A rabbi Proud Boy? After all the right has tried to do over the past few generations, let alone the past five years, this really isn’t all that surprising!
Zvi Friedman and Punks For Progress
Folks from the Antifascist community may have come across a story recently featured in the Miami New Times about a Proud Boy claiming to be a “Rabbi”, who is handing out so-called “religious exemptions” for the vaccine and mask mandates. Those that did, undoubtedly shook their heads in broken confusion at the notion of a Proud Boy being any sort of actual ordained Rabbi. Well, according to the Times piece, he does have ordination, the question remains… from who?
According to his organization’s website, Torah Judaism International, Meza is Colombian-American, attended rabbinical school at Aish HaTorah Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, and was ordained by Rabbi Yitzchok Kolakowski of New York at Yeshivat Nachlei Emunah. Through Torah Judaism International, Meza performs large conversions to Judaism, and actively recruits non-Jews to the Jewish faith. This penchant for mass conversion has put Meza at odds with Jewish people in South Florida who deny his status as a genuine rabbi.
Comrade Zvi, a contributor to Punks For Progress, takes us for a deep dive into this Aish HaTorah Institute, its members, its history and its affiliations. What he describes below explains in no uncertain terms just how a member of the Proud Boys, a group dedicated to the defense of the White Supremacist Western Imperialist Patriarchal status quo, could claim to represent the Jewish faith. What he finds is an international network of right-wing fascists at odds with the very recognized representatives and authoritative voices of the religion this network so coldly exploits both in the west, in Israel and beyond.
Opposite to the Temple Mount, known to the Muslim world as the El Aqsa Mosque, stands a building towering over the Western Wall and its square.
But our story does not begin there. It begins in the 1970’s in New York with an Ultra- Orthodox Jewish Rabbi by the name of Noah Weinberg (1930-2009) who had an idea. The grandson of the founder of the Slonim Hassidism (named after a city in the Grodno region of nowadays Belarus, it is another stroke in the complicated mosaic of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism). His idea was simple, to attract young Jews, male and female alike, and convert them into the Ultra- Orthodox lifestyle.
Rabbi Weinberg, himself had drifted in the past, from the Hassidic world into the Lithuanian (the opposing stroke to the Hassidic movement) Ultra- Orthodox side. Suckling on the teat of Hassidic thought and receiving his rabbinic ordination in the opposing Lithuanian side, rabbi Weinberg combined the two ideologies alongside Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and a bric-a-brac of ideas to form an attractive, new, yet extremely fundamentalist, stroke today known as Aish Ha Torah (translated from Hebrew, it literally means “the fire of the Torah” – the first five books in the Jewish bible, which are considered the most sacred part of the Cannon).
Forming on the “Chabad model” (another Hassidic stroke, that has its center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York), he had begun his missionary work of bringing young Jews, with emphasis on young males, “back to the bosom of Ultra- Orthodoxy”. It is crucial to note that both Chabad and “Aish”, as it’s fondly known by its followers worldwide, missionary work has always been directed at the Jews of the world and never intended to convert non- Jews into Judaism. From this perspective, Jewish missionary work differs from that of other religions who attempt to convert people from outside that specific religion into their midst. In America, Rabbi Weinberg had found a fertile ground for his world view.
As with many other people during the 1960’s, many Jews felt alienated and lost in the world, and with the rise of the counter culture and the reaching of collage age of the “baby boomers” generation all of a sudden his unique interpretation of Judaism became accepted among those looking for so-called “answers”.
A few years prior to the inception of Aish, he had moved to Jerusalem, after serving as a salesman in his brother’s company across the US. While crisscrossing the country he had come to the conclusion that “the threat to Jews came from assimilating gentiles”. That thought had brought him to Israel for the first time.
The beginning was humble. Rabbi Weinberg moved with his family and five of his students (the sixth being his son Hillel Weinberg, who served as the interim head of the Yeshiva between 2009 and 2019) into a small apartment in the Jewish Quarter (was recaptured during the Six Days War from the Jordanians in June, 1967) in 1974.
