Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 15 April 2013

Are There No Real Good Guys Left?

There have been two Battlestar Galactica series on television.  The first ran in the late 1970's, the second in the early 2000's.  Both shared a basic premise in common - the twelve tribes of humanity lived somewhere out in space on twelve planets, each one named for one of the constellations we know of.  The Cylons then show up and destroy all twelve colonies.  Only one military vessel, the Galactica, survives and it leads a ragtag group of civilian ships in search of a legendary thirteenth colony of humanity living on the planet Earth.
The original series only lasted one season (Galactica 1980 did not happen, I repeat: did NOT happen) while the re-imagined series managed to complete the voyage and end the story.  But other than that and the obviously superior special effects used in the latter incarnation there were other significant differences between them.
The main one was in the moral quality of the characters.  In the original series the good guys were pretty much all good.  They were decent, honest, upright men and women dedicated to their jobs, families and loved ones.  If Commander Adama told you he would do something, he'd do it.  He wouldn't be shifty, use deceptive language or try to wheedle his way out of what he'd said.  The other characters were equally trustworthy white knights, the one exception being Starbuck who greatest moral sins included trying to juggle multiple girlfriends and smoking cigars.  Otherwise we were presented with a humanity that represented the best values we believe in fighting against the emotionless, murderous Cylon robot race.
The re-imagined series presented characters that were quite different.  As opposed to their morally pure predecessors these incarnations had plenty of flaws.  They were far more violent, ethically conflicted, likely to cheat on their spouses/partners and ready to backstab if necessary.  The Cylons, excluding their desire to massacre all humans, were far more decent.  They got along with one another, acted in a trustworthy fashion and portrayed a society that desires to progress in ways that would assure mutual benevolence to all its members.  Indeed, by the end of the middle part of the series I was finding myself rooting for the Cylons.  Compared to the humans they seemed far more worthy of victory.
Now in real life I realize that the second series is far more realistic than the first when it comes to describing human nature.  Today on Yom Ha'atzma'ut we remember the great event that the Ribono shel Olam granted us in restoring Jewish sovereignty to His people in His land.  We know from the historical record that those men and women chosen as His agents to bring about this incredible miracle were not the greatest of people when it came to personal ethics and behaviour.  In fact, my father often remarked that the establishment and endurance of the State of Israel is a clear and ongoing proof of God's desire to bring history forward towards the final redemption because if it were really up to the Zionist movement it would either never have happened or immediately collapsed amid all the infighting that was occuring.
I mention all this in response to the recent breaking story that a famous and important American Rav whose grasp of what truth is and what it isn't has recently be shown to be quite shaky.  In summary this Rav created a fictitious identity years ago and was using this identity to publish letters and blog comments in support of his real identity as well as to join the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a very left wing MO group, to follow along on its internal discussion.  When exposed the Rav issued a non-apology which, if taken at face value, shows he does not understand the moral importance of his actions.  He even went as far as to make the statement (assuming the article is accurate, it was in Haaretz after all) that while he knows he was engaging in an untruth he was simply doing what lots of folks do which meant there is nothing wrong with that.
Kind of like how if you cheat on spouse it's not a sin because most people in Western society also do?
One could take this Rav's professional life into account.  He is, in addition to being an important Rav and the head of the largest Beit Din in the United States, also a lawyer and it is well-known that "lawyer" is simply "liar" said with an Irish accent.  Thus this Rav may have been under the impression that his professional responsibilities included engaging in untruths as long as it led to a greater good.  However, I don't find that explanation satisfactory.
More likely is that this Rav fell for what so many in the Orthodox world have in the last while.  As I and others have noted before, the trend in Orthodoxy especially over the last few decades have been to emphasize ritual behaviour while giving lip service to ethical actions.  A person in the Orthodox world is judged by the hat he wears, not by the honesty of his business dealings.  In fact, one often believes that part of the ritual behaviour is justifying ethical weakness in the name of great ritual observance.  One is allowed to cheat on one's taxes just as long as the money goes as a donation to the local Jewish school system, for example.
One might even blame the non-Orthodox Jewish movements for this.  In the absence of ritual adherence the Reformatives have long emphasized moral behaviours, both Jewish and secular in their practice.  Much of Orthodoxy since the rise of Chareidism under the Chasam Sofer, zt"l, is defined by its reaction to the Reformatives.  It is quite possible to blame our ethical decline on this phenomenon.  Are they going to be honest and polite?  We'll show them!
What this Rav did was no different.  I don't doubt he had good intentions when he began his adventures in sockpuppeting but the ends did not justify the means, as the Mishnah in Avos points out.  As a result he has suffered a public humiliation and loss of esteem which is a shame considering his significant scholarship and actions on behalf of Torah Jewry in the United States.  His lack of remorse simply shows that he suffers the ritual-ethical disconnect prevalent in our community.  This must desperately be addressed.


RAM said...

When a widely published rav's image of authority is shattered, do his "official" writings lose validity altogether? It may be possible to distinguish writings that are logically strong on their own from those that are logically weak but were accepted, at least in part, on his authority.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Consider that the high moral position a Rav is part of what gives his writings and psak authority in the first place.

RAM said...

Well, maybe some things said can have validity even with zero authority behind the one who says them, because of their inherent logic.

Correction said...

He was not the head of the Beis Din, just a dayan.