Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

An Impractical Solution

(Hat tip: Nishma)

If one were to summarize the main difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidism today, that difference would be the concept of autonomy.  The further right one goes into the Chareidi community, the less autonomy the individual has and the more conformity to the community and its universal standards is valued.  The further left one goes into Modern Orthodoxy, the opposite occurs with customized Judaism becoming the norm at that edge as opposed to identification with community standards.
Which is better?  A high level of autonomy or communal obedience?  If an absolute amount of either is not reflective of what real Torah Judaism is, then what is the appropriate level of autonomy to be balanced against the community?
Rav Nathan Lopes Cardozo, in a recent essay entitled On the Nature and Future of Halakha in Relation to Autonomous Religiosity addressed this subject, raising profound and important questions.  Anticipating the controversial nature of the subject, he noted:
I am confronted daily with countless young Jews who search for an authentic Jewish religious way of life, but are unable to find spiritual satisfaction in the prevalent halakhic system as practiced today in most Ultra or Modern-Orthodox communities. For many of them, typical halakhic life is not synonymous with genuine religiosity. They feel that halakha has become too monotonous, too standardized and too external for them to experience the presence of God on a day-to-day basis. Beyond "observance", they look for holiness and meaning. Many of them feel there is too much formalism in the halakhic system, and not enough internal meaning; too much obedience and not enough room for the individualistic soul, or for religious spontaneity. More and more sincere young people express these concerns, and many of them are deeply affected by their inability to live a conventional halakhic life. Since they sincerely long for the opportunity to experience halakha, I struggle to find a response to this acute growing predicament. The solution must simultaneously acknowledge that a genuine Jewish religious life cannot exist without being committed to the world of halakha. This existential tension greatly influenced the content of this paper. The following observations are therefore not written from the perspective of a halakhist, but from the perspective of a deeply concerned Jewish thinker, who wants young people to be authentically religious while living a halakhic life which is meaningful to them. The following suggests a new insight into the world of halakha and its practical application.
Surely there are many arguments which can be brought against the contents of this essay, some of which I can point to myself. However, the purpose of this essay is to get people thinking, not to claim the definitive truth of my observations and suggestions.
I am fully aware that the views expressed may not be palatable to most bona fide and respected poskim. My analysis and suggestions will probably not carry their approval. I hope only to act as a catalyst in the hope that some halakhic authorities and Jewish thinkers will take my suggestions seriously and be prepared to discuss them. They are nothing more than thoughts which came to mind when contemplating and discussing these issues with students.
At no point does he "bash" any Orthodox group.  His cri de couer is sincere.  He sees so many in the Orthodox world on both sides of the spectrum devoid of emotion, going through the motions, either looking for something more or being led down a path devoid of that "more" in the name of some dogma.  There is a crisis assaulting us and he must be commended for being willing to open up the dialogue.
And since that's what he wants, I would like to register my disagreement with some of his suggestions, specifically his desire to return halachic Judaism to a pre-Shulchan Aruch stage.
His observations are spot on in terms of how "Judaism by the book" has become the dominant mode of practice in this day and age:
A careful read of modern Jewish Orthodox literature reveals that many authors misunderstand the nature of Jewish law. Much of this literature is dedicated to extreme and obsessive codification, which goes hand in hand with a desire to "fix" halakha once and for all. The laws of muktzeh, tevilath kelim, tzeniut and many others are codified in much greater detail than ever before. These works have become the standard by which the young growing observant community lives its life. When studying them one wonders whether our forefathers were ever really observant, since such compendia were never available to them and they could never have known all the minutiae presented today to the observant Jew. Over the years we have embalmed Judaism while claiming it is alive because it continues to maintain its external shape.
The majority of halakhic literature today is streamlined, allowing little room for halakhic flexibility and for the spiritual need for novelty. For the most part, the reader is encouraged to follow the most stringent view without asking whether this will actually help her or him in their Avodath Ha-Borei (service of the Almighty) according to her or his distinct personality. The song of the halakha, its spirit and mission are entirely lost in this type of literature. When the student looks beyond these works seeking music, he is often confronted with a dogmatic approach to Judaism which entirely misses the mark. We are plagued by over-codification and dogmatization.
Years ago I was davening in a small shul where the minyan arrived late, if not at all.  Generally the custom was to start services on time and then pause at just before Yishtabach until the 10th man arrived.  During this time people either learned or had quiet conversations.  One day a young beis midrash boy was praying with us and asked me where the heter for talking at that point in the service was mentioned in the Mishnah Berurah.  I pointed out to him that in small communities this is quite a common practice but he wasn't satisfied.  "I need to see it written somewhere" he muttered, as if only seeing a teshuvah or mention in some approved book would ease his doubts.
A couple of years earlier my father and I were sitting and listened to a shiur on the performance of bedikas chametz.  Halfway through a recent baal teshuvah with a fetish for details started quizzing the rabbi about the procedure.  The spoon, what was the source that it had to be a wooden one?  What was the length of the handle?  And the feather, did it have to be from a goose or was another kosher bird acceptable? 
I even fell into this trap a few years ago.  My rebbe was instructing me in a pre-fasting procedure called the segulah of the Chofetz Chayyim.  In short, the afternoon/night before a fast you eat a whole bunch of grapes and then drink two cups a tea, one with 5 teaspoons of sugar and the second plain.  So I asked: the grapes, white or red?  The tea, how big a cup and what kind of tea in particular?  He didn't understand why any of that mattered so I blurted out "It's a frum thing so it has to matter!"
