Who Is This Man?
Meet Asher Matathias. To most in our community who receive his regular e-mails—and I have told him this directly—he is an unserious figure. Even people who agree with his philosophies and cheer him on roll their eyes when he buttonholes them on the street or at an event. But I’ve always liked and respected him even if he has been a terrible critic.
He spews venom about people he does not agree with, and, for the purposes of this essay, that would be me. I do speak to Asher sometimes when he calls, but I do not take him seriously. When he is trying to be reasonable and even uncharacteristically nice, he suggests that I publish his writing—which is usually little more than ranting—in these pages.
I have considered doing that and I am still thinking about it, but mostly for a combination of education and entertainment value. As the youngest child of a Holocaust-surviving family from Greece, Asher can be a serious man. To this day, he continues his activism for Holocaust education and fighting contemporary anti-Semitism as it exists in Greece in 2021.
Asher was a professor at St. John’s University here in New York where he taught world history before retiring a few years ago. He is verbose but harmless, though he is always threatening me in one nonviolent way or another.
Asher claims that the 5TJT does not give enough coverage to other streams of Judaism, namely Conservative or Reform Judaism, and, as far as he is concerned, not enough space or coverage for nonaffiliated Jews by virtue of their non-Orthodox approach to Jewish observance.
His constant harangue of this paper as well as several other more obscure publications that are featured in this community and others is mostly much ado about nothing.
After our recent matter with a photograph of events on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, Asher thought that he finally had me. Like other scattered leftists who have a presence in the media, Asher is not satisfied with a debate or an exchange of ideas; he wants to marginalize and delegitimize people who do not share his positions or political perspectives.
I told him just last week that even though he accuses me of being intolerant, the fact of the matter is that he is the intolerant one, a man who rants and raves when he doesn’t get his way. Here’s an example. Last week, after a conversation about posting one of his essays here, the article did not appear. That was mostly due to space considerations, but he went nuts, telling me that he was going to expose me.
I had a good laugh as I told me him that the only thing he could possibly expose is that, like other Democrats, he calls for unity so long as the other person agrees with everything he says and writes. After he called me twice last week and had to leave a message, here is the letter he wrote not just to me, but that he sent to his entire not-insignificant e-mail list.
He addressed the invective to my friend and contributor to this paper Ron Jager, who lives in Israel. He addresses it to Ron because Ron gives Asher the time of day and meets with him when he is in New York. I’ve discussed Asher with Ron and we agree that nothing he says is more than a desperate need for attention even though he is cordial and indeed charming in his own gruff way.
Here’s the unedited letter he wrote because I didn’t return his phone call last week.
Dear Ron (Jager),
After Shaharit, I scoured this week’s electronic trash that continues to be the form of the still grossly misnamed 5T Jewish Times. Last week, your much-comprised, unethical friend, Larry, of course, had promised to return my call, even as he lamely excused himself for not including my blistering account of his seditious contribution to giving cover to the insurrection local dentist Gila!
He, then, promised that my article will appear this week—his necessary penance to ingratiate himself into civil society—and starting a fruitful long-playing dialogue; both ostensibly interested in turning our community away from the sect era in and political radicalism his maladministration of what passes in his mind as journalism has wrought!
Alas, after twice attempting to call, leaving messages, Larry Gordon had resorted to the coward’s ploy: hearing no evil, seeing no evil, even as he persists in spreading evil—not only in his unrepentant columns, but further buttressing his poison in grafting the misguided Rabbi Yair Hoffman (for piety, and the pretense of Halacha); then, for good measure, giving his rants the patina of Bibi’s outlandish politics by publishing your own outlier comments—all bringing embarrassment, and shame to the religion we share, and the politics that we most appallingly the unholy trinity you represent espouse (which makes my moral rectitude easy to fathom, and with pride)!
