Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Pesach And The National Imperative

Although we tend to focus on yetzias Mitzrayim during the Pesach celebrations it is important to remember that one of the underlying features of the entire narrative is the transformation of our ancestors from an ethnic group within the larger Egyptian society into a separate nation with its own identity.
Rav Steinsaltz, shlit"a, both note this important facet in their writings on the holiday.  He asks the question of why we have to remove chametz from our possession.  If we are trying to remember the exodus then it should be enough to have a Seder and eat matzah.  The folks at that first Seder didn't remove chametz from their homes.  Why is it not Pesach for us unless we do?
The Rav then notes an obvious point, one that is repeated throughout the classic Jewish writings.  It's not enough, he writes, to engage in positive expressions of Judaism.  One must also remove the negative from one's life.  One can have the Seder, one can have the positive spritual experience that brings dviekus closer but if one still has chametz, the materialistic gashmiyus, in one's life then this interferes with the full appreciation positive worship of the Ribono shel Olam provides.
This also relaets to the national experience.  It's not enough for a nation to siomply develop some customs and idiosyncracies that define it.  What it stands for and against are equally important.  The Jewish nation must reject much of what the rest of the world considers normal and standard in its quest for holiness.  Matzah balls without perishus from the materialism that surrounds us is not the norm.
On behalf of the staff here at this blog (and that would be pretty much just me) I would like to wish all of you a happy, healthy and filling Pesach and end with this reminder: flavourless Metamucil is kosher for Pesach.  I'm just saying.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Them And Only Them

You have to feel sorry for the Chareidi community some days.  Wave after wave of assaults against them are leaving them publicly frustrated and annoyed.  Whether it's yet another outrage from the Morethodox against their mesorah or the Israeli government's recent chutzpah to think it can govern the State without their Daas Torah, Chareidism has not been taken very seriously by outsiders recently and this has them mad.
Part of it, to be fair, is their fault.  One problem Chareidism has always had is its assumption that the rest of the world sees them they way they seem themselves.  They see themselves as the superior and only really authentic form of Torah observance and assume the rest of the world thinks that as well.  It's like a person who insists there are four lights instead of the three that he's supposed to say.  Why, oh why, don't people see it their way?
The other difficulty is an assumption, based on a little bit too much literalism when learning Talmud, that the outside world also knows everything the Chareidi world does including those values that are "right" and "wrong" and agrees with their basic validity.  This is often why Chareidim in Israel go apopleptic over immodestly dressed secular women on the street.  In their minds it's not that this woman is just dressed inappropriately but that she knows she's dressed wrong and insists on doing it anyway.  The idea that it's hot and she's dressing for comfort and doesn't know or care about the laws of modest clothing simply isn't in their paradigm.
That's why every government move that isn't pro-Chareidi is automatically an assault on the Torah and an attempt to destroy Torah observance in Israel.  From the secular side it may be a budget consideration or something with a broader social necessity but in the mind of Chareidism the government is only thinking "How can we oppress the Chareidim and attack the Torah?"  Chareidi leaders don't see politicians concerned with a global picture.  There is them and only them.
But perhaps they are most frustrated when it comes to a perceived lack of appreciation for their claim that the only real learning occurs in the Chareidi world and that which occurs elsewhere is at best second rate.  This belief fits into the general package, of course, alongside the "All real 'Gedolim' are Chareidi because any non-Chareidi 'gadol' isn't a real 'gadol'".
What's more, some Chareidi PR flacks aren't content to allow a mistaken belief like "There's real learning outside the Chareidi world" to go without contesting.  Thus we have Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein's latest piece in Cross Currents where he takes a comment allowed through the censors to task for daring to suggest that not only is there real learning in the non-Chareidi observant community but that Chareidi learning, for all its perceived self-importance, isn't as amazing as its propagandists would like us to believe.
The interesting thing to note in Rav Adlerstein's response is how he subtly revises history while using insincere flattery to deflect the objection.  Consider this little statement halfway through:

With all the considerable learning outside of haredi circles, they have not produced a critical mass of depth learners adequate to address complex new questions. In contradistinction to the term “morei hora’ah” that I used above, those who can creatively address new questions are true “poskim.”

