Sunday, December 15, 2013

'Boy, Have We Given Them Ammunition!'

Arik Einstein
Sometimes Rabbi Moshe Grylak disappoints me. And sometimes he inspires me.  His editorial in this week’s Mishpacha Magazine is of the latter variety. It is one of those rare times where this Charedi journalist and I agree almost completely. Even in the one area where I have a quibble – he actually backpedals a bit. More about that later.

He writes of the huge funeral for an Israeli Icon. Not a religious one, but a secular one; a singer by the name of Arik Einstein. (No relation to Albert.) To be honest I never heard of him until he died. Upon his death his name was splashed all over the media. I sort of ‘Ho-Hummed’ it… and went on to the next article.

Obviously I missed something, which Rabbi Grylak made known to me in his editorial. Einstein’s death generated mourning on the part of the secular public that rivaled the kind of mourning religious Jews have when Gedolim die. The number of people that filled the streets during his funeral were reminiscent of the numbers of religious Jews that filled the streets at the funeral of Gedolim like Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and Rav Ovadia Yosef.

One has to wonder what brought all these people out and caused them to mourn at such a level. This, explains Rabbi Grylak, is because of the kind of person Einstein was. He was not the embodiment of moral decay that many of today’s popular singers are and portray in their music. Rabbi Grylak keenly observes the following:
Through his songs, Arik Einstein symbolized for the broad Israeli public a kind of longing for another world, a purer world far removed from the trashy “culture” in which the State of Israel is currently living. A world that perhaps once existed, or perhaps was never more than a yearning for something hidden. His songs reminded them of a longing for good middos, for moral purity, for a different period in this country’s life, a land saturated with ideals — if not Torah ideals, at least on a level higher than what’s on the market today. All the eulogies spoke of his simple way of life, his avoidance of publicity, and his natural diffidence that caused him to refuse the prizes awarded by the State to its heroes. 
He then goes on to say something truly amazing for someone so firmly rooted in the Charedi Hashkafa.
It turns out that the huge crowd that came out to mourn Arik Einstein’s death shared in his longing for these values — this is the “cleanness” that Rav Uri Zohar spoke of in his emotional eulogy for the niftar, who was both his friend and double mechutan. “You didn’t know the meaning of badness,” he said. And so with his death, it was all about their sense of sharing in his longing, and they came out by the thousands to mourn him.
Uri Zohar
Rabbi Grylak makes an admission here. If these are the values the secular Israeli yearns for, it does not mesh with how they are typically portrayed by his community as morally debased hedonists.  (This does not mean that there are no Jews like that. There certainly are. But I do not believe they are the majority. I believe that just like most people in the United States - the majority of Israelis have good values, yearn to express them; and see them expressed in general society. In most cases they have religious values as well even if they are not fully observant.)

This is not the first time a Charedi Jew took note of the true values of secular Jews. One may recall an article in Cross Currents (which I commented upon at the time) by Rabbi Dovid Landesman when by happenstance he encountered  huge crowds of secular Jews saying Selichos at the Kotel on Erev Yom Kippur.

In my one quibble with him, Rabbi Grylak excoriates the secular media for constantly bashing religious Jews. With this I strongly disagree. I do not recall any of the mainstream publications saying anything pejorative about religious Jews. What I do see is that they often report on the misdeeds of individual religious Jews. That is not ‘bashing’ them. It is reporting the facts. When a religious Jew is arrested for fraud or theft they report it. When the president of Israel is convicted of rape, they report it. When Religious Zionist Rabbi is caught sexually  molesting his students, they report it.

Even though Rabbi Grylak accuses the media of bashing religious Jews…  he actually lays part of the blame on his own community: 
True, it’s easy to blame the media for reinforcing the walls between us in our times. Certainly that same media has made a mockery of us and fostered a sense of alienation toward us. But at the same time, we cannot wash our hands of all guilt and claim that we never supplied our enemies with ammunition and did nothing to contribute to the negative image that they created and implanted in the consciousness of the non-chareidi public. Boy, have we given them ammunition!  
What is most amazing to me is the fact that Rabbi Grylak actually advocates that his community undergo serious introspection about how they view secular Jews. Rabbi Grylak concludes that the secular public can be approached. There can - not only be a reconciliation and rapport - but we can be a positive influence in their quest for spirituality. I completely agree. But he admits that they have no reason to trust us: ‘(I)t doesn’t even occur to our nonreligious brothers that the solution they seek to their existential problem might lie with us.’ 

While I am happy to see that he has had a sort of epiphany here, I have to ask why he cannot extend his generous evaluation of secular Jews to Yair Lapid…  or even Rabbi Dov Lipman?  When the subject turns to them he generally refers to them in the most negative of terms! They are evil men out to destroy the Torah world. When he writes about those issues he completely frustrates me.

Of course he is not the only one. Whenever almost any Charedi writer writes about them, they all seem to be walking in lockstep with each other. It’s as if they have all been given talking points. Last week’s Mishpacha had an article by Rabbi Dovid Hofsteder who founded and funds the marvelous Dirshu program - excoriated these people in just that way.

I have to conclude that that all this bashing is the result of fealty to Daas Torah as expressed by Israeli rabbinic leaders.  Whenever they bash Yesh Atid et al somewhere in their essay they will mention that they ‘must follow the Gedolim’ who view them that way. In my view that’s why their rhetoric on this issue sound like talking points.

I would ask Rabbi Grylak, isn’t it just possible that what Lapid and company are trying to do is not to destroy the Charedi community but to actually strengthen it? Isn’t it possible that the demand to install a core curriculum of secular studies is actually a good idea? ...that the American Charedi paradigm of offering such a core curriculum might actually help Israeli Charedim rather hurt them? ...that the common defense for maintaining the status quo in Charedi Israel is that what’s true for America is not true for Israel - is incorrect? ...that there is really only one Torah for both Israel and America? ...that his rabbinic leaders may actually be mistaken? …that just because there is a system in place now doesn't mean it has to remain that way?