Saturday, March 14, 2015

Anti-Rationalism and the Electoral System

The divide between the rationalist and anti-rationalist approaches to theology has fascinating ramifications with regard to the electoral system.

The Maimonidean rationalist approach is very straightforward. Our choices as to whom we vote for determines who will be in the government, which in turn determines policies and their consequences.

The anti-rationalist approach is very different. As we have discussed before (with regard to whether soldiers are actually doing anything), the anti-rationalist approach popularly found in charedi circles today, based on Rav Dessler's school of thought, views our actions as being of no real significance in terms of direct consequences. Instead, they are simply a charade that we must go through in order for God to operate. (And to the extent that we recognize God as being the One actually doing things, we can minimize this charade). According to this approach, hishtadlus doesn't actually have anything to do with parnassah and soldiers don't actually have anything to do with military victory.

I am very grateful to Rav Elimelech Kornfeld for spelling out the ramifications of this with regard to the electoral process. (I say that without any sarcasm; while I disagree with the anti-rationalist approach, I think that it's important for it to be articulated and I greatly appreciate his doing so.) Rav Kornfeld is a local charedi rabbinic leader in Ramat Beit Shemesh who is not afraid to openly state the Israeli charedi perspective on such matters. For example, in the previous national elections, he went on record in HaModia as stating that American olim are mistaken in believing that they have the right to choose who to vote for; instead, they are obligated to vote for whoever the Charedi-Litvishe-Non-RavShmuelAuerbach camp tell them to vote for.

For this election, there is a letter printed on the front page of the local newspaper Chadash in which Rav Kornfeld spells out the charedi anti-rationalist approach with regard to the very nature of the electoral system. He explains that it is not in the hands of any politician or party to actually do anything for us, and continues as follows:
"Our national security, our physical and surely spiritual needs are not in the hands of any government... Our present decision in these elections is to show Hashem that we feel that the things that are important to him are important to us, and this will being us continued Siyata Dishmaya. To this end our leaders, Rav Shteinman Shlita and Rav Kanyevsky Shlita have spoken clearly and strongly that we should vote for Gimmel - UTJ..."

Nothing more than a mask?!
In other words, the entire system of voting in politicians who make policies that are implemented is, like all other forms of hishtadlus, is a sham; it's merely a cover, a mask for the workings of Hashem. However, it is very important to show support for the party that espouses Torah values (which he believes to be UTJ), because that will earn us the Divine favor which actually accomplishes everything that happens.

This appears to be an ingenious way of arriving at the same end result - vote for party x - while basing it on a fundamentally different worldview. However, the more one thinks through its ramifications, the more complications and problems arise.

First of all, it means that rallying votes is only important insofar as it shows Hashem that (charedi) Torah is important to us. But surely one can show Hashem that Torah is important even more powerfully by actually learning Torah! Are the two yeshivah boys who stayed in the Chevron Beis HaMidrash to learn while all their peers spent several hours traveling to and from Bnei Brak not showing Hashem that learning Torah is of supreme value to them?!

Second, it means that if people cheat (from either side), that will have no effect on the fate of the Jewish People. But why, then, is UTJ searching for people to monitor the voting booths?

Third, it means that it is of absolutely no significance as to whether UTJ actually gets in the government (other than perhaps as indication of whether Hashem is happy with chareidi voting choices.) The only thing that matters is how many people show Hashem their support for UTJ, not whether UTJ actually gets in.

Fourth, it means that if charedim are unsuccessful, then that is also from Hashem (and presumably as a result of their not sufficiently demonstrating their dedication to Him). So why, after Lapid's success in the last election and his resultant policies, was their so much anger towards him? Lapid didn't actually do anything, it was all from Hashem!

Fifth, it means that the followers of Rav Shmuel Auerbach and others, who are of the view that one should not participate in these elections at all, are not doing any harm. After all, they are certainly acting out of dedication to Torah and Gedolim. So why is UTJ so upset about them?