Really?  Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, was only a real posek because he was part of the larger "team"?  Paskening is now a group activity?  What's more, the next statement that Rav J. David Bleich, a major halachic authority and extremely intelligent man, is more authoritative than the contributors to Tradition journal en masse is ridiculous in its oozing of contempt.  Rav Bleich is an important figure but he is hardly the only one in the YU ecosystem.
Then there is this gem:
Incisive depth learning is the common thread you will see in the Rashba, the Terumas HaDeshen, the Maharik, the Nodah BeYehudah, Rav Akiva Eiger, R Yitzchok Elchonon, R Moshe Feinstein and the Chazon Ish
The implication is clear: these are all Chareidi authorities throughout the ages thus proving that it's Chareidi learning that is the most important and influential around.  Never mind that the first half of that list predated the invention - yes, the invention, of Chareidism as a Jewish religious philosophy.  Just like Muslims claim that Avraham Avinu, a"h, and David HaMelech, a"h, were Muslim prophet so too the Chareidim now assume that any important religious figure predated the Chasam Sofer's innovation of forbidding innovation was also Chareidi.  Are we really supposed to take that seriously?
Finally there is the aspect of self-promotion.  When any well-known Charedi authority dies nowadays we are treated, usually within weeks, to a shining hagiography that tells us that he was the greatest thing since sliced bread (an innovation! Ban it!) and that the entire Torah world basked in his glow.  Without meaning any disrespect, how many "gedolim" who have recently passed away truly fit that bill?  How many were simply major political figures in that community who were granted an eternal bill of importance based on that standing?
As Rav Natan Slifkin himself noted in the comments section (note how, after calling Adlerstein "rabbi" he is referred to by his first name):

“New conditions, new technologies bring a host of questions that must be addressed creatively only after thorough mastery of a sugya, especially after analysis of the impact different shitos in rishonim have on a topic.” However, in the charedi world of today, that is not what takes place. Questions are not addressed “creatively.” Rather, the eventual psak is a foregone conclusion; it’s the one that satisfies the socio-religious mores of charedi society. The only creativity is in getting there. I’m not sure that producing legions of such poskim is such a great achievement. What difference if you have one charedi posek prohibiting organ donation from the brain-dead, or a hundred such poskim? The end result is obvious from the outset, given their socio-religious orientation.
For those who would dispute this – please name a recent psak from a well-known posek that goes against the socio-religious mores of charedi society. The most recent one that I can remember is Rav Shlomo Zalman’s psak regarding electricity on Shabbos, which has been all but buried.

Yes there are more Chareidi sifrei shu"t coming out that non-Chareidi ones but there are good reasons for that.  Rav Alderstein is correct when he notes that the numbers of high level scholars in the Chareidi world vastly exceeds those on the non-Chareidi side.  But then the number of Chareidi shnorrers who show up at my door looking for money for yet another obscure kollel engage in this high-intensity learning vastly exceeds those on the non-Chareidi side.  Actually, I never get non-Chareidi shnorrers but maybe that's because there is a balance in the non-Chareidi community in which both learning and earning are valued.  Non-Chareidi institutions produce dayanim and volumes of responsa.  The folks at Eretz Chemda and the Kollel MiTzion network are an important example.  Is their lack of importance due to Chareidi refusal to stock their books in their yeshivos based on political consideration and snobbery?
One can have high esteem for learning without engaging in it full time despite what you might have heard.  That's why Zevulun was never asked to stop being Zevulun and merge into Issachar.  The former also had his role, God-approved and all.
All Rav Alderstein seems to have done is confirmed that Chareidism is trapped by the "No good Scotsman" agruement.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Don't Count Your Chareidim Until They've Been Drafted

