Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 24 May 2010

Hoisted On His Own Petard

Rahm Emmanuel has proven to be one of BH Obama's more effective court Jews in the last year.  Even as Obama worked to aliented, humiliate and isolate Israel while showing care and concern for some of its (and America's) most bitter enemies, Emmanuel was always there backing up his boss, providing him with a Jewish figleaf to divert justified calls of Jew-hater against him. 
Now, however, it seems that Emmanuel has been caught by his own strategy which would be completely delightful if it didn't mean his 13 year son and nephew didn't have to suffer the consequences of his political amibition:
“This memorial break, I am taking my son, my nephew Noah with Ari my brother, so they can have their bar mitzva in Israel,” Emanuel boasted in the November 10 speech, winning cheers from the crowd. “Not to add humor to this moment, but that’s cheap applause. I’ll take an $18 check on behalf of him if you like. That’s obviously illegal as a public servant. That was a joke.”
But as the bar mitzva date approaches, the White House, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry have declined to give any details whatsoever about the event. A White House representative said Emanuel’s visit to Israel was “a private trip” and diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said they also didn’t provide details when National Security Council official Dennis Ross came for his son’s wedding.
The lack of information has led to speculation in the Hebrew press, with Haaretz reporting incorrectly that Emanuel would arrive in Israel this week and Ma’ariv suggesting that he had moved the bar mitzva away from the Western Wall, either because of threats from right-wingers or because the Obama administration considered the wall in the territory of a future Palestinian capital.
Neither Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz nor Rabbi Jay Karzen, who has conducted more than 2,000 bar mitzvas at the site, was contacted by Emanuel’s family or his office.
“We would have known about it if they inquired about it, so I don’t think they canceled a bar mitzva at the Wall or planned one,” Rabinovitz’s spokesman said.
But an official close to the Emanuel family insisted that the bar mitzva would indeed take place at the Western Wall, while another family friend hinted it was scheduled for Saturday, May 29.
Rahm Emanuel’s father, the Jerusalem-born Benjamin M. Emanuel, reached at his home in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, told The Jerusalem Post that he “cannot make any statement” about the bar mitzva
BH Obama has made it clear that he intends to one day force Israel, if he can, to cede all the land Israel took in the 1967 war to the Arab enemy so they can create another terrorist state to complement the one Ariel Sharon helped build in 'Aza.  If Emmanuel had a problem with this, we have not heard it from him. 
The man's arrogance is breathtaking.  He intends to hold his son's bar mitzvah at the Kotel that he intends to give to Israel's enemies once he's done using it as a photo prop for the occasion.  How can anyone suffer this kind of an attitude?  Well, BH Obama can I guess.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Community Responsiblity

A recent article on Ynet provide an interesting perspective to the current struggles taking place within the Chareidi community.
It points out something obvious that those who hate Ultraorthodoxy are often loathe to admit.  The public face of the Chareidi sector in Israel as well as its basic religious structure is run by a group of hateful radicals who presume that their agenda is the true, pure Torah agenda and are willing to use all their compatriots as ammunition is their various righteous struggles:
The majority is trapped in the hands of the bored radicals on the streets who have way too much free time. The overwhelming majority of haredim are also opposed to gender-segregated bus routes, but who can stand up to a "holy struggle" – that is, radicalism that portrays itself as an attempt to make the community even holier.
Does the average haredi even understand why garbage bins need to be burned? Does the average haredi support this idiotic form of protest? Does he understand how the burning of a garbage bin advances any cause? Does it make any difference, with the exception of making the lives of municipal workers and taxpayers miserable?

