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.


Stuart Wise said...

I am shocked and appalled that a gadol would make such a comment and then say it was a joke when, based on your retelling of it, there was nothing funny about it--and especially when he shared this "joke" with impressionable children who would not understand the "humor" in it. Please say it isn't so.

Anonymous said...

After reading and re-reading this article which makes many good points, I wonder what has happened to being careful not to speak against Torah, while the writer seems to be lashing out against people of Torah. Maybe we are the ones who in our generation cannot properly understand the bothering remarks that were made in the Mir Yeshiva,as well as many other troubling occurrences that unfortunately happen to much nowadays.

Anonymous said...

As a non-observant Jew who believes in the statement "all Israel beats with one heart" it's hard to understand this type of mishagos in the frum world.

YLO said...

Responses to Comments so far...

Sorry Stuart, it is so.

I did not include names, but the story is very much out there if you research it.

While the fact that the Rebbi in question shared this with his children is reprehensible, it is the twentysomething bachurim whom he speaks to in the Mir, who are also very impressionable, that concern me more. Thisneeds addressing by the Hanhala

Anonymous 1 writes that "maybe we are the ones" who misunderstand. I don't know what there is to misunderstand about the harm that such remarks engender.
Furthermore, I waited several days, and spoke to several people whom I deeply respect, before publishing this article, but feel that we cannot be continually cowed into not speaking out in the face of this insanity.

Anonymous 2 writes that it is hard to understand such mishagos in the frum world. I am with you there, brother.
But I take solace in the deep belief that a silent majority exists that is repelled by these attitudes, that desperately needs to reassert itself. Don't give up on us yet!

farmer bob said...

Unfortunately there is something in the philosophy and methodology of the "black hat" yeshivot that breeds this lack of "kol yisroel areivim".
It also breeds this close minded outlook on just about everything, developing bochrim that cannot think for themselves. Sadly this creates a group of robots who blindly follow orders from their "gedolim"

farmer bob said...

"It did not really matter, back then, what your personal Hashkafos were. If you were serious about learning, you were accepted as an equal."

THIS IS BLATANTLY FALSE. Its nice to dream though

Also it is of interest that, during the "shmooz" given by this unnamed lecturer of the Mir, not one single student spoke out to question this malevolent rishis (evil).

Anonymous said...

Hey there, Anonymous 1 here
As Rav Shlomo Carlebach taught us, when looking at a Rabbi or a gadol, we can see a reflection of ourselves. "IF YOU LOOK AT HIM AND HE LOOKS UGLY, IT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE UGLY". Not that anyone is ugly, but the point is clear that we are not ones to judge, and that's what I meant that ”maybe we are the ones who misunderstand”.
(The people participating in this discussion really care and it's a 'Machloket leshem shamayim' that's why I chose to reply even though I'm never one to write in to blogs).
In the same way a medical student would never stand up to a cardiologist or a brain surgeon and tell them that they have made an error, we cannot and should not judge or criticize any of our gedolim. This is not to say that no one has made an error here. The Rebbi has certainly done something which is in question, but we are not the 'Beit Din'.
Let's promote unity by judging everyone favorably.

Sol Rosenberg said...

I've done the research you mentioned above and found out that 'Gadol X' compared what is going on in Israel to the war the Yevanim fought against the Torah, and that back then the Jews fought back and won the war.

Mat Pinterowitz said...

”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,....”

Why is the eida chareidis an equation to neturei karta and an opposite to bnei brak?!

Obviously, there is someone who made a mistake, and does not know how to navigate the multi-layered diversity among modern day Israeli population.

YLO said...

Some more responses....

Farmer Bob(care to elaborate on the unusual moniker?):

In many large groups today there is tends to be a reluctance for people to think things through for themselves and instead an acceptance of groupthink and authority figures. All the more so in the Chareidi world, where people feel bound by those who speak in the name of "Daas Torah", there is a cavalier acceptance of even outrageous ideas which may in fact be unfounded. This was a good example of this...The claim was that Daas Torah dictated a certain outrageous action, and in fact that claim is purportedly untrue. Unchallenged, that claim will continue, and those making such distortive claims of what the Gedolim really think will only be emboldened.

As for your charge that my statement that in my day -- "It did not really matter, back then, what your personal Hashkafos were. If you were serious about learning, you were accepted as an equal." -- was blatantly false, excuse me, I beg to differ. Yes, of course there were those who were intolerant. But by and large, I stand by my statement, as being accurate in the late 1970s, when I was in the Mir.

Anonymous1: Thank you for bringing Reb Shlomo's teaching into this, and I am mekabel the mussar. But with all of Reb Shlomo's ahavas yisroel, he suffered much from those who misunderstood him and, I am sure, was pained by Chillul Hashem.

Of course no one, certainly, not me, should challenge the authority of Gedolim. That is not what my piece was about. It is about the unfortunate fact that the Kanaim have taken over the agenda and are falsifying what our Gedolim have taught us. I wrote much more about this in another essay on this blog at

Sol: I have seen various things about what Gadol X said or did not say -- I consciously did not write about Gadol X, or even about Rebbi X, but about the fact that such statements have become acceptable in the mainstream Chareidi discourse.

Mat: Of course there are differences between these groups, and Eida Chareidis and Neturei Karta are not the same (although they used to be more similar)...To Satmar's credit they published that they were repulsed by the kiss from Neturei Karta to Ahmadinejad ym"sh. But they still were broadly in the same place in terms of anti-zionism and rejection of modernity, and Bnei Brak was not quite there. I refer again to the above article.

I thank all of you for taking the time to write.

farmer bob said...

YLO said
"In many large groups today there is tends to be a reluctance for people to think things through for themselves and instead an acceptance of groupthink and authority figures. All the more so in the Chareidi world, where people feel bound by those who speak in the name of "Daas Torah", there is a cavalier acceptance of even outrageous ideas which may in fact be unfounded. This was a good

is this some type of excuse?

Also, I am very familiar with the yeshivisha world. There tolerence for Harav Hagon Yosef Dov Haleivy Soloveitchik (The Rav) was NON EXISTENT. How many of them refered to him by his initials without even the word Harav preceding them. There were Yeshivas that would not even allow his seforim in their beis medrash. I believe all he was interested in was "learning torah. There attitude, for Yeshiva University and its students as well, did not demonstrate any type of tolerence for people who learn torah.
This is but one example. No they never had tolerance for anybody that did not fit their mold.
No I did not attend Y.U.

YLO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
YLO said...

The Yeshiva world's attitude to Rav Soloveichik was shameful.

That said, you overstate your case (again), Farmer Bob. Rav Soloveichik zt"l was a bit of iconoclast in that he did leave the world of his Brisker family, went to Berlin and got a doctorate, was a master of secular philosophy, and took positions that were inconsistent with the norm in the yeshiva world.

Was he a Gaon, Tzaddik and huge Talmid Chochom? Of course. But he was very different than them; consciously so. As Rav Aharon Kotler zt"l and others were vehemnetly against Yeshiva talmidim going to University and joining Mizrachi, et, etc, it is understandable that they opposed him and did not want their Talmidim to be influenced by him. There were times that this opposition went way overboard, as in when he was referred to by his initials, or the refusal to (openly) respect his Torah (secretly many did listen to him).

But the somewhat principled objection to a shittah of the yeshiva world is very different than what I wrote about in this essay, and to compare them is ridiculous.

farmer bob said...

you contradict yourself with your response. that i believe is ridiculous. who cares who his relatives were. who cares if he was iconoclastic. was i at all referring to a difference in shitot? you said all that was important to the yeshiva world was limud hatorah. that is surely ridiculous.