A guest column over at Cross Currents is unusually perspicacious in its analysis of some of the problems in the Chareidi community. As Rav N. Daniel Korobkin notes:
Growing up in the yeshiva day school system of the 70’s, I remember starting our day every morning with davening, and later when we got to English class, we faced the American flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. We also sang songs like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “Grand Old Flag,” and “America the Beautiful.”
But then I grew up and went off to yeshiva. Something changed within me. The change was so gradual and subtle that I can’t even tell you how it happened. I don’t remember any rebbe or rosh yeshiva giving a whole mussar shmuz about the evils of America, but still, there was something in the air. There may have been a comment like the famous vort, “America stands for ‘Am Reika’ – an Empty Nation.” Or, perhaps it was just the emphasis on the tum’a (spiritual impurity) of the secular world that left me with a negative attitude toward my gentile countrymen and America in general.
Whatever it was, it had a profound effect. When returning home from yeshiva, I recall that I and others like me would mock the provincial and “modernishe” practices of our parents’ synagogue. Things like the Prayer for the Welfare of the Government, recited in many shuls before Mussaf on Shabbos, evoked smirks and winks from the more “sophisticated” yeshiva boys.
And so, we decided to daven in the “frummer” shuls, the ones that omitted those newfangled prayers that had nothing to do with Yiddishkeit, and that were therefore not printed in the “authentic” siddurim. Pledge of Allegiance? Ha! That’s for the goyim. No child of mine will start his day pledging fealty to a country whose values are morally corrupt!
This is where we got it wrong, and this is where our rabbis strayed, whether through acts of commission or omission.
What impressed me most about this essay was its lack of dancing around the main issue. We have been lead in the wrong direction by people who are prepared to live off the largesse of the Western world without any desire to say "thank you" for what they receive.
For too many frum Yidden, anything assocaited with the dreaded goyim is bad. Anything, except the money they print. There are those in a position of authority who really believe that cheating, stealing, lying is all permitted vis a vis the gentile world based on faulty readings of halachic codices and a simplistic understanding of parts of the Talmud that deserve better. As a result, we find ourselves in a situation where some consider it a mitzvah to not give hakaras hatov for all we get from the world around us.
We have seen it in the riots in Meah Shearim where people whose food, electricity, running water and basic security is all provided by the State they so loathe. We have seen it in the recurrent tax frauds that have been uncovered in the Jewish community in North America. People are all too ready to say "Well, it was just a goy I stole from", as it that suddenly makes it mutar and ethical.
Perhaps Rav Korobkin is right. Maybe it did all start when someone said "I don't care that Jews have prospered in North America like they did nowhere else since the destruction of our Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt)." If that's so, then our response as mature adults shouldn't be to ignore it or dismiss it as a crank opinion. Rather it should be to announce that although our first fealty is to God and Torah, we have a duty as frum Yidden to be good citizens of the country we live in and show graititude to it for all the kindness that it has extended to us. This selfish abosence of hakaras hatov must be countered lest folks who don't know better begin to believe that it is the definitive opinion of our community.
In the meantime, I would like to echo Rav Korobkin's challenge: does your shul show proper gratitude?