The haredi community is a sane and captive sector. An overwhelming majority of Shas voters are in favor of the state and of the army. Most Agudath Israel voters oppose the anti-Intel protests. The problem is that those who endorse the protests are stronger and louder.
As I have noted a few times before, bad news makes the front page.  Good news gets ignored.  Murphy's law also teaches us that "he who shouts loudest has the floor".  It is indisputable that the average Chareidi is a decent person who is a victim of the dysfunctional askanim who have perverted the community with their Talibanistic version of Judaism. 
Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this huge problem.  One of the structural institutions that askanim rely on to maintain their power is the concept of Gadol-worship.  Never mind that most of these Gedolim are living insular lives and haven't a clue about how warped their followers have become.  To question the askanim is to question the Gedolim.  To question the Gedolim is to be kofer b'ikkar.  In this way dissent has been neatly shelved.
And even if someone was willing to challenge the order of things - let's say a Gadol himself wants to take to the airwaves and shout "Enough!" - there's always the threat of violence to keep the dissenters in line, something which we have seen too much of lately.
Writing in Orot HaKodesh, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, zt"l notes that an absence of proper yiras Shamayim leads to a fear of thinking.  This is certainly evident in the way simplistic, dogmatic views have become di rigeur as the askanim redefine Judaism by introducing one new ikkar emunah after another in order to prevent their subjects from thinking for themselves.
The only bright light is that a situation like this is, according to Rav Kook, necessary for the process leading to the coming of Moshiach.  Maybe we will see, in the coming few years (decades?) that all this suffering heaped on helpless people will have been for an important reason.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Who's the Real Victim

A recent post over at Brooklyn Wolf's blog about the story out of Israel of a woman being assaulted by a Chareidi thug because she had tefillin strap markings on her arm elicited the usual justified cries of outrage.  Rightly so since this behaviour is not Jewish and causes suffering to an innocent person which is a grave sin.
But one of comments left on that post by this blogger got me thinking somewhat deeper about the ongoing confrontations between the two sides.  Here it is:
When it comes to dealing with those in the Orthodox community who disapprove, however, frankly, I'd rather not deal with their disapproval at all--as far as I'm concerned, aside from modesty issues, the way I dress when I come before HaShem in prayer is between me and HaShem, and there's no reason why anyone who disapproves of a woman wearing a tallit and/or tefillin even has to know that I do so.
This is an interesting insight.  If I am reading it correctly, the blogger isn't worried so much about causing offence as bothered by thought of having to deal with the offence she's caused.
Her main pain - that how she dresses during prayer - is one of those can't-argue points that people often raise in situations like that.  How could one possibly disagree with such a statement?  Shouldn't prayer be personal?  Shouldn't people worry more about themselves than what the woman nearby has on? 
But there is an unfortunate answer to such questions: Life isn't fair.
Here's a particuarily blatant example of how the principle works.  It is a given that a woman should be able to walk the streets of her town at any time she likes while wearing whatever she wants.  It is a fact that a woman wearing a skimpy outfit walking through a disreputable neighbourhood in the wee hours of the morning is likely to be attacked by a predatory thug.  No, there is no justifying it and one cannot say "She had it coming", chas v'shalom, but based on the principle mentioned one should be able to ask at some point: What the hell was she thinking?
Consider the ongoing clashes between the Chareidim and the Women of the Wall at the Kotel every so often.  The WoW love to portray themselves as victims.  After all, what crime are they commiting?  They merely want to come before God and express their prayers in the way they think is best, according to their religious principles.  Again, a can't-argue position.  And once again: life isn't fair.
Honestly, does any WoW member really think, while packing up the tallis and tefillin, that somehow this time the Chareidim won't riot when they show up?  Do they really think the police, having come to the plaza in response to the disruption, are going to round up 500 savage fanatics instead of 15 docile feminists?  Oh please, these women are not that naive.  Under all the expresssions of religious freedoms is the unspoken agenda of provoking the Chareidim in order to gain public sympathy.  No, the Chareidim shouldn't riot.  They should ignore the WoW and get on with their own lives but they're not going to.  Like a rapid dog, they will attack every time, something WoW counts on.
So who then is the real victim?  It's the parent who has brought their child to the Kotel for the first time. It's the family on vacation that wants a spiritual moment.  It's the other religious and non-religious who come looking for inspiration and a tete a tete with God.  All these people now can no longer enjoy their time at the Kotel because of the screaming and shouting behind them.  It's these innocent people who suffer because there are those out there whose desire to worship God in their own way includes a need to aggravate others just "to show them".  They are the real victims.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Castles Built on Sand

