Friday, June 10, 2011

Rabbis who Imbibe in Secular Culture

There is an interesting debate going on in a closed e-mail list to which I belong that merits comment. The question debated is whether one can take seriously a Rav who enjoys watching a football game. It seems that in certain circles this mere fact that one enjoys a football game is reason enough to disqualify or discount his Halachic opinions.

I have to wonder in which segment of Orthodoxy such a mentality exists. I have to believe that it exists only in the most isolated segments.

Is every Rav who was raised in a home where such activity was commonplace and enjoyed seen as Hashkaficly flawed? That should certainly not be the case. In fact I do not see doing any activity that is Halachicly permissible as a form of R&R as anything but a Mitzvah (or at least a Hechsher Mitzvah - meaning it better prepares one for performing the Mitzvos when one is relaxed and rehabilitated).

The argument seems to be based more on the bias inherent in one specific type of community over any other.

I would ask whether those who live in that world feel that if a Rav listens to even classical music that he should not be taken seriously?

If the answer is yes, then eliminated are many Gedolim who enjoyed listening to classical music. If the answer is no then consider the following.

What is the difference between listening to classical music and listening to Rock and Roll? The answer is that there is no difference at all - other than taste - between the lyrics of a Lennon-McCartney song and the lyrics of an opera written by Giacomo Puccini. That Rock and Roll is often about romance between a man and a woman is in fact true about opera as well. Operas are replete with romantic lyrics.

This is from a paragraph which is part of an online synopsis of La Boheme:

Mimì realizes she has dropped her key, and as the two search for it, both candles are blown out. In the moonlight the poet takes the girl's shivering hand, telling her his dreams. She then recounts her solitary life, embroidering flowers and waiting for spring. Drawn to each other, Mimì and Rodolfo leave for the café.

Pretty risqué if you ask me. And yet we know that Gedolei Olam listened to Opera. How are those lyrics any worse Hashkafically than Lennon-McCartney's, 'She loves you, yeah yeah yeah...'?

This line of reasoning should apply to any activity that is inherently permissible in Jewish law and enjoyable. One should not be rejected because of the culture one was raised in.

It is rather well known that Rav Yitzchak Hutner had an extensive collection of opera records. That he didn't listen to Rock and Roll is because he didn't grow up in the US and had no understanding or appreciation for it. He probably saw it as a 'jungle music'. But he DID listen to Opera.

I have heard younger generations of Talmidei Chachamim who were raised here and are Masmidim in Charedi Yeshivos hum Beatles tunes while they are learning in the Beis HaMedrash.

One very Charedi Mechanech I knew (he passed away a few years ago from cancer) who had a long white beard and wore a Kapoteh every day confided in me that when he took long drives to visit his parents in another city and was alone in his car for many hours he would sometimes listen to a Beatles tape (He told me this many years ago before the advent of CDs or MP3s)

(Of course some of R&R is completely disgusting by any standards but the point is one cannot make blanket statements about it.)

One Charedi Rav and Posek I know who is very popular in Chicago and a former Avreich in Lakewood and who is very close with his very Charedi Rosh Hayeshiva (Pre-Lakewood) told me he loves watching old 3 Stooges movies.

To say that this rabbi cannot be taken seriously because he enjoys 'The 3 Stooges' for relaxation is a reflection of a Hashkafa that is completely shorn off from the rest of the world... a society that so rejects modernity that it has no clue what the outside world is really like. It sees evil behind every jot and tittle of secular culture. Its insularity is so complete that it is isolated from the rest of the civilized world.

Even those who go out into the secular workplace completely ignore it when there and close their eyes to all but that which is absolutely necessary for their businesses or jobs.(Except for those who don’t and we know what 'going back to the farm after they see Paris' is all about. But that is another conversation.)

When there is such complete isolation nothing good can come of it.

If one wants to see the kind of person that kind of isolation produces - go to New Square. Yes the people there have many enviable traits. But they are all for naught. The excruciating pain of being burned over 50% of a fellow Chasid’s body inflicted by someone who went too far in using intimidation tactics of enforced compliance with their community standards - negates all of their enviable traits!

They lack any understanding of the how the civilized world works. To them intimidation is a perfectly fine way of achieving compliance from the residents. That everyone living in New Square abhors what happened there only means that the intimidation tactics used by one of them went way too far.

It is only this mentality that does not take seriously any Rav that watches TV. This is the same mentality that thinks that it is Assur to ever see a photo of a woman even if she is wearing a Burka! This is the mentality that thinks that every single image on the internet is completely pornographic.

In my view they would have been far better off listening to a Rav who watches TV or listens to Rock and Roll then to a Rav who inherited his position and tolerates the intimidation tactics used by his Kannoim to enforce his city’s specialized standards. I cannot emphasize this enough.