And now the news from Israel is bleak if you only own white shirts and black suits.  According to the news reports the imminently incoming government in Israel will, for the first time in decades, have no Chareidi parties in it. (I dislike those who say it will be a secular government.  There will be plenty of observant Jews in it and in positions of influence, no less)  As a result the government can finally discuss something which is of great concern to the secular population: the drafting of the Chareidi population in the name of equality.
On the surface this is an easy issue.  Seen simply, the Chareidim have been living off the State for decades without contributing anything back.  Their boys sit and learn claiming to be the real protectors of the State while non-Chareidi boys go out and do the actual protecting.  There has been no gratitude and only minimal recognition of this from the Chareidi side and it's time the burden was shared equally.
Unfortunately life is not that simple.  First of all, the depiction in the above paragraph in no way reflects the entire Chareidi population, just a significant portion of it.  Since 1947 there has been not a small number of Chareidim who have equally shared the burdens with the secular population, working, building and dying for the State.  They have had the further difficulty of having to deal with the other part of the community, the part that sees the State as evil incarnate (except when the welfare cheques arrive).
Yes, equal sharing of the national burden of defence is an important goal.  Yes, Chareidi 18 year olds should feel the same pressure to contribute to the wellbeing of the State as 18 year old non-chareidim.  But as anyone who follows life in Israel knows this isn't going to happen.
To be an observant Jew there are certain obligations one must accept.  One must accept that the only edible food out there is kosher food.  One must accept that one cannot watch television on Shabbos.  And so on.
The Chareidim in Israel have added to that list as a condition for membership in their community.  To be a good Chareidi, it seems, one must disparage the State, see serving in the army as a sure path to personal damnation and consider the idea of working for a living anathema.
Again, this is not true of the entire Chareidi population, just a significant proportion that loves to portray itself as the superior part of that community.
Imagine the State of Israel were to make it a national obligation to eat bacon for breakfast on alternating Tuesdays in the winter.  What if they were to make the attending of pornographic live plays compulsory? Could you imagine the response from not just the Chareidim but from the rest of the Torah-observant population?  There would be outrage and resistance and why not?   Acquiescence to such laws is unthinkable to a Torah observant Jew because it strikes at the very identity of that Torah observance.
Well for the proportion of the Chareidi community we're discussing the idea of serving in the army is pretty much on the same level.  With their characteristic black and white thinking they can see no difference between being soldiers and being forced to eat bacon or drive on Shabbos.  They all threaten what are defining features of Chareidi society.
Now, we can argue as to whether it's normal or functional for a community to have lack of gratitude to the State it lives in or refusal to serve in its army as ikkari haemunah in the first place but we cannot argue that these ikkarim are there and will serve as an obstacle to the draft.
Not that this draft will ever happen, mind you.
Yes, the quietly funny party of this controversy is that it will never happen.  Consider the details leaked so far.  No initiation of the draft until 2017.  No jail time for refusal to serve. 
The year 2017 is far off.  There is a good chance that there will be a new government in place by then and unlike today it is quite possible that the Chareidi parties will once again be in a controlling position.  And when they are one can be quite sure this draft plan will be quietly shelved.
Yair Lapid can congratulate himself.  He has satisfied his voters by delivering "the draft".  He has also set it up in such a way so that when it fails he won't be held responsible.
So my advice to my Chareidi friends in Israel (yes, I have a few) is: don't pack your bags.  Your sons aren't going to any army.  Just relax and stop making such a fuss.  It just makes you look that much more parasitic.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

