Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Justified Paranoia

Murphy's Law teaches us that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean everyone isn't out to get out.
Sometimes I get paranoid.  It's relatively easy in today's world as Jew hatred seems to increase and appear on every corner.  The danger is to let the fear that the world's most irrational hatred is growing turn into a fear of Jew hatred even when it isn't present.  Hence the kneejerk reaction to Bnai Brith announcing yet another act of anti-Semitism since most of the time it's a trumped up charge.
Such  was my feeling regarding Medecins san Fronteires (Doctors Without Borders).  For years I've known about what they do but not about their politics.  I knew they didn't have much direct involvement with Israel because, B"H, the Israelis can look after their own and don't need their help.  But whenever I'd see a table of theirs at a conference I'd shy away from going to close.  Something told me that there was a problem even though I had no evidence of it.  Maybe it was the UNICEF experience but something in my head equated "internaional do-gooders" with Jew hatred.
And it turns out I was right:
When it comes to Israel, MSF seems to have fallen on its head.
For despite its virtuous profile, and its professed impartiality free of a political agenda, the group has a decidedly dubious track-record vis-à-vis the Jewish state.
The latest example of this was on display in recent weeks in a remote part of Africa, when a team of five Israeli specialists flew to the Congolese city of Uvira to treat 50 villagers who had been severely burned in a devastating fire that claimed more than 230 lives. Working around the clock, they treated the wounded, trained Congolese doctors in performing skin grafts and donated a ton of medical equipment to local medical facilities.
And yet, incredibly enough, these angels of compassion received a distinctly cold reception from MSF volunteers working in the area, who seemed to go out of their way to demonstrate their displeasure at having to work in the vicinity of Israelis.
As Haaretz reported (July 18), the Israeli medical staff “got the distinct impression that the volunteers did not wish to be around them.”
The treatment meted out to the Israelis was such that it left Dr. Eyal Winkler, deputy director of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Sheba Medical Center, in a state of disbelief. “This is the reality today,” he said. “Doctors from international aid organizations treat a delegation of volunteer Israeli doctors to Congo as though we were occupiers.”
I work in a multicultural medical setting.  I routinely interact with people from all over the world including hijab-wearing women and people from Israel who don't consider themselves Israelis.  I have never, to my knowledge or recollection, had a difficulty with any of them.  After all, we share a common goal - the optimal treatment of our patients.  Our politics might differ but that doesn't matter when we're working. 
I think it's a betrayal of one's medical training and ethics to allow personal feelings to interfere with cooperation in a professional setting.  It's a selfish act that could compromise a patient's life which is clearly unacceptable.  What a shame that an organization as noble as MSF cannot rise above such pettiness.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Holocaust and Meaning

Rejewvenator, who appears far too infrequently, has recently reappeared with a couple of posts tying Tisha B'Av to the Holocaust.  This is, after all, the time of year that frum people remember the horrors of the Holocaust alongside the other tragedies of Jewish history.  It's also the time of year that we find ourselves set apart from the rest of our brethren who, for lack of a better word, celebrate Yom HaShoah after Pesach and seem to not recall any of the other misfortunes that have struck us through the centuries.
In his post he notes that there are two approaches as to the appropriateness of creating a Yom HaShoah in the first place and the controvery of placing it in Nissan.  While I agreeed with much of his post, I could add a few things.
The first is regarding the placement of Yom HaShoah in Nissan.  This is problematic for frum Jews for two reasons.  One is that Nissan is supposed to a joyous month, therefore there are restrictions on public acts of mourning.  On the other hand, there are certain restrictions due to the Omer period.  As a result, a ceremony celebrating the Holocaust that involves choirs and live singing manages to fall afoul of both those things.
Of all the people who voted for Yom haShoah to be in Nissan, how many were aware that the Omer exists? How many were aware that Nissan is supposed to be a month in which overt mourning other than Omer-related customs are avoided? And of those who did know, how many simply didn’t care because they thought it was a good idea to tie Yom haShoah to the Warsaw ghetto uprising?

