And the responses truly begin – Beit Shemesh continued

I will highlight a couple of posts that have begun to pop up. I came across a couple this afternoon which I will highlight. All I can say is I wish these thoughts had existed earlier, but… Additionally, still waiting for Gedolei Yisrael to speak up against the violence, as opposed to the following report.

It’s Time to Act

Wow! Maybe things are beginning to change. These seems to be a groundswell of Charedi outrage about the the Chilul HaShem that the Meah Shearim crowd has been responsible for – both in Bet Shemesh and on their home turf. The following is a front page editorial published in the very Charedi newspaper, Hamodia. It was written and signed by the publisher Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein. This is unprecedented. It is republished in VIN. I republish it here in its entirety:

Last Shabbos morning was exceptionally beautiful in Yerushalayim. As always, the streets were full of Yidden going to and from shul, passing walls plastered with a variety of posters and advertisements.

Suddenly I noticed a placard announcing a demonstration in Kikar HaShabbos, to take place on Motzoei Shabbos.

Participants would be required to wear a yellow star and don prisoners’ uniforms, similar to what was worn in the Nazi death camps, and demonstrate against the harassment of the authorities with regard to the mehadrin lines and other similar grievances. I was horrified.
In a subsequent conversation in which I described the placard, its content and style, to a resident of Yerushalayim with a lot of life experience, I was surprised at his calm response. He just brushed it off with a wave of his hand. “Nonsense! Meshuga’im!” he exclaimed.

But this time, these “meshuga’im” overstepped the line. They went too far. What has been imprinted in everyone’s memory, with the eager collaboration of the secular media, is the horrific image of a small child wearing a yellow star, with his arms raised, and, not coincidentally, remarkably resembling the famous photo of a child with his arms raised in the Warsaw Ghetto.
How did the hands of the parents not tremble when they dressed their small child in this horrific uniform?

What does this father know about the Holocaust, about children in the Holocaust, about the significance of such a photo? Obviously, less than nothing. With pre-meditated cynicism, the fringe group to which he belongs has desecrated an iconic symbol for their own ends.
What will this father tell his son when he grows older and tries to understand how his father opted to turn him into a symbol that will haunt him all his life?

It’s not pleasant to be a chareidi in Yerushalayim — or anywhere else in Eretz Yisrael for that matter — these days. During the remainder of my brief stay in Eretz Yisrael, wherever one went the reaction was the same: “You chareidim! Shame on you!”

The more polite, well-mannered people said, “We know they are a radical minority, we know they are casting a stain on the entire chareidi community with their behavior, but why do you remain silent?”

The time has come to shatter the silence. Ignoring these fanatics is no longer an option, since they go out of their way to attract the secular media in order to broadcast their warped messages to the entire world.

I make no demands on this group, since they are not rational. The father of that child and his cohorts not only did not apologize or explain themselves, they even pledged to continue in their ways, according to secular media reports.

My demand is from us: How did we, in our naiveté, think that the actions of this fringe group could just be ignored? How did we give them a platform, allowing them to act as the representatives of chareidi Jewry?

What we desperately need is a serious media campaign to present the true position of Torah Jewry to the world. As my father, Rabbi Leibel Levin, z”l, and Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, understood when they founded Mercaz L’hasbarah Datit and Am Echad, respectively, for this purpose, we dare not relinquish the spokesmanship of Klal Yisrael to irrational, irresponsible and self-serving fringe elements.

If we want to survive, if we want to merit understanding in Israel and abroad as Orthodox Jews who want to live our lives in accordance with the Torah, we must act — immediately!

Postscript: VIN also has this from Rav Ovadia Yosef. Finally the righteous outrage I have been waiting for!

By , on January 4th, 2012

Just when I thought I was going to have to spend time taking issue with what others have written on these pages, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Rav of Cong. Ahavas Israel in Passaic NJ captured the mood perfectly enough, that I no longer feel compelled to distance myself from the content. (This “Short Vort” appears today on his website, ahavasisrael.org )

Hey Yankel- how are you doing?

Thanks a lot for the pics you sent me. You and your son really look well fed and robust.

However, since you asked me how I am doing, I have no choice but to be honest.

Jake, oh sorry, I meant Yankel- I have known you all of my life; after all, you are my older brother.

I have always worshipped the ground you walked on and attempted to emulate all of your ways and movements.

After all, why not? While I went off to live in ‘treif America’ you settled in the land of our fathers’: Eretz Yisroel.

While I chose to use English as my spoken language, you kept to the ‘mama loshon’ and insisted on exclusively speaking Yiddish.

While I dressed in more ‘Western style dress’, you were obsessive in maintaining what you were emphatic was ‘authentic Jewish dress’.

I admired you for both of these traits.

And while me and many of my friends had no issue in using our ‘goyishe names’, you always insisted that we refer to you as Yankel and nothing else.

Although sometimes I kidded you for you obstinacy in the maintenance of these three cardinal traits of Jewish identity, in truth I envied you for what certainly seemed to me at the time as your authentic and ‘more Jewish’ lifestyle.

You are living in Meah Shearim; you have the freedom to teach your kids the way you want to; you are protected by the State; and for the most part no one- and I mean no one- interferes with your life at all.

When I came on my frequent visits to you- I was constantly amazed and happy by your financial stability and the growth of your neighborhoods.

You now have air conditioning and cell phones, beautiful Shabbos clothes and thank Hashem you purchased apartments for all of your children when they married.

In short, you were blessed by He whose blessings count and I was happy for you.

Even though you complained sometimes about all of the Americans who came through your neighborhood, privately you admitted to me that only because of those American dollars which pour through the shops and collectors of your streets were you able to make beautiful and wonderful weddings for your children.

I remember how at the last wedding of your daughter you had two video-people- one for the women and one for the men. It did make me wonder why you needed that – after all, I (the Modern American) had no video person at my son’s wedding while you had two! However, I let it pass and was happy for you.

When you came to visit I took you around and helped you raise money for your apartments with a smile and with a feeling that ‘at least there are still authentic Jews’ living an authentic Jewish life in Yerushalayim.

When the incidents occurred in Beit Shemesh, I believed what I read in the Chareidi media that this was not indicative of the feelings of most ‘authentic Jews’ and that this was the work of a ‘fringe group’. Perhaps I did not ‘really’ believe this, however, I so wanted to believe that this was true so I let it pass.

I decided not to contact you about those incidents; after all, you do not live in Beit Shemesh and after all you are a member of the Edah Chareidis an ‘official and respected’ organization.

All that was before Motzei Shabbos; on Motzei Shabbos I turned on the computer and there you were with your son- my nephew- Yossele!!!

My own brother Yankel in the middle of the melee!

