Monday, May 19, 2014

Having 'Fun' on Lag B'Omer

Preparing for Lag B'Omer in Bnei Brak (VIN)
I don’t know what the fascination is with bonfires. But that seems to be the thing to do on Lag B’Omer in Israel. The custom is based on a Kabalistic teaching in the Zohar. Which tells us that when the great Mishnaic sage R’ Shimon Bar Yochai died, his house was filled with fire and intense light.

As one who tends to avoid Kabalistic practices, this was never anything I ever wanted to participate in. I find it very off-putting in fact. But it seems that just about everyone in Israel attends some version of this. Even many Religious Zionists.  As if this was the most significant thing about Lag B’Omer. (I didn’t know we Jews were such pyromaniacs. But I digress.) But it isn’t the most significant thing about Lag B’Omer at all, and in my view it shouldn’t be practiced at all. Fires are dangerous. The primary purpose of celebrating Lag B’Omer – the 33rd day of the Omer - is that on this  date in history - R’ Akiva’s students stopped dying.  

I bring all this up in the light of recent abhorrent comments by Rabbi Nissan Kaplan. Comments for which he has profusely apologized - and truly regrets making. But I don’t really believe that his actual views depart all that much from his original statements. The truth is that many Charedi leaders have made similar comments. Including the new Shas Spiritual head, R’ Shalom Cohen, who called all Kipa Seruga wearers Amalek. R’ Ovadia Yosef, ZTL later ‘clarified’ R’ Cohen’s statements as not referring to all Kipa Seruga wearers – but only those  like Israel’s Minister of the Economy, Naftali Bennett, the Kipa Seruga wearing head of the Bayit HaYehudi Party. He was in the forefront of the move to draft Charedim into the army.

It is this mentality that is responsible for the kind of thing that happened Yesterday in Tiberius (T'veria). From VIN and the Jerusalem Post:
Israel - A few hundred haredi Lag Ba’omer revelers burnt Finance Minister Yair Lapid in effigy at a holiday bonfire in Tiberias on Saturday.
According to witnesses, the effigy of the Yesh Atid leader was hung on a post at the edge of the bonfire area as early as Friday afternoon, which suggests that its burning was planned ahead of time and was not merely a prank carried out in the heat of the moment.
One witness described the scene at the bonfire:
“This was not a last minute incident. The doll with Lapid’s face pasted on it was ready by the fire. There were throngs of people who were present when the fire was lit who cursed Lapid in Yiddish and danced.”
MK Rabbi Dov Lipman rightly condemned the event and called upon the rabbinic leadership to do the same.

I agree with Rabbi Lipman. How in God’s name can any rabbinic leader condone something like this?

And they did condone it. There is little question about that in my mind since the ‘project’ began two days earlier on Friday.

Now, I am not accusing any rabbinic leader of planning this. But I do believe they looked the other way while this was happening. Which is the same as condoning it. Had they not approved, it is highly unlikely that this would have happened.

This attitude reminds me of what Rabbi Kaplan said about his son. He approved of his son for thinking of a hammer as an alternative to a sword to attack the ‘Amalkite’ Kenesset ministers.

I can’t read their minds, But I can’t help thinking that at least some of these leaders smiled with pride, just the way Rabbi Kaplan did at his son, at the fervor with which those young people went after Lapid, burning him in effigy as part of a Lag B’omer celebration.

They truly believe that Ministers, Lapid, Bennett, and other like minded MKs are destroying Torah Judaism. And that has given way to anger and even rage. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. This results in angry rhetoric, demonstrations, and lectures that covey this massage. And the emotion that goes with it is transferred to their students.  So much so that they are apparently willing to allow young children to publicly burn a public official in effigy as a means of expressing that rage. This way they are reassured that their message is getting through.

So I don’t expect any real condemnation coming out of their quarters any time soon about activities like this. If they do, it will be the typical ‘We don’t approve, but we understand their motives’ type of condemnation. Which to me means that they actually do approve but don’t want to be seen like that in the eyes of the public. In politics that’s called plausible deniability.

I would love to be proven wrong. I would be happy if some strong condemnations came out of those quarters. I would be thrilled if they called for strong sanctions against these children (like expulsion from their schools). Or sanctions against their parents who no doubt thought this was a great idea.

Unfortunately that has about as much chance of happening as my becoming the next President of Israel. Too bad.