As controversial as this may sound, they wanted it this way because, for them, the Holocaust was this one-off, one-time inexplicable event. They needed to see it this way because the alternative, that this is part of Jewish history, that there might have been a greater reason why we were targeted, that this is all tied into the helplessness of our nation in Golus, is not something they want to think about. They have constructed a history in which Jews were an ethnic group of Europeans that were inexplicable separated out for destruction in a completely irrational manner.  The idea that we were actually a foreign nation, that a Jew living in Poland was not a Jewish Pole but a Jew living amongst Poles is not a concept they wish to consider.  That’s why so many people, when faced with someone trying to explain the Holocaust scream “No you can’t! There are no reasons! It was just too horrible to explain!” 
Bull faeces. A million Jews were slaughtered when the Second Temple was destroyed, a third of the Jewish population of the world at the time which is the same percentage as the Holocaust yet we have had no trouble applying religious thinking to that horror along with multiple explanations. How many thousands of Jews died in the Crusades? How many tens of thousands or more under Chielmnicki? Or in Muhammad’s campaign of Jewish extermination? We have no trouble saying “Well maybe this was a factor” or other analyses but when it comes to the Holocaust suddenly we’re mute?
I can offer two explanations why. One is because we are still too close to events. The emotions are still too raw. I think this is quite fair. How we look at the Holocaust in the context of Jewish history 50-100 years from now will be far more dispassionate because the survivors will be all gone and with them the personal element. Two, because accepting the Holocaust as part of Jewish history means accepting the continuum of Jewish history all the way back to the Second Temple. It means a connection on religious grounds and an acceptance that it is the religious element that has sustained Judaism and caused it to survive until this day. Non-religious Jews who feel no connection to Torah often don’t want to hear this because it contradicts the illusion of a Judaism without religion that has become so popular in North America. If we look at the Holocaust from a religious perspective, then we have to draw moral conclusions and some of them aren’t so politically correct. The only way to avoid this is to shout down anyone who tries.
This is what makes Tisha B'Av so important as an annual event.  There are those who use each year's commemoration to sound off about how we don't really want a Third Temple and that wanting a Temple and Davidic monarchy is foolish because look how corrupt and bloody the last two attempts were.
But wanting the Temple is not the point.  Again, context and history are important.  The Temple wasn't destroyed because of Babylonian or Roman imperial desires.  It was destroyed because the monarchy was corrupt and society was bloodied.  The destruction was the effect but the cause was the crime that needs to be corrected.  Chazal tell us the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam and until we correct that sin we remain in exile.  The lack of a Third Temple shows that we have not corrected it and the reason we so desire to see it built is because its existence will be the final proof that we have eliminated this terrible evil from our nation.  Tisha B'Av therefore reminds us that everything that has happened in the last 2000 years has been tied into our unwillingness to change and an annual accusation against our stubborness and insistence on repeating the mistakes we've made over and over again. 
There are no moral lessons for our nation in Yom HaShoah, just an bewildered "How could this have happened?" and a dogmatic "Never again!" (unless you're from Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, etc)  Tisha B'Av's message is the exact opposite: "This happened because of sinas chinam" and a dogmatic "Unless we each of us change, it will happen again!"
Halevi we would listen to that message and let it affect us.

The Ideal Is Not The Ideal

"And it came to pass when ye heard the voice of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain did burn with fire, that ye came near to me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders.  And ye said: 'Behold, the Lord our God hath shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire.  We have seen this day that God doth speak with man and he liveth.  Now therefore why should be die?  For this great fire will consume us if we heard the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die." (Devarim 5:20-21)

