Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Slowly Coming Around

One of Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein's tactics when writing at Cross Currents is to pretend to approach matters from the perspective of right-wing Modern Orthodox instead of a Chareidi one.  The style is ingenious in that, while he himself is Chareidi, he can present what he believes is the "correct" position to folks who would not listen to someone UltraOrthodox but might if they thought the views were coming from "one of their own".  His infamous piece condemning Rabbi Avi Shafran and the YCT crowd while demanding that the YU elite form a beis din to kick them out of Orthodoxy was a great example of this.  Were he to have openly identified as a Chareidi writer his screed would have been ignored.  Posing as "one of us" got him far more attention and discussion.
Yet sometimes things happen in the Chareidi world that make the more intelligent amongst them squeamish.  Sometimes an article is written or a position is articulated that only Rav Avi Shafran could justify while competent writers like Adlerstein and Rav Yonasan Rosenblum are forced to dissociate themselves for fear of being seeing as laughinstocks.  Such an article recently appeared in the Chareidi magazine "Ami". (Hat tip: Rafi G)
The article is, in many ways, similar to a piece on Matzav by Pinny Lipschutz from a couple of years ago.  Both emphasize that while they recognize that the State of Israel sprang into being and continues to exist, "Orthodox" Jews should not attribute anything special to it, see any religious significance to it or feel any gratitude to God for it.  It's just there, okay?
It brings to mind the words of the Eim HaBanim Semeicha.  In his important work showing that returning to Israel was not a violation of God's will and was actually a fulfillment of it he noted that strong criticism from some parts of the Orthodox world revolving around the secular nature of the new Yishuv.  How hypocritical, he noted, for them to condemn the Zionists for trying to created a Judaism-free state.  When the call had gone out for Jews to return home they instructed their followers to stay put.  Only secular Jews answered the call and returned home to build Israel and now they were shocked, shocked! that the Yishuv was secular?
The Chareidi refusal to acknowledge the special nature of the State and its importance to Jews and Jewish history reminds me of a Chabad shaliach I knew many years ago who, on Kislev 19, told me I didn't have to say Tachanun because it was the new year for Chasidus (read: Chabad philosophy) and the day the Alter Rebbe got out of jail.  When I told him that I was not a Chabadnik he corrected me pointing out that the event had significance for all Jews.  So I asked him if he said Tachanun on Iyyar 5.  He didn't realize what date I was referring to but when I told him it was Yom Ha'atzmaut he told me he generally davened at home so as to avoid people seeing him saying tachanun.  I pointed out to him that if the release of one Chasidic Rebbe from jail was important enough to have the Jewish people not say tachanun, certainly an event that directly benefited and continues to benefit the entire Jewish people should rate that much, even if he didn't want to say Hallel.
But Rav Adlerstein's point in the essay is also a must-read:

The piece has generated vigorous discussion. Is it true that most Orthodox Jews ignore Yom Ha-Atzmaut? Do not a majority of Jews who accept the Thirteen Principles of Faith, i.e. the Rambam’s definition of who is an “insider,” in fact celebrate the day? (We should probably accept the author’s protestation that by “Orthodox” he meant “charedi,” and was guilty of poor word choice, but not malice.) Is it true that “subsequent…military action stirred additional rabbinic opposition to Zionism, and was seen as proof that the Zionist idea was, from a perspective of Jewish tradition, illicit from the start?” Wasn’t this just the reaction of Satmar and Brisk, and in fact rejected in all other Torah circles? Can the position of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik be reduced to nothing more than seeing the State as “a buffer against assimilation,” while dismissing “the idea that its creation was in any way associated with the concept of redemption?” Does Rav Kook merit any attention at all? Did the author ever see the newsreels of Novemeber, 1947 (the reaction to the UN partition vote), with circles of charedim and secular Jews dancing together in unbridled joy? They don’t really support the conclusion of a wholesale charedi rejection of the State. Nor does the signature of R Itche Meir Levin on Israel’s Declaration of Independence, nor all of those who did mark the first few anniversaries of the Declaration with joy and thanks to Hashem.
I will leave to others to develop those objections, and turn to one that I believe may be the most serious flaw in the editorial. Even if the facts would have been as the author has them (and I do not believe that this is the case), they would have little relevance to us today.
Yom Ha-Atzmaut is not a celebration of secular Zionism, or any kind of Zionism. It is the celebration of the coming into existence of an independent Jewish community – no, nation – in the land that is ours. Israel is the largest Jewish community in the world. Its continued existence, its thriving against all odds, is a gift from Heaven. It can, should, must be appreciated as an enormous chesed from HKBH, Who allows us to live in our holy Land and work again to slowly build up a Jewish nation. How can we fail to acknowledge the incredible saga, past and present of rov minyan and rov binyan of the Jewish people? What do we do to ourselves when we stand to the side as literally millions of Jews celebrate in their own way (even if not the way we would have designed such celebration), and we do not feel their simple joy of being Jewish? What damage to we foist on future generations of our people, as we propagate division and dissension by not smiling at them and saying “Chag Sameach,” even if it is not mentioned in Parshas Emor?

Like the Arabs who still talk about returning to their orange groves in Jaffa, too many in the UltraOrthodox world still refuse to acknowledge that the battle over whether or not Zionism will succeed is over.  Too many hang on to the twisted Satmar philosophy that says that whenever something bad happens it's God punishing us but when something good happens, well that's just the Satan teasing us.
Rav Adlerstein goes on to note:
This is not dependent on the ideology that is called Zionism. Many years ago, I heard a young rosh yeshiva argue that all of us were like the Japanese soldiers who remained holed up on Pacific islands many years after the end of World War Two, still keeping guard at their posts. They were living a war that had already ended. There was a war for the heart and soul of the Jewish people between secular Zionists and those faithful to Torah. Secular Zionism lost that battle! We in the Torah community should have declared victory and moved on! We now have a country of our own, and we should take our places in its development, without fear of supporting an ideology that died a long time ago. Yom Ha-Atzmaut is not about ideology today – it is about the privilege of having a place where we need bow to nothing but Hashem. Recall the words of the Rambam (Chanuka 3:1) writing about why Chanuka was important: “Jewish governance returned to for more than two hundred years, till the churban.” Those two centuries were presided over by rulers a good deal more evil than the people sitting in Knesset.
There is a great spiritual thirst in Israel today.  Presented properly and moderately, Torah Judaism could accomplish so much to quench that thirst.  It could easily introduce proper Jewish values into the life of the State and its culture.  People are looking for direction, a future, a great meaning to the sacrifices they make every today and Torah Judaism has the answers to all those but those on the UltraOrthodox side of the spectrum who currently insist on turning away as many Jews as possible would have to radically accept that they have a new mission in life, that of turning Judaism back from a religion of exile to a nationality of Torah based in Israel.
Until they make that change then we will fight all the same old battles and, come Tisha B'av every year, wonder why God hasn't redeemed us yet.


Bob Miller said...

Your presentation of Rabbi Adlerstein's remarks would have been stronger minus the snarky preamble.

Adam Zur said...

You wrote: Presented properly and moderately, Torah Judaism could accomplish so much to quench that thirst.

The problem with this is that there is a serious distance between the what the Torah and the Talmud says and what Torah Judaism says. This is masked by so called Torah Judaism.

SJ said...


Chaim B. said...

excellent post -- right on the mark.