Yankel, how could you do it? And how could you do it to our Yossele?

Look at your smile Yankel as you proudly set your eyes on your son that you have manipulated to raise his hands in a grotesque, sickening and revolting pose which imitates that which is truly holy and pure.

Yankel, I am sending you a copy of the ‘authentic’ (as I know you always want that which is authentic) original photograph of the scared and frightened little boy.

That boy is terrified; not knowing what life has in store for him.

Look at the other people in the photograph (I know most of them are women, however, let’s be honest Yankel, you must have studied this photo intently before you ‘offered your son’ on the alter of hate) – they are petrified and to be pitied.

Look now at you Yankel and at the other people in the picture. All of you are well fed, dressed in your Shabbos finery; having just eaten a big Shalosh Shiddush and a big Melave Malka. None of you in the picture appear truly frightened or scared.

Yankel, what did you say to little Yossele before you sullied him with the badge of hate?

What words of ‘chizuk’ did you offer to his pristine Neshama as you told him to pose in that position of mockery and as a caricature of contempt and as a parody of sarcasm.

Yankel, you know and I know it; you have benefited from the ‘Zionist State’ more than the majority of secular Israelis!

You have protection from the Arabs; dollars streaming in from tourists and students and you do not have to give back a dime.

However, after the events of Motzei Shabbos- and you have pointed this out to me- no one can claim that you are just a ‘few fringe people’.

Yankel, I must admit that you are correct, just as you have told me so many times before- you are not a fringe group.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and execution of this Motzei Shabbos ‘rally’.

You had women sewing the Concentration Camp uniforms.

You had technical assistance in surfing the web to get the best Holocaust pictures.

You had printers and translators printing and translating your signs into Hebrew and English.

You had choreographers and script writers planning and practicing this complicated cavort of callous insensitivity.

In short as you had told me time and time again, you are no fringe group and you are not a few individuals as others would have us believe.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and the execution of this demonstration!

And as you have pointed out to me many, many times; although we have seen rabbinic bans and protests against concerts and books; against women rabbis and against individual authors, there has never been a single signed pronouncement appearing with the names of any prominent Chareidi Rabbis who have protested or denounced your actions!

I guess Yankel you are correct. If ‘shtika K’Hodaa’ (if silence is akin to agreement) then I guess you are right, as sad as it may be.

However, Yankel, with that being said, the reason I am writing to you is really because you are my brother and I do love you dearly.

I love you with you all my heart and soul and I so cherish the good and wonderful and spiritual times we spent together singing and discussing Torah.

I remember fondly you telling me about how happy you were when you found solace and peace in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

How happy you were with his love of each and every Jew and how he accepted all Jews no matter who they were and what their standing was.

You told me how he started a movement wherein each and every precious Jew could be counted and loved, irrespective of how learned he was or how he dressed.

You told how the Baal Shem Tov himself dressed as a simple Jew as he went around sharing his love for each and every Jew irrespective of their level of observance.

You told me that Hashem looks into the heart of every precious Jew and forgives their lapses.

However, that was before you sent me the picture of you and Yossele.

That was before I saw my nephew forced to pose with his hands held upright in ridicule of that which is pure and pristine.

You told me about love and now I see hate.

You told about compassion and now I see cruelty.

You told about sanctity and now I see sacrilege.

Yankel, I know you are my brother; however, Yankel I must ask you:

Who are you?
Often I can no longer recognize you anymore.

With all my love,

Your brother who loves and misses you.

Is There No Stopping The Flood?

Just like the below blog posting indicates, the plot thickens.  Is it really possible that much of the rabbinic leadership carries so little weight?  It has been clear to me throughout the recent scandal that the Haredi leadership (and yes I am lumping them all into one) has been merely giving the zealots a slap on the wrist, but in reality does not want to condemn them because it still furthers the agenda.  This point was brought home to me yesterday when I read the following story, which I have to assume occurred within the past 20 years but don’t know exactly (the point being the conversation was not a recent one).

“During my tenure at Yated Neeman, where I served as founding editor and continued several years after, I once asked Rac Shach ztz”l what approach to take in writing about the demonstrations that were taking place in Yerushalayim every Shabbos on Bar Ilan Street and on the Ramot road, typically featuring stones thrown at passing cars.  Rav Shach’s answer to me, quote from memory was, ‘It’s quite possible that the real mechallelei Shabbos here are the demonstrators.  First of all, throwing stones is absolutely assur in and of itself, in addition to the risk of killing someone.  But aside from the stone-throwing, they’re causing Shabbos desecration through the demonstrations.  Instead, they could vote in the municipal elections and shift the balance of power in the local government.  With a religious majority, a lot of this chillul Shabbos could be prevented.  But they won’t listen to us…”

(R. Moshe Grylak, Mishpacha Magazine, Issue 389)

So here are my questions:  1.  Is it really true they won’t listen?  2.  So what if they won’t listen, these things need to be said over and over again?  Why are we only hearing such comments years later?

To me, the situation is simple.  The violence between ultra-religious has been allowed to go on for so long, whether openly or quietly encouraged, that the tide certainly will be difficult to turn now.  And yes, it is a small group perpetrating the hate, but we are all responsible for not having cried out sooner.

Is There No Stopping The Flood? – FailedMessiah.com.

No stopping the flood

The vocal extremism within the ultra-Orthodox community should be seen as a reaction to their peers’ increasing openness to the outside world.

By Yair Ettinger

On Tuesday, ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman had no mention of the religious clashes in Beit Shemesh on its front page. Instead, the headline trumpeted a letter signed by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, considered the leader of the non-Hasidic, “Lithuanian” ultra-Orthodox.

“We must protest and warn of all sorts of trends from outside to strike at the cruse of pure oil, to alter the spirit and the essence of the ultra-Orthodox public,” blared the headline. The letter called for boycotting all the new study tracks designated for Haredim in academia, and employment programs in the army and civil service, since they were intended to form “a group of ultra-Orthodox subordinate to persons who have thrown off the burden [of obedience to the commandments], their rule and their culture.”

The missive was written three weeks ago, but intended for publication during Hanukkah. It had no connection to this week’s events, but it does cast new light on them.

The gender-segregated bus lines have been plying the country’s roads for several years now, the fanatic ultra-Orthodox ghetto in Beit Shemesh is not new and the modesty signs urging women to avoid places where men congregate or walk are a part of the landscape there. The city’s extremists, known as the Sicarii, have been harassing little girls from the modern-Orthodox community for four months now. Why did this flare into a storm at now of all times?