It’s most significant that a distinguished spiritual leader, while thanking me for apprising him of what I was assured will transpire—a collaboration for sanity and decency—warned me of “LG.” Now, I plainly witness his duplicity, just as he has betrayed our nation by continuing to equivocate on our recent national election, and the catastrophe that Trump has sowed since!
Before there can be redemption, personal and collective, there must be recitation of all Het, an admission of error, and a resolve to avoid its repetition; this must be done now, much before Yom Kippur. May the three of you, soon, see your way out from the self-created morass; sometimes referred to as the swamp by your disgraced, malignant, and thankfully departed idol. Amen.
With fraternal affection,
It’s important to note at this point that the main objective that Asher wants to achieve is to be published here in the 5TJT. He suggests repeatedly that focusing on the dynamics and even the diversity in our community is my “business model” and that because of its success I won’t change direction and become more inclusive of the other streams of Judaism.
Of course, that little diatribe is not accurate, as we do in fact cover many stories that focus on non-religious or not necessarily halachic observances in Jewish life. What he’d like me to say and write is that it’s OK to drive your car and shop on Shabbos, that it’s OK not to observe kosher laws, that it’s OK to violate a plethora of other fundamentals of observant halachic Jewish life.
Obviously, I’m not going to say that because that would be advocating and propagating a falsehood. Don’t make the same mistake as Asher loves making. I do not feel that a non-observant Jew is any less Jewish than the most ardently observant Jew. We are all Jews in G-d’s eyes, struggling to do our best. But that doesn’t mean endorsing or sanctioning an errant form of observance and covering it in a paper that essentially serves Orthodox Jewish communities.
From a business model perspective, Asher, you well know that papers that subscribed to the idea that Judaism is Judaism and there is no better or less better way to observe Jewish life have long shut down, except for their poorly read online editions. So to some it might be a business model, but that is facetiousness and cynicism mostly divorced from the authenticity of what Jewish life really is.
Asher writes to Ron in the letter above about his “grossly unethical friend, Larry.” The opposite is the reality; it is Asher who is unethical as well as intolerant of others in the extreme. He says that I have to repent my deeds in order to be able to rejoin civil society. To him, you see, civility is whatever he says it is. If you disagree with him about the veracity or lack thereof of Conservative or Reform Judaism then you do not just have a disagreement, you are uncivilized.
Here’s my favorite absurd remark by Asher—I “bring shame on the religion we share.”
When the State of Israel was being formed back in 1947 it was the very secular first prime minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, who made halachah, or what we today call “frum life,” the baseline of the way in which Judaism is defined. To that end and in brief, to this very day conversions to Judaism and marriages in the state of Israel are overseen by the chief rabbinate, which is directed and run according to halachah as defined by Orthodox rabbis.
The food served in the IDF is strictly kosher—even though the majority of the troops may not keep kosher. Members of Knesset, from the prime minister down, do not publicly travel, conduct business, etc., on Shabbos. Why did Ben Gurion, the ultimate nationalist and secularist, enact this? He chose this course because for Jews to survive, especially in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, we needed a strong backbone and baseline of Jewish observance to follow.
Asher Matathias is an impressive individual who has dedicated his life to the history of Jews in Greece and Jewish life here in the United States. However, he is misguided and wrong about so much, and at the age of 77, he just does not get it.
His column appears this week in the 5TJT. I’m relenting and publishing what he has to say because his personal history is important for all to read. His other philosophies, about watering down Orthodoxy and making it, to an extent, indistinguishable from other organized streams of Judaism, are just the wrong way to go.
What bothers him more than anything else is our support of President Trump and many of his policies, particularly pertaining to Israel. Asher doesn’t care about that. He hated Donald Trump and still does, even though he cannot definitively say why. He just holds him in disdain, as he does the 75 million people in this country who voted for Trump.
When I was speaking to Asher last Friday, his wife, Anna, took the phone from him and told me that she, too, disagrees with most of what he says and does. As you can see, I agree with Anna.
Anyway, here is Asher Matathias.
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