How to Handle Negiah.org

One of the reasons why I don't post that often is because I try to let thoughts percolate so that I can post something more substantive than a reflexive rant. Last Friday I first found the OU's new abstinence website www.Negiah.org and posted a quick response to one of their articles. Since then I've had the opportunity to read through all the articles on the site, and it appears I was inappropriately glib.

My argument was that the site was condescending towards teens in a painfully clumsy attempt at being cool and relevant. Other bloggers have similarly blasted the OU for either being naive or promoting an irresponsible health policy. But after carefully reading the entirety of the site, I have concluded that the problems are quantitatively and qualitatively far worse than initially reported.1 Sadly, the sanctimonious tone of the OU's site is merely one example of a systematic disregard for teenagers and Torah.


Before we get to the quotes, we should keep in mind that Negiah.org bills itself as "The First Abstinence Website for Jewish Teens." As such, the goal ostensibly would be to either convince Jewish teens to refrain from sexual activity or to provide external support and validation for those teens who have decided not to give in to temptation. Given both of these daunting tasks and seriousness of the halakhic, social, and medical ramifications (abortion, STD's, etc) we should expect the site to treat subject matter and its audience with candid and mature respect.

However our expectations are denied in the very first article, What Is Abstinence?

For the purpose of our web site, we will simply define abstinence as refraining from sexual activity, but we'll leave it up to each person to determine for his or herself what constitutes sexual activity. Just be aware that halacha (Jewish law) does not permit any intimate or affectionate contact between men and women who are not married to one another (or close relatives). This includes hugging, kissing and even handshakes (under normal circumstances). So, one can be abstinent in the societal sense without conforming completely to halacha. (Of course, if one adheres to the halachic parameters, he or she will be abstinent by even the most conservative definitions.)[Emphasis added]

In this introductory article, the logical and halakhic credibility of this site is already jeopardized. First, for a site explicitly intended to discourage sexual activity leaving the individual to define "sexual activity" is either careless or dishonest. There already a widespread misconception that oral sex "doesn't count," not to mention other activities non-involving intercourse. If the site wishes to deter these behaviors as well - as it does elsewhere - then pretending the reader has intellectual autonomy of is misleading. Furthermore, it seems illogical that an abstinence website cannot bring itself to state explicitly the actions from which teenagers ought to abstain.

Perhaps this ambiguity is intentional and serves to welcome the readers to a "safe space" which is not necessarily operated by prudish fundamentalists. However, this assumption quickly rejected as the paragraph continues stating that halakha forbids shaking hands with the opposite gender. When compared to other sexual activities, the halakhot of handshaking are relatively inconsequential.2 Worse, teenagers who read this article will see an overly restrictive and possible irrational model of Jewish law as the basis for the site's position.3 Finally, the inclusion of handshaking as halakhically problematic is particularly questionable considering the evasiveness in defining the primary topic of "sexual activity."

Admittedly, these complaints are relatively minor quibbles compared to the rest of the site, but this introduction does set the done for what is to follow. The article titled Why Abstain? compares those with different moral standards to wild animals:4

Human sexual behavior is strongly associated with our emotions. Unlike dogs, lions or lowland gorillas, we can weigh our choices and control our physical urges. As a result, humans are able to engage in relationships based on mutual fidelity and trust. Sexual activity is even more rewarding in the context of real commitment. (We call it "marriage." )

The comparison between humans and animals is not uncommon in mussar writing, but hardly convincing for teenagers. Those who decide to be sexually active could also contemplate their decision, and yet reach a different conclusion. This is not so much an argument as an ad hominem insult against those who do not meet the author's moral standards,5 and the gratuitous parenthetical exemplifies the condescending juvenile mindset.

Such an attitude is not surprising considering that Negiah.org does not respect the intelligence of its target audience:

So what can teens do about it? Sadly, not much. You've got an adult body with adult hormones, but a not-yet-adult brain. The best you can do is be aware of this limitation.

Since the teenage mind is vastly inferior, Negiah.org has no need for honest discussion or sound, valid logic. Rather all the site needs to do is make assertions as unquestionable dogmatic truth and teenagers, by virtue of their inherent intellectual handicap, must simply submit and accept the gospel.
Here's another example of moral sanctimony:

No one has ever died from abstaining. The same cannot be said of the those who indulge their passions.

At last we know that the key to immortality is simply not to have sex before marriage; Augustine would be proud. Let's have one more for good measure:

Oh yeah - the odds of contracting an STD are increased the more partners one has. Just thought we'd mention that.

Even when Negiah.org cites empirical statistics to support its position, its arrogance and disregard for the individual negates their argument. For example, the article Everybody is NOT Doing It! asserts:

As if normal surging homones [sic] wasn't enough, peer pressure makes abstaining even harder. Everyone thinks everyone else is having sex and nobody wants to be the only one too prudish, too unpopular or too cool not to be "doing it."

News flash: Not everyone else is doing it. More people are NOT doing it, but they don't want to admit it. And most of those who are not doing it aren't doing it by choice.

The article then cites some surprising statistics:

2004:
% of high school boys not currently sexually active: 65.5%
% of high school girls not currently sexually active: 68.8%
(Source: National Survey of Family Growth, Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

While these numbers seem to confirmed here (PDF) they are also irrelevant for most teens. When teens face peer pressure it's not on a national level, but in their immediate social group. Meaning if in their school 70% are sexually active, the national trends are not going to have much of a meaning for the individuals.

Attempts at encouragement are no less obtuse and even contradictory. From the article Advice for More Successful Abstinence:

Every day is a new start. If you cross the line you've set for yourself, don't give up. That doesn't mean that it's all over. You can press the reset button and start over again today.

Just like a video game, all you need to press a button and everything will go back to normal. Of course, the site doesn't exactly believe this either. From the article
Clean Slate:

Other organizations like to call a fresh start "secondary" or "born again" virginity. Those terms don't really work for us, but the concept has a certain validity. No, you won't be a virgin again. That action will always leave whatever mark on you, whether emotional or physical. But you can get a fresh start spiritually. It's called "teshuva."

So the reset button is not in fact all powerful. On the other hand, you have the comfort of knowing that you have some sort of permanent badge of shame but your spiritual side can somehow be corrected to a degree.

Thankfully, Negiah.org has a solution, which also happens to be one of the most abhorrent comments on the site:

People who have already had sex may think that it is too late to be abstinent. Not true! By that logic, nobody could ever become a vegetarian if they ever ate meat. Maybe you thought you were ready before, but now you realize that was a mistake. Perhaps you were the victim of rape or another form of sexual assault. Whatever the case, just because you had sex in the past, that doesn't mean you can't stop now. If you abstain proactively, you can still reap many benefits, just like a smoker who gives up tobacco.

This about this for a moment. According to Negiah.org, a rape victim is comparable to a vegetarian.

Furthermore, Negiah.org's concern is less about the mental or emotional welfare of a sexual assault victim than it is in ensuring abstinence. The selling point is that even if you were raped you can still "reap many benefits" from abstinence, as if of course, the first time was your choice.
Lest you think that this is simply an oversight, I refer you to the article entitled "Rape!":

Rape is rape. It's a violent crime. (The Torah goes so far as to compare rape to murder - see Deuteronomy 22:26.) It doesn't matter whether one is raped by a stranger, a family member or a boyfriend, it's a crime and it's wrong. Treating sex casually leads to objectifying people and exploiting them.

Let's ignore for a moment the trivialities of the exclamation point and misreading of Devarim 22:26.6 There are two fallacies in this statement. The first is the assumption that all extra-marital relationships are objectifying and exploitative (tacitly implying that all marriages are not). The second and most upsetting is the causal relationship between casual sex and rape. In other words, if someone does engage in casual sex, he or she can expect or possible deserve to be raped. Or conversely, if someone was in fact raped, he or she must have been "treating sex casually." In truth, rape is not even about sex at all but control and violence and its inclusion in this context demeans the victims.

Even with the OU's abysmal track record regarding sex abuse, this attitude impossibly lowers the bar even further. Even the serious topic of Suicide! is treated with the same impudence:

Over 25% of sexually active teenage girls report that they are depressed all or most of the time. Less than 8% of girls who are not sexually active are depressed all or most of the time.

Again we are faced with the correlation=causation fallacy. Perhaps it is the a priori emotional problems which lead people to engage in sexual activity. In which case the solution should not be to guilt people into abstinence, but to actually deal with the underlying emotional problems which would lead people to engage in risky sexual activity. This however would require concern for the overall wellbeing of the teenagers.

Manipulating Torah

Being a religious site, it is not surprising that Negiah.org appeals to Jewish sources for law and morality. But even in its use of traditional sources, Negiah.org fabricates and manipulates text to achieve its sacred mission.
For example, here's what Negia.org has to say about yichud:

The Gemara in Kiddushin (80b) discusses the prohibition for a man and a woman to be secluded alone together unless they are married or close relatives. This prohibition is called "yichud" ("seclusion") and the Talmud tells us (Sanhedrin 21b) that it is a Torah prohibition (as opposed to a Rabbinic enactment).

B. Sanhedrin 21b actually says:

But surely the prohibition of yihud with a married woman is a Biblical law! For R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: Where is [the prohibition of] yihud alluded to in the Biblical text? It is written: if thy brother, the son of thy mother entice thee. Is it then only the son of a mother that can entice, and not the son of a father? But it is to teach that only a son may be alone with his mother; but no other man may be alone with women Biblically interdicted on account of incest! - Say rather that they enacted a decree against yihud with unmarried women.

