Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Unapologetically Frum But Not Chareidi

It bears saying again: there is a perception that the more machmir a person is, the frummer he is.  Put two people together, one who waits 6.5 hours after meat (just to be safe), learns all day and wears only two colours of clothing - black, white - next to someone who waits 3 hours because that's what his father and grandfather did, learns after work and when time permits, and enjoyed a spectrum of colours when it comes to his clothing and who is perceived to be more religious by the vast majority of onlookers?
Yet this is certainly not true, no matter how mightily some in the "frummer than thou" industry try to create the impression that it is.  The same goes for another misused term, tznius.  Just like frum, people now equate modesty with dress almost exclusively.  How you behave, how you interact publicly with people, how you conduct yourself when others are looking, are all ignored.  The ostentatious woman at the bar mitzvah with the $3000 sheitl and floor length $5000 ball gown talking loudly about how much the mezuzos in her vacation home in Bermuda cost will really believe she is more tznius than the woman sitting opposite her in the knee-length skirt and the tichel that doesn't quite cover the first few centimetres of her hair but who sits politely and takes great pains to great everyone with a friendly smile.  Why not?  She's covering more of her body and hair, Isn't that what tznius is all about?
Now one can understand in a cynical way why this is so.  After all, people are complex, multi-dimensional beings and the observance of Judaism is a complex, multi-dimensional affair.  It's far easier to judge a person on the clothing he or she wears than to get to know him, his beliefs, his worldview and the various opinions in the depth of halacha that define his actions.  Saves a lot of time too.
As an aside, one of the frequent laughs we frummies get at the expense of our non-religious brethren is how they have mangled certain terms and removed their entire original meaning.  Who hasn't chuckled when some Reformer somewhere explains that tikun olam means you have to recycle and invest in green energy?  Stop and think about this thought.  When it comes to the words "frum" and "tznius" are we any different?  Have we not divested those terms of their real meanings and applied superficial new ones to them to satisfy our "holier than thou" egos?
That's what makes Avital Chizik's article in Tablet Mag and the recent Cross Currents retort to it so interesting.  The first thing to note is Ms. Chizik's almost apologetic tone in writing the article:
I don’t want to be that girl: the aspiring writer who has broken free of the tightly knit Orthodox community or school system and then proceeds to write about her love-hate relationship with said background. Because the truth is, I’m not that girl who’s broken away. I pray daily, recite benedictions before and after food, study Torah (but not Talmud). I still feel uncomfortable reading Aramaic texts traditionally limited to men. Friday afternoons find me running around the house, covering bathroom lights with special Shabbat covers, choosing tablecloths, filling the hot-water urn. And if it matters, which I suppose it does these days, I dress the part, too, despite being taught otherwise by secular grandparents: I wear modest skirts that reach my knees, sleeves that cover my elbows, and I refrain from any physical contact with males.
Why would she feel a need to explain that she's not breaking away?  That she's not leaving Orthodoxy?  Is it because of what she writes in the very next paragraph?
But I also wear stilettos. I also study Tennyson, Nabokov, and Joyce; I read the New York Times avidly, attend film screenings and art galleries. In the past few years, after leaving the comforts of my high school, where everything had been carefully dictated and prescribed, I’ve been trying to balance Torah u-Madda, religious studies with science or secular studies.
If these things are seen by some to be a break from a properly observant Torah lifestyle then someone should exhume Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, zt"k and his comrades and explain how wrong they were in their beliefs.  Does almost everyone really believe that a Torah lifestyle excludes appreciation of the world around us, the world that God created?  Is one really frummer if he refuses to see any beauty in secular literature like Shakespeare and Tennyson?  Were the Chazal wrong when they said that there is some wisdom amongst the nations?
And near the end of the article Ms. Chizik rightly notes how wrong the Orthodox approach to frum and tznius is:

I wish I could have shown her the shorter and tighter pencil skirts that I left behind in my closet. Instead I quipped, “Yes, have you seen the Ramat Bet Shemesh women? They’ve taken to wearing burqas. Now, those are really tznius.”
My sarcasm went undetected. “Yes, indeed,” the hostess said, taking her glasses off with a sigh. “Those women are so modest. We can’t judge them, they’re on a much higher level than we are.”
It was just like the world of my high-school days, a world where so much is fueled by guilt—but also by exhibitionism, where it’s fashionable to publicize one’s piety, determined by the denier count of one’s stockings and the looseness of one’s sweater. Mention a restaurant you ate at yesterday, and the girl sitting next to you might raise her eyebrows and say, “Really? You eat there? Because I’m not sure about that kashrus certification. It’s not so reliable.” Your classmate might come into school one day, holding a tube of sewing glue, and whisper in your ear, “It’s for the slit in the back of your skirt. I can see the back of your knee.”

As she notes at the end of her article, true piety is modesty in conduct, including public displays of how frum you are.  I would go even further than her concluding comment.  It's not that no one needs to know how thick your tights are.  Who are you to think thicker tights are an expression of greater religiosity?  It's not that no one needs to know about the hechsher you don't trust.  Who are who to think that believing a Rav somewhere isn't being kosher enough?
Of course, there are those on whom this point is always missed.  Years ago, the infamous Deiah v'Dibur "news" site published a letter by a Beis Yaakov girl who recounted the story of a girl in her class who had been merciless teased by her classmates.  The reason?  The girl's parents had bought her a pair of stylish frames for her eyeglasses.  This "modernish" attire meant that she wasn't really religious and therefore not deserving of being treating with respect.
The rub in all this?  Well in her spare time the girl in question went to the local Jewish nursing home to visit and assist the elderly there and also spent her time working with some local charities to help folks out.  Other than the glass frames she was a model Jew and more because her friends was the only person who knew about her extracurricular activities.  In her modesty she felt no need to retort to her tormentors and tell them about her deeds.
At the end of the letter there was, of course, the editorial comment which demolished the entire letter with one idea: yeah, yeah, she did good things, but those modern frames show a fundamental flaw in her religious behaviour because if she was truly frum she would have gone with those Buddy Holly models everyone else in her class wore.  So who cares about what she did in her spare time when she was so flawed to begin with.
This came to mind as I read Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein's piece on what Ms. Chizik wrote today.
The first thing to note is that the title of the article, "Chumrah Done Wrong" is miildly deceptive.  While the article does note that chumros can be imposed in an oppressive fashion, it spends more time emphasizing that chumros for the sake of being machmir are a good thing and of themselves.  This is, however, wrong.  As Rav Shimon Eider, zt"l, notes in his book on the laws of Niddah, being machmir is relative. You might think you're being strict in a specific situation while really you're being quite lenient when looked at from a different perspective.  Thus saying machmir is always better is an improper statement.  If I hesitate to resuscitate a person in cardiac arrest on Shabbos because I'm not sure which methods of treatment are permitted if at all I might think I'm being machmir in my observance of Shabbos.  In reality I'm being meikel in my observance if pikuach nefesh.
One can tell that this article hit a nerve with Rav Adlerstein by the not-so-subtle ways he begins the article in an attempt to discredit Ms. Chizik's Orthodoxy.  Consider his first two paragraphs:

She’s no Deborah Feldman. That makes her story so much more valuable to us.
Writing in Tablet, the literary cynosure of every young Jewish iconoclast these days, Avital Chizhik lets us know that she is no dropout, and very much an eager participant in halachic life.