While some among the secular would say that it’s due to growing ultra-Orthodox extremism, which is only now being exposed in the media, Knesset members from United Torah Judaism believe the timing is entirely cynical, a result of the race heating up between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud ), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu ), opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) and Labor Party chair MK Shelly Yachimovich. Netanyahu knows he does not have a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox parties UTJ and Shas, and that both parties will leave the government if he launches a conflict with the ultra-Orthodox, even though they have no better coalition option. And in one month, the test period set by the High Court of Justice for determining whether gender segregation on buses is being done voluntarily (rather than by coercion ) will come to an end.

There may be another explanation behind the ultra-Orthodox rabbis’ exhortations about the unseen hand reaching for the “cruse of pure oil.” Are the rabbis – and the Sicarii – sensing dramatic internal changes within ultra-Orthodox society itself?

This is not the first time Rabbi Elyashiv has denounced higher education, but it’s unlikely that he has ever before issued such a sweeping prohibition of participation by the ultra-Orthodox in any kind of framework beyond Torah study. The rabbi is denouncing vocational training, ultra-Orthodox colleges and military and civil service because their initiators “acknowledge openly that the aim of all these trends is to alter the spirit and essence of the ultra-Orthodox public and to introduce all kinds of aspirations, national and ‘enlightened,’ of which our forefathers never conceived and to promote integration with secular and sinful people.”

Fanning the hatred A broader reference to current events can be found in the remarks of another Lithuanian rabbi, which also appeared in Yated Neeman. Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach wrote, “The spirit of rapprochement with the general [secular] public is causing the great hatred.” It is generally believed, or at least said, that the answer to hatred is reconciliation and dialogue. Actually, the Lithuanian leadership believes the answer is distancing and separatism. A more radical approach, both separatist and anti-Zionist, characterizes Those who have sanctified separatism and anti-Zionism are the extremist ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit, which is descended from descendants of the pre-Zionist Jewish community in Palestine, and which today controls Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. Most extreme are Unlike the mainstream ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Auerbach, the extremist Sicarii: They do not even want to dissipate the hatred.

“The more you disparage us, the better,” they told us in Beit Shemesh this week. This is the essence of the fanatic ideology, which has drawn attention due to several cases in recent years – the ultra-Orthodox mother arrested for starving her child, the fight over opening Jerusalem’s Karta parking lot on Shabbat, the ancient graves alongside Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade and more. Two decades ago, Eda rabbis were already permitting young fanatics from Mea She’arim to move to the increasingly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh. The extreme Lithuanian courts of Toldot Avraham Yitzhak, Toldot Aharon and smaller groups like Torah Veyireh and the Pharisees are all sending members to the new neighborhoods there. They have done a remarkable job of establishing a fanatic ghetto. The Sicarii within this ghetto are terrorizing Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet as well as the rabbis. No one in the ultra-Orthodox camp is willing to clash with them.

Yet winds of change are blowing even among the most fanatic camp. Once, former Eda Haredit spokesman Shmuel Pappenheim was frequently dispatched to represent the official, extreme anti-Zionist line and to defend his sect, Toldot Aharon. But Pappenheim, a Beit Shemesh resident, recently came out of the closet as a sworn reformist: He is studying for a degree at Bar-Ilan University and heads an office encouraging ultra-Orthodox employment in Beit Shemesh, on top of his other public activities.

Pappenheim thinks that in the ultra-Orthodox’s clash with outsiders, the extremists on both sides are failing to see the powerful processes underway in the ultra-Orthodox mainstream: The ultra-Orthodox are irreversibly opening up, he believes.

“This week I spoke before a Scout troop in Jerusalem, alongside a representative of Yisrael Hofshit [Be Free Israel, an organization that works to advance religious freedom and other democratic values], who denounced ultra-Orthodox extremism,” says Pappenheim. “I told her she was missing the entire point. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox public has begun to understand that it needs to take its fate into its hands. There are thousands of ultra-Orthodox in the army, in academia, in the free professions. Are they telling us we’re in a religious war? On the contrary. The religious public is heading toward something great, and the rabbis’ attempts to stop this are like the rooster running in circles after being beheaded.”

The Sicarii are acting out of frustration, not ideology, he says. “They see society around them progressing and are frustrated. They do not really think; they just act violently for the sake of causing action and chaos.”

Pappenheim believes the rabbis’ attempts to turn back time are destined to fail. “I’m not seeing any students dropping out of ultra-Orthdox colleges” due to Rabbi Elyashiv’s letter, he says. “That isn’t going to help anymore. Maybe this is the rabbis’ job, to try to stop the flow so that 16-year-old boys know their only aim in life is to study Torah, but this process is reality.”

Pappenheim himself is being smeared by wall posters declaring, “Greeks have ganged up on us!” and draws condemnations from his extremist neighbors, but as the son of an aristocratic Toldot Aharon family, he retains access to the top.

“A married yeshiva student from Toldot Avraham Hasidut is serving in Shahar [a prestigious Israel Defense Forces technology program for married yeshiva students]. Things are happening. I told my rebbe and he asked: ‘What? Do you think our married yeshiva students will also be there?’ I said it could happen. He said, ‘Such a thing should not come to us,’ and I told him that while his role may be to prevent it, this is the process. We need to understand this and not shut our eyes. He knows this well. A month ago President [Shimon] Peres visited [Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s daughter] Adina Bar-Shalom’s ultra-Orthodox college in Jerusalem. In the first row were three married yeshiva students from Toldot Aharon.”

Conflicting changes Pappenheim’s remarks show that the discussion about “growing ultra-Orthdox extremism” ignores the fact that this sector, like the national religious sector, is going through conflicting processes. The public at large is now noticing the modesty revolution, which includes the segregated buses, the “Taliban” women in black cloaks, the gender segregation at the health clinics in Beit Shemesh and the advertising companies’ reluctance to post outdoor ads with pictures of women in Jerusalem, but it has been going on for years.

But there are only a few dozen women in cloaks and a few hundred hot-headed Sicarii. Even if we generalize and include the thousands of Gur Hasidim – the largest Hasidic faction, known for its obsessiveness on matters of sexuality and whose functionaries have been pushing segregated buses for years – this is still only a minority within the ultra-Orthodox sector.

This minority certainly is smaller than the large group of ultra-Orthodox women – including women from Gur – working in the free professions and high-tech, the thousands of men and women studying at ultra-Orthodox colleges and the men volunteering for special ultra-Orthodox programs in the IDF and civil service. And many more ultra-Orthodox use computers, smartphones and the Internet, despite the rabbis’ loud but futile war against these technologies. Even if these people are still a minority, they are a much larger minority than the extremists.