There is much that the Chareidi community that they can be proud off.  Sixty years ago they were a decimated group, written off to eventual extinction.  Now they are the dominant part of the Torah-observant community and the fastest growing section of the Jewish nation both in numbers and influence.  The number of yeshivos and other institutions continues to grow at a tremendous rate.  They are producing books at a pace unprecedented in Jewish history and many of their leaders and inspiring figures continue to lead lives at a level of exceptional piety.
Then why is it when someone Chareidi has the temerity to point out the success of the community that it seems to grate on the nerves, like "how dare they boast"?  What is it that bothers us about it so much?
One could say that it's due to petty jealousy.  Do we perceive them as being "frummer" than the rest of us?  Are we simply annoyed at how they, despite their refusal to engage all the aspects of the modern world we can't live without, continue to grow and strengthen? 
Or is it something simpler?  After reading this article at Cross Currents I think I've figured out the reason I'm so bothered.  To put it simply, today's Chareidi community is a castle built on sand.
Everything I said in the first paragraph still applies but one must take a step back and look at its foundation.  Yes, in Israel there are yeshivos springing up everywhere.  The population is growing.  But all these things come with a price tag.  Food and medicine must be paid for.  There are bills for building and running institutions.  Despite the presence of many generous donors, the vast bulk of the money needed to keep the Chareidi community going comes from the secular government of Israel which that same community treats with scorn and a complete lack of gratitude.  If the chilonim were to cut off the money supply tomorrow, how many Chareidi would simply starve to death, chalilah, from lack of cash to buy the most basic supplies?  How many would turn to crime or leave the life of faith they lead out of desperation or disillusionment?  And for those who think otherwise, the patient of the chiloni population is not unlimited.  They know that they are paying to support the Chareidi family of 10 which seeks to replace them in the country they built and they will not endure this forever. 
In America, things are not much better despite their outward appearances.  No, the government there does not fund an indigent lifestyle but a different source does.  Recall that only a generation or two ago it was still considered muttar to work for a living.  Many of those who did accomplished a great deal and amassed a decent amount of wealth.  Their progeny, however, have embraces the "learn, not earn" lifestyle and financed it quite nicely from that wealth.  However, these progreny are reproducing at a tremendous rate.  When the capital that the grandparents created is consumed by the children, what will the grandchildren live from?  Fresh air and good wishes?
For all our sakes, it is incumbent to stand up and point out that this culture must change.  Should some stay in kollel and learn at the highest levels?  Of course.  Our culture has always thrived and endured because of the efforts of those who would delve into the brightest depths of Torah.  But their numbers should be restricted to those who will be the next generation of religious leaders and thinkers, not every bench warmer who wants a free income without having to work for it.  For the sake of our future, we must challenge the assumptions that have been foisted upon them and call them what they are: a slow ticket to ruin. 

Still Here But Busy

For those who are wondering (or even possible hoping), I have not given up on this blog.  However, things have been very busy for the Lord of the Living with the Undead to fight back against and all.  Battles, battles, all the time, but I haven't abandoned things here.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

One Link to Another

"The seventh year shall be a Shabbat Shabbaton for the land, a Shabbat to the Lord, your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prepare." (Vayikra 25:4)