Most of us are familiar with Rashi's take on this statement by Bnei Yisrael right after God has told them the Aseres HaDibros.  The impression Rashi brings is that Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, disagreed with this request.  Given the chance to hear the laws of God directly from Him as opposed to through an intermediary, our ancestors should have picked the former.  By choosing to use Moshe Rabeinu has a go-between implied that they desired a mesaure of distance from God, something he did not think favourably of.
However, the Malbim sees this request in a completely different light.  I've noted before that there is an intrinsic problem with God's statement to Moshe back in Shemos: "No man can see Me and live".  Superficially it makes sense that God's overwhelming presence would wipe out a frail physical being but on the other hand, He's God.  He can certainly adjust things to all a human being to survive the encounter.  However I noted that not living doesn't mean a physical death per se but rather an existential one.  A person who sees the glory of God would lose his free will.  After all, after such an experience there could be no more doubt in a person's heart.  How could he sin?  How could he do anything other than spend every waking minute serving God directly to the exclusion of all else?
But if there is something that differentiates man from beasts (and Montreal Canadiens fans) it's the concept of free will.  Unique amongst the animals, we can distinguish between good and evil and make choices, both proper and improper ones.  Free will is what makes us human, as it were.  Without it we cease to be men and become angels trapped in physical bodies.  In other words, a man cannot see God and live because, upon seeing Him, he can no longer be considered a man.
The Malbim goes with this idea here and uses the next verse, the one in which God praises them for their request, as proof that this is an important concept.  He recalls Chazal stating that when the Ten Commandments were given our ancestors rose to the level of angels.  The Angel of Death lost his power over them and their yezter horo was destroyed. 
Again, on the surface this may sound like a great thing.  Certainly the pious of our nation spend their entire lives trying to reach that level.  But is that what God really wants?
It would appear that the anwer is no.  In fact what God wants is human beings, with all their frailties and temptations, to serve Him in this world, not earthbound angels.  Had our ancestors remained at their exalted level then the point of creation, the forming of a nation in this world to serve God through the performance of his mitzvos would have been thwarted.  It was therefore necessary for Bnei Yisrael to retreat from that level which they did by asking to have Moshe Rabeinu act as an intermediary.
This is why God praises their request, because they sought to fulfill His will in this world in the manner which He showed preference.  Therefore it was a positive thing worthy of praise.

Monday, 19 July 2010

And The Nausea Just Rises

It one thing to feel bad for someone.  One can have a friend who has done wrong and is being punished, and feel bad for him.  "Oh, it's too bad Fishel had to go to jail, nebich."  It's a normal human feeling and very understandable.
It's quite another to maintain a denial of reality, one so strong as to make it seem as if the person is living in an alternative universe where facts are completely different from this one.
Here's what we know: Sholom Rubashkin was convicted on multiple counts of fraud and theft.  He was not convincted on illegal and underage charges but only because while it was evident that the crimes occured there was not enough proof that he was directly responsible.
If his name was Salvatore Rubellez, we'd all be shaking our heads in disgust at his behaviour.  The Chareidi crowd would no doubt be pointing out that Torah-true behaviour forbids such actions and isn't great we have this superior set of ethics.
If his name was Sol Rubashkin and he davened at Temple Beth Am twice a year and had no other real contact with Judaism, the Chareidi crowd would be pointing out that Torah-true behaviour forbids such actions and isn't it too bad he isn't Orthodox because then he wouldn't have done such things.
If his name was Shalom Rubashkin and he davened in a Modern Orthodox shul while wearing a small suede kippah, the Chareidi crowd would be pointing out that Torah-true behaviour is limited to their community as evidenced by this MO guy getting into so much trouble.
But his name is Sholom Rubashkin and he wears a black hat.  As a result he's committed no crimes becauyse no valid beis din assessed him and he's a victim of baseless persecution, a candidate for pidyon shevuyim and all such other nonsense.
As Pinchas Lipscutz reports, live from that alternative universe:
It is a movement of genuine achdus, a movement fostering nesius ol im chaveireinu, a movement of dikduk b’mitzvos. This is a movement of strengthening emunah and bitachon, a movement which we hope and pray is being mekareiv the geulah.

Really?  What dikduk b'mitzvos are we looking at?  Not any relevant to the laws of business practice.  How about honesty in testimony to a court of law?  Not that either it seem.  Emunah  and bitachon would mean doing one's work honestly and accepting whatever comes because of a reliance in the Ribono shel Olam.  Nope, that didn't have here either.
Just last week, a woman called me and related an incident involving her son at Camp Silver Lake. With the recent hot temperatures, campers playing ball wished to take off their tzitzis in order to be a bit cooler. “How can you remove your tzitzis,” this woman’s son asked his friends, “when Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin is moser nefesh to wear his tzitzis?”