Economic distress alone is enough to push the ultra-Orthodox to reform, which in turn damages the supreme ultra-Orthodox value of separatism, “the pure cruse of oil.” The change in values is keeping the rabbis awake at night. The more openness there is, the more they seek to close things off. That is how Orthodoxy was born 200 years ago, that is how the “Taliban” sect in Beit Shemesh was born and that is likely how innovations like “kosher electricity” will be born – out of the growing push for strictness and the ultra-Orthodox representatives’ intoxication with political power – as well as the secular politicians’ ignorance.

The segregated buses were not intended to exclude women; they were intended to exclude secular people, to create a sanctified ultra-Orthodox space detached from the threatening outside world. The new ultra-Orthodox suburbs of Beitar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit were intended as sacred ultra-Orthodox ghettoes, sometimes with the help of secret “acceptance committees” that filtered out the newly observant, the national religious and sometimes also Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox. The Lithuanian girls’ schools make a point of accepting only students “like ourselves,” meaning no Mizrahim. Likewise the Haredim developed their own transportation system under the nose of Egged, Dan and the High Court of Justice.

The radical idea that came out of the Prime Minister’s Bureau this week, to split Beit Shemesh into two municipalities based on sectoral affiliation, no doubt appeals to some of the ultra-Orthodox extremists. But Pappenehim says that in order to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into workplaces, colleges and military service, they need unique frameworks that allow for gender segregation. “There is no other way,” he says.

Aryeh Goldhaber is an activist in the ultra-Orthodox reformist movement “Tov,” in Beit Shemesh. He says ultra-Orthodox people like him are suffering both at the hands of the extremists and from the authorities’ blind eye. He, like Pappenheim, favors tough police action against the fanatics, because the “violent campaign against the ultra-Orthodox” is driving moderate members of his community to close ranks with the Sicarii.

Unlike Rabbi Elyashiv, he says, “We are happy to be active partners in the larger Israeli society – in employment, the army and studies, but the more openness there is, the louder the extremists shout.” Pressure from Shas and UTJ is pushing the establishment to ignore ultra-Orthodox reformists, “and this is making things difficult for us.”

Failed Messiah continues with his own assessment of the situation.

Lets be clear.

What Ettinger contends is that Rabbi Elyashiv and the other so-called mainstream haredi leaders see that they are losing control of their rank and file, who are in increasing numbers opting to get secular educations and jobs in the wider Israeli community. So they have become increasingly strict, banning secular education, army service, etc., to try to stop up the ‘breech’ in the haredi ghetto wall.

This moves “mainstream” haredi leadership closer to Eidah Charedit and their street gang offshoot, the Sicarii.

At the same time, press coverage of the violence and statements by secular politicians about it that in any way blame “mainstream” haredi leadership and the the wider haredi community for the violence supposedly committed only by the Sicarii gang pushes “mainstream” haredi leadership and the haredi rank abd file to become more extreme and to move closer to Eidah Charedit and and the Sicarii.

And this is true even though these “mainstream” haredi leaders have not condemned the haredi violence against women and little children that sparked this press coverage and the statements of those secular politicians.

In other words, haredi leadership won’t condemn the violence because the violence is meant to help goals be achieved that they strongly support – and all of those goals further separation of haredim from all other Jews. And haredi leaders want this increased separation in order to retain power over the haredi rank and file – and to retain control over lucrative communal institutions, like yeshivas.

This makes “mainstream” haredi leadership and the politicians and newspapers that answer to them – as guilty as the Sicarii gang.

And that should never be forgotten.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring – Um, excuse me!!

Update: To add fuel to the fire, see this post at Failed Messiah. If all the judge gives this person is house arrest with Yeshiva privileges, what recourse is left to fight the problem of tznius patrols.

I don’t often get into these debates with others, but this post truly makes me cringe. I am glad everyone is finally speaking up. All the Orthodox rabbinic organizations, RCA (their statement will be ready soon), Agudat Israel, and IRF (I don’t want to here comments about whether it is Orthodox or not), are making statements condemning religious extremist violence in Beit Shemesh. The Belzer Rebbe also alluded to the violence according to this piece. Yet, I wonder if perhaps it is another case of too little, too late. Religious violence in Israel has been there for years. And sure, for every stone thrower, there is a Rabbi who says it is not appropriate. Yet, you only hear about that years later. And even in this, while all the organizations are talking, who is to say the zealots are listening.

Now, don’t get me wrong, talk we must, but let’s not get carried away and make declarations like R. Adlerstein is, that this is the beginning of an “Charedi Spring.” I find the usurping of that term preposterous, as while I hope this event does cause a change, to equate it with what is going on in the rest of the Middle East is absurd. Besides, the Arab Spring upon which this is predicated upon is, by many accounts, turning into an Islamic winter.

To me, the violence should have been condemned and punished years ago. But when there was public silence against protesting Shabbat desecrators, all it did was embolden some of them to take their violence to another level. And to top it off, unless one of their grand Rebbes comes out and says the violence is not allowed, which most likely will not happen because of their own fear of their followers, I don’t see much in the way of curtailing it. And should the Israeli government step in and arrest some of the more egregious men who are attacking and cursing young girls, I have a hard time believing the more mainstream Haredi world won’t be up in arms to an extent.

To conclude, we should all hope that this violence will end as it is making us all look bad as well as proving Hillary Clinton correct to an extent when she sparked her own controversy with her comments about gender bias in Israel. To outsiders, it is no different, even if on the inside we can try to find the subtleties. I pray that these men find some seichel (intelligence) and stop this disgusting display of zealotry in a time when we need to be banding together as one nation.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring | Cross-Currents.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring

The Charedi Spring may have finally arrived. Eight year old Naama Margolese may do for Israel what a Tunisian street vendor did for the Arab world. The wave of revulsion for the behavior of the extremists, if sustained and channeled into focused police work, may release the Israeli public – both secular and charedi – from the tyranny of fanatics whose thuggery and primitivism ran unchecked in Meah Shearim for years.

The price we pay for it is a massive chilul Hashem, as hundreds of millions of people equate Torah with Taliban. The only partial antidote is for the genuine Orthodox world to do what Muslims do not do to their extremists. We must condemn with passion, conviction and without qualification.

As the numbers of Meah Shearim-grown extremists increased, they sought space in other communities. (It was not only a matter of space. They were repudiated by many in their own neighborhood, including the Edah Charedis, which was still unable to rein them in.) Large numbers settled upon the Beit Shemesh area. Their growing enclave in RBS-Bet gradually spread out, to the point that they found themselves in close proximity to existing neighborhoods of dati Leumi and conventional charedim. Ongoing clashes came to a head with the opening of a frum girls’ school on land the extremists coveted in the dati Leumi neighborhood of Scheinfeld. While the dispute has been going on for months, and while violently imposing their requirements on local businesses has taken place for years, the issue exploded upon the national and international scene through a clip from Israel’s Channel Two that has gone viral. Listening to an Anglo girl dressed in long sleeves and a skirt speak about her fears in simply crossing the street and having to run a gauntlet of taunts, curses, and spittle from bearded adults has turned out to be the impetus to galvanize a country – including many charedim – into taking action. Contrasting her angelic demeanor with the ugly rhetoric of one of the tormentors who is particularly honest about their objectives to take over the entire contributed to the mood of resistance.