Judaism by the book removes the spontaneity and creativeness of halachic practice and demands identical performance by non-identical people.  In identifying this, Rav Cardozo has given us an important issue to deal with.  His solution, on the other hand, is concerning:
Halakha is the practical upshot of un-finalized beliefs, a practical way of life while remaining in theological suspense. In matters of the spirit and the quest to find God, it is not possible to come to final conclusions. The quest for God must remain open-ended to enable the human spirit to find its way through trial and discovery. As such, Judaism has no catechism. It has an inherent aversion to dogma. Although it includes strong beliefs, they are not susceptible to formulation in any kind of authoritative system. It is up to the Talmudic scholar to choose between many opinions, for they are all authentic. They are part of God's Torah, and even opposing opinions "are all from one Shepherd" (Hagiga 3b)...
As mentioned earlier, several outstanding Talmudists have argued that Maimonides' Mishneh Torah and Rabbi Joseph Karo's Shulhan Arukh starved Jewish law of this very spirit. Maimonides eliminates all references to the basis of his rulings and almost entirely ignores even the existence of dissent and minority opinions. On the occasion where he does refer to them, he seems to express a negative attitude, as if he would like to save Judaism from this embarrassment. (See, for example, Hilkhot Mamrim 1:3-4.) Although less extreme, Rabbi Joseph Karo also states his rulings in the Shulhan Arukh in general language without mentioning sources or other opinions. It is true that he first authored the "Beit Yosef" in which he brings many opinions and citations, so one might argue that he did not want his Shulhan Arukh to become a distinct and self contained work. However, the fact is that once he authored this work, it quickly assumed this very status. It would be hard to argue that the author did not foresee this possibility...
Maharshal goes on to state that the Shulhan Arukh's entire enterprise is dangerous. Those who study it will come to believe that what Rabbi Joseph Karo wrote has finality, and even "if a living person would stand in front of them and exclaim that the halakha is different, citing excellent arguments or even an authoritative received tradition, they will pay no heed to his words..." (Yam shel Shelomo, introduction to Hulin). Rabbi Haim ben Betzalel adds that people will fail to realize that this current authority is "just one person among many". (Vikuah Mayim Haim 7.)
Moreover, such codices lead to intellectual laziness. People will no longer study the Talmud in their reliance on these works. They can be compared to a pauper who collects alms from wealthy people and shows off his riches. At first it seems that he is indeed rich. After all, he has food and clothing. But in truth this is illusory, for all he has are the items he collected. (ibid) Similarly, one who studies only these codices and rules does not know the ins and the outs of the Talmudic debates which preceded them.
Again, all valid points of observation but I would raise two objections.  The first is in the nature of the chicken and egg argument (BTW it was the chicken that came first).  Which preceded which, intellectual laziness or law codes?  I would argue that intellectual laziness was one reason for the development of law codes, not the other way around.  In addition to that factor, one could add the difficulties of obtaining a comprehensive Gemara education in many parts of the Jewish world through the ages.  Finally, in order to avoid using any law codes, one must have an encyclopedic knowledge of both Talmuds as well as the Rishonim that explained them.  This might have been possible for the very gifted of our nation but not for the average person who, in the absence of any guidebook, would be completely dependent on the local Rav for even the simplest questions. 
Finally there is the aspect of halachic fluidity mentioined by Rav Cardozo.  This is certainly an important thing to note.  Halacha, despite the best efforts of some, is not a monolithic and rigid structure.  Stringencies and leniencies are often in the eye of the beholder and what is appropriate in one situation might not be in a similar but slightly different one.  Such is the job of the posek to appreciate these subtleties.
But - and this is the important bit - while any given question might have a host of acceptable answers in the eilu v'eilu tradition, at some point a person has to act.  He has to set aside 11 of that dozen and choose the one correct answer for him at that moment.  He can't always go back to the Talmud and first principles.  Sometimes there isn't time.  Sometimes there isn't the expertise.  Sometimes there isn't the need and this is where legal codification does become useful.
The final problem I would note (for now) is the horrible potential for fragmentation and intolerance.  Recall the wide variety of accepted halachic practices that existed in the time of the Talmud.  Chicken cheeseburgers were assur in some places, muttar in others.  What one could and couldn't touch on Shabbos varied from place to place.  How long to wait after meat for milk?
Now flash forward to today.  Despite the presence of the overarching authority of the Shulchan Aruch, there is still tremendous diversity within the Orthodox world.   The ongoing Chassidim vs Sephardim clash in Emmanuel over so-called stringencies regarding what nusach to daven with and the proper length for girl's sleeves is just the tip of the iceberg.  In this day and age there are people who won't eat in the homes of others not because they don't keep kosher enough for the Shulchan Aruch but because of chumros that were invented or added on later.  The line "Well the Magen Avraham permits it" cuts no ice with this people.  Can you imagine what would happen if we went back in time and just increased variability?
The conflict in Emmanuel is giving is the answer as to what the real source of our problems is, why our young people are either becoming extremists or drifting away, why more and more frum people are simply going through the motions without joy and enthusiam. 
Any Judaism based on minutiae and not ethical concerns is not one that can be happily embraced by the masses.  When you tell teenagers who are looking for a positive reason to be Jewish all about the "thou shalt not's" how are you encouraging them?  When they ask deep questions about the nature of God and Torah and are given simplistic answers, how are you satisfying them?  When you show them that it's worth alienating and hating your brother because his daughter's skirt is an inch too short for you and that inch is worth more than 3500 years of shared nationhood and suffering, what are you saying about Judaism as a loving, inclusive religion?
Until those issues are seriously addressed, there will be no real progress towards ahavas Yisrael and ahavas Torah that we so desperately need.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Transience and Permanence

