Sunday, May 25, 2014

Are we to "take knives and Kill" Israeli Government Ministers? A new level of insanity

I have found the last few weeks particularly unsettling.

These weeks are supposed to be weeks of inspiration; as we count the Omer we march with the freedom gained on Pesach towards reenacting the great unified national experience at Sinai, when we collectively experienced the receiving of the Torah “Ke-ish Echad Beleiv Echad”, as one person with one heart. In total unity of spirit and purpose, we stood before Hashem, privileged to be called upon to serve him as a Chosen People. It ought to be a time for putting aside differences and arguments, and of focusing on that which unites us.

Perhaps this was among the reasons that the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva met their untimely death – due to having insufficient regard for each other – specifically during this time period. Perhaps this was the reason that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was originally sentenced to spending 12+1 years in a cave – for not having yet learned to see the good in lesser people (see Talmud Shabbos 33b). I don’t know. I do know that I have seen anything but unity and unifying messages lately.

It is CRUCIAL that people who have proper kovod chachomim, who have learned in "black hat" yeshivos and deeply respect and revere the Gedolim of yesteryear, be aware of the extremism that has seeped in to the most mainstream places and the incredible chilul Hashem and perversion of Torah that is going on
The period started with Yom HaShoa. I am very aware of all the reasons that many believe that the 28th of Nissan is the wrong day for Holocaust Remembrance Day. To be honest, although our Young Israel of Forest Hills prides itself on being the first synagogue in America to hold a Yom HaShoah commemoration, I would have picked a different day for this very important event, if I had been asked. (Space does not permit a discussion of that topic in this essay). Nevertheless, that day was chosen, and is honored around the world by hundreds of thousands as a solemn remembrance day. Were it that all Orthodox Jews would see this day as an opportunity to join with all our brothers and sisters in honoring our holy martyrs; as Rav Soloveichik zt”l famously said, “In the crematoria, the ashes of Hasidim and Anshei Maaseh (pious Jews) were mixed with the ashes of radicals and freethinkers”. Alas, this was, as always, very far from true.

Then I found myself, on the morning of Yom Ha’Atzmaut , davening in a shul in Kew Gardens Hills. As the end of the Chazzan’s repetition approached, I looked around to see whether people planned on saying Tachanun (most everyone did) or Hallel ( no one). To be fair, those who say Hallel on 
Yom Ha’Atzmaut know to go and daven in one of the several shuls that follow that custom. I personally follow the direction of the great Ponovezh Rav, Yosef Kahaneman zt”l, who, when asked what he practices on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, said that he worships as does Ben Gurion – he says neither Hallel nor Tachanun. I believe this is not just a witticism, but a serious approach. To say a full Hallel – that Yom Ha’Atzmaut is now in fact an unmitigated joyous religious celebration – is premature. There are too many aspects of the State of Israel and Zionism that are troubling to a serious religious Jew, that need to still be worked out before Hallel should be mandated. But to say Tachanun – that Yom Ha’Atzmaut is just a regular day, that there is nothing remarkable about the amazing gift that Hashem has given us in our time when so many astounding miracles have happened, most of all that the Jewish people are coming home once again after 2,000 years of Exile – to ignore this totally seems incredibly ungrateful and wrong.

I know that great people have strong opinions on all sides of this issue, and that those who do not celebrate Yom ha'Atzmaut have great Gedolim to rely upon. What troubled me most that morning, however, was that seemingly for 99% of those present, these thoughts were not even on the radar screen. 
Yom Ha’Atzmaut has so little significance to them that they do not even know, or care, that it is Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

And then, coming home, I went to the news and saw that in Bnei Brak – not Meah Shearim, the stronghold of Neturei Karta and Eida Chareidis – but in Bnei Brak, center of the Israeli “Lithuanian” Yeshiva community, where Rav Kahaneman used to fly the Israeli flag from Yeshivas Ponovezh on YH, the Israeli flag was burned by Yeshiva boys. This was followed last weekend by the burning of an effigy of Yair Lapid for Lag B'Omer.  (The effigy might have been placed by young boys, but reportedly it was there for the entire Shabbos and then burnt on Motzaei Shabbos)  Why? Because of the “terrible decrees” and “war” that “the Israeli government has declared on the Torah and Torah scholars”.

In a recent column I wrote about whether or not this is a fair criticism, and argued that although there is much to be concerned about the manner in which change is being forced upon the Chareidi world, the accusations of “hatred of Torah” and malice towards religious people are over the top. I will not repeat that here.

But this past week my despondency over these matters sunk to a new low. I have been a proud “alte Mirrer”, a Talmid of Mir Yeshiva of Yerushalayim, where I learned longer than any other of the Yeshivos I attended. I had the great merit of hearing and learning from Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, Rav Nochum Partzovitz, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, all of blessed memory. I know that my hashkafos have evolved somewhat from what is considered mainstream there over the years, but I still looked back fondly at “my yeshiva” as a place that was primarily apolitical and devoted single-mindedly to Torah learning. It did not really matter, back then, what your personal Hashkafos were. If you were serious about learning, you were accepted as an equal.

