Calls to seal off ultra-Orthodox areas add to Israel’s virus tensions


Purposely ignorant, fundamentalist religions, continue to spread disease and death throughout the word.

Rules enforcement highlights problem of getting message across to minority community

Oliver Holmes and Quique Kierszenbaum in Jerusalem

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Bnei Brak.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Bnei Brak, which Israel has now declared a restricted zone. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

It wasn’t a typical police operation. Two Israeli officers were to go undercover, although not posing as drug dealers or arms traffickers. For this particular assignment, they were to disguise themselves as ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Their mission on Friday was to bust an illegal gathering in a synagogue. People were praying together, a practice that is now against the law in the era of the coronavirus. Once the officers got inside to confirm the crowd, more units barged in and dispersed people.

Forces left the area, according to police, but: “An hour later, it was reported that people had returned again.” At that point, officers handed out fines amounting to nearly £4,000.

The operation in the county’s north was one small part of a sometimes fruitless nationwide effort to impose Covid-19 restrictions on a deeply religious and often cut-off community that has been slow, or even opposed, to change their way of life.

Israeli soldiers deliver food to residents in Bnei Brak.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Israeli soldiers deliver food to residents in Bnei Brak. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

Officials fear the result has been an explosion of cases in neighbourhoods populated with the minority, which makes up more than 12% of Israel’s nine million citizens.

In the most extreme case, an entire city, Bnei Brak, has been surrounded with barricades. Israel’s cabinet declared the city a “restricted zone” last week, sending in 1,000 police officers who blocked residents from leaving except under special circumstances. The army has also be deployed to deliver food to the elderly.

One medical expert estimated up to 38% of Bnei Brak’s roughly 200,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox inhabitants could be infected, significantly higher than the national average.

Many Israeli ultra-Orthodox live in poor, often congested areas with large families where infections can spread rapidly. Some religious leaders have refused to order their people to stay inside long after the rest of the country was locking down.

When a population are told the Torah will protect them there is no motivation to comply with orders Jessica Apple, Haaretz

Chaim Kanievsky, an influential rabbi, had initially refused to close packed synagogues and religious seminaries, where hundreds of boys and men gather daily. “The Torah protects and saves,” the 92-year-old said. Only in late March did the rabbi relent, calling for lone prayer.

There have also been several anecdotal reports that ultra-Orthodox communities in other countries, including the UK, are suffering an above-average infection rate.

In Israel, the outbreaks have deepened entrenched grievances between secular and religious populations that have festered since the state’s founding.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis, known in Hebrew as Haredim, or “God-fearers”, occupy a unique role, with laws allowing them to avoid military draft and live off stipends while they study religion, leading to secular resentment.

Jewish leaders fear ultra-Orthodox Jews have missed isolation message

Many abhor Israel’s interference in their traditions. Some are vehemently anti-Zionist, rejecting the country whose Jewish majority is mostly secular, which has frustrated government coronavirus efforts when public trust and obedience are vital.

Attempts by police to enforce quarantine restrictions in religious neighbourhoods of Jerusalem have led to sometimes violent standoffs. Paramedics have been hit with rocks.

“When a population that regards its religious leaders as infallible are told that the Torah will protect them and that the secular law enforcement agencies are Nazis and anti-Semites, there is no motivation to comply with orders,” wrote Jessica Apple in the progressive local Haaretz newspaper; her article also called for ultra-Orthodox jews to wear face masks.

Now the cabinet is discussing using the Bnei Brak lockdown as a model for other outbreaks, and local media have cited an unnamed health official as saying more ultra-Orthodox areas could also be sealed off.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish burial society workers with a coronavirus victim outside the Shamgar funeral house in Jerusalem.
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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish burial society workers with a coronavirus victim outside the Shamgar funeral house in Jerusalem. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemite who used to take part in anti-government demonstrations, said some rabbis took a “long time to internalise the severity of the situation … and they truly believe that studying Torah is more important than anything else.”

However, he said the government was also slow to communicate with more radical parts of the community, many of whom have no internet, television, radio, smartphones or even newspapers and usually get news from posters stuck to noticeboards.

Meshi-Zahav, who runs a volunteer emergency medicine group that has been helping coordinate the Covid-19 response, has written posters on the rules. Still, he added: “It is not our job, it should be the Ministry of Health’s responsibility.”