"How goodly are your tents o' Yaakov, your dwelling places o' Israel."

Chazal tell us that we are to prefer the curses of those who love us over the blessings of those who hate us, specifically Bilaam.  Despite how wonderful the various blessings he pronounces sound, Chazal were able to find hidden catches.  For example, being compared to a cedar tree sounds great until you recognize that when the wind finally blows it over there's no standing it back up.  Bilaam was therefore find with Israel having a time of glory as long as ultimately it fell in disgrace never to rise again.
In this particular blessing there are many deeper meanings but most of the mephorshim I looked at over Shabbos seemed to focus on the difference between ohel (tent) and mishkan (dwelling place).
It seems to me that in addition to the other interpretations, we can look at ohel and mishkan as representing life in both this world and the next.  Bilaam may initially be recognizing that Jews have a dual life, as it were and that in both our closeness to God and our appreciation of Torah help bring us closer to the Divine ideal.  The word mishkan can apply to the Next World since the place where God dwelt amongst our ancestors in the desert was so called.  Ohel can apply to this word since the Torah tells us "Zos haTorah: Adam ki yamus b'ohel" - This is the Torah - a man who dies in a tent.  There is no mitzvos observance in the next world and there is no death there either, this ohel can only refer to our lives here in the physical world.
So what's the catch?  There are three ways of valuing both worlds.  There are those who are foolish enough to deny the value and/or existence of the Next World.  For them this limited physical existence is all there is, thus a life of materialistic pleasure is all they can value.  For others, the Next World is primary and of such importance that this world seems to disappear next to it.  While folks like that may exist on an extremely high level of piety, are they making the most of creation?  I would suggest that the person doing that is the one who remembers the statement in Avos that a moment done right in this world outweighs the entire Next World while a moment there outweighs all of life here.  There is value in both and both need to be used to their maximum potential.
But there's a trap in that because ultimately, being physical creatures, we identify with the physical.  Any entry into what this world offers us carries a seductive undertone.  A desire for the best lulav eventually turns into a desire for the biggest house.  Preparations for a child's bar mitzvah may start with the hope of being extremely spiritually meaningful but often end with arguments on what the ice scupulture will represent and how much to spend on the sweet table.  This world must be approached by caution and only through the lens of Torah but even then we can so easily be led astray.
Perhaps this was Bilaam's hope by mentioning the ohel first.  He may have been hoping that we would engage in that part and forget that on the day of physical death our souls move on to the mishkan.  Without proper preparation we spend an eternity mourning our lost opportunities here.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Failing To Understand Reality