What does Deborah Feldman, an OTD with an axe to grind and a zest for defaming Orthodoxy, have in common with Ms. Chizik?  How is Ms. Chizik's article anything like Unorthodox, a book slamming Torah Judaism and filled with lies and misrepresentations?  Yes, he says "She's no..." but the mere mention of Feldman's name is significant and meant to place a thought in our head.  This girl has left that fold.  Maybe more respectfully but she's out. Note that.
He also follows up by mentioning Tablet Mag, not simply as a source but also a location for anti-Judaism writers.  Again, nothing specific but the association is made.  She's writing in a non-religious publication.  Note that.
Not so subtle is his attack on Ms. Chizik's anecdotes.  One thing that never fails to amaze me is the inability of some people to understand that in the internet age nothing goes unreported any longer.  Off the cuff comments are recorded forever on blogs and Facebook(tm).  Controversial "I can't believe he said that" lectures are immortalized on Youtube(tm).  Person after person reports the same beliefs being transmitted and what's the response?

We must hope that something has been lost in the transmission. People often hear things not intended by a speaker; teens are no exception. We cannot rule out the possibility that the actual statements were somewhat different from what was reported. At the same time, it is quite possible that people said something close enough to those statements that they could be confused with the more off-putting version. 
So far, he's questioned if she's really frum, quietly suggested she chose Tablet Mag because of its anti-Orthodox slant, and now we can dispense with her recollections.  They either weren't remembered or reported accurately.  Silly Ms. Chizik and her friends.  Not terribly smart so we don't have to worry.
After a perfunctory admission that sometimes chumros can be implemented in a wrong way that leads to greater damage than good, Rav Adlerstein does admit that those misremembered recollections do point to a flaw in  the system, one in which a single, supposedly stricter viewpoint, becomes the only viewpoint and is presented to impressionable students in a way that makes it sound that the slightest deviation from it is tantamount to eating a pork and cheese sandwich while having riotous intercourse with one's sister, the prostitute, on Yom Kippur.  Yes, he admits, pillorying a married woman for allowing her hair to slightly show  isn't the greatest idea and shouting at someone who shakes hands with the opposite gender isn't the same as having sex with animals.  But again, it's the wording he chooses that betrays his belief.
He/she ought to also explain that such a position is hardly unanimous: that frum, pious German Jews shook hands for hundreds of years; that some major figures in the previous generation held that it was mutar, at least in trying circumstances;
The previous generation?  Has he never heard of Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin's Bnei Banim or read his comprehensive teshuvah detailing the situations in which handshaking is permitted?  Or is he trying to quietly suggest that this is a once-upon-a-time thing that no one "proper" does today?
Interestingly, this is another of those situations in which being machmir is potentially being meikel.  Given  that a man shaking hands with a woman is not exactly yehareg v'al ya'avor, is the potential for insulting the person of the opposite gender not a consideration when decided whether or not to return an extended hand? 
But here's what I think the ultimate issue is: who is really frummer?  Is it the guy who insists that he shan't shake a woman's hand, no matter how much negative fallout might result from it, or is it the guy who is so concerned with the woman's kavod habriyos that he puts his feelings aside and shakes with the intention of making her feel respected because, as a creation of God, she deserves elementary respect?
For too long, the standard answer has been the former because he is seen to be doing more.  However, that is still just a matter of perspective.  The Orthodox Jews of Deal, New Jersey who were busted a couple of years ago for illegal organ dealing certainly looked frum but were they really?  Was there real fear of Heaven in their hearts or a selective one that told them that God cares about the clothes you wear but not about the people you cheat?
A long time ago I wrote about how we, the Torah observant, mock the Reformatives for picking and choosing which aspects of Judaism they consider sacred and worth of observance.  I noted that we do the same thing but in a more aggressive fashion.  A Reformative who doesn't observe Shabbos or kashrus but makes sure to be polite and honest in his business dealings and also treats people with respect while giving generously to charity is not frum.  The Orthodox Jew in the requisite outfit who cheats on his wife and taxes while being rude to his co-workers who are, in his eyes, just goyim, is frum.  This is bizarre.
Therefore there has to be a pushback.  If Ms. Chizik chose to put her article in Tablet Mag, you can be sure it's because it would never had been published on Cross Currents or in any "reputable" Chareidi magazine.  If she felt a need to criticize certain idiocies which have become the defining features of Orthodoxy in this day and age the response should not be to attack her credibility but to do a cheshbon hanefesh.  
Are we teaching our children properly?  Are we teaching them halacha or dogma?  Are we teaching them tolerance?  Are we teaching them respect?  Are we teaching them real tznius or a superficial version?  And if we're not teaching them properly, how can we expect them to have real yiras Shamayim?

Tuesday 20 March 2012

To Serve and Protect... Himself

Sometimes defiance is necessary to protect Torah and tradition.  Sometimes it does the opposite despite claims to the contrary.  Such is the case in the ongoing controversy over metzizah b'peh which recently flared up in New York after a mohel there allegedly transmitted herpes to a vulnerable infant who subsequently died from the infection.
At the root of the issue is the gemara which mentions metzitzahi b'peh but isn't exactly clear if it's a third part to the actual act of the milah or part of the recommended anti-sepsis treatments mentioned after in the care of the penis.  Traditionally it has been performed by the mohel pressing his lips to the incision and sucking blood out of it.  The gemara says that this is necessary to prevent health complications to the baby but in recent decades it has become clear that at times it can have the opposite effect.
Now I'll state my bias up front.  When I was in my final year of medical school this same thing happened to the baby of friends of mine.  I got to watch as the poor little infant had a lumbar puncture to ensure that the herpes infection he had contracted hadn't entered his central nervous system.  In the aftermath of his uneventful recovery (B"H he's a healthy young man today) terrible things happened to the family when they tried to protest that the mohel had been responsible for transmitting the virus.  One thing it did for me was convince me that the traditional method for metzizah b'peh was now no longer the benign, life-saving procedure that it might have been in the times of the Sages.
As a result it seems quite a necessary thing to review how metzizah b'peh is done given that it has now become associated with the spread of a contagious, potentially lethal disease.  Unfortunately there are those who view any attempt to begin such a discussion as an all-out assault on circumcision, Torah and Judaism in general.
Rav Zev Farber, writing on has a comprehensive piece that outlines some great compromise positions.
Keeping in mind that the point of circumcision aftercare is to encourage a quick return to health, not introduce deadly viral diseases, some of these options seem to perfectly fit the need to both maintain the traditional place of metzitzah b'peh in bris milah while eliminating the contagious dangers that have come to be associated with it.  What's more, these positions have the support of important poskim, not unknown random sources almost never heard of before or isolated positions that have been rejected by normative halacha.
Despite that there has been a backlash against this reasonable approach.  It is important not to see this as just another example of some Chareidim fighting to maintain a status quo because they see any change as a wholesale sellout of Judaism.  This is not a "We do this because this is how we have always done it" or "We do this because this is only way permitted by halacha".  This is an example of some Chareidim fighting to maintain a status quo because they have rejected the idea of change of any kind, the kind of folks who would come out in favour of smoking if YU and YCT announced that it was now assur to do such a thing. (Halevai)
And this case it is even more.  These are people who are fighting to maintain a practice that is potentially harmful to infants because in their mind not changing is more important than protecting lives.  In their zeal to protect Judaism they have taken a position that violates it and created for themselves a state of denial to avoid realizing it.  It seems some of them are even prepared to violate both Jewish and state law just to show their defiance.
Therefore Rav Farber's conclusions seem quite appropriate.  It is no longer enough to see direct metzitzah b'peh as a "frummer" version of bris mila but as an inappropriate form of bris mila unacceptable in Torah observant congregations.  It's not enough to listen to people talk about how important tradition is and how there's no good evidence that herpes and other diseases can be spread by direct metzitzah b'peh.  Instead it has to be pointed out loudly that this is not true and that the Torah value of preventing danger to life trumps slavish adherence to a dangerous form of a procedure that could otherwise be safely performed.
1) The Clean Bill of Health Model