The Sifra on this verse comments that the reason the word Shabbat was applied to the Shemittah year was to compare it to the weekly Shabbat because both are referred to with the phrase "to the Lord". 
Tha Malbim, commenting on this Sifra, note that while the word Shabbaton is applied by the Torah to all the holidays, the word Shabbat itself only appears in reference to Shabbos itself and Yom Kippur.  By the same token, the phrase "a Shabbat to the Lord" only appears in reference to Shabbos and the Shemittah year since both remind us that God rested on the seventh day and testify that there is renewal in the world.  It is fitting, says the Malbim, that just as animals and people get to rest on one type of Shabbos that there should be a Shabbos for the land to rest too.  Why does the land need a special year for this?  By all rights, just as everything else rests on Shabbos, so too should plants and other products of the land stopped growing every seventh day but since that would violate the laws of nature which God created (and which He does not wish to violate) therefore the seventh years was chosen to make up for the six years where the land could not observe Shabbos.  This is why in parshas Mishpatim both the weekly and the yearly Shabbos are brought next to each other - the latter is an extension of the former. 
Further, the Malbim reminds us that in some places in the Torah the year is called yamim, days, since there are two ways to look at the sun's movements in the sky.  The first is the 24 hour cycle where the Earth revolves around and the other is the way the sun moves back and forth in its position in the sky over 365 days until it returns to the same spot it started, another form of "day".  There are therefore the two terms: yimei haadam which refers to the 24 hour day that our lives revolve around and yimei ha'aretz which refers the the complete cycle of the Earth revolving around the sun.  The yovel then brings a 50 year cycle which completes the "days" of the land which is why everything "resets" at that time in terms of land ownership.
The final example of this type of cycling that the Malbim brings is the gemara which tells us that the Earth will endure for 6000 years and lay waste for another 1000, paralleling once again the 6 days of Creation and the seventh day being Shabbos.  However, here he brings what I find is a very clever bit of math.
In 6000 years there are a potential of 120 yovel years.  By amazing coincidence, we are told at the beginning of parshas Noach that the ideal potential life span of man is 120 years.  Therefore, the Malbim concludes, we see the ultimate connection between God, for whom a day is 1000 years as brought in Tehillim, and man.  Both have 6 days of creativity and work and the seventh day for each is one of rest.  This is how the Shemittah therefore ties into Shabbos Bereshis.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Problem With the Easy Answer

"He's intelligent but not experienced.  His pattern indicates two dimensional thinking." (Spock, Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan)

To his credit, Rav Yonasan Rosenblum rarely goes for the easy answers in his writing.  Even when I disagree with him, I always have to appreciate that his position is taken from a position of reason.  But unfortunately his latest essay disappoints in that regard in that, like many other writers from around the world, he tried to explain the mind of God, something we as humans can never completely understand.
The basic points in his piece are sound:
But for all the wondrous powers with which Hashem has imbued Man, those powers are also limited – something that we forget at our peril. On Rosh Chodesh Iyar, we received an important reminder. The eruption in Iceland of a relatively small volcano, with an unpronounceable name, brought European air travel to a halt for nearly a week. Over one hundred thousand flights were grounded, with millions of travelers unable to return home or reach their destinations.