The after school specials and young-adults (read: teenager) movies of my youth often shared a consistent theme (the ones that didn't have the word "Star" in their titles at least): there was the geeky boy, the gorgeous girl he lusted after but didn't have a chance with, and the geeky girl who lusted after him but got ignored because he was going after the gorgeous girl.  Naturally by the end of the movie the gorgeous girl had proven to be a shrew that no sane male would go near and the geeky girl took off her glasses and got a new haircut to emerge as the new hottest girl in the school after helping the geeky guy out and getting noticed by him.
Ah memories. 
Being the geeky guy in high school (and university, and med school, and...) I naturally hoped one day to meet that geeky goddess-in-disguise.  However, I also kept my head screwed on straight.  Just because something happens in a movie doesn't mean that it has any connection to real life.  I may have quietly hoped for a movie-type plot to emerge in my life but I wasn't betting money on it.  I knew better.
I sometimes wonder if the shidduch crisis in the Chareidi community isn't a result of similar thinking without the last bit of insight.  Especially in a generation where frum children in the "right" homes are given Artscroll and Feldheim books from an early age instead of real literature, I wonder if this kind of fairy tale thinking has taken hold and created the unrealistic expectations of today's youth.
After all, the main quality of frum popular literature is that it isn't terribly deep.   The frum folks in the stories are inevitably the good guys or, if they do make a mistake, it's over something that those of us on the outside wouldn't bat an eye at. "Everyone knew Yankl was the bad boy of the yeshivah.  On weekends he had even been seen wearing a blue shirt!  The kofer!  Even his poor parents didn't know."
Along with that are the simple, straight-forward plots and the lack of any real character-defining crisis, like the one about the shool kids who crash onto a desert island and are more worried about finding challah for Shabbos than anything else.  Frodo Baggins confronting his yezter hara in the shadow of Mount Doom it ain't.
Add to these examples the ever expanding list of hagiographies in which selected Gedolim are depicted as infallible and indefatigable malachim and an incredible fantasy world, one in which every frum Jew is a, honest, pious individual, ever girl is a chaste maiden with no corrupt thoughts and everbody spends their day either learning (the men) or performing mitvos (the women).
But what happens if people stop realizing it's fantasy?  What happens when the boy who grew up on this starts looking for that perfect maidel, the one just like the girl in that novel he read last summer?  What happens when the girl who was raised on these tales goes looking for her own wart-free future Gadol?
Rav Yonasan Rosenblum's latest piece on the so-called Shidduch Crisis tries to address this by looking at the usual culprits and decrying the materialism-in-the-name-of-spiritualism that corrupts what should be a wonderful and romantic time for a given young couple.  His advice is good and a must-read for his community.
But then he shows that he too has been sucked into the fantasy world's vortex through an offhanded comment describing one of the "novels" (I used the word for lack of a better one) he has recently read:
In the end, Nochum too has his day in court, as Haller valiantly tries to humanize him: Twenty-five years earlier Nochum too had been widely viewed as a future rosh yeshiva. But those were the days before people spoke of "money and support," and after marriage, he found himself struggling to make ends meet, and barely able to keep his head upright when he has a few hours to learn Gemara at night. All he wants is to protect his son from the same fate.
Now maybe it's just my upbringing.  My parents worked very hard all my life and one of their main goals was to ensure my success in education and in acquiring a profession.  I, in turn, would like to think that I have absorbed this value and am now working hard to ensure my own children have every opportunity they want available to them later.  In contrast to the fictional Nochum, I take pride in being able to balance a busy career with a meaningful amount of Torah learning and I would fear more than anything else a future in which my children live in poverty because they chose to be unproductive members of society in the name of piety.
Protect his son from the same fate?  From uncertaintly, poverty, a life of dependence on others, of rigid conformity and a lack of ability to think for oneself?  For me such things are not measures of greater frumkeit
There are still those of us who understand that God created this world for us to live in, to practice the mitzvos and to confront that which is ungodly around us and overcome it instead of hiding from it.  For those of us, novels like this and the fantasy world that they represent are no more real than Middle Earth.  Perhaps it's time that others be reminded that the real world is different too.