And confirmed with some elaboration in B. Avoda Zara 36b:

[The correct explanation is that] the Biblical ordinance against such association refers to an [Israelite] married woman; David came and extended the law to association with an unmarried woman; and the disciples of the Schools of Shammai and Hillel came and extended it still further to association with a heathen woman.

Given that the site is focusing on teens and premarital sex, the Biblical prohibition of yihud for married women would be irrelevant and its reference in context is nothing short of deceitful.7 I will let my readers debate if this was intentional textual manipulation or simple run-of-the-mill illiteracy. In either case, it is clear that their understanding of teen culture is rivaled only by their Talmudic proficiency.
In an another example of dubious reasoning, the article Abstinence - It's Not Just for Single People introduces the laws of niddah, with the implication being that married couples must also abstain:

This practice is called, of all things, taharas hamishpacha, or "family purity." In many ways, keeping the laws of taharas hamishpacha brings a couple closer together. They learn to appreciate one another more and to interact on a level without the sexual aspect. In some ways, it's like Shabbos. Shabbos can be difficult for a beginner, who may view it as a burden or as a series of "can'ts." People who have "mastered" Shabbos enjoy it as a break from the everyday world and a way to grow closer to their families and to G-d. Similarly, taharas hamishpacha, while no doubt challenging at first, is an opportunity for a couple to grow in their relationship with each other and with G-d.

The problem here is that the "rest" of Shabbat is preceded and followed by six days of work (Ex. 20:8), and the separation of niddah is preceded and followed by marital relations (B. Ketuvot 61a). For this analogy to hold teenagers would have to make use of the "reset button" more frequently.

Negia.org also tackles the important question of sending singles to mikvah:

Having relations with a woman in a state of niddah (or, if you are a woman, having relations while in a state of niddah) is liable to kareis (Leviticus 18:29). It's not just a pastime. It's not a Rabbinical law. It's not a small thing. It's as basic and as important a principle in Judaism as bris milah, Pesach and Yom Kippur.

The answer is not for single people to start using the mikvah. That is prohibited specifically to prevent promiscuity. Even if one were to consider that the "lesser of the two evils," it would be ill-advised. Going to the mikvah is not like taking a bath or a shower. It's a religious act, complete with its own bracha. Going to the mikvah specifically to commit a sin is like putting chalav Yisroel cheese on glatt kosher meat, then washing and bentching on the cheeseburger.

If you wouldn't serve a big bowl of pasta at your Passover seder, you shouldn't use the mikvah in order to have sexual relations until you're married.

After spending much of the page discussing how damning karet is we, we are now told that minimizing the issur is not a valid option at all - for reasons best described once again by logically flawed food metaphors. While there are
valid reasons
for discouraging pre-marital mikvah usage, if a couple does in fact keep taharat hamishpacah the halakhic repercussions are relatively negligible. Similar to their attitude on condoms, Negia.org is not interested in minimizing either the physical or spiritual risks, but in absolute compliance with their ideal.

The homiletical approach is no less flawed. Negia.org encourages us to "Be Like Joe:"

Who is our Jewish role model in the area of abstinence? That would be Joseph, or as he is known in Hebrew, Yosef HaTzaddik - Joseph the Righteous.

The premise here is that we should follow the examples of our historical Jewish leaders. However, astute readers will point out that the monarchy was delegated to Yosef's brother Yehuda, who had a very different approach to abstinence .

Questionable Endorsements

Given these numerous flaws - and we have not covered all of them - it is interesting to see who actually endorses this site. The About Us page informs:

Negiah.org is proud to be an affiliate of The Abstinence Clearinghouse. The Abstinence Clearinghouse is a non-profit educational organization that promotes the appreciation for and practice of sexual abstinence through the distribution of age-appropriate, factual and medically-accurate materials.

And what exactly is The Abstinence Clearinghouse? Reader Janet Rosenbaum PhD recently published an article on the ineffectiveness of virginity pledges and her work was dismissed by them in a press release, and later called the study "junk science." Officially there are no religious ties, but we do know its President Leslee Unruh is herself an Evangelical Christian.
This is not to say that there are no Jewish supporters. The most prominent Jewish endorser is YU's own Rabbi Herschel Schachter:

I have reviewed all the articles herein and I found them to be very powerful and fitting. It is quite appropriate to publicize words such as these in a style such as this - words that are straightforward for the sake of people with less background and words of encouragement that are agreeable and in a clean language for the sake of Observant Jews.

To each his own.

1. I'd like to thank the several people who have offered their insight and suggestion. My first attempt at a thorough review was overly sarcastic. I found the content infuriating I did not feel the site deserved an honest analysis - and I thank Jose for his calming words of wisdom.
2. Rambam (Issurei Biah 21:1) defines the impermissible contact as "derech ta'avah" - in the way of desire - which would exclude more casual contact of "affection." Furthermore, under normal circumstances handshaking is neither lustful or affectionate but congenial, i.e. outside the parameters of sexual contact.
3. Even if someone did believe that intergender handshaking was prohibited, it does not have to mentioned in this specific article.
4. As we will see in a bit, this site is, not coincidentally, endorsed by R. Herschel Schachter.
5. Additionally, the assertion that "sexual activity is even more rewarding in the context of real commitment" invites the challenge of comparison. Indeed, one wonders the empirical basis for the author's evaluation.
6. Jose adds that the use of the passive voice - "when one is raped" not "when one rapes" - shifts the crime to victim. I also thank Jose for assistance in formulating my response.
7. Unless of course they're worried about future Graduates.

Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Dating, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava.
  • http://floatingbear.blogspot.com miriam

    nice post. some nitpicky additions:
    1 - re: the percentages of high scool kids sexually active: if these numbers are for all of high school, what do they say about the number of kids in the later grades who are sexually active? (presumably, the percentage is lower than the average in grade 9, and higher in grade 12...)
    2 - re: rape. that is really disturbing. ahhhh!
    however, the fact that anyone thought to say it is, i think, telling. it seems they still think of virginity (particlarly of women) as some sort of commodity. eg: it doesn't matter how you lost it, your kesubah is now 100 zuz, and only miderabbanan.
    this conflation of "virginity" and "abstinence" (particularly funny given the equation of "abstinence" and so-called "taharas ha-mishpacha" later) is itself a big problem, I think, related to the general problem of viewing female sexuality from a male perspective and also implicitly emphasizing physical "marks" over emotional ones (despite all the rhetoric to the contrary on the site).
    i personally often suspect these attitudes are just below the surface of a lot of people's thinking, and the fact that someone wrote that line, and no one caught it, is just a symptom of larger issues...
    ps. just for the record: as a former high school teacher i think sexual activity among high school kids (at least ages 14-16, with which I had the most direct experience) is a big problem and don't know anyone who taught in a setting where it was a real issue who disagrees. (i suppose i'm asking for someone to disagree now...)
    I say this because 1 - my attitude was different before I taught h.s, and 2 - sometimes people (not you) respond to abstinence only education as if the goal of reducing sexual activity among 15 or 16 year olds is silly, wherease i think it's absolutely not, just the abstinence _only_ programs themselves are absurd and/or evil.

  • Lurker

    As you correctly note, the OU has an abysmal track record regarding sex abuse. This is the same organization that knowingly inflicted Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a recalcitrant sex offender, on thousands of innocent Jewish kids for thirty years. For this organization to now presume to lecture kids about the dangers of "negiah" and other forbidden sexual conduct, is chutzpah beyond belief.
    The site is chock full of exhortations on the necessity of resisting temptation, and of saying "no" to your boyfriend/girlfriend. But -- surprise, surprise -- there is nary a word about what to do when your NCSY advisor/rabbi starts feeling you up, forcing himself on you, and promising that it's OK, because he's a rabbi.
    Lanner's ongoing abusive behavior was common knowledge among hundreds of NCSY members (including myself), and it was reported over and over again to the OU/NCSY leadership, over a period of many years. The NCSY leaders, however, chose instead to reward and promote Lanner, allowing him to continue his abuse with impunity. All the victims who complained were disdainfully rebuffed, and sometimes even reprimanded, threatened, and punished. NCSY cared nothing about the irreparable trauma that they were inflicting on countless Jewish children, nor about the grave halachic violations that they were sanctioning. For NCSY to come along today and pontificate to kids about improper sexual behavior is the absolute height of hypocrisy.

  • Josh

    Miriam - Thanks as always.
    Lurker - Here I have to disagree with you. Yes, the OU messed up royally with the Lanner case, but that should not automatically and permanently preclude them from contributing to Orthodox sexual education (and area which I think does need work). That they're trying to tackle a serious social problem is not the issue, and in other circumstances might even warrant a commendation especially if it demonstrates an improvement. The problem is that the attitudes towards teenagers and sexuality - which no doubt contributed to the Lanner scandal - have not progressed since then.

