Friday, February 29, 2008

Master Of Puppets

אוי לו לדור ששופט את שופטיו

As I was driving home one evening, my daughter asked from the back seat: “Tatty, what’s this building?” – “This is a government building”, I answered.
-The ‘Government’ lives here?
-No, sweetheart, the government doesn’t
live anywhere. People who work for the government come to work here.
-So where does the government live?
-Zisseleh, the government doesn’t live anywhere. It’s not a person; it’s a group of people.
-The government is not a person? So what is it? A
This got me laughing so hard I nearly drove into the opposite lane. I guess governments and puppets go so well together it’s the first thing that comes to the mind of a six years old who never heard the term “puppet government”.

On one hand one could argue that despite the lack of the slightest legal authority, and in the face of much criticism and animosity from several directions, our rabbis, leaders, do a tremendous job. If not for our steadfast faith in the Creator and his human emissaries, this feat would be impossible. Sure, some will dismiss this as mere cultish adherence and pure fanaticism. Nothing can be farther from the truth. No cultish leader can be harshly criticized by his constituents and retain that same constituency, especially in an environment where everyone is free to leave at will. Many actually leave their enclave – to join another one, more suitable for them.

But on the other hand, it can be argued that compared to what can –and should- be accomplished, we are not exactly the shining stars we’d like to believe we are. Not only because we are over-influenced by the surrounding Western culture. Not only because man naturally rejects authority, seeks comfort and pleasure, and loves to indulge in intellectual acrobatics to justify the above said. Not only because man loves to hide his natural shortcomings behind this or that good deed or quality he possess – and often uses as a moral high-ground do defame others. All these do, indeed, play a major role in the state of Orthodox “leadership”. But they certainly aren’t the only factor.

I don’t know how tired the reader is of me saying this over and over, but I’ll say it again, nonetheless. There is no Orthodox Jewish leadership. There are many rabbis, many gabbais, and far more secluded groups than we can afford. Many decry the power and authority of the “rabbinate”, or “the rabbinical establishment” – and in many aspects they are right. But the fact of the matter is, that there isn’t a well-organized and structured leadership and governance. There are many small groups that are run independently, and often at odds with one another.

And this is precisely the problem. Because every time a rabbi has a better idea of running things or of what “real” Torah is about, a new group forms around him, essentially turning their backs on other groups. Thus, there is no overseeing or restraining leaders. Dissent can be dealt with in the form of either leaving the group or keeping it to the back of the shul – and even there it has to be toned down.

It seems that most “leaders” and rabbis can be bamboozled and misled all too easily. I’m not sure why it is so, but am fairly convinced that the main reason is that deep down, they don’t truly care about Clal Yisroel. A harsh accusation, I reckon, but there is more than one indication to this. Most everyone cares about his own yeshiva, family and community. Seldom does it go beyond that – mostly in the form of some incredibly innovative charity which will eliminate hunger, poverty, disease and tragedy forever. The fact that rabbis are being turned into poster boys in the process doesn’t seem to bother too many people. If someone would argue that they are willing to undergo this humiliation, I’d be willing to swallow it. But can anyone explain me why in this case Covod Hatorah doesn’t matter? And if they really care so much about all Yidden, why resolutions to cancel charity concerts two weeks before the event are acceptable?

I’d be willing to accept well thought resolutions if they’d spell out that since such events inherently carry with them many pestiferous side effects that can be corruptive. If they’d claim that such gathering are a step toward Western Culture, I’d understand. But how can great sages irresponsibly sign (or at least not outright denounce the fact that their names were used without permission) these decisions without the slightest concern for the organizers’ parnossah – not to speak about the fundraiser itself?- The answer, probably, is “השוחד יעבר עיני חכמים ויסלף דברי צדיקים”. The ‘gvirim’ and rich benefactors, who, by means of their support and donations become immune to criticism, carry the rabbis after them.

And how can the wealthy get away with this? Because most “unwealthy” play Mr. Rich. Big house, big car, big spending, fancy-schmancy clothing, luxury hotels for Yomim Tovim are almost universal staples. (Why doesn’t anyone ban hotels for Yontev? Answer: the holy rabbis get rich with lectures while sleeping on silk sheets and super-duper ultra comfy mattresses. A wooden board was good for Rav Avigdor Miller זצוק"ל, but I guess today’s gdolim –there are 33 in the USA only, and Lipa Margulies is one of them!- need some extra comfort to come up with some extra wisdom. That’s what you call a “dor yasom”).

Are the filthy-rich entrepreneurs on whose arms many rabbis hang ever being confronted by ordinary folks? Except on blogs, no. Why? Because it is very easy to bark at the moon on the ‘net (like I do right now) without getting into personal conflict. And most likely, if such a confrontation would occur, Mr. Rich would answer “עד שאתה אומר לי טול קיסם מבין שינך טול קורה מבין עינך” as the standards are not set only by the rich. Today everyone seems to take it for granted that la dolce vita is his unalienable right. Ironically, the standards of gashmius are very often set by the loudest opponents of ‘daas Torah’ and rabbis.