A earlier, the same volcano erupted without incident. But a concatenation of events created a perfect storm this time. The hot magma reached the surface under a glacier, and when the molten lava hit the ice, the result was the creation of glassified silicates that burst three to five miles into the sky under pressure from the steam released. The winds at those altitudes carried the clouds of particles capable of destroying jet engines and cracking plane windshields over most of Europe.
And suddenly Man was no longer master of the skies. As Professor Michio Kato, writing in the Wall Street Journal put it, "We humans often think we are so great, with all our high technology [only to find ourselves] pushed around like pawns as the earth slowly but inexorably changes and shifts."
Believing Jews are taught to look for a message in all such cataclysmic events.
Not much objectionable there.  However, he immediately took a promising start right off the rails with his very next statement:
Some found such message in the fact that Eyjafjallajokull erupted, bringing all tourism to England to a halt, on the very day that the Independent revealed that the United Kingdom Advertising Standard Agency had banned an advertisement for travel to Israel that featured a photo of the Kotel. According to the Agency, the ad misleadingly implied that the Kotel is part of Israel.
How terribly simplistic, and despite the title of the article, not the way to think Jewishly at all.
One of the basic understandings of our faith is that God, having predated all of existence as we understand it exists outside of both space and time.  All that was, all that is and all that will be is present before Him.  He does not wonder what the future will bring or forget what occured in the past.  As a result, He has the ability to control and provide sustence for all of Creation at the same time.  Like an infinite interlocking puzzle, He knows where all the pieces go and how to move everything so that Creation stays in sync at all times.
Humans are not quite as capable of understanding all of this.  We are trapped within time and therefore tend to see things in a temporal fashion along the lines of cause and effect.  We are also selfish, tending either consciously or not to see things through the lens of "how does this effect me?".  As a result, there is always a temptation to try and find deeper meanings in events around us.  Due to our limitations, such attempts are always failures.
Consider a simple example: a mafioso lives down the street.  One day his house burns down with him inside.  The entire city is happy and sees the fire as Heavenly revenge for his criminal ways.  Then his wife, who was out at the time of the fire, invested the insurance money from the mishap and uses it to create an even bigger crime empire.  Was the fire really revenge against the wicked?
The same thinking has been applied to the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland.  The British had just attacked Israel's legitimate claim to Yerushalayim so God punished them, as the notion went, by temporarily grounding their tourist industry.
But any serious examination of the subject immediately tears that apart.  If the British sinned, what did the French, Germans, Belgians and, most importantly, Icelanders do wrong?  Some might scoff and point out that they aren't exactly bastions of pro-Israel activity but that's not the point.  The British have been quietly undermining Israel for years too but the volcano is supposed to be revenge for a specific action, that of the tourism board.  The other countries did nothing in particular against Israel that week.  Why be punished alongside the British?
Then there's the idea that Britian was isolated because of the ash cloud.  Except that it wasn't because it was still quite accesible by sea and rail (through the Chunnel).  Yes there was a huge inconvenience to tens of thousands of travellers but no more than that.  No lives were lost and the economic damage is reparable. 
And mentioning inconvenience, let's also point out that thousands of Israeli and Jewish tourists were affected by the ash cloud.  Is God an indiscriminate brute capable of only punishing in broad strokes without regard for the good and bad?  Of course not.  As Avraham noted when God told him he was going to destroy S'dom, that's exactly what God isn't!
It is always tempting to engage in simplistic thinking.  We've all heard the stories about the people who came late to work on 9/11 only to miss being in the World Trade Centre when it collapsed.  What a miracle, we're told.  Hashgachas pratis, we're told.  And what about those Jews who got to work on time and died?  Hmmmm?
As the end of the books of Iyov and Koheles tell us, ours is not to try and know the mind of God.  As the Navi says, "My thoughts are not as your thoughts".  Ours is to keep His Torah and live our lives as decently as we an, trusting that He will do a perfect job running the universe.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Forgotten Connection