Proposed by R. Dr. Mordechai Halperin, M.D., first in Israel and then in an article in Jewish Action called: “Metzitzah B’peh Controversy: The View from Israel,” the suggestion is to devise a method to ensure that the mohalim who perform meẓiẓah be-peh do not have any illnesses, including sores in the mouth, that can transfer disease. (I have heard that this is the practice in England among mohalim that perform meẓiẓah be-peh.) The mohel would have to go through whatever testing deemed medically necessary to ensure the meẓiẓah is safe, and he would need to constantly renew this clean bill of health. Any mohel without this “license” would be barred from performing meẓiẓah be-peh, and any who did so anyway would be banned from practicing by the community.
Although Halperin’s suggestion is commendable, I am personally uncomfortable with it. Since meẓiẓah be-peh has no medical benefit and no halakhic basis nowadays, I see no reason to continue with a practice that reflects antiquated medicine in such a graphic manner. I feel that doing so, even if it weren’t dangerous, sends the wrong message (this, I hear, is R. Moshe Tendler’s argument as well). Furthermore, I can’t help worrying that even with safeguards, the practice may still pose some threat to the infant; one need only consider the amount of germs and bacteria found in a person’s mouth and the fact that illnesses often come about unexpectedly.
Nevertheless, since there are those that stridently disagree with me and believe meẓiẓah be-peh to be either a halakhic requirement or of paramount qabbalistic significance, I have included the clean-bill-of-health model in the hope that the opposition may at least adopt this, thereby protecting the lives of the infant boys who are otherwise in harm’s way.
2) The Meẓiẓah-Equivalent Model
R. Shlomo Ha-Kohen of Vilna (1828-1905) wrote in a responsum (Binyan Shlomo 2, YD 19) that there is no mitzvah to perform meẓiẓah. Instead, he argued, meẓiẓah should be viewed as part of the general requirement to keep the infant healthy. Therefore, he claims, whatever modern medicine determines to be the best medical practice for keeping the child healthy should be considered the equivalent of meẓiẓah.
According to R. Ha-Kohen, the practice he witnessed in his time period, where the mohel would wrap the penis in rags (smartutin), was the equivalent of meẓiẓah, and that he could not venture to say what the practice would look like in the future. This is because the practice is purely medical and, as he reminds the questioner, he is not a doctor.
Applying Ha-Kohen’s analysis to our times, the modern mohel should sterilize his equipment and use whatever bandages and antibacterial creams are necessary to reduce the risk of infection. In this way he has fulfilled the requirement that is at the root of the – now defunct – requirement to suck out the blood from the wound.
3) The Ritual-Meẓiẓah Model
Some authorities were less comfortable with cancelling the practice altogether, although they were certainly unwilling to risk the lives of Jewish infants to keep it. Hence the idea of a meẓiẓah performed without direct contact between the mohel’s mouth and the infant’s penis was suggested, and two basic forms of this practice were put forward. One idea, advocated by R. Moshe Schreiber (Sofer), known as the Ḥatam Sofer, was to use a sponge around the corona, with the mohel applying (slight) squeezing pressure to remove some blood.
Another method that is popular with a number of Modern Orthodox mohalim today was to use a glass pipet. The mohel would place the pipet upon the wound and suck from the other side, stopping when some blood would come out of the wound. This method was advocated (or at least permitted) by a number of halakhic authorities, such as R. Malkiel Tenenbaum, R. Elyakim Shapiro of Grodno and R. Avraham Kook. It also seems to be the preferred solution of R. Moshe Pirutinsky in his influential compendium, Sefer ha-Brit.

Sunday 18 March 2012

The Living Dead

The problem with death is that it's so hard to define nowadays.
Once upon a time this wasn't so.  You dropped, you died.  Done.  With the advent of invasive monitoring and CPR however the definition of death has become much more variable, leading predictably to lots of problem including in halacha.
The problem with using the Talmud to determine the exact definition of death is that the cases discussed by the Sages all occured in the absence of an ability to monitor or accurate assess the internal workings of the bodies being examined.  The Sages had no way of measuring blood pressure, never mind brain waves or the electrical activity of the heart.  Thus the classic case that is always reference, from Yoma, discusses the cessation of respiration as the criteria for death.  How the Sages would have paskened today with the more advanced understanding of anatomy and physiology is what leads to the divergent opinions between the poskim.  Some still see cessation of respiration as the gold standard and now that we understand that respiration is controlled by the brain stem this means that brainstem death is the criteria for true death.  Others hold that the Sages were looking at circulation and therefore cardiac activity is the gold standard.  And of course, this being a halahic dispute there is much rancor and bitternes on both sides.  After all, if the respiration definition of death is correct then the circulation folks are indirectly killing patients who require transplants and if the cardiac definition is correct then the people relying on brainsteam death are murdering patients for their organs.
What is not helpful is when terms get mixed up.  It is important to remember that "brain death" and "brain steam death" are very separate things.  According to both the respiratory and circulatory positions, destruction of the cerebral cortex with a residual functioning brain stem is not a true death.  This is important to remember when the subject comes up and often gets blurred with the term "brain death" acting as an inappropriate catch all.  This is also important because in the secular world there are those for whom properly defined "brain death" is a form of death leading to a person becoming an organ donor.
Thus Rav Natan Slifkin's critique of a recent Wall Street Journal article both emphasizes but also aggravates the discussion.
In my opinion the comparison with the lizard tail is what is irrelevant.  A severed tail is only part of an organism, non-essential to the life of the creature.  The brain is not like that at all and whether it is considered physiologically severed is of crucial importance.  I'm surprised that Rav Slifkin did not bring the mishnah in Oholos which specifically discussed decaptitation as a form of death despite signs of life from the body.  That is what Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l,  used as his definition in a later teshuvah and would have fit more in the discussion of brain and brain stem death.
The article writes about how brain-dead people have "more in common biologically with a living person than with a person whose heart has stopped. Your vital organs will function, you'll maintain your body temperature, and your wounds will continue to heal. You can still get bedsores, have heart attacks and get fever from infections." It talks about how they "react to the scalpel like inadequately anesthetized live patients, exhibiting high blood pressure and sometimes soaring heart rates."

