Thursday, September 15, 2011


There is a rather interesting halacha on the books which refers to “tircha d’tzibur” (inconvenience caused to the general public). Its narrow application would refer to synagogue service where additional non-obligatory devotional prayers are eliminated in order to avoid undue hardship for the community. Although this halacha is fairly limited in its scope it ought to be broadened to encompass situations where as a result of the minorities insistence on marginal halachic adherence to “humras” (unreasonably strict interpretation and application of a Jewish law) and where the general public will suffer, the halacha should be trumped by the concerns of the public. Let us not forget that when these and other halachot were codified Jews weren’t living with the general public, but among themselves, either in forced ghettos or in self contained communities. Those responsible for the development of halacha in this new age, where there is an independent State of Israel and where in the Diaspora most Jews live and work among the general non Jewish population, hasn’t the focus, the keen understanding and awareness, and will to adjust halachic mores and values to fit in to this new paradigm.

Precisely because the Jewish community has developed into a new and unparalleled model where a sea change has engulfed the way we live and think it ought to be obvious to the leading lights of the rabbinical academies that in spite of what 19th century French philosopher and political thinker, Alex De Tocqueville feared the tyranny of the majority the opposite has happened: the tyranny of the minority known as Minoritarianism.

One of my pet peeves with ultra Orthodox Judaism is its rigid adherence to unreasonably strict halachic standards regardless of the consequences to others. Typically ultra orthodox Jews who haven’t cloistered themselves away and feel enlightened enough to mix with the general public still manage to alienate themselves from the public, due to their insistence on following their rigid understanding of halacha regardless of the handicap this will cause to the general public. A classic example of this is the recent brouhaha in the IDF where a fine officer is being asked to resign because of the manner in which he enforced the IDF’s sense of honor and respectful behavior. The incident involves a haredi soldier (cadet) “being forced” to attend a performance where a woman performer was singing, allegedly contrary to Jewish law. The soldier abruptly walked out of the performance because of the halacha proscribing him from listening to a woman singing (kol isha) resulting in his dismissal from the officer’s training course by the commanding officer. The soldier is appealing and asking for the dismissal of the commanding officer claiming that "the reason I joined the army and this particular regiment was my desire to serve in the IDF and contribute to the people of Israel, while maintaining Jewish Law without any compromises”.

The operative word in this quote is “compromises”. In truth, compromise is certainly permitted under Jewish Law. As a matter of fact the sages believed that there are only three things that one has to die for: adultery, murder and idolatry. Everything else can be negotiated or compromised. Everything is subject to interpretation, negotiation and compromise. Our sages were not rigid as so many of the discussions and arguments between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai will attest to. Hearing a women’s voice isn’t a cardinal law within the hierarchy of the “taryag” (613) mitzvoth and is barely on the radar screen, but picked up by the ultra orthodox as a humra.

The problem is that haredi Jews are living in a bubble where they think that they don’t have to compromise. They believe that they ought to force the majority to their will. In a way it isn’t that much different than the Muslim communities mission to have every soul bend to the will of Allah. In our case there is a haredi desire (mission) for everyone to bend to their interpretation of halacha.

Certainly this particular situation demonstrates that compromise should have been encouraged by the rabbis in order to ensure the discipline necessary within the IDF isn’t compromised. No one was asking this haredi soldier to eat prohibited foods or to desecrate the Shabbat. In question is a problematic and dubious prohibition, which many orthodox Jews don’t subscribe to or abide by. The irony in this is that where de Tocqueville was worried about the tyranny of the majority we have the reverse where a small minority is terrorizing the majority.