual sense, he explained. So I was left with one option and one option only: he was an atheist but was hiding it. There, now that made sense. So now I look at myself as a reincarnation of Rambam [Maimonides]. Im an atheist in hiding just like he was.

Still, despite his confidence that he could convert a person a day to atheism should he so desire, Moishe balked at the consequences. Perhaps the greatest tragedy for undercover atheists is the barrier it necessarily erects between them and their loved ones.

Im desperate to tell my kids the truth, Moishe confessed. And yet, he doesnt dare. Moishe is not alone. Many I spoke to stay inside the confines of their Orthodox lives for fear of harming their children, opting instead to let them continue to believe what they themselves now consider to be fairy tales.

To me, lying to my children was the worst part, said another undercover atheist Ill call him Yisroel. Yisroel has a very good job he makes in the high six figures and is very attached to his wife and children, the opposite of the stereotype that prevails in religious communities surrounding those who lose the faith, namely that they are liars who want to do drugs, cheat on their wives and eat cheeseburgers, as he put it. Yisroels greatest wish is that his children will learn to think critically and figure things out for themselves. But he has no plans to accelerate that process.I take it one day at a time; I dont have any long-term goal about that, he told me when we met in a Manhattan deli on a rainy afternoon.

Every person I spoke to had a different relationship with his spouse on the subject of belief. Moishe and his wife have an agreement that they will marry off the children before making any changes to their lives, though he doesnt quite know what change would look like. What am I going to do move to Kansas? he joked.

Yanky felt immense relief after he confessed to his wife he had felt like he was betraying her. It was making me nuts, he said. He told her on Tisha BAv a fast day commemorating the destruction of the temple and the end of the Jewish Empire, because, as Yanky put it: It was a good time to suffer, you know? She suffered a lot. She wasnt too happy. Shes still upset. The way he told her was: She hadnt wanted me to go to the Dawkins talk. And I said: You were right!

But divorce is not an option Yanky thinks children should have two parents in the same household. It wouldnt do good things for them in general, and in the religious world, it would damage them, all that stuff, he said. And I dont think moving them out of the religious world would be helpful for them, if that was even an option, so thats basically it.

A few lucky men convinced their wives of their new-found convictions, giving them a partner in crime. One man I spoke to Yechiel who lives in Jerusalem told me it was not as painful for his wife when he convinced her. Women are in a much more minor role in the community, he said. Women are expected to express religious devotion by raising the kids, by much more physical things getting a job, supporting their husbands learning. Much less a direct spiritual experience, so for her to give it up wasnt giving up much.

But it was for him. He remembered the direct aftermath of his loss of faith. I was praying to Hashem [God]: Give me back my belief, prove to me that its true, begging and begging. At some point, I realised its just plain stupid. Still, he said: If you would see me in the street, my white shirt and black yarmulke, you wouldnt know anything at all. His wife is now pushing for more changes to their lifestyle, but fear of hurting his parents keeps Yechiel in line.

One Hasidic woman I will call Fruma lives in the Satmar enclave of Kiryas Joel in New York State. Frumas husband doesnt know she has lost her faith. If he found out, he would certainly divorce her and take away her children. The last time she showed signs of non-conformist behaviour, her husband consulted the community leaders. They sent her to see a mental health specialist, who medicated her. The mental illness card has been used often in cases like mine, she wrote. She has since seen another mental health specialist; he gave her a clean bill of health.

Fruma lives in constant, crippling fear of her husband finding out her true beliefs, so much so that she refused to meet me, and would communicate her thoughts only via Facebook. The one time we spoke on the phone, she called me from a restricted number. Fruma lost her faith a few years ago, but she found that exercising new freedoms only added to her unhappiness.

Lying creates so much inner conflict: breaks down all forms of trust, makes you hate the person involved, but especially makes you hate yourself

At first it felt extremely liberating to finally feel validated, she wrote. That Im not crazy as some would like me to believe because I cant conform and because my thinking is different. After a few months it dawned on me that its not all that great. What happened was that those pockets of freedom where I got away for a bit contrasted too sharply to my daily existence, and made the staying so much harder. The feeling that I need to leave was very strong.