Both the Prime Minister and the President spoke about the video. (Netanyahu was particularly gracious. “”We must beware of generalizing an entire population, because the vast majority of the Haredi public combines an adherence to Jewish tradition and a complete respect of the law”). Thousands came to Beit Shemesh and help stand up against the extremists. Groups of Knesset members are scheduling visits. Most remarkably, Haaretz reported that journalists were getting plenty of lip from charedim – but not to complain as usual about unbalanced treatment of their community. Rather, charedim were turning to them in person and by phone to implore them to keep the heat on through their coverage, so that the government will have no choice but to take firm action against the zealots who make life miserable for them as well. Haaretz even had to concede a difference between a minority population of out of control extremists and a “mainstream charedi” population.

To anyone not familiar with the history and dynamics of the charedi communities of Israel – and the century-and-a-half-long kulturkampf that created it, there is nothing in the pictures coming from Israel to differentiate the mobs in Beit Shemesh from those in Pakistan or Iraq. No amount of casuistry will put a dent in the plain truth: the behavior of many people who are seen as frum is a massive chilul Hashem of epic proportions.

Rabbinic and communal organizations are readying statements denouncing the barbarians at the gates of Beit Shemesh. This is necessary and good. It is probably not good enough. The extremists are not the equivalent of the poor, semi-literate unwashed masses in the Muslim suburbs of Paris. They were the recipients of many years of Torah chinuch. They studied, to some degree, the same seforim as the rest of us.

Even after we protest, the world will want to know what makes us more authentic than them. Why are they not the “real” Jews, and we are the reformers? How do we demonstrate that they are the imposters, that their understanding of Yiddishkeit is foreign to its genuine spirit? It is simply insufficient to say that we are right and they are wrong, or that our rabbis and leaders are greater than theirs. We dare not leave the very definition of Yiddishkeit to a he says, she says competition.

It is not enough to unequivocally denounce them. We must explain to the world – and fully and confidently to ourselves – why the extremists are a foreign, sickly weed, not another shitah among many. Where do we find within our mesorah the confidence to see these people as outside of it? We must be able to point not just to a collection of their terrible actions, but to fundamental themes in their lifestyle that make them different – and that we can package simply and reinforce in our children and students.

I have nothing magisterial or even particularly insightful to offer. A few thoughts, however, do come to mind.

How do I reject thee? Let me count the ways…

1) The dignity of everyone possessed of a Tzelem Elokim. We take it seriously; they don’t. You can’t take it seriously and still bring children to tears. You could never smear feces on the property of others. You could never spit at someone, rather than engage in discourse. You would see in all of this a belittling of the tzelem Elokim – the image of G-d vested in Man – not only of the other person, but of yourself. The imposition of one set of standards on others who are not willing (e.g. removing public benches so that women will not sit on them in public) is not only theft of the public, it is a denial of their Tzelem Elokim that allows them to choose their own decisors. Claiming that all other decisors but their own are wrong is a fatal distortion of halachic process.

2) Hakoras HaTov According to Chovos HaLevavos, owning up to the obligation to reciprocate what others have benefited you (even when done for the wrong reasons) is the key to any growth in serving Hashem. Closing their eyes to the benefits they have received from the State – the blood that has been spilled defending them in every war since ’48; the subsidies that feed their children and pay for their medical care – is so profoundly un-Jewish that it should be sufficient cause to call them opponents of Torah. All the mental gymnastics applied by them to prove to themselves that they owe nothing to anyone (i.e., if it weren’t for everyone else’s sins, the Arabs would be our peaceful and loving neighbors) should only prove that they can compound lack of hakoras hatov with distortion of sechel. R. Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l used to ask every year during Neilah that people daven for the soldiers of Tzahal. “Those who don’t understand why are fools.”

3) The simplest one, and the one that works the most for me: The proper way, we are told in Avos, is one that brings honor to Hashem and honor to the one who follow it. It should be simple enough to argue that a lifestyle that brings nothing but contempt upon Torah cannot legitimately be Torah! Discounting the small percentage of Israelis who truly hate Torah, the rest of Israeli society cannot be written off the same way. Where they should see the ahavas Yisrael of the R Aryeh Levin they remember a generation ago, they see nothing in the video clip but unvarnished hatred. Where they should see a lifestyle to admire, they see a community that cannot support itself, covers up its misdeeds, and shows itself entirely unsuitable to face challenges of real life. They react – and indeed often overreact – with contempt. But at least part of their contempt is understandable. It certainly means that the extremists are not bringing honor to anyone.

This alone proves that their way cannot be Torah. Everything else is commentary.

Two messages for Hanukkah

 

Hanukkah begins tomorrow night.  I came across two pieces which offer differing explanations for the festival of Hanukkah.  The first is from an op-ed in the WSJ from Jon Levenson.

The eight-day festival of Hanukkah, which Jews world-wide will begin celebrating Tuesday night, is one of the better known of the Jewish holidays but also one of the less important.

The emphasis placed on it now is mostly due to timing: Hanukkah offers Jews an opportunity for celebration and commercialization comparable to what their Christian neighbors experience at Christmas, and it gives Christians the opportunity to include Jews in their holiday greetings and parties. What’s more, the observances associated with Hanukkah are few, relatively undemanding, and even appealing to children.

The story of Hanukkah also fits the political culture of the United States. Its underlying narrative recalls that of the Pilgrims: A persecuted religious minority, at great cost, breaks free of their oppressors. It wasn’t separatist Protestants seeking freedom from the Church of England in 1620, but Jews in the land of Israel triumphing over their Hellenistic overlord in 167–164 B.C., reclaiming and purifying their holiest site, the Jerusalem Temple.

Examined too casually, the stories of Plymouth Colony and Hanukkah seem to show heroes fighting for universal religious freedom. But the heroes of the Jewish story fought not only against a foreign persecutor. They also fought against fellow Jews who—perhaps more attracted to the cosmopolitan and sophisticated Greek culture than to the ways of their ancestors—cooperated with their rulers.

The revolt begins, in fact, when the patriarch of the Maccabees (as the family that led the campaign came to be known) kills a fellow Jew who was in the act of obeying the king’s decree to perform a sacrifice forbidden in the Torah. The Maccabean hero also kills the king’s officer and tears down the illicit altar. These were blows struck for Jewish traditionalism, and arguably for Jewish survival and authenticity, but not for religious freedom.