The Beauty of Nach

When I was (much) younger and hadn't yet started to learn intensively I was approached by the local Lubavitcher shaliach in our community and asked if I wanted to start with some Talmud.  Being a good boy I went to ask my father for advice and he told me not to do it.  When I asked why he answered: "You haven't learn the entire Bible yet.  How can you build an upper floor if there's no main level?"
One of the major shortcomings of modern frumi Jewish education is its almost complete ignorance of those parts of the Bible that follow the last verse of Devarim.  Yes, yes, I know that lots of people say Tehillim and each of the five Megillos gets its chance to shine during the year but the Bible itself is never actually studied in its primary form instead of through an interpretive lens.  When was the last time you actually sat down and read straight through Shmuel Aleph and Beis instead of relying on excerpts from the weekly haftaros?
But to my view this approach, of leaving Nach as an entity off to the side except when called upon, is a major shortcoming for a few reasons.
First, if one wants to learn proper Jewish history then one needs to read the relevant parts of Navi and Ksuvim.  There is simply no substitute for the accouts therein.  Unlike many other histories, the version in the Bible differs in two important ways.  One is that for a religious history, it brings all the good and the bad deeds of our ancestors without flinching.  Dovid HaMelech's triumphs and downfalls, Shlomo HaMelech's successes and failure, all are brought without any attempt at whitewashing because, and this is the second difference, it isn't so much the dry reading of history that the Bible wants to give us as the moral understanding of history.  Did Chezkiyahu HaMelech spark a major revival in Jewish life in Israel?  Absolutely, and he also treated the Babylonians with excessive deference.  Like any human being, he rose to greatness but also slipped on occasion.  The Bible does not try to hide this but wants us to learn from it.
Secondly, there is the principally moral section of the Bible, the works of the Nevi'im.  This is worth mentioning especially in today's day and age when too many of the frum population have come to believe that morality revolved on how long you wait after meat to eat milk and how mehdarin  your tzitzis are.  If one peruses through the Prophets a different message comes to light.  The main objectives of Judaism aren't necessarily what we are being told their are.  Yishiyahu did not upbraid our ancestors because their tefillin wasn't mehudar enough.  Yirmiyahu didn't claim that the destruction of our Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt) came about because people didn't check their strawberries with light boxes after soaking them in bleach.  Yechezkel didn't rebuke his contemporaries over how long their sleeves and skirts were.  They spoke to the people about righteousness, honesty, fair dealings and avoidance of societal oppression.  No, there is more to Judaism that just those but these values are the foundation upon which all else rests.  Given a choice between a decent society and a crooked one that is medakdek in the littlest chumros, which do we really believe God prefers?
As my father once told me, you can learn the rules about Judaism from the Talmud.  But if you want to know the real deep meaning of it, what God really wants from us in this world, then you can only learn about it in Navi.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Small Communities

From my perusing of various blogs, both good, bad, and irrelevant, I've come to certain conclusions.  One is that a person's high school education combined with a lack of insight into their own failings is generally the biggest reason for a lapse in one's Jewish observance.  It is truly amazing how much damage an idiot rebbe in a yeshiva high school who doesn't have the answers to the big questions in life can do.  Combine that with the typical teenager attitude of "I'm the smartest person so if I've figured out something that must be the way it is" and you get trouble.
Another conclusion is that some folks can be so self-righteous as to ignore all sense and sensibility.  Let's face it, the old schoolyard advice about how to get rid of a bully in  the long term, by ignoring him until he decides to go elsewhere for attention, is still the best advice.  Getting all your friends together and giving him a pounding may provide some short-term satisfaction but eventually the bully gets even, either by getting his own gang together and picking off his opponents one at a time, or by using the system  that failed the victims to his advantage.
For example, I've been watching Jewish Philosopher successfully drive people crazy, but especially his new chosen victim, Righteous Rasha.  Even on one of her most recent posts, JP has once again shown why he is far more intelligent than many of his egotistical and easily enraged opponents.
Note the simple modus operandi that he uses.  He starts with an infuriatingly rude comment.  Two possible things could have in response.  RR could easily go into her dashboard and delete the statement.  In my opinion that would be the smartest thing to do.  Clearly JP craves, amongst other things, an audience.  Depriving him of that would be like starving someone of oxygen. 
Instead the other option, responding to his comment, occurs.  Each and every time one of RR's friends tries to insult, rebut or out-shout JP but every time he comes back with a comment even more outrageous.  This is turn sparks a paroxysm of further anger and hate from the other side which only manages to create... another comment from JP.  And on it goes.
Sitting out here on the outside it's almost painful to watch JP manipulating his audience into providing him the attention he craves.  And Heaven forbid I suggest that silence is the option for dealing with him and I get lumped in together with him!  There are no folks stupider than those who think they are smart.  JP unfortunately proves this repeatedly.
But the biggest conclusion I've come to is that I'm very luck that I live in a small community.  Unlike the large communities many bloggers dwell in, there are lots of things I don't have to deal with.  I don't have to worry about large groups of black hats deciding that people walking down the street aren't dressed tznius enough.  Our local community school isn't too far off to the right but the left.  The only Chabadnik in town in the shaliach and he's harmless enough once you remind him that only Lubavitchers actually believe all the stuff they claim and that their belief that everyone does is just something they were taught in yeshivah.  The peer pressure to keep up with the Jonesteins when it comes to simchas and chumros simply does not exist.  Finally, most of the frum folks in town have developed a health balance between the rational and irrational halves of Judaism to create an environment where Torah is practised in a sensible, healthy fashion.
Yes, it's amazing what trouble large masses of Jews can cause to themselves.  I'm glad that right now I don't have to worry about that.