And then, I read in many different sources, and heard a recording, of a respected Rebbi at the Mir, saying the following statements to Talmidim:

On Shabbos I spoke to my kids, and I said that Rav X spoke that lemayseh, we have today Haman and Amalek, all this [Israeli] government, and really the way is to take knives and to kill them, just as with the Yevanim. This is what Rav X said. You have to take a sword and to kill them. So why are we not doing it? Because, he said, I don't know yet who is the [suitable replacement] general who could run the war. But if I would know who's the general, we'd go out with knives. This is what Rav X said. There's a war against religion... I explained this to my kids... then, in the middle of the meal, my kid, five years old, says, "Abba, we don't have a sword in the house, I'm looking... maybe a hammer is also good?" I was very happy; I gave him a kiss... I was so proud of my son, he's looking for a sword to kill all these government ministers... 

(I have intentionally substituted “Rabbi X” for the name of the Gadol that was invoked, as his spokesman said that he was misquoted.)

This Rebbi later, under pressure, supposedly retracted and apologized for his statement, saying that it was “a joke” and he did not mean it seriously. In a subsequent shiur, which I also listened to, he claimed that those outside the yeshiva misunderstood his remarks, as he was only engaging in hyperbole to get his point across, and, in fact, we do owe the soldiers and police Hakoras Hatov and gratitude. This does not, for me, reduce for one moment my dismay, anger, and disappointment that such words could be spoken by a Rebbi in my yeshiva – a place in which I am sure that Rav Chaim Shmulevitz would have torn keriah had it happened on his watch. It disturbs me greatly that this type of thinking was taught – not in an extremist radical anti-Zionist yeshiva – but in the largest Yeshiva in the world, and not a word of condemnation has emanated either from the Mir or from the leadership of the Chareidi community.

It goes deeper than that. I said earlier that I am angered and disappointed, but I am not shocked. For too long now, what had formerly been the viewpoint and Hashkafa of the extreme right – that of Eida Chareidis, Satmar, and Neturei Karta – has become increasingly de rigueur in regular black hat Yeshiva circles. It is common for people – including people in my family and that I have known for years – to take the view that the majority of secularists in Israel, not just the hard left, is virulently anti-religious and devotes much of its waking hours to eradicating Torah and Yeshivos.

  • That there is nothing to be grateful for in that the State has until now funded the Yeshios and Avreichim with untold hundreds of million of dollars. 
  • That some truly unfortunate episodes of yesteryear (e.g. the intentional secularization of Yemenite and Persian children in the 1950s) has never stopped and continues to be the current policy of the government and the modern Haman, Yair Lapid. 
  • That it is OK to refer to the police as Nazis when they break up a demonstration. 
  • And so on and so forth. 
There are some who will say that in writing this essay I am guilty of spreading Lashon Hara and am engaging in Bizayon Talmidei Chachomim. I beg to disagree. First of all the Halacha is clear, as the Gemara says in several places:

במקום שיש חילול ה' אין חולקים כבוד לרב

When a Desecration of G-d’s name in involved 
we do not have regard for the respect normally due to a Rabbi . 

Secondly, and this is why after much soul searching I chose to publish this article, there is a huge and important תועלת (constructive purpose) in being aware of these types of statements. It must be clear to people that a whole generation is being inculcated with extremist hashkafos; ones that are so out of sync with reality – that so demonize the Israeli government, that so vilify those who question whether every single Chareidi young man needs to be learning full time for endless years, that so denigrate anything of value outside the yeshiva world – that can produce terrible statements like the one that was on exhibit here and much violent and shameful behavior over the past few years.

It is CRUCIAL that people who have proper kovod chachomim, who have learned in "black hat" yeshivos and deeply respect and revere the Gedolim of yesteryear, be aware of the extremism that has seeped in to the most mainstream places and the incredible chilul Hashem and perversion of Torah that is going on. It is critical that the silent majority be willing to stand up and say "this is NOT what are Gedolim have taught us -- This is NOT authentic Torah Hashkafa -- This is NOT where we stand", and then maybe, just maybe, this terrible trend can be reversed. I would literally bet my life that neither Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt"l nor Rav Beinish Finkel zt"l would have ever allowed these statements to be said by a member of their staff, even as a "joke" (which it was not). For the kavod of the Yeshiva, it is vital that the Yeshiva publicly and clearly disassociates itself from these statements – not by saying that they were misunderstood but by bemoaning this occurrence – and that some serious soul searching take place.

It is time to end the insanity and to be among those who will help the Gedolim to right the ship and not be pulled down by the zealots who are causing so much trouble. I implore my readers to do whatever you can to advocate for sanity, traditional hashkafah, and to promote ways of pleasantness and peace for our future.