Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 22 January 2010

Anybody But Him

Rav Avi Shafran, he of the "Bernie Madoff is a greater guy than a pilot who saved a plane full of people" fame has struck once again.  After several months of low level, self-serving Agudah propaganda, he has once again decided to shake the Earth with an understanding of life that defies comprehension
His topic this time in the recent earthquake in Haiti.  Now, since that terrible disaster I have been dreading reading about some rabbi saying "Well, it's because those shvartzes are such sinners into voodoo and all" and fortunately, that hasn't happened yet (thank you Pat Robertson for breaking the ice).  However, Rav Shafran's perspective does lead to some definite head-scratching.
Yes, it's true that Judaism places Jews as the central and most important nation in the world.  (Side note: find me a religion or nationality that doesn't put their own people at the centre and then you can criticize us, okay?)
Yes, Jews to repentance. Jewish religious sources maintain that catastrophes, even when they do not directly affect Jews, are nevertheless messages for them, wake-up calls to change for the better. Insurers call such occurrences “Acts of G-d.” For Jews, the phrase is apt, and every such lamentable event demands a personal response.

It is, to be sure, a very particularist idea, placing Jews at the center of humankind. But, while Judaism considers all of humanity to possess seeds of holiness, Judaism does in fact cast Jews as a people chosen – to embrace special laws, to be aware of and serve G-d constantly and, amid much else, to perceive Divine messages in humankind’s trials.
 However, there are times to say that out loud so that everyone can hear and times not to.  The day Moshiach appears and announced the completion of the final redemption is an example of the former.  The current disaster in Haiti an excellent example of the latter.  What does Rav Shafran want people to say?  "Ah ha!  It was the Jews' fault!"?
Fine, let's say he's right.  If doing teshuvah, learning with more intensity and concentrating on performing deeds of chesed to our fellows, Jewish or non-Jewish alike, will lead to a better, safer world then who could argue against it?  Let's show the world that gemillus chassadim is our strength by helping the Haitians. 
Unfortunately the article goes downhill from there.  In order to strengthen his point, Rav Shafran feels it necessary to raise two completely irrelevant examples of how the Jewish world is responsible for not reaching its potential and therefore, one assumes, helps create earthquakes and other such things:
No prophet or wise man, only eyes and ears, are necessary to recognize that the Jewish world today is rife with “evil speech” – speaking and writing ill of others (whether the words are true, false or – so often the case – some toxic mixture of the two), and with the hatred that breeds such sins. Jewish media are filled with accusations and “scoops”; they compete gleefully to find the vilest examples of crimes to report, to do the most attention-grabbing job of reporting them, and to be the first to do so.
Is he speaking of the people who maligned and threatened Rav Daniel Eidensohn when he tireless worked to break the recent EJF scandal?  How about the people who continue to defend the Agriprocessors debacle despite the ongoing convictions?  What about people who malign other Orthodox Jews who aren't Chareidi?
Nope, none of them:
The very week of the recent catastrophe in Haiti, a national Jewish newspaper published a comic strip featuring grotesque depictions of religious Jews and aimed at disparaging Jewish outreach to other Jews. And another Jewish newspaper ran an editorial placing the alleged ugly sins of an individual at the feet of Jewish rabbinic leaders, simply because the presumed sinner, before he was exposed, had arranged for several respected rabbis to deliver lectures and had encouraged people to make donations to their institutions. Having thus “established” guilt by that association, the editorialist demanded that every Orthodox organization and rabbinic leader publicly condemn the alleged sinner or be smeared themselves with sin. Then he mocked rabbinic authorities as a group for, instead of issuing condemnations of sinners, rendering decisions on social and halachic matters, as if that were not precisely what rabbis are for.
In other words, it's everyone's fault but ours, says Rav Shafran.  We are just victims.  It's everyone else that has to do a cheshbon hanefesh.
Now, I've seen the cartoon in question and I will agree that it is disgustingly vile, something worthy of Nazi or Arab anti-Jewish propaganda.  However, one must keep in mind its source.  For the artist of the cartoon, Orthodox Jews are clearly a definable group with a consistent and evil agenda who seek to pervert innocent non-religious Jews.  The same artist would, I presume, recoil from a cartoon showing Blacks, Orientals or any other ethnic/religious group in such a light but that's Jewish self-hatred.  Frankly, he doesn't know any better and isn't of being outraged we should feel pity for a man who has shown himself as capable of anti-Semitism as Herman Goebbels himself. 
The logic of the second part of the paragraph, a veiled attack on those who want to hear some condemnation of Rav Leib Tropper from the "gedolim" who supported and enabled him, is also suspect.  It's like the driver of the getaway car telling the police he should be arrested because he didn't actually rob the bank!  Read the paragraph again: Rav Tropper sought out the approval of these leaders, he got them money, he used their names to push his agenda, and they're not somehow responsible?
Orthodox Jews, however, should know better and this is where Rav Avi Shafran's analysis falls flat on its face.  If the average non-religious Jew is spreading loshon horo, so what?  For Orthodox Jews, it is far worse because of the higher standard we hold ourselves too.  People who don't keep kosher can't be expected to know about the intricacies of shemiras haloshon but folks who look for a minimum of three hechshers on their water but don't keep away from speaking gossip and slandering others are committing a grave sin.  By talking about how wrong attacking others is and then launching into an irrelevant screed against his opponents, Rav Shafran shows a complete lack of self-awareness to the problems facing Torah Jewry today.  They are not our worse enemy, we are and it seems he refuses to see it.


