Thursday, July 2, 2009

In Search of Relevance

It’s kind of painful and embarrassing to write about the marginalization of what could have been a powerful institution in Israel – the rabbinate. It really doesn’t matter which rabbinate we are talking about – the Rabbanut Harashit; the Eida; Satmar or Naturei Karta - they are all doomed to oblivion in the minds and hearts of most Israelis because of their pettiness and inability to see the larger picture. The issues facing Israel and the Jewish world today are greater and more treacherous than any time in the past fifty years. There are palpable existential threats to the corpus of the Jewish people whether in Israel, Europe or the United States. Threats by Iran, rapid assimilation in the Unites States and an unfriendly U.S. administration are but the most obvious of problems that are plaguing the Jewish people. Notwithstanding these compelling and pressing issues the rabbinate in Israel is paralyzed, inept at understanding the shifting ground upon which it stands.

I have as yet to read in any newspaper or professional journal anything weighty or of a noteworthy nature that the rabbinate is doing to address the burning issues of our time. Actually, that’s not true. There are three issues which have come to light in the past few weeks that they have attempted to address: What is the correct blessing over Bamba?; The correct 21st century equivalent to 200 zuz of the virgin’s ketuba; and the outrage over police violence in protesting the opening of a Jerusalem parking lot on Shabbat.

The dispute over what blessing to make over Bamba is what Purim spiels are made of. It’s so ridiculous that it is foolish referencing this farcical issue facing the Jewish people which unfortunately will have some implications to the future of ritually observant Jews. What is at stake is who will be the heir to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual light and mentor of Shas. The fight is between his two sons, David Yosef and Yitzchak Yosef. Each has his supporters, with Ovadia allegedly favoring Yitzchak Yosef. It all will come down to which p’sak is correct – Yitzchak Yosef’s or David Yosef’s opinion on which b’racha is made over bamba. One said that “borei pre haadama” is the appropriate one, and the other said that the correct b’racha ought to be “shehakol”. The truth is that neither is right. The correct answer is that bamba ought to be banned along with all other junk food. Any b’racha ought to be considered a “b’racha levatalaa”. As cigarettes are bad for you, as alcohol is poison to the system so too is eating processed junk food detrimental to one’s health.

There also seems to be a troubling and disturbing development in determining the value of 200 zuz for a virgin, established several thousand years ago. Our wise rabbis in wanting to keep current have tried to reach a consensus. Apparently they believe that by so doing they will give relevance to an otherwise important, but nevertheless ceremonial document. It would appear that the rabbis are in competition with the secular court system. They are determined to become arbiters in the financial settlements in a marriage that is dissolving and in so doing “out” the secular court system. They will fail because no woman in her right mind would agree to a settlement arrived at by the capricious decisions of a groom and his rabbi. Imagine that with all the seriously pressing issues bombarding the rabbinic establishment and their corrupt courts, this is what Rabbi Daichovsky, rabbinic judge of the High Rabbinic Court has sought to spend his time on.

The other issue which has grabbed the religious headlines is the riots in Jerusalem over Barkat’s decision to make parking available on Shabbat for those seeking to visit Jerusalem on Shabbat. The “hareidi street” is fulminating over the desecration of the Shabbat and the fact that the municipality is contributing to it. What should be clear is the fact that the parking which is being made available is free of charge. So there is no commercial transaction being made. The fact of the matter is that there is little or no parking in Jerusalem and anyone who has been there knows how awful it is to walk the streets because every available centimeter is utilized for parking. One can’t even cross a street at the crossroad because cars are parked there. The police no longer ticket these cars because the system can’t even process the enormous amount of violations. It makes sense to provide these people with parking accommodations which will relieve the city of a serious problem. Our rabbis however, rather than being part of a solution have once again chosen to become part of the problem. Exacerbating the problem is the complaint the hareidi community has leveled against the police by accusing them of brutality. They haven’t the slightest idea of what brutality is. If they aren’t treated with “kid gloves” they automatically advance to leveling the charge of police brutality. It is a two way street. If one chooses the path of civil disobedience by using force, be prepared to have force leveled against you. It’s common sense.

