Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Strangest Book

An astonishing new book was just published. I've never seen anything like it. The book (originally in Hebrew, but I have the English edition) is an illustrated graphic novel for children, part of a series called Just Imagine! The other volumes in the series are about the chagim, but this volume is called Covid-19. The subtitle explains that that it is "An exciting, imaginary depiction of how the coronavirus pandemic might have been handled in Eretz Yisrael, if the government was run according to the eternal values of our Holy Torah." Sounds like a fascinating idea for a book, right?

The author is an unknown "M. Safra" - I'm guessing the presence of an initial rather than a first name indicates that the author is female. But the first page of the book presents a weighty stamp of approval from "The Committee For The Supervision of Reading Material," headed by Rav Yisroel Gans. And so it's worth taking seriously as a reflection of beliefs and norms in the charedi world.

The back cover gives an extensive description of the book: 

Dear Parents and Children,
We’ve been dealing with coronavirus, which has affected not only the entire world, but also each and every one of us, for over a year. We Jews know that a pandemic doesn’t just happen one fine day… It happens because the One Above sent it, and He sent it to wake us up!
And so, of course, the first thing for us to do is to make a cheshbon hanefesh, to examine our deeds and try to do better. We also daven and plead before Hakadosh Baruch Hu that it should pass — because davening will help more than anything.
During these complicated times, we are dealing not only with the pandemic itself, but also with many questions: What is our hishtadlus? And what if some of the rules and regulations mean that we have to change our usual ways of serving Hashem?
When addressing these questions and others like it, there are many different opinions. People are divided about what is the right thing to do. But the truth is that for us it makes no difference: we have rabbanim whom we can ask, and we act according to what they say. If you have a question about how to act in any situation, you go to your father or your rav and there’s your answer.
Beyond that, it’s important to understand that even though there are different opinions about exactly what to do, everyone agrees that we have an obligation to protect our health. And no one disagrees that we have an obligation to protect the lives of the people around us.
What does this mean for us? One thing is clear: If we had the zechus to have a world run according to da’as Torah, there would be no disagreements. We all would behave the same way, truly united as one!
The aim of this book, which shows what Eretz Yisrael would look like if the government was solely run according to Torah, is to bridge the gaps that have formed between different communities and promote the message of achdus, of unity. At the end of the day, we have the Torah to guide us, and we all want to do the will of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. On that we all agree!
And so, we will continue to do our best to act in the way the rabbanim tell us and to do Hashem’s will. At the same time, we daven and hope for the day when everything will be crystal clear, and there will be no place for disagreements anymore…

The book's goals initially appear to seem noble, and some of them certainly are. In general, the book seeks to encourage social distancing and mask-wearing and so on. But the first alarm bell that something was very, very off here, is a paragraph in the middle of the description above. Did you notice it? Here it is again:

One thing is clear: If we had the zechus to have a world run according to da’as Torah, there would be no disagreements. We all would behave the same way, truly united as one!

This paragraph is simply bizarre. Had it been speaking of a hypothetical scenario in which the world is run according to the clear Will of God - such as through the restoration of prophecy - that would be one thing. But this is not a book about Mashiach arriving. It's a book about a hypothetical Israel in which everyone is charedi and follows the Gedolim. And why on earth would that mean no disagreements?!?!?!  

After all, even today, when the charedim are a minority facing much opposition from the rest of the country, this doesn't force them to unite. The charedi Gedolim themselves disagree with each other about many things, because Torah itself does not generally present absolutely clear guidance on issues. And there is endless disagreement among charedim about whose Daas Torah to follow. (The fighting between Rav Shmuel Auerbach's camp and Rav Steinman's camp even led to violence, as did the fight in Ponovezh Yeshiva about who should be Rosh Yeshiva. Everyone involved was following Daas Torah.) 

And when it comes to Covid, there is likewise enormous differences of opinion among "Daas Torah" as to what the correct response should be. There's Gedolim such as Rav Gershon Edelstein at one end of the spectrum, who largely believes in taking precautions, and then there's the Chassidic Rebbes, many of which do not believe in taking any precautions, and then there's the House of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, which seems to issue conflicting edicts depending on who's motivating Yanky at any given moment.