David said...

Not bad, Garnel. I'll note (with regret) that I hear the same bizarre cosmology out of my rabbi. To paraphrase what I said over at Cross-Currents, I find the notion that the rest of the world is nothing but an expendable note-pad on which God scribbles memos to the Jews to be deeply offensive.

As to Shafran's apparent belief that the rest of the world should have the decency to keep quiet about scandals in the Orthodox community (presumably so Agudath Israel can continue to cover up those scandals), this would be laughable, were it not so morally offensive. Shafran has a tendency to act like more of a PR man than a rabbi, and the tendency is at its worst when he's defending the indefensible.

On the brighter side, I have been very impressed by the outstanding response of so many Jews-- including the right wing Orthodox-- to this tragedy. It more than makes up for Shafran's asinine tirade. Credit where credit is due!

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

"I find the notion that the rest of the world is nothing but an expendable note-pad on which God scribbles memos to the Jews to be deeply offensive."

David, that's a great turn of phrase, but I think it misses the point. If Israel is to be a nation of leaders and a holy people, then in order to set the model or the agenda, we need to get the message. The idea that all occurs for 'our sake' puts a burden on us to pay attention and then translate into message and action.

The g'mara says that when an individual suffers, he should 'search his deeds'; take personal account to see what needs to change. ANY suffering should cause a GENERAL stocktaking. It is the impetus and opportunity to pay more attention to improvement.

If so for individuals, not so for communities? For mankind?

As for what needs to change, there's plenty of that. Personally, I would have linked the demands of the disaster more to the needed response. This disaster has left tens of thousands homeless and hungry. Maybe those are the issues we need to address closer to home as well?

But, as I said, I learn from the g'mara that the options are all open. And there's plenty for us to work on.

SJ said...

I've heard lots of Orthodox Rabbis say that if there's a disaster somewhere around the world, then "it's a call for jews to repent to orthodox judaism."

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Yes but here's the point SJ: repenting to orthodox Judaism means being machmir in gemilus chasadim, tzedakah, etc. Too often people see taking on another chumrah in kashrus as being "more Orthodox" - there was an earthquake in Haiti because women wear jean skirts so let's do teshuvah and get rid of them! My point is that to do proper teshuvah we have to get back to being "or lagoyim" through kindness and decency and be obsessive about that.

SJ said...

Careful Garnel, you are bordering on Reform apikorsus. ;D You should come up with a stupid ban just to be safe in your community. XD

SJ said...

Garnel, how's this: all hats must be at least 10 inches tall. XD

Off the Derech said...

>repenting to orthodox Judaism means being machmir in gemilus chasadim, tzedakah, etc

Jesus would agree with you. Not rabbinic Judaism, or the Catholic Church, for that matter.

Judaism has many mitzvos. Because you choose to focus on one or two to the exclusion of all others does NOT say anything about the rest of your coreligionists.

Shamo said...


"Side note: find me a religion or nationality that doesn't put their own people at the centre and then you can criticize us, okay?"

Not true Garnel. According to Islam, particularly in the Quran, it says that God made seperate nations and tribes so that they may come to know and learn from one another.

So ideally Islam/muslims does not do what you think all nations/nationalities do!

I can give you similar examples from secular humanists, hindus, buddhists, etc.

So clearly by what you have just stated it seems all these other ideologies are intrisically superior to Judaism because they do not promote bigoted ideas on all the other nations being there just so the Jews can learn from them.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Yes, and Islam also says it is tolerant of all religions but that there is only one true religion: Islam. Islam also believes in the pact of Omar that says that Islam has supremacy in Islam-controlled lands and that the goal is an entire Islam-controlled world.
You are a liar and a fake, no one here other than the idiots believes your bilge. Why do you keep coming back?

SJ said...

Islam really isn't the best example for tolerance.

David said...


I'm not missing the point. I'm disagreeing with it, because I think it's morally repulsive.

You argue that, "if Israel is to be a nation of leaders and a holy people, then in order to set the model or the agenda, we need to get the message. The idea that all occurs for 'our sake' puts a burden on us to pay attention and then translate into message and action."

That's also a cute turn of phrase, but it's utter nonsense and is, in fact, a complete inversion of logic and morality. If we're to serve as an example or as leaders, then what we do is for the sake of others-- not the other way around. To believe that the tragic deaths of hundreds of thousands of people is primarily significant because of what it means to us is to engage in the most offensive solipsism. Those were people, Mordechai-- people just like you, also b'tzelem Elokim.