This is all entirely true. It is also entirely irrelevant.
Physiological processes do not always denote life, and reactions are not the same as feelings. The detached tail of a gecko can move around with complicated motion and respond to an external stimulus, but clearly the gecko does not feel anything. Even a properly anesthetized patient can respond to the surgeon's scalpel and have their blood pressure go up, but that does not mean that they are feeling anything.

Another point to recognize is that the whole pain argument is out of place.  Pain is a conscious reaction to a physical insult like a scalpel cutting into the body.  In the absence of pain a person can still have an automatic response to such an insult resulting in measurable physiological responses but that doesn't mean he feels the pain, especially if his higher cerebral centres have been destroyed.  Yes his heart rate will go up but there is no consciousness that feels the pain.
The Wall Street Journal article therefore does not prove its point but both it and the rejoinder seem to miss a bit by not clearly describing the difference between brain death and brain steam death.

Friday 16 March 2012

Frightened Of The Past

When I was in high school I reached a defining moment of my life although I didn't appreciate the importance of it at the time.
Until that point somewhere in Grade 9 my father had always been able to help me with my math homework.  (My mother could as well but the neighbours asked that we stop that because of how loud the screaming got)  He smiled and told me how happy he was that my education had reached the point he could no longer teach me something.  Not that I didn't still have a lot to learn, mind you, but it was still a milestone.
One of the goals of a teacher, in my opinion, should be to raise a student to excel and eventually surpass him.  One knows one has done a good job once the student asks questions one can no longer answer.  It means that the teacher has been successful in transmitting everything he knows of the subject in such a way that the student as mastered it.  It should be a proud moment for both.
There are some, however, who disagree and seem to think that the teacher should always be superior to the student, that a student who manages to exceed his teacher in some way is someone being disrespectful.  This is impression I got from Rav Shaul Gold's recent piece on Cross Currents.  In it, Rav Gold notes an experience he had watching a teacher of his disagree with his own rebbe on how to understand a Tosafos.  I sometimes wonder what kind of a person Rashi was.  Was he an autocratic dictator, the kind of man that expected people to jump when he entered the room and who shouted down anyone who dared to disagree with him?  Was he a compassionate teacher who looked forward to challenges from students and hoped to be enriched by discussions from those challenges?  Was he interested only in getting his point across or in arriving at a true understanding of Torah?
The fear and trembling that the teacher displayed in daring to state that he disagreed with his rebbe left a lasting impression on him and from there he goes on to extrapolate:
I was recently privy to a conversation regarding the efficacy of teaching “fantastical” Rashis and midrashot to young students. An example given referred to the age of Rivka when she met and married Yitzchok and the discussion included whether such material can or should be taken literally and/or whether other commentaries that gave more “rational” explanations, should supplant those Rashis and Midrashim.

My thoughts went back to R’ Nochum and to the many other great sages that stood in awe and reverence of their predecessors – to those who viewed the early Achronim and the Rishonim as towering giants that far surpassed them quantitatively, qualitatively and spirtitually. I thought about Rashi and how carefully each of his words was weighed, about the amount of times each comment was reviewed and rewritten before it was presented to the public, and about Rashi’s acclaim as the father of pshat. And then I thought about the cavalier manner that this holy genius’s work was being reviewed and how much more “savvy” our contemporaries are.
I thought about R’ Nochum and how he stuttered and I thought about Rashi. I thought about how our teachers and sages trembled when discussing a difficult Rashi and the joy they had when they reached an understanding of the deeper meaning behind Rashi’s words. And then I thought of those that know better than Rashi.
Like my Rabbeim, I tremble before Rashi. But I shudder at the thought of those that wish to deconstruct him.

One of the problems with Chareidi ideology today is its black and white approach to pretty much everthing.  If you question the "Daas Torah" of a "Gadol" you are a kofer b'ikkar whose touch turns wine treif.  If you don't follow the latest chumrah of the week you are a poretz/prutzah with no respect for Chazal or mitzvos.  If you think you have reached a different understanding than Rashi on a sugya, well how dare you!  Don't you know that Rashi will always have understood it better than you?  How dare you contradict him?  His peirush was written with ruach hakodesh.  He was infallible.  He was a giant and you are an ant.  How do you think you are to disagree with him?  The Ramban?
If Rashi was a true teacher of Torah then I doubt he would have been as worried about his honour as Rav Gold seems to be.  In truth, fossilizing him as a perfect scholars who cannot be questions would be offensive to him.  Disagreement, if respectfully done and with a goal not towards contradicting the teacher but towards understanding Torah better is an important part of learning.  Chazal in Avos tell us an impatient person cannot teach while a bashful person cannot learn.  Questions, challenges, demanding to understand and defending one's position as best as one can are part of the learning process demanded by Chazal.
Rashi is essential to understanding Torah and Talmud.  He is the beginning of any elucidating process but - and this is so important to understand - he is not the end and I don't believe he would want to be.  The purpose of a teacher is not to impose his singular understanding of the subject on his students but to teach them to understand the material and develop that understanding in new ways that can challenge him.  Is Rav Gold really serious when he says that other commentaries should not supplant Rashi and the Midrashim?  Has he not looked inside a Mikraos Gedolos lately?
There's a book for sale out there called "Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum".  It's format is simple - it prints a word from the parsha twice and then the Aramaic word afterwords.  Then the next word, and so on.  By reading it straight through you technically have fulfilled your obligation to read the parsha twice and the Targum once but honestly, did you get anything out of it other than the basic fulfillment of the obligation?  Did Chazal and the later authorities think that this was the way to learn Chumash? 
Are we interested in understanding Torah or perpetuating learning by rote without it ever being anything deeper?