(I'm sure that there are plenty of other ramifications, too, but I can't think of them right now.)

Of course, nobody in the charedi world actually acts as though they think this way. When you look at all the vast effort expended to get charedim to vote, and the tremendous passion about who actually gets in the government, obviously charedim feel that the votes and politicians inherently make a difference. It's similar to the anti-rationalist notion that yeshivah students provide protection from rockets, and that parnassah is all in the hands of Hashem and has nothing to do with hishtadlus; people might profess to believe it, but when push comes to shove, nobody really believes it.

37 comments:

  1. One thing that I have noticed is that there is a lot of anger in the Charedi world about the budget cuts and that they blame the current government for "stealing" their money.

    However, as you point out, Charedi hashkafa is that hishtadlus etc. is a ll a facade, it doesn't really work. Everything that happens is solely from Hashem. If that is the case there is no reason to be angry at Lapid or anyone else for cutting Charedi budgets. That was what Hashem wanted and they were just the messenger. Hashem cut the money to Charedim not Lapid and therefore instead of blaming Lais etc. they should be doing some introspection and trying to understand what they did wrong to deserve these budget cuts.

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    1. Excellent point. In fact, according to their belief system, Hashem cut the money to charedim because of the charedim's own spiritual shortcomings.

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    2. Marty, I edited the post to incorporate your point.

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    3. According to the Haredi point of view, we should not be upset with anyone that wrongs us? They are merely agents of Hashem. If you take this to the extereme, why be mad at Hitler and the Nazis. Yet, we find the Torah commands us to remember when someone wronged us: Amalek. Why would be given a commandment of hating Amalek if they were merely agents of Hashem.

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    4. the general response is that they could have chosen not to be the agents of the divine plan
      kt
      joel rich

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  2. If there was anything that man does that embodies the concept of free choice it's elections, or more aptly in Hebrew "Bechirot".

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  3. However there are some Litvish haredi rabbanim and others who, through their understanding of halacha and rabinniccal authority, do not agree that a haredi person is obligated to vote for who these gedolim say to vote for. Nor do they all share the same view of hishtadlus. Why should Rabbi Kornfeld's hashkafa define all that is haredi?
    And are all those who think otherwise somehow outside the fold? Are you going to interrupt their kollel learning to inform them of that?
    Yeshiva bachurim (the ones they mobilized for these rallies) are nothing but pawns who wish they were important. It's that wish which motivates their actions.

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    1. There are few if any. Yes there is R' Shmuel Auerbach's group but they only disagree because of politics, they will vote for whoever R' Shmuel says.

      Regarding hishtadlus, what R' Natan wrote is the overwhelmingly prevalent hashkafa in the Charedi world IMHO. While there may be יחידים who disagree they are יחידים not representing the Charedi population as a whole.

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    2. "here are few if any. Yes there is R' Shmuel Auerbach's group but they only disagree because of politics, they will vote for whoever R' Shmuel says. "

      I'm not only referring to his camp that votes for him. There are people who also vote for UTJ (or some other party they prefer), yet they do not believe they have to because Rabbi so-and-so said so. I think you oversimplify and generalize the haredi population in a cartoonish way. The same way Rabbi Slifkin is doing by defining them all by the opinion of one haredi rav in RBS.

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  4. I recently had a conversation with two Shas voters. Both told me very straightforwardly and without a hint of fervor, zealousness or anything malicious at all that they are going to vote for Shas because they follow what Rav Ovadia said and that's what is important to them. I don't think that a discussion of which party might be best for the country even figured in their thought process. For them it was a seamless extension of their entire worldview. And the Shas posters do say "thus Rav Ovadia ruled - kach pasak maran..."

    Which didn't make me feel great, y'know. But...

    I'm much more worried about the phenomenon you describe because it feels like the Haredi leadership is going to capitalize on the anger and hatred and resentment and focus it all on Lapid. Politics and voting is a lot about having someone to blame and pointing a finger. And when you couple that with religious authority, then you get mass crowd phenomenon.