  • Shana

    If we are talking about Just yeshiva students...then I'll call your bluff.
    The 2004-2005 Bruckner-Bearman study points to a delay in activity by about year as well as earlier marriage rates. We also are using the same sorts of replacement sexual behaviors as the Christian community....So I'd say we are actually aiming at my brothers age group16-18, and aiming at oral sex...not with them actually sleeping with each other(that's really rare up until college)
    These aren't inner city kids. These are kids who are getting messages already about condoms being absolutely assur, virginity being a commodity in the ketubah, issues about niddah, issues of tzinuah and rape, etc-and are still having oral sex. Without condoms or dental dams (or in a pinch plastic wrap....).
    So basically you have Josh's problem- which is that is is Jewishly deceitful, then you have the it lacks sexual educational resources problem- let alone rape counseling, GBLT counseling, etc.
    I'm doing what I always do: Sending people to Go Ask Alice!, a project of Columbia University. It may not have a halachic approbate, but at least it is honest and tries to give as much information as it possibly can.
    Which is what I wish the Rabbinical Estabilishment would do with both Judaism and Sex

  • Hillel

    While I agree with a lot of the points you made (especially the "negiah is sex and handshakes" bit), a lot of other points seem a bit farfetched:
    1) Re Yosef: They don't say "be like the avot", or even "be like the Brothers"; they say "be like Yosef." Yosef himself was, according to medrashim and the p'shat, a paradigm of sexual integrity. It seems unfair to fault them for what Yehuda did when they're saying we should be like Yosef. If they said "be a leader like Moshe", does it make sense to respond "but Aharon built an egel and Miriam spoke lashon hara?"
    2) You're implying an entire institution with no known religious ties has religious bias because it's founder is of a certain belief? If someone dismissed an entire organization as biased because it's founder was and Orthodox Jew, I'd think they were at best avoiding the issues, and at worst anti-semitic.
    3) Re statistics: it's true stats don't change a person's decision in the way you describe, but sex doesn't necessarily happen that way, either. A LOT of sexual decisions come from one party (usually male) pressuring the other. So being able to respond to "but everyone's doing it" with "no, most people AREN'T doing it" might help someone out of a bad social spot. Similarly, genuine fear of violence as a repercussion for refusal to comply can play a role, too. Thus, the comparison to a murder victim (even if it isn't an accurate reflection of Torah) may be an accurate reflection of how a victim is feeling. There's also no shortage of Torah examples showing rape to be as bad (if not worse) than murder.
    4) The niddah issue struck me as odd. You mean to say that because there's a section relating to married people's relations, single people will analogize and figure it's OK to have sex two weeks a month? I guess I'm not really sure what you think is wrong there.
    5) You generally seem to be upset because (among other problems) this website doesn't provide more cogent arguments. But it's not necessarily supposed to do that. It's supposed to help kids avoid making decisions they'll later regret. Which leads to this question:
    Is it problematic to couch a polemic as an argument, and even to call an issur d'rabbanin an issur d'oraita, if it will prevent teens from making a wrong choice like this? (I'm not suggesting it DOES work, I have no idea, but IF it did, would the means justify the ends?)

  • http://floatingbear.blogspot.com miriam

    in response to hillel,
    re: #2:
    while the founder's religious affiliation is not a good basis to judge, i'll read josh charitably on that one: his faith just confirms what one might reasonably assume from a constellation of other facts re: the clearinghouse's religious orientation.
    (warning, what follows is based on precise information that i once had, which is now but a fleeting memory, so sorry for any innaccuracies, but i think what i am saying is basically true)
    A - evangelical christians were responsible for getting abstincene only education onto the agenda.
    A1 - i don't think it is at all speculative to say that the motives are at least as much moral (premarital sex is wrong) as health based (sex among children is bad for public health). otherwise, why the _legislative_ focus on heterosexual marriage as opposed to committed, adult relationships?
    A2 - i don't think it's far-fetched, either, to connect the anti-contraception movement at home with the anti-contraception movement re: US foreign aid and hesitancy to promote condoms in the fight against AIDS. this is hard to justify re: public health - easier if the real motive is dogmatic.
    B - a LOT of abstincence-only funds find their way into the pockets of christian groups
    C - as for the abstinence clearinghouse itself, check out:
    http://www.abstinence.net/affiliates/ (letter by a member with copious religious references)
    http://www.abstinence.net/store/00071.html (selling a product that "contains faith based information")
    the non-faith-based-gloss is probably necessary for first amendment as well as general political purposes, and it may also make it easier to spread the abstinence gospel, as it were..., but it is almost certainly just a gloss.
    (i obviously really don't want to write my annoying law-journal-competition entry...)

  • Shaya

    Would one expect NCSY to teach kids how to be mechalel shabbos?
    Would one expect NCSY to teach kids how to eat treif?
    So why would one expect NCSY to teach kids how to have safe sex?
    I'll this argument even a step further, one wouldn't even expect our schools or NCSY to teach kids minutiae of the laws of shabbos / kashrut that could give them mixed signals about what is allowed / not allowed. We don't believe that teenagers are mature enough to deal with these decisions (they might not like that statement, but we all think we are more mature than we really are, to quote pirkei avot, don't trust yourself until the day you die). What we would expect from our schools / ncsy is to provide guidance in specific cases on how to deal with things ("my parents want me to go with them on shabbos to a family event 60 miles away, what should I do?").
    If the only option for NCSY / Schools is to teach safe sex, because abstiance only wont work, one is going down the same path the conservative movement has been going down since the 50s, and we know how well it worked for their layity.

  • miriam

    shaya,
    what should we expect from schools, you ask?
    well, i hardly had "comprehensive sex education" in day school. but our teacher didn't lie! for example, i recall someone asking about condoms and she (chabad, mind you) said something to the effect of "the halakha doesn't like them as a form of birth control, so since you're all going to be sexually active only within frum marriages to people who were similarly chaste, you shouldn't use them." BUT, she added the important caveat of "if I were talking to people who were having premarital sex I would definitely tell them to use condoms to save their lives." There was no implication that premarital sex was ok, only a tacit, if any, recognition that anyone in the room might have it later in life (We were 12 at the time), and certainly no condom-on-banana demonstrations, but there were no deceptions about what choices you should make if you were already making the bad choice not to wait for marriage. I thought it was a pretty responsible way to handle it.
    a side point:t the likelihood of getting, say, AIDS by sleeping around with other pseudo-orthodox adolescents with similar habits (ie, basically everyone has ponly orthodox, suburban partners) is actually probably rather low, such that it was rather bold of my teacher to make it into a life-or-death situation. The point is that teachers should stress that whatever you do, be careful, not teach kids that once they make one bad choice there is no care to be taken.

  • http://kazadereza.blogspot.com/ MattGar

    Hm, I cant agree with you in this particular case.

  • Shaya

    a side point:t the likelihood of getting, say, AIDS by sleeping around with other pseudo-orthodox adolescents with similar habits (ie, basically everyone has ponly orthodox, suburban partners) is actually probably rather low, such that it was rather bold of my teacher to make it into a life-or-death situation. The point is that teachers should stress that whatever you do, be careful, not teach kids that once they make one bad choice there is no care to be taken.
    Miriam, that was actually the point i was going to make, if one is sleeping around with pseudo-orthodox kids w/ similar habits, one isn't talking about a life or death situation anymore. My gut feeling (which is now speaking out of my behind) is that with kids who are so out of the bounds that they are sleeping around with "not like minded pseudo orthodox kids", sex education isn't going to help much, as they tune out all the "this is what you should do" lessons anyways.

  • Lurker

    I am not saying that the OU couldn't theoretically, at some time in the future, ever address the issue of Orthodox sexual education. But before they can even contemplate doing so, they first need to clean up their mess at home: There is no indication that the OU/NCSY has done away with the twisted, corrupt culture that nurtured the Lanner phenomenon for three decades. To the contrary, there is every indication that this misguided culture is still thriving.
    If you are suggesting that the OU and NCSY reformed themselves after the Lanner scandal broke, you're quite mistaken. In the wake of the widespread revelations that the OU had covered up and facilitated Lanner's sexual abuse over a period of thirty years, the OU's only regret was the fact that they were caught. Those few leaders who wanted to come clean and institute reforms were quickly marginalized and eliminated. And most of the "old guard" -- both the corrupt "old boys club" running the OU, as well as the die-hard Lanner loyalists running NCSY -- were re-entrenched into their positions of power. A couple of illustrations:
    (1) Mendy Ganchrow was president of the OU at the time the Lanner scandal broke in 2000. An "outsider" president with limited power over the "insiders" who actually ran things, he tried courageously to address the problem seriously: He successfully pushed for the appointment of the independent commission of inquiry headed by Richard Joel, and he fought valiantly -- but in the end, futilely -- to reform NCSY and its leadership. For his efforts, he was turned into a pariah within his own organization, and was punished severely for his failure to participate in the cover-up:
    The small cadre of top officers running the show at the OU... were furious at me firstly for forming and supporting the Joel Commission and for Rabbi Butler's subsequent resignation. They quickly moved to make me pay a steep personal price for what many considered my treachery in going public with a call for full disclosure. They did this by cold-shouldering me for the next two years and preventing me from exercising any responsibility at the OU. Even though I had just officially become chairman of the Board of Directors, a prestigious post that is customarily given to OU presidents upon their retirement, I quickly discovered that for two years I had been almost totally cut out of the OU organizational loop. I was never informed of a single committee meeting, nor consulted on any but a few issues in which I happened to have been involved in before.
    Many of my friends who had worked closely with me and supported the work of the Joel Commission during the frenzied final six months of my presidency, such as Marcel Weber, were similarly isolated. This would not have mattered so much if the new leadership had shown vision or leadership. Unfortunately, after witnessing Butler's resignation, the new leaders seemed animated by a desire for revenge against those long time loyal backers of the Union who had supported the Joel Commission and urged leadership change if the organization was to survive. I was number one on that list.
    -- Journey Through the Minefields: From Vietnam to Washington, an Orthodox Surgeon's Odyssey, by Mendy Ganchrow, M.D. (Eshel Books, 2004),
    Chapter 18: The Lanner Affair
    (2) Baruch Lanner's former position as director of the NCSY Etz Chaim (New Jersey) Region is now filled by Lanner's former protoge, Rabbi Matt Tropp. Tropp was and remains a fierce Lanner loyalist, and has been described by many NCSY members as Lanner's "hatchet man". He personally witnessed Lanner's crude, sexually vulgar behavior on countless occassions, and several NCSY members -- according to sworn testimony in Lanner's 2002 trial in Monmouth County -- personally informed Tropp of how Lanner was sexually abusing them. At the time, Tropp had responded by rebuffing and disparaging the victims who came forward. And when Tropp appeared as a defense witness at the trial, he denied -- under oath -- that anyone had ever told him anything. Then, to top it off, he declared that even if the allegations had been reported to him, he still would not have reported them to the authorities -- in spite of the NJ state law that requires him to do so. In that same testimony, Tropp also admitted that he continued to maintain close personal contact with Lanner, in brazen defiance of the OU's own written directive that any NCSY employee in contact with Lanner would be dismissed. And guess what: The OU didn't fire Tropp. To the contrary, he continues on as director of the NCSY NJ region, to this very day.
    I was in NCSY in the 1980's, and I can tell you that the lewd, vulgar behavior publicly exhibited by Lanner on a regular basis permeated the whole organization. And the values implied by the atmosphere that this fostered were internalized by the people he mentored; the "next generation" that is running NCSY today. For such people to speak from a position of authority on Jewish sexual ethics is a very bad joke, to say the least. It's like Bill Clinton giving a sermon on the importance of marital fidelity.
    The OU and NCSY is run by people who actively decided to ignore the plight of innocent Jewish kids who were being abused by Lanner on an ongoing basis. The fact that these kids' lives were being destroyed meant nothing to them. Neither did the fact that the halachot of sexual behavior were being openly trampled upon and violated by their most prominent youth leader. And these very people continue to run NCSY, as we speak. Do you really think that they are in a position to lecture kids issues such as negiah, yichud, and sexual activity?