Reframing The Issue To Win The Debate

"I'm amazed I haven't caved, and I still have faith in myself today
I'm no stranger to misbehaviour, I've reframed every single failure" (Headstones: Reframed)

One of the best ways to win an argument you are losing is to change what the dispute is about.  Can't prove that the Vancouver Canuck's 1970's uniform is the ugliest of all time?  Tell the disputant it's about Canadian teams only, or that you're expanding the field to include all sports, not just hockey.
The current dispute in Immanuel over who's eligible to attend the local school is another example, at least if you read the various propaganda pieces over at Cross Currents.
This isn't surprising that this would be attempted.  After all, no matter how much of a problem they don't have with it, some Ashkenazi Chareidim do realize that justifying entry to a school on racial grounds sounds awful and raises more of a fuss than they might want to deal with.  The solution?  Turn it into a case of freedom of education, with the High Court in Israel playing the familiar role of the heavy-handed State trying to tell poor religious folk what and how to teach their kids.
The school – and it does not matter whether or not you agree with the criteria which they have set for admission – established objective requirements which relate solely to lifestyle issues. An argument might be raised that in a small community like Emanuel establishing such criteria might be economically unfeasible and given the limited number of potential students, compromises should be expected. However, this suggestion was never presented as a factor to the court nor was it mentioned as a basis for the court’s ruling.

The problem with this eloquent and very reasonable-sounding statement is that it isn't the real issue.  As HaMekubal pointed out at his blog and in comments on others, the issue is one of who gets to run the school.  What has been lost in all the arguing is that the institution in question is funded by the State.  This might come as a surprise to many mostly because the Chareidi PR phalanx has treated the issue as if the school was private, but it's not.  It's a public school that a group of Slonimer Chasidim have taken over and forced to implement their preferred entrance requirements.  All those willing to accept the Slonimer version of halacha with all its particular stringencies are welcome in the school.  Those whose traditions and/or understanding of halacha differ are, according to the Slonimer worldview, "less religious" and therefore unwelcome around their spiritually pure daughters.
If the Slonimers were running their own school, this would not be an issue.  A private institution has every right to set standards for entry and enforce them equally on all applicants.  That's not the case here and those who oppose Ashkenazi on Chareidi racisim need to keep their eye on that ball.
The other issue is whether or not the High Court overreacted in its decision to force the Slonimers defendants to make their daughters attend that particular school, even when many had many alternative arrangements at other schools they found more suitable.  Again, on the face of it, it sounds absurd that the court would make such a highhanded demand, especially when having the Slonimers send their girls elsewhere would have been another resolution to the conflict.
But again, the Chareidi PR people are being selective in their recollection of events.  Like a rapist who sued his victim for physical damages suffered during his attack without recalling what happened to earn him the scratch marks in the first place, the response to the High Court has been one of bewilderment.
In reality this kind of an outcome was completely forseeable.  Remember that the judges of the court are mostly ultra-secularlists who have little tolerance for religion since such archaic modes of thinking are incompatible with their "enlightened" view of the world.  Time and time again  the court has not hesitated to force decisions onto Israeli society in an attempt to remove as much of its Judaism as possible. 
This time, however, the Chareidim have no one to blame but themselves.  From reading the various accounts in the Israeli newspapers as well as from frequent exposure to emphatic triumphant writings, it seems the Chareidim were very clear in their message to the secular court: We don't recognize your authority.  We don't recognize your laws.  Only God rules over us and we will only act as we see fit.  We don't care what you think.
And surprise!  The court pushed back as if to say "You think we have no authority to tell you what to do?  Just watch!"  And thus came about the shoving match.
Like the Rubashkin debacle, the Chareidi lack of self-awareness or interest into how their behaviour is perceived in a negative fashion by others has once again created a civil conflict in Israel.  The only way out is for the Chareidi community to recognize this and back down.  But that would be against halacha as they understand it.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Time To Get A Job

The recent Israeli High Court decision to suspend payment of stipends to kollel dwellers cannot come as a huge shock to anyone.  While the government has to kowtow to Chareidi parties and their demands, the High Court, as dictatorial and demagogic an institution as you'll ever find in a democracy, does not have to care one whit about sectoral politics.  Free from any need to placate the populace their decisions can be made with impunity and, given that the court is staffed with secular anti-religious judges, as per the vision of former head judge Aharon Barak, it was a matter of time before this ruling came down.
Neither is the response of the Chareidi community leadership unexpected.  Like spoiled children who are used to getting their own way, the idea that another group of unaccountable societal leaders has power over them and can decide their fates is both inconceivable and intolerable.  It seems there are many in the Chareidi community who genuinely believe that the purpose of secular Zionism was to create a country dedicated to helping them build a society where no one has to work, and that taking away the stipends is an unacceptable disturbance to the natural order of the world.
I have long been of the opinion that kollels are necessary but only for the best and brightest, the future poskim of the Jewish people while the rest of our populace should be out and about in the labour market.  Even writers such as Rav Yonasan Rosenblum have noted that the "learn, don't earn" philosophy is an innovation created after the war to restock the depleted Yeshivish population and that eventually it has to run its course.  Unfortunately the same philosophy also elevated respect for its leadership into "Godol worship" and those gedolim have repeatedly said that "learn, don't earn" can never change.  Since they're supposedly infallible, they are now in a trap.  How can they say "well, times up, back to work everybody" if yesterday they were saying the opposite?
But what really bugs me is this attitude:
They think they'll keep cutting back on what the haredim supposedly take from them, but they don't realize that their raison d'etre is to sustain those who study Torah for a few pennies.
Really?  The whole reason God created chilonim is to support them?  Can they really believe that?  Yese, this is a variation on the old line: Our learning supports the State, but please!  There isn't a single kollel yungerleit who's sitting at his shtender right now and thinking to himself "Come on Yankl, shteig harder!  The State is counting on you!"
In the end this will be a tempest in a teacup.  The secular High Court may not care about what the Chareidim think but the government has to keep Shas and UTJ in the coalition.  A way will be found to funnel that money back into the kollels so this whole confrontation is for nothing.  But wouldn't it be nice if this was the kick in the arse that the Chareidi community needed to end "learn, don't earn" and rejoin productive society?