He said he was concerned about growing anger. “In normal times, there are discussions on this, but now the seculars are saying, ‘you are infecting us’. This is terrible, there is a lot of antisemitism around the world, and now the seculars are doing this?”

“There are things they say that are correct, but to accuse a whole community? To generalise? Some people are using the situation to attack the Haredim.”

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man kisses the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem’s Old City Marko Djurica/ File Photo

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‘Trump is killing his own supporters’ – even White House insiders know it


A plague is raging and the president is leaving the heartlands and blue-collar voters exposed. This could be the endgame

Lloyd Green

A supporter of President Trump waves a flag in Los Angeles.
A supporter of President Trump waves a flag in Los Angeles. Photograph: Marcio José Sánchez/AP

On Sunday, initially at least, there was no White House briefing on the president’s public schedule. But the bad news kept coming. Coronavirus deaths continued to climb and reports of the heartland being unprepared for what may be on its horizon continued to ricochet around the media.

In the words of one administration insider, to the Guardian: “The Trump organism is simply collapsing. He’s killing his own supporters.”

Members of the national guard, emergency workers, rank-and-file Americans: all are exposed. Yet Trump appears incapable of emoting anything that comes close to heart-felt concern. Or just providing straight answers.

Rather, he is acting like Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America: repeatedly letting governors know the burden of shoring up their sick, their doctors and their people falls on their shoulders first. The national government? It’s the world’s greatest backstop.

Remember when the Republican party freaked out about Barack Obama and the US “leading from behind” abroad? Remember the howls that evoked from GOP leaders? Those days are gone. Welcome to what Martin O’Malley, a Democratic former governor of Maryland, calls the “Darwinian approach to federalism”.

There is nothing like populism marinated in wholesale contempt for the populace

Trump is telling NFL owners he wants the season to start on time. He is disregarding Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice on wearing facemasks in public. And he is touting untested coronavirus cures live on national TV.

Think Trump University on steroids, only this time we all stand to be the victims.

When Dr Anthony Fauci says there is no evidence to back up Trump’s claims surrounding hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, pay attention. The fact Jared Kushner is on the case is hardly reassuring. He’s the guy who thought firing James Comey was win-win politics and promised Middle East peace in our time.

While all this is going on, the Wisconsin Republican party is giving America a taste of the campaign to come in the fall. Right now, the Badger State GOP is fighting in the US supreme court efforts to extend mail-in voting for this Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

In other words, voters will be forced to choose between foregoing their rights and risking their lives. Democracy shouldn’t work that way.

Back in the day, Republicans looked upon absentee voting as a valuable adjunct, a key piece in the party’s election day arsenal. Not anymore. Instead it is a dreaded foe, a fact readily admitted by Trump on Fox & Friends this week. If the US were to adopt mail-in voting, said the president, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again”.

For good measure, Trump later declared from the White House: “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting.”

For the record, Trump voted by mail in 2018. In March, the Palm Beach Post reported that he had requested a mail-in vote for the Florida Republican primary.

There is nothing like populism marinated in wholesale contempt for the populace. In case Trump and the Republicans forgot, “We the People” are the constitution’s first three words.

If you can leave your soldiers to suffer then no American is truly safe

Sadly, once again we are reminded that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s masterpiece, Gladiator, is the movie for this presidency and its tumultuous times. In one scene, a senator, Gracchus, attempts to confront Commodus, the emperor, about a plague spreading through Rome. The emperor declines, threatens the senator and muses about disbanding the Senate.

On Thursday, Trump forced the removal of Captain Brett Crozier from his command of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, for having the temerity to plead his sailors’ case as more than 100 of them tested positive for coronavirus.

If you can leave your soldiers to suffer then no American is truly safe, no matter what Jeanine Pirro may say. Crozier left the ship to the cheers of the crew – then reportedly tested positive himself.

Hours after dismissing Crozier, Trump sacked Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, for simply doing his job. Trump’s Ukraine call was never perfect, however many times he says it was.

Whether Trump wins reelection is an open question. For now, the economy is cratering and the coronavirus death toll has exploded. Not a promising combination. Herbert Hoover faced a depression, not a plague. Trump may contend with both.