Such confrontations are not pleasant. But this must be, I imagine, one of the main reasons for the strict rules of loshon hora – instead of spreading rumors, talk to your brother first! This is part and parcel of “ישראל עריבים זה לזה”. It is not easy and must be done tactfully in order to avoid quarrel and rifts. But this was exactly the trait that made Yehoshua great “שיכול להלך כנגד רוחו של כל אחד ואחד” – he had the ability to ‘go against’ – to present his opposition to- anyone without getting into a battle.

We have a puppet government allright. But who’s pulling the strings?

© Joseph Izrael 2008


Wondering said...


I can't figure you out. On the one hand you rail against everything wrong, do not pull any punches and name names. On the other hand, you slam all the bloggers claiming that they are trying to bring down Orthodox Judaism. How do you differ from them? Do you consider UOJ like the others?

I happen to like alot of what you say but am wondering...

By the way, how come you do not have more comments? Your stuff is pretty good and dopes like Harry are so popular. Perhaps the name of the blog should be changed - it may scare people off.

Yehue said...

"I can't figure you out."

You don't need to. I never figured out why people try to "figure out" someone else :-)

"On the one hand you rail against everything wrong, do not pull any punches and name names."

I guess we are in agreement about denouncing wrong attitudes, ideologies and deeds. As far as naming names, I usually don't do it until not only I know the facts for facts, but when I can show fairly strong proofs.

"On the other hand, you slam all the bloggers"

All? I usually speak out against Dov Bear, because he's not only a vicious and hateful individual, but makes fun of Chaza"l and the Torah, all the while denying it.

I have criticised others, but in most cases the criticism goes for the specific issue, not the person.

"claiming that they are trying to bring down Orthodox Judaism."

Only DB is so stupid as trying to do that. Obviously the only thing that's "bringing down" Orthodox Judaism is Orthodox Jews - that's been the case for the last 2500 years - Neviim & Csuvim make quite a good case for that.

"How do you differ from them?"

I'm not sure whom you refer to as "them", I hope the difference between DB and myself is quite clear. If you read closely, you won't see me condemn all Orthodoxy with wide strokes, rather the apathy with which our wrongdoings are met. I also try not to cross certain red lines even viz. rabbis of whom I'm critical. Plus, you have many bloggers who just sing their party line - MO good, charedi bad, chredi good MO bad. I hope I don't do this (although I deeply disagree with most MO ideology, but we have a lot to learn from them too.)

"Do you consider UOJ like the others?"

No. To the best of my knowledge he doesn't denigrate chaza"l and such. When he exposes sex abuse and coverup thereof, that's laudable. But when he slings around unfounded accusations and writes in the most hideous ways about rabbis claiming he knows all the ins and outs of all the decisions that took place over a period of 40 years, as if he were there at every step, that bad. Then when he accuses R' Elchonon Wasserman of purposely preventing his Yeshiva from saving themselves, it's an outright lie (I have proof of this and still looking into it. When I have time I'll wirte about the subject. But the fact is Mike Tress could not give out any passports at the time R Elchonon went back to Poland/Lithuania. And later he and the Yeshiva fled. What many people don't realize is that Communist Russia wasn't much than pre '40 Nazi occupied territories) that's beyond disgusting. I don't know, nor do I care, why he does this - it's wrong and beyond.

"By the way, how come you do not have more comments?"

I think it has to do with the demographics. Most blog readers IMHO either fall in the DB fan category or right-wing pro-israel like you can see on israelforum. See how ben bayit also has few comments.

Besides, who can argue with my unmatched genius? ;-)

"Your stuff is pretty good"

Pretty good? How dare you! It's the stuff of prophets! ;-)

"dopes like Harry are so popular"

I don't think he's a dope. He's an ideologue who will follow his party with his eyes closed - most people are like that. He has a lot of time on his hand, and churns out an article every day whether he has something to say or not - that's his daf yomi. And then you have all the YU dunces who go after him like mother goose.

"Perhaps the name of the blog should be changed - it may scare people off."

You mean "Angel Of Retribution"? That's too cool man, ripped it off Judas Priest (their last album). What do you suggest instead? Pink Daisies? The Summer Of Love? Let's all get along? All you need is love? Blue skies forever? Heidi goes to town? Nah, won't cut it for me...

If you mean the web address... well, that's sarcasm. Besides, how would I change it now?


PS - if you think not enough people read this site, you're always welcome to take out a full-page ad in the Times... or maybe just the Un-Jewish Un-Press...