Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Elephant in the Room

To what extent are violent extremists to be considered a particularly charedi problem? This has become an increasingly important question over the last few years. A few years ago, a certain Rav, with whom I used to be close until he went from being moderate-charedi to hardline right, argued that charedim have no responsibility to take a stand against violent extremists because such people have nothing to do with the rest of charedi society. I wrote a post in which I argued that there is a continuous spectrum ranging from physical violence to verbal abuse towards the IDF which exists throughout the charedi world. Furthermore, while the people at each level do not agree with the level of hostility coming from people to their right, there is near-constant refusal to condemn it. And even people who are horrified by the violence nonetheless produce inflamed rhetoric which creates an atmosphere that allows it and contributes to it.


Most recently, this question, regarding to what extent are violent extremists to be considered a particularly charedi problem, came to the forefront of discussion with the Peleg faction, headed by Rav Shmuel Auerbach, who passed away last Shabbos. A few months ago, they held a "Day of Rage," shutting down parts of Israel with demonstrations in response to some yeshiva dropouts being arrested for evading army service. And there have been many riots and acts of violence by Peleg people. (There are some people who claim that Rav Shmuel had absolutely no knowledge of such things and would certainly not have approved of them, but this seems rather naive.)

At the time, there was a dispute about to the extent to which Rav Auerbach and Peleg can be considered part of charedi society. On the one hand, Rabbi Avraham Edelstein, director of Ner LeElef, claimed that Peleg should not even be called Orthodox, let alone charedi. But on the other hand, as I pointed out in a post on the topic, the mainstream chareidi media, which is ready to call out Open Orthodoxy on their extremism, was not willing to criticize Pele for theirs. And Rav Yitzchak Berkovitz, of the extremely moderate Jerusalem kollel, gave a talk in which he justified Peleg's approach as based on a legitimate dispute as to whether the government of Israel can be perceived as waging a War on Torah.

The Rosh Yeshivah of a certain Jerusalem middle-of-the-road yeshivah told me that he felt that Rav Berkovitz was out of touch with mainstream charedi society, which, he said, considers Rav Shmuel to be completely beyond the pale. But, in light of how Rav Shmuel's passing has been received in the charedi world, I am not so sure. 

A nice person that I know wrote that Rav Shmuel was a great Torah scholar, who was entirely leshem Shamayim in his actions, and thus we should mourn the passing of a great man. I find this to be lacking (and reflective of the naive common fallacy that someone who is a great Talmudist is necessarily also a great tzaddik and a great leader).

Having known Rav Shmuel as my neighbor over many years (he even wrote a michtav bracha for my first book!), I agree that he was a great Talmudist and 100% leshem Shamayim in his actions. He was not remotely interested in wealth or power or any kind of personal benefit. But so what? Rabbi Moshe Hirsch (pictured here) was also a great Torah scholar who was 100% leshem Shamayim. Being a great Talmudist or a great Torah scholar does not mean that one does not do terrible things. And there are many people in the world who do very terrible things entirely leshem Shamayim. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. A person is judged by his actions, not by his intentions.

So how did charedi society judge his actions? On the one hand, it was reported that Rav Chaim Kanievsky--who reportedly once referred to Rav Shmuel as a zaken mamre - received the news of his passing with silence, rather than with an expression of sorrow.

But on the other hand, this week's Mishpacha magazine has Rav Shmuel on the cover as its feature story! (And so does Ami magazine, but all reasonable people have long given up on a magazine that once photoshopped swastikas onto the White House for its cover story about Obama, and defends pedophiles, amidst other lunacy.)

The article is full of praise for Rav Shmuel, and mentions nothing at all about the extremely significant actions of the last decade of his life. It seems absurd for Mishpacha to ignore the elephant in the room. How can they not make any sort of statement, either for or against? Can't they even have a single sentence saying that Rav Shmuel started a new political movement which took a hardline, activist approach and which was strongly opposed by the other charedi Litvishe gedolim?