According to Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and the man who sent Charlie Kushner, Jared’s father, to prison, November will be a referendum on Trump. Joe Biden is nearly irrelevant.

For the moment, Trump holds a commanding lead among Republicans. Seven months from now, we will learn if party loyalty is enough to secure a second term.

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Evil Jesus, History’s Most Unpleasant, Failed Messiah


Evil Jesus, History’s Most Unpleasant, Failed Messiah

jesus_crazy

What words come from the mouths of the religious when they speak about Jesus?

Loving? Merciful? Just? Compassionate?

The reality is, the Bible reveals Jesus’s primary qualities quite differently: jealous, self-serving, arrogant, petty, maniacal, irrational, unforgiving, bloodthirsty, vindictive—and worse!

“Jesus was a moral lunatic who intended to return with an army of angels to eternally torture the vast majority of humanity. If you’d like to think that’s the “good version” of setting billions of people on fire, think again.”

We can do better, and create a clear a path to a kinder and more thoughtful world.

 

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Breaking Their Will: The Sick Biblical Literalism That Leads to Child Abuse and Even Death


Breaking Their Will: The Sick Biblical Literalism That Leads to Child Abuse and Even Death
Authoritarian parenting and abusive practices are all too common in some Evangelical households.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Suzanne Tucker

In 2008, Hana Williams was adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia and brought to the United States where she died at the hands of her Bible-believing American parents. Their notion of Christian discipline required breaking her will, a remarkably common belief among conservative Evangelicals. To that end, they frequently beat her, shut her in a closet, and denied her meals. Ultimately, she was left outside where she died of hypothermia exacerbated by malnutrition. They were convicted ofmanslaughter this month.

In carrying out their obsession with child obedience, Hana’s adoptive parents drew tips from Tennessee preacher Michael Pearl, whose spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child book, To Train Up a Child, has been found now in three homes of Christian parents who killed their adopted children. The title comes from a stanza in the book of Proverbs: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

M. Dolon Hickmon is the author of an upcoming novel called 13:24that includes religiously motivated abuse. Hickmon was raised by parents who subscribed to this kind of discipline, and he knows first-hand about deep and long-lasting scars from Bible-based childrearing. Hickmon left his 6,000 member megachurch after a pastor seized on Father’s Day as a prime occasion to teach the congregation how to shape and sand wooden spanking paddles. For Hickmon, the sermon triggered memories of the beatings he had suffered as a child—administered by Christian parents and justified by biblical teachings.

While struggling to hold together his faith, Hickmon sent a letter soliciting advice from an online ministry run by the authors of a popular Evangelical parenting manual. He wrote as if he were a father experiencing marital conflict because his wife interfered when he hit their terrified, screaming six-year-old. In reality, Hickmon was describing his own childhood experience. (You can read his letter, which is full of intentional red flags, here.) The response: Your wife is at fault in coming to your son’s defense. Your son uses her. Either she stays out of the way, or you will have to stop being a real Dad.

Mercifully, secular courts don’t agree that inflicting physical wounds is an acceptable part of parenting. Hana’s parents have been convicted for her death at their hands and will be sentenced in October. Their seven biological children and adopted son—they had also adopted a boy from Ethiopia ironically named Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”— are now safe from their abuse. It is noteworthy, though, that American children are being made safer by secular institutions, not adherence to ancient texts and traditions.

Child protections have become established in most countries, and conversations about child-friendly religion are gaining ground. Even so, many children are subject to patriarchalgroups that take parenting priorities from the Iron Age. Evangelical Christians, fearing that their religion is losing ground, have ramped up recruiting activities targeting high school and college students but also young children. Their tool bag includes afternoon club programs and enticing camps. Some churches, like that of TV’s Duggar family, promote a high birth rate, adding young sheep to the fold the old fashioned way. Many churches encourage members—even those who already have numerous children—to adopt.

Kathryn Joyce’s book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption exposes Evangelical ministries that have resorted to even lies and bribes to pursue their mission of getting children into good Christian homes. A more common criticism is that Evangelical adoption priorities fuel construction of aid-dependent orphanages rather than addressing the underlying systemic issues that cause maternal destitution and death, leaving children parentless.

Many Evangelical families provide a balance of love and structure and moderate discipline that helps kids thrive. But even well intentioned and loving parents can be thrown off by a church or books that hold up spare the rod, spoil the child as advice from God. When parenting practices derive literally from the Iron Age texts of Bible, the price can be enormous.

