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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘jewish world’

Impurity, Heresy, and Immorality

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Although purity and impurity figure as essential dimensions of Judaism and Jewish law, the truth is that without the Beis HaMikdash we have little connection to the world of tahor and tameh, the pure and impure.

We have ritual washing of hands and we have the mikveh, but essentially we all remain in a state of ritual impurity.

It seems we have found a substitute, though, focusing instead on ideological purity and impurity. In recent years especially, we have seen members of the Orthodox community seeking to identify and root out heresy – whether suspected, imagined, or genuine.

We have seen this in efforts to ban books and label people as standing outside the camp. There has been particular anxiety over the “left” boundary of Orthodoxy. (Interestingly, there has not been a similar worry over heresy on the “right” boundary, despite the fact that some of what passes for basic Yiddishkeit on that end of the spectrum seems contrary to what we find in sources from Pirkei Avos through the Rambam.)

We have seen a similar focus on what we might call genetic purity and impurity, observable in heightened suspicion of and hostility to potential converts and even to people years or decades after their conversion. We have heard increasing talk of the “Jewish neshamah,” as if it is some genetic or otherwise essential aspect of our souls that makes us different from (and, in some unclear sense, “better” than) non-Jews.

The alternative perspective is that the souls of Jews and non-Jews do not differ; rather, Jews have been chosen to bear a special responsibility in this world, to be a “light unto the nations.”

What is most striking, however, is not simply the current concern with ideological heresy and impurity but the increasing passion and panic with which it has been expressed. The language and actions are strong, such as concerted efforts to push rabbis out of the Rabbinical Council of America. And the freedom of the Internet has made the “exposure” of alleged heresy easier; one only has to browse some of the comment threads on Orthodox websites to see the vitriol and unkindness expressed, often anonymously, by so many.

What happens when we step back and take a broader view of the concerns and rhetoric in the Orthodox world? It seems the most excited and passionate voices, among both centrist and right-wing groups, target ideological heresy, as if that were the greatest threat. But might we not say that the greatest threat is ethical impurity?

Why have we not mobilized with a greater or at least similar zeal to root out wrongdoing, to push people out of the Orthodox camp for corruption and criminal activity, for extortion and misuse of funds, for verbal and physical intimidation and violence?

The cynical answer, perhaps, is that we do not see morality as a matter of purity and impurity; that someone who is born Jewish and maintains proper ritual practice but engages in corruption has no lack of purity, whereas someone who is absolutely upright in his or her relationships and business dealings but whose beliefs are on the edge is an impure heretic.

Is there nothing wrong with this picture? Why are crime and corruption not considered a sort of heresy in themselves, a kind of denial of the Torah and its precepts?

Let us consider the reasons for the destruction of the two Temples: the first for the three cardinal sins of murder, sexual immorality, and idol worship; the second for sinas chinam, baseless hatred. Are these matters of ritual purity and impurity? Not really. Maybe one could argue that sexual immorality falls, in part, into such a category. Are they matters of ideological purity and impurity? Well, for idol worship, yes. Are they matters of moral purity and impurity? With the possible exception of idol worship, certainly.

When the prophets railed against the people, did they do so because of incorrect beliefs or because of corruption and immorality?

We lost our Temples largely due to ethical failure. Not heresy, but immorality. And yet today, when we claim to mourn our ongoing exile and the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, how do we direct our passion, our anxiety, our anger?

Ha’aretz Depicts Anti-Israel Groups as Representing America Jewry

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

The uber-left Jew-hating Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s headline today reads: “U.S. Jewish groups call on synagogue to cancel anti-Muslim speaker.”

Wow, Haaretz implies that the anti-Israel groups and boycott-Israel groups “Jewish Voice for Peace,” “Jews for Racial and Economic Justice,” and “Jews Say No!” represent “US Jewish groups.” No, they represent anti-Jewish and anti-Israel groups.

