I am a huge fan of Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. I rarely disagree with him. The former editor of Tradition Magazine and vice president of the RCA who led a shul in Atlanta, Georgia, is a gifted speaker and is one of the most talented and fair-minded writers on the Orthodox scene I have ever read. His educational history speaks to his broadminded approach to issues of the day. He attended Yeshivas Haim Belrin and Ner Israel where he received smicha (certification as a rabbi) and then went on to get his bachelors and masters degrees from Johns Hopkins and a doctorate in religion from Emory University.
One of his greatest achievements was taking a pulpit in a shul where only two out of 40 families were Shomer Shabbos and which had no mechitza (barrier between men and women for prayer). A couple of years after he became the rabbi there, he managed to install one. His courage in putting his job on the line after the mechitza was removed – insisting that he would not continue as their Rabbi if it were not re-installed has made him a hero of mine… It should have served as an example to many traditional rabbis who took non-mechitza shuls. While I cannot judge them as a whole, I think more than a few simply did not have the courage to do what Rabbi Feldman did. I have to believe that at least in some cases they could have done so without losing their jobs. But I digress.
Rabbi Feldman (who is the brother of R’ Aharon Feldman, Rosh Hayeshiva of Ner Israel) has written a critical article in last week’s Mishpacha Magazine about media bias against Haredim in Israel. His focus was on their reportage of Haredim ignoring the solemnity of Yom HaShoah – Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day.
There is hardly a family in Israel that has not lost a relative in the Holocaust. It is a solemn day in Israel. There are no picnics or barbecues on that day. There are instead many events that deal with the pain of loss. One of the things they do on that day is turn on a siren. Most of entire country stops at that moment. People driving their cars stop many get out and stand in silences while the siren sounds as a sign of respect for the dead.
While there is some criticism from the right about the “Jewishness” of this custom, there ought not be nay question about what to do during that time. Nor should there be any question about whether to join in the day’s solemnity by not holding any ‘fun’ parties or picnics.
Rabbi Feldman is very clear in his condemnation of the Haredim who ignore this day in spite! – having picnics and barbecues in the park while the rest of the country mourns. Whatever their complaints about the government or when and how such days are observed, the fact that some Haredim are so callous that they treat it like the fourth of July is like spitting at the survivors and their families.
Rabbi Feldman’s problem is that the same media that rightly objects to the way some Haredim behave on this day, does little to report on the reverse when it happens:
[D]o the ever-vigilant secular watchdogs get into similar high dudgeon when non-religious Israelis display their own brand of insensitivity toward sacred religious days? On Tisha B’Av, the historic day of national Jewish mourning for the sacking o Jerusalem and the Holy Temples, do the media scour the countryside in search of Israelis who carry on normally: shopping, going on outings, attending pork-serving restaurants and pubs? …And on Rosh Hashanah, when millions of Jews are in synagogue returning to God and praying for a good year for everyone, is there editorial indignation at those secular Israelis who spend the day at the beach, or fly off to the garden spots of Europe?
I do not see this as the same thing at all. As a matter of fact, Rabbi Feldman answers his own question?
Granted, such people are a tiny minority who don’t know any better, and the vast majority of Israelis do honor the High Holidays.
But then he hedges:
But then again, the [H]areidi disrespecters of Yom HaShoah were also a tiny minority — which did not prevent bitter condemnation of all [H]areidim.
He goes on to explain why such people exist. I agree that it is in part the fault of the secular education system which is woefully lacking if – as he says – the typical teenager thinks that Moshe Rabbenu and Moshe ben Maimon (the Rambam) are one and the same person.
Where I part company with Rabbi Feldman here is that a religious Jew should have compassion for fellow human beings. They know about the Holocaust. They are not disrespecting an ancient tradition that they have little if any knowledge of. Ignorance may not be an excuse for secular Jews to ignore Tisha B’Av. But the willful indifference – which this tiny minority of Haredim do when they have picnics on days where the rest of the country mourns is much worse. They are salting fresh wounds.
And just like Rabbi Feldman can justifiably lay some of the blame for secular ignorance about Tisha B’Av or Yom Kipur at the door of the secular educational system, so too should he put the blame for those Haredim whose indifference to the suffering of people who lost loved ones in the Holocaust at the door of Haredi education.
In fact I suggest that the willful and constant condemnations of Israel’s founders and leaders does far more damage to the fabric of Judaism than the absence of religious education in the secular educational system. Not knowing something at least leaves you with a Tabula Raza – a blank slate. A blank slate can learn in unbiased ways. But when one is indoctrinated with hatred – it is much more difficult to unlearn that hatred and becomes sensitive to the feelings of those you hate.
Yes, I know that hate goes both ways. But hate – breeds hate. Besides, the last election in Israel shows very clearly that secular Jews do not really hate religious Jews. The record number of kipa-wearing Jews in the Knesset surely shows that.
I think if Rabbi Feldman would step back; look at two communities objectively and see what I see, he will have a change of heart.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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