  • miriam

    Miriam, that was actually the point i was going to make, if one is sleeping around with pseudo-orthodox kids w/ similar habits, one isn't talking about a life or death situation anymore.
    It's still a situation where they shoul use some sort of protection, so authorities shouldn't tell them there is no efective protection.
    My gut feeling (which is now speaking out of my behind) is that with kids who are so out of the bounds that they are sleeping around with "not like minded pseudo orthodox kids", sex education isn't going to help much, as they tune out all the "this is what you should do" lessons anyways.
    i seriously disagree. being "out of bounds" on halakha and on health are totally different. the point is that they can distinguish "this is what you should do to stay safe" (eg, look both ways before you cross the street" from "this is what the torah says you should do" (eg, say tefilat haderech). some kids ditch their jewish identity in college, at least for a bit. that doesn't mean they ditch their intelligence completely. they should not think that there is nothing they can do to lessen whatever risks they face. i realize i might have implied i was only talking abt high school sex, which i think is rather rare among day school kids anyway, but i think the real issue is that the messages they get in high school may carry over to later in life, when a lot more of them will be "out of bounds."
    hodesh tov!

  • Josh

    Lurker - "I am not saying that the OU couldn't theoretically, at some time in the future, ever address the issue of Orthodox sexual education. But before they can even contemplate doing so, they first need to clean up their mess at home: There is no indication that the OU/NCSY has done away with the twisted, corrupt culture that nurtured the Lanner phenomenon for three decades. To the contrary, there is every indication that this misguided culture is still thriving."
    I agree and this was exactly my point and why I included the Lanner reference in the first place. I too was in NCSY back in the day (in the notorious Etz Chaim region no less) and I'm well aware of how they function socially and religiously. While they may have made some changes since the scandal, the underlying arrogance and sanctimony obviously persists and likely subverts any possibility of serious introspection.
    Had they taken the lessons of Lanner to heart, they could have produced a more serious and influential website. That they are repeating the same mistakes makes this all the more distressing.
    Hillel -
    1. My problem with the use of Yosef is that it employs Hero Worship as an argument. There are many reasons why I object to this form of rhetoric which I cannot detail right now, but I shall offer one specific example. The assumption behind role models is that here is someone with qualities you admire (or should admire) and you should strive to be like them. But the underlying argument here is not dissimilar from peer pressure which the site discourages. In both instances, there is social coercion to emulate people of a certain stature or respect. If someone can chose Yosef as a bibilcal hero, then they could just as easily chose Yehuda who in the end turned out ok enough to inherit the monarchy.
    2. See Miriam's comment, much of which has been verified to me in private communication.
    3. I do not understand what you're arguing. If someone is faced with violence then that's not acquiescing, that's rape and I know of no rapists who have been fought off by a deftfully wielded standard deviation.
    4. My problem with their treatment of Niddah (aside from the misreading of Gemara) that it is an irrelevant and false analogy. They site the examples of taharat hamispacha and Shabbat to show that all Jews have restrictions of some kind. I countered that these situations are not comparable because the separation is temporary.
    5. It is assur to lie about halakha, and there are honest ways of making the point of abstinence without being megaleh panim ba'Torah shelo k'halakha. If you cannot make your case without resorting to gimmicks and manipulation then find someone else who can.
    Miriam/Shaya - I'm staying out of this :-)

  • Steve Brizel

    One wonders when one reads book reviews and letters written in response whether the reviewer read the book in question. WADR, I think that the review of the Negiah.org is a classic case in point. Let me begin with a few obvious points:
    1) Even assuming the existence of a Machlokes Rambam and Ramban on how to define derech chibah, I doubt that the reviewer or any Posek would consider any contact between the genders as merely derech chibah. Chakirah has an article by R Y Henkin in which he underscores the seriousness of not reinterpreting the Issur Torah of Negiah in a manner that would conform with today's secular lifestyle.
    2)Anyone familiar with basic Torah sources ranging from Chumash to Halacha to an entire range of Hashkafic thinkers ( Musar, Chasidus and Machshavah) can find the interested reader many sources that one who does not control his most base desires, whether in the area of sex or other areas, is acting like an animal.
    3)The Torah views sex as the culmination of an intimate and caring marriage, which begins in the context of everyday life and ends in the bedroom. Like it or not in Family Redeemed, RYBS emphasized that the Torah and Halacha view of sexuality neither is Victiorian nor Hedonistic. Yet, the arguments against Negiah.org to date are that NCSY and the OU should basically give in and distribute condoms and promote safe sex as opposed to promoting a life based on Kedushah vTaharah. I have heard and seen the arguments for mikvah for singles, pilegesh, kadesh and kadesha. Basically, they are all arguments for the same end result-allowing temporary relationships a heter for sex which can only be allowed via marriage.
    4) Since the Lanner affair, writers such as the reviewer and many others seeminly hold some sort of moral Sword of Damocles over NCSY as if it can never be trusted. Such an attitude shows no evidence on the part of the writer that he is aware of the massive changes within NCSY's leadership and its continued ability to perform its unique mission of kiruv and chizuk among American Jewish teens.
    5)The comment re RHS showed a flippant attitude to a Gadol HaDor.

  • Steve Brizel

    When one reads this critique, as opposed to those liked to it, which don't have a pretense of being bound by halacha, one can only wonder why so MO has produced so many within its next generation that produce arguments against Tznius , who are in favor of temporary relationships and in favor of rationalizing conduct that is against all halachic standards. One wonders whether the concomitant need for either success in higher post collegiate education or their careers has led them to place marriage on an emotional back burner where it essentially dies from a lack of attention and then leads the same people to blame the rest of the community for their inability to either find a spouse or being an object of pity.
    It reminds me of the attitudes utilized to justify driving to shul on Shabbos or davening without a mechitzah. Back in the 1950s, it was called CJ. In essence, the argument is that since so many teens engage in conduct that is not "bderech chibah", that it is better to approve of their conduct than to encourage compliance with the halacha. It strikes me as some sort of chiddush niflah in the worst way that safe sex , etc is being argued ala "mutav sheyiu shoggin" when we are discussing Arayos that have Issurei Kares, avizurahu Drayos and Kedoshim Tihiyu. When reduced to the following absurd conclusion-the argument reminds me of the following-since so many people don't pay taxes, neither should I. How sad and tragic that many of MO's next generation subscribe to such logic.

  • http://jewess.canonist.com RHF

    Hillel:

    Is it problematic to couch a polemic as an argument, and even to call an issur d'rabbanin an issur d'oraita, if it will prevent teens from making a wrong choice like this? (I'm not suggesting it DOES work, I have no idea, but IF it did, would the means justify the ends?)

    YES, it is problematic (and NO, the means would not justify the ends.)
    Making up and manipulating facts to get kids to make the decisions WE deem the "right" ones will only leave them feeling manipulated and alienated when they find out the truth. As Josh points out, kids are a lot smarter than negiah.org's content suggests they are.

    2) You're implying an entire institution with no known religious ties has religious bias because it's founder is of a certain belief?

    The prevalence of Abstinence-Only curricula is known to be a product of right-wing Christian political pressure. Hence, under the leadership of our Fundamentalist Christian president, the Federal government gives less funding for education to states whose public schools do not offer abstinence-ONLY education (a big change from the policy of the Clinton administration to have schools hand out free condoms). While the Abstinence Clearinghouse may not invoke Jesus in its literature, its mission is deeply rooted in Fundamentalist Christianity.
    Josh:
    This is a great critique, thank you. But it occurs to me that so many of the more minor problems boil down to bad writing. You'd think they could have done better on that front.

