Friday, May 25, 2007
The Red Square, Moscow, mid-‘60es. Gigantic gathering, tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people. The speaker ascends the podium to tremendous applause. “Comrades!” He declares, “Two plus two equals six!” and the crowd breaks out in thunderous cheers. Only in the very last row one person whispers something in his neighbor’s ear. Immediately, a dozen policemen in uniforms appear, brutally beating the man while he is being led away, never to be seen again.
Same place, same scenario, some fifteen years later. The speaker ascends the podium to tremendous cheers and declares: “Comrades! Two plus two equals five!” The crowd breaks in thunderous applause. Only in the last row, one man whispers something in his neighbor’s ear. Two policemen, this time in civilian, approach him and call him to the side. “Sir” they ask him, “Would you like it to be six again?”
(Widespread joke in the formerly communist bloc)
We are again and again reminded of the gmore (Rosh HaShana 25) stating that each generation’s leaders (gdolim) must be respected as if they were the great leaders of previous generations, and therefore we must not question our leaders’ decisions or actions. The statement in itself makes much sense; we cannot expect – neither do we deserve- leaders such as Moshe Rabeinu, Shmuel Hanavi or Dovid Hamelech. The problem in the analysis, however, arises when there are no leaders to begin with. That gmore specifically discusses the lack of piety and wisdom of Gideon, Yiftach and Shimshon, calling them “kalei oilom” (“lightweights of the world” i.e. shallow, empty people) yet makes the case for their respect because they valiantly led and defended the nation, despite their shortcomings. (As a side note to my dear religious-zionist friends: please avoid any and all analogy between these “three kalei oilom” and the founders of Zionism and the pseudo-Jewish state: they may not have been too frum, but anti-Judaism and anti Jewish they were definitely not.)
We shall also note that there most definitely were great talmidei-chachomin and tsaddikim in those generations. But despite the tremendous and vital achievement of transmitting of our lifeblood, the Torah, most are not individually mentioned in the scriptures. It should also be mentioned that what the gmore calls “kalei oilom” can absolutely not be taken literally as we would use that term today (see Maharsh”o there). A person who dedicates and sacrifices himself for the sake of the nation, per definition cannot be “shallow” and “empty”. However, because the immense responsibility resting on such leaders’ shoulders, as well as the fact that they are role models, their shortcomings in piety and heeding the divine word are magnified and pointed out – so those aspects of their behavior not be followed.
In our days, however, the situation is very different. Our leadership –inasmuch as we have one- despite its vast Torah knowledge, is not leading or protecting its flock in any way shape or form similar to that of the aforementioned trio. Not in fighting our enemies from within and without, not in unifying the people, not in listening and being aware of the layman’s plight, and not in being informed and involved with the common folk. Yes, they are accessible, and yes, they are trying to help individuals who ask for help, but as far as changing large-scale problems, correcting injustices, corruption and other related burdens, there’s either complete inaction or lip service - “Ethics in business” seminars and such. Duh. Why not stop the out-of-control Hassidic ghetto-building at my expense and stop the politicians who are being voted for in return? Oh, yes and please let me see the books of the Mosdos. I’d like to know how much the Roshei-Yeshivos make, who gets a tuition break and why. When you send me a letter about a poor person sunken in debt, (through no fault of his own) please include a picture of his home, car, and children’s weddings and Bar-Mitzvas. Tell me what pressure you’ve put on politicians not for a few more bucks for a moisad or down-zoning the village but to protect us from terrorists, from the Ahmadinejads, from illegal aliens, from tax hikes, to fix our roads and to lower gas prices. Tell us why a bris costs $600, why thieves, racketeers and owners of prostitution houses sit at the mizrach while honest people are looked down at as “balebatim”, why young kollel avreichim own luxury homes, luxury cars, and fancy “European style” clothing for all children four times a year and you don’t say anything about it. Tell us about the “affordable housing” scams – why an apartment in a complex isn’t cheaper than a farmhouse on two acres? Why is it that the bus-line between New-Square and Sing-Sing is alone enough to keep Exxon-Mobil in business, yet the only mussar that I hear is that my wife’s shaitel must be curtailed, I can’t use the internet, I can’t smoke and I must drive a Japanese car that saves the planet – but not me. I’m sick and tired of hearing how important the “Medine” and the Holy Holiday of “Yom HaAtzmaut” is and that I’m ungrateful for not serving in the IDF, especially from phony rabbis who never fired as much as a cap-gun, let alone serve themselves in that caricature army. How about all those certified private tutors and special-ed therapists filing fraudulent documents to continue cashing in on the government? Why don’t you urge your constituents to join their State Militias? Because that would make too much sense? Since secular education is so dear to some of you, why don’t you urge your business-owning constituents to hire college kids from the community instead of rapists from Guatemala? If you are against ransacking the government, maybe you want to let us know how much a university professor makes? The director of a Homosexual club? (You know, the de-facto non-existing club without which Uncle Sam and David Ford won’t bestow their goodies on you.)
To add insult to injury, it just came to my attention that the Agudah is pressuring politicians in regard with the threat of terrorism on schools; following the government’s decision to beef up security in public schools, religious schools also asked for assistance. Did they ask for security personnel? Security systems? Preparedness and education on preventing attacks and how to respond to an actual attack H”V? The answer, sadly, is no on all counts. They asked for funding.
Dear rabbis and leaders, please stop slinging mud at each other and address the issues. And try to fix them.
Dear rabbis and leaders, please stop pulling the wool over our eyes.
Dear rabbis and leaders, please stop the tremendous Chilul Hashem the problems you ignore cause – the Jew-hating street rabble use them as weapons against all of us.
Dear rabbis and leaders, please face reality and unite.
Dear rabbis and leaders, please call a spade a spade, a ganif a ganif and a fraud a fraud.
Dear rabbis and leaders, please realize that we all know…
…that two plus two is four.
Friday, May 18, 2007
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.