The following is an excerpt of a letter by a Satmar woman living near Kikar Shabbat in Jerusalem commenting on the riots over the past few weeks, who obviously has a better grasp of the issues than the rabbinic leadership leading and encouraging the civil disobedience and violence:

“On the kikar a block away, the bochrim were very proud that they blew the electricity of all the families living in what I believe was a two to three block radius. After a few minutes of triumphant screaming, they began singing to the tune of Carlebach, 'Ani avdecha ben amasecha...'

The irony was so painful, I cried loudly, on the porch. My husband, satmar geshtimt, chassid of the Eidah, didn't try to stop me.

I could go on. There were horrible sights and sounds that night, finally petering out at 2:30.

The reason I am posting, my questions are:

1)What were these bochrim thinking??

2)Where was the tzelem elokim when I heard words and sounds that should not come out of any human being's vocal chords, especially not that of yeshivaleit? Where was the basic compassion / thought for the neighbors? Where was any sort of restraint when barricades, which are extremely important by our narrow sidewalks for safety, were wrenched out with a lot of effort? How did they have the heart to watch a small old man carrying his garbage three blocks away because that was the first place the bin was still there?

3)R' Avraham Yehoshua of Brisk said this week when one of his bochrim were arrested, "vos tut a bochur bei a mechoa?" - what is a bochur doing by a protest? (He was talking about a real mechoa, organized by the gedolim, and he is no Zionist.) What indeed? Even if he is 'just' watching, why risk arrest, make a great chillul hashem, be mechazek those that are being mazik, if he doesn't have to ? If he cares about shabbos, how about being mekabel shabbos early, as we have began doing, for Yerusahalayim? None of the rabbonim said bochrim should go, and in general, all men should not go unless told to do so by their morah d'asra. There is too much of your own humanity at risk.

4)Where are you parents? Let me ask that again. Where are you parents? Do you realize the implication of no supervision in your son's yeshiva? A choshuve bochur next door, the one who tried to stop the garbage bin from being rolled out, told my husband this morning, "Who's in charge that I make it to shachris on time? I slept late because of what happened here, who's worrying that I daven?" Do you realize your sons could be mazik tens of people and no one will do anything? Do you realize that if your sons drink or smoke or watch inappropriate videos, or meet with the other gender, (we have bochrim over for shabbos seudos and there are a lot of bochrim diros in our neighborhood - believe me, I've seen too much...) no one is stopping them? This is a much broader issue than just what happened last night. Do you know what your sons are doing? I know he is the best boy in the universe, but who's to say he doesn't have unfiltered Internet in his dirah? Who is to say he didn't get caught up with a crowd and that he didn't scream like a maniac in middle of a city, in middle of the night? Who is to say that he didn't join a group of likewise English speakers, to do the holy act of pulling out barricades from the sidewalk? Who is to say that he makes it on time for shachris? Who is accountable for him? He himself? - "Al taamin b'atzmecha" these bochrim need higher supervision.

We decided we're going to do something. My husband is coming home late for lunch because he is meeting with the mashgiach of Mir and Chevron. I am calling the Gaved of the Eidah, with the blessings of my Rebbe, and going to post what I saw wherever I can.

I didn't take pictures last night, because I was so disgusted. It's like an embarrassing episode that you'd rather erase from your mind. Now I regret it, I would have shown the pictures to the mashgichim of these yeshivos, shown them what their bochrim were doing. If five bochrim were kicked out of yeshiva, I bet all of these shenanigans would stop immediately.

Please don't respond with stories about shabbos and pride marches and the gedolim of previous generations. This has got nothing to do with it.”

So our rabbis whether they are part of the religious establishment or on the fringe have done an admirable job in bringing spiritual transcendence to the Jewish people by dragging them through the mud. Denominational Judaism has its issues but the state of organized Jewish religion in Israel is so tragically corrupted by a band of relics and jokers that they have succeeded in marginalizing its message, making religious affiliation irrelevant and reducing it to the absurd.