How exactly is Rubashkin engaging in mesirus nefesh?  His inability to wear tzitzis has nothing to do with anti-Jewish sentiment.  No prison guard is looking at him and saying "Jew!  Take off your tzitzis!  We don't want you observing your commandments here!"  They're saying "Dude, there's a standard uniform everyone has to wear, no exceptions including you!"  It's quite a different thing, isn't it?
That is the way Sholom Mordechai was brought up: gornit far zich, altz far Torah.
Did Rubashkin actually live that way?  His wife's custom sheitl would seem to suggest other
A good man was targeted for prosecution by the U.S. Government, who wasted millions of our tax dollars on an unwarranted two-year persecution against Sholom Mordechai, culminating in a sentence of 27 years.
Ah yes, the old "They're out to get us!" cries of anti-Semitic persecution.  When it was Cossack peasants screaming "Death to the Jews" I could believe it.  But in the US there is a rule of law.  Documented laws, dozens of them, were broken by Rubashkin but Lipshutz seems to have missed that.  As per the boy who cried wolf, he's playing a dangerous game.  If we scream "anti-Semitism" every time some corrupt Jew breaks the law, who will believe us when it really is a case of Jew-hatred?
It is unquestionably a matter of public record that the Rubashkins were to be boycotted from the business as per government order. The government’s denial of it, and the judge’s confirmation of this lie in the face of so much overwhelming evidence, is an unspeakable outrage
Again, a selective and distorted reporting of the facts.  The bottom line is that the judge wants no one who was involved with commiting the crimes that got Argiprocessors into trouble involved with the business' new owners.  Letting the foxes run the chicken coop is something most civilized societies understand to be a bad practice.
We are law-abiding citizens. We are honest and G-d-fearing people.
By whose law?  Not that of the United States and, if I understand halacha correctly (which I guess I don't) not God's law either.  So whose?
You see, this little boy hasn’t been able to kiss his Totty, or have his Totty kiss him, since November, when his Totty was ripped away from him and thrown into jail. When they see Sholom Mordechai during their half-hour visit, Uziel’s father is kept behind a glass panel, because he is so “dangerous.”

Because every other prisoner has, by regulation, to remain behind the glass panel but not Rubashkin.  He's special, he's God-fearing so he should be an exception to the rules.  So the arrogance that caused this chilul Hashem in the first place rolls along without missing a beat.  The little boy in question can't kiss his Totty not because of the "evil" United States justice system but because his father decided that emunah and bitachon mean lying and cheating.  Where should the blame be place?

Sunday, 18 July 2010

What Do They Actually Know?

Over the last few months one trigger for the ongoing Chareidi rioting in Israel has been grave desecration.  First it was over a group of non-Jewish graves in Ashkelon, now it's over another non-Jewish bunch in Yafo.  Not that their non-Jewish nature seems to matter.  The askanim running the show have decided that they're Jewish despite evidence to the contrary and have created social instability to fight against the perceived desecration they say is occuring.
Now the "gedolei Yisrael" have entered the fray with a letter supporting the askanim and their riotous efforts:
“We were deeply shocked to hear about the terrible news, which rends the heart of every Jew, regarding the desecration and disruption of the age-old Jewish graves at the ancient cemetery in the city of Yaffo, near the ancient cemetery where gedolei Yisroel waged a stiff battle 15 years ago to prevent its desecration. Talmidei chachomim who toil in Torah study are kept from protesting at the site using brutal means and thrown into jail. Woe are we that this has befallen in our day and age, and woe are the ears that hear of such events.
“As is well known, in past times in the bitter and difficult diasporas, when the enemies of the Jewish people imposed decrees upon us, the entire nation was deeply disturbed and stood unflinchingly, laying forth their prayers and supplications to Our Father in Heaven to cancel the decree. Meanwhile, in our generation, due to our many sins, certain figures have audaciously and unthinkingly desecrated these graves, Rachmono litzlan.”
Maranan verabbonon are warning the public not to lend a hand to this grave transgression in any way. “Therefore, we hereby give notice that according to the Torah this is absolutely forbidden, and nobody may lay a hand on this cemetery to excavate or remove bones. And no Jew is permitted to lend a hand or assist in this grave transgression in any manner.
“And we express our dismay and forceful objection to this terrible crime.”
One wonders: what do these Rabbonim know?  As I've noted before, we often assume that all folks nowadays have access to unlimited sources of news from all points of view.  When it comes to the leadership of the Chareidi community this is completely untrue.  These great scholars seem to be completely reliant on their askanim for news of the outside world.
Do they know these graves have been examined and found to be non-Jewish?  Do they know the effects the ongoing rioting is having on people's image of the Torah-observant community?  Or have they simply been told "Oh those terrible chilonim are digging up Jewish graves and can't you say something to protest"?
And if that's how things operate, how reliable can any of their statements (outside of halachic p'sak) be?

