Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Rejecting A Version of the "Torah Lifestyle"

Even as condemnation of the zealotry in Israel grows, so too does the sideways justification by some of elements of this rabble.  After months of accelerating hatred, violence and public chilul HaShem, the leaders of the Chareidi world and their PR bagmen, a group that can never be accused of indecent haste when it comes to noting deficits in their own community, have finally started to speak out on behalf of their followers and against the fascist mobs that would seek to refine Judiams as Talibanism with peyos
Taken superficially their words are quiet heartening.  Consider Rav Yitzchok Aderlstein's recently published piece which brims with anger against those who would distort the Torah lifestyle he clearly and passionately sees as a force for good into one of unadulterated hate:
To anyone not familiar with the history and dynamics of the charedi communities of Israel – and the century-and-a-half-long kulturkampf that created it, there is nothing in the pictures coming from Israel to differentiate the mobs in Beit Shemesh from those in Pakistan or Iraq. No amount of casuistry will put a dent in the plain truth: the behavior of many people who are seen as frum is a massive chilul Hashem of epic proportions.
Rabbinic and communal organizations are readying statements denouncing the barbarians at the gates of Beit Shemesh. This is necessary and good. It is probably not good enough. The extremists are not the equivalent of the poor, semi-literate unwashed masses in the Muslim suburbs of Paris. They were the recipients of many years of Torah chinuch. They studied, to some degree, the same seforim as the rest of us.
Even after we protest, the world will want to know what makes us more authentic than them. Why are they not the “real” Jews, and we are the reformers? How do we demonstrate that they are the imposters, that their understanding of Yiddishkeit is foreign to its genuine spirit? It is simply insufficient to say that we are right and they are wrong, or that our rabbis and leaders are greater than theirs. We dare not leave the very definition of Yiddishkeit to a he says, she says competition.
It is not enough to unequivocally denounce them. We must explain to the world – and fully and confidently to ourselves – why the extremists are a foreign, sickly weed, not another shitah among many. Where do we find within our mesorah the confidence to see these people as outside of it? We must be able to point not just to a collection of their terrible actions, but to fundamental themes in their lifestyle that make them different – and that we can package simply and reinforce in our children and students.
For those who were offended by the strident tone of  his recent piece condemning Morthodoxy this article is a definite wake-up call.  While he was certainly emotional when it came to describing what he didn't like about "Open Orthodoxy" he was careful to emphasize the good intentions of those involved in that community despite his strong disagreement with their twisting of the halachic process.  He is not so generous here with the chayos who are rampaging across the sacred ground of Israel and pretending to be its most fervent defenders.
There are, of course, some small problems with the article.  Using the term "Chareidi Spring" in the title in one example.  The Arab Spring started when ordinary citizens in Arab countries, tired of their permanent states of emergency and dictatorship, rose up in protest with the intention of changing their entire society. 
By contrast, there is no Chareidi spring.  There are no Chareidi leaders or writers who will publicly admit that the community is totally on the wrong track, that the leaders are heading the community bus to the edge of a cliff and that massive change is necessary.
In fact, as if to prove this point, a statement attributed to Rav Eliashiv, shlit"a, seems to have been timed to come out at the exact moment that it will cause the most provocation.
Far from stating that perhaps some Chareidi elements have gone too far in their rejection of the surrounding society, or from mentioning that spitting on people who are considered "less religious" is a real aveirah , the statement (and I do keep in mind that it is entirely possible Rav Eliashiv had nothing to do with it and that this was published by some fanatics in his name on the mere assumption he would agree with its contents) rejects any "Arab Spring" coming from within the Chareidi community.  Any push from the real world is hatred for Torah, hatred for Torah Jews, etc.
According to Elyashiv, "The secret and foundation of the existence of the world of Torah and a fearful public is in a life of Torah and awe, out of complete segregation from the life and concepts of the secular world of those rebelling against the Torah."
Referring to Israel's academic institutions, the Lithuanian public's leader noted, "We know how just how much the greatest sages of Israel fought against any 'haredi educational institution' intended for such studies and denounced it, especially when they openly declare that the goal of all these courses is to change the spirit and essence of the haredi public and work to instill all kinds of other aspirations, national and educational, which our forefathers never dreamed of." 
Haredi journalist Shlomo Kook, an associate of the Elyashiv family, explained the letter: "The wild incitement in recent days against the haredi public emphasizes and deepens the need to strengthen our home, remind the world of Torah that in every generation one rises up to destroy us – sometimes from the outside and recently, unfortunately, from the inside too, from within the Jewish people.
"The great sages of Israel seek to support us and remind us that the secret of our existence is guard the pure can of oil.
"The fact that people have to make a living and engage in academic studies for livelihood purposes is one thing, and most rabbis allow it in times of need, but in recent years there is a trend of people trying to create a 'revolution'.
"Some people have made it their goal – out of hatred toward Torah – to integrate tens of thousands of yeshiva students in the academy and army in order to disconnect them from the Talmud. Rabbi Elyashiv sees the need to protest this phenomenon."

