Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Sometimes It's The Obvious Answer

In a bid to enrich myself on Tisha B'Av I scanned Youtube for a shiur or two.  I found one that initially piqued my interest but rapidly wound up annoying me.  The speaker, a younger man from the Chareidi community began talking about how on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz many observant Jews were banned from praying at the Kotel because of fears that they would participate in a riot once the Women of the Wall showed up and began their monthly shtick.
He began to speak about reflecting on why this happened but, almost predictably, did not state the obvious: Jews were banned from praying because the police were worried about violence.  Instead he brought up a gemara from the end of Makkos, the famous one about Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues seeing a fox walking in the ruins of the Temple and their varied reactions.  He went on from there and brought in a beautiful interpretation but by then he'd lost me.  All I wanted to do was shout at the screen: Dude!  It's because you guys riot!  If you didn't do that the incident wouldn't have happened.
It reminds me of a story I read somewhere on-line a few years ago about a community where some children had been killed in car accidents at a busy intersection.  The community called a meeting and various people tried to determine what sin they were guilty of that had caused these tragedies and what they should do to make proper teshuvah.  When the Rav of the community was asked though, his answer was simple: Maybe we should ask the city to put in a traffic light.
When people don't want to see the obvious answer to their problems they can come up with all kinds of different solutions.  The average obese person with knee pain doesn't blame that Molson Muscle hanging down over their belts.  He claims that the pain killers I gave him weren't strong enough or that he needs a better pair of shoes.  Similarly the frum world, when looking at its problems, seems to possess a significant central blind spot with excellent peripheral vision.  They see everything else other than their own contribution to what's affecting them.
A fantastic example of this is a recent letter from our favourite PR hack, Rav Avi Shafran which was appended to an article written by Rav Elchonon Oberstein in Baltimore Jewish Life.  The subject of Rav Overstein's column was the recent spate of attacks on Chareidi soldiers by Chareidi civilians incensed by... well who knows anymore?
After noting several things which are not making their way into the Chareidi community regarding how much the Tzahal is trying to accomodate ultraOrthodox recruits and make the process of drafting them as painless as possible and after noting statements from the secular side of society showing care and concern for the worries the Chareidim have about this, a letter from Rav Shafran is appended which, on superficial glance, seems to be what I predicted he wouldn't do: acknowledge the problem and condemn it.
But read the letter carefully and the blind spot reappears.  Consider:
 Now, with various players putting the issues front-and-center, and signaling their intention to mold the charedi community to something closer to their own image, the (easily predictable, if unfortunate) result has been a counterpush – with things like army service and joining the workforce becoming, at least in the eyes of some – a playing into the hands of the enemy (here, Mr. Lapid and company).
Note the way Rav Shafran has taken the Chareidi onslaught against the government and turned it around.  Mr. Lapid and company have, from the start, done their utmost to avoid inflammatory statements and to find as many compromises as possible in order to accommodate the special needs of the ultraOrthodox while the response has been shrill and unyielding.  But instead of noting this Rav Shafran simply repeats the canard: well of course we're upset.  They've trying to change us into seculars!
The poster-posters and catcalls you describe are misguided and obnoxious -- I felt revulsion reading your account -- but they are just another sadly predictable result of the new polarization of the Israeli populace. 
How odd then that, despite this polarization, there have been no poster campaigns from the secular and Religious Zionist communities in Israel villifying the Chareidim?
Firstly, the American Gedolim as a rule do not comment on anything having to do with Eretz Yisrael, 
Unless it has to do with the Women of the Wall.  Despite the WoW's only real presence is in Israel and therefore only an Israeli concern this hasn't stopped Rav Shafran from issuing comments along with many of his cohorts at Cross Currents.
And yet, on communal issues like the larger one in Israel, the Gedolim do feel they must call a spade a spade, and a stick-and-carrot campaign by anti-charedi people (even those who have occasionally presented themselves as “the charedim’s friend”) precisely that.
In summary: yeah, bad stuff's happening but it's all the fault of those nasssssty seculars who want to destroy the Chareidi community so how can you expect "the Gedolim" to issue any statements?
Tisha B'Av has just passed and with it another opportunity to miss the point of the day.  We must each of us be constantly performing a cheshbon hanefesh on ourselves while simultaneously judging our neighbours, both religious and secular favourably.  Instead of blaming "the other" we must start blaming ourselves.  If both sides were to approach the other with the opening statement "I'm the problem, how can I change to make things better for you?" then we would be many steps closer to eliminating Tisha B'Av as a fast day.


micha berger said...

Given the truth of your final thought: Instead of blaming "the other" we must start blaming ourselves. If both sides were to approach the other with the opening statement "I'm the problem, how can I change to make things better for you?" then we would be many steps closer to eliminating Tisha B'Av as a fast day.

Why did you hit "publish" on this post analyzing how others did wrong?

ahg said...

"...Gedolim both in E”Y and in America have a long-established policy of generally not commenting on outrageous acts committed by ostensibly religious Jews"

Unless their name happens to be MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, or affiliated with YCT, or some other out of favor group. Perhaps they no longer consider them "ostensibly religious?" Perhaps the correct reading is "outrageous acts committed by superficially chareidi Jews?"

micha berger said...

AHG: Or maybe it's "... committed by people they're afraid of"? Or maybe "... by people the chareidi media workers and politicians don't tell them much about"? Or maybe they are doing it, and that cloud of media and politics simply aren't interested in quoting that part?

