Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Pleading The Fifth

It's well known that the Chazon Ish, zt"l, ordered the Israeli sheirut leumi program to be considered yehareg v'al ya'avor.  As the story goes, when he was asked what section of Shulchan Aruch he based his p'sak on he replied "The Fifth Section" which is apparently an unpublished work available only to certain poskim.  In other words, Daas Torah.
I have a great problem with this story.  When it comes to conventional p'sak there is no question that the Chazon Ish was and remains a preeminent halachic authority.  It's when things stray into the region of Daas Torah that I get uncomfortable, especially when the reason for such a wide ranging and important decision is based solely on a text that doesn't actually exist.
I've heard other versions of what the fifth section of Shulchan Aruch is; the most frequent seems to be "common sense".  The idea that it's the repository for innovative decisions completely unsupported by any obvious precedents or existing rules is a completely different concept.
For one thing, halacha is supposed to be about conversation.  Ours is not a random dictatorship in which a small group of theocrats shout out orders and threaten severe discipline if questioned.  P'sak should be transparent and open to question and discussion.  We are expected not to simply do but to understand why we do.  Last week's parasha, for example, contained the famous na'aseh v'nishma which amplified on the preceding na'aseh.  Yes, we must follow the Torah which includes the rulings of the great halachic authorities but we have a right to know why we're doing what we're doing.  Quoting a diktat from a non-existent book defeats that process.
It's also another thing if it's someone like the Chazon Ish, a gadol who genuinely had the entire Torah in his mind, doing something like this.  There is a similar story floating around about the Chasam Sofer, zt"l, who pushed his halachic position despite his opponent having a more detailed defence of the opposite view and justifying it by saying "He may have the precedents but I know I'm right".  Again, that's the Chasam Sofer, a once-in-a-generation mind that towered over his contemporaries.  The idea that anyone labelled a "Gadol" nowadays is automatically entitled to the same deference is somewhat difficult to swallow.
What therefore should be the approach to such claims nowadays? 
The response is to ask "Was it political in nature?"  It is no secret that the modern day version of Daas Torah has been abused ad nauseum to create the fiction of a uniform halachic community in order to deligtimize non-Chareidi Torah observance.  The p'sak of the Chazon Ish regarding the sheirut leumi can easily be seen in this regard.  The Chazon Ish was quite involved in trying to define "Torah True Judaism"(tm) and part of it was overt rejection of the State of Israel and all its organs (but not its money, 'natch).  Once a decision crosses the line into politics it loses much of its efficacy.  Chareidi PR folks may huff and puff to the contrary but the bottom line is that they are not the only form of legitimate Torah observance and commands by their leaders do not apply automatically to Orthodox Jews outside their community. 
Why is this so?  It seems more than ever that the dividing line between Chareidism and the rest of Torah-observant world is the issue of submission.  For Chareidim it seems to be all about giving up one's freedom to think and personal initiative and living life according to the rulings of "the Gedolim".  I think that such a derech is not the ideal Jewish one and there is much support for my position in the literature but there's also some support for mindless observance, I guess so kol hakavod to them.
But to say that this is the authentic approach to Judaism?  Sorry, it's not.  When Chazal said there were 70 facets to Torah they weren't kidding.  For modern Chareidism eilu v'eilu mayu be verboten but for the rest of us, a debate regarding halachic and hashkafic issues within the bounds of Torah principles must remain part of our Judaism.
Thus the response to the cherem on sheirut leumi has to be "Why?  Based on what?  With what justification?  What precedents?"  These questions must be asked respectfully but they must be asked, and not just in this situation but in any that seems to take the plurality out of halacha and replace it with a singular political vision.  Only in that way do we actually preserve the authentic tradition.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Mr Bibi Goes To Washington

Bibi Netanyahu's recent decision to accept an invitation to address Congress during the current Israeli election campaign has certainly generated a lot of attention and controversy.  Time was that a visit by the Israeli prime minister was eagerly anticipated, especially Bibi due to his eloquence.  Like him or not, the man can speak well in English and knows how to connect with his crowd.
Due to my political bent I'm all for anything that pokes a prominent Democrat in the US in the eye.  I should be excited, therefore, that Bibi is coming to the US to remind people just how ruinous the current US administration's foreign policy with its near capitulation to Iran and timidity just about everywhere else is.
Having said that I don't think Bibi should take up the invitation.  It simply doesn't have much of an upside for him.
Consider what's happened so far.  Despite having told the White House about the visit before accepting the invitation publicly he has been lambasted for breaking protocol and insulting President Obama.  If that isn't a set up and obvious show of contempt by the White House I don't know what is.  What's more, he's coming to talk about something Obama really opposes him on.  It's been clear for several months that Iran's biggest ally in its race to become a nuclear state is the current US President himself.  Short of smuggling American nukes to the mullocracy, Obama has done whatever he can to buy Iran time and come up with a deal that will amount to an unconditional surrender to Iran's demands.  Obama does not want Bibi showing up and explaining, on national television in front of the nation's lawmakers, that Iran isn't an American ally-in-waiting.
Given that most major US networks are lapdogs for the Democrats Bibi will have a hard enough time getting favourable press coverage in the US.  What's more, he's in the middle of an election campaign back home.  How does it look to have him gallavanting to North America and acting as if he doesn't need to pay full attention to the campaign back home?  It's not as if Likud is a runaway in the polls and doesn't need his presence.
For these reasons I think it's better that Bibi perhaps take a rain cheque and stay home for now. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The ER Guy

(With apologies to Billy Joel)

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday
The Regular dregs shuffle in
There's an 18 year old unconsious on stretcher 3
Seems he drank too much vodka and gin

Another says, "Doc, can you get me a pain killer
I'm not really sure what it's called
But it goes in the iv, pushed in quick and completely
And it's called something like "Shemerol"

La la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

Give us a drug, you're the ER guy
Give us a drug tonight
Well, we're all in the mood for some ketamine
Because it make us feel all right

Now John down the hall is a friend of mine
He gets me my ketamine quickly
And he's quick with a shot, alwayts gets the right spot
But there's somewhere that he'd rather be

He says, "Doc, I believe my gout killing me."
And he pointed at his swollen feet
"Well I'm sure that I could feel all better
If I could get colchicine for free"

Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

And the porter is running a stretcher out
As the paramedics slowly march in
Yes, they're brining another acute MI down
And three ankle fractures just hobbled in
Now Paul cirrhotic with large varices
Who still enjoyed 24 beer a day
And he's talkin' with Bob Stokes who still say that he smokes
Despite being on oxygen
Give us a drug, you're the ER guy

Give us a drug tonight
Well, we're all in the mood for some sedatives
Because it make us feel all right

It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the nurse manager gives me a frown
'Cause she knows we've got no beds for all the drunken heads
So they'll be in the hall for a while
And the babies scream down in the Paeds room
And the hip fracture smells like urine
I've got four hours left in my night shift
And wonder what the hell am I doing here
Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

Give us a drug, you're the ER guy
Give us a drug tonight
Well, we're all in the mood for some ketamine
Because it make us feel all right