  • Lurker

    Steve Brizel: Since the Lanner affair, writers such as the reviewer and many others seeminly hold some sort of moral Sword of Damocles over NCSY as if it can never be trusted. Such an attitude shows no evidence on the part of the writer that he is aware of the massive changes within NCSY's leadership and its continued ability to perform its unique mission of kiruv and chizuk among American Jewish teens.
    This is a load of hogwash. Of course there is "no evidence on the part of the writer that he is aware of the massive changes within NCSY's leadership". That's because no such changes ever happened. As I already pointed out in my previous comment, Etz Chaim (New Jersey) -- NCSY's biggest region and Baruch Lanner's former stomping ground -- is still being run today by a self-declared unrepentant Lanner cult groupie. And plenty of other die-hard Lanner loyalists also remain. Furthermore, those in the OU who called for leadership changes were punished, marginalized, and put out to pasture. So what, exactly, are these mysterious "massive changes within NCSY's leadership" of which you speak? Don't criticize others with cryptic assertions -- show us the evidence.
    For thirty years, NCSY gave free reign, and unlimited protection, to a known sex pervert who turned the organization into his own deviant personality cult. And all the while NCSY ignored the cries of his victims, often silencing them with intimidation and threats. Today, most of the people who did this are still running the show. NCSY has not removed them, has brazenly lied about what they knew, and has not even apologized to the victims and their families. There has been no substantive change in NCSY, and all Jewish parents who would consider allowing their children to participate in NCSY events should be aware of this fact.
    I am amazed by people such as yourself: You claim to demand the strictest adherence to the halachic rules of sexual behavior. But you have nothing but support and praise for NCSY, an organization that openly trampled upon and made a complete joke out of those halachic rules. To call your double standard hypocritical would be an understatement.

  • http://floatingbear.blogspot.com miriam

    1 - this topic was recently posed to lookjed. interested parties should stay tuned...
    steve brizel,
    "Yet, the arguments against Negiah.org to date are that NCSY and the OU should basically give in and distribute condoms and promote safe sex as opposed to promoting a life based on Kedushah vTaharah."
    please read the arguments in the origianl post and comments. i don't think anyone has advocated much more than not lying. NCSY should promote fealty to halakha with honest arguments. that's all. you can't turn "not give children false information that may cause them to make disasterous choices if they do go off the derekh" into "tell children to go off the derekh" with the qualifier "basically."
    as for "promoting safe sex," above i did argue that even frum teachers should, and can, recognize safe sex as better than unsafe premarital sex without at all promoting either.
    happy hagbalah to all.

  • Steve Brizel

    Lurker-Try looking at the 2006-07 NJ NCSY website and spare the reader old headlines as links. R Tropp no longer works for NJ NCSY. Take a look at NCSY's website. You might just find the evidence of massive changes if you were interested in presenting facts, as opposed to rhetoric. As R Yuter pointed out, the fact that the Lanner scandal occurred should not be viewed as a reason to render NCSY inappropriate to set forth its POV on this or any other issue.
    Miriam-I read the post and I stand by my critique of the same and the comments. I think that NCSY should be applauded for standing up to the present intellectual and cultural Zeitgesit within certain quarters within MO that presumes that Tznius cannot be taught to MO teens. IMO, that attitude is indeed a tragedy and akin to the attitude re driving to shul and davening without a mechitzah that was present in the late 1950s. It also reminds me of how the Misyavnim all but surrendured to the worst aspects of the Hellenistic culture that the Chashmonaim fought within the Beis Hamikdash and EY as a whole. We also tend to forget that Weimar Germany was also a very decadent country. As RYBS once pointed out, only a country that experienced the worst of Weimar could produce a Hitler, Yimach Shmo vZicro.
    I think that a curriculum on the issue should emphasize that Tznius emphasizes that a Jewish man and woman first learn whether they are emotionally and hashkafically compatible, as opposed to determining at their first glance that they are merely sex objects who might a very temporary need as a sex object. Simply stated,what you are stating is that we should abandon or forget about Tznius or emphasize early marriage ( within the early 20s and while in graduate school) in favor of allowing mikvah for unmarried couples, pilesgesh,or in cruder terms-permitting the prohibited-namely premarital sex.
    WADR, Ithink that any course should emphatically reject safe sex from both a halachic and hashkafic perspectives as well beyond what a Torah observant Jew and Jewess should act in this area of Halacha. In many ways, the notion that young men and women should be given isntruction in safe sex is a surrendur to the present moral decadence within the outside world as opposed to fighting it by teaching the next generation the Halachic and Hashkafic views. Perhaps, we all need to think a little more about the juxtaposition of the Parshiyos of Sotah and Nazir and advocate more forcefully for Tznius, as opposed to allowing the hedonistic culture of the street,mall and contemporary culture to wreck havoc in our communities.

  • Janet Rosenbaum

    1. STDs: Any sexually active adolescent who does not use condoms is at substantial risk for an STD, especially if they are having sex in a population which does not use condoms, does not test for STDs, and does not ask partners for STD test results. HIV is the scariest, but there are a dozen more which are higher risk.
    2. Bearman and Brueckner showed virginity pledges are not associated with lower rates of STDs five years post-pledge. Their results about whether virginity pledges worked were highly dependent on the proportion of pledgers in the high school. In a high school where about 30% of the students took virginity pledges, pledgers were less likely to have sex. In a high school in which almost no one took a pledge or where almost everyone took a pledge, pledgers were equally likely to have sex as non-pledgers. They conclude that virginity pledges are an identity movement, and adolescents adhere to them if they feel that pledging makes them feel unique, but not too unique.
    3. The large federally-funded study of abstinence education just in late 2006. They released their findings to the government in December 2006 and to the public in April 2007. Adolescents who were randomly assigned to abstinence education did not have different rates of sexual activity than adolescents randomly assigned to comprehensive sex education. The researchers studied several programs around the country which were devised by churches and other groups. The results are free to read, and well-worth reading.
    http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/welfare/abstinence.asp
    This study is the best study on abstinence sexual education currently in existence, and totally rock solid methodology.
    4. What does work:
    a. Bersamin et al found that adolescents who decide on their own to be sexually abstinent have less sex than those who do not decide on their own to be abstinent. By contrast, adolescents who participate in formal abstinence programs do not have less sex than those who do not participate in formal abstinence programs.
    b. Parents who learn how to speak with their adolescents about sex and maintain comfortable communication may be able to affect their choices. Mark Schuster's book "Everything you didn't want your kids to know about sex (but were afraid they'd ask)" has some great tips for parents.

  • miriam

    "WADR, Ithink that any course should emphatically reject safe sex from both a halachic and hashkafic perspectives as well beyond what a Torah observant Jew and Jewess should act in this area of Halacha. In many ways, the notion that young men and women should be given isntruction in safe sex is a surrendur to the present moral decadence within the outside world as opposed to fighting it by teaching the next generation the Halachic and Hashkafic views."
    i think i approve of most of this. i am not sure how halakhic/hashkafic rejection translates into lying. the fact that there are strong halakhic and hashkafic points seems to me to indicate that one should not overstate the case by relying on faulty statistics, inappropriate characterizations of halakha, etc that josh has documented.
    also, as my public-school raised spouse has pointed out to me whenever we discuss this subject, being told that condoms are effective, or at least not being told that condoms are ineffective, is hardly the same as "instruction s in safe sex." (there are no bananas involved -see above...) the question of "instructions" is beyond the scope of the problems with the website in question.
    best.

  • Steve Brizel

    It is indeed a sign of the intellectual and spiritual poverty in our communities when so many educated people refer to a phenomenon known as being "shomer negiah." Such a quaint comment mistakenly analogizes a Halacha on a Torah level with a minhag, ala standing for Krias HaTorah.

  • Yossi Mandelbaum

    Lurker is mostly right. True Rabbi Tropp left last year (the Lanner scandal broke in the summer of 2000 so it took six years to do something about that complicated situation. PS he is working for Eish ha Torah now...) but the issue isn't just him. For instance, spring regional convention every year is about glorifying certain people over others. This is obviously unhealthy, and probably not a good way to help kids reach further in thier relationships with G-d, and this basically hasn't changed.
    I was personally told by someone in the middle level administration of NCSY that the official position of NCSY (I was told this came directly from Rabbi Butler) was to say and do ANYTHING they had to, to keep the donations coming for 2 years and then everyone would forget what happened and we could move forward with business as usual. Of course he left, possibly putting that "policy" (I used parenthesis b/c NCSY never really had official policies or directives) in jeopardy. But I never saw NCSY behave any differently. After Rabbi Butler left I was at a meeting where many regional directors were pleased to say that the Lanner "thing" hasn't affected them because they could tell their contributors that it was a New Jersey issue and had nothing to do with them. I was stunned at the dishonesty and horrified at the brazen pride in not engaging in any sort of introspection. [I hasten to add that that there were MANY in the room who were really broken up over the revelations and were engaged in that process of introspection.]
    Obviously there are many very good people working for the OU and NCSY. Even when the Lanner story broke, many people within the structure were good people working hard to do the right thing. The problem was there were 2 other kinds of people: 1) people who had been trained in the "Lanner Method" and believed themselves to be doing the right thing b/c they were doing what they had been trained to do and 2) Outright manipulative people.
    As a former advisor I was personally involved in situations that would turn your stomach: Clear instances of unparalleled ego mania (I work with neurosurgeons--so I know what I'm talking about), recklessness, and amateurishness with very real and very dangerous repercussions for the kids. To my knowledge, those situations have not been revisited and policies have not been put in place to prevent them again. Mostly because so much of what goes on in NCSY has to do with who is making the decision, not what the actual decision is.
    The current problem as I see it now is that NCSY is largely run by amateurs (I am not referring to R. Burg at all). Basically, the adults who are "in charge" may or may not be real professionals--but regardless they rely on college students for the bulk of the work, who in turn rely on high school students. There is minimal training, even less guidance, and little oversight.
    I see this website as a symptom of the above. 1) Well meaning people want to address a real problem. 2) Some well meaning but likely under trained people work hard at the task but mostly come up with trite and often insulting formulations for some very big issues. All the while indulging in clumsy use of slang "ask your bf or gf..." 3) The OU parades out their new "program" with their classic self-satisfied tone.
    The simple truth is no website no matter how cool, well funded, well written etc is going to convince someone not to seek sexual gratification. The basics of NCSY were the connections between the kids the advisors and their peers -- which can accomplish that task. But not without the massive overhaul that was not done.
    Josh, great job on carefully articulating the flaws in halacha, logic, and tone. I hope s/o in OU/NCSY reads this and makes some changes.