Flash In The Pan

Sometimes people can make ideas sound great.  Rabbi Avi Weiss seems especially gifted at that, especially given his recent success in creating a furor in the Torah-observant world over what title to give his pet project, Sarah Hurwitz.  At first she was a Maharat, then she was going to be a Rabbah but when told by the RCA that he couldn't do that and call himself Orthodox, he slowly backed away and instead announced that Maharat means female Rabbi instead.
His next idea was to give Hurwitz her own Yeshiva where she could train like-minded women in the rabbinic arts.  Again, an all-woman yeshiva for training women rabbis.  Sounds amazingly ground-breaking.
And then there's the facts on the ground. The funding is limited (apparently the Jewish Meditation Center is using some of the money), the yeshiva occupies a single classroom and there's a total of four students. 
Not exactly the Mir Yeshivah.
After all the kerfuffle, one must remember to keep this whole controversy in perspective.  Within the world of Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Weiss occupies a very small place.  Outside of Riverdale, his YCT and now Yeshivat Maharat, his presence is pretty much minimal with a lack of influence to match.  Ultimately his dream of creating an egalitarian Orthodoxy will send him spinning into the arms of the Union of Traditional Judiasm that he now has far more in common with than his fellow Modern Orthodox.  Sara Hurwitz and her students will no doubt follow while insisting that they are truly Orthodox.
It is simply not worth losing sleep over.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Frustration of Maintenance

Growing up I was never the most physically active boy around.  When asked to identify the animal I most resembled, "sloth" frequently got mentioned.  Not for me was the endless running of laps in gym class.  Although I enjoyed bicycling it was strictly for the fresh air and scenery.  My best events were lifting the 1 kg bag of chocolate chip cookies and the 2 kg sour cream 'n' onion chips. 
There wer, of course, bursts of exercise in there somewhere.  While working at a part time job during undergrad one of my bosses looked at my stomach one day and asked when I was due.  That got me to the university gym for a couple of months.  Then there was the 7 week trip to Israel between 2nd and 3rd year medical school where I diligently gained 2 lbs a week.  When I developed the photos after returning home, the site of my new second chin again briefly shocked me into action and I took up jogging for a couple of months until the autumn weather turned cool.  But otherwise, it was my picture next to the word "sedentary" in the dictionary.
Until about 8 years ago when I went into a clothing store with my father to look for a new pair of pants.  A salesman approached me and asked what size I was.  Upon telling him, my father looked at my waistline, then back to the salesman and shook his head.  "Not anymore.  He's the next size up."
And something inside me snapped. 
It took a few years to make it a completely regular thing but eventually I got into a routine, and one I figured out that downing a litre of Powerade right after running for an hour just replenished the calories I'd burned off and I switched to water, the pounds started melting off.  Finally last year I reached my goal weight and took great pride in being able to drop a couple of belt sizes along the way. 
But here's the problem.  Whoever said one's body is a temple was full of it.
After all, you build a temple, you're done. Yeah, there's the occasional sweeping and minor fixup jobs but more or less the structure remains intact without much effort.
The human body, on the other hand, doesn't act like that.  It's amazing how taking two weeks off from a regular exercise routine causes you to feel like you're starting from scratch when you go back.  It's also amazing how it takes 3-4 weeks of intense activity to drop a pound of fat but only one large pizza with double cheese to put it back on.  Proof of God's sense of humour, I suppose.
So here I am, trapped on the gerbil wheel.  I'm quite happy with how I look and feel and, as a physician I know that I'm benefiting myself through my continued activity.  But as a goal-directed person, I'd like to reach the goal and move on.  That's not likely to happen.
Oh well.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Inconsistency = Idiocy