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Boredom of Blogging

Why has this blog not been so busy of late?  There are a few reasons:
1) I'm busy at work.  About the only time I have to spend on the blogosphere comes during brief breaks between patients which is conducive to visiting other blogs and leave comments but not to putting up a famously deep and intellectual post.
2) I'm tired at the end of the day.  By the time the last patient has gone home and I've cleared my desk, all I want to do is hit the road and head home.  The idea of spending hours searching the Internet to write something about is not appealing at that point.
3) I need the time to learn.  I work all day so the only chances I get to sit and engage in limud Torah is either first thing in the morning before the first patient rolls through the door or in the evening when I get home.  Blogging is not a priority over that.
4) Frankly it's starting to get boring.  There are some good sites that I enjoy visiting for divrei Torah and others for fun tidbits of news but on average, most things are repetitive.  The Chareidim provide the same type of news over and over again.  How many times can one post something along the lines of "chareidim run wild!"?  As for the other side, the arrogance and general stupidity of the atheoskeptopraxists long ago ceased to be infuriating and is now merely nauseating and not worth paying much attention to.
What I would like is to share more divrei Torah but time is at a premium right now.  The learning takes so long there isn't much left for dispensing although I hope to find time for that eventually.
5) I'm frustrated that I don't get more comments.  I do my best to support other blogs and there's at least half a dozen out there where I'm either first comment on their posts or the only one that seems to be interested in interacting and leaving thoughts on the post.  This service does not seem to be reciprocated and I'll grudgingly admit I find it annoying.
6) I have a life.  I don't spend my day desperately trying to connect to the rest of the world via my video screen.  I actually go out and talk to people - gasp! - face to face.  Lots of blogs would probably post a lot less if they had to do that.  Try it, it's fun sometimes.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

He's Our Fault Too!

It's not enough that Christopher Hitchens is a pompously arrogant self-righteous atheist who approaches his passion of denigrating those who disagree with him with an ironically religious fervour.  No, he has to be Jewish al pi halacha too!
For the first forty-odd years of my life I had thought of myself as English, latterly with ambitions to become an Anglo-American. This national self-definition underwent an interesting change as a consequence of my maternal grandmother’s outliving both of my parents. Yvonne took her own life at a distressingly young age. My father’s robust health began to fail him in his late seventies and he died in late 1987. My brother, Peter, in the meantime, had become engaged to a Jewish girl and had taken her to meet “Dodo” — old Mrs. Dorothy Hickman — our only surviving grandparent. Later, and after she’d congratulated him on his choice, she rather disconcerted Peter by saying: “She’s Jewish, isn’t she?” He had agreed that this was the case and then she’d disconcerted him even further by saying, “Well, I’ve got something to tell you. So are you.”
These stories always have one further detail not presented in the article.  Which famous rabbi is he descended from?  There's always one!