From Tanach To Talmud

One of the biggest maiden speeches in the Knesset ever was Prof. Ruth Calderon's speech as a newly elected MK.  Outside of the Chareidi community people both religious and secular were excited.  Here was a non-religious but proudly Jewish woman give a relevant lecture in Talmud to the nation's elected representatives.  It was hailed as a new era and a chance for Israelis to reconnect to the Talmud. One would have to be a spoilsport of epic proportions to challenge that assumption, the kind of guy never invited to parties because the negative gloom he brings cancels out any joy the others are feeling.
Hi guys.  Here I am.
Let me being by pointing out the obvious.  I mean absolutely no disrespect to Prof. Calderon.  I also want to give no impression that her learning and knowledge base are in any way defective.  From her background it is quite clear that she can run circles around many experienced Talmidei Chachamim when it comes to knowledge of the Talmud.  She has dedicated her life to its study in a way many religious folks would do well to emulate.
Furthermore I don't begrudge her the right to learn Talmud at all and if she serves as an inspiration for more secular Jews to pick up a volume of Gemara and go through it, kol hakavod.  For too long a small portion of the Jewish nation has treated the Talmud as its private property.  According to them you are only learning if you learn like they do, using the formatted text they use and understand it using their methodology.  If the learning of Torah is meant to be a universal Jewish practice then the method one learns with and comes closer to God's truth is valid.
I also don't dismiss Prof. Calderon because she is a woman.  One of the most important books on understanding the parshiyos of the Torah is written by a woman, Nechama Leibowitz, zt"l.  Years ago I was sitting in shul and reading one of her books when the Rosh Kollel of the day (long since moved away) came over and asked what I was learning.  When I showed him the book he rolled his eyes dismissively.  His response only served to reinforce the idea that his version of learning was limited.  It avoided truth when that truth didn't come in the expected pre-packaged form he recognized.  I don't doubt, therefore, that Prof. Calderon has a lot to teach about Talmud.
Here's where I don't get excited: this isn't the first time an important Jewish book has been touted by someone in a position of secular leadership.  We've seen this all before with the Bible.
Do not forget that early Secular Zionism, seeking to create a connection with the Land of Israel amongst the early chalutzim, used the Bible to create that tie.  For them the Bible was Jewish history and a prequel to the great Zionist enterprise.  For many decades, until Shulamit Aloni came along with her hatred of Judaism and Jewish education, Bible education was standard in the secular school system in Israel.  Talk with any Israeli over a certain age and they can still quote various parts from memory in ways that make religious Jews feel embarrassed.  Now an unacceptably high proportion of average Israelis can't even recite Shema Yisrael from memory.
But something was missing in all that.  These non-religious Jews may have read the Bible but they didn't connect to it religiously.  For them it was a history book, not a guide to moral instruction and if you don't read the Bible as a guide to moral instruction then you aren't really learning it in a uniquely Jewish way.  That's why after decades of having it in the school system it could be quickly expunged, to be replaced with revisionist textbooks blaming Israel for the so-called occupation.
Prof. Calderon's approach to Talmud reminds me of this.  Once upon a time David Ben Gurion, a"h, could stand up with a Bible and lecture people on it.  Now Prof. Calderon invokes the Talmud.  But both have the same approach: it's a book. It's a field of knowledge.  It might be inspiring and fascinating, a great exercise in learning and analysis but it's a book.  It's external.  If a secular Israeli gets into the car on Shabbos and drives to the beach and on the way he thinks about the Talmud sugya he learned the day before, did he really learn Talmud?
Try this exercise: go through at least the first half of Prof. Calderon's speech and do a word switch. Instead of references to being Jewish and Israeli change them to English and British.  Change Talmud to Shakespeare and the story from the Gemara to a particularly moving scene from Julius Caeser or Romeo and Juliet.  Here, I'll help you along:

By telling you this I'm trying to say that I grew up in a very English home, a very British home, secular, traditional and normal, that combined both being English and Scottish, Labour and Conservative, in the accepted English surroundings, the main-stream of the 60s and 70s, and was educated like all of my generation in the government education system, in the spirit of the "English Literature for the People". And I encounter neither Shakespeare and the Sonnets, nor Bacon and Milton. By the time I was a teenager I felt something was missing, something about the new, liberal British identity,... was all well and good but something was missing. It lacked depth, for me more words were needed in the vocabulary, it lacked a past, epics, heroes, places, drama, stories. The "New English", educated by the founders of the nation, fulfilled their dreams, and he became a citizen of the word, brave, practical and civilized. But for me, he (me) had a void, I didn't know how to fill this void, but when I encountered Shakespear for the first time, and fell in love with it, its language, its humor, its profound wisdom, its methods of debate, its practicality, its humanity, its maturity, which comes through with every line, I felt that I had found peace of mind and what I was missing.
Since then I have studied, at Oxford and at Canterbury, academic studies, and I have earned a Doctorate in English Liberature, from Cambridge, in Shakespeare and Medieval English Poetry for my own personal enrichment and for years I've been lucky enough to study the Sonnets which have helped me become who I am.