Though Fruma never had a happy marriage, the toll that dishonesty is taking on her is immense. Lying creates so much inner conflict, she wrote. Breaks down all forms of trust, makes you hate the person involved, but especially makes you hate yourself.

After Yisroel, the Manhattan high-earner, told his wife that he no longer believed in God, she was devastated. When he suggested coming out, she threatened to divorce him, a non-starter, in Yisroels words. She felt it would be too confusing to the children, and Yisroel more or less agreed. So, to save his marriage, Yisroel vowed to his wife never to break any of the religious laws, and he never has. And to mitigate his wifes hopes that he might one day rediscover his belief in God, Yisroel buys a lottery ticket every week, just to keep that door open. I buy the ticket, just for her, and I say: Please Hashem, let me win.

Its not all bad. Solomon, who lost his faith on the D train, says theres a lot of good in the Orthodox community to ameliorate the psychological toll of living a double life, such as the focus on family, the fact that Im probably not going to have to worry that my daughters getting pregnant or stoned at 16. Theres a lot of good, even if none of its true. I think its a nice life.

Yisroel calls it performance art. To a certain extent everyone leads a secret life, showing different sides to different people, he said.

Do the undercover atheists herald the end of ultra-Orthodoxy, or only a new, more insulated and controlled beginning? Here, Solomon and Moishe disagree.

As long as ultra-Orthodox communities continue to marry people off at such young ages, doubters will remain stuck, Solomon contends. Religion has survived a lot of major challenges, he said, and the recent turn towards fundamentalism within ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities is just that a coping mechanism to weed out the non-conformists. The radicalisation of ultra-Orthodox Judaism is a sign of its success, not its failure.

But Moishe believes that the phenomenon of atheism is deeply entrenched in the Orthodox way of life. Everybodys faking, he insisted. I think its all going to come crashing down. I say 20 years.

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Secretly seduced by science, Hasidic atheists lead a …

Belz Hasidic Dynasty – Jewish Virtual Library

Posted By on July 16, 2018

The Belz family is one of the most important Hasidic dynasties of Galicia, so called after the township where it took up residence.

The founder of the dynasty, SHALOM ROKE’A (17791855), came from a distinguished family descended from R. Eleazer Roke’a of Amsterdam. Orphaned as a child, Shalom studied under his uncle, Issachar Baer of Sokal whose daughter he married. At Sokal he was introduced to asidic teachings by Solomon of Lutsk , a devoted follower of Dov Baer , the Maggid of Mezhirech. Later Shalom became a disciple of Jacob Isaac Horowitz , ha-ozeh (“the Seer”) of Lublin, Uri of Strelisk , the maggid Israel of Kozienice , and Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta . On the recommendation of Horowitz, Shalom was appointed rabbi in Belz. After Horowitz’ death in 1815, Shalom was recognized as a addik as his following increased. He built a splendid bet midrash in Belz. Thousands of asidim flocked to him, including rabbis and well-known addikim, and Belz became the center of Galician asidism. Many legends tell of the miracles he performed. Shalom was also considered an authoritative talmudist; he stressed the importance of talmudic study and strengthened the principle of learning in asidism. Active in public affairs, he served as a spokesman for Galician Jewry, taking part in the struggle to improve the severe economic conditions, and opposing Haskalah. Excerpts from his teachings have been frequently quoted. They are collected, with legends and tales of his activities, in Dover Shalom (1910). Many of Shalom’s descendants served as addikim, including his son-in-law ENIKH OF OLESKO and his son JOSHUA (18251894) who succeeded him. The latter provided Belz asidism with the organizational framework which maintained it as the focus of asidism in Galicia, and ruled his community strictly. One of the leaders of Orthodox Jewry in Galicia, he was prominent in the opposition to Haskalah. He initiated the establishment of the Maazikei ha-Dat organization and the Orthodox newspaper Kol Maazikei ha-Dat As a result of the cultural and social tensions in Galician Jewry, the Belz addikim adopted an extreme stand and resisted every new idea emanating from non-Orthodox circles. Some of Joshua’s teachings are published in Ohel Yehoshu’a (printed with Dover Shalom, 1910). Joshua’s successor ISSACHAR DOV (18541927) was greatly influenced by Aaron of Chernobyl although Aaron taught a form of asidism that differed radically from that of the Belz school. Issachar Dov was an exacting leader of Galician Orthodoxy and also headed the Maazikei ha-Dat. In particular he opposed the Agudat Israel and denounced any innovations. He strongly opposed Zionism in any form. In 1914, when the war front reached Belz, he fled to Hungary and lived in jfehrt where he succeeded in winning many Hungarian Jews to Belz asidism. In 1918 he moved to Munkcs ( Mukacevo ) and became embroiled in a bitter quarrel with the addik of Munkcs which gave rise to a voluminous exchange of polemics. In 1921 Issachar Dov returned to Galicia and settled first in Holschitz, near Jaroslaw, moving back to Belz in 1925.

