Friday, May 18, 2007
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
As much as I’d like to see it, I don’t expect a YU and Agudah reunion this summer. It seems that even the Muslim terrorists and Ahmadinejad cannot unite us. Cynical as it sounds, perhaps what we need is the noose to get just a bit tighter around our necks. After all, when Mahmoud’s ancestor/predecessor accused us –and rightly so- of being “a dispersed and divided nation, who do not keep the commends of the king”, we had to prove him wrong –against our will-, or face extermination. According to the gmora, each mention of “Hamelech” in the Megillah, not followed by “Achashverosh” refers or hints to the Almighty King too. So Haman was actually accusing us of not keeping the king’s commends – including those of our King!
Well, it seems that “ain chodosh tochas hashemesh”– history repeats itself; We’re again dispersed and divided, and we don’t keep the King’s laws. I don’t know since when lying, cheating, blackmailing, swindling and ransacking others, either directly or via government corruption, is muttar, but in the last 30 years I seldom heard any drosha about the subject - Exactly like in the senate! It doesn’t get any better! But fate’s cynical irony, (or ironic cynicism?) made these black clouds of “a dispersed and divided nation” and “not keeping the king’s commends” somewhat silver linings to each other; each group accuses the other of violating this or that halocho or civil law. And unfortunately they’re all mostly right. What they are wrong about is using these sad facts to smear and further alienate each other.
In August 1994, the Jewish Observer published a letter by Rav Moishe Feinstein reinforcing again that all forms of government aid abuse is forbidden. It is quite well known that the gmora often discusses halochos about quasi-impossible situations, and latter commentators stipulate that all halochos are true and have to be learnt as part of the mitzvah of learning Torah, even if they’re only hypothetical. But something tells me that this wasn’t the case with R’ Moishe’s letter. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard (but of course do not believe as fact – only suspect that it might be true) that many US penal institutions offer minyonim in all possible nussachs as well as a plethora of hechsherim to accommodate all degrees of piety and culinary affinity.
R’ Moishe introduces his letter by explaining how good the US has always been to Jews, and violating its laws is, in addition to the prohibition itself, a tremendous ingratitude. After consecrating much thought to the subject, I came to the conclusion that there really are three reasons why one must refrain from breaking the law, be it divine or civil:
a) Because it’s wrong.
b) Because it’s wrong.
c) Because it’s wrong.
It doesn’t get any simpler than that. However, for some reason R' Moishe felt that this reason alone isn't enough. I wonder why a simple psak prohibiting actions involving lies, theft, fraud and cheating needs emphasis beyond the word "ossur". Of course, when all lectures, publications, magazines and all media and communications completely ignore the subject and only push their own agendas, why expect any change? I just can’t understand how any Rav is able to stand on a podium and darshen about the sanctity of the sfiros, the importance of Yom HaAtsmaut or intricate sugyes with a straight face while his community is ridden with problems that threaten its own integrity, and are in outright contrast with its objectives – sometimes known criminals sitting in the audience.
This obsession with concealing our warts and pimples – to use a very cautious euphemism –, coupled with the seclusion oriented mentality, has bred a culture of egocentrism, selfishness and narcissism in groups within groups, each looking only for its own benefits and looking down on the other. The benefit of the communal leaders’ silence caused uncontrolled corruption and absolute disregard to certain aspects of halocha – especially the bein odom lechaveiro part- to bloom undisturbed and reach epidemic proportions. From draining every imaginable form of government aid to hiring illegal immigrants to all fraudulent activities in all possible fields - it’s all here, it’s an open secret, and no one does a thing about it. Of course, the silent opposition – maybe even a majority – has always grumbled about the situation at the back of the shul, over the gmore in middle of seder or on the way to work. But very few took very little action.
True to historic precedent, the hand of G-d manifested itself again - in a gentle yet very ugly form: the so-called “Jewish” “anti-establishment” bloggers. Until a mere few years ago the only place to dig up filth on corruption and crimes in the Jewish community were anti-Semitic (or, in newspeak “white supremacist”) websites. “ירהבו הנער בזקן והנקלה בנכבד – …the youngsters shall mock the elders, and the base [mock] the respectable” warned Isaiah, and sure enough, along came the anonymous bloggers claiming to be rank-and-file members of frum communities. Surrounded by traditionally Orthodox-hating street-rabble, and under claims of true caring and compassion, usurped our failings to drag us and our leaders through the mud. The high command first played deaf, but when the diatribe got so loud and so vile that it reached the secular printed media and couldn’t be ignored anymore, some took real action alongside the ‘official’ lip service. Unfortunately, that action was directed at one single problem, child sexual abuse in schools, which is the gravest, yet also the smallest (quantitatively) of our ailments. It is still a long way to go until fraud, corruption and parasitism as a way of life are eliminated from our communities.
And it won’t happen until a very strong emphasis on honesty, integrity and discipline is injected in our overall education system (i.e. both children and adults’ education).
And that won’t happen until our leaders insist on it.
And they won’t insist on it as long as they’re owned by the rich and corrupt powerful fat-cats.
And the powerful, corrupt, rich fat-cats and politicians will own our leaders as long as we, the Joe Sixpacks crushed under the weight of tuitions, taxes and donations don’t all stand up and scream “enough!”
And we won’t stand up and scream "enough!" as long as we’re obsessed with our comfort, well being and earthly possessions and status.
And we won’t stop being obsessed with the aforementioned as long as we’re afraid of what our neighbor in shul, our kids’ principals, our loudmouths, prospective mechutonim and standard-setters think about us.