 The only real protests against the dysfunctional elements of Chareidism are coming from the outside.  The Chareidim, perceived as a monolithic group by outsiders, are the dictatorship demanding a permanent state of emergency.  Tellingly, the young girl who became the symbol of Chareidi hatred for "the other", Na'ama Margolis, is Dati Leumi, not Chareidi.  It is obvious that had she been Chareidi she would have been told by her parents and community leaders to keep quiet and become more tznius so as not to provoke the holy men of Ramat Beit Shemesh. 
However, not everyone seems to have gotten the memo that it's time to stop pretending that the whackjobs in Beit Shemesh and Meah Shearim are simply frum Jews whose love of Torah and mitzvos has so overwhelmed them that they can't help but act like they do in defence of their so-called values.  After an article in which he correctly notes the danger of kana'us, Rav Yonasan Rosenblum then tries to downplay how serious this ongoing phenomenon is to Jews in general, religious Jews in particular, and Chareidi Jews in specific.  First,
he justifies the evolution of Chareidi culture that has led to all this:
THE MORE FREQUENT MANIFESTATIONS of kana'us in Israel has less to do with the spiritual elevation of Eretz Yisrael than with certain historical and sociological factors. Most of the kana'us comes from the community centered in Meah Shearim, which has been waging a hundred year war with Zionism and is in perpetual battle mode.From the pre-State days, Israeli society has been marked by a certain strain of lawlessness and an admiration of those who establish facts on the ground without undue attention to legalities. Violence has often proven effective in various political struggles, and that success has encouraged further resort to violence.Finally, as the Brisker Rav once pointed out to Rabbi Amram Blau, even the fiercest anti-Zionists often act as if they were living in a Jewish state, in which they need not worry about harsh responses such as they would receive in chutz l'aretz. Satmar Chassidim in Williamsburg do not try to impose their standards of modesty on the gentiles with whom they share elevators in high-rise apartment buildings because doing so could prove life-threatening.

He then follows up with another article, this time openly downplaying another facet of this scandal, the growing obsession with banning all public interaction between men and women in as many places in Israel as possible:
THE ISSUE of separate seating on public buses is an unfortunate example of extreme elements, who answer to no rabbinic authority, once again kidnapping the public agenda of the haredi community. There is no place for attempts to impose haredi mores on others.
Yet even here the magnitude of the issue has been grossly exaggerated. With a little more foresight the bus issue could have been avoided entirely. The government should have allowed those who seek a strict separation to run their own private bus lines between haredi neighborhoods. The refusal to countenance private bus services led to the current mess.

Not to be outdone, the two greatest apologists for everything that is wrong in Agudah-land have also weighed in.  Rav Avi Shafran, playing to his strength, does his best to draw attention away from the issue by listing a whole bunch of things that he thinks are the real problems facing the Chareidi community.
Among the spiritual threats facing us are things like the coarsening of the surrounding culture, which is practically unavoidable, and its new invasion-vehicle called the Internet.
Other challenges pound at the door to our souls, too, like the astonishing sea-change in how society has come to view the idea of a marital relationship, capitulating in mere years to a movement that proudly and loudly rejects one of the fundamental merits of human society. This mindset, which has spread even to some ostensibly Orthodox Jews must be countered by each of us individually, as well as communally.
Then there’s what calls itself the “Animal Rights” movement, whose true danger isn’t limited to the threat it poses to legal shechita, but lies in its very credo, the idea that animals have rights. We have obligations toward animals, to be sure. But assigning them “rights” leads to obscenities like a book, “Eternal Treblinka,” that compares factory farming to Nazi concentration camps.
The perverse overvaluing of animal lives swings in tandem with the devaluing of human life, both at its beginning and at its end. Standing firm on the issue of the value of every moment of human life is imperative.
There are other issues, too, I noted, that Torah-conscious Jews must confront, like the subtle redefinition of kashrus being attempted by the Conservative movement, cheered on by mendacious media; and the promotion of atheism under the banner of science.
These are not so much mere issues as they are full-fledged “ism”s, of a sort with those idolatries Rav Elchonon Wasserman fingered decades ago: Communism, Secular Zionism, and Nationalism. Today we add Scientism, AnimalRights-ism, a Woman’sRighttoChoose-ism, QualityofLife-ism.
Not to mention isms that have already infected the Orthodox world, like rampant Materialism, Feminism, and anti-Gedolim-ism.

