Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s.

Deuteronomy 1:16-17

The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.

Proverbs 19:21

Pages turning
Pages torn and pages burning
Faded pages, open in the sun
Better bring your own redemption when you come
To the barricades of heaven where I’m from

Jackson Browne, “The Barricades of Heaven”

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused…

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered.
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease.
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees.

But it’s all right, it’s all right
for we lived so well so long.

Still, when I think of the
road we’re traveling on,
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong.

Paul Simon, “American Tune”

As the Jewish High Holy days approach, I am reminded of a story that has stuck with me since I first learned it when I was a young boy. The story comes from the Hasidic tradition and it tells of a married couple who are preparing to go to Synagogue on Yom Kippur night. They have made arrangements to have their young child watched by a local girl, but as the time of the prayer comes nearer, the babysitter does not show up. The couple starts to become very worried: What will happen if they miss out on the most sacred night of the Jewish calendar? What will God think of them? How will they be able to face the other members of their community if they do not show up at their Synagogue on Yom Kippur night?

Tellingly, the couple decides to leave the baby alone in the house and take their chances.

They arrive in the Synagogue to a big hubbub. It seems that the sun is setting and the Grand Rabbi has still not arrived. The congregants wonder where the rabbi is and begin to worry about him. After much fretting, the Synagogue beadle leaves the hall to go look for the rabbi. Walking up and down the now-empty thoroughfares of the Shtetl, the beadle hears the cooing of a baby coming from an open window. Moving closer to the window, the beadle espies the Rebbe swaying in a rocking chair with the baby on his lap!

The beadle enters the dwelling and asks the Rebbe what is going on.

The Rebbe responds that as he was walking to Synagogue, he heard the cries of the baby and felt duty-bound to see what was happening. Upon discovering the apartment empty and the baby abandoned, he entered on his own volition to care for the child.

He states resolutely: “This is where God would expect me to be.”

Rather than sit at the head of the largest prayer service of the year, the Grand Rabbi elected to serve God by caring for a child – abandoned on the eve of the most Holy date of the Jewish calendar.

The reason I repeat this story is because it drives home the point that sincere monotheists believe: God is everywhere and all human beings – big or small – are made in the image of the Lord. God does not dwell in the Synagogue as if He was some magical spirit. The magnitude of God is beyond anything that human beings can imagine. What the Rebbe knew – and what most unthinking people do not – is that the way to serve God is to serve Man.

Behind the retelling of this story is my own personal story; something that over the past year has led me to abandon my Synagogue in order to try and deal with issues having to do with my own children.

As those who know me personally are by now aware, the work of the Center for Sephardic Heritage is filled with difficulties that many human beings could not bear. Little by little, it has become quite clear to me that the job of Sephardic Jewish renewal – the protection and dissemination of the classical Sephardic tradition – is one that must be accomplished by discipline and self-abnegation. Having begun this task many years ago, I had little idea how much pain would be involved in this undertaking.

But like the Rebbe who abandoned his pulpit in order to rock a little child to sleep and to protect it, I have understood all too well that the reality of God is one that is alienating when one lives in a culture of cruelty, hate and cynicism.

Just yesterday I was watching the movie version of Clifford Irving’s book “The Hoax.” Irving, for those who do not remember, was a struggling writer who decided that to succeed, he would have to come up with some great scam that would set the publishing world on fire. The scam he concocted was to pretend that he was on intimate terms with the notorious billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. Irving sold a book project to McGraw-Hill that would present to the world Hughes’ personal memoir.

Irving played the scam to the hilt. Every time there appeared to be a snag in the road, he upped the ante on his lies and deceit. The web of lies became so gargantuan that Irving knew people would believe him. It seems that the bigger the lie, the more credulous people become because they would not dare to think that anyone would go to such extreme lengths to make a point.

But as we now know – and as Irving admitted – his project was to manipulate and alter reality to the point where nothing was what it seemed to be. Along the way, Irving ruined the lives of those around him. But while the scam was going on, he was what could be called a “Pious Degenerate.” Irving presented a public persona, a public image that was sanctimonious.

As portrayed by Richard Gere in the movie, Irving was always devoted to the purity of the lie; his demeanor and deportment was disciplined and precise. If one were to try to question Irving’s credibility, he would deploy his sanctimoniousness and raise the heat to a white-hot point.