But I realized that by not making any statement, they are in fact making a statement: That while they do not approve of his holy war against the State, they do not consider that this puts him beyond the pale, or that it even demotes him from the pantheon of Great Torah Leaders. Unlike, say, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ztz"l, who was not featured on the cover of Mishpacha after his passing.

The boundaries and values of mainstream chareidi society, as reflected by Mishpacha magazine (which is actually somewhat left of mainstream in the charedi world), seem fairly clear. You can be a convicted felon and be featured on the cover as a hero. You can launch a civil war in Israel and be praised as a fiery Torah leader. Just don't be a Zionist, and don't express your belief in an age of dinosaurs!

35 comments:

  1. Please add to your consideration indications that in the dati-leumi world as well he is being treated with respect and his extreme positions are being mitigated. For instance, an article in this week's "Shevi'i," and, in English, the relevant articles on the Arutz Sheva site.

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  2. Being a great Talmudist or a great Torah scholar does not mean that one does not do terrible things.

    As a general note, the things that look terrible to some may look righteous to others. When Mordechai refused to bow to Haman, many blamed him for causing harm to Jews. After all, Dina d'malkhuta dina, right? People less knowledgeable in Torah will more likely view things differently than those who are more knowledgeable, but nevertheless they often feel to be in a position to judge actions of the latter.

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    1. Absent the medrash about Haman wearing an idol, what justification is there for Mordechai refusing to bow and thereby causing harm to Jews?

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    2. What makes you think that Mordechai was correct in not bowing to Haman?

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    3. You can read plenty commentaries on this subject. The point was that unlike regular people, Chachamim can see farther than the end of their nose and their actions often are misunderstood by contemporary Jews.

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    4. "... unlike regular people, Chachamim can see farther than the end of their nose..."

      Unfortunately Chachamim are human and like other people sometimes make disastrous mistakes. I say this with great pain for all the members of my family who died in the Holocaust after the Munkatcher Rebbe (the Minchas Eluzor) forbade them to leave, even as the Nazi hordes appeared on the horizon.

      People who believe that gedolim are incapable of error must be confusing Judaism with another religion that believes in the infallibility of its leader.

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    5. I'm sure you'd like to believe what you're writing, but the chachamim have a pretty bad track record over the past century: many convinced Jews to not emigrate to America. Wrong advice: they didn't see the Nazi menace and were liquidated in Europe. They advised against Israel and moving there. Wrong advice: Israel is 70 years young and thriving. Jewish life there is strong and vibrant. Whether it's condemning our host, or protecting pedophiles, or celebrating the release of felons, they've been wrong, big time, many times over.

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    6. How do you know Mordechai was a chacham?

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    7. The rest of the chachamim did not bow. There is no indication in the text that Mordechai was correct. See the Gra on זעקה גדולה ומרה.

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    8. Correction: Should say: "The rest of the chachamim did bow."

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  3. The vast majority of the content of Ami magazine is not ultra-charedi or extremist. Most would probably describe it as left-of-center, like Mishpacha, in charedi terms, since they often profile all kinds of business people, academics, activists and other personalities, some of which are Modern Orthodox or Dati Leumi.

    Ami's article about R' Auerbach did include a few paragraphs describing (in neutral terms) his creation of a new hardline movement. The article contains some cryptic statements by R' Frankfurter about not always being able to "understand his [R' Auerbach's] ways," and suggesting that some events would have unfolded differently if R' Frankfurter had revealed the contents of his candid conversations with R' Auerbach. So while the article doesn't directly criticize him it suggests a certain critical distance.

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  4. The only reason charedi leadership did not approve of RSA was some personality clash (probably didn't want to put his people on a political list) and they decided not to share the political wealth with his mosdot.

    The full spectrum of charedi leadership approved his stance, just were jealous he had the () to do what he did and they wimped out. The difference was just strategy, not goals.

    And he had pretty powerful backers in the states: a few moetzet members, one (Williamsburg) or both of the satmar rebbes.

