Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Are Today's Gedolim Truly Role Models?

Guest Post by Shalom Bayit Lover

Shalom Bayit Lover (a pseudonym) describes himself as an "Open Charedi" - one who lives deeply within a Charedi community, sharing much of the value system - but not all.  He  teaches Judaic studies within a broad spectrum of religious school systems. Over the last decade, he has been working in outreach and family guidance, and hopes to soon complete a book about the Torah insights that inform his work

The subject matter is timely, important, and yet very controversial - especially for someone who is so deeply embedded in the Charedi world. I have therefore over-looked the fact that he is writing this anonymously. Something I rarely do. As always, the opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect my own. His words follow. 

In an article posted on Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn's Daas Torah blog on December 27th, a chareidi husband, in the midst of a messy divorce case in an Israeli state religious court, gives voice to a growing cadre of people who rail about the "divorce racket" that is growing within the orthodox Jewish world.  He claims to have inside knowledge of a sub-culture within the chareidi ranks which is, slowly but surely, joining the modern band wagon of supporting divorce-on-demand for women.

This besieged chareidi husband is attempting to push back. He does so by claiming that the divorce-now trend, which was once blamed squarely on the modern ideologies which characterize the Modern Orthodox (MO) movements, has not only reached the innermost chambers of the chareidi world (the opinion of a widely recognized Gadol) but has surpassed the MO's in its flagrant disregard for the spirit of the law!

I'd like to explore this thesis. 

One distinction between died-in-the-wool chareidim and their MO counterparts is the means they believe in employing for the persuasion of a husband to concede to his wife's demands to nullify their bond.  On one hand they bitterly condemn the feminist organizations for their anti-men agendas which take far too many chareidi women to secular courts to do their bidding, audaciously against normative halacha; on the other hand they clandestinely produce goons like "orthodox" Rabbi Epstein to do their enforcing with much grosser, violent lawlessness than the MO's would have ever dreamed.

The explanation, I believe, is that chareidim, when they become practical, tend to do so with such a divine fervency that they are bound to have more disrespect, even disdain, for someone who crosses their authority.  If a husband dares to hold out based on an ideological stance – he'll find himself up against a wall of striking insensitivity.

This is what happened in the case in question.  Let's check it out  and glean some information about this case 
from the Daas Torah post and the comments.

They are a chareidi middle aged couple going nowhere in court for three years. He is asking for couples counseling before considering divorce for what has been in his view, by and large, a blessed marriage suddenly thrown into crisis.  She utterly refuses, claiming that she has suffered for years within an abusive marriage and can no longer stand to hear even hear him.  The court has no choice but hear witnesses from each side.

To employ a helpful metaphor, we could say that the wife is like a first mate to a ship captain who suddenly, after years of devoted partnership, decides to abandon ship… and asks him to sign a furlough. He reacts with appall and condemns her lack of loyalty.  She responds by defending her right to survive the stinking, faulty device he has for too long called a ship.  He's incredulous, claiming that whatever faults the ship has can be repaired, if only they would work together. She is offended at the audacity of this argument - that she should even consider lending a hand at repairing what was his responsibility – and drives the point home by threatening to drill a hole in the ship until he lets her out!  

The captain, now at wit's end, retorts with "proofs" about how well they fared on their decades of ship-journeying, and that her "mutiny" will not just hurt him, but also the other mates (the kids) who remain on board. 

She sticks her fingers in her ears.

That's when the husband goes to the Gadol. He cries out to him for sage advice. But the Gadol merely asks a technical question (whether he's a Kohen, who wouldn't be able to remarry his wife) and then offers a crass dismissiveness: "Daven… BOOAH!" (pray… and then a bizarrely curt abbreviation for the blessing bracha v'hatzlocha).  

Think about it.  This Gadol, to stay with the metaphor, is like an admiral. The captain is s.o.s.'ing him about a sinking ship; a collapsing bayis neeman. Yet the admiral has not a second to spare in relating to him; not even the willingness to give a bracha with some heart!

Methinks it's time to question the viability of the fleet.

As per so many articles to grace the Jewish blogosphere which critique the disconnect between what is traditionally considered the divine oracles known as Gedolim and the reality of what salt-of-the-earth, simple Jews suffer – this case brings into bold relief what's wrong with Jewish orthodoxy, especially the fervent, Gadol-worshipping version.

It reminds me of the chazal about the end of days, when gentiles will be begging Hashem to be given the "easy" Mitzvah of Succah in order to receive similar rewards as that coming to the Jews (help me, someone, with the reference).  Hashem complies … until terrible weather makes one resent the dismal non-protectiveness of his Succah, at which points he kicks it and exits. Chazal conclude:  That's why the goyim don't get the 613.  Even though it's permissible, and some say even proper, to leave a Succah that is an objective hassle to remain within, it should nevertheless be cherished and certainly not kicked!  

Another famous chazal is that the Mizbeakh weeps at every divorce.  Shouldn't the greatest representatives of chazal today be demonstrating similar sentiments? And if we're in the age of ethical working-from-the-bottom-up, shouldn't we be seeking ways to let our Gedolim know that we need help in keeping our holy nation from kicking at even the most dissatisfying of marriages, espcially when the war drums of divorce are beating?

In other words, the issue at hand for us is not whether this couple should divorce or not, before or after couples counseling, but how to stop the religious system which produces Succah Goyim, in droves; Mitzvah addicts who fixate on quick rewards, which if they can't get them, then they'll "move on" to bigger and better Mitzvahs!

One thing should be clear: the kicking out at sinking marriages is un-Jewish. Conversely, if ever there should be chinnuch (education) for a mitzvah l'shma (purely religious act), it should be the mitzvah of divorce. It should be approached with awe and humility and mournful certainty that it is the last resort.  The parties should be absolutely clear that theirs is a truly sinking ship; a cherished Succah that must be exited due to a relentless storm. 

Remember the Mishna: B'makom sh'ein eesh?  It's time that we very much non-gedolim take the bull by the horns and begin to drive this message home.  Otherwise, one rotten apple (the way we do the mitzvah of divorce) can spoil the whole bunch.