According to the official Aish website www.aish.com, (oddly enough, the use of TV and computers is strictly forbidden in the Ultra- Orthodox world. Yet, it serves as another tool for the recruitment of future potential Aish followers), the mission of Aish is “…train students to take responsibility to inspire the Jewish people and change the world”. Furthermore, according to the website,
…while the teaching of the Rabbi still reverberates through the walls of the Aish World Center in Jerusalem, today, Aish represents an expansive movement that reaches one million people annually and carries forward the legacy of sharing the eternal wisdom of the Torah with Jews around the world.
What’s more, Aish’s official core-values, beliefs and principles, as portrayed by them, are as follows:
- Everything we create is state of the art and impressive
- The infinite wisdom of the Torah has the capacity to make modern lives more meaningful
- Recognize the godliness and greatness in others
- Significant impact requires creativity and innovation
- Unity is essential for success
From a humble beginning to worldwide religious corporation
After its beginning in 1974 it didn’t take long for Rabbi Weinberg and his followers to find an open ear among Jewish College kids. Like many other sects and cults, Aish used, and still uses to this day, a simple tactic of finding those people with certain insecurities and misconceptions and the predation on those aspects of the human psyche, giving simple answers to complicated questions. One such example can be found in the, ever so popular, attempt to provide “scientific” proof for the existence of god.
It is no wonder that, once given the opportunity, Rabbi Weinberg started peddling his ideological “merchandise” to the doorstep of the rich and powerful, gaining support to his brand of Judaism both in Israel and in the US. With American money and the approval of Jerusalem’s municipality, the construction of “Aish Ha Torah World Center” began in the late 1980’s, where it stands today. Many people in Israel, at the beginning, saw it as a blessing. Reuniting young Jews with their heritage in their land, was a common way of thought in the conservative, Israeli, collective mind.
Though never openly acted upon, by the mid-to-late 90’s many Israelis (in Jerusalem in particular) began noticing the effect of those “Aish boys”. The majority of those who came to study at Aish at the time, were “gen X”, middle to higher class American Jews in their late teens or early twenties. You could (and still can to this day) spot those “kids” from a mile. Glazed eyes open wide, with a Yamaka (traditional Jewish head cover for men), designer clothes and hardly any Hebrew. They used to hang around the tourist centers of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s old city and at times also in the city center. They’d usually keep to themselves, and would not associate with their secular peers. In general, Jerusalem is the only city in the world that had a psychiatric syndrome named after it (“The Jerusalem Syndrome”), and they were regarded as “harmless nutcases”.
To the Common, non-Orthodox Israeli, and especially Jerusalemite, those kids seemed to pose no threat. They were considered to be nothing new to the city’s landscape where one could meet Jesus, King David or the Messiah on a regular basis on street corners. They’d come, they’d go, and there was never anything sinister… Or was there?
From its inception, Aish aspired to obtain a strong status within the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox world. The concept was simple, open a new stroke filled with young enthusiastic people who’ll follow their Rabbi’s teachings, and at the same time stay somewhat detached from the surrounding world. Aish, as with any other “recognized religions”, lives off contributions and pays no taxes in many countries around the world, the USA is no exception. On top of that, attributing to the fact that Israel is a Jewish state, they were considered part of the Status Quo, though never part of the mainstream.
The source of their wealth came from donations and to a certain extent from tuition in recent years. Aish has been an active force in campuses around the USA trying to score newcomers by inviting them to take courses in religious studies for academic credit (through a program called Aish Academy). A system no different than any other used by many religions worldwide.
Of course, as time passes the fund raising skills of the Aish administration had been improving and new ventures keep on rising. It is all done in the guise of preventing assimilation by Jews and encouraging young disoriented people to join them. Today, Aish is represented on five continents, with 35 branches providing seminars; Singles events; executive learning groups; Shabbat and Jewish holiday programs; and community building. On top of that they offer some seminars online.