Do you see my point?  Prof. Calderon loves the Talmud.  She's passionate about it and does want to learn from it to enrich herself and her culture but how different is it from a professor of English literature with a love of Shakespeare and Bacon?
Is it so far-fetched to wonder if the new secular love of the Talmud will wind up like the former love of Tanach?  That for a few years or maybe even decades the Talmud will infiltrate the secular school system producing students who can quote various sugyas and engage in a form of pilpul only to be followed by an abandonment of a book that didn't enter the souls of its learners because it was never presented in that way?
Prof. Calderon's love of Talmud is a start but for the same reason Prof. Marc Shapiro, a brilliant man with an extensive knowledge of Torah, isn't a posek, it is not the path back to religious study that many believe it is.  for that the religious leadership in Israel now has to take up the banner and show people how to learn Talmud in such a way as to connect them back to Judaism and the Creator.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Great Reassertion

Around 110 years ago or so something should have happened to the Torah-observant community.  Zionism was spreading its wings, a return to Israel by our nation was no longer a far-flung dream but an emerging reality.  Judaism was poised to evolve from a diaspora-based religion back into the national faith it has once been.
And then it didn't.  The leadership of the part of the community that couldn't handle change fought a pitched battle to keep the ghetto walls high and strong and more the most part they won.  Secular Zionism marched off to build a country and, with only a small exception, Torah Jewry stayed behind in Europe awaiting the personal intervention of God on its terms and understanding.
Around 70 years ago something should have happened to theTorah-observant community.  The leaders that had announced their intention to remain in Europe come hell or high water got both and most of the followers they had kept around perished from their decision.  Suddenly the Religious Zionist component of the Torah world was the dominant one and poised for success.  However, history had other plans.  The remnants of the Chareidi community, unwittingly aided by the Secular Zionist leadership which thought they would remain an obscure museum piece for display, reorganized, manipulated and grew until it again became the dominant part of the Torah community.
This is the situation that has persisted until today.  Two opportunities for Religious Zionism to take its place as the defining form of Torah Judaism.  Two misses.  And now comes the third try.
At this point the situation in Israel seems to be like this: Bibi Netanyahu, along with Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Leiberman, will bring Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi into the government.  For the first time in a long time there will be no Chareidim sitting around the cabinet table.  There will, however, be plenty of non-Chareidi Torah observant Jews.  This is where things get interesting.
It is well understood that for a long time Chareidism has worked to define itself as the authentic highest form of Torah observant Judaism.  Everything else has come to be seen as a lower level or less frum variation on a theme.  To this end history has been revised, publishing houses have churned out propaganda pieces and extensive kiruv work has been done to cement this impression in the general Jewish public's mind.
Think about it: if someone says frum Jew what do you see in your mind's eye?  A soldier or businessman wearing a knitted kippah or a Chareidi with a shtreiml?
Now without the Chareidim in the government Bayit Yehudi has a chance to remake this image.  Without Chareidi interference the Rabbanut can start shifting back towards a more nationalistic position.  Without Chareidim in the government more rational policies can be developed in terms of universal army service and enforcing basic education standards in all schools that receive government money.  Progress that has been held back in the name of narrow-minded parochialism for decades can finally occur.
Ironically it seems that the Chareidi leadership might actually encourage this trend as well.  It is no secret that the chumra-of-the-week attitude that has exemplified Chareidi society over the last several decades has not endeared Judaism to the masses.  It has instead served to alienate them from it.  It's hard enough for a secular Israeli to feel some connection with people dressed like 15th century Polish nobles.  It's impossible to empathize with folks who think the Taliban were on to something when they made the burka a mainstream garment in Afghanistan.
If the recent trends in Israel have shown anything it is that the general population is getting more nationalistic. They are tired of always being told that Israel has to make sacrifices for peace and that whatever those sacrifices are they will always be preludes to more demands without any concessions from the other side.  There may be a few idealistic dreamers left but most Israelis now realize there is no interest in a final peace agreement with the Arab leadership in Yesha and have gotten on with their lives.  A Chareidi call to boycott settlements and show sympathy for the Arab enemy over the Green Line in retaliation for being left out of government will not gain much traction with the general public, nor will it be as successful even within the Chareidi community considering how many of them live in Yehuda and Shomron now.
And how exactly does the Chareidi leadership justify aligning itself with the Labour party, one of the leading influences in the diminishing movement to make Israel a Judaism-free secular "state of all its citizens"?  Labour has spent 70 years working actively against what most Chareidim consider priorities for Israel and suddenly they're natural allies?
Finally the public calls for revenge, the claims that the Religion Zionists are treasonous for not capitulating to the natural "leadership" position of the Chareidim, will only strengthen Religious Zionism as a valid Torah-observant alternative.  People are already sick and tired of the cry-baby tactics of the Chareidi PR machine. Chareidim can claim many things but when they say they are discriminated against and don't receive a fair share of the national revenue, well pause for canned laughter.
This is, as I noted, Religious Zionism's third opportunity.  Played right, the religious leadership of the Dati Leumi community could retake the Rabbanut and make it more relevant for average Israelis.  It could position Religious Zionism back in the heart of Israeli religious life.
Or it could, pardon the baseball reference, be strike three and out.
Let us hope that the Dati Leumi leadership has wisdom granted to them by the Ribono shel Olam to make the right decisions for now and the future of our nation.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

