Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Right to be Called a Gadol

Is if to reinforce my views that true Gedolim espouse their views regardless of the consequences to their reputations, Israeli Gadol Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman has once again shown the world his true mettle. His support for two controversial Israeli innovations that are opposed by most other mainstream Charedim has again come into focus.

Rav Shteinman supports the Tal law. This law allows Yeshiva students who upon reaching age 22 are given an option to fulfill their required military obligations by either joining the army for brief peirod (four months) or volunteering for civilian service for a year. Army service is a requirement before entering the workforce. He also supports Nachal Charedi which is a military unit designed specifically for Charedim so they can do army serve in an atmosphere conducive to their religious practices, beliefs, and customs.

As I said both of these things are generally opposed by mainstream Charedi leaders. In some quarters this kind of opposition is followed by action. This is what happened to Rav Elyashiv a few years ago when he ruled against conventional Charedi wisdom and permitted buried corpses to be removed from a grave site discovered during a construction project. A group of zealous Charedi students later pummeled him with rotten tomatoes for that as he was walking in the street.

Although one can certainly not gauge the mainstream by what a few extremists from Neturei Karta says or does, it is till noteworthy to see just how far some people will go to make their point. This past Tisha B'Av as a program featuring Rav Shteinman was being broadcast in Williamsburg live from Israel they held a protest against him where they uttered the words Yemach Shemo after his name.

Yemach Shemo means ‘may his name be erased’. Stemming for the Torah’s command to erase the memory of Amalek (Devorim 25:19) that appellation is usually reserved for some of the greatest anti Semitic villains in history. People like Hitler.

Needless to say putting R’ Shteinman in the same category as Hitler is so beyond disgusting and outrageous that it makes whatever point they tried to make (which presumably was that joining the Israeli army prevents the arrival of Moshiach) nonexistent by comparison. But that doesn’t mean that the more mainstream anti Zionists don’t agree with their sentiments about the State.

Virtually all of Satmar feel exactly the same way about Israel as does the Neturei Karta extremists. The only difference being that they would never say anything like that against a Gadol Like R’ Shteinman – even while condemning his views. Nor - I presume - would they ever organize a protest like that. I’m sure they would strongly condemn what these members of Neturei Karta did and said!

Rav Shteinman knows how Satmar feels. He also knows how other Charedi Gedolim feel - including Rav Elyashiv, if I understand correctly. They oppose the Tal Law and Nachal Charedi. But Rav Shteinman is not afraid of being called a ‘fake Gadol’. He is not worried that someone will say Yemach Shemo after his name. He even realizes – I’m sure – that some Charedi zealots may even physically attack him for his views.

Rav Shteinman doesn’t care. His only concern is Emes. He tells it like it is! This is not to say that I agree with everything he says – although in this case I do. But one thing is certain. Only a person who has the courage to stand up for what he believes despite personal consequences has a right to be called a Gadol.