In the yeshiva in Jerusalem, they offer a special rabbinic ordination program and graduates were tested after a two-year course – which is considered to be an extremely short period of time in the Ultra-Orthodox world – based on their knowledge in Jewish Halacha (the traditional Jewish law). In their own words, Aish’s mission is to: “provide opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their heritage”. On its surface a benevolent statement that poses no threat, but as is the case all too often those words are used as a cover.
Aish’s unofficial, political stand is on the far-right fringes of the Israeli political map and many of its graduates live in the occupied West Bank territories, in settlements, considered illegal under international law. All oppose any peace settlement with the Palestinians that may include the formation of a Palestinian state on what they consider “the whole of Israel”, and would rather see the non- Jewish population either gone (i.e., expelled or in their own words “transferred”) or under strict serfdom according to the laws of the Torah.
The Jewish Ultra- Orthodox world, its approach to the Israeli- Palestinian peace process and the role of Aish Ha Torah
Aish is no different than any other Ultra- Orthodox Jewish group when it comes to its stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The majority of those belonging in this world have a staunch opinion on different issues regarding the conflict. “No Palestinian state would be erected on any part of the whole of the land of Israel” is the most common narrative. It is easy to reject any viable and reasonable solution to the occupation when you are on the occupying side of the equation, reaping the benefits of holding on to a land that is inhabited by another nation. On top of that, the overwhelming majority of those who belong to Aish, do not serve in the Israeli army and, therefore, do not partake in any other role than as a “settler” in the occupied territories.
There are those who side with the illegal settlements (which comprise the majority of the Ultra- Orthodox world in Israel, with the noticeable Hassidic sects Neturei Carta and Satmar being the extraordinary Hassidic strokes, for their own reasons.). Aish included, they deserve to be there because, to them, it was god’s will and humans should not interfere with the lord’s work (sic). The fact that it all was conquered in six days, is considered by Aish followers a miracle that proves the existence of God (since, according to Genesis, on the seventh day god had rested after creating the universe. Such notions lead to Messianic beliefs that are considered an abomination by the Lithuanian Ultra-Orthodoxy).
The fact that many of those who come to Aish go to live in the illegal settlements on the West Bank only amplifies that affiliation, and many times affection, to nationalist thoughts and the consequent support of the extreme nationalist/terrorist doctrine of Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Jewish Defense League (an ousted Jewish terrorist organization, calling for the annihilation or removal of all non-Jews, and especially Arabs, from all parts of the “Jewish inherited soil”).
The JDL was labeled a terrorist group by the FBI in 2001, and is banned from taking part in Israeli elections since 1985. It is important to note that the ideas of Kahane found a crowd, both in Israel and in the US, and after the 2021 Israeli elections his disciples sit in the Israeli parliament, in the opposition, as a two-seat party out of 120 parliament members.
Kahane himself, was murdered in New York (Nov. 1990) by the Egyptian born American, El Sayyid Nosiar, who partook an active role in the 1993 WTC bombing, reinvigorating his movement in the years that followed. Added to that was the signing of the First Oslo Accord that was signed in 1993, establishing the Palestinian Autonomy on parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Further fuel was added by the Israeli “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip and the eviction of the few thousand settlers from it in the summer of 2005, making Gaza into the world’s largest De Facto open-air prison.
To those opposing the move, from the right of the Israeli political map, it is considered an act of treason, against the land of Israel by the Israeli government at the time. Many of Aish Ha Torah’s students took part in the demonstrations and resistance to the move at the time. The subject of the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza strip still remains an open wound in Israeli society to this day.
More specifically, Aish supported the right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu and took and active role (through the Hasbara Fellowship) assisting the Israeli foreign ministry to “combat anti-Israeli ideas on college campuses”. This program flew hundreds of student leaders to Israel for intensive training in pro-Israel activism. In North America this project was launched on more than a hundred college campuses. For its efforts it receives funding from the Israeli government. To this day, the Israeli government is the sponsor of the initiative.
What is the Clarion Project?
In 2008, the Clarion Project (founded by rabbi Raphael Shore, who previously worked for the organization of Aish Ha Torah), an organization that formerly shared staff, fundraising sources and an address with Aish HaTorah, and has been linked in media reports, and distributed its 2008 film, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West”.