Thursday 15 March 2012

Kosher Hypocrisy

Long time readers know that I'm not the biggest fan of the Conservatives' Magan Tzedek "hechsher".  Designed to ensure that food products it supervises have been ethically produced, it probably will have a minimal impact at best.  While it sounds like a good idea, it won't make a difference for most people and will probably be remembered in a few decades as a really good idea that never went anywhere.
However, I have noted that my response to it has been mild compared to some others.  Rav Avi Shafran, for example, has repeatedly written about how terrible an idea it is.  He has criticized it repeatedly from his spot on Cross Currents as a wholesale attempt to change the definition of kashrus.  From the vehemence of his writing one might almost think that he felt threatened by the idea that there are folks out there who want to know that not only the shechitah but also the rest of the process that brought the brisket to their table was done ethically.
Thus we were repeatedly told that Rubashkin's multiple lapses and illegal practices were irrelevant (when not outright invented by those nasssssty goyim looking for Yid to hang) to whether the product was kosher.  None of stuff about illegal immigrants, poverty wages and animal cruelty were the least bit important.
That's what makes this story out of Israel so curious:
A Haredi-owned Jerusalem restaurant will be restricting the working hours of waitresses in order to receive the strict mehadrin kashrut certificate.
The veteran eatery, Heimische Essen, in Rehavia, will cease employing waitresses on Thursday nights, a favorite time for yeshiva boys to patronize the eatery.
Waitresses at the restaurant, which serves Eastern European specialties to a variety of people, are modestly dressed, although some of them are not Orthodox.
According to the owner, Haim Safrin, zealots, "who are jealous of the place's success," pressured the kashrut supervisors of the strict Agudat Israel high religious court, known as the Badatz, to stop waitresses from working on Thursday nights.
The Badatz is a private body which grants kashrut certificates and supervision over and above that provided by the Chief Rabbinate. The demand for waitress-free Thursday nights is unusual, but it is not unusual for bodies granting kashrut certificates, including the state-run Chief Rabbinate, to withdraw or threaten to withdraw a certificate for reasons that have nothing directly to do with food, such as the religious or spiritual affiliation of the owners or event halls that hold weddings for gay couples.

But hang on.  What does the person serving the vittles have to do with whether or not the food is kosher?  Is kosher supervision about the food in the restaurant or also about what goes into the food getting to the table?  And if women in the presence of heiliger yeshiva boys makes the food treif, why doesn't animal cruelty?  Or abuse of labourers?
So which is it?  Is kashrus just about the food, the rest of the process be damned as per Rav Shafran, or is it about the environment as much as the food as per his Israeli counterparts?
Or is this just hypocrisy?
Now, I can understand the supervising authority's position.  They are not only worried about kosher food for the boys that eat there but a kosher environment as well and having declared women to be treif and back of the bus material they want a female waitress in the restaurant about as much as they want a piece of pork to be there. 

Wednesday 14 March 2012

The Rush To Condemn

When one wishes to criticze one's opponent there is always a fine line to be drawn between what is appropriate and what is abusive.  Becoming abusive is wrong for two reasons.  One is because it is because it is unethical and unacceptable.  The other is because it makes one's opponent a martyr and once martyr status is achieved that opponents is placed beyond criticism, even that which is relevant.
Thanks to Rush Limbaugh's foul mouth, Sandra Fluke has become just such a martyr and, along with her, the Obama Administrations campaign to force religious institutions to tow the secular liberal ethical line in violation of their traditional principles.
For those who haven't been paying attention, Ms. Fluke is a 30 year old student at a Jesuit university who publicly stated before members of Congress (it's debatable if it was actually a hearing or a photo op for propaganda purposes) that just because she attends a Catholic university doesn't mean she should have to pay for her own oral contraceptives.  How dare the Catholics inflict their doctrine on her?  She is a young female, she wants to be sexually active and since she has a drug plan through the university she expects it to cover the Pill well as all other medications.
There are so many reasonable ways to respond to Ms. Fluke but unfortunately the one people will remember is Rush Limbaugh's.  He called her a slut and accused her of all sorts of vile behaviours.  As a result, the flaws in her arguments have long been forgotten as she has become the symbol of a cause, a symbol one dares not criticize.
Yet her position needs to be argued against, given its obvious flaws.
Consider, for example, that Ms. Fluke attends a Catholic university of her own volition.  Upon applying for acceptance to that school she would surely have known that Catholics view any birth control with abhorrence.  A quick check would have told her that oral contraceptives are not part of their drug program.  Despite this she applied and chose to attend the school anyway and then demanded that they cover the cost of her contraception.  After all, with tuition, food and lodging how is a girl supposed to avoid getting pregnant?
Then there's the stated reason she wants the contraception.  This was definitely badly played by Ms. Fluke.  There are, after all, many valid reasons for using the birth control pill such as difficulties with menstruation, regulation of periods, control of bleeding, etc.  She didn't say she wanted the Pill for any of those things.  No, she openly stated she wanted to have sexual intercourse at her leisure without worrying about getting pregnant.  She might be in a monogamous long-term relationship for all I know and doesn't want to get pregnant so as not to interrupt the education she's getting from the school she's demanding change their beliefs to suit her.  No, this doesn't make her a slut.  It does, however, make her quite arrogant.
Finally there is the obvious: oral contraception is not a necessary medical service.  If one has high blood pressure one needs to take blood pressure pills.  If one has asthma one needs to use inhalers.  However one does not need to have sex and even if one has the overwhelming urge to do so but still wishes to avoid pregnancy there are cheaper ways they can do so, like condoms or tasers (at the appropriate moment).  The Pill is a  luxury when it comes to contraception (as opposed to medically important conditions) and what Ms. Fluke is therefore asking the government to do is force a Catholic school to violate its beliefs and laws to fund that luxury.
There are other problems with her arguments, as the ever eloquent and brilliant Mark Steyn notes:
As almost all those fashionable split-the-difference fiscally conservative/socially liberal governors from George Pataki to California's pathetically terminated Terminator eventually discover, their social liberalism comes with a hell of a price tag. Ask the Greeks how easy it is for insolvent nations to wean the populace off unaffordable nanny-state lollipops: When even casual sex requires a state welfare program, you're pretty much done for.

No, the most basic issue here is not religious morality, individual liberty or fiscal responsibility. It's that a society in which middle-age children of privilege testify before the most powerful figures in the land to demand state-enforced funding for their sex lives at a time when their government owes more money than anyone has ever owed in the history of the planet is quite simply nuts.
As stark staring nuts as the court of Ranavalona, the deranged nymphomaniac queen of Madagascar at whose funeral the powder keg literally went up, killing dozens and burning down three royal palaces. Indeed, one is tempted to arrange an introduction between "T Squalls, 30," now 32 going on 33, and Sandra Fluke, 30 going on 31, like a skillfully negotiated betrothal between two royal houses in medieval Europe. The student prince would bring to the marriage his impressive fortune of a decade's worth of Trojan Magnums, while the Princess Leia would have a dowry of index-linked RU 486s settled upon her by HHS the Margravine of Sebelius. They would not be required to produce an heir.
Insane as this scenario is, the Democrat-media complex insists that everyone take it seriously. When it emerged the other day that Amanda Clayton, a 24-year-old Michigan million-dollar lottery winner, still receives $200 of food stamps every month, even the press and the bureaucrats were obliged to acknowledge the ridiculousness. Yet, the same people are determined that Sandra Fluke be treated with respect as a pioneering spokesperson for the rights of the horizontally challenged.
Unfortunately these arguments will drift in the wind and disappear because of Rush Limbaugh's idiocy.  What could have been a defining moment for the folks opposed to Obamacare's intrustion into religious institutions will now turn into the trump card for the folks who don't mind that religious people exist as long as they don't let their beliefs get in the way of secular liberalism.  Badly done, Rush.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

