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The Heretic: Burning Crosses Ultra-Orthodox Style


“You’ll never find a leftist who cares about suffering white or Christian peoples. Examples Afrikaner in the "new South Africa," whites under Mugabe, Loyalist victims of IRA terror, Sudetan Germans the list is endless. I agree that a lot of leftist agitation is due to hatred of the West, the white race and any non Third World political aspiration. However, not all.”

Who wrote this? An arch conservative? A white supremacist? A Nazi?

The man who wrote those words is not a Nazi. He is, however, both an arch conservative and a white supremacist. And he is also an ultra-Orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Mayer Schiller teaches advanced Talmud at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, Yeshiva University’s affiliated high school.  But Schiller, who lives in the ultra-Orthodox bastion of Monsey, New York, is not Modern Orthodox – he is a Skver hasid and serves as spokesperson for New Square, the Skver-founded village. Schiller is a supporter of far-right political groups worldwide, and advocates “peaceful” separation of the races.  His racist views have been public for at least 15 years, yet neither Yeshiva University or New Square have removed Schiller from his jobs. That may be partially because Schiller is a cagey racist, and he parses his racism finely. Schiller speaks of each individual, even those who are dark-skinned, being created in the “image of God.” But, Schiller continues, those same image-of-God-created individuals each belong to different groups based on race and nationality, and those groups, in Schiller’s view, are each good for different things and not for others. Those groups and races, Schiller avers,  need to be kept separate – very separate. Orthodox apologists for Schiller like to spin him as a talented teacher and a benign eccentric who paternalistically wants the best for black people, as long as that best doesn’t involve sex with white people. Real racists, this line of twisted thought goes, would not want the best for black people – no matter who those blacks don’t sleep with. It is often thought that ultra-Orthodox racism, readily evident in ultra-Orthodox communities in urban centers like Brooklyn, comes from a geographic proximity to lower class black and hispanic neighborhoods. The idea is that, because ultra-Orthodox suffer from black and hispanic crime, racism is a natural (if incorrect) reaction. This is thought to be true even though that same crime disproportionately ravages blacks and hispanics.  
While that explains a part of the problem, it does not explain the whole. And there is no better proof of that than Rabbi Efraim Luft.  Luft lives in Bnei Brak, Israel – half a world away from the ghettos of Brooklyn. He heads something called the “Committee for Jewish Music,” which works in close cooperation with ultra-Orthodox “modesty squads.”  These “modesty squads” are part Church Lady, part Ku Klux Klan lynching party, with a bit of Mob enforcer thrown in for good measure. Luft has rallied the support of leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis here and in Israel in his crusade to ban African-influenced “primitive” music. He claims electric guitars, bass, and saxophones are “indecent,” and he has just published a broadside endorsed by those ultra-Orthodox rabbis titled “Rules For Playing Kosher Music.”  The rules read like they were pulled from a 1950s Ku Klux Klan publication – because, for the most part, they were.

Luft approvingly quotes “The Southerner,” a Klan-linked notorious race-baiting tabloid. (You can read that article here with the offending source removed after bloggers first exposed Luft in 2005.) The Southerner’s editor, Asa Earl Carter, passed his Klan initiation with flying colors – he castrated a retarded black man.

Luft quotes sources like Creationists quote science: selectively and old. (Perhaps this isn’t much of a surprise – Luft is also a Creationist.) These sources are mostly from the mid-1950s and reflect the racism prevalent at that time, not any science or empirical data. But that has not stopped publications controlled by leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis from publishing Luft and citing those sources, and it has not stopped these same rabbis from endorsing what amounts to a ban on almost all music of non-Western European origin.
While these ultra-Orthodox rabbinic leaders were addressing the “important” issue of African-origin rhythms and “impure” music, a separate, small group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn were attempting to launch a task force to deal with a truly pressing problem: rabbinic sexual predators.

The lead case on their agenda is a case of alleged rabbi-on-boy child abuse and coverup at the Satmar hasidic movement’s main Brooklyn yeshiva. Satmar is considered to be the most violence prone of U.S.-based ultra-Orthodox groups.  The man chosen to lead this modest effort, Rabbi Dr. Benzion Twerski, a scion of the Chernobyl hasidic dynasty, was threatened by neighbors and, I’m told, by people linked to a Brooklyn-based modesty squad. Among the more benign threats, Twerski was told that his grandchildren would not get good shidduchim (marriage partners) unless he immediately resigned from the task force. He did.  And Twerski went the goons one better – he retired from public life, as well. Twerski’s grandchildren can now enter their married lives secure and well matched, while safely dancing to Luft-approved “kosher” music. Like the 1950s South, ultra-Orthodoxy relies on shunning, threats, and violence in order to maintain a status quo that cannot survive any other way, and it shares some of the same racism. But ultra-Orthodoxy won’t have a Civil Rights Act to clean it up. Either change will come from the inside – or, more likely, change won’t come at all.

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