Over time, the stories of the persecutions that led to this war came to serve as models of Jewish faithfulness under excruciating persecution. In the most memorable instance, seven brothers and their mother all choose, successively, to die at the hands of their torturers rather than to yield to the demand to eat pork as a public disavowal of the God of Israel and his commandments.

To the martyrs, breaking faith with God is worse than death. In one version, their deaths are interpreted as “an atoning sacrifice” through which God sustained the Jewish people in their travail.

The tone here isn’t the lightheartedness of the Christmas season. The Christian parallels lie, instead, with Good Friday and the story of Jesus’s acceptance of his suffering and sacrificial death. In both the Jewish and the Christian stories, the death of the heroes, grievous though it is, is not the end: It is the prelude to a miraculous vindication and a glorious restoration.

The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates Aug. 1 as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the Rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the Rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the Church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).

And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.

“Hanukkah” means “dedication.” Originally, the term referred to the rededication of the purified Temple after the Maccabees’ stunning military victory. But as the story of the martyrs shows, the victory was also associated with the heroic dedication of the Jewish traditionalists of the time to their God and his Torah. If Hanukkah celebrates freedom, it is a freedom to be bound to something higher than freedom itself.

Mr. Levenson, a professor of Jewish studies at Harvard Divinity School, is co-author with Kevin J. Madigan of “Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews” (Yale University Press, 2008).

Compare this with the piece from R. Marc Angel.

Hanukkah and Religious Freedom

By mdangel

Created 12/18/2011 – 7:42am
By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Hanukkah is widely observed as a holiday that celebrates religious freedom. The persecuted Jews of ancient Israel waged battle against their Syrian/Hellenistic oppressors, and won the right to rededicate the Temple and to restore Jewish worship and religious practices.

Religious freedom is a wonderful thing. It allows us to worship God freely, without being coerced or intimidated by others.

Religious freedom is not a self-evident fact of life. As Jews, we have experienced many circumstances in which we did not enjoy this basic right. Medieval Iberia expelled Jews and Muslims, believing that only Catholics have truth and that “infidels” must not be tolerated. Saudi Arabia of today does not tolerate non-Muslims to practice their religions freely. Indeed, throughout history (including our own times), various groups have not granted religious freedom to “outsiders”. Only the faithful had rights in this world; and only the faithful would be blessed in the world to come. The infidels were deprived of rights in this world, and were doomed to perdition in the world to come.

The great 19th century Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh of Livorno pointed out an obvious—but startling—fact. In his book “Israel and Humanity,” he noted that historic Christianity and Islam claimed to be universal religions—and yet, they were not universal at all. They only made room for fellow believers; “infidels” were persecuted, even murdered. Those of other religions were not granted equal rights in this world, and were deemed to be unworthy of blessing in the world to come. Judaism—which is often depicted as a small, parochial tradition—is actually the religion that is the most universal. It teaches that all who accept the basic Noahide laws of morality are beloved by God. The righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come. While not condoning outright idolatry, Judaism leaves much theological space for non-Jews to achieve spiritual happiness and fulfillment. All humanity is created in the image of God.

When we light the Hanukkah candles, we need to remember the value of religious freedom. We also need to remind ourselves—and others—that religious freedom is a two-way street. It allows us to claim the right to practice our religion freely; but it also entails that we grant this same freedom to others who do not share our religious beliefs and practices.

Religious freedom is a problematic concept for those who are sure that they, and only they, have the absolute Truth. Such people tend to be extreme and intolerant. Since only they have the Truth, they have no patience for those who have other beliefs; indeed, they don’t see the need to grant rights to others. They feel compelled to crush the “opposition”, either by converting them, by coercing them, by oppressing them, or even by murdering them. For the single-minded bigots, religious freedom exists only to serve their interests and to guarantee their freedoms; but it doesn’t involve a mutual commitment to religious freedom for others.

Even within the Jewish community, we have those who take this extreme view of religious freedom. They are happy to enjoy the benefits of freedom; but they disdain those Jews whose beliefs and observances are different from theirs.

Those who see themselves as the only Torah-True Jews do not think they should make religious space for others; on the contrary, they feel that the others should be brought into line with them even by means of coercion. They discredit those who are not in their camp. In Israel, where such extremists exert political power, they initiate coercive action and legislation that impinge on the freedom of others. Since they are convinced that they alone have Truth, they feel warranted in coercing others to follow in their ways. Their mentality is similar to extremists of other religions who find it difficult or impossible to let others enjoy religious freedom.

Religious freedom is not such a simple concept, after all. While it protects each of our rights to practice religion freely, it also demands that we respect the rights of others to do likewise. Religious freedom is the hallmark of a tolerant and wise nation and community. It is a lofty ideal to which all should aspire.

As we celebrate Hanukkah, let us seriously celebrate the value of religious freedom. Let us serve God with purity, with commitment, with spiritual heroism. And let us appreciate that all human beings also deserve the right of religious freedom. When extremists seek to deprive others of this freedom, all society suffers a loss of freedom and dignity.

The Hanukkah lights remind us that we can bring light into a dark world. We can hope that our lights will inspire others and bring them closer to the Almighty.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit said the Lord of hosts.” (Zekharia 4:6)

In reading these two pieces, I found it most interesting that two people can look at the same holiday and find almost completely contrasting views as to the message of Hanukkah.  For me, I find R. Angel most troubling because the historical account does not lend itself to the notions of religious freedom. 

Where is G-d in Tikkun Olam?

The following article leaves me with one question.  Why does the author not answer his opening line?  Why is G-d not discussed at an American Jewish social justice event?  The author presents a good case for the inclusion of a theology of G-d but does not get to the crux of the sociological underpinnings for G-d’s “absence.” Additionally, I struggle with the idea that merely because of the concept that G-d is the one true existence, and exists everywhere, we therefore cannot be remiss to exclude G-d talk.  Ideas of halachta b’derachav and tzelem elokim are theologies I can embrace, but because G-d is everywhere we need to care for others, that argument doesn’t do much for me.  I commend the author but wish he would have approached the presentation of the theology without the implicit sociological critique which he neglects to answer. 

The Role of the Divine in Social Change: Where is God in Tikkun Olam?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
Jewish Week Online Columnist

Why is it that, at a typical American Jewish social justice event, no one invokes one of God’s names? When our movement openly accepts the role of the Divine in social change and in moral development, we embrace the most powerful part of our tradition.

There are seven primary inspiring reasons why Jews engaging in social justice should embrace God in activism. When the Jewish social justice movement neglects the Divine, it may be intellectually dishonest since we deny the primary source of our sense of responsibility and we also deprive the social justice movement of the passion it would otherwise inspire.