The Greater of Two Evils

One of the interesting after-effects of the left's domination of the West's film and entertainment industry has been an intentional dulling down of the awareness of the evil of Communism and the magnitude of the atrocities it commited in the 20th century.  Call someone a Nazi and people gasp.  Call someone a Community and they chuckle or mutter something like "McCarthy".  Wave a swastika and people scream, the hammer and sickle - not so much.  Fascism is certainly more famous and when you want a smirking villian in a movie you're more likely to get a reaction from a guy in an SS uniform than someone with the hammer and sickle on his chest.
Heck, Stephen Colbert once interviewed the only Communist ever elected to Congress on his show.  Could you imagine him inviting a member of the American Nazi party (assuming one had ever been elected to office) and treating him respectfully?
Yet which was the greater evil?  Communism killed far more people than Fascism did.  It lasted far longer, affected far greater stretches of territory and continues to oppress billions until today.  Concentration camps?  Attempts at genocide?  Causing wars?  Yes to all three.
Yet for some reason people remain horrified by the concept of fascism and and yawn when in comes to communism.  Add to this the Holocaust industry which, in its zeal to maintain the Shoah's unique status as the greatest genocide of the 20th (or any century) instinctively attacks any attempt to equate another evil with that of the Nazis, y"sh.
As i just noted, there is no question that the Holocaust is unique in scope and scale.  However, it is not unique in occurance.  Within the years of the 20th century the Armenians, Ukrainians, Tutsis of Rwanda and Cambodians all suffered massacres at the hands of others intent on wiping them off the face of the Earth.  Acknowledging the Holocaust's unfortunate position at the top of the heap should not lead to downplaying the tragedies others went through.
However, Communism was unlike Fascism in one important way: the Fascists were focused on slaughtering their opponents.  The Communists were more interested in breaking their spirit.  A dead Jew was good for the Communists but a Jew who repudiated his faith and became a good member of the Socialist International was even better.  The legacy of Josef Stalin, y"sh, isn't only the body count he left behind but how he and Vladimir Lenin, y"sh, before him destroyed Judaism in Russia and turned our brothers on each other.
It goes even further.  The hateful regime of Communism did not stop at its Jewish captives.  Name a country occupied by the Soviet Union after the war and you name a country that suffered under Stalin.  For the people of these countries Hitler was a short-term evil while Stalin was an evil without end.  With Hitler there was always the hope that war would end his reign of terror.  There was no such hope under Stalin.
One must also remember that many gentiles suffered far less under Hitler than under Stalin.  That their local Jewish populations were wiped out was of little concern to most of Eastern Europe's peoples (revisionist histories notwithstanding). 
Is it therefore any wonder than Lithuanians and Ukrainians feel Stalin was a greater evil than Hitler?
It behooves us to have a sensitivity to this history and understand that Eastern Europe's suffering was greater under the Communists than the Fascists.  At the same time we also have to understand that while Hitler committed unspeakable crimes against us, Stalin did as well.  We should spit when we say his name with the same vehemence that we do when we recall Hitler.  To do less is to be ignorant of how much we suffered inthe 20th century.

Sunday 11 March 2012

The Dysfunctional Marriage

We've all met a married couple in one dysfunctional state or another.  One of the typical models is where one partner has given up on the marriage but remains because of the benefits it provides.  The partner takes from the other, whether it's shelter, money or other such comfort, while giving nothing back.  The other partner, worried that dissolving the marriage will cause more harm than good, plays the reciprocal role.  He constantly gives in the hope that things will improve while quietly despairing that they won't.  Such a situation can carry on for years or decades.
Sometimes I wonder if the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist (non-Chareidim) communities and the Chareidim are involved in such a relationship.  It occurred to me that I should explore this for a couple of reasons.  One is an oft-heard complaint out of Modern Orthodox circles about the lack of reciprocity when it comes to respecting the Torah scholarship of the leadership of the two sides.  Modern Orthodox communities have no problem inviting Chareidi rabbonim to speak in their shuls while it is unheard of for the opposite to happen.  People still mention from time to time how Rav Hershel Schachter and other prominent Modern Orthodox rabbonim were shunted to the side at the last big Daf Yomi celebrations over seven years ago put on by the Agudah.
They note that the only Modern Orthodox rav quoted in the Artscroll Stone Chumash is the Rav and that this only happened by special request of the sponsors of the book.  The non-Chareidim use religious appurtenances produced by the Chareidi world while quietly accepting that any that they produce will not be accepted by those same Chareidim.
Every year the Chofetz Chayim foundation sends around videos about Tisha B'Av full of dynamic speakers.  When was the last time one of those speakers was not Chareidi?
Mishpachah magazine by many of its subscribers was criticized over the last couple of years for including quotes from rabbonim such as Ravs Michael Broyde and Shlomo Aviner as well as producing a piece portraying Rav Hershel Schachter as a bona fide Talmid Chacham.  Could one imagine a Modern Orthodox community condemning one of their publications for mentioning a Chasidic Rebbe or Litvish Rosh Yeshivah in a positive way?  Such a mention would be taken for granted!
On the other side we frequently hear calls for "achdus" bu one has to wonder: what's the definition of achdus?  Is it a vague "We're all in this together" or a demand that all Orthodox Jews become Chareidi in order to reduce diversity?  Frankly, is achdus even desirable if such is the undertone that comes with it?  Would it not be better to create an environment that fosters the attitude that non-Chareidi Orthodoxy is legitimate and that accepting this does not threaten the authenticity of Chareidism?
Don't forget as well that achdus is not something normative in Jewish history.  Other than a brief 40 years of wandering in the desert and during the parts of the reigns of David HaMelech and Shlomo HaMelech, we as a nation have made it an informal policy to be disunited.  Even at the end of the Megilla we just read we are told that after saving the Jewish nation Mordechai was acceptable only to most of his fellows and Chazal comment that even after those events there was disunity amongst some.
Taking a step back it is easy to see that the relationship between the Chareidim and non-Chareidim is very much like the marriage described at the start of this post.  The Chareidi community, whether we wish to acknowledge this or not, maintains its ties to the non-Chareidim based simply on need.  They need non-Chareidi money to keep their institutions afloat.  They need non-Chareidi customers to buy their appurtenances and mitzvah items.  They need non-Chareidi boys to induct into Chareidism to help replace their hemorrhaging OTD problem.  And in return?
On the other side the non-Chareidim have dug into the attitude that says that a split in Orthodoxy would be catastrophic and produce far more harm than benefit.  To a great extent they are correct.  After all, if the non-Chareidim were to say tomorrow "Enough!" and formally begin treating as treif the Chareidim who already do the same to them it would cause a great deal of trouble within their communities.  Almost all non-Chareidim in North America would have to become vegetarians unless a large number of shochtim suddenly got turned out by YU (is there a course there in that?).  Are there enough Modern Orthodox mohels to handle the demand? What about sifrei Torahtefillin and mezuzos?  Where would they come from in sufficient numbers?  What about teachers in schools?  And who would replace all those handy Lubavitch shlichim who perform important services on university campuses and small communities across North America?
So the marriage goes on but with the non-Chareidi side either quietly gritting its teeth in silent frustration at the unfairness of it all or dropping its self-esteem in order to accept its inferior position as the giver who gets little in return. Is there a marital counsellor out there capable of sorting this out?