His son and successor AARON (18801957) deviated little from the pattern set by his father. He lived an ascetic life, and instituted a lengthy order of prayers. The influence of Belz asidism had considerable impact on Jewish life in Galicia because its adherents entered all spheres of communal affairs and were not afraid of the effects of strife within the community. Many rabbis accepted the authority of the Belz addikim. In the parliamentary elections the Belz asidim did not join the Jewish lists, but voted for the Polish government party. On the outbreak of World War II, Aaron escaped to Sokol and then to Przemysl where 33 members of his family were murdered. After confinement in the ghettos of Vizhnitsa, krakow, and Bochnia, he was sent to Kaschau (now Kosice ), then in Hungary, at the end of 1942 and subsequently to Budapest. In 1944 he managed to reach Ere Israel. There he revised his political views and directed his followers to support the Agudat Israel. He established yeshivot and battei midrash throughout the country. His home in Tel Aviv became the new center for the followers of Belz asidism throughout the world. His grave is a place of pilgrimage where many gather on the anniversary of his death. He was succeeded by his nephew, ISSACHAR DOV (1948 ), who established a bet midrash in Jerusalem and an independent kashrut system. Large numbers of Belz asidim also inhabit the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, New York.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

L.I. Newman, Hasidic Anthology (1934), index; M.I. Guttman, Rabbi Shalom mi-Bel (1935); A.Y. Bromberg, Mi-Gedolei ha-asidut, 10 (1955); M. Prager, Haalat ha-Rabbi mi-Bel mi-Gei ha-Haregah be-Polin (1960); Y. Taub, Lev Same’a adash (1963); N. Urtner, Devar en (1963); B. Landau and N. Urtner, Ha-Rav ha-Kadosh mi-Belza (1967); M. Rabinowicz, Guide to assidism (1960), 9396.

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Belz Hasidic Dynasty – Jewish Virtual Library

Christian Zionism Examined: A Review of Ideas on Israel …

Posted By on July 14, 2018

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Sephardic Jewry |

Posted By on July 13, 2018

From the recent ruling in Spain allowing the return of Jews expelled in 1492 to differences in pronunciation and changes to tradition over time, below is a selection of the Institute’s articles and books on Sephardic Jewry.

Spanish Passports for Sephardic Jews? a Blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel -The Spanish government has indicated that it will offer Spanish passports to individuals of Spanish Jewish/Sephardic heritage. The ostensible motive for this gesture is the desire to redress a historic sin: Spains expulsion of Jews in 1492. Now, more than five centuries after this nefarious expulsion, Spain wishes to reach out to descendants of those Jewish victims and welcome them back home in Spain. Read more

A Sephardic Passover Haggadah -Ktav Publishing House has just issued a limited printing of Rabbi Marc D. Angel’s popular Sephardic Haggadah. Originally published in 1988, it includes the Hebrew text of the Haggadah with Rabbi Angel’s English translation, as well as an ongoing selection of commentaries drawn from a wide range of Sephardic sages. Read more

Sephardic Rabbis in Ashkenazic Garb!!! -“Does it bother anyone else that Sephardim have begun wearing the funeral dress of Ashkenazim- the blackhats. suits, and other “garb” of Eastern European Jews ? Even Rabbi X, a well-respected Sephardi Hakham, has succumbed to this garbage. I fear for the future of Sephardi customs and traditions !!” Read more