As a child, M. Dolon Hickmon collected bits he’d heard in sermons and adult conversations, trying to understand his fear and hurt. Ultimately he decided the fault lay in himself:

Here are the messages I gleaned from the church of my childhood: that beating children is acceptable—good for them, in fact; bruises and welts are of little consequence; that fear is desirable, as is pained screaming and broken sobbing. I’d heard that kids were to be whipped for the least act of disobedience, with belts and sticks and plastic racecar tracks; on bare skin, and as often as an adult thought was necessary.

A child abuser, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t love you. A parent who never gives hugs because he is angry all the time. A child abuser is a drinker, a druggie, or at best some kind of wild animal. An abuser has no reasons or explanations. He just burns kids with cigarettes and gives them broken arms.

My abuser loved me and hugged me, and he overflowed with explanations. I once got an hour-long lesson on disobedience for leaving a crayon on the floor. While the belt clapped with the measured rhythms of chopping firewood, I struggled to commit verses to memory and to answer quizzes on the metaphysical meanings of the word honor in scripture. . . .

I tolerated being degraded, because that was what I thought a Christian child was supposed to do.

Children generally have a hard time protecting themselves from abusive caregivers. Children who are made to believe that God is on the side of the abuser and that they deserve to suffer are all the more unable to fend off physical and psychological wounds. To quote Pat Benetar’s song “Hell is for Children,” love and pain become one and the same in the eyes of a wounded child.

As of late, critics have been raising awareness of the link between certain kinds of religious parenting and abuse. Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, recently founded the Child-Friendly Faith Project, a national nonprofit organization that educates the public about the impact that religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs and practices have on children.

We now know a great deal about how children flourish and how adults can manage parent-child conflict for positive outcomes. Psychologist Laura Kastner distilled two decades of parenting research into seven basic principles, which provide the structure for her book, Wise-Minded Parenting. When asked to comment on recent tragedies, Kastner suggested that we may have learned a thing or two in the millennia since our sacred texts were written:

Our growing knowledge of child development suggests that authoritative parenting grounded in mutual respect works better in the long run than threats and force. It is a shame that factions among us still support the use of the “rod” when we have abundant evidence that non-violent parental strengths are the key to building success and character.

Tragedies like the death of Hana Williams prompt soul searching. For example, the case has prompted calls for adoption reform. But what shape should reforms take? We cannot exclude prospective parents on the basis of their religious affiliation, nor should we. Many adoptive parents are inspired by their faith to step up and do the hard sustained work of loving and raising orphaned children despite their special needs and challenges.

And yet beliefs matter. They can override compassion and common sense, as Hickmon’s experience so clearly shows. Encircled by like-minded believers, parents and children may get little exposure to outside parenting practices. This means that religious leaders have tremendous power to either cause suffering or to help families develop skills that are grounded in a genuine understanding of child development. As we collectively muddle our way toward a better future, we need to engage in a thoughtful, complicated conversation about parental power and children’s wellbeing, and the positive and negative roles religion can play in finding a balance that helps kids flourish.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

Religious Siblings Kept Dead Mother, Claimed She Was God


Siblings kept dead mother, claimed she was god
Via The West Australian
Three adult siblings have been arrested after police found they had kept their mother’s body in their house for three years after her death.

The Daily Mail website in Britain reports that the trio, aged in their 50s and 60s, had initially refused entry to police who wanted to check on the elderly mother because they believed she was being abused.

Instead, they found she had been dead for years. Police arrested them after finding the skeleton of an elderly woman at their home in Usa in the country’s south-west, according to Jiji Press.

The Daily Mail reports that the Japanese sisters and brother insist that they have done nothing wrong – and say the reason they wanted to stay with their parent was that she had become a god.

The 65-year-old man and two women aged 59 and 52 are accused of conspiring to abandon a body.

When officers visited the home in order to investigate the possibility that the elderly woman was being abused, the siblings tried to refuse them entry.

One of the sisters told police: ‘There’s no need to let you see her. Get off our property,’ according to Asahi News.

When they managed to enter the house, they found Mrs Ishigai’s body lying face up on a futon – which the siblings said was ‘for religious reasons’.

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