The mitzvah of Halakhta Bid’rakhav – The Torah tells us that God is merciful, and commands us to emulate God’s ways. The Talmud makes this connection explicit (Sotah 14a). The Rabbis explain that God is ultimately not a vengeful power-hungry dictator but rather a merciful moral healer and this is the path we must follow. We must attend carefully to the means of social change (our character) in addition to the ends (assisting the vulnerable in society). Further, it means that being like God requires action. Our ultimate role model is no less than the Creator of heaven and earth. The bar is set high.

The value of Tzelem Elokim – The Talmud teaches that to save one life is to save a world (Sanhedrin 4:5). This is an essential Jewish message: Humanity is created in God’s image, and is therefore sacred. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook goes so far as to argue that there is no such thing as an atheist, since God is in each one of us, and our souls long for their eternal source (ikvei hatzon, edar ha’yakar). We need not go this far but when we embrace that each human is created in the image of God we have the strongest model for ensuring the absolute unshakeable human dignity to all people.

The virtue of Humility – We must remember that the position of god has already been filled. The realization that in no way can we play the role of God should inspire humility in us. All too often, there can be arrogance in change-makers who see themselves as the heroes rather than as humble servants. The greatest Jewish leader, Moshe, was described as “exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth!” (Numbers 12:3).

A perspective of History – The Torah says “mibeit avadim” (from the house of slaves) describing when God took the Israelites out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 13:3) in order to show that God enters history in order to abolish slavery. God is the master liberator of the oppressed. Over time, God empowers humanity more and more with this role but still enters the global stage at crucial historical turning points.

A notion of Obligation – The responsibility to practice social justice is not optional or reserved for a ceremonial mitzvah day. When we embrace the notion that we are divinely commanded to heal the world each and every day, we raise the bar. Religion serves to remind us that at the end of our lives, we are ultimately held accountable for whether or not we fulfilled and exceeded our obligations. God cares whether or not we have lived up to our end of the partnership. Even further, embracing our obligations and commitments grants us dignity. Heschel explains that our dignity is not only a result of our rights but of our Divine obligations. “Our commitment is to God, and our roots are in the prophetic events of Israel. The dignity of a person stands in proportion to his/her obligations as well as to his/her rights. The dignity of being a Jew is in the sense of commitment, and the meaning of Jewish history revolves around the faithfulness of Israel to the covenant,” (God in search of man, 216).

Walking Together with the Divine – When we are struggling for justice as part of our relationship with God, we do not walk alone. When we look at evil in the face to combat it with love, God stands with us. “As I walk through the valley overshadowed by death, I fear no evil for You are with me,” (Psalms 23). Embracing religion is not comfortable conformity, but rising to a challenge. Embracing God is not believing blindly, but empowering oneself.

God is everywhere. The Me’Or Einayim (Rav Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl) explained that Avraham didn’t depart from God when he left the Divine presence to greet the three wanderers. Rather God is present in the ethical encounter as well because “The whole earth is filled with God’s glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). When we realize that the Divine is present in all places and moments, we can only feel compelled to embrace the holiness of each moment and the concomitant ethical demands.

A vision of the Ideal – The notion of progress is rooted in the messianic vision: We hold paradigms of the perfect, like the heavenly realm, and we progress toward those ideal models by bringing them down to earth. There is a Temple located in the heavens that sits directly above the Temple on earth (Genesis Rabbah 69:7). The same God who makes the heavens radiate also illuminates our earthly existence.

For the religious maximalist, there is no room for cynical determinism. Rather we are free and empowered to bring about real progress in the world. The Kabbalists explain that the world is saturated with Divinity that longs to return to its Divine source. This happens through good acts (tikkunim). Messianism, however, embraces not only the end (messianic times) but also the process (repairing the world each moment).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says it well: “In Judaism, faith is not acceptance but protest, against the world that is, in the name of the world that is not yet but ought to be. Faith lies not in the answer but the question – and the greater the human being, the more intense the question. The Bible is not a metaphysical opium but it’s opposite. Its aim is not to transport the believer to a private heaven. Instead, its impassioned, sustained desire is to bring heaven down to earth. Until we have done this, there is work still to do” (To Heal a Fractured World, 27).

One can obviously be moral and effective in social justice work and not embrace God just as one can be devout religiously and not create any serious social justice impact. However, as a guiding principle, embracing God offers us the potential to raise the bar we set for what we must achieve and for how we must achieve it. God is the most powerful reality ever encountered, and like no other idea, embrace of the Divine can inspire humankind to ideal goodness and transformative justice. Merely embracing our own human authority represents a failure to recognize the power of and truth of our calling, destiny, and command. Embracing the humility to acknowledge a power beyond us demands social protest not Divine submission. Together, as servants, we serve God by healing the world.

Is it ever right to suppress others’ views?

I came across a piece in which five clergy of different faiths/denominations are asked if censorship is appropriate in a religious context.  I find it interesting that four of the five respondents seem to indicate that for the most part, censorship is unnecessary as we should support choice in life.  Unfortunately, not all clergy feel the way these writers do, as can be seen on a daily basis.  I will present short vignettes in between each one’s idea.  All  five ideas have merit, though some are more challenging to me than others.  It is a fascinating coming together of minds. 

Faith Forum is a weekly dialogue on religion coordinated by Rajan Zed.
We posed to our panel of religious leaders of the region the following question:

Religious censorship: Should we control freedom of expression, basing it on religious doctrines and raising concerns of blasphemy, sacrilege, impiety, etc? Should the organized religions attempt to suppress contrary views?

Here is what they have to say:

Choice is mine

Matthew Cunningham, Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno chancellor

Anyone paying attention to technology and commun-ications is aware that controlling flow of information in today’s world is nearly impossible. Anyone with a modicum of training and Internet access can have an audience with the stroke of a key. We cannot always control what information we receive and thus it becomes our personal decision whether to accept the message. We must make personal judgments about the suitability and value of communications. It is at this point that our religious beliefs must guide us.

It seems that what is more important than control of information is concern for the content of the message. Our focus should be on civility, common decency, truthfulness and respect when we communicate by any means. Parents, especially, have a responsibility to educate children about appropriate ways to communicate. We must learn to be discriminating readers and listeners. Our faith communities can assist us in this effort.

According to our first writer, it seems that religion cannot censor so much as people should self-censor based upon religious sentiment.  He does promote choice, though with limits.  We have to make choices not to see certain things. 

