Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 17 April 2009

Learning Without Thinking

In his latest piece, Rav Yonasan Rosenblum unwittingly reveals much about what is wrong with the Chareidi community today. In an otherwise harmless piece called Living in Learning, he notes the following vignette:
Whenever I ask myself precisely what makes me chareidi, I come back to a story I read recently about Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteiman. A couple in Bnei Brak were having a small family dispute. One of them wanted to buy a fancy new car, and the other felt that such a car might bring on the evil eye.
The husband was duly dispatched to Reb Aharon Leib for his opinion. Reb Aharon Leib asked the husband what perek (chapter) he was learning in Gemara. The man stumbled briefly, trying to remember the name of the perek. Then Reb Aharon Leib asked him whether he had a chiddush of any kind in the Gemara. He did not. Next Reb Aharon Leib asked him whether he had some insight on the parashah (weekly Torah reading) or some problem with which he was wrestling. Again, there was only an embarrassed silence.
Finally, Reb Aharon Leib told the husband in all temimus (innocence), "You don't have anything to say about the Gemara. You don't have anything to say about the parashah. Why should anyone envy you? You can buy whatever car you want."
Now, few of us live at the level of Reb Aharon Leib, who could not comprehend how anyone could be envious of his neighbor's fancy car. Yet the story encapsulates a communal ideal: the essence of life is intense involvement with Torah. I want to live and raise my children in a community where that ideal burns bright. And the chareidi community of Eretz Yisrael most nearly approximates that ideal

How many absurdities can you spot in this short excerpt? Let's start at the top. Skipping over the whole "evil eye" thing, one must first ask what Rav Shteinman was doing in this story at all. Imagine the corresponding medical scenario - a person has a big of indigestion. Rather than talking to his friends or seeing his family doctor, he marches right into the office of the biggest specialist in town. No, no, in the country! Because it's indigestion and he wants to make sure the biggest specialist gave him his opinion.
Never mind that he himself knows that those five beers, 10 coffees and 2 large pizzas he consumes every day are probably the reason for it and if he were to just cut out his unhealthy lifestyle habits it would probably go away. That would represent independence of thinking and introspection and who wants that when they can just march into a specialist's office and have him do that for him?
Yet as crazy as that sounds, this seems to be exactly the same thing. Instead of saying "Hey, who cares what the neighbours think?" or asking the local rav or a trusted friend, the no. 2 man in the Chareidi hierarchy is accessed. Not for a world-altering shailoh, not for something really, really important, but for the opinion on a car purchase. And this is presented as a meritorious act.
Clearly, Rav Shteinman knew what kind of fool he was dealing with. Imagine you're the biggest medical specialist in the world and a guy demands to see you for his mild indigestion because, well he wants to see the best. At some point, the thought "This guy is a moron for wasting my time" has got to cross your mind. Did that happen with Rav Shteinman? Given that his response was to reduce the guy's ego to a pile of dog excrement by pointing out what an ignoramus he is, the unspoken answer would seem to be: yes.
The next is idea that we simpletons could not be at the level of not comprehending why someone would be envious of his neighbour's car. Maybe I am overestimating my limited capacity, but if my neighbour got a new car, I would probably be happy for him. I know he works hard for a living, puts most of his efforts into making sure his kids will do well in school and life and lives a modest life. If he gets a new car, things are going well for him and I would think that's great. What does it say about Chareidi society that you have to be a gadol to think like that? Is the average chareidi such a mean spirited fool racked with jealuousy that you have to go to a gadol to learn otherwise?
Finally, there is the usual Chareidim-are-best parochial nonsense that Rav Ronseblum occasionally succumbs to, especially after he's written an article or two that is critical of his community. It's a technique he uses to restore his street-cred amongst a group that sees any criticism, no matter how well said or valid, as no different than pogrom-crazy Ukrainians off to rape the local besulos. "The essence of life is intense involvement with Torah." The Chareidim are a community where "that ideal burns bright".
Really? Then why is this family so worried about the neighbours being jealous, especially since the Torah is so against jealousy in the first place?
Perhaps this is why Rav Ronseblum no longer posts on Cross Currents. While his work is still good, there are now more and more logical flaws appearing it and criticism of those flaws, no matter how right or well intentioned, seems to be beyond the pale.


David said...

Rosenblum seems to have been gradually going off the deep end (I seem to recall that he was once a thoughtful moderate). Frankly, the whole notion of needing a rabbi's opinion as to what car one ought or ought not to buy makes about as much sense to me as obtaining a mechanic's opinion on kashrut.

Honestly Frum said...

Maybe if this guy was allowed to go out and get a job the conversation would never have taken place. R' Shteinman by his own admission says the guy has nothing to offer so why should he stay in Kollel. This highlights the problem. Not everybody is cut out to sit and learn.

Bet Shemesh Board Gaming Club said...

Rabbi, is it right to buy a Chrystler?

Bet Shemesh Board Gaming Club said...
This comment has been removed by the author.