Sunday, July 23, 2006

Perfect Strangers

…and Israel encamped before the mount: as one man with one heart - Rashi.
…whither you go, I will go; and where thou lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d;
Where you die, will I die, and there will I be buried;
Hashem do so to me, and more if aught but death part you and me.

- Ruth 1, 16-17

I am returning the echo of a point in time
And if you hear me talking on the wind
You've got to understand
We must remain
Perfect Strangers

- Deep Purple, “Perfect Strangers”, 1984

The unity of the Jewish people, the prohibition of sinas chinom, the notion of Ahavas Yisroel are not only of utter importance, but also the most essential tenets and principles of Judaism. As a matter of fact they are even a condition for Hashem’s blessing and the prosperity of Klal Yisroel. So why do we, along with our rabbis and leaders, adhere to the lyrics of Deep Purple more than the words of the Torah? Why do we seem to learn our lessons from a drunken rock-star and not Ruth? No truth? Then why is it that our nation, maybe the smallest on earth, is torn and divided into different groups who won’t even consider intermarrying, sending their children to the same schools, follow one leadership, and relate to each other as members of the same nation.

Though the schism is immediately evident to the honest observer, the good-natured ostrich who refuses to see, hear or speak any evil will easily fool himself that because we occasionally daven in each other’s shuls, shop in the same supermarkets (albeit we won’t Chas VeShalom accept the same hechshers) and sometimes attend the same shiur, we are as united as can be, and Moshiach (the real one) is literally at the door. It is interesting to note that our ostrich might well be a distinguished scholar who is able to disseminate the most intricate Tosfosen, rishonim and acharonim for many hours, yet fools himself with the aforementioned superficialities.

But if we would apply only a small percentage of the analytical skills required to understand even a simple Tosfos to what we see in our daily life, we would ask ourselves the simple kushia: how come that while the greatest theology scholars haven’t yet discovered the real difference between Hassidim and Misnagdim, let alone two different Hassiduses, we would be offended and appalled by the simple suggestion that, for example, my son Yanky should enroll in cheder X – they wear long jackets!!! Shocking!!! But it is an absolute taboo question, since an honest answer to this question would involve lifting The Magic Rug, -yes, that magic rug- under which four generations of problems were constantly swept.

And that is exactly what we are going to do. We will not do it because the time has come. We will not do it because many people are disgruntled with our leadership –at one level or another – and are becoming aware of the problem. We will not do it because today it is easier than ever, and neither will we do it because many yidden from all groups are more receptive to the idea. We will do it for the single reason that doing it is the right thing to do and not doing it is the wrong thing to do.

Now, you wonder, Achdus, Unity, Ahavas Yisroel – that’s all good and well, but it is impossible to solve the problem until Moshiach comes, and besides, what does it have to do with myriads of other ills ailing our society? Quite simple: a self-segregated group under narrow leadership is naturally immune to outside scrutiny and criticism. When adversity to criticism is an integral part of that society, it is virtually free to function with no reins other than the rules it sets for itself. In other words, this means that you can be expelled –or shunned and harassed until self-expulsion- from the village of Kiryas Joel for wearing a blue shirt or expressing some views of solidarity with Israel, yet child abuse, racketeering, welfare fraud and adultery are accepted as the norm. As far as they are concerned, these things just don’t exist. An honest man from a different group is lower than dirt, and the mere thought of a shidduch with him unconceivable, yet a thief or child-rapist from his party is perfectly fine. And every single faction and sub-faction of Orthodox Judaism (yes, including the Modern Orthodox and Mizrahi) is full of these destructive idiosyncrasies.

And so, in tacit complicity we all let each other get away with the most vile and despicable actions while pretending that the greatest problems facing our generation are the internet, lack of support for Zionism or too much of it, or not wearing a hat for shul. This separatism is the source of most our problems, and only unity can solve them. And although I don’t expect Skver hassidim and Teaneck Mizrahis to start intermarrying tomorrow, I would like to kindly remind them that no matter what they do, they are brothers, and accountable for each other’s actions nearly as much as for their own. To the Gentiles –and to G-d- a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, period. Whether you live in East Brunswick or Kiryas Joel is completely irrelevant. So when a tremendous chilul hashem occurs and you look the other way because it didn’t happen in your shtetl, you are as accountable for it as its perpetrators.

And while you’re waiting for Moshiach to address these issues, please take a moment to remember that no matter what hecsher you eat, what nussach you daven, what hat, yarmulka, pants and tallis you wear, you and the guy whom you shun and despise for belonging to a different ‘team’ can be made into totally identical lampshades.

© Joseph Izrael 2006


The Anti-Semite said...

Finally, I'm pretty much done with the HTML and other stylistic formatting.
There's a little more to go, but basically I can make a 'shehecheyonu' and plan for the next entry. Hope you enjoy.

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