Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Good Times? Or Bad?

In times of trouble our rabbinic leaders tend to look inward. The idea is that we as a people are doing something wrong in the eyes of God. There is something lacking in how we act as a people that is the cause of our malaise - and it has to be repaired.

I have no quarrel with this view. It is an age old tradition that is based on our ongoing search to improve ourselves and elevate holiness. My only quarrel is with that which is focused upon. Yes – we need to fix those things that are wrong. The question always becomes what exactly is it that needs fixing the most? What are our priorities and how much effort is being put into correcting those wrongs?

That’s where I tend to at times part company with some of our rabbinic leaders. There is always a tendency on the part of some of them to focus on Godly issues of ritual observance – the Bein Adam L’Makom when it is the social issues – the Bein Adam L’Chavero - that are often the source of a problem. Not that I’m suggesting that there isn’t room for improvement in Bein Adam L’Makom issues. There is always room for improvement there. But for me it is a question of what the main focus should be.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald in his weekly Torah message does a good job of choosing several issues of importance - issues that I deal with here on a regular and frequent basis. Here is an excerpt:

Are we a generation that is always blaming G-d, and has not taken upon itself the responsibility to address even the most basic issues that face our community? Have we done enough to guarantee a viable Jewish education for every young Jew? Have we sufficiently supported the poor, the widows, the orphans, the agunot who are unable to obtain divorces from their recalcitrant husbands? Have we properly addressed the issue of child abuse in our homes and in our schools?

But there is one sentence in his message that bother's me:

Given the sad state of affairs of the Jewish people today, perhaps we should be asking ourselves, why the constant agony and persecution that our people experience?

Is our time so sad? Unfortunately - in my view - this sentence reflects the ‘glass half empty’ attitude.

I think we ought to take a moment and take stock of what we have today in our world - and what we don’t. We are not livening in terrible times. We are living in the best of times.

Yes - there are problems. I spend a good portion of my blogging time dealing with those I consider important. But how about a sense of proportion? How about a sense of history? Compare what we have now to any period in history, no matter how good – including the so called ‘Golden Age’ in Spain! Look how good we have it now compared to even a mere sixty or so years ago!

We live in an unprecedented time of prosperity and freedom for the Jewish people. I say this knowing full well that many religious Jews are struggling because of the extra financial burdens placed upon them (mostly having to do with the increasingly impossible costs of Jewish education). And then there is the added impact of current economic crisis.

Let us leave out the truly serious problems that effect some of us for a moment (like child sex abuse). Let us for a moment look at the way the average American or even Israeli Jew lives his life compared to the lives of any generation after the destruction of Bayis Sheni - the second Temple - the beginning of our current 2000 year old exile.

The average Jew - even if they are of modest of means – has:

- a roof over his head
- food on his table
- heat
- electricity
- free in home entertainment (if he opts to own a TV or radio)
- relatively inexpensive public transportation to just about anywhere in his city
- access to the best health care in the history of the world
- and perhaps most importantly the freedom to educate his children as he sees fit without interference from the government.

I’m sure there are many other advantages. These are just a few that come to mind. In short the average Jew today lives a lifestyle which is far superior to that of the average Jew of any previous generation.

Never in the 2000 years of Jewish exile have the Jewish people been so respected, honored, and even admired by so many non Jews. (Yes, I know about all the hate sites on the web - but they are a very vocal and virulent minority with a message that is abhorrent to the vast majority of Americans.)

One need only look at the reaction to the most recent hate crime at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. That was the lead story on the broadcast news for several nights in a row!

Look also at the huge numbers of Christians who are religious conservatives (over 65 million if I understand correctly) that are more pro-Israel than many Jews! Prior to a couple of years ago when it actually happened - did anyone in a million years ever think they would see an Evangelical preacher with an incredibly large following get up in a Jewish organization (AIPAC) and get wildly approving applause during and after his address? - perhaps greater applause than any Jewish speaker ever got?

And then there is yesterday’s extraordinarily pro-Israel address to the senate by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey responding to the President’s speech in Cairo. And he is neither Jewish nor an Evangelical. And he is a Democrat to boot - a member of the President's own party!

I therefore think that we ought to stop whining. We ought to instead express Hakaras HaTov – gratitude to God for the privilege of living in 21'st century America or Israel - where our ‘quality of life’ is at an unprecedented historical high.

As for the difficult problems - anyone who reads this blog knows how strongly I feel about them. We need to get to work and fix them. But please please please! - lets stop whining about how bad we have it!