Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Reattaching the Leadership

A couple of memories stick out for me when I think about the relationship between the leadership of the Chareidi community (the Gedolim) and the rest of the Torah observant world.

One is a story I heard years ago of a certain rabbinic leader who was visiting New York from Europe in the 1920's. On his way to shul on Shabbos morning, he heard two Jews speaking Yiddish on the street. He looked over to see two tradesmen discussing their work plans for that day and fell over in shock. Jews, speaking Yiddish, working on Shabbos? He had never heard of such a thing and had trouble dealing with this realization.

Another comes from a Rav Pesach Krohn video I watched on Tisha B'Av years ago. He mentioned a story about a great Rav who used to walk aorund in public without wearing his glasses so that he wouldn't see the world around him. "After all," said Rav Krohn, "there are certain things a tzadik shouldn't see!"

Finally, a recall reading in Eim HaBanim Semeicha of how Rav Issachar Teichtel tried to understand the virulent anti-Zionist attitudes of the Munkatcher Rav despite the abundant sources supporting a Jewish return to Israel. His conclusion was that the Munkatcher was surrounded by people who always agreed with his views and as a result never heard a different opinion or had to consider another point of view. Had he been, he might have seen things differently.

I wondered about these thigns in the wake of the big concert cancellation recently. Now, we're not talking about a Metallica concert or a Pink Floyd reunion (halevai) at which all sorts of very frowned-upon activities might be taking place. This, like a similar one in Israel which was also cancelled, was set up to be as observant as possible. Separate seating, strictly kosher food, the works. So what bothered someone so much that 33 influential rabbonim felt the need to annonce its cancellation?

Apparently going out on the town for a concert is forbidden by Jewish law. That, or having any pleasure is.

Back in medical school I had a teacher in Internal Medicine who felt very strongly about the importance of a doctor making his medical studies the priority in his life. Now, he was a great teacher and extremely knowledgeable but his lifestyle was quite limited. Essentially he practised medicine. In his spare time, to relax, he read the latest medical literature. And he had no compunctions about giving us all very large amounts of reading and work to do. If we grumbled, his response was "Well, do you want to be a good doctor or go out on Saturday night? Because you can't have both."

Now, for all that non-Chareidim criticize them, one must acknowledge that the Gedolim are the world experts in pure Torah knowledge. These are men who have spent decades immersed in Torah study, have worked their way from one end of the bais medrash book collection to the other. They spend their days doing little else other than learning Torah and answering people's questions in a Torah fashion. Because of this, when it comes to Torah knowledge they are truly a cut above others who think that doing Daf Yomi or owning a number of Artscroll books qualifies one to pasken for oneself.

Having said that, one must also consider that this lifestyle is very limiting. Because of their love for Torah and its study, this is all the Gedolim do. Furthermore, they are surrounded by other schoalrs who aspire to their level and therefore learn Torah all the time. Leisure for them is an easy Gemara with a juicy Maharsha to get through. I wonder, however, if this immersion has caused them to forget that others are on a different level? After all, the pure Torah lifestyle is not for everyone, nor can it be. Each person is gifted by God in his own special way and it is through the optimizing of these gifts that we flourish as a people.

But if the Gedolim only see Torah wherever they look, and if all those around them also only see that, then the idea of going out to a concert for an evening's enjoyment would surely seem extremely foreign and wrong. After all, time spent at the concert is bitul Torah and this is a sin that cannot be countenanced. Furthermore, the halachah forbids conerts and public happy gatherings as a memorial to our destroyed Temples. Yes, for a very, very long time this law was observed principally in the breach without anyone saying too much about it. But for those for whom any law, however obscure or unobserved by the rest of the Torah observant world, is an important rule that cannot be questioned, surely Lipa Schmeltzer's concert should not have been allowed in the first place.

I wonder, however, how disconnected the Gedolim have become from the laity because of their dedication to Torah and exclusive focus on it. This consideration is not without reason. Many Chareidim children go "off the derech" due to an inability to keep up with the latest standards. Others become tired of the never ending stringencies and fail to see a point to them. Some genuinely need "down time" to relax and unwind without thinking that they are sinning for it. When everything becomes forbidden, then everything inevitably becomes permitted.

On one hand, the Shulchan Aruch and the other major codes do specify that music and celebration are forbidden as a remembrance of the destruction of the Temples, unless they are connected in some way with a mitzvah (eg. wedding). That's what the books say.

On the other hand, in the last few centuries these laws have been observed more in the breech than anything else. Imagine someone puts up a stop sign on a deserted road and at first everyone stops even though there's never any traffic coming the other way. After a few years people start ignoring the stop sign. No one is delegitimizing it but somehow because of circumstance this particular stop sign is ignored. Even the sheriff doesn't have a problem with the situation. One day a new cop comes to town and, to make his mark, he starts waiting by the stop sign and nabbing all the residents who drive through it.

Technically, the new cop is 100% right. There's a stop sign and people driving through it are breaking the law. On the other hand, there was a reaonsable excuse for why it was being ignored.