What Morethodoxy Misses

Orthodoxy has often been accused of being the kind of religion that focuses not just on the trees instead of the forest but on the little lines on the leaves instead of the forest.  We become so obsessed with the little details in some areas that we forget the big picture and the importance of other areas.
A classic example of this is brought by Rav Shimon Eider, z"l, in his seminal book on hilchos Niddah.  In noting the importance of asking shailos when it comes to deciphering bedikah clothes he lamented that many  people don't ask but instead assume that it's okay to be machmir and delay the tevilah date.  But this leads to an unwanted kullah, Rav Eider noted, because it treated the woman's onah with unneeded leniency.  In fact, if one looks at all the new chumros that keep cropping up nowadays one rarely finds one that doesn't result in another area of halacha being unintentionally observed with leniency.  
How many chumros when it come to bein adam l'Makom result in leniency in bein adam l'chaveiro?  How many people are raised in the Jewish educational system and taught by strong implication that the former is far more important than the latter?  
This results from people forgetting some of the overarching principles of Judaism.  There are ikkarim that should filter down into all our actions and influence them but we get lost in the particulars and forget about them on a regular basis.
This often happens on the Chareidi side, as I've (and others) noted frequently in the past.  What's interesting to note is that it happens on the left-wing Modern Orthodox side as well but as a mirror image.  In the Morethodox world bein adam l'chaveiro often assumes a superior position to bein adam l'Makom with the resultant twisted paskening, just like on the Chareidi side of things.
Thus the latest piece on their blog by Rabbi Hyim Shafner, resurrecting the concept of the female rabbi, the Mahara"t.  The blog has recently focused on partnership minyan arrangements only to get slapped down repeatedly in the comments section by folks who note that the halacha doesn't support such things and that in the absence of a posek (they have a whole one book by Rav Daniel Sperber to rely on, not so very encouraging) Morethodoxy is hardly in a position to enact such a significant change in our liturgical worship.  
So they've moved on, or rather: back to an earlier position.
Unfortunately Rabbi Shafner's article is quite confusing.  At the beginning he writes something which sounds quite Orthodox:
Orthodox Jews believe that men and women are fundamentally different.  They have different characteristics, different strengths, different obligations and different ways of seeing the world and approaching life.
But within the same paragraph he makes a complete U-turn:
Thus, it follows that especially for us, (as opposed perhaps to more liberal Jewish movements in which the boundaries between the genders might be more blurred), it is vital that we have both genders leading our people.  
He then supports his contradictory position at the end of the article.  First he notes:
I would like to caution us against seeing women spiritual leaders in the way that  liberal Jewish movements have in the past, that of expecting women to be rabbis just like their male counterparts.
But then he says:
The Maharat will be no less powerful, no less influential, no less important, no less respected than the Rabbi
In fact what he's proposing is, other than the title being Mahara"t instead of Rabbi, is exactly what liberal Jewish movements are doing.  If he was, for example, proposing female leaders for the women in a congregation and male leaders for the men he might be onto a genuine idea.  But in practice the Mahara"t isn't a rabbi figure for women.  She's a rabbi figure for the congregation and Morthodoxy is being dishonest when it refuses to come straight out and say this.
But going back to the start of this post one can see what the guiding feature is behind this move.  The guiding passion in Modern Orthodoxy is bein adam l'chaveiro.  This is why Morethodoxy's various initiatives have all involved interpersonal relations, the role of women and the wistful dreaming of legitimizing gay marriage within halacha.  While the Chareidim overemphasize bein adam l'chaveiro by saying "no" to everyone Morethodoxy does the opposite by trying to say "yes" even when it's extremely questionable if they can within halacha.
Here's what Morthodoxy is missing, however.  Two of the distinct features of Orthodox are (1) definite distinction in the roles of men and women and (2) definite distinction in values and beliefs when compared with surrounding society.  Morethodoxy, on the other hand, seems bent on blurring these two as much as possible. For example its writers have demanded the removal of the beracha of shelo asani ishah from the morning prayers because it offends feminist sensibilities. As noted above, they have opined that they wish gay marriage could be Jewish acceptable. Now they're saying we should have women rabbis, albeit with a different name.
No, they're not suggesting we stop waiting 6 hours after meat or allow driving to shul on Shabbos but (1) and (2) are very much fundamental principles of Torah society and Morethodoxy seems to not understand that working against them means working against being Orthodox.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Goose and Gander