    I am still optimistic that, for example, Yesh Atid might well get a fair number of votes in Haredi areas like Bet Shemesh because Haredim are (like all other voters) smart enough to think about what's best for the country. But your post has depressed me.

    What do you think, R. Slifkin (and others)? Will significant numbers of Haredi voters ignore the religious pressures that you describe in your post? Or will they listen and act independently?

    I don't know, so I'm asking out of genuine curiousity.

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    1. Even so, Lapid is not who they would vote for.

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    2. I'm not so sure...

      Perhaps the olim among them - the American olim in Bet Shemesh in particular, might...
      http://youtu.be/Y-l0qymySpg

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  5. Starting around the year 1800 up until the 1960's, there was mass flight from the yeshivot and Hassidic courts that educated their people to this passive way of thinking. Things turned around about 50 years ago and now that view is very, very popular. Why the change? In the earlier period, the religious world faced multiple crises involving the rapid developments in technology and science which attracted many young Jews, there was a massive economic crisis where malnutrition if not outright starvation threatened many Jews in Europe and the rise of nationalism and the spread of virulent antisemitism made Jews extremely vulnerable. The bottom line is that REALITY shook the passivist religious philosophy that many but not all religious leaders were teaching.
    Today, the modern welfare state cushions people from outright starvation and homelessness, the very success of the state of Israel in giving physical and economic protection to its population leads many people to "take it for granted" and allows some people to "bite the hand that feeds it" and to deprecate it and those who serve it while taking it money and protection. Finally, the rise of post-modernism, disillusionment with technology (e.g. "all science is nonsense") and moral relativism and opposition to the idea that there is such thing as "truth" , particularly historical truth, makes those outside the passivist religious groups more tolerant of them.
    As long as these passivist groups are insulated against the reality of the world around them, they can continue to flourish. Should there be a massive economic crunch that brings the welfare state into crisis and major cutbacks and a outbreak of antisemitism in Europe and the US, the reality will slap this passivist philosophy in the fact, and there will be another major spiritual crisis in religious Jewry which will cause a big drop-out rate as there was in the earlier period. No system that ultimately denies reality can last in the long run. Just look a recent history in the world to see this.

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    1. Dead-on, Mr Ben-David! One might add that the chronology and dynamics parallel the experiences and behaviour of teens and adolescents in the opulent West from around the early 50s and on. But when that lot will get its long-awaited "slap in the fact" is anyone's guess. Odd, how the welfare state destroys inner city families, delays adulthood by at least a decade and...who'd have thunk... wreaks theological and social havoc on Orthodoxy! There's a paper on that for someone.

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  6. I learn daf yomi, in my opinion the Gemara is filled with "Dat Torah", The reason it is called Gamara is from the word Gemar {finished}. What is exactly finished ??? In my humble opinion "Dat Torah" is finished . If it is not in the Talmud, then it is not "Dat Torah" For Rabbi's who tell people who to vote for, it is merely their opinion and can not be construed as "Dat Torah"

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    1. You may want to refer to Jastrow for your Aramaic etymologies in futu

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  7. So why, after Lapid's success in the last election and his resultant policies, was their so much anger towards him? Lapid didn't actually do anything, it was all from Hashem!

    The anger itself is simply a "facade". A parent sometimes needs to mimic the outer characteristics of anger in order to properly show disapproval to a child's poor behavior. This is despite the fact that the parent's inner calm is not disturbed due to his/her great faith in divine providence. So too with members of kenesset, we must behave as if we are angry, while inside we chuckle at the misguided ways of the anti-religious budget cutters.

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  8. Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

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    1. So now Emerson is determining correct Jewish belief?

