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Individuality vs. psychological collectiveism; the case study of Lev Tahor

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Each of us is responsible ultimately for his own life. Excepting those individuals who suffer from psychological disability, there is none other than the one whose face you see in the morning mirror upon whom you can lay the blame for your personal shortcomings, failures to accomplish personal goals or the realization of one's dreams.

At issue and at risk in our Jewish times is the gift of individuality that G-d implants within each of us. Each "individual(ity)" is unique; our human capacity of "free will" enables individuality to become that which the individual has chosen for himself, the path he'll follow, the life he'll lead. In other words, the contours and content of one's individuality is the outcome of individual "free will". However, there is one invariable consequence, free will's price tag if you like. Whatever you have chosen to do becomes yours; if it turns out well, all the better, if it fails, it remains yours. Learn from it. Don't blame others for your failing. Rather, turn it into a teachable moment for yourself.

Lev Tahor

It means "pure heart". Rather an odd name for a religious sect which, through its leader, "Rabbi" Shlomo Helbrans, has become an international offender with criminal records in Israel, The United States and Canada. Currently on the lam and living in dire poverty in Guatemala, one can, I think, safely dismiss Helbrans' counter charge that he and his followers are being unjustly persecuted.

Are the accusations of child abuse, including arranging "marriages" between teenage girls younger than sixteen years of age and much older men, baseless? Have not Canadian authorities been long investigating allegations of abuse that resulted in the placement of some of the sect's children into foster homes albeit temporarily? Where there is smoke, there is fire.

Hasn't there yet emerged enough evidence for probable cause? Why the delay? Are the Canadian authorities overly concerned lest Lev Tahor plays the antisemitism card? The truly astonishing and sad part of all of this is how believable these charges are, particularly given the rising number of sexual abuse cases currently rocking parts of the Orthodox yeshiva and education world.The Satmars have been so heavily impacted by these revelations that one wonders just how pure the "lev" (heart) of Lev Tahor is. Referred to as the "Jewish Taliban" by some critics, Lev Tahor requires its women and girls to dress in a manner more akin to Afghan women under Taliban rule than to modestly attired orthodox Jewish women.

Still, the contrast between the Jewish world of seventy years ago and that of today is remarkable. Sure. We still have our enemies who seek our destruction; that is a given in Jewish history, but has there ever been an earlier time in our past when we were a greater enemy to ourselves than we are at present?

There have always been impostors in the garb of pious religious Jews. We see this all too clearly in wayward "Jewish" groups such as Neturi Carta and Lev Tahor. These scoundrels expect deference from folks naive enough to believe "a bekishe, beard and Borsalino a Chosid do make."

I am by no means suggesting there are no genuinely righteous men of pure heart in the ultra-orthodox communities. To suggest anything less would be to wrongly smear the good names of many good men because of the misdeeds of a fraudulent minority who mask criminal and/or deviant behavior by appearance deception.

Think and stand up for yourself.

The great majority of folks are followers. Leadership is not for everyone nor should it be.There is a great need, however, for informed and intelligent followers. Judaism is about love of G-d rather than the unrestrained veneration of human leaders. Remember that the next time your presence is lost in a sea of black hats. Suddenly, gray sounds very appealing.

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