Having discussed insight recently I want to return to the topic, especially with how it comes to play in the current negotiations for a new government in Israel.
The one thing people following the issue cannot have missed is that Bibi Netanyahu has been presented with a choice.  He can either cobble together a government with secular Yesh Atid and Dati Leumi Bayit Yehudi or with the Chareidi parties.  The clashing platforms of the former preclude forming any kind of functioning government containing both sides.
It's not an easy choice for Bibi.  At first glance it makes obvious sense for him to go with Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi for two reasons. The first is that they represent important segments of the Israeli population with long-standing grievances and if these are not addressed he will continue to lose votes to the new parties.  Yair Lapid has already boasted publicly about becoming prime minister in the next election (assuming he's not a flash in the pan like his father was).  The second reason is forward thinking.  By bringing Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi into the government Bibi can steal some of their momentum.  Nothing muddies up today's golden boy like the mud of governing.  Remember that what killed Shinui, the party of Lapid's father, was being in the government of Ariel Sharon's Likud and being exposed as a political party as corrupt and incompetent as all others.
But it is the forward thinking part that must worry Bibi.  He might be able to form a government without any Chareidi parties today but the next election is a wild card.  Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi might soar to 25 seats or more.  They might also completely disappear.  The only real certainty is that the Chareidi parties will accumulate 18-20 seats.  They will definitely be around and a possible candidate for government after the next election, the new upstarts might not and Bibi knows this.  If he builds a non-Chareidi government he would be successful today but then be relegated to the sidelines after the next election.
Why?  Isn't the natural home of the Chareidi parties on the right?  After all they've been part of every Israeli government since 1977 when Menachem Begin first brought them into his new coalition.  Where else would they go?
To quote Madonna from the old Dick Tracy movie when asked the question: "Whose side are you on?"
As soon as the election results came out and the possibility of a government without any Chareidi parties emerged the Chareidi leadership began to scream and shout in a predictable fashion.  Like the spoiled child who has gotten whatever he wants for years by stamping his feet they were incredulous at the thought that they might not have the blackmailing power they've come to expect as their natural inheritance this time around.
As this article in Ynet notes, the Chareidi leadership and, by extension, its general cultural awareness, has come to expect a double standard in all its dealings with the outside world.
If there is one thing the haredim cannot be accused of, it is having respect for the other's worldview, beliefs and needs. They demand everyone else's respect as the (sole) representatives of the Torah, but they do not have to respect anyone else in return. They have a right to meddle in every affair under the sun, while others are forbidden from intervening in their affairs.
This isolationist and condescending outlook of haredi society in Israel could have been its own business had it not chosen to run our affairs as well. The Amish in the US are just as isolated, but at least they do not ask to head Congress' Budget Committee in order to transfer huge sums of money to their communities.
The ultra-Orthodox in Israel chose the political arena because they want to enjoy the best of both worlds. Now that there is a possibility that they will be treated like any other player, they yell "Gevalt! A community in Israel is being boycotted!" But this is not true. No one is boycotting the haredi community. The ultra-Orthodox public enjoys many rights, and even those who do not want them in the coalition are not trying to marginalize them, but rather to drag them towards the center. Opposing a political agenda is not akin to a boycott.