Friday, 11 June 2010

More and More Evidence

First they told us that the stories about Avraham Avinu, a"h, must have been written at a much later date because there were no camels in the Middle East back around when our Avos lived.  Then they discovered there were camels.
They told us that the stories about Yetzias Mizrayim were all invented later on.  Then they discovered Pithom and Ramses and realized that no one other than someone who lived during that time would ever had heard of these cities since they fell into disuse and disappeared from history shortly after the Exodus. 
They told us Dovid haMelech, a"h, never existed because there was no mention of him anywhere in archeological finds.  Then they discovered those mentions.
They told us we weren't a real people descended from the Biblical Hebrews but rather a group of disaparate peoples who had come together over history into the current ethnic group.  And now genetics has answered that too.  It turns out that Jews around the world share a common genetic heritage that confirms our ancient peoplehood, putting to lie all those revisionist canards about our origins.
Researchers locate Jewish genetic linkage
A new study, the largest of its kind ever conducted, reveals that the Jewish people shares clear genomic significance. Apparently, the genetic similarity between a Jewish Italian and a Jewish Pole is larger than the similarity between Jewish Pole and a Christian Pole, for instance.
"The Jewish communities share much more (genetic information) between Jews rather than non-Jews in the same geographic area," Dr. Gil Atzmon, co-author of the study and professor of genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Genetics, told the New York Post.
Some 237 Jews of representing the three major Diaspora communities, including Ashkenazi Jews from throughout Europe, Sephardim, and Mizrahim from Syria, Iran, and Iraq, participated in the study.
Once again science has proven the truth of the Tanach. 
I'm not worried though.  "They" will simply move on to something else.  I don't think they have anything else to do all day.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Profound Ignorance

By now the fallout from the recent Helen Thomas scandal is starting to settle.  For those of you who haven't yet heard, Ms. Thomas is a senior journalist in Washington  For decades she has covered presidential press conferences and sat in the front row, enjoying a status as the "dean" of the press corp.  As a traditional leftist she has naturally been anti-Israel and never shy about showing her bias but recently remarks she made regarding Israel showed up in a video that went viral over the Internet and brought an end to her career.  In short, she told a rabbi who was interviewing her that Israeli Jews should go "home" back to Germany, Poland, America or wherever they came from.
Many articles have focused on the obvious, like how you can't expect six million people to simply pack up and leave a country because a group of terrorists want the land they're on.  Others have sagely noted that the reason so many Jews left Poland and Germany in the first place was because they were chased out by the Holocaust and post-war pogroms.  All of these views miss the point.
The point is that Helen Thomas simply does not know where Jews come from.  We come from Israel.  We were, in the words of British Prime Minster Benjanim Disraeli, serving as priests in Solomon's Temple when the northern Europeans were running around dressed in animal hide loin clothes and hunting their supper with primitive tools.  What is more, despite explusion after explusion, there was never a time in history from the moment our ancestors crossed the Yarden River that there has been no Jewish presence in Israel.  We do not speak in our prayers of "going" to Israel but "returning" to it for a good reason.  If we were in Poland and Germany it was because that was where the tides of time and misfortune washed us up, not because we originated there and then decided to leave.
What's more, has Ms. Thomas not heard of Sephardi Jews?  Is she a double racist, assuming that all Jews are of European ancestry simply because the liberal Democrat syncophants she rubs shoulders with generally tend to be?  Should she not have also mentioned Morocco, Iraq and Iran in her little diatribe?
However, he real Jew-hating element of this episode remains underreported.  Ms. Thomas, we are told, has retired from her profession as a result of her comments and for the lefist media this is considered fitting punishment.  No human rights tribunal trial, no constant pillorying. She called it quits, and now let's leave her alone.
Could one imagine the left's reaction if a Fox new reporter had said something similar and been allowed to retirn?  Could you imagine the outrage against the network?  How dare you let him slip into the night untouched?  Fire him!  Blacklist him!
This is the subtle Jew-hating of the left.  Ms Thomas will collect her pension, her career will remain one long success unsullied by the words "and then she was fired" in personal history and when no one is listening she'll tell her friends she was right and they'll nod but remind her not to say it in public.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Finally Getting the Hang Of It

When I was growing up there was one truism about Israel that could not be avoided: Israel stunk when it came to PR.  While the Arab message was always clear, simple and financed by billions of OPEC petro-dollars, the Israeli counter-message was nuanced, balanced and complicated. For example:
Arabs: Israel is occupying Lebanon and massacring its people.
Israel: Well we are in Lebanon but that's only because...
Arabs: You admit it!  You occupy Lebanon and massacre its people.
Israel: But you have to admit that because of the recent situation in the north...
Arab: Murderer!  Occupier!
Israel was always at a disadvantage because of its refusal to simplify complicated issues into single line slogans or call a spade a spade, or in this case a compulsive liar.  In addition, there was the financial disadvantage.  Saudi Arabia and friends were and are willing to spend as much as it takes to smear Israel and turn world opinion against it.  Israel simply doesn't have those kinds of resources.
But as the Western world devolves into a society of sical misfits more interested in interacting through Facebook and instant messaging, Israel has found the playing field more level.  After all, it is the number 2 computer technology in the world.  Youtube and other social forums have made it cheap and easy to spread messages in ways that would have been prohibitively expensive before and the Israelis have taken full advantage of that.
As an example, one of the responses to the Flotilla Fiasco is now circulating through the world courtesy of the viral concept of videos.  It is with great pleasure that I present this link which will lead you to that video.  For those of you who are old enough to remember the original song this parody is based on, the experience will be that much sweeter:
We Con The World