Even weirder is that the book acknowledges this reality. It speaks about how its goal is "bridging the gaps that have formed between communities" and how we "davven for the day when there will be no place for disagreements anymore." So why on earth does it present a fictitious scenario in which everyone follows Daas Torah, and pretend that it's that which would change everything and bring unity? How would that suddenly cause all the Gedolim to agree with each other? The whole premise of the book is bizarre.

Still, it's enlightening. It reveals a belief/ misdirection that problems are a result of everyone except the charedim. "If only everyone was charedi, then our problems would be solved!"

And this is just the back cover. When you get to the content of the book, things get much, much stranger and extremely disturbing. Stay tuned...

 

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35 comments:

  1. "One thing is clear: If we had the zechus to have a world run according to da’as Torah, there would be no disagreements. We all would behave the same way, truly united as one!"

    In essence this has been the challenge that Judaism has failed to rise up to for millenia. It is a metaphysical carrot & stick scenario.

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    Replies
    1. What is the challenge that Judaism was never able to meet?

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    2. Going to avoid my question completely?

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  2. There is a "Committee For The Supervision of Reading Material" now? Whatever happened until waiting for books to become somewhat popular and then banning them?

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  3. I'm just here for the stupid comments

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    Replies
    1. Always happy to oblige in that regard

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  4. Where can I order my first copy!

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  5. Let me guess...in this hypothetical world, women don't exist.

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    Replies
    1. No, they are just vessels to hold the sperm and egg to make babies. That is their lot in life.

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    2. Actually, there is one lady. See the rabbi's next post.

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    3. Not even charedi Jews think that way about women.

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  6. “We also daven and plead before Hakadosh Baruch Hu that it should pass — because davening will help more than anything.” Better than vaccines ? What evidence is there that Davening does anything to alter nature ? ACJA

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  7. Mayan, did you enjoy controversial topics before the book ban?

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  8. Even in the time of the Tannaim everyone didn't act the same. Consider the machloket between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai about widowed co-wives (tzarot Yevamot) which is held up as an ideal way to behave. The didn't behave the same but did behave respectfully toward one another.

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  9. That's very funny. I was scared they would be anti-mask.
    But truth be told, what the author was probably trying to convey was the basic idea that if everyone believed the same thing there would be significantly less fights. It doesn't hinge on whether everyone believes in daas torah, rationalism, or flying spaghetti monsters, there would be more unity. The author's only assumption is that their point of view is the only correct point of view, which is a fallacy found by most people.

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  10. Daas Torah, yep. Rabbi Kanevsky: vote United Torah Judaism and you will not catch COVID-19
    http://actualic.co.il/%D7%92%D7%93%D7%95%D7%9C-%D7%94%D7%93%D7%95%D7%A8-%D7%9E%D7%91%D7%98%D7%99%D7%97-%D7%9E%D7%99-%D7%A9%D7%99%D7%A6%D7%91%D7%99%D7%A2-%D7%9C%D7%99%D7%94%D7%93%D7%95%D7%AA-%D7%94%D7%AA%D7%95%D7%A8/

    Kabbalists: we will blow shofars to fight the pandemic
    https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5691558,00.html

    One Chassidic Rabbi to another: cancel the pandemic
    https://www.kikar.co.il/374118.html

    Very effective and scientifically proven ways to battle the disease, indeed :-)

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  11. We live in the best of all possible worlds. If only we listen to our Rabbis, then it would be so. As for the goyim...well they have no free will of their own and eventually be our slaves, so who cares? Voltaire's Candide makes more and more sense.

