Monday, May 26, 2014

What Was Rabbi Wein’s Real Message?

A Response to Rabbi Avi Shafran

Refugee Ship 'Theodor Herzl' trying to run a British Blockade in Haifa (1947)
Earlier today, I published a response by Rabbi Shafran to critiques of an earlier essay of his about Rabbi Berel Wein. Therein he makes the following statement: 
The (criticisms) focused on either or both of two complaints.  Paraphrased loosely:
1) How DARE you criticize an elder statesman of the Orthodox Jewish world?  (And a sub-complaint: How DARE you not refer to Rabbi Wein as a Rosh Yeshiva?) 
2) But Rabbi Wein is right! Gedolim have erred in the past!  So what bothers you about what Rabbi Wein wrote? 
I can’t speak for any of the others he may have been addressing. But it seems as though these are exactly the points I made. (Only I did not put them exactly that way, nor did I criticize him for not referring to Rabbi Wein as a Rosh Yeshiva. I mentioned it only in passing as part of his credentials. I do not generally refer to him as a Rosh Yeshiva either.But he certainly is an elder statesman who at age 80 has begun his 9th decade here on earth.)

In his response to the first criticism Rabbi Shafran professes his profound respect for Rabbi Wein and adds that he has tremendous gratitude to him on many levels. In no way did he mean to insult him. I’m sure that’s true – up to a point. But at the same time he justifies his original comment with the phrase: Ein Cholkin Kavod L’Rav. Which he deems appropriate in this instance.

This phrase is sourced in the Gemarah (Eruvin 63a) which states in full: 'Kol Makom She'Yesh Chilul HaShem, Ein Cholkin Kavod La'Rav'. The meaning of which is: Any place where there is a Chilul HaShem, we do not impart honor to a Rav. In effect this is yet another slight to Rabbi Wein. By using this phrase he has gone a step further than simply saying Rabbi Wein ‘should have known better’.  He in essence implies that Rabbi Wein’s ‘comments are a Chilul HaShem’ which demands not giving him honor and by default, demeans him.

So I must once again protest this. There was absolutely no Chilul Hashem at all made by Rabbi Wein. More about this later.

Rabbi Shafran’s second point is that if one reads Rabbi Wein’s column more carefully we would see that he is not just saying that Gedolim can and do sometimes make mistakes. Rabbi Shafran not only agrees to that, he tells us that the Gemarah itself says so in many places. The problem - in his own words - is the following: 
Rabbi Wein insinuates that the Gedolim of today, who are looked to for guidance by the majority of yeshivos, Bais Yaakovs and Jewish day schools, are limited by  “a mindset that hunkers back to an idyllic Eastern European world of fantasy that is portrayed falsely in fictional stories.”  That jaundiced judgment is used by Rabbi Wein to explain why those Gedolim don’t endorse the celebration of Yom Ha’atzma’ut or the commemoration of the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah (but rather, instead, in other ways and at times like Tisha B’Av).
“The whole attitude of much of the Orthodox world,” he further writes, “is one of denial of the present fact that the state exists, prospers and is the largest supporter of Torah and Jewish traditional religious lifestyle in the world.” No one, though, denies those facts, only that they somehow mean that opposition to the creation of Israel before the Second World War is, as a result, somehow retroactively rendered erroneous. 
Well, I did re-read Rabbi Wein’s column more carefully and I did not see this meaning anywhere in his words.

Rabbi Wein did not mention a word about today’s rabbinic leaders. He simply said that there is a mindset today – not that any rabbinic leader has said anything. Where that mindset comes from – has many possible sources, not the least of which are the many hagiographies by publishers like ArtScroll about Gedolim that speaks about them as though they were born Kodesh M’Rechem (holy from the womb). When young minds full of mush read things like that, they cannot help but feel that these leaders could not possibly have erred.

Nor does Rabbi Wein say anything specifically about Yom Ha’atzmaut or Yom HaShoah with respect to the current rabbinic leadership . What he is really saying is something Rav Eliyahu Soloviechik (Rav Ahron’s son - the same Rav Ahron who said Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut) told me personally. That much of the Yeshiva world today has no Hakoras HaTov to the state of Israel for what it has done for them. All one hears these days is cursing of the State and its leadership. Rabbi Wein blames this on the hagiographic mindset that idealizes leaders of the past which is now transferred to the leaders of the present. Perhaps what he does imply is that the today’s leaders have done nothing to change that mindset.

The facts are as Rabbi Wein states them: 
(The Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel) occupy no space or time in many Orthodox schools and days of commemoration of these events are absent on school calendars. Instead there is a mindset that hunkers back to an idyllic Eastern European world of fantasy that is portrayed falsely in fictional stories - hagiographic biographies and omissions of uncomfortable facts and doctored photographs – to a world that never was.
I see no mention of any current rabbinic leader. All I see is his observation that this mindset has been carried forward to today with the same animus toward the state that existed pre Holocaust. As though nothing has changed.

But things have changed. The Holocaust did happen. We must now recognize that change. As Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik explained (in Kol Dodi Dofek):  God Himself had Paskin’d and sided with Mizrachi (Religious Zionism), not Agudah (with which Rav Soloveitchik himself sided before the Holocaust). We now see that God (for His own reasons unbeknownst to us) sent non religious Jews to do the job instead of religious Jews. In miraculous ways no less!

One can disagree with Rav Soloveithcik, as I’m sure Rabbi Shafran, the members of the Moetzes, and many right wing Roshei Yeshiva and Chasidic rebbes do. But to go so far as to imply that it is a Chilul HaShem to point this out;  and to constantly hear negative things about Israel while rarely if ever saying anything positive is just plain wrong.

I hope that upon further reflection Rabbi Shafran will recognize that, despite his own personal acknowledgement of the positive side of the state, that it barely exists in - or at least is rarely ever publicly expressed by the right. And that is one of the reasons we have such anger and acrimony between the right and everyone else. That was Rabbi Wein’s message. Which should give us pause about the way things are… and the way they should be.