The Fracturing of Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur has always seemed to be a day that unifies the Jewish People. Not only religious Jews, but even many secular Jews fast and attend shul. It is most impressive.
But it isn't always a unifying experience. Seven years ago on erev Yom Kippur, the first posters went up against my books, causing the worst Yom Kippur of my life. Some people were especially horrified that this was done on erev Yom Kippur. Personally, I didn't have such a problem with that. After all, from their perspective, they were saving the Jewish People - why not do that on erev Yom Kippur? True, when one is aware that there are differing views within the Orthodox community, perhaps a little restraint is called for, before taking advantage of Yom Kippur to pursue one's cause. But what can one expect? It is inevitable that people view Judaism, including Yom Kippur, through their own perspective.
A not entirely unrelated event occurred this year on erev Yom Kippur. I received an email, regarding viduy, on the Jem-Sem mailing list, which is sent to alumni (such as my wife) of various girls' charedi seminaries. It was from Rabbi Menachem Nissel - a super-nice person who unfortunately decided to be "mevatel daas" to Rav Moshe Shapiro in the controversy over my work and to condemn the approach of numerous Rishonim and Acharonim as kefirah. The email was about the Chidah, who composed a long lists of sins for which one should confess. In the words of Rabbi Nissel, "Rav Moshe Shternbuch rewrote them in a simplified 'immediately accessible' form. However it is very male-centric (transgressions with women, wasting time when studying Torah etc.) I rewrote it for women with Rav Shternbuchs consent and guidance." He also sent another version by a Rabbi Feigenbaum that was further abridged "for high school girls." Sounds great, I thought. But then I started to read it, and some things caught my attention.
In the Chidah's viduy, one of the confessions is for הִרְהַרְנוּ אַחֲרֵי רַבּוֹתֵינוּ. It's not an easy phrase to translate, but in my view, it has the connotation of thinking negative thoughts about one's rabbis, such as assigning nefarious motivations to them. In Rav Sternbuch's simplified version, this is translated as "We doubted our Rebbeim."
What?! Is is really a sin to doubt one's rebbeim? In some streams of Judaism, such as Hassidic streams, absolutely. But in other streams, there is absolutely nothing wrong in doubting one's rebbe. Rav Chaim of Volozhin writes:
"It is forbidden for a student to accept the words of his teacher when he has difficulties with them. And sometimes, the truth will lie with the student. This is just as a small branch can ignite a larger one." (Ruach Chaim to Avos 1:4)
So here is an example of how the universal viduy of Yom Kippur becomes interpreted in a way as to reflect the attitude of some, but not all, schools of thought. And one can imagine how the sin of "doubting one's rebbeim" is interpreted by a girl who just spent a year in seminary. It's a sin to doubt that you should marry a kollel guy!
With that in mind, let us turn to another one. In the Chidah's viduy, another of the confessions is for דִּבַּרְנוּ זִלְזוּל עַל הָרַבָּנִים רִאשׁוֹנִים וְאַחֲרוֹנִים אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ הַחַיִּים הֵמָּה וַאֲשֶׁר עוֹדָם בַּחַיִּים, וְדָחִינוּ דִּבְרֵיהֶם מִבְּלִי שׂכֶל וּבְלִי מוּסָר וְיִרְאַת ה'. "We spoke disparagingly about the rabbis, Rishonim and Acharonim..." In Rav Sternbuch's brief paraphrase, this is condensed to "We disgraced Rabbis," which is fine. But in Rabbi Nissel's women-friendly version, it has become דִּבַּרְנוּ שֶׁלֹּא בַּכָּבוֹד הָרָאוּי עַל גְּדוֹלֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל "We have spoken about Gedolei Yisrael without proper respect"! And in Rabbi Feigenbaum's version, it has become "I spoke inappropriately about Chazal and Gedolei Yisroel" - omitting all the stages in between!
It is certainly a sin to speak about Gedolei Yisrael without proper respect. But what about respectful disagreement? Is it inappropriate to say that they were wrong about something? I could be reading too much into this, and I apologize if that is the case, but in light of previous incidents, I get the impression that this is likewise something for which people are being asked to atone. And wasn't the Chida's viduy about all Torah scholars over the generations, not "The Gedolim"? Isn't it also a sin to speak disrespectfully about Rishonim and Acharonim (such as by disparaging their views as kefirah or suchlike)?
Finally, there is something new that crops up in Rabbi Nissel's version which I find extremely puzzling: תָּרַמְנוּ מִכַּסְפֵּנוּ לִמְקוֹמוֹת שֶׁאָסוּר לָתֵת "We have donated money to places that it is forbidden to give to." Such as what?
I don't think that Rabbi Nissel or Rabbi Feigenbaum were consciously trying to transform the Chida's viduy into a charedi indoctrination strategy. But this is near-inevitably what happens when people interpret Yom Kippur through their own lens (although I wonder if a Centrist Orthodox rabbi would compose a viduy list with "We avoided denouncing chilul Hashem out of wanting to honor rabbis"). Any non-charedi person who is surprised that their daughter returns from seminary having been "brainwashed" has only themselves to blame. And it isn't enough to complain about it. If centrist Orthodoxy wants to perpetuate itself, it has to more actively work towards producing and supporting its own educators and educational materials.
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I wrote the above on erev Yom Kippur, but I didn't get around to posting anything. So, a little belatedly, I would like to take this opportunity to ask forgiveness for anyone that I have written or spoken about inappropriately. If you a specific grievance, please feel free to write to me at email@example.com. Shanah tovah!