Maybe it's time to admit that even in this day of instant telecommunication, we have too little idea of what gedolim say for the concept of da'as Torah to have pragmatic value even if I posited it did exist.

ahg said...


I should have been more clear: The quote at the top of my previous comment is from the letter written by Rabbi Avi Shafran published in the article that Garnel linked to.

I generally agree with your assertion that most people have too little idea of what actually said by gedolim or not. However, as Director of Public Affairs of Agudath Yisrael of America, Rabbi Shafran should know very well what their gedolim are saying. When Rabbi Shafran asserts that they have a policy of not commenting, I'll take his word for it that there is such a policy - but note the exceptions. He's the spokesperson for the American Agudah affiliated gedolim - should he not be considered an authoritative source?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

I don't think it's people they're so much afraid of as bothered by. Part of the Agudah's mandate seems to be to convince people that the only authentic Judaism that is and was is Chareidi Judaism and that Chareidi Judaism comes with a predefined package of values that allows for no deviation. Folks like Rav Lipman are a problem because he's a Chareidi that doesn't tow the party line on some important issues. YCT calls itself Orthodox but isn't Chareidi and isn't afraid of being attacked by them.

Atheodox Jew said...

Avi Shafran's letter - a classic "Yabbut" (short for "Yeah, but...").

He did express some appropriate outrage and empathy. And that's where it should've ended - saying there's no excuse for that kind of appalling behavior, and that something is terribly amiss in a community which simply stands by and lets it happen. But the spokesman (the yabbut) in him once again possessed him. My sense is he just can't help himself.

GoldieZP said...

We must each of us be constantly performing a cheshbon hanefesh on ourselves while simultaneously judging our neighbours, both religious and secular favourably.

AMEIN! And constantly do good deeds to hasten mashiach's arrival.

micha berger said...

We need to constantly do good things to do good things. Don't turn Judaism into a mechanism for manipulating G-d.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Well aren't you putting a crimp into the segulah, charm and red thread industry?

micha berger said...

I have nothing against segulos. I couldn't find a way to keep on rejecting them and yet still accept the simanei milsa at our Rosh haShanah dinner table. These things figure in the Bavli (albeit not the Y-mi) too much to simply reject.

Rather, I object to turning tools that were designed to foster bitachon and kavanah during davening into theurgy (lechishah). It's okay in my book to put the red string on a child as a means to remember not to cause jealousy (ayin ra) in others, perhaps the childless couple or the single parent who can't afford to pamper their kid as you do, and thus avoid the punishments of ayin hara.

But use it as a bit of metaphysical engineering to circumvent Hashem giving you what is appropriate.... the Litvak in me can't sit still for such things.

Here it's neither. It's taking mitzvos and removing them from the realm of trying to be holy, good and upright, and turning them into a way to bribe G-d.

jrs said...

<<< It's okay in my book to put the red string on a child as a means to remember not to cause jealousy >>>

You can't honestly believe that any significant number of people (or even a mezuman) tie a red string on their child with the conscious intention---never mind with any such results--- of "reminding themselves not to make others envious".

The dubious notion that MAYBE this was the original intent of it does not matter at all if,
A. there's no conscious intention from the one doing it now, and
B. there's absolutely zero such effect.

<<< ...and thus avoid the punishments of ayin hara..>>>

Ah, yes, the extremely disturbing belief that God causes random bad things of wildly varying severity to happen to people for the [apparently] capital sin of being a bit too ostentatious---or worse, for merely not trying hard enough to *avoid* giving anyone else cause for envy!

...Like when someone asks how many children you have, you must not simply answer "Five!"--because someone nearby with only one kid might become jealous, horrible things may happen to your kids... and who's to blame? You, for not simply saying "Boruch Hashem, I have a wonderful family."
No, you had to rub it in everyone's face by giving an exact number.

Welcome to the Wonderful, Wacky World of Ayin Hora!

micha berger said...

Or, stay true to what was evidently the original intent of these segulos, as I'm extrapolating from the talmudically prescribed segulos of simanei milsa (apple in honey, etc...)

And as for people who do differently, nebich they're tinoqos shenishbe'u. If they can't be corrected, their loss should be the source of compassion. Like the way you feel when you hear of a Reform Jew who never experienced the beauty of an authentic Shabbos.

Ridicule is a cheap way to feel better about ourselves by focusing on how someone else is in some way worse. And what about our own failings? Rav Yisrael Salanter suggested that if you wish to feel taller, don't dig a hole for the other person, stand on a rock.

RAM said...

Micha wrote:
"And as for people who do differently, nebich they're tinoqos shenishbe'u."
Is this because something keeps them from accessing the now readily available Torah teachings they lack? Is it relevant what that something is? For example, brainwashing at home and in school could be different from plain laziness.

micha berger said...

People are raised believing that segulos are theurgical. They might have access to books that say otherwise, although someone who limits themselves to the usual large yeshivish English publishing houses (plus primary sources that are before the need to deal with the issue) won't encounter them.

But I was taught that people who believe what they were raised to believe are tinoqos shenishbe'u even if they had theoretical exposure to opposing viewpoints. The availability of texts that deal with the issues that Conservative Judaism answers in ways that, well, lead to Conservative Judaism doesn't make a C Jew any less a tinoq shenishba. Even though he has access to the same sefarim store I do.