  • http://Yutopia Steve Brizel

    Yossie Mandelbaum-WADR, I think that your post suffers from the same problems as many of the others on this site. Let me comment on some of the main problems:
    1) First of all-were you ever in NCSY or served as an officer before serving as an advisor?
    2) Neither R Butler nor R Tropp have anything to with either National or NJ NCSY. Whether the comments that you relate were made or not, the facts are that NCSY's programs on the regional, national and summer progam levels are packed with those attending and many who are closed out due to lack of space.
    3) Every NCSY regional convention recognizes certain NCSYers or advisors for their achievements, and potential for future service to Klal Yisrael, etc. I know of no organization, frum, secular or otherwise, that does not honor members for devoted and dedicated service to its goals.
    4)Every year, NCSY's national honor society sends out a ballot for candidate, direct and honorary members. The membership is asked to induct a lit of people who have shown religious growth and continued service to NCSY and the Jewish community. Not every nominee is automatically rubber stamped and in some years there are no direct or honorary nominees. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.It is called hakaras hatov and recognizing that some sacrifice a lot to become Shomrei Torah Umitzvos. Recognition of the value of one's committment to anything can be traced to the acceptance or rejection of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. An NCSYer who has grown more in his or her Avodas HaShem despite obstacles should be recognized as having done so. For example, an NCSyer who became Shomer Shabbos and/or is the only Shomer Tznius kid in their public school and is intent on attending a yeshiva IMO deserves far more recognition than a FFB kid who is a regional officer, attending a yeshiva and then proceeding either to YU, SCW or a secular college.
    5) I challenge your comment that NCSY has not implemented new polices for training of advisors, etc. If anything is the case, NCSY has a large core of dedicated alumni who were horrified at the revelations of the Lanner affair, but also rejected the notion advanced by some that NCSY was a cult, that it could not be trusted or that the proverbial baby had to be thrown out with the bathwater.
    6) You may not be aware of this but gentle enforcement of negiah and tznius has been standard NCSY policy at its events and programs since the early 1960s. IMO, the website is a public service that should be applauded. Again, neither NCSY, the OU nor any yeshiva should be apologetic in discussing tznius,as opposed to giving in to the cultural Zeitgeist.

  • Hillel

    "1. My problem with the use of Yosef is that it employs Hero Worship as an argument."
    I think this is an unfair classification. They never said "be like Yosef," much less worship him. They say "look what Yosef did re sexual practices and emulate him in that regard." That's "hero worhip?" We talk all the time about learning chessed from Avraham, honesty in business from Yaakov; is that wrong, too?
    "I know of no rapists who have been fought off by a deftfully wielded standard deviation."
    But I know many women who agreed to sexual activity because they felt frightened and intimidated, physically or socially, and agreed to do things they didn't want to do and later regretted. Providing teens with an objective source that says if your boyfriend is physically intimidating you, then that's rape or sexual assault, (and rather than castigating you as a floozy, you'll be sympathized with as the victim); and that if he tells you "everyone is doing it" then he's lying, is definitely helpful.
    I am amazed how frequently women have done things because they were afraid if they didn't they would wind up alone or no one would want to go out with them. It's not hard to see how knowing stats like this can help. At the very least, I can't think of any reason why it would be a bad thing for teens to have access to this information.

  • http://floatingbear.blogspot.com miriam

    re: yosef,
    josh,
    let's say this was "hachnasasorchim.org" and there was a section "be like Abe." would that be "hero worship" or at all objectionable? if not, please distinguish.

  • Lurker

    Yossi Mandelbaum: I was personally told by someone in the middle level administration of NCSY that the official position of NCSY (I was told this came directly from Rabbi Butler) was to say and do ANYTHING they had to, to keep the donations coming for 2 years and then everyone would forget what happened and we could move forward with business as usual.
    Steve Brizel: spare the reader old headlines as links.
    The links I posted were to news articles and book excerpts that shed critical light on the roles played by certain key players (Matt Tropp and Mendy Ganchrow) in the aftermath of the Lanner scandal. Given the obvious relevance of these sources to the issue at hand, I was rather confused, at first, by Steve Brizel's plea to "spare the reader" from seeing these "old headlines". Luckily, things became clearer once I saw Yossi Mandelbaum's revelation regarding NCSY's official position on handling the problem. Unfortunately, NCSY's confidence in the Jewish public's short memory seems to have been vindicated.
    Steve Brizel: R Tropp no longer works for NJ NCSY.
    I stand corrected regarding this point. I hadn't been aware that Tropp was "traded" last year to Aish. (His association with OU kiruv programs continues, however, as you can see in this brochure for the OU's West Coast Convention this past December.) My point remains, however: NCSY retained Baruch Lanner's "hatchet man" as the director of their largest region for 6 straight years following the revelations in the media of the Lanner scandal. That included 4 full years following Tropp's admission under oath that (1) he had maintained personal contact with Lanner in defiance of NCSY's threat to dismiss any employee who did so, and that (2) he regarded himself as exempt from the New Jersey state law obligating all citizens to report suspected child abuse.
    Steve Brizel: Take a look at NCSY's website. You might just find the evidence of massive changes if you were interested in presenting facts, as opposed to rhetoric.
    It's funny you should say say that, seeing as how I've backed up every single point I've made with facts and sources (i.e., those sources you asked me to stop citing, in order to "spare the reader"); whereas you have been responding with nothing but unsubstantiated rhetoric about some supposed "massive changes within NCSY's leadership" that nobody seems to know about besides yourself.
    I did take your suggestion, though: I went through NCSY's website quite thoroughly. I found absolutely nothing there to even suggest that the Lanner scandal had ever occurred, apart from the the inclusion of a behavioral standards document, drafted by an ad hoc parental oversight committee in 2000, following the breaking of the scandal. There is certainly no indication anywhere, however, of your "massive changes within NCSY's leadership".
    You have written two comments so far alleging these "massive changes", without citing any examples to prove it. When I challenged you outright to present evidence of these changes, you responded with a limp instruction to "take a look at NCSY's website", where I "might just find the evidence". Well, I looked there, and I found nothing of the sort. Nor will anyone else, because there is none there to be found.
    Fact: The sole changes in the leadership of NCSY and the OU that came as a result of the Lanner scandal were (1) the resignation of Lanner himself, and (2) the resignation of OU executive vice president Rabbi Raphael Butler. (Butler's resignation came after intense pressure to do so on the part of the grass-roots membership, and of then-president Mendy Ganchrow. The rest of the OU leadership never forgave Ganchrow for making Butler resign, and exacted their revenge upon Ganchrow by destroying his career in the OU.)
    As Yossi Mandelbaum described, Etz Chaim NCSY is imbued with an unhealthy culture of warped values. This culture was first created by Baruch Lanner, is perpertuated today by Lanner's proteges. It was precisely NCSY's stubborn refusal to change anybody -- or anything -- in their leadership, that is responsible for this ongoing sickness.
    So tell us already: What were the "massive changes within NCSY's leadership" to which you keep referring? You have criticized both Josh Yuter and myself for failing to be aware of them. I replied with specific names, dates, and and sources showing that NCSY's leadership remained almost completely unchanged following the scandal -- to the amazing extent that even Matt Tropp, Lanner's right-hand man and primary enabler, retained his position of authority. And your incredible response was to accuse me of presenting "rhetoric" instead of "facts".
    I am challenging you once again: Please SHOW US THE EVIDENCE for your outrageous claim of "massive changes within NCSY's leadership".
    I am certain that I am not the only one awaiting your reply.

  • Steve Brizel

    Lurker-once again, your bias as an anti NCSY basher betrays your lack of interest or ability to read the available evidence out there. Let's start with the standards that you linked to-they have been in effect in 2000 and were revised as of 10/06.Those standards, which were drafted by parents, are the basis for advisor conduct along with the fifth branch of Shulchan Aruch-common sense.
    As far as NCSY's administration is concerned, it has a wonderful National Director. The simple facts are that senior professionals made mistakes and paid for it.One need not read Dr Ganchrow's memoirs and recollections to realize that fact.
    OTOH, certain critics of NCSY's mission viewed the Lanner affair as an opportunity to question the legitimacy of NCSY's mission of kiruv, since the same directly contradicted the well documented and cherished support of pluralism in some MO quarters. WADR, neither the Lanner affair nor the Joel Commission report ever led anyone to suggest that the entire organization needed to be purged,rebuilt and its mission scrapped ala throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
    NCSY's advisors undergo very intensive training at YU and other venues. More importantly, the parents of American Jewish teens have confidence with NCSY. They voted with their collective wallets and pocketbooks to allow their teens to attend Shabbatonim, Conventions and programs in Israel of a wide variety.
    I addressed Yussi Mandelbaum's views re NJ NCSY which you repeat without any evidence of having read my post as to why, how and who is recognized for awards.