The film had been criticized for being unfair in its portrayal of Muslims as inherently violent. The film was sent to more than 28 million people in the United States in anticipation of the United States presidential election. Aish HaTorah denied any connection to the film. The Council on American–Islamic Relations filed a complaint about the film with the Federal Election Commission. It is important to note that many of the people involved in the “Clarion Project” had been serving as functionary members in Aish and that the two shared, at the time of the release of the film, the same building address in Manhattan NY (the Clarion Project had since moved to a different address, in Washington D.C.)
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the organization as an “anti-Muslim hate group”.The U.S.-based Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American–Islamic Relations, stated that the Clarion Project is among 37 American organizations that promote Islamophobia in America society.
Clarion also employed security-analyst Ryan Mauro, who has asserted that there were multiple “no-go zones” for non-Muslims across the U.K. and Europe and has spoken about the supposed rising number of Muslim enclaves across the U.S., governed by “gangs of Islamic extremists” enforcing Sharia law (sic).
One of the most noticeable donors to the Clarion Project was, Las Vegas Casino Mogul, Sheldon Adelson, who, until his death in January this year, was a staunch supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two were considered to be close friends (Sheldon Adelson was the owner of Israel HaYom newspaper, considered by many to be Netanyahu’s official bullhorn). Adelson was also the main financier of various settlements, especially in Eastern Jerusalem and the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s old city, advancing moves that added to the ever-existing tensions between Jews and Muslims in the otherwise volatile city.
The actions of Aish and its various affiliates had added directly, though not officially, to the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from being resolved.
From the holiness of Jerusalem to the sandy beaches of Miami
Naturally, not all of the Aish converts stay in Israel. Many return to their country of origin to find “fresh meat” for the sect or to spread its message to potential converts. Of course, their “target market” is the same demographic of Jews that they themselves fit into prior to engaging Aish.
On October 7th 2021, this author came across an online article about an “Aish Rabbi” by the name of Asher Meza who had given a “Psaque Halacha” (the Jewish equivalent to a religious interpretation of the Torah, later to be added to the Jewish law), that stood in stark contrast to a very basic Jewish notion. Jews should care about staying alive above all else. The “Psaque” was simple. The named “rabbi” is willing to provide anyone in need – including gentiles (a term used by Jews to describe all non-Jews) – with an “exemption letter”, on religious grounds, from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
It should come as no surprise to those who know Aish and have been following it, that from its midst would come a controversial and radical figure such as Asher Meza. The self-proclaimed “rabbi” (he never got to pass Hasmacha, or rabbinical ordination, to serve as a Posek or Dayan, i.e. a rabbi who is entitled to preside over a parish, serve as a religious barrister or otherwise give his opinion on such matters), claims to have links to Aish Ha Torah and claims to have studied in Israel. He claims to have received the title of a “rabbi” from a source in New York, whom he would not officially disclose. According to one Orthodox rabbi (Joseph Kolakowski), Meza was ordained as a “Rav U’Manhig” (from Hebrew, an esteemed leader), and therefore, could add the title of “rabbi” to his name, but not pass any religious interpretation of the Torah. Furthermore, as much as he’d wish, and proven so in the past, he does not possess the authority to convert people to Judaism nor does he possess any authority over non-Jews.
Understanding Asher Meza’s background and where he came from ideologically may hold the key to his controversial recent notoriety. According to his official website (which can be found in the sources linked below), he had lived in the occupied West Bank in the settlement of Kochav HaShachar in Samaria between 2004 and 2009. He had studied in Aish Ha Torah as well as “many other smaller Yeshivas in the area”, and…
While living in the Land of Israel he worked in many Jewish Outreach Organizations including Rabbi Jeff Seidel’s Jewish Student Information Center in the Old City of Jerusalem and Hebrew University…Ordination, Rabbi Asher Meza received rabbinical ordination at Yeshivat Nachlei Emunah under Rabbi Yitzchok Kolakowski. As well as from Ohel Avraham in the Old City of Jerusalem under R’ Seidel as well as another organization whose name will be left out to protect the Rabbi in question.