Irving, of course, had many enablers. From the handwriting “experts” who affirmed the forgeries of Hughes’ writing as authentic way down to the person who cut the million dollar check in Howard Hughes’ name, only to re-cut the same check to the name of “H.R. Hughes” when Irving realized that he could not cash a check made out to “Howard Hughes.”

People believe what others want them to believe – when those others seek to appropriate the mechanisms of truth and to manipulate those “facts” to suit their own needs. This is the classically Greek understanding of the term “rhetoric” which is seen as the opposite of “reality.”

Extending this logic, in Judaism today there can be no expectation that in religious circles people actually believe in God. “Rhetoric” has replaced “reality.” Truth is subservient to an amoral expediency.

The very idea of repentance from sin goes back to the ways in which the great Sages, Hakhamim, sought to take the sacrificial system as practiced in the Jerusalem Temple and adapt it to a world that had no Sanctuary. In the Temple the guilty individual brought an animal as an expiatory offering that was slaughtered according to some very specific rules. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Law had to account for new realities. There was no priest; no altar; no cleansing blood. All that we now had were words; words that became tangible in the dense textuality of the rabbinic tradition where prayer would replace blood.

The Hakhamim established that Jews were to beseech God with their words to forgive them of their ritual transgressions.

So far, so good.

But what of offenses between individuals?

In such cases, called in Hebrew ‘Aberot ben Adam le-Habero, transgressions between individuals, people were left without a liturgical system. So the Sages developed an idea that they called ‘Aseret Yemei Teshuba, the Ten Days of Repentance, which would be established to allow people to approach one another and request forgiveness.

The Ten Days of Repentance represent a massive advance in human civilization. Using the liturgical days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – commemorations that appear in the Bible – as parenthetical markers, the Sages marked the Ten Days of Repentance as a substantive expression of the values of humanity. According to the Sages, Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the Jewish calendar – only atones for ritual matters between Man and God. Individual human offenses are not expiated in the Kippur liturgy!

What an amazing idea.

What now comes to mind in the Jewish world that I live in is the sanctimoniousness and hypocrisy that remains a ubiquitous factor in our communities. As I have consistently argued, the Jewish world today is predicated along the Ashkenazi model where, in the words of Rabbi Jose Faur, irrational zeal for the Law has displaced respect for the learned traditions of our progenitors. I often hear that my attempt to restore the Sephardic tradition is impossible and that I should just throw in the towel.

Not having thrown in the towel, I can state clearly and unequivocally that the hatred for God and His Holy Law is now at an absolute peak. The movement known as The Maimonidean Controversy helped to suppress the old Andalusian traditions that were central to Sephardic civilization. Quoting Faur in his new book “The Horizontal Society”:

The triumph of the Church v. Galileo marked the end of Italian scientific thought until recent times. Anti-Maimonideans were not less successful. Their triumph marked the end of Jewish creative thought. It was not until modern times, when European universities opened their doors to Jews that Jewish genius flourished: invariably outside the Jewish quarters. Jewish inspectors of truth – or the “little foxes” – would not have permitted a Freud or an Einstein to flourish in their midst. Rabbis that dared to think suffered vicious persecution; e.g. Israel Moshe Hazzan, Elias Benamozegh, Isaac Abul’afya, Aaron b. Shim’on, et. al. (volume 1, p. 433)

Having now watched as my own life and my own family have been decimated by the liars and the evildoers, it has become all too clear to me that those who abide by the values of the Torah are sitting outside the Jewish Synagogue. Those sitting inside that Synagogue are wrapped in their piety and sanctimoniousness. They have marked themselves with the religious symbols of Judaism, even as they have in the inner sanctums of their wickedness elected to follow the ways of Satan and of inhumanity.

While watching Tyler Perry’s film “Daddy’s Little Girls” I was struck by an idea that has been known to me since I first saw Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” so many years ago: Our world is destroyed when those entrusted with enforcing the Law, choose to pervert it out of expediency. The expediency we are discussing here is the power that money brings to those who have it. At the very heart of evil in human history is the way in which money has served the powerful and enabled them to exert their tyranny over others.

In “Daddy’s Little Girls” we have a desperate father – someone who reminded me of myself – who is fighting the evils of money and power. Money buys the protection and support of the courts, where judges ignore the harsh reality of evil in the world, the evil of drug dealers and the evil of those who do violence – emotional and physical – to little children and to the weak. The frenzied father is forced to take the Law into his own hands – but of course we understand that the movie is a wish-fulfillment fantasy – real life is not so forgiving.