  • Lurker

    Steve Brizel: Lurker-once again, your bias as an anti NCSY basher betrays your lack of interest or ability to read the available evidence out there.
    My "bias as an anti NCSY basher", as you put it, stems from my experience as an NCSY victim. Are you this callous with all NCSY victims? How about the 14-old girl who told Matt Tropp about how Lanner was molesting her every day, was told in response that she was a liar, and ended up emotionally scarred for life? Would you also lecture her about her "bias as an anti NCSY basher"? There are a heck of a lot more people out there like that thank you seem to think.
    Steve Brizel: OTOH, certain critics of NCSY's mission viewed the Lanner affair as an opportunity to question the legitimacy of NCSY's mission of kiruv, since the same directly contradicted the well documented and cherished support of pluralism in some MO quarters.
    Perhaps. And others -- like myself -- questioned the legitimacy of NCSY's methods, since the same directly contradicted the well-documented and cherished laws of the Torah, such as kibud av v'aym: It was standard operating procedure to encourage non-frum kids to disregard their parents' feelings, and to treat them like dirt. Kids who absorbed the message, and severed their relationships with their parents, were publicly showered with praise for doing so, and given awards for it at Regional Convention.
    Steve Brizel: I addressed Yussi Mandelbaum's views re NJ NCSY which you repeat without any evidence of having read my post as to why, how and who is recognized for awards.
    I remember all too well who was chosen to receive awards, and for what. See above.
    All of this, however, is beside the point: You made a ridiculous claim that in response to the Lanner scandal, there were "massive changes within NCSY's leadership". And after I challenged you to present evidence for this, you provided the following "evidence":
    (1) A committee of parents drafted a standards document for NCSY in 2000, and revisions were made to it in 2006.
    (2) NCSY advisors also base their conduct on "the fifth branch of Shulchan Aruch-common sense".
    (3) NCSY "has a wonderful National Director".
    (4) "NCSY's advisors undergo very intensive training at YU" (the same institution that gave us the infamous "kangaroo court" beit din of 1989 that whitewashed Lanner, allowing him to go on working with kids, while harshly condemning the man who dared to tell the truth [Elie Hiller].)
    (5) "The parents of American Jewish teens have confidence with NCSY. They voted with their collective wallets and pocketbooks to allow their teens to attend Shabbatonim, Conventions and programs in Israel of a wide variety."
    Well, what an interesting defense of NCSY's integrity you've got there. It almost speaks for itself. Since all those parents were also "voting with their wallets" for NCSY during Lanner's heyday, when he was regularly groping girls' breasts and kicking boys in the groin in public, your argument works equally well as a defense of Lanner himself.
    You can use the exact same logic, of course, as an argument for the safety of placing children into the hands of Roman Catholic clergy, following the massive priestly sex abuse scandal that rocked that church. After all, just look at all those millions of Catholic parents who still vote with their wallets and continue to trust those priests...
    Here's a clue for you: "Massive leadership changes", to any reasonable person, means a large scale replacement of old leadership with new. You claimed that there were "massive changes within NCSY's leadership", and when challenged, failed to back up that claim with facts. There was, in fact, no change in leadership at all -- much to the chagrin of countless parents who demanded exactly such a change. The assertions you made above translate into nothing more than a subjective vote of trust and confidence in NCSY by one Mr. Steve Brizel. In no way, shape, or form, do they constitute evidence of "massive changes within NCSY's leadership".
    I presented clear, solid evidence of how a hidebound NCSY stuck stubbornly to their old, corrupt leaders and methods, in spite of all the pressure to engage in some soul-searching and house-cleaning. You, on the other hand, backed up your claim of "massive changes" with a list of dubious, unsubstantiated assertions and personal opinions. I think that intelligent people can judge for themselves which argument is more credible.

  • Steve Brizel

    Lurker-I would never defend Lanner's conduct and in fact had nothing to do with NCSY for many years during his heyday.
    Like it or not, when anyone, adult or a teen becomes a Shomer Torah uMitzvos, there is an inherent conflict between living that life and his or her prior lifestyle. That conflict goes back to Avraham Avinu. Furthermore, anyone who has learned Chumash or Talmud can tell you that a parent cannot tell a child to be Mchalel Shabbos. Yes, a child has an obligation of Kibud Av, but not to transgress a halacha to do so. I know many of my peers who maintained in contact with their ;arents despite deciding to become Shomer Torah Umitzos. Yet, when a teen goes thru a process of religious growth despite opposition of his parents, sometimes ties can be maintained and at other times, they cannot. It is an admittedly difficult issue and one which defies easy generalizations or accusations that Kibud Av vEm is is being transgressed in the process.
    FYI, R Willig issued a public apology years ago. Lanner and R Tropp are gone. If you wish to hold NCSY to the same standard as the RCC, that is your prerogative. FWIW, I would never have allowed a teenaged daughter to participate on the local level or to attend NCSY's summer progams if I did not feel that sufficientb steps were taken to correct the effects of Lanner's improper actions. Again, the facts are that the very popular summer programs are sold out speaks more to parental confidence in the ship of state running NCSY as well as in the quality of its programs than any other fact.

  • Steve Brizel

    Lurker-You may not be aware of this, but Lanner not only molested female NCSYers, he engaged in all sorts of intimidation and worse against anyone who did not follow his line 100%. FWIW, I stayed out of NJ and refused to consider moving there while he was still the star of NJ NCSY. In fact, although I recently received an honor from NCSY, I would not have accepted it if I had not felt that NCSY had not cleaned house .

  • Observer

    Lurker-
    Yes, you are demonstrating an over the top anti-NCSY bias here. Steve Brizel should not have to fend off these charges on his own.
    Question: What would you define as "massive leadership changes."
    Since the Lanner scandal, there is a new executive vice president (the highest rabbinic position in the OU) and new president (highest lay leadership) at the OU. Rabbi Weinreb and Mister Savitsky were not tainted by the Scandal and in R' Weinreb's case he was completely unaffiliated with the organization.
    NCSY itself has a new National Director (Rabbi Steven Burg). It has a new associate National Director (Rabbi David Frankel). It has a new Director of Finance (Mr. David Cutler, who, for the record, reports directly to the OU's new CFO (Alan Miller), as a result of the Joel Comissions reccomendations).
    By my calculation (and I may be off by one or two) 10 of the 14 regions in NCSY are headed by new Directors, the overwhleming majority of whom were not connected to NCSY in the 80's and 90's.
    I assume that you are not of the opinion that each and every one of the directors and employees on the OU payroll in 2000 should have been automatically terminated and replaced.
    How can this NOT be defined as "massive change?"
    There is not a single individual in the National Office of NCSY that held his position during the Lanner years!
    If there are specific individuals in positions of influence in the OU or NCSY hierarchy that you feel are threats to our children, by all means, make youe voice heard for the benefit of all of us.
    But please stop the spread of misinformation and the use of utterly unhelpful generalities and regurgitated accusations.
    Today's product in NCSY is still imperfect, and criticisms of certain projects is always warranted. The discussion about negiah.org is positive and hopefully enlightening to those who supplied its content. But this does not change the facts that: 1. NCSY has undergone some very significant and substantive changes over the past 6 years, 2. That NCSY is under the direction of new and capable and responsible leadership and 3. That NCSY's programs are of a higher quality than ever and it is producing educational programming throughout the year that the entire Orthodox community should be proud to support.

  • Josh

    Let There Be an Ending
    My apologies for not really following this discussion in the past few days - I've been fairly busy preparing my shavuot shiur in addition to everything else. Unfortunately, this thread has gotten completely out of hand in the meantime to the point where I am seriously considering editing this thread/shutting it down.
    Lurker/Steve - Both of you completely missed the point regarding the Lanner issue because Lanner had nothing to do with Negia.org.
    As Yossi correctly observed, my reference of it was to show that NCSY has not changed the fundamental attitudes which allowed for the Lanner scandal in the first place. I can appreciate that both Lurker and Steve have had drastically experiences with NCSY and that would affect how you'd both perceive the organization. Regardless, the Lanner scandal *did* happen, it's likely that some changes *were* made, but in my opinion the problem is much more systemic to the institutional culture. As I said in an earlier comment, ideally NCSY should be in a position to address this issue and the Lanner scandal should not necessarily preclude them from trying. However, if this is the best they can produce, then it is not so much that they lack the moral authority to promote abstinence, but that they lack the competency.
    In either case, your exchange was inappropriately inflammatory for any conversation let along this website. If you'd like to continue your discussion, do it over private e-mail and leave us out of it.
    Steve - As Miriam pointed out most of your critiques have nothing to do with my post. The rejection of one argument or position does not imply agreement with its opposite. From halakhic and social perspectives I would agree that abstinence is the ideal. But as I have demonstrated in detail, negia.org does so offensively, dishonestly, and counter to Torah.
    RHF - Even ignoring the manipulation of Torah, how the articles are written is essential for getting across the point. As Avot 1:11 says, "hakhamim hizharu bedivreichem."
    Miriam/Hillel - Regarding the role model analogy, here's where RHF's comment about good writing comes in to play. I read the Yosef comparison in the context of all the other articles and as such gave it very little credence. Had they presented the article in a straightforward way with Yosef as a *model* or precedent then I would likely have slightly less of an issue than being told "Be Like Joe." The latter syntax implies that this person ought to be emulated, and in the context of the article he should be emulated for no other reason than he was a great person. However other Great People in Jewish history had their own issues with abstinence (Yehuda and David come to mind). In my mind, there is a difference in portraying someone as exemplary of a characteristic (i.e. a literal "role model") and playing the Tzaddik card.
    Furthermore, on a site where you're trying to discourage people from following peer pressure, it is disingenuous to then employ the same tactic - especially when people could just pick other people to emulate.
    Now then, if people would like to discuss Negia.org, my blog post, or any relevant issue, please continue.

