Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Illustrative Anecdote

There is an interview with Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkopf in a recent Jewish Press that was republished at this morning. It reinforces the fact that he is one of my heroes. I truly believe that his Hashkafos are the Emes L’Amito – the deep truth of Torah Judaism.

I have been a fan of his ever since I read his biographies of HaRav Dov (Bernard) Revel, the founding president of Yeshiva College and that of HaRav Eliezer Silver, a unique American Gadol with few peers. Both books were very inspiring and told a story of what greatness in Torah should really be. But my admiration has increased many times over after reading transcripts of some of his Hashkafa Shiurim.

One of the things I found fascinating in that interview is an anecdote he mentioned about Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik – one of the Gedolei HaDor of the last generation. The Rav was Rabbi Rakeffet’s Rebbe for four years and he remained very close with him afterward.

His description of the Rav’s behavior is counter intuitive of what a Gadol’s behavior should be like. That is because in the most populous portion of Orthodox Jewry – the right wing of the Yeshiva world - we have had a sea change in Hashkafic attitudes about American culture. Painting all of it as negative.

The following really brings home the message of what our attitude should be.

The Rav used to come in from Boston Tuesday morning, said shiur at 1:00 in the afternoon, and then again at 10:00 Wednesday morning. One year he couldn’t come in Tuesday because of a wedding in Boston, so he came in Wednesday. After he finished shiur on Wednesday, he looked at his watch and said, “Tomorrow, we’ll say the shiur at 9:00, will you be here?” I said, “Rebbe, we’ll be there, but why so early?”

So the Rav looked at me: “Arnold, don’t you understand? Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. We have Thanksgiving dinner with my sister, and I promised my wife we’ll be there at 2:00. So I have to catch the 12:00 plane.”

The Rav was not born in America. He already had his PhD before he immigrated. And yet he felt not only that one may celebrate Thanksgiving at a family meal, he made sure he would attend it himself – altering the Yeshiva’s Shiur schedule to do so!

Can anyone imagine a Gadol doing this today?! The attitude today is more like the following: Thanksgiving? Feh! It’s a Goyishe holiday and has nothing to do with us! How dare any true Ben Torah even mention the holiday?!

It’s true that Rav Moshe Feinstein has a different attitude than the Rav. Although he permitted Thanksgiving Day festive meals with ones family he nevertheless called the practice a Mihag Garua – a bad custom (for Jews).

It’s not that I don’t respect Rav Moshe’s attitude. I do. Elu V’Elu.

But it’s that Rav Moshe’s negative attitude has been not only adopted by the right wing it has been surpassed and extended into derision of all practices that celebrate America. This contributes to the kind of thinking that allows certain people to take liberties with the law in financial matters.

When one is indoctrinated to deride anything American - how can they develop a healthy respect for the law of the land?

The ‘logic’ goes something like this:

America equals Goyishe values. Goyishe values are all bad. Why bother treating Goyim like human beings? And why not take advantage of the system even illegally?! Like cheating the government via tax fraud or the like - if one can get away with it!

Is this the only reason people will commit fraud? No there are many other factors that go into it. But it doesn’t help matters when Mechanchim harangue against things American at every opportunity.

In light of the avalanche of Chilul HaShems with respect to financial fraud by so many ‘ religious’ Jews - I definitely think this relatively recent attack against American culture by Charedi Mechanchim is a key factor that contributes mightily to the cause of the problem.

Without a 180 degree change in attitude I’m afraid that the Mussar currently being given by the right wing rabbinic leaders - eschewing jealousy and greed in an attempt to stem the tide of this behavior - will hardly make a dent in stemming it. Sad to say that as a result - we can expect much more of the same in the future.