Is “Sephardic” a Name Brand? -We’re addicted to branding. By we, I mean Americans, but it’s probably true of most people, and for good reason. Seeking out name brands may be a simple and effective survival tactic. Pick a good brand (olive oil, car, university) and you feel confident you will live and be well, otherwise, who knows? Conversely, we don’t just buy brand names, but sell them. For success in business, or in the arts, college graduates were told at a recent convocation, you must brand yourself, figure out and highlight the one key brandable thing you have to offer, and name it in a way that sparks recognition and interest. Read more

Models of Sephardic Rabbinic Leadership -In the early 1970s, shortly after I had begun my rabbinical service to Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City, I attended a shiur, a lecture, at Yeshiva University given by the recently elected Rishon leZion, Rabbi Ovadya Yosef. As a young Sephardic rabbi, I was eager to hear the words of this prominent and erudite Sephardic rabbinic leader. The message of that shiur made a great impression on me and has remained with me to this day. Read more

1939 in the Sephardic World – The Nazi menace decimated European Jewry, and its tentacles of hatred and violence reached even to North Africa and the Middle East. Jews of all backgrounds were victimized, and many stories about murdered family members remain as the heritage of Jews throughout the world. In our family-whose roots were in the Sephardic community of the Island of Rhodes-we also have a story. Read more

Saf, Taf, Loshon HaKodesh, and Pronunciation of the Prayer for the State of Israel, Guest Blog By Alan Krinsky -In my Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist synagogue, when we sing and recite Avinu ShebaShamayim, the prayer for the State of Israel, we pronounce the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet as taf, and not saf, despite the fact that the Rabbi and most members of the congregation are of Ashkenazi descent.[1] In truth, the synagogue has no set pronunciation rulesthe Ashkenazim are more or less split on taf and saf in their davening and our regular baal koreh uses tafbut lately I have been wondering about the proper pronunciation of the Avinu ShebaShamayim prayer for otherwise saf-saying Ashkenazi Jews. Read more

What All Jews Can Learn From Great Sephardic Rabbis of Recent Centuries -To limit Sephardic tradition to those of Sephardic ancestry is like limiting Shakespeare to Englishmen. While persons born in the British Isles may rightfully take pride in their illustrious countryman, his genius is relevant to all people, and is not contingent upon his place of birth. So too, with regard to central values and religious orientations found in the writings of Sephardic rabbis of recent centuries: their import extends beyond Sephardim by birth, to all Jews attempting to chart a course for a personal and communal life in which authentic Judaism and humanity go hand in hand. Read more

Conversations, Issue 13: Insights from the Sephardic Experience -The spring 2012 issue of Conversations features articles relating to Sephardic approaches to Jewish law; kabbala; Judeo-Spanish tradition; Sephardic identity and more. It also includes an article on late medieval Italian Jewry, and an essay dealing with the Benei Israel of India. Read more

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Who Are Ashkenazi Jews? | My Jewish Learning

Posted By on July 13, 2018

Ashkenazi Jews are the Jewish ethnic identity most readily recognized by North Americans the culture of matzah balls, black-hatted Hasidim and Yiddish. This ethnicity originated in medieval Germany. Although strictly speaking, Ashkenazim refers to Jews of Germany, the term has come to refer more broadly to Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. Jews first reached the interior of Europe by following trade routes along waterways during the eighth and ninth centuries.

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Eventually, the vast majority of Ashkenazi Jewsrelocated to the Polish Commonwealth (todays Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and Belarus), where princes welcomed their skilled and educated workforce. The small preexistent Polish Jewish communitys customs were displaced by the Ashkenazic prayer order, customs, and Yiddish language.

Jewish life and learning thrived in northeastern Europe. The yeshiva culture of Poland, Russia, and Lithuania produced a constant stream of new talmudic scholarship. In 18th-century Germany, the Haskalah movement advocated for modernization, introducing the modern denominations and institutions of secular Jewish culture.

Although the first American Jews were Sephardic, today Ashkenazim are the most populous ethnic group in North America. The modern religious denominations developed in Ashkenazic countries, and therefore most North American synagogues use the Ashkenazic liturgy.

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