No Censorship in Buddhism

Jikai’ Phil Bryan, Reno Buddhist Center priest and meditation guide

Siddhartha’s teachings of the four noble truths and all subsequent Buddhist teachings emphasize tolerance, patience and understanding. There is no such thing as censorship in Buddhism. All views are open for discussion, debate, empirical testing and analysis in terms of the Middle Way. Buddha advised all followers to consistently respect other religions, but also not to react negatively to criticisms or disparagement by others. With only anomalous exceptions, Buddhism has welcomed engaged criticism aimed at alleviating suffering and improving conditions of life. Buddhism is a “religious” way of life, not a divinely revealed religion, so there is really no controlling Buddhist god to blaspheme, and nothing so divine in Buddhism to protect from sacrilege. A famous line by Hakuin, one of our greatest Zen masters, says, “Outside sentient beings, where do we find the Buddhas.” Buddhism’s concern is not in defending views, but in improving life for all.

Being human is about being exposed to life.  Ideas should not be supressed because they could be formulated as a means to reach the “path.” to equanimity.  Tibetan Buddhism under the Dalai Lama especially has exemplified the idea of confrontation. 

Contrary Views Welcome

ElizaBeth W. Beyer, Temple Beth Or rabbi

Contrary views in Jewish thought are welcome, as long as they are “for the sake of Heaven.” A good example of this is one of our longstanding traditions, which is to study Talmud, a compilation of works that includes opinions of various rabbinic sages over many centuries. Talmud is more than 1,500 years old, and it overflows with arguments between one rabbi and another or one group and another group. It is a multivocal document recognizing the validity of many perspectives in the search for truth on a vast number of topics. In contrast to a dispute for the sake of Heaven is one purposefully done to disrupt or create havoc. This type of dispute is unwelcome and would likely be censured. Recognizing and allowing creative, penetrating discussions while discouraging agitators is sometimes challenging.

Alas, I wish it were so simple.  She is basically rehashing an idea in Ethics of our Fathers (5:16).  The Mishnah states:

 ה,טז [יז] כל מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמיים, סופה להתקיים; ושאינה לשם שמיים, אין סופה להתקיים. איזו היא מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמיים, זו מחלוקת הלל ושמאי; ושאינה לשם שמיים, זו מחלוקת קורח ועדתו.

Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have a constructive outcome; but one that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a constructive outcome.  What sort of dispute was for the sake of Heaven? – The dispute between Hillel and Shammai.  And which was not for the sake of Heaven?  The dispute between Korach and his entire company.

Unfortunately, Jews of all stripes do not live out this ideal today.  Most argument we find now is harsh and tend towards disparagement and hate.  Some might try to justify themselves as doing it for the sake of Heaven, but the vitriol is such that I would be hard-pressed to believe our argumentation is merely for the betterment of the Jewish people. 

Love Allows Freedom of Choice

Stephen Bond, senior pastor of Summit Christian Church, Sparks

Jesus said our love for one another is the most important evidence that we are truly his followers. This means Christians are to be known for their love. This makes sense especially when we consider the Bible says that God himself is love. The Bible also defines love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Clearly, love does not manipulate or coerce people. Love grants the freedom of choice — even when those choices are morally wrong. As a result, it would be contrary to Christ’s teaching to seek to control the expression of religion or to suppress contrary views.

I am troubled by this theology because the same love of which they speak has been used as a means to argue for conversion.  “We love you, we don’t want you to suffer the fires of hell, so convert or die.” I am not saying that these words would automatically apply today, but a doctrine of choice through love is wrought with dangerous precedent. 

Church should preserve freedom

Nicholas F. Frey, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints area public affairs director

The freedom of expression found in the Magna Carta contained guarantees of civil and personal liberty, which later found fuller expression in the Constitution of the United States. We hope such guarantees eventually sweep the world. The church, which also enjoys guarantees under the Constitution, should not infringe those guarantees by attempting to suppress contrary views. Without imposing censorship, when confronted with attacks on our own or others’ religions, we church members and leaders should insist on the right to be heard, responding within a framework of self-imposed tolerance, good taste and common sense. The church has a great stake in freedom. It must zealously act to preserve and maintain it. The forces of the church are applied through kindness and persuasion. In God’s plan, the inalienable rights of the individual are strictly and jealously protected. What the individual does, he does voluntarily, not by force.

Choice is valued because everyone wants his/her voice heard.  This last opinion is driven by modern Enlightenment sentiments of liberty.  We all have liberty to believe what we want, just allow us to all have a say at the table.

Finding our own path within Judaism

I know many people who struggle because they feel they have to study and partake of areas in learning that they are not getting satisfaction from.  I myself go through this at times as well.  As such, it is good to find vignettes among the great Rabbis indicating the need for finding one’s own path.  Recently, on the dixieyid blog,  the author shared a piece from Rav Kook on the subject of why people go “off the derech.”  The main idea behind Rav Kook’s words is that streamlining all people is dangerous because we are individuals who have different intellectual desires.  I think it is important to focus on his thoughts as means to understand that each of us can find our place in study and thought. 

Some have gone off the derech of Yiddishkeit because in their learning and in their path to spiritual perfection, they betrayed their own personal, unique nature. Some are more fit for Agada, and halacha (modern pilpul/lomdus) is not in their nature as a *primary* way of learning. Because such people [have not been taught to] value and recognize their unique talents in Agada, they immerse themselves in Halacha as is customary [in yeshivos today].

But such a person feels an inner opposition to what he is learning because that which he is investing himself in is not in accordance with his essential nature. If, however, he would find the area where his talent and interests lie, and he would fulfill that by making that area of Torah which fits with the nature of his soul his primary area of learning, he would immediately recognize that the inner opposition he used to feel was not due to any deficiency in the holy and essential Halacha area of Torah learning.

Rather, he would know that his soul simply required a different area of learning as his primary study. Such a person would remain faithful in a beautiful way to the holiness of Torah. He would become great and strong in the area of Torah which speaks to him. In addition, he will assist those whose primary learning is in Halacha to also taste the sweetness of Agada.

But when a person does not [or is not given the option to] recognize the true reason for his inner opposition to what he is learning, and he attempts to overpower his own nature [because he is taught that there is only *one* correct way to learn Torah], then the moment some options for a non-Torah way to live are opened up for him, he will break out and then hate and become any enemy of Torah and emunah. He will go from one sin to another, and we know what such people have wrought. They attempt to create that which they envision as the ideal way of the world and they attempt to blind “the eye of the world.”

There is a great variety of areas of Torah learning which are fitting to the great variety of individual souls’ natures. Some people are even drawn to specific areas of secular wisdom. Even such people should go according to their inner nature and they must set aside specific times for learning Torah. If they do this, they will succeed at both because “Torah together with the way of the world is beautiful.” And the gemara at the end of Yuma discusses how to establish the right balance of primary and secondary for such people. In general, this whole subject is dependent on the character and nature of each individual person’s soul. (Emphasis and explanatory parentheticals added.)