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  5. intersting article about 'holiness' of berland from R. Arush who is well respected which I would not have believed. goes to prove R. slifkin's point

    http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/414375/rav-arush-rav-berland-is-in-sakanas-chaim.html

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    1. But in one of his books R. Arush disavowed him. I don't know which is his final view. Till I find out more I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Part of the dynamic is that R. Arush is his student and it might have taken RA some time to get out of denial. We need more clarification.

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    2. He has disavowed him privately and has hinted this publicly. see: http://breslevemet.net/2017/11/%D7%94%D7%A8%D7%91-%D7%A9%D7%9C%D7%95%D7%9D-%D7%90%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%A9-%D7%90%D7%91%D7%9C-%D7%90%D7%9D-%D7%94%D7%95%D7%90-%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%90%D7%94-%D7%93%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%9D-%D7%A9%D7%90%D7%99/

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    3. I think he also disavowed him *publicly* in one of the "Garden" books.

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  6. I agree that he was a great Talmudist and 100% leshem Shamayim in his actions. He was not remotely interested in wealth or power or any kind of personal benefit. But so what?


    And can't the same be said about Natan Slifkin?

    Is there any way to decide whom to take seriously or should we all be constantly trying to decide every issue on our own based on our necessarily very limited knowledge? All of human society and tradition of all sorts is based on some kind of trust, and sincerity is one of many factors making a person possibly trustworthy.

    (And before someone else adds this, I'm well aware of the quote attributed to Groucho Marx, "Sincerity is the key to everything; if you can fake that, you've got it made!")

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  7. The 614th mitzvos for the Chareidi leadership is "Thou shalt always cover for one of ours"

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  8. About Rav Aharon Lichtenstein... A fact that he did not fight against the State does not mean that he did not fight. He did! However he fought in strictly different direction - he fought for the State (against the Jewish people).
    I mean destruction of Gush Katif, when Rav Aharon Lichtenstein took upon himself a task to work with people not to resist it.
    (Please notice: he did not persuade people not to resist violently because they did not, he persuaded them not to resist at all.)
    In fact, he did not use violence personally (there were other "good boys" who did that part of the job). But neither Rav Shmuel Auerbach. And condemning of Rav Shmuel Auerbach followed by calling Rav Aharon Lichtenstein "zecher zaddik le-bracha" is hypocrisy, at least.

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    1. As neither a follower of RAL or RSA, and looking at things from outside both of their camps, I still see the difference in that Rav Lichtenstein's followers do not deify him or consider him infallible.

      Do you think Rabbis are not entitled to express their opinions on issues?

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  9. I'll say this.. I've seen slifkin davening and I've seen R Shmuel. The one has an incredible relationship with GD. The other.. em..
    Slifkin stop pretending you're on a religious crusade. You obviously couldn't give a monkey about gd, his Torah or religion! You're just a bitter man trying desperately to soothe a fractured ego. Go in to politics like your pal there, if you need attention.

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    1. Wow. Amazing how you can discern another's relationship with GD!

      LOL! Wait till you find out in the next world your Haredi emperors wear no clothes! Funny, you believe in the Erev Rav, but don't believe the meforshim when they say the worst of the worst of them will be the Rabbinic Leaders of the generation.

      LOL!

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    2. You should see how much kavanah Rav Eliezer Berland davens with.

      Why do you think that only people who don't care about God or Torah would be disturbed by Rav Shmuel Auerbach being unconditionally praised? What do you have to say about Rav Chaim Kanievsky's response?

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    3. DT, I presume you're being tongue in cheek. Berland davens with next to no Kavannah, often seems more interested in playing dreidel or accepting money during Davening. For once someone's Kavannah actually matches his purported behaviour.

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    4. Hey Anon. The next time you wonder why the Jewish people really can't stand the ultra-orthodox then take a long hard look in the mirror and remember that comment that you just made. that's exactly why

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    5. Judging another Jew unfavorably mamash during davening doesn't sound like a great idea. Prayer is not a competition either. RMF famously stood perfectly still during shmoneh esrei.