  • Hillel

    "The latter syntax implies that this person ought to be emulated, and in the context of the article he should be emulated for no other reason than he was a great person."
    It may be possible that you're reading just a tad too much into this title. They wanted to come with a "clever" title and went with a parody of the old "be like Mike" commercials. The actual content explicitly says he is a model of sexual abstinence (and not, say, modesty in fashion), and doesn't play the tzaddik card at all.
    I just don't see the difference between the content of the article and the content of an article exalting the chessed of Avraham.
    A different issue might be the fact that the model of sexual abstinence intermarried the daughter of an Egyptian High Priest of the god "Ohn". But at least he wasn't messing around. (And there weren't a lot of other options available...)

  • Hillel

    PS:
    I think part of your disappointment comes from your take on the purpose of the website.
    Let's get this straight: virtually NO ONE will make the decision to be shomer negiah because of a web site, no matter how cool or relevant. That's not the point. (Even if they say that's the point, they're either being coy or deluded.)
    However, if someone has already decided to be shomer, and is wavering, or wants to convince their friends (or boy/girlfriend) to be shomer negiah, or is seriously considering it, and needs chizzuk or sources to support their decision, then it's useful. (I guess that's why we disagree about the statistical data issue.)
    In that regard, I think it does an OK job, although many of the criticisms you raise are insightful.
    From my perspective, they don't need to start over, just make a few tweaks and changes.

  • Steve Brizel

    Josh-Thank you for the constructive criticism.I agree that NCSY, both before and after the Lanner affair, is irrelevant to the discussion, unless one is discussing the appropriateness or lack thereof of the materials under discussion. I would be remiss in not mentioning and thanking Observer for a very informative post.
    Getting back to the subject, abstinence IMO is not merely "the ideal" but rather the halachic reality. Yosef is portrayed as someone who successfully resisted sexual temptation despite overwhelming pressures. That is the clear reading of both the relevant Torah passage and the critical Aggadic sources in Sotah. Yehudah and David present far more difficult issues as to the specific conduct discussed in the Tanach and the treatment of the same in Chazal and Rishonim. For an excellent range of the some of the available approaches, I would recommend one of R Nevenzahl's Sichos in Breishis .

  • Daniel Levy

    The site looks like it follows a template, likely from a christian site-- does anyone know where to compare?
    I think a really important question is whether the OU is getting federal abstinence/ed dollars for this; and if so what were the negotiations (if any) on content.
    Anyone?

  • daniel

    I was wrong (about the federal dollars):
    [Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, program director of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth and author of the Web site,] said he got the idea for the site a year ago when he learned of a government grant for abstinence-only education. Though the [Orthodox Union] opted not to apply for the grant, it raised the question of whether sexual abstinence was something the organization should address.
    According to Abramowitz, he spent months researching and writing, looking at Christian abstinence Web sites and medical studies.
    ?There?s huge amounts of material out there,? he said. ?I just saw what people were saying and tried to spin it more Jewish.?

  • http://floatingbear.blogspot.com miriam

    "The site looks like it follows a template, likely from a christian site-- does anyone know where to compare?"
    compare
    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0064.html
    http://www.prolife.com/LICKONA.htm
    http://www.lhouse.org/page8.html
    with
    http://www.ou.org/index.php/abstinence/story/messing/
    - identical lists of the 10 emotional dangers of teenage sex.
    i don't know the original source for this list. it may even be a govt publication.
    i suspect you could find similar things for other pages. perhaps i will play with google more later. there are also phrases like "no condom for the heart" that are all over the christian literature.
    as for federal funding. the curriculum guidelines for "commnity based abstinence education" are at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/grants/open/HHS-2007-ACF-ACYF-AE-0099.html
    negiah.org seems to hit a lot of them, though not nec all. (there are also two other funding programs, i think.)
    in any case, i suspect that the federal curriculum guidelines may themselves be the basic "template" everyone is following.
    compare the fed standard:
    A. It is essential that the abstinence education curriculum has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity.
    The curriculum must be consistent with the bulleted examples.
    Examples may include, but are not limited to:
    * Has as its exclusive purpose to teach abstinence. Every element, goal, and objective of the curriculum must be consistent with the abstinence-until-marriage message. The curriculum must teach abstinence in preparation for marriage throughout.
    * Teaches the social gains realized by abstaining from non-marital sexual activity. (Included in themes D1, D2, F1, and F2 described below.)
    * Teaches the psychological gains realized by abstaining from non-marital sexual activity. (Included in themes B1, B2, D1, D2, and E1 described below.)
    * Teaches the health gains realized by abstaining from non-marital sexual activity. (Included in themes B2, C2, and E2 described below.)
    with the four categories "your bod" (health) "your mind" (psychological) "your life" (social) "your soul" (? - but not shocking that this is not in a federal standard...)
    Finally,
    "Negiah.org is proud to be an affiliate of The Abstinence Clearinghouse. The Abstinence Clearinghouse is a non-profit educational organization that promotes the appreciation for and practice of sexual abstinence through the distribution of age-appropriate, factual and medically-accurate materials."
    the abstinence clearinhouse (http://www.abstinence.net/), in turn, says it provides curricula, which are presumably consistent with federal requirements, and may be the direct source for a lot of the website.
    (incidentally, i didn't see anything readily identifiable as the OU on the list of affiliates, either faith based or non-faith based.)
    I wonder how much money you can get for running a website, though. most of the funding goes to orgs that also do classroom education and speakers, i think. but i don't know much about that. presumably, the list of grantees should be in the public domain.
    this is what i turned up in 20 minutes of haphazard googling. i'm sure there's more to be said.

  • dan

    I think this is an example of how government intrusion into the religious sphere has corrupted the Torah teachings. (The OU is a cheap date, though, they did it for no money).

  • Hillel

    "I think this is an example of how government intrusion into the religious sphere has corrupted the Torah teachings."
    Huh? I fail to understand how a website made without a penny of governmental money reflects "government intrusion" into anything.
    Besides, the Torah is a pretty big fan of premarital abstinence (the main point of the site), and the presentation problems R' Yuter mentioned were utilized by the OU and other organizations well before this website came along.
    The government just doesn't have anything to do with this.

  • daniel

    An interesting take on condom use "advocacy" to reduce health risks from a Torah perspective:
    http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/aids.html
    After reading Miriam's post, it is seems that this view would not conform to the requirements needed to secure federal funding. I don't know whether the OU will plan to ask for funds in the future, or whether they will try to teach NCSYers this sort of abstinence perspective. I think it is not beyond the realm of possibilities to assume the OU might self-censor or even distort (note Josh's post) in order to conform to the federal abstinence program. (Although I think they have already done it, but have no proof). This is an inevitable and unfortunate outcome, in my view, of government intrusion into the religious sphere (That's what I meant before, when I called the OU a "cheap date".)

  • Hillel

    "This is an inevitable and unfortunate outcome, in my view, of government intrusion into the religious sphere "
    Let me get this straight. You think the OU might distort Torah to get federal funds, you then call this type of scurrilous action "inevitable" and blame the whole thing on the government?
    So if the OU does something bad (and you have no evidence they did or plan to do so ) it's all the government's fault.
    Huh?

  • Josh

    Just noticed this book review on Slate:

    Regnerus goes to some length to justify his unusual pairing of subjects. Most researchers of youth behavior tend to ignore the influence of religion, he argues, and instead focus on other factors?parental input, peer pressure, race, or socioeconomic status. But sex is one area where religion has a strong impact, at least on attitudes. When academics do consider religion, they tend to make lazy assumptions that religious communities are inherently conservative, universally condemn sex, and encourage abstinence. Regnerus complicates the picture by examining the varying attitudes of different religious communities. And while sex surveys are notoriously unreliable, his great innovation is to compare conservative attitudes with actual practices.

    And in comparison:

    A Catholic or a mainline Protestant teenager is a much better bet than a Jew (around 30 percent of the first two groups have had sex, compared with 17.6 percent for Jews). But a Jew could net a higher reward: Jews are more likely to say sex is pleasurable and more likely to have experienced oral sex.

    I'm going to assume he used Janet's work as well. The book itself could be an interesting contribution to the discussion at hand.

  • miriam

    "Let me get this straight. You think the OU might distort Torah to get federal funds, you then call this type of scurrilous action "inevitable" and blame the whole thing on the government?"
    Actually, one of the rationales the Supreme Court accepts (as far as I recall, from my very cursory knowledge of the 1st Amendment) for Establishment doctrine is that establishment debases religion. So yes, the OU obviously retains responsibility, but perhaps the point is not about affixing blame on one or the other. I think it is fair to claim that, to the extent the OU actually did anything alleged, or even to the extent it is plausible that they or another group would do so, this shows that government entanglement in religion is bad for religion (and govt too, but that's not the point at issue). If so, the govt is, in fact, blameworthy for acting in a way that undercuts constitutional values, and from which negative events predictably unfold.
    Ie, the govt should stay out of the religious sphere, because (among other reasons), bad things happen to religionwhen it doesn't . in this instance, the govt got entangled with religion and bad things (may have) happened to religion as a result.