Friday 9 March 2012

When The Obvious Is Radical

"Rabbi Achai ben Yoshiya says: When a man eats of his own labour his mind is at ease.  Even when he is dependent upon his father or mother of children, his mind is not at ease, needless to day when he is dependent on strangers." (Avos d'Rabbi Nasan 31:1)
It goes without saying that the Torah and halacha have no problem with a man working for a living to support himself and his family.  From ample examples in both Tanach and Talmud we see that many great figures in our history did exactly that.  Statements supporting the idea that work is an essential duty of a Jewish man's life are legion throughout the literature of our Sages.  Yet today a significant part of the Torah-observant community seems to think that such a position is either irrelevant or, worse, heretical.  For the labour is something that takes away from the only acceptable daily occupation a Jewish man can have: constant Torah study.  Therefore it is forbidden or, at best, a distasteful last resort.
The problem with such an attitude is that it leads to a lifestyle at odds with reality.  In the world around us good and services such as food, electricity, housing and education cost money.  While the phrase "God will provide" might be fluent on some people's lips the bottom line is that He does not pay one's bills directly and on the due date.  As a result the same group that insists that all its men can do is learn has become financially dependent on the rest of the Jewish community for its upkeep to an ever increasing degree.  To make matters worse it has dealt with this dependency by villifying it, treating those who keep this lifestyle going as "second class" since, after all, they provide the money through working for a living.
How interesting it is then to read Rav Yitzchak Aderlstein's piece reviewing the recent AJOP conference and a "bombshell" dropped by Rav Benzion Twerski:

R Twerski observed that people sense the apologetical attitude towards parnasah that is common in the yeshivah world. Involvement in material concern is but a tool to facilitate more learning. It is a bedieved. He urged a thorough investigation of what the seforim actually write about the value of involvement in Olam ha-Zeh, and the avodah it entails. It is the only way that we are going to feel any real value in our involvement in the physical world. Whether it is our involvement in the workplace or doing carpool – “It can’t be an excuse. It has to be real.
This is a bombshell?  This is radical?
The problem with "learn don't earn" is that the children eat the produce of the parents but produce none themselves.  Having consumed the financial well-being of the previous generation they then look at the next generation with empty hands and shake their heads sadly.  How much pressure and misery is there in parts of the Chareidi community where children go hungry because their fathers are too "pious" to take the responsibility of providing for themselves?  How many mothers are at their wits' end because they not only have to look after their children but also have the burden of earning next week's rent cheque?
Yes there are some in the kollel community who are there because they are the future of Israel's Torah.  There are some who will be the teachers and leaders of the Torah world.  Bu how many are there because they were inculcated with the idea that working wasn't for them for the same reasons a ham sandwich isn't?
Perhaps Rav Twerski's statement is a radical shot across the bow for the Chareidi community.  For the rest of us it is a simple statement of reality.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Purim and Mirror Purim

R. Joshua b. Levi further said: It is the duty of a man to read the Megillah in the evening and to
repeat it in the day, as it is written, O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou answerest not, and in
the night season and am not silent. The students took this to mean that the [Megillah] should be
read at night, and the Mishnah relating to it should be learnt in the morning. R. Jeremiah. however,
said to them: It has been explained to me by R. Hiyya b. Abba [that the word ‘repeat’ here has the
same meaning] as when, for instance, men say, I will go through this section and repeat it. It has also
been stated: R. Helbo said in the name of ‘Ulla of Biri: It is a man's duty to recite the Megillah at
night and to repeat it the next day, as it says, To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee [by
day]. and not be silent [by night]. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.

One of the best episodes in the history of Star Trek is called Mirror, Mirror.  In the episode a transport accident sends Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Scotty and Uhura into a parallel universe, one in which the Federation is a savage, dictatorial empire, the opposite of the peace-loving federation that they know.
In an essay on Purim, the Rav quotes the Gemara above and raises the following question: Rabbi Chiya bar Abba quotes a positive verse, implying that the theme of the Megillah reading is one of calling out in praise to God for the miracle of Purim.  This would seem to contradict Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi who quotes a negative verse that implies that the theme of the Megillah is calling out in despair for God's help.  This implies a contradiction in what should be the dominant theme of the day - despair vs praise.
He further asks what the Sages means when they described Yom HaKippurim as Yom K'Purim.  It would seem that the two are completely opposite since one day is dedicated to fasting and trepidation while the other is spent celebrating and feasting.
His answer is that both Purim and Yom Kippur are two day holidays and it is those two days that we see the similarities between the two.
First there is Purim which is preceded by Taanis Ester.  Putting Taanis Ester before Purim doesn't seem to make sense.  The fast that Ester declared in the Megillah occured over Pesach and lasted 3 days.  Further, the Megillah makes no mention that the Jews of Persia fasted on the day before Purim in anticipation of the fighting that would occur the next day.  In fact, the 13th of Adar was the day the fighting occured.  Why make it a fast day for the future?
The Rav answers that this is how the two themes of Purim are reconciled.  There is an aspect of despair and calling out to God in our helplessness to the holiday and this is seen through the commemorating of Taanis Ester.  Through fasting and prayer we are to relate to the despair that our ancestors felt as the dominant superpower of the day prepared to wipe them out with no hope of human rescue anywhere on the horizon.  Then we switch to rejoicing and praise of God the next day as we recognize how He maneuvered history to save us.  The Megillah reading at night which occurs when we're fasting allows us to read with the aspect of Taanis Ester while the reading in the morning is done with the aspect of Purim.
This dual aspect also applies to Purim except in reverse.  Yom Kippur is the most serious day of the Jewish year but the gemara in Taanis also describes it as the happiest.  Like Purim these two descriptions seem to be contradictory.  On the 9th of Tishrei we are bidden to eat and drink as much as possible and if we do so we care credited with having fasted for two days.  But according to the Rav's explanation, this becomes clear.  The inyan of Purim is the Megillah reading while the inyan of Yom Kippur is the inui. We are bidden to engage both aspects, one through eating and drinking and the other through fasting.
Another interesting thing to consider is the statement by the Sages that in the future all the holidays will be abolished except for Purim.  This presumably includes Yom Kippur!  However, seen this way Yom Kippur's message becomes part of the Taanis Ester portion of Purim and therefore will endure.
This is therefore why the Sages could state that Yom Kippur is Yom K'Purim.  Both holidays share the dual aspect of celebration and trepidation and therefore mirror each other perfectly.