These are vicious anti-Jewish groups bent on destroying the tiny Jewish state. The libel and lies by anti-Jewish Haaretz continue as they label me “anti-Muslim.” Haaretz is defaming and libeling those who expose Islamic Jew-hatred as “anti-Muslim.” Anti-Muslim — as if opposing jihad and the most brutal ideology on the face of the earth, the sharia, is “anti-Muslim.” Obviously Haaretz believes that all Muslims support sharia and jihad, or else they would not use that smear. Yet their assumption is in direct contradiction to the idea that most Muslims are “moderate.”

I am not anti-Muslim or anti-anyone, and this label smears my work in defense of the freedom of speech and equality of rights for all as a campaign against a group of people.

But what do you expect from the newspaper that endorses stone-throwing by “Palestinian” jihadists?

Visit Atlas Shrugs.

Telling it Like it is – Publicly

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

There is a thoughtful and challenging post by Dr. Yoel Finkelman on CrossCurrents that discusses an issue I touched upon in aprevious post. Therein – among other things – I bemoaned the fact that a Torah personality of renown chose to remain anonymous about expressing some very strong feelings he had. He was disappointed and even shocked at how members of his own Charedi world reacted to a Kiddush HaShem done by an Orthodox Boxer.

I don’t know who it is, but I applaud that Rabbi’s concern. However I still question why he chooses to remain anonymous about it. I felt then, as I still do that had he put the power and prestige of his own name behind his feelings instead of asking a prominent writer (Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein) to write about it, the impact would have been much greater.

Dr. Finkelman uses this as a jumping off point to ask why this Torah personality felt he had to hide his identity from the truth. If he truly felt he was espousing a Torah viewpoint, why not come out and say so? What was he afraid of?

Dr. Finkelman provides us with an answer: The infamous Kanoim (religious zealots). We all know about them by now. These are people who ride roughshod on rabbinic personalities and try and manipulate them under the guise of standing up for Torah values. There are consequences when a given Gadol doesn’t listen to them.

I recall an instance where a Torah personality said something similar to Jonathan Rosenblum about another important issue. He was afraid of being called a ‘Fake Gadol’ by stating his opinion on the matter. He therefore chose to not address the problem personally and allowed Jonathan to do it in his stead.

I have said it before and I will say it again. No matter how altruistic one is – if he is afraid to speak the truth out of fear of being attacked, that is not leadership.

Now I am sympathetic to someone that fears the consequences from a zealous group of ‘defenders of the faith’. If someone is not in a position of leadership that is one thing. But if he is, then he is required to stand up and to lead.

Although I do not hide behind an alias, I am not in a position of leadership and do not face the kind of zealotry that these Rabbinic leaders must face. However with a relatively large readership that spans the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy and beyond – I have certainly experienced some of that zealotry. It is not pleasant when it happens. And it affects my family. I almost stopped blogging a while ago because of it. But I feel it is important to speak the truth as I see it and understand it.  Occasionally I have suffered the consequences for that and have been attacked (verbally) on more than one occasion.

Whatever pressures I have felt, multiply that exponentially for a Torah personality of national or international repute. I therefore completely understand when a rabbinic leader fears the repercussions of his words. So even though our situations are similar, they are not comparable.

Perhaps it is easy for me to judge, not being in his shoes. But the truth is that if one is a leader one must rise to the occasion and overcome the fear. If we are to be a people of the highest morals, values, and ethics, it behooves our leaders to be unafraid to teach us what they are… even if it upsets a few zealots.

I would go a step further, if I were in his shoes. I would condemn these Kannaim and put them in their place publicly and de-fang them. They should be identified and told to cease and desist from the overly zealous pressure they put on their leaders. On the pain of excommunication (or something akin to it) by a Beis Din.

All of this begs the question about the actual value of Daas Torah as the Charedi Rabbanim teach it. The fact seems to be that there are issues they believe in which are not publicly addressed. And yet at virtually every Agudah convention at least one speaker, talks about the importance of listening to Daas Torah and hammers away at it.

Daas Torah defines what Agudah is all about. But if their rabbinic leaders cannot express their Daas Torah fully and freely out of fear, what is it really worth anyway? Partial Daas Torah is not Daas Torah. It behooves the membership of the Agudah Moetzes and other rabbinic leaders of prominence to reassess their fears and stand up for their beliefs. And not fear telling the people the word of God as they understand it.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

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