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  9. I also believe that it is Hashem who ultimately determines the outcomes of all things but if you say nothing that we do is important or necessary, then I think you are clearly implying that miracles will occur that bring to fruition Hashem's will. You are clearly relying on miracles and maybe even trying to manipulate Hashem into making a miracle, both things that we shouldn't be doing. I don't think He operates so exclusively through miracles. He can and does ultimately determine the outcomes, but He needs us to be involved. Hashem won't push the cart where it is supposed to go all by Himself, but if we get behind it and push, Hashem will steer.

    A Jew dies and goes to shamayim. He starts complaining to Hashem. "You know, I really wanted to give tzedakah but I was a poor man and I couldn't afford to give much. But if I could have won the lottery, I could have given away millions. I prayed every day to win the lottery but I never did. Hashem, why couldn't you make me win the lottery?" Hashem simply replied, "Why didn't you ever buy a ticket?"

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    1. The lottery story is cute, but surely Hashem could have arranged for the man to find a winning ticket?

      The reason that the belief that we need to pretend histadlus matters while knowing that Hashem really controls everything developed is because those people who took the belief in hashgachis pratis to its logical conclusion didn't make it.

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    2. Amusing joke. I should definitely tell it to my lottery-fan friends. The issues of the divine disposal in such situation is a controversial, putting it mildly.

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  10. > it is very important to show support for the party that espouses Torah values (which he believes to be UTJ), because that will earn us the Divine favor which actually accomplishes everything that happens.

    That is so clever! It allows one to do the practical things necessary to get the results they want, while not contradicting the position that Hashem determines everything and what we do has no direct consequences. It's also unfalsifiable and tramples on Occam's razor, but it is so clever!

    > So why, after Lapid's success in the last election and his resultant policies, was their so much anger towards him? Lapid didn't actually do anything, it was all from Hashem!

    For the same reasons that Paroh and the Mitzriyimis vilified, despite the chumash explicitly saying that Hashem sent the Bnei Yisroel into slavery and hardened Paroh's heart.

    > It's similar to the anti-rationalist notion that yeshivah students provide protection from rockets, and that parnassah is all in the hands of Hashem and has nothing to do with hishtadlus; people might profess to believe it, but when push comes to shove, nobody really believes it.

    I would be cautious here. There are a lot of religious beliefs that people profess that are not born out by their behavior. For instance, when asked to describe God, people give theologically correct answers, but when asked about their relationship to God, people describe a relationship with a big man in the sky. Does nobody really believe in the "official" version of God? When push comes to shove, are religious people just superstitiously appealing to a bigger version of themselves?

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  11. Indeed, as R' Wein and R' Warren Goldstein's book explains, traditional Lithuanian rabbinate would have opposed the very notion of people being required to follow their rabbis' orders on how to vote.

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  12. Kira--Glad to know that somebody besides me and Mr. Pomerantz read that!

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  13. You don't have to be a rationalist - just rational, to see that the rationale given for voting UTJ, declaring service in the IDF to be a grave sin, and insisting that all those thousands of Kollelniks should continue their lifestyle with support from the government is a mere ploy for Hareidim to maintain their leadership and lifestyle. According to Rabbi Kornfeld's rationale why bother voting - just study and pray for the 'right' conclusion. Is torah study and prayer to be considered less effective than casting a vote? Does casting a vote reflect greater reliance on divine assistance than fervent prayer? How much longer will Hareidi spokesmen continue with their charade? The best way to counter such ploys is for Hareidim to stop voting for their parties. One alternative is for Hareidi women and others to vote for the Bezuchtan party that was started by Hareidi women who resented the virtual absence of women in Hareidi leadership positions.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. What is most remarkable about the Bezuchtan phenomenon is that the declared geniuses of the Hareidi world are caught like dear in headlights over that one. Any high school level history or sociology textbook might have suggested to them that whoever takes over family responsibility and brings in the income eventually dominates....wishes, beliefs, imagined exceptionalism and traditions notwithstanding. But who has time for such narrishkeit, so the fellows have launched an ingenious response that reflects their higher level and refined character: Refusal to print Bezuchtan political ads, threats of excluding the women's kids from shidduchs and schools and growling about excommunications. Kollel donations at work!