Sunday 4 March 2012

The Rights of The Right

One thing I've always noted in Hollywood movies is that left-wing leaders and governments are portrayed as benevolent and freedom-loving while right-wing governments are seen as controlling and dictatorial.  What fascinates me about this is how this is the opposite of real life.
One live example of this is the current political debate going on in the United States.  On the right the Republicans are having one of the most boring nomination campaigns in history but the presence of Ron Paul and his strong libertarianism as well as the (waning) influence of the Tea Party is forcing the candidates to discuss such issues as individual freedom and the role of government in the lives of its citizens.
On the left, however, no such discussion is happening.  Actually, it's quite the opposite.  Two current themes are coming out of that side: (1) The government is right to expand its role into people's lives, especially in health care and (2) if you disagree with lefist views and values you are wrong and stupid.
Not of a different opinion.  Not reaching a different conclusion.  Wrong and stupid.
Now one can certainly appreciate the value of such an attitude. For one thing it saves you from having to actually defend your positions in any debate.  Why  go through the bother of having to develop an intelligent base for your position when you can simply slag the other side and declare its opinion null and void simply because it disagrees with yours?
What the definition of "legitimate scientist"?  One who believes in global warming.  If you don't, it doesn't matter how much information you have to back up your position.  You can't be legitimate because legitimate scientists support global warming.  Therefore your opinion doesn't count and it can be states that all legitimate scientists agree that global warming is a man-made phenomenon which will ultimately destroy all life on the planet.
Want to talk about abortion, possible on regulating it or restricting it so it doesn't act as a form of birth control?  You hate women.  You think they can't think for themselves.  You're a evil person who wants women to die of septic shock from the complications of backstreet abortions.  You couldn't possibly be reasonable because the definition of reasonable is "believes in abortion without restriction".
Consider the left's response to the rise of Rick Santorum in the Republican nomination race.  Now, I'm not a big fan of Santorum.  From what I've seen of the pathetic field of candidates I think that Mitt Romney is the most presidential and I base that on his haircut more than anything else.  Frankly I think Newt Gingrich might do a good job of it but he looks like a troll.  No Oval Office for him.
But it's the reaction to Rick Santorum that I find fascinating.  It's visceral and hateful more than anything.  Here's a guy who, unlike Romney and Gingrich, is offering a socially conservative platform.  He's standing on things like restricting abortion, the role of religion in the public square and so on.  And the left has been driven into a frenzy.  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, two men whose jobs exist simply so the right can be made fun of, can't stop attacking him.  The press is having a field day.  "I can't believe he thinks that" and "I hope he doesn't win" seem to be the most popular things to say about him.
What happened to the democratic process?  If Rick Santorum's view disagree with your then don't vote for him but is the left suggesting through their rhetoric that he has no right to those views at all?  Is democracy for them a competition between left and lefter because other views are simply not allowed?
Perhaps the difference between the left and the right is best seen in the difference between the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements.  The latter organized, spread and then worked to put its representatives into office so they could influence the course of government.  They didn't expect to change America by shouting but by proving their ideas in the political marketplace.  The former hung out in parks, whinged and engaged in public vandalism and then went home when the weather turned cold.  They had no interest in engaging in politics because they didn't think they should have to turn to something as banal as the democratic process in order to force their ideas down other people's throats.
Another great example is the recent statement of Justin Trudeau's up here in Canada.  For America readers, Trudeau is the son of the most snobbish, arrogant and self-centered prime minister Canada ever had.  For Pierre Eliot Trudeau others were inferior creatures designed to be remade in his image of what the average docile Canadian should be.  It is no wonder that his son recently stated that if Canada, under its current (nominally) right wing government continued its crusade to change the country then he would consider supporting the separation of Quebec since la belle province would be the only "right thinking" place left.
Again, take a step back.  The current government has said nothing about regulating abortion (currently completely unregulated up here) or curtailing homosexual marriage rights (currently available across the country).  That didn't stop Trudeau from accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of imminently revoking eligibility for both.  The lack of evidence of any actual attempts means nothing to him since Harper is clearly opposed to both and that's enough for him.
A final example is Canadian scientist-celebrity David Suzuki's musings recently that any politician opposed to accepting global warming as "fact" should be put in jail.  Not voted out of office by the electorate.  Not debated in a public forum.  Jail.  Why debate when your opponent is so obviously wrong?  Why trust the election process when the people might make the wrong choice (ie. not yours)?
It is ironic that the leftist attitude that disdains any contradicting opinion to its own is ultimately what disqualifies them from being able to have intelligent debates.  Perhaps in the future someone will arise from that side of the spectrum that is capable of articulating left wing positions intelligently but it doesn't seem to be the case now.

Thursday 1 March 2012

And Will You Draft Them?

The big news out of Israel right now is that the Supreme Court, in a close vote, overturned the Tal law which allowed Chareidim to avoid being drafted to the army.  Although the situation is temporarily in limbo there exists the very real possibility that the Chareidi community will lose its treasured position within Israeli society and expected to contribute to the defence of the country on more than a limited voluntary basis.
Naturally the secular population in Israel is ecstatic.  The idea that Chareidim do not help defend Israel while benefiting from the security the army provides has always been bitter for them to deal with.  Certainly one can understand the frustration of secular society in this issue.  And along with this has come the call to begin drafting Chareidim as soon as possible.
I would like to ask: is this feasible?
Keep in mind that for almost three generations now Chareidim have taken it for granted that they do not have to serve in the army.  From its origin as a casual gift from David Ben Gurion to the Chazon Ish, zt"l, this exemption has morphed into one of the articles of faith that Chareidim live by.  Asking them to serve in the army is like asking them to eat pork.  Chas v'shalom you should ever think they would want to do so!  Can one expect this community to simply roll over and say "Well it was a nice ride while it lasted.  Where do we sign up?"
What's more, given the recent proclivity towards violence the community has shown over the last few years, is it not likely that any attempt to institute a draft of Chareidi youth will be met with violent outbursts that will lead only to more public chilul HaShem?  And if Chareidi boys are forcibly drafted, how will the army cope with their passive-aggressive demands on everything from who teaches them to what kind of mehadrin food they'll eat?  No, any attempt to draft Chareidim en masse, Tal law or no Tal law, will be a disaster for both sides.  It will only entrench Chareidi hatred of Israel and the army while flaming the fans of intolerance from the secular side.
Instead, consider this proposal.  Right now one need to do army service of some kind in order to get documentation necessary to work in the economy of Israel.  Why not change this slightly?  For Chareidim learning is nowadays the sole activity they seem permitted to do.  In order to maintain this lifestyle they need the money from the coffers of the State.  Would it be so hard to apply the general rule to this population based on their specific need?  To wit: you want to sit and learn on our dime?  Do army service.  You don't want to do army service?  Fine, sit and learn but we're not paying for it.
No, it's not the perfect compromise.  It does suggest perpetuating the "learn, don't earn" culture that is slowly pushing the Chareidi community into crisis but it does take a step towards encouraging a slight integration of the Chareidi sector into the army.  And if it does encourage a few of them, that progress is something that can be built on.