Thursday, August 05, 2010

From Female Cantors to Tznius Police

I’m sorry. Call me an anti- Semite if you will. But I am opposed to extremes. Whether they emanate from the left or they emanate from the right. I recently expressed my dismay at the innovation of female cantors in an Orthodox Riverdale Shul.

But way on the other side of the religious spectrum there is another innovation although it has been around a bit longer than female cantors. I speak of the Tznius police that hold sway in the extremist sectors of Israel. Just as I don’t believe that female cantors is what God wants of his people – I don’t believe that what is described in a Ha’artez article is what God had in mind for his people either.

I know – I know. I will no doubt be accused of claiming to have a direct line to God with that statement – and of course I don’t. How dare I say that this is not what God wants? How do I know? Well I don’t… know! But it is what I believe.

Demanding the kind of lifestyle Rabbi Mordechai Blau does can only cause harm to those who live it. The Frum world has so little available for recreational and entertainment purposes. Why prohibit what is clearly permissible and even inspiring like a concert of religious music?

This is the extreme of extremes. Are the Tznius concerns there really what this is about? I contend that what my Charedi rabbinic friend told me about this community’s obsession with sex is true. Rabbi Blau and his ‘agents’ must be obsessed with sex. That is the only explanation of behavior that seeks to photograph what they considers immoral:

Everyone had heard about the rabbinical ban on joint performances by Fried and Yaakov Shwekey, who filled the enormous Caesarea amphitheater on Sunday and Monday. They had heard about the threats by Rabbi Mordechai Blau of the ultra-Orthodox group Guardians of Sanctity and Education to send its agents to the concert armed with cameras, and see to it that attendees within the ultra-Orthodox world would be punished severely.

The question is who is going to ‘severely punish’ the picture takers? Are they not being immoral (according to their own standards) by leering at those mixed crowds and taking immoral pictures? What other kinds of immorality do they seek to photograph? I’m sure they are looking for the worst offenders. And when they catch them - they are going to be clicking away just like the photographers at Playboy! But Rabbi Blau brags about those pictures:

"We have the photos in our possession. Here and there are Haredim in lovely pictures, with a woman to their right and one on their left. And then they will come and ask why their children are not accepted into particular schools."

The article goes on to tell us what R’ Elyashiv has recently done:

A letter from Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (was sent) to yeshiva principals, in which he praised them for erecting barriers against "the dangers lurking at home and outside."

I doubt that he meant to endorse what Rabbi Blau does. But who really knows? That letter will certainly be used by people like Rabbi Blau to imply support.

And then – out of left field there is this comment from R’ Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz:

"Walking down the street with a kippa and a jacket on your arm is not the way of the Torah observant."

This either has to be out of context or it is simply untrue. I can’t believe that any Rav of stature made this kind of comment. What could possibly be wrong with not wearing a jacket on a hot day in Israel? What kind of world do these rabbinic leaders want the Jewish people to live in? How in Heaven’s name is that not Tznius?

But what’s worse is forbidding attendance at Yaakov Shwekey and Avrahm Fried concerts and enforcing it with threats of ‘severe punishment’. That is not Judaism. Not admitting into their schools - children of those who attended these concerts is not Judaism. These extreme measures of enforcement are suggestive of the way Islamic fundamentalists treat their people and enforce Sharia law. Not to their extent but it is certainly in their spirit. What kind of community tolerates this?

According to Blau, "We must place stop signs in front of the public in a big way. We aren't here to jail anyone. We aren't putting policemen on every corner. The public understands the educational issue, and if they don't they'll get into trouble."

Their public will get into trouble? I hope it’s the reverse. I hope Rabbi Blau and his Tznius police are put out of business. That it is allowed to exist at all is failing of the Charedi leadership in Israel. Instead of coming out with letters of support for erecting barriers they ought to be coming out with letters condemning these Tznius squads.

But perhaps that is happening defacto rather than dejure. Despite Rabbi Blau’s calims of success - there seems to be a rebellion in the ranks:

Among those who came to see the Brooklynite Hasidic star was a sea of whole families, wives, children and all, spread out over the many rows of plastic chairs. Outside the actual venue a swarm of young married couples and single yeshiva students gathered around a wall blocking the concert area, hoping to see their idol for free via slits in the wall.

Families are going to concerts and enjoying them. Perhaps even being religiously inspired by them. Let them be ostracized by their schools. Those schools are not teaching normative Judaism anyway. How can anyone live like this in the 21st century? They will be better off going to schools that not only allow public concerts like this but sponsor them.

Are Charedi rabbinic leaders so certain that extreme separation of the sexes helps rather than hurts them? In my view they are making the fruit so forbidden and thereby so tempting that when it is inevitably tasted by some from their world - outside their immediate environment - there will be no internal defenses built up and there will be no return.