      "Attaboy!", Temujin says to that manly response: Force a growing group of women to redirect their resources to friendly and accommodating institutions, and to form functional sub-groups and viable social connections with actual clout. That'll learn 'em gals real good!

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    2. Temujin: Don't give B'Zchutan that much credit. They don't represent Haredi women, even if a hope too. Just wait for the votes tomorrow.

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    3. Come back tomorrow and tell me what this bizchutan phenomena is all about. I find it hard to imagine they will get more than 500 votes, about half of which from the Charedi sector. The rest will be feminists wanting to make a statement. There will always be some people disillusioned and there is nothing to be done about it. This does not represent a movement at all.

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    4. John Jay and Yankel, no one expects significant electoral results from a fledgeling party in a system overpopulated with parties. So, why the embarrassing freak-out and the ugly threats by the Israeli Hareidi leadership or the airy dismissals and hand-waving from you two?

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    5. Temujin - No one like to be called out as "women haters" or "backwards", especially when the BZ'chutan party got such great press. That's why they were upset (although I wouldn't call it "freaking out"). The point is everyone and his mother can open a party in Israel and bashing UTJ will always get you some favorable press. The number of votes or lack thereof is the only significant issue, and I suspect it will be minimal as Yankel said.

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    6. John Jay, you are now saying that the threats of excommunication and cutting children off from schools and marriage matches are an understandable Hareidi response to someone, somewhere supposedly calling them names? For real? And if you and Yankele are sure about the insignificance of the votes, why not advise your friends who as you say are not freaking out, to calm down and cut it out with the sleazy vote tampering going on? After all, it's all predetermined anyway, so no reason for anyone to make an ass of himself.

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    7. We will see how "significant" they are, these fighters for the "Haredi woman". I'm gonna assume they are but a pimple on the elephant, annoying but meaningless and insignificant. If you find hope in Bzchutan for the Haredi uprising, don't delude yourself....

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    8. You seem to have latched-on to the electoral votes criterion, John Jay. Not the smartest tactic though, if one may point out for the sake of the sport, given how poorly the Hareidi parties did...in spite of the usual criminal incidents of electoral fraud, threats, claims of divine approval and commands by dead rabbis, and promises of the keys to Heaven.

      Math is not Temujin's forte, so in proportional terms then, if Bezuchtan is a pimple as you say, do you define Shas and UTJ as boils or tumours?

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    9. B'Zchutan received 30 votes in Bnei Brak, 8 in Modi'in, 6 in Beitar, 6 in Elad, 34 in Beit Shemesh. I retract my previous analogy. They are not even a pimple.

      UTJ is the party I know about. We did as we always do. Rav Auerbach probably cost us a seat. I don't know SHas dynamics, although Yishai did get over 115k votes.

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  14. It seems to me that many of us, if not most, delude ourselves into thinking that we are voting on a rational or anti-rationalist (to use the language of this post) basis, when in fact, our voting habits have more to do with group identity and a desire to affirm our membership in a social and/or religious group. That might explain, for example, why Lapid and Kachalon, with very similar platforms, draw their votes from very different segments of society. It would also explain why so many haredim, in particular, take elections so seriously - it's an opportunity for group affirmation that others get through identification with the state, a sports team, or in other ways. I don't know, maybe, maybe not, but it's a theory.

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  15. I think a more thoughtful discussion of hishtadlus and bitachon would be appropriate. After all, the chovos ha-levavos in shaar ha-bitachon says that we must realize that we are required to do hishtadlus but really everything comes from Hashem. When we are successful it therefore does not follow that if we do more hishtadlus we will be even more successful, because ultimately Hashem is the cause of our success. This is not Rav Dessler's chiddush. I would be interested in hearing Rabbi Slifkin's thoughts about how a rationalist person views bitachon.


    Daniel Shain

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