Now one can certainly not place all the blame on the Chareidi leadership.  Since the State was founded they have enjoyed certain inequitable rights like endless deferral of army service and government funding of their educational institutions regardless of their refusal to abide by the conditions the funding comes with.  They have never been held accountable for what they receive and it is no wonder they are shocked when they are suddenly told they will be.  This is a community, after all, for which change is farbotten.
But their response will not win them any points either.  Threatening to boycott the settlements and work with the ultra-left to delegitimize Israelis in Yehudah and Shomron is hollow. Too many Chareidim live across the Green Line.  Will they all be ordered to move into pre-1967 Israel al pi Daas Torah?
The real danger of the internet for the Chareidim is how it has exposed the hollowness of its claims to superiority.  It has exposed the shenanigans of its prominent members, the extent of child abuse, pedophilia and other crimes committed by these supposed representatives of "true Torah Judaism" and put a lie to its revisionist claims of Jewish history.  Once upon a time things which were said in Yiddish in Bene Beraq stayed in Bene Beraq.  Now they get spilled over the airwaves in Hebrew and English.
Once upon a time folks like Rav Avi Shafran could smile and tell us the official line about how Chareidim love all Jews and that Chareidi communities are models of tolerance and religious perfection.   Now we on the outside know that they are just like anyone else, even worse sometimes because whereas other communities have bad traits Chareidi leaders often take those traits and elevate them to the status of halacha l'Moshe miSinai.  If a Frenchman is arrogant, well he's just being French and doesn't know better.  When a Chareidi is arrogant he insists he is performing a mitzvah!  It sometimes seems like it is the official Chareidi position to be dismissive and insulting when interacting with the outside world while being outraged when the tables are turned.  Some of them seem to believe they have a right from Heaven to do whatever they want combined with an immunity to reciprocity and they cannot comprehend why the outside world doesn't get it.
Consider Rav Yonasan Rosenblum's latest piece for Cross Currents.  Now one must admit Rav Rosenblum is called on to perform many thankless tasks.  No matter how outrageous a Chareidi action might have been he has to defend it in some ways.  His latest task, naturally, is justifying why Chareidim are entitled to not serve in Israel's army while receiving benefits from the State.  And if you think he's starting out by defusing one of the most idiotic arguments Chareidim make:

“More and more Israelis are asking themselves whether it’s fair that young men like Yochanan Plessner [who served in an elite combat division] should go off at the age of eighteen, risk their lives, endure great hardship, in order to defend us – all of us – while at the same time eighteen year old yeshiva students are exempted from that burden. Rabbi Rosenblum, is that fair?”
I have heard chareidi debaters counter this argument: Well, is it fair that we have to do all the Torah learning for the country?

well, he's not.  Instead of admitting what we all know, that the claim that Chareidim do all the Torah learning for Israel is incorrect and outrageously arrogant he goes in a different tack.  Yes, it's true but it's not what the Chareidi leadership should be telling people because, poor benighted am ha'aretzim that we are, we simply wouldn't get it.
As radical as it sounds one wonders if there is any further point to discussion with the Chareidi leadership.  Perhaps Yair Lapid is feared and villified not because he represents a secular attack on Torah but because his first major speech post-election was to educated Chareidi professionals, that segment of the community that has tasted what the outside world has to offer without compromising on their lifestyle and beliefs, the very segment that would respond to their leaderships clarion call to return to the ghetto with a resounding "No thank you".  Perhaps it's time to talk to the Chareidim themselves and remind them that their leadership is condemning many of them to lives of poverty and ignorance and that they can do better while remaining stalwart in their observance of Torah.