Hatred, Chazal tell us, disturbs the natural order.  Hatred will cause a person to champion causes he rationally would never support in order to press his agenda against his enemy.  An excellent example is the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid who recently marched in Toronto's Pride Parade with a vehemently anti-Israel float.  Never mind that Israel is the only country in the region where they can express their lifestyle choice without fear of repression, when they can be openly gay and still members of society while the people they were showing support for would kill them if given half the chance.  They hate Jews and Israel and they'll support potential Jew killers if if those thugs would turn on them too.
Another far more worrisome example is the Israeli left.  Within Israel they stand for equal rights for all citizens, an end to any discrimination and the removal of religion - well maybe just Judaism - from the public domain in order to create an enlightened secular state to the benefit of all its citizens.  And their vision for the Arabs living in Yehudah, Shomron, and 'Aza? 
Well that would be a desire for the establishment of state in which citizenship, residency rights and even right of entry would be restriced based on ethnic (Arab) and religious (no Jews allowed) grounds.  That state would be run pretty much according to religious law with secuarlism banished from sight.  Women would be permanent second class citizens and homosexuals would be able to express their choices under pain of execution.
Pretty much the opposite of what they believe Israel should exemplify.  As this article from Ynet notes, even some in the so-called peace (better termed national suicide) camp have started to pick up on this inconsistency:
A leftist protest was being held in Sheikh Jarrah, and as it turned out I was invited too. A friend of a friend even sent a Facebook invitation. Among the many exclamation marks, I couldn’t help but notice a very certain demand presented to participants – or more accurately, female participants: “When choosing your attire for the protest, please take cultural differences into account.” Amazing, isn’t it?

As one who spent most of his years among the religious sector, I’ve been equipped with top-notch detectors aimed at spotting authoritative chauvinism dressed up as “modesty.” These detectors are mostly focused on close attention to the term “cultural differences.”
I will translate this term to simple language for those who have trouble doing it themselves. Protest organizers asked female participants to cover themselves up, as is customary in chauvinistic societies. The society on whose behalf they fight oppresses women and is hierarchical and violent. It’s a society that views women as an object that belongs to men, and sees honor killings of women as a technological zenith.
As noted, since women are objects that belong to men, they are faced with constraints. The dress code is one of them, and it is being referred to as “cultural differences.”
Members of the liberal leftist camp do not even imagine that something is wrong here. They do not see the great dissonance between their desire to put their lives on the line to fight Jews from moving into Sheikh Jarrah, coupled with their silence in the face of the murder of women and persecution of homosexuals. The opposite is true – they happen to easily go with the flow in respect to the “modesty” rules and the oppression.
The abovementioned example is not only limited to the well-renowned leftist hypocrisy. The members of various religions, cults, and ideologies sometimes firmly act against their own ideals. And so, the enlightened and equality-loving Left validates Arab society’s chauvinistic patriarchy towards women. This is precisely how some haredim violate the “do not do unto others” decree when they order thousands of their followers to publicly humiliate Sephardic girls.
So why is this happening? Because such “ideologists” do not have a worthy purpose. And living without purpose can be very difficult – just ask Viktor Frankl. The ideals which these ideologies boast of cannot fill the human void that seeks meaning. The values of humanism and democracy for some leftists or the Torah for some haredim cannot provide purpose, despite the bombastic pretensions. So they invent something.
At the end of the day, all these groups come together for some fascinating study sessions with riot police. These police forces, which as we know make up the academic elite of the humanities, are required to provide a purpose for the life of the abovementioned miserable souls; to make the unbearable lightness of being go away with their bats; to provide therapy via tear gas; to grant meaningful blows to the lives of these listless protestors.
The same people who scream about letting women become rabbis and how "archaic" Torah Judaism is will opine about the nobility and relevance of Islam and demand respect for the cultural eccentricities such as the niqab or the burka
These people are not simply inconsistent.  They are full of hatred, one which leads them to ally themselves with their worst enemies in order to destroy their perceived one.  They are not people that can be reasoned with any more than Neturei karta thugs and deserve to be treated with the same disdain and disgust.  Perhaps at some point they'll recognize the error of their thinking, but that's not where the smart money is.