By all means-- draw inspiration, draw conclusions, engage in teshuvah, whatever your inwardly focused little heart desires. But as you sit there and daven about whether two hundred thousand Haitians just died and a few hundred thousand others lost everything just so God could let you know that you should focus on local issues (or whatever), know that you're not being a leader, not being a light to the nations, and not even being passably useful to humanity.

Shalom said...

It's so odd when Jewish internal criticism is immediately compared to Nazism. Way to paralyze a once-vibrant culture.

You say that Eli Valley's comic "is disgustingly vile, something worthy of Nazi or Arab anti-Jewish propaganda." The same can be said of your criticism of Shafran. It's the same logic.

The comic criticized openly-expressed views of leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community, just as you criticize Shafran's elevation of Madoff over Skully. If you criticize the comic on the grounds that it expresses anger at the viewpoints of ultra-Orthodox leaders, be prepared to face criticism that your blog is "is disgustingly vile, something worthy of Nazi or Arab anti-Jewish propaganda."

You can't have it both ways.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Shalom, I think there's a big difference.

For one thing, I am quoting Rav Shafran and explaining why I am critical of him. Valley's comic differs as follows:
1) The outreach person is portrayed in stereotypical Jewish fashion. The people who made that stereotype world-famous were the Nazis. The comic's style of portraying the religious Jew in such an obvious way while showing the assimilated Jew as indistinguishable from a non-Jewish compatriot is meant to villify the character.
Now, since the character is also a generic one, that means Valley is trying to say that ALL religious Jews who look like that harbour those offensive views. Again, this is ingenious since
2) Jews that extreme don't speak Hebrew, they speak Yiddish
3) Jews that extreme don't do outreach.
Valley is therefore trying to give a specific representation of ultra-orthodoxy in general and the kiruv side of it in particular that is hugely offensive.

David, take a step back. I think you and Rav Scher are actually saying the same thing. We can all agree that if bad things happen to Haiti, and we are the world leaders around whom everything revolves, then we have a level of responsibility for what happened to them and have to help them out while simultaneously doing a cheshbon hanefesh to see what we did to make things go wrong in the first place.

David said...

There is simply no good reason to believe that the world revolves around us. There's no indication that it does, and nothing in the Torah suggests that it should.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually the Torah does say that. Look at the beginning of Haazinu where it mentions how the nations of the world were allotted their portions based on our needs.

However, all this harkens back to Tevya Milchiger's famous line: Dear God, thank you for choosing us. Could you maybe choose the Russians for while instead?

Yes, there's a snooty kind of ethnocentrism implied by being the "Chosen People" but if our job is really to be Or LaGoyim and we're doing a lousy job, then it's our responsibility to answer for what goes wrong, hardly a plus if you ask me.

Shalmo said...

Garnel not all muslims believe in the "pact of Umer". Umer was just a caliph, not a religious authority. Moreover the example I gave was from the Quran.

Speaking of which, both christians and muslims do not believe they are the chosen people or that their specific nationalities are better than anyone else. And Islam is more liberal than Judaism on non-adherants entering heaven.

The best example are of course hindus and buddhists. Theologically they accept all paths as equal, and also do not have Judaism special class status. Jains are another good example.

So there right there are three religions superior to Judaism on those groups.

And of course secular humanists all around do not believe in such ideals to begin with, on the contrary they reject them. All the Jewish apostates you fight with leave the self-worshipping religion behind and embrace humanity the way it is.

So ha!

Garnel Ironheart said...

Shalmo, not all Jews believe in Torah MiSinai but that doesn't change its place as a fundamental principle of Judaism. It's the same with the Pact of Omar.
As for your second point, again stick with real facts, not ones you seem to make up on the fly.
Chrisianity has a fundamental principle that you must believe in Yeshu and accept him as your saviour to get into Heaven. Muslims also reject Heaven for the infidels.
Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion. As for Hindus, do not confuse tolerance with acceptance of equality. Think about it, if someone else's pathway is as good as yours, why embrace yours and not theirs?

Off the Derech said...

>Actually the Torah does say that. Look at the beginning of Haazinu where it mentions how the nations of the world were allotted their portions based on our needs.

Even if you were right (knowing you, it's best to triple-check your "source"), what does that have to do with the afterlife?

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

What does what have to do with afterlife? We're talking about our role as a nation in this world, not the next.

David said...

"He set the borders of the peoples..." Is that it? Sounds rather geographic. So, I suppose you could make the case, if you really wanted to stretch the hell out of that posuk, that the Haitians were all in Haiti, because God started out by assigning Israel to the Jews, and just shoehorned everybody else in wherever He had left. Leaving aside the fact that this is kind of stupid on its face, it still doesn't prove, nor even suggest, that everything that happens to someone else is a message to us. Indeed, it might almost suggest that, the further away from Israel that the event in question occurs, the less it has to do with the Jews.
Sorry, Garnel. If you're going to claim the Torah as the source of this asinine solipsism, you'll have to do better than that-- it's just more of the same old black-hat right-wing yeshivish isolationist fantasy that you condemn when it doesn't suit you and embrace when it amuses you.