Finally Rav Yaakov Menken weighs in, giving great weight to a belated statement by the Agudah that can only be described as mealty-mouthed:
Upon consultation with its rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement today:Separate seating on buses or other public places, increasingly restrictive dress codes that culminate in burka babes and self-appointed modesty crowds shrieking prutzah and shiksa have nothing to do with Torah. These folks may have been raised in a "pure Torah environment", they may have learned Torah "on a high level", they may call themselves pious people whose love for God and Torah overrides everything else, but they are not Torah Jews.  They are barely human in how they make a mockery of those of us who insist that a Torah lifestyle leads to greater civility, not less.
But since they are unlikely to listen to our protests, perhaps it is time to change targets.  Perhaps it is time to target the vast majority of Chareidim who either quietly watch what is going on with silent resignation or will only speak out anonymously.  If they will not confront, they are complicit.  If they will socialize with these people, they are one with them.  If they pledge fealty to leaders who will not condemn these barbarians they might as well be at the protest.  Perhaps with enough of a push they will rise up and reclaim their society before it becomes truly indistinguishable from the one in Afghanistan that it is shamelessly copying.I always find it interesting that certain Chareidi slogans break down when they meet the real world.  For example, their vaunted rejection of all elements of modern society would seem to have withered, Rav Rosenblum intimates, from its close exposure to Zionist anarchism.  The same anarchism that built a state in record time and allowed it to survived incredible economic, cultural and military hostility, of course.  Yes, they're totally unlike the Zionist and reject everything about them, except their perceived tactics?

Reports of recent events in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh are deeply disturbing.
Violence of any sort, whether physical or verbal, by self-appointed “guardians” of modesty is reprehensible. Such conduct is beyond the bounds of decent, moral – Jewish! – behavior. We condemn these acts unconditionally.
Those who have taken pains to note that the small group of misguided individuals who have engaged in this conduct are not representative of the larger charedi community are to be commended. It is disturbing, though, that some Israeli politicians and secularists have been less responsible, portraying the actions of a very few as indicative of the feelings of the many. Quite the contrary, the extremist element is odious to, and rejected by, the vast majority of charedi Jews.
Lost in all the animus and ill will, unfortunately, is the concept ostensibly at the core of the controversy: the exalted nature of tzenius, or Jewish modesty.
Judaism considers human desires to constitute a sublime and important force, but one whose potential for harm is commensurate with its potential for holiness.
In a society like our own, where the mantra of many is, in effect, “anything goes,” many charedi Jews, men and women alike, see a need to take special steps – in their own lives and without seeking to coerce others – to counterbalance the pervasive atmosphere of licentiousness, so as to avoid the degradation of humanity to which it leads.
It would be tragic were the acts of violence to lead Jews to, G-d forbid, reject the culture of tzenius that has always been the hallmark of the Jewish nation, to regard Jewish modesty as something connected to violence and anger, rather than to refinement and holiness.
In summary: these zealots are right in their minds but wrong in their methods.  What they're fighing for, a society obsessed with a definition of tznius that in no way matches what the classical sources describe it as, is laudatory but because they're going about it the wrong way it might cause more harm than good.  A world in which there is total separation of men and women everywhere outside the bedroom (and every there when it's not mikvah night) is a praiseworthy goal and hopefully we'll get there the right way.
That's a condemnation?
Not zealots and thugs screaming insults at 7 years old girls.  Not mafia-type gangs harrassing businesses and preventing them from making a living.  Not pedophile rebbes praying on students.  Those are not problems facing the Charedi world that need to be deal with.  Nothing to see here folks.
While I agree that foresight would have avoided the bus issue, I disagree with his solution.  My version of foresight would have been the placing of two Israeli police, one preferably female, on every bus that runs through one of the neighbourhoods where locals demand separate seating.  Their job would be to forcibly remove any man or woman from the bus who insists that separate seating, something that has no basis in halacha, take place against the will of any passenger.
Nevertheless what Rav Rosenblum either doesn't or won't see is that the bus segregation is intimately tied to the violence in Ramat Beit Shemesh and elsewhere.  It is indeed controlled by an extremist fringe of the Chareidi community but prospers and grows with the quiet consent of the docile majority which, over 3 generations, has been taught to never think for itself but always defer to authority.  The same attitude which allows people to stand on public buses and tell people where they can and can't sit and then verbally or physically abuse them when said people refuse to comply is what is on display outside Na'ama Margolis' home.  It's the attitude of the bully who, unless pushed back, himself pushes ever forward until the victim either falls and decides to stand his ground.

1 comment:

Bob Miller said...

Garnel, if you really thought about it, especially about the audience they address, you'd appreciate Rabbis Adlerstein and Rosenblum much more.

If you're going to be snarky, at least be more selective.