All Halacha Is Local

There are two well-known disputes between HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, and HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt"l that demonstrate a point I think is important in understanding how halacha and the question-answer part of it is supposed to work.
The first case involves that of a shomer mitzvos doctor being on call at home on Shabbos and being called into the hospital for a pikuach nefesh case.  According to RMF, not only is he allowed to drive himself to the hospital but after completing the case he can drive himself home even if it's still Shabbos.  RMF's concern is that if the physician knows that he's going to be trapped at the hospital he will have a negative attitude towards involving himself in future such cases.  In order to avoid this, he extends the heter of driving to the return journey.
RSZ has some problems with this.  First of all, what kind of physician says "I could go to the hospital and save a life but it's such a bother getting stuck there so I won't"?  If you're on call, you're on call!  In addition, RSZ feels that a sense of professionalism would overcome any reluctance.  Finally, he notes there are no precendents in halacha where a person is allowed to void a mitzvah because he was previously in a connected situation that allowed him to.  Therefore he forbids the doctor from driving home after the patient's care is completed.
The second case involves trading call.  If an observant physician is placed on call on Shabbos and tries to switch out, can he trade with a non-observant Jew?  RMF says that he can because if the non-observant physician has the day off he will spend the entire time not observing Shabbos.  While in the hospital, however, he will have an opportunity to participate in cases of pikuach nefesh so for those short times he will at least not be desecrating Shabbos.  RSZ once again disagrees by noting that while the non-observant physician might be spending some time during the day while Shabbos is put on hold because of a life-threatening condition, he will not have the kavannah during that time that he is violating Shabbos at that moment because of the threat to life.  For him it's just another shift on call.
Two things occur to me out of these two issues.  The first is the absolute respect and regard poskim of the stature of RMF and RSZ had for each other.  In the introduction to his teshuvah disagreeing with RMF regarding the driving issue, RSZ makes it very clear that he recognizes RMF's huge stature and even notes that he called RMF to ask permission to publish the teshuvah before going ahead with it.  I wonder how much something like that happens today.
The second is the more substantive.  What is the essential reason for the difference in opinion between RMF and RSZ?  In the first case, one can suggest that the nature of the surrounding society is what led to the differing answers.  In North America, a physician called to the hospital for a case of life-threatening illness faces a bleak time after the patient has been cared for.  Let's face it, hospitals are not exciting places to hang around in unless you're actually working (and even then there are times...).  It's even worse on Shabbos since one cannot simply go to the doctor's lounge and watch television or surf the internet.  Other than endless pacing of the halls or dredging up some current journals, there is nothing to do.  Then there's the companionship.  In a gentile society, the Shabbos observant Jew is totally alone on Shabbos with no one around who understands the special meaning or environment of the day.
However, Israel's social setting is completely different.  Most hospitals have shuls in which seforim can be found.  If not there, within a block or two there will undoubtedly be a beis medrash of some kind.  Other observant Jews will be at hand as well making such obligations as seudas shlishis less of a problem.
It would therefore seem that RMF paskened from the position of American society, recognizing the huge tirchah going to a hospital on Shabbos represented despite understanding the concept of professional responsibility.  However, for RSZ these social issues simply did not exist and therefore his emphasis was on other issues.
In the second case, one can again look at the milieu each posek lived in and see how it influenced their views.  In North America, the average non-observant Jew knows very little about Judaism, let along Shabbos.  Yes, there is a small group of traditional folks that do know some things but the vast majority of our non-observant brethren know virtually nothing save that there's a problem with eating bacon and that Pesach means constipation after the seder.  As a result, the average non-observant physician does not have either a positive or negative kavannah when it comes to activities on Shabbos.  He simply doesn't have any kavannah because it never occurs to him that there is something special about the day that influences all his actions. 
In Israel, the situation is quite different.  Even though the educational system is not what it used to be, there is still a greater amount of Yiddishkeit that is transmitted in the school system.  There is also the cultural difference.  Chilonim are far more likely to interact with Chareidim and Dati Leumi folks than non-observant North American Jews with their local Orthodox.  While 85% of Israeli Jews are not shomer mitzvos, studies show that the vast majority of them have a weekly Shabbos dinner and light candles for the occasion.  The average Israeli Jews knows what Shabbos is.  When he's working in the hospital he knows it isn't just another day and that there are folks out there who have strong opinions as to what is and isn't allowed before nightfall.  Therefore he has a kavannah when it comes to what he's doing at any given time.
In both cases one can therefore suggest that RMF and RSZ came to different conclusions in their respective teshuvos based partly on the societies they lived in and their understand of local folk.
The point of this analysis is that all halacha is local.  Nowadays many forget that.  We get frequent pronouncements such as "Rav Eliashiv said X is forbidden" or "Rav Wosner says you're not allowed to do X" and the expectation that accompanies those pronouncements is that since a "gadol" said it, it's now the iron-clad halacha incumbent on all Jews everywhere, regardless of situation, circumstance or affiliation.
This, however, is a breach of the proper halachic process.  The Chazal repeatedly note the uniqueness of every individual in terms of his relationship to Torah and the Ribono shel olam.  Every person interacts in a way that is special and individual to him.  A blanket psak violates this process by forcing a standard approach in place of the individual one.
This is the difference between "then" and "now.  It is generally accepted that North American doctors follow the psak of RMF when it comes to driving home from the hospital and switching call with a non-observant physician.  Israeli doctors, on the other hand, follow the psak of RSZ.  Both are acting correctly because RMF's position is the halachic answer best suited for North America and the same is true for RSZ and his position.  The modern alternative would be "Rabbi X says you can only do Y" and expect that physicians across the world accept a monolithic, one-tier answer.
Therefore it is important to remember that halacha is complex, that factors that might not even be obvious can play a huge role and that the only valid psak is the one that shows that the posek understands not only the shailoh but the shoel and his special individuality.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Let's Make Noise