I don't have great memories of Tommy Lapid.  Despite not being the greatest fan of Chareidism out there, I found the idea of Shinui, a political party dedicated to attacking that segment of the Israeli population in the absence of any other identifiable platform profoundly offensive.  I don't doubt that Tommy's son Yair felt much as his father did and, sadly, I can probably name half a dozen legitimate reasons for those feelings but I still don't have great memories.
But Yair Lapid's latest piece in Ynet is one I think should be read by the Chareidi world because it is a cri de couer that trascends the petty religious/political lines that divide our people.  Years ago I visited Israel and spent time with both Chareidi and chiloni friends.  The Chareidim had no shortage of complaints about the chilonim and most of them were quite justified. In turn the chilonim had a lots of complains about the Chareidim and again, they were legitimate.  At the time I didn't want to take a side.  I could see that both sides were right in their criticism of the other but neither side seemed to have an insight into the other's concerns about them.
Lapid looks at it from a different point of view, the eminently practical one.
The silence in the backseat grows deeper. They're not hostile, heaven forbid; that just have nothing to talk about. They can't talk about computers, literature, geography, history, or even the Bible. Yeshivas barely teach any Bible, only Talmud. That doesn’t leave much to talk about. They're just kids, but they're already strangers.
And they don't study math. I studied math and I was terrible at it. Perhaps this is why I fail to figure out the equation I see in the rearview mirror: How exactly will 2.6 children support 6.9 kids?
Twenty percent of students in Israel's schools are haredim; another 20% are retired; another 20% are Arab. I have no problem with any of them. One is allowed to be haredi, or Arab, and certainly a pensioner. However, if at this time already it's unclear how 40% of the country's citizens are able to support the other 60%, can you imagine what will happen here in 10 years?
Make no mistake about it, my smiling friend; I do not wish to live in a world where everything is examined through the economic bottom line. Yet this is hopeless. My children in fact have no future.
This is so because in the past eight years we've seen a 24% decline in the number of students in teacher colleges in the national education system. People don't want to be teachers in our sector; not with the current salaries. Why are the salaries so low? Because in those same eight years, the number of teaching cadets in your sector leapt by 111% - and all of this comes from the same budget. 
You want private education for your students? No problem whatsoever; pay for it. There is no other country in the world – not even one! - where the government funds private education. There is no other country in the world where Education Ministry representatives are not allowed to enter a school whose bills they pay (and fully so – 100% of the bills.) There is no other country in the world where teachers refuse to present their curriculum to the body that pays their salary.
Forget about ideology, and forget about the fact that I fail to understand how you're not bothered by the fact you live at my expense, but I can no longer pay. The money is gone. There's no more left. I don't have enough to give my children, and I don't have enough to give yours. Do you understand how this makes me feel?
And what am I asking of you after all? I want your children to study some more things – again at my expense. Of course, at my expense. I give up on anything that you suspect of being tainted by our values (are they truly so terrible?) so let's stay with the basics: Hebrew, English, math, and computers. Merely the fundamental toolkit that enables a person to turn into a productive citizen who supports himself one of these days.
Let's decide that you and I were already screwed, but at least help me save our children.
A year ago when riots were raging in Meah Shearim over the abused child from the Chareidi family that had been taken into the protection of the State, the Chareidim could not understand why the chiloni authorities were acting the way they were, but I knew.  There is a strong tradition in Judaism for loving our children, something which only grew stronger after the Holocaust when 1 million of them perished.  Over time, the Chareidim have changed.  There is no question that they believe they love their children but I would venture that the chilonim love them even more.  And why not?  Any chiloni parent knows they just might lose that child, chas v'shalom, when their time to do army service comes.  They know how hard it is to make a decent living in Israel and they fret for their future.  They want to see grandchildren living in happiness and peace and the latter has been denied them for 62 years.  When they saw a child being abused, they knew what the right thing was to do.  While the Chareidim worried about circling the wagons and keeping the evil seculars out, even if it meant putting the child into further harm, the chilonim knew what the right thing to do was.
A year ago I recertified for trauma medical care and in my group was a non-religious Israeli doctor.  Near the end of the course we did the requisite triage scenarios in which we are presented with five simultaneous patients.  The idea is to rank the order you would treat them, categorizing them into those that can be saved, those that are not so bad and can wait and those who will probably die and therefore can also wait because the limited resources must go to those who can be saved.
In one scenario one of the patients was a child.  He wasn't that injured according to what we were told and everyone else in our group ranked him third in priority.  Both I and the Israeli doctor ranked him first and when the others looked at us we said, simultaneously and without coordination it: "You always take the child first!"
This is a deep Jewish value.  This is Lapid's neshama shining through in ways he probably doesn't even understand.  This is his tie to our nation and its incredible history, the feelings he has for his children and the rest, even the ones on the other side of the divide.  This is what must unite us more than anything and what we must strive to all come together over if only to keep our people going.
Lapid is right.  The Chareidim are a very successful community and they know it, some of them to the point of overt smugness.  Their political influence and the control they have over defining what an observant Jew is today dwarfs what they were capable of only a generation ago.
But it is all a castle build on sand, in this case the finances of the State of Israel. 
Let's dispel a few myths.  The main reason the Chareidi community in Israel has been so successful in growing its numbers is because the chilonim have grumblingly paid for them to grow.  They have provided a country which values yeshivos and Jewish learning, security from harm and everything that kept them from prospering rapidly in the alte heim.  And they have received no gratitude, only the smug look Lapid describes.
For all our sakes this must change.  Do the Chareidim love their children?  Does condeming a child to a life of poverty show love?  Does forcing them to limit their education so that they cannot function outside the walls of the beis medrash show love?  And more to the point, does it show an understanding of what Judaism is?
Once again, for all our sakes this must change before tragedy and circumstances changes it for us.