Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Achdus - A Turn for the Worse

Rabbi David Stav - photo credit: Tablet
What is happening to my people? I am not giving up hope. But I must admit that I am discouraged by the level of animosity we observant Jews have descended into - towards each other.

We were making some progress. At least as far as some semblance of Achdus in Orthodoxy is concerned. Charedim and Centrist Jews as represented by organizations like Agudah and the RCA have found common ground on many issues and there seems to have been a meeting of the minds on issues that in the past were divisive. Not that the two organizations agreed with each other on everything. But I detected a far more collegial relationship between us.

But the tide has turned and the hateful rhetoric now being heard is disturbing. And it seems mostly to be coming from the right.

I don’t know much about Rabbi Stav other than what is available in a short bio. He is a Religious Zionist graduate of Mekaz HaRav, a Hesder Rosh Yeshiva, and the head of Tzohar.

Last week Rav Ovadia Yosef called Rabbi Stav, who is in the running for Chief Rabbi of Israel, a Rasha (evil man) and a danger to Judaism. (And from Ynet: …appointing him to the Chief Rabbinate was like bringing idolatry into the Temple.)

That generated the predictable.

Form the Jerusalem Post:
Rabbi David Stav was subject to physical and verbal intimidation Sunday night while attending the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy places.
Stav said that during the proceedings, several youths shoved him and attempted to hit him and pour water on him.

As he left the wedding, the youths also called him “an evil man” and “sheigetz,” a derogatory Yiddish term for a non-Jewish male.
The RCA responded to all this with a statement (translated from Hebrew in Tablet) directed to Rabbi Stav which in part said the following:
We trembled when we heard the terrible words which Rabbi Ovadia Yosef expressed regarding you this past Saturday night, and also of the events in Bnei Brak at the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Rabinowitz. Is this Torah and its students? “Woe to this one who learned Torah, woe to his father who taught him Torah, woe to his rebbe who taught him Torah. Such a person who learned Torah, see how crooked his deeds are, and see how ugly his ways are.”
Rabbi Aryeh Deri, who heads Rabbi Yosef’s Sephardi political party, Shas, said that Rabbi Yosef has nothing personal against Rabbi Stav. He just meant that if he were elected Chief Rabbi - his controversial non mainstream Psak on various issues would be harmful to the Jewish people.

I don’t know… it’s kind of hard to fit that meaning into Rav Yosef’s words. But even if I were to accept these apologetics to be true, it does not explain all the acrimony against other observant Jews, like Rabbis Dov Lipman and Shai Peron (or Rabbis Natan Slifkin and Nosson Kamenetsky). Nor does it explain the kind of rhetoric one hears from the right about – even religious Jews – who support the idea of making the draft laws in Israel fairer; and requiring Charedi schools to have a core secular curriculum. It seems the fear generated by this phenomenon has caused us - two observant and idealistic factions - to be a people apart… with no possible avenue for rapprochement.  

The wedge is getting deeper… and if it continues along these lines, what will Judaism look like in the future? Demographics are in favor of Charedim. Even if Centrists can maintain a community of their own, they will eventually be marginalized by the sheer enormity of right.

The way things seem to be going - Centrists will be seen by them as the latest version of Conservative Judaism. It won’t even surprise me if Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch will eventually be seen in the same way as Moses Mendelsohn! That the Hirschean Torah Im Derech Eretz approach is considered a B’Dieved by Charedim - means that the process of Rav Hirsch’s de-legitimization has already begun.

What kind of people will this growing demographic be? Aside from a nation filled with poverty, it seems to already be spawning violent reactionaries. Although Charedi rabbinic leaders call them hooligans - not representative of real Charedim – it is clear that the motives of these ‘hooligans’ are generated by the kind of rhetoric heard from Rav Yosef about Rav Stav.

And this is just the latest in a long line of such rhetoric from the right… and the youthful (and occasionally not so youthful) expressions of violence in the name of their cause. Whenever and where ever this kind of violence happens, Charedi leaders, politicians, and journalists say that it does not represent them. That the perpetrators are just a bunch of juvenile delinquents clothed in the trappings of ultra-Orthodoxy.

Sorry, I don’t buy that. These are people who are simply taking the words of their leaders to the next level. They may be few in number relative to the whole. But they are not delinquent. They are zealots for their cause.  They are located all over Israel and the United States in places like Meah Shearim, Bnei Brak, Ramat Bet Shemesh, Williamsburg, and New Square. And they are all acting in the name of their particular Daas Torah. A Daas Torah whose rhetoric (like Rav Yosef’s words about Rav Stav) fuels their violence.

This morning I was ‘treated’ by CBS News to the spectacle of Barbra Streisand commenting on this whole scene. She is in Israel on a concert tour and performed yesterday at a celebration for Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday. She complained about what she read in the media regarding violent religious activism on women’s rights issues. Specifically mentioning  sex segregated (Mehadrin) buses, the Women of the Wall (WoW), and public performances by female singers. This story was accompanied by visuals of youthful Charedim at the first ‘peaceful’ protest of WoW doing their best to look like a bunch of screaming radicals bent on doing innocent people harm – just because they disagreed with them.

That she is not religious and has intermarried is not the point. Nor is the point whether one supports or opposes these issues. The point is that she is representative of what the world sees. They see people trying to assert their religious rights peacefully - being treated by Orthodox Jews the way the Taliban treats infidels.  Those images are not that different from the images of Islamic fundamentalists rioting because somebody dishonored the their Prophet Mohamed.

Is this our future? Will we become the Jewish version of the Taliban? These are the images they now see with a Jewish American icon condemning it. The more strident the Charedi leaders become in promoting their ideals while vilifying anyone in opposition, the more likely things like this will increase.  And as their demographic grows, so too will the image of Judaism become more like the image of the Taliban.

I sure hope I’m wrong.