With all the crap and mundanity that fills the blogosphere, it's hard to remember sometimes that valuable pearls can be posted as well.  HonestlyFrum's latest piece on Gilad Shalit raises an important point worth repeating over and over:
Last week marked the 4th year that Gilad Shalit has been held captive by our enemy oppressors. Not a day goes by when Gilad is not in our tephilos and thoughts. However where is the outrage from the Jewish community? A few parents go to jail for breaking the law and keeping their kids segregated in school and the so called geldolei harrabonim call for protests and riots and a hundred thousand charedim take to the streets. Rubashkin is looking at a long prison term and in America and tehillim rallies are called as well as conference calls and speeches. Yet Gilad Shalit sits alone in a prison cell somewhere and there are no mass tehillim gatherings or rallies. There are no conference calls or protests. Time and again the international court has called for his release and time and again Hamas and the Arabs ignore the calls and defy the requests and we sit back silently. Before President Bush left office R' Pesach Lerner called on everyone to email and fax the white house to try and secure the release of a spy and traitor to the country, yet I have not heard one call from the National Counsel to pressure the White House on Gilad Shalit's behalf.
Why is there this double standard? On the one hand the community is called to go all out for charedi criminals and law breakers yet when it comes to Gilad Shalit only a handfull of people turn out in the streets of Israel on his behalf.
Would there be this much apathy if he wore a hat?
Let's review, shall we?  In the last year the Agudah, the Gedolim and the Chareidi public has rallied for the following causes:
1) To save a convicted cop-killer from death row
2) To save a convicted tax fraud with a track record of cruelty to workers and animals
3) To defend Ashenazi racists who define being Sephardi as being religiously inferior
These are the great challenges our brethren to the right have taken upon themselves.  However, for a religious (but non-Chareidi) soldier who was involved in the mitzvah of defending Eretz Yisrael and now fulfills the criteria for pidyon sh'vuyim?  Not a peep.  Not a care.
Here's my suggestion.  I am going to provide some links to relevant posts on Cross-Currents.  Go and leave a simple comment on each one:  Why isn't Gilad Shalit as worthy of your attention?  Given  their strict "We won't post any comment that doesn't agree with us" policy it's doubtful we'll see the results of our efforts on our screens but perhaps a message will be sent.
An Elegant Afterword on Emmanuel
Ethnic Prejudice Neither Ethnic Nor Prejudice
Agudath Yisrael Reacts to Rubashkin Sentencing

Sunday, 4 July 2010

A Theoretical Question

While attending a conference on Medical Halacha is both enjoyable and educating, it also brings up questions that might not be the most practical.  Specifically:
Given all the halachic uncertainty around artificial insemination and genetic transfer as it affects lineage, inheritance, etc., there is an opinion that a being follows the species origin of the uterus it came out of.  In other words, if a sheep gives birth to a baby that looks like a pig, that baby is still considered kosher because it is technically a sheep.
Now, if one takes a fertilized sheep ovum, removes the DNA and replaces it with DNA from a human fertilized ovum and then replants it into the sheep's uterus, the subsequent progeny (assuming a successful pregnancy) might look and act like a human baby but according to the aforementioned opinion it would be considered a sheep.  As a result, this baby could, in theory, serve as the entree at its own Pidyon HaBen!
Here's the question: If this occurs, does the genetic human father of the entree now have an obligation of goel hadam against the shochet?  And if he participates in the seudas mitzvah, does that affect his obligation?