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  12. I totally hear and agree with the points you raise, article after article, about the Chareidi community.  But as much as you point out negative aspects of the Chareidi community, there are also  positive aspects to this society and negative aspects of other religious societies.
    As much as I agree with all of your examples about the Chareidi community, I also happen to appreciate a lot of things about Chareidim:  Their chesed/gemachim.  Their outreach to non-frum Jews.  In my day-to-day experiences with individuals from that community (including in my work), I generally have exceptionally positive experiences with them.  On a personal level, I generally find them exceptionally humble and kind.  And hopefully, I will be able to integrate these middot in my own life.  That's part of the reason why I also try to make an effort to daven once in a while in one of their Shtibels in Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet  
    By only focusing on the negative aspects of Chareidi society, as a leader, are you not concerned that you might be bringing out this sort of 'tribal mentality' where everyone looks at themselves in a good eye and everyone else as simply problematic.  It reminds me a little of the news these days.  When I read American news sources, it's obvious that they only support either left-wing or right-wing agendas.  And in doing so, as readers/observers, we are always needing to try to figure out on our own what the real truth is - because we can't trust either side to give the whole picture.  It seems to me that you also might lose credibility as an objective source when you only paint things (ironically) in 'black and white'. 
    Also, it seems to me that by focusing only on the negatives, it might sow additional disdain and division between groups and draw us further away from our ultimate goal as a society.  In building an ideal society, seemingly we'll have to learn to acknowledge and combine the strengths of all aspects of Israeli society, including the Chareidim.  In doing so, we will come closer to building a unified society that is worth of achieving it's ultimate goal.

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    1. Sure. There are positives about the communities - the chessed organizations indeed ARE impressive. But this blog is not a "Chareidi Retrospective." It is a discussion of Rationalist Judaism and thus will highlight differences of opinion between rationalists and those not so. Go find another subgroup of Judaism to highlight, and I'm sure we could talk about them instead, as long as they are behaving non-Rationally. (One also can cynically argue that all the gemachs are necessary BECAUSE the members of the communities are trained to not make enough money to support themselves, but that is a side issue that I wouldn't even bring up...)

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  13. I think you're reading too much into this and getting a little too worked up from a chareidi kids book. At the time when we had a Sanhedrin, there were no disputes (at least ideally). The Sanhendrin votes and that's it. Read and analyze the book through the eyes of a child, not an adult. It's ok to present children with over-simplified ideals.

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    1. Eh, in a world where we are concerned that a child will watch Looney Toons and learn from the sexually harrassing behavior of Pepe Le Pew - who will therefore not be appearing in the Space Jam sequel - we could equally say that we don't want even just choildren to be exposed to such incorrect thinking...

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    2. If there were no disputes, then what exactly were the Sanhedrin making decisions about?

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    3. My point was that the Sanhedrin resolves all disputes and gives a final word (after which there is no longer a dispute)

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  14. At the time when we had a Sanhedrin, there were no disputes (at least ideally). The Sanhendrin votes and that's it
    ========================
    Worthy of its own post - did they vote on specific cases or general rules? how strong was their sense of Stare decisis? What was the role of the sanhedrin of the shevet and which cases went where?
    kt

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    Replies
    1. All good questions. But for the sake of a children's book, I think it's ok to say they were the final word and therefore resolved all disputes

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  15. I got it from a library and read it. At least, attempted to. It is mind numbingly boring. 95% of the 'action' involves cahredi men with suits, hats and beards, although a token female does appear near the end. There is no narrative or story either.

    I imagine it's an excuse to make money or an excuse to fill some boredom in the part of the author.

    Either way, don't waste your time with it

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  16. This book appears to be another in a series of books by this same author and illustrator, if not a deviation on the theme. The previous books attempt to describe how yetzias mitzraim, the purim story etc might have manifested were they to take place in the modern world. The idea is fantastic, even modern orthodox in outlook, but the portrayals in the books very (cringe-worthy) charedi.

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  17. just to be defils advoctae for a momwent... it is possibbe that what the author meant by Daas Torah is actual Daas Torah... meaning the wisdom of the Torah. how we fnd out what that is is where the problem lies.

    I will admit, however, that without her saying that, she implies that Daas torah lies with the Charedi Gedolim that her own segment of Charedim follows.