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  10. Right or wrong, the constant Chareidi method to criticize the left but not the right, was written out some 60 years ago by RRG. It with its reasonings can be read here:
    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=41396&st=&pgnum=34&hilite=

    Also the multi-volume Maase Ish has a chapter in each volume critical of Zionism and the left where one can find a level of accusations which the radical right did not yet reach.

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  11. I had feelings similar to some expressed in this article on hearing of R. Shmuel's petira: "Does the fact that someone dies (like everyone does eventually; he was 86 yrs. old, after all) automatically end all criticism of him?" OTOH, exactly what did RNS want people to do? Scream "Rasha" at the levaya? Add "Yimach Shmo" to his name? These sorts of situations are awkward by their very nature, and even ignoring them is not a very satisfactory way of dealing with them.

    I'll just add that, although I'm certainly no supporter of "Peleg" and its behavior, it is a common distortion today to pretend that Judaism is or has ever been totally a non-violent philosophy. The Torah and the Halacha recognize the validity of the use of force in many situations, only the decisions have to be made with intelligence. It is especially self-contradictory to read people who practically worship Tzahal and the "New Jew" of modern Israel so strongly condemning any attempt by traditional Jews to use force to further what they consider the cause of the Jewish people.

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  12. There is little question that much of the behaviour that RSA appeared to condone and possibly encourage, seems very difficult to come to terms with. While writing an obituary about a man who was a true gadol in torah and lived his life with total devotion, I think Mishpacha did well to omit this well-publicised part of his life. We can chose to disapprove of such conduct and encouragement, particularly when there are so many gedolim who publically criticize it. But I would be most hesitant to be malshin a person who is so many strasopheres above the rest of us when it comes to Hashem and his Torah. If it needs to be done, leave it to fellow gedolim please.

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  13. You can tell a lot about one by the way
    one davens. Which is all moot anyway here, as anyone with half a brain can see clearly that Slifkins raging at a whole community of people, based on what he perceives as an unjust slight to himself is not rooted in any search for truth, nor is there any whiff of lesheim shamayim here. Its a vendetta. Much like that man with the pointy ears , I recently read about. I do appreciate the irony of those castigating me for judging this man,yet don't seem to realise the whole foundation of slifkin, and all his mindless drones cheering him on, is simply to judge, castigate and deride those giants, those who have achieved in a day what he couldn't in a lifetime.

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  14. I'm surprised that anyone could be surprised at the manner in which the charedei press covered RSA's petirah.
    I am in no position to offer an opinion as to RSA's Torah, Avodah or Middos or how his knowledge and behavior compared to others of his or any other generation. However, like Rabbi Slifkin and many others I was appalled by the behavior of those who followed his derech after he founded Peleg and I could not fathom his willingness to allow such behavior or, at the very least, his failure to speak out against it. For all the world, his silence was proof thta he acquiesced in the boorish behavior carried out in his name. and the name of his movement.
    I was particularly struck by the ironic fact that when the Israeli and American Chareidi press published their photos of the life of RSA (as they are wont to do after the petirah of any gadol) the photos they selected were almost exclusively of RSA's pre=Peleg life - theeby enabling them to show him in the company of other Gedolim and Admorim, many of whom would not countenance to be in his company post-Peleg.

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    1. many of whom would not countenance to be in his company post-Peleg.

      but interestingly enough, there is a post-Peleg photo of him attending a Gedolim meeting headed by, would you believe, RALS, at the head of the table, only that RSA sat all the way at the other end and a drop away from the table. Had I not seen it myself at the time I wouldn't have believed it.

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  15. I am pretty sure I remember Rav Aharon Lichtenstein being featured on the cover of Misphacha (or one of the other Charedi magazines). I don't regularly read them so I can't be sure.

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  16. Incidentally, the Yated departed from their universal practice when a gadol passes away, and did NOT publish a special Shabbat edition in memory of Reb Shmuel.

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  17. ^THIS. i was about to say the same thing. mainstream charedi society did view r' shmuel and his faction as to be avoided, yet went to his levaya because it's the right thing to do when a gadol batorah passes away.

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