Polanski’s “Chinatown” ends with the triumph of evil as the rich and powerful rapist sees the woman he raped – his own daughter – shot and killed by the police and is left with his “other” “daughter” – the product of the incestuous rape that he perpetrated years before. Watching all this, a private investigator played by the great Jack Nicholson is left impotent as he sees the perversion of justice taking place right before his very eyes.

God gave to the Jews a set of Laws known as the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. These Laws are the very foundation of Judaism. It is sad to say that those who have been entrusted to protect their communities using these Laws have now submitted to the lure of money and power. Like Clifford Irving, they have perpetrated a hoax of epic proportions. Enveloping themselves in the accoutrements of religion, such Pious Degenerates run their institutions according to the tenet of “Might makes Right.” The weak and the disenfranchised do not have a fighting chance.

You see, it is quite clear that the Jewish leaders in the world I live in do not believe in God – because if they did, they would have to – like the Rebbe of the Hasidic tale mentioned earlier – work to preserve the Laws and the values of God as expressed in the Torah. It is not possible for them to believe in God given that they so flagrantly disregard His Law.

These Laws are not obscure – the books that contain explanations of the Laws are quite plentiful and available in many places. It is not that the Laws are not known – it is that the Law is an inconvenient truth that serves to undermine the hoax being perpetrated on the public.

Religious hypocrisy is a form of dissimulation that depends on appropriating the rhetoric of authenticity – the outwardly visible symbols of Judaism – while abusing the very internal realities of the faith. When adultery, theft, immorality are promoted and protected as the values that such rabbis and leaders affirm, the situation of God’s place in this world is placed in jeopardy.

While watching Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with one of my intimate disciples who is deeply aware of the things and persons that have undermined my life, I remarked that Jefferson Smith took his profound belief in the American Scripture – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights – and reached out to God to affirm those sacred texts. In the end, Smith wins because America has remained true to those ideals. It has maintained a system of government that is predicated upon those documents.

But in the case of Judaism today, Torah is a relative matter.

Torah is, as Faur repeats ad nauseum in “The Horizontal Society,” now wrongly based on the private prerogative of the rabbi. There is no objective yardstick by which we are all measured. The Law is subjectivized and we are all left beholden to the corruption of a system that is run by the Pious Degenerates. The system is bought and sold to the highest bidder.

In order to ensure that change is off the table and the corrupt and venal status quo is maintained, voices of change are stifled and voices of compliance to the system as it is are lavished with material perks.

The system is self-censoring and has created a bubble of insularity where a plethora of voices and ideas are a priori rejected and where information generated outside the enchanted sphere of the bubble is ignored. Repentance within the Law is limited to those who are recognized as legitimate members of the bubble-world. Those outside the bubble are completely exposed to the most venal attacks and to an immoral treatment that is meted out to those considered “aliens.”

Such is a Jewish world of dissimulation, hypocrisy and illusions of tradition.

For Jews who still remain committed to the truth and to justice, the depredations of those who hold the strings of power are often too much to bear. The temptation to become degenerate is powerful. When you see others “getting away with it” and those committed to their integrity and dignity struggling mightily just to hold on to their lives, the rational thing to do is to go along with whatever gives you the least resistance.

But this Faustian bargain is the confirmation of Pious Degeneracy. It is an affirmation that God is dead and that justice is out of reach. As I discussed in my earlier essay on “Gaslighting,” those who hold to the truth and to justice now find themselves locked out of the system. We have been “gaslighted” by the Pious Degenerates.

But we can profitably recall the image of that great Rebbe who defied the expectations of his congregation – who thought that God could only be worshipped in the Synagogue – and did the simplest thing that he could do: Hearing the cries of a child, he heard the voice of the Lord and acted accordingly.

Those who would deny the cries of a child are not human beings.

Those who try to pass themselves off as Pious as they allow the cries to continue, are Degenerates. In spite of the fact that they themselves may not have caused those awful, piercing cries of the child, they live as witnesses to the pain of a child in need. It is most certainly true that those who have inflicted that pain are most to blame, but when crimes committed in so public a fashion are rationalized by those in power, the will of God is thwarted and Religious Hypocrisy triumphs.

Repentance is the option that Man has to mark his failings and to restore justice to the world. While God watches silently from on high, Man is left with the possibility of personal redemption. Looking at the history that Sephardim have had to face, the collateral damage left at the side of the road has led to a vicious circle. Those who have tried to break us out of the vicious circle are the ones who have most often been forced to pay the impossible cost demanded by the Pious Degenerates.