There’s no wonder then, just when and how Asher Meza was exposed to and indoctrinated into the Jewish messianic school. All of the yeshivas that he had named believe in the Jewish settlement of the occupied territories. Also, he had been in Israel while the detachment from Gaza took place and, being a settler by his own admission, held a strong resentment to the Israeli government over what he had, assumingly, seen as an act of treason.
As with any extremist ideology, the distance between Jewish Nazism, as it was propagated by Meir Kahane, and the ideological core of the Proud Boys is not far off. Asher Meza, had added to his religious wardrobe some black and gold Fred Perry Polo Shirts. After all, the JDL colours bear a strong resemblance to that of the Proud Boys’ yellow and black. Both are chauvinistic, male dominated and ethnocentric with clear resemblance to one another. One declares the Jews above all others and the second the dominance of “Western Chauvinism” above all.
As for Asher Meza’s brand of Judaism. It has no official approval from the Jewish world on its different strokes, and Meza is considered by the overwhelming majority of rabbis around the world to be a “Meshuggah”, the Hebrew word for lunatic.
About the author:
Zvi Friedman is an Anarchist activist born and raised in Israel. Between the years 1994 and 1997 served in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in a Special Forces unit, in the occupied West Bank. He had served fighting extremists from both ends of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict as part of the Oslo Accords and took active part in the evacuation IDF forces from the city centres of Nablus, Jenin and other West Bank cities.
In 1999, feeling betrayed by the first Netanyahu government and the stagnation in the peace process he had left Israel for Europe, where he lives and works to this day.
Eish Board Leadership:
- Stuart Hytman, Toronto, Canada; Real estate mogul
- Louis Mayberg, USA, CyLogic CEO, “philanthropist”
- Jake Aronov, USA, Real Estate mogul
Eish Executive Leadership:
- Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovitz, Jerusalem, Israel, Head of the yeshiva in Jerusalem, Israel
- Rabbi Steven Burg, Manhattan, NY, USA, Eish Ha Torah CEO
- Elliot Mathias, Manahattan, NY, USA, Eish Ha Torah COO
- Ben Gonsher, USA, Executive Director
- Jamie Geller, Manhattan, NY, USA, Chief Media & Marketing Officer
Other staff memebers:
- Jamie Feinmesser Chief Financial Officer
- Rabbi Dovid Rosman, Director, yeshiva
- Penina Eichler, Chief People Officer
- Dan Hazony, Chief Information Officer
- Shimmy Kaufman, Managing Director, Aish, Israel
- Nechemia Coopersmith, Editor-In-Chief, Aish.com
- Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC): https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/jewish-defense-league
- Aish Ha Tora official website: https://about.aish.com/leadership/
- On Clarion Project: https://web.archive.org/web/20160910014330/http://www.tampabay.com/news/beyondtampabay/senders-of-islam-movie-obsession-tied-to-jewish-charity/827823
- HaAretz newspaper Online: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-orthodox-to-lead-israeli-government-s-outreach-to-diaspora-youth-1.5425355
- On Aish Ha Torah: https://religionandpolitics.org/2013/10/22/radical-mission-what-is-aish-hatorah-trying-to-teach-young-jews/
- The article about Asher Meza: https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/proud-boy-rabbi-offers-religious-exemption-for-covid-vaccines-13073048
- Commentary on Asher Meza’s Jewish practices: https://www.andreakarshan.com/rabbi-asher-meza-heretic-and-proud-boy/
- Meir Kahane on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meir_Kahane
- Quora Forum:https://www.quora.com/Is-Rabbi-Asher-Meza-accepted-as-part-of-main-stream-Judaism
- Clarion project on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarion_Project
- Jewish Telegraphic Agency: https://www.jta.org/2021/10/08/health/a-proud-boys-affiliated-rabbi-in-florida-is-offering-to-endorse-covid-19-vaccine-exemption-requests
- Asher Meza’s official website: http://torahjudaism.com/pages/about-us/