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    1. The interpretations of Daas Torah have been expressing themselves through the judgements and actions of the various Orthodox sects. They’ve been doing this for better or worse over the many centuries since Orthodoxy was conceived. Today we have Orthodoxy derailing into unfalsifiable rabbit holes. Metzitza B’peh, men refusing to support their families, erasure of women from the public sphere, etc. etc. You are unfortunately finding out what Daas Torah means today. Tomorrow it’s going to be what the Gedolim think it should be and it’s only going to get worse because Daas Torah is rooted in the elevation of ignorance to an exalted stature.

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  18. Spelling is getting corrupted in this thread.

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  19. "We Jews know that a pandemic doesn’t just happen one fine day… It happens because the One Above sent it, and He sent it to wake us up!"

    "What does this mean for us? One thing is clear: If we had the zechus to have a world run according to da’as Torah, there would be no disagreements. We all would behave the same way, truly united as one!"

    So assuming that the first paragraph is correct, what is that wake-up call that Hashem is sending us?

    It is that we don't recognize the blatant falseness of the second paragraph.

    And if a plague cannot shake us out of our delusions, what can?

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  20. Maybe the author refers to a time when haredi Gedolim will acknowledge the superior wisdom of Dati Leumi Rabbonim like Rav Yaakov Ariel and Clal Yisroel will unite behind his very different vision?

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  21. The Torah has a method of dealing with machlokes too. We are used to a culture that is not based on Torah, many of our values are not in consonance with the Torah's view. Personal autonomy and democracy are two that come to mind. They both have value, but are not values.
    If people understood their communal responsibilities, they would know that even when they disagree with the majority, they need to follow them with regards to public issues. They cannot separate from society totally.
    If society would be run according to Torah, top priority would have been given to figuring out how to keep Shuls, Yeshivos and Chadorim open safely. They would try and make safety and learning work together harmoniously. Perhaps 'capsules', perhaps outdoor learning, perhaps granting green passports to those who already had coronavirus and have antibodies (now they could not do that, for fear that people would make corona parties to be able to go out and about).

    If the culture saw that the Torah demands that we be more careful about the health of others, we wouldn't need ridiculous laws like wearing masks in the streets, that contributed to entire groups deciding to ignore the regulations totally. There would be no calling for certain groups to decide suddenly that 'mental health' is also important, and therefore to have packed tishen. They would have worked immediately on a solution for the emotional wellbeing of those locked up.

    The lack of serious dedication to Torah is certainly a reason for the unfortunate outcome that we saw.

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    1. I hesitantly agree with you though I have my own version of this. You say "figuring out how to keep shuls...open" - then that is the nugget missing from what really happened - the chareidi world (yes yes with exceptions) was not interested in "figuring out" how to do it safely. You make some suggestions - those could have been a starting point for discussion.

      I don't know what it means to say that if we were aware that "Torah demands that we are more careful about the health of others" then things would be better, when in this case, simply being next to someone and talking normally was UNHEALTHY. But I'll grant you that wearing a mask outdoors is kinda silly unless you are near someone or shouting or singing, when your saliva gets propelled farther!

      So instead of trying to come up with safe yeshiva plans, we got arguments. Instead of safe wedding plans, we got active ignoring. Instead of coming up with masks that said Shivisi Hashem L'negdi Samid or Shmiras HaLashon 2020 or I heart Bobov, we got ridicule.

      The lack of serious dedication to ACTUALLY UNDERSTANDING ATTITUDES THAT SHOULD COME OUT OF Torah is certainly a reason for the unfortunate outcome.

      Delete
    2. I think we are saying the same thing.
      If they thought the government got it wrong, fine. But come with your own ideas then.
      There were methods of Tefilla Betzibbur that were possible. If people could be trusted to follow them, and not to ignore other regulations when Tefilla Betzibbur was not the issue. But a society that understood that open Shuls does not mean that the illness is nothing, rather that Tefilla Betzibur is really really important, wouldn't segue from open Shuls to normal socializing.
      It is when people fool themselves that they care about Tefilla Betzibbur when they really just don't want to follow the rules, that one leads to another.

      The 'Just Imagine' series is about imagining life the way it is supposed to be lived, only according to Torah and nothing else. Not Western values and not Eastern values. Not Republica, Democrat, right wing, left wing, capitalist, socialist or communist. Just Torah values.

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