Similarly here, it is undeniable and much to our discredit that due to our many sins and our spiritual dullness, we simply do not feel the loss of our Temples like we used to and like we STILL should, may Heaven preserve our damaged souls. But as a result, not listening to music or attending concerts does not make a difference to our observance of that particular mitzvah. Again, techincally speaking, the rabbonim were 100% right in banning it if they were going to go by the books.

But maybe that's one reason God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us an Oral Law. Because sometimes you need to go by more than just the book.

Have they forgotten that not everyone can have a lifestyle like theirs? In their zeal to perfect the Jewish people, have they decided that what has been the norm until now - different Jews observing the mitzvos in different styles, each to the best of their ability - must be changed into a uniform approach that brooks no dissent? A tzadik should know that non-religious Jews can speak Yiddish, light Chanukah licht and still not observe Shabbos, chas v'shalom. He should wear his glasses in public so that he can see what his people are doing and understand how to best approach them.

And if this is so, might it be possible that someone outside the fold with a love of God, His People and His Torah might be able to tell them this? That through their desire to banish any potential peritzus from the Jewish people, they are driving many away who cannot keep all the stringencies they have decreed?


SJ said...

Garnel, finally a post that I can say thank you for, however, how can you say stuff like "not everyone is on their level ... gedomim are disconnected with the laity" while still being in favor of haredi stringencies on guy girl interaction?

Don't you think its rather contradictory?

Garnel Ironheart said...

Oh no, I didn't realize the post was so bad!

No, it's not a contradiction. What is this obsession you have with touching girls anyway? The point is not about the touching. It's that the Gedolim have reached a certain intellectual level and I wonder if they can still understand the level the laity is at. It has nothing to do with basic halachah that anyone with a modicum of self-control can perform.

SJ said...

Garnel, its not about touching. You advocated complete separation of the genders on your blog.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Complete? Then I'd be in big trouble.

No, not complete but definite limitations in social contexts.

Ahavah said...

"Because of their love for Torah and its study..."

I think you are far too generous in your assessment of the motives of the vast majority of them.

And I wonder what you think the difference is between MO and cheredi Judaism - because what you seem to be advocating here are stringencies that nobody's great-grandparents in Europe ever heard of. What the cheredi practice these days is not normative historic Judaism by any stretch of the imagination. Yet you seem to be defending it instead of defending MO.

SJ said...

Well I would think that the reason why someone would want to be MO is that the person wants the traditionalism without the charedi stringencies in male-female interaction.

For one to support male-female stringencies of the charedim while calling himself MO is to me, making a mockery out of MO.

Garnel Ironheart said...

For SJ it's all about male-female interaction. Come on, move on to a new fetish.

Listen, if one looks at the shining examples of Modern Orthodox thought, such as Rav S.R. Hirsch, the Seridei Eish, and the Rav, one thing immediately becomes clear. True Modern Orthodoxy is NOT about YCT style leniencies and bledning Jewish values with secular ones to minimize the tension between the two. All the above-mentioned rabbonim were "Chareidi" in practice and passion. but whereas today's Chareidi will insist on a literal reading of Bereshis Chapter 1 in order not to confront problems with the narrative, the MO is supposed to challenge those problems head on so that he can arrive at an understanding that does not invalidate the text but can account for scientific understanding as well.

Modern Orthodoxy isn't supposed to be about how far one can push rules and laws to assauge one's secular guilt. It's about being as devoted and intense as the Chareidim but from a more intelligent position.

SJ said...

I see, Garnel's slogan for modern orthodoxy is "We aren't Charedim! We look for ways to not have fun more intelligently!"

SJ said...

Another slogan:

Meet Modern Orthodox:
More intelligent Stupid Rules
than the Charedim!!!

Ahavah said...

If that's what MO is, then historic Judaism is dead and the wackos have won.

Garnel Ironheart said...

SJ, you remind me of a great line from Star Trek: Next Gen:

We cannot have a conversation with you. You do not speak. You gibber.


What's the alternative? A Judaism in which everything is negotiable if a conflict with one's secular priorities exists?

Modern Orthodoxy was conceived to be a more intelligent examination of and practice of Torah Judaism. Instead of the reflex "everything is forbidden" attitude in the Chareidi world, MO was supposed to emphasize a return to an in-depth examination of the authorities over the centuries to see how to best apply ourselves to Torah in the modern world.

However, accepting this means accepting that one might reach the same conclusion on an issue as the Chareidim, just from a different perspective.

The problem is that among some MO's there's such a reflexive hatred of Chareidism that anything that suggests commonality with them is automatically rejected.

Which is quite a Chareidi thing to do, eh?

SJ said...

In other words, the leadership should be more chilled out about dumping stringencies on the masses ... but on one major issue that causes people to be disinterested in charediut- guys being unable to date girls (and physical contact at the correct times is apart of a guy getting a girl to like him in that kind of a way), then Modern Orthdox should be JUST as strict as the charedim!

nice going garnel! just genius!

SJ said...
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