Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Rabbis of Anatevka

There is a scene in the play Fiddler on the Roof that has always bothered me. It is a scene replayed countless times in various incarnations in theaters or in film.

The scene I am talking about is where a saintly rabbinic leader finally makes his appearance on the stage or screen. He is almost always portrayed as an ignorant old fool – probably suffering from dementia. And yet the entire population of Anatevka (Sholom Aleichem’s fictional Shtet’l) reveres him as though he was the pope. Making not only the rabbi look like a fool but the entire town of religious Jews look like fools!

It always bothered me because it was a terrible lie. It is a distortion of the reality of who and what rabbis were. When I saw a religious leader, I did not see that stupid idiot portrayed on the stage or screen. I saw a Rav Moshe and a Rav Shlomo Zalman, a Rav Yoshe Ber and a Rav Ahron, a Rav Yaakov and a Rav Pam. They were nothing like this portrayal, which is anti religious - bordering on anti Semitic.

The Sholom Aleichems of the world poked fun of our leadership – ridiculing sage individuals whose wisdom has guided us throughout Jewish history. It truly upset me. These people were not fools. They were great men! Real leaders. Brilliant men of high moral character. Men of distinction. Role models whose words reverberate to this day!

But… what can one expect from a Maskil who rejected Halachic Judaism. Sholom Aleichem - the pen name of a brilliant storyteller and writer - was not a religious Jew. He probably had an agenda with respect to religious Jews - especially their rabbis. He probably thought that rabbinic leaders were indeed ignorant fools married to a dead past. And that the modern world had long since passed them by.

So he treated them that way in his writings. Today the Jews of Broadway and Hollywood - though mostly ignorant of their own Jewish heritage - are not much better and follow suit – treating Sholom Aleichem as though he were a true Jewish historian and modern day Jewish scholar. Hence these negative caricatures of rabbinic leaders. One rarely sees Hollywood portray an Orthodox rabbi as anything but a moron! - an ignorant fool blind to societal progress, married to archaic laws, and living in the past.

But… I can’t help it. This new effort by Rabbis in Israel to ban the internet has all the markings of a Sholom Aleichem play. It feeds right into that stereotype.

From YWN:

Directors and principals of chareidi mosdos from around the Israel are expected to take part in Wednesday’s urgent kinos addressing the threats of the Internet in general, focusing on chareidi websites. The move is prompted by recent stepped-up calls from Gedolei Yisrael Shlita to close chareidi websites, a move that has resulted in the closure of at least two, Chareidim, and Etrog. In addition, employees of other sites have stepped down, including Dovid Rothenberg, the force behind Chadrei Chareidim and others.

The kinos will address the talmidim of families that have Internet in their homes, as well as those in which a parent is employed in a chareidi website or invested in such a project in any way.
While efforts to combat the internet were made in the past be Gedolei Hador Shlita, this time, it seems this time, the response is increasingly evident. The kinos will take place in Talmid Torah Yechavei Daas located at 17 Ohalei Yosef Street in Yerushalayim. At 8:00pm.

Interestingly, according to a Maariv report, the site is expected to follow the others and cease operation due to the increasing pressure from the rabbonim in Eretz Yisrael.

I have to admit, that after reading this - the picture I get of these Israeli rabbis is the one from Fiddler on the Roof. Now I know that is not the case. These men are very learned, many of them huge Talmidei Chachamim or Poskim, and certainly themselves meticulously observant of Halacha. They are in no way fools.

But that they keep doing things like this makes one wonder just how ignorant they are about what is going on around them. They live in a bubble - isolated from the world. They get almost all of their information from others and seem to react as though they were wearing blinders to reality.

They also seem to have lost the respect of their own people. Previous calls banning the internet have met with very limited success - probably observed mostly in the breach. I would be willing to bet that internet use has increased since their first call for a ban. And every time they bring it up, I would be willing to bet that the number of users increases.

What is their solution now? Increased intensity and emphasis on the ban - as though this time it will work.

I think Einstein got it right. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time. In fact what happened here is the opposite. The Charedi websites they ordered closed are not only staying open but have been taken over by a secular Jew. That's because the Charedim who ran it resigned after the latest edict against them.

These rabbis have to know that their call for a ban over the years hasn’t been working. And yet here they are again trying to do the same. So they once again call for a Kinos.

Kinos usually consist of a large gathering of Jews who say a lot of Tehilim and listen to Rabbinic leaders or their spokesman haranguing about the evils of one issue or another. In this case it is the internet – blaming anything bad that happens to them on it - urging their people in no uncertain terms to give it up.

What makes this even worse is that these Israeli rabbis are increasingly living up to the image painted of them by Sholom Aleichem. One wonders if they can ever really hold on to their status as rabbinic leaders if they keep this kind of thing up.