Friday, February 06, 2015

Hero Worship in the Torah World

Spinka Rebbe
As noted here before, I am a huge fan of Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. He has recently written a piece of Mussar in Cross Currents about football fans in the Torah world. Although I happen to enjoy watching the game, I would not call myself a fan. Had I missed the Super Bowl this year (as I have many times in the past) it would not have made much difference in my life. I would not have given it a second thought.

It occurred to me that his Mussar with respect to football could be given to us in other areas. Areas that I believe have far more impact on us than football.  Although I would never have written an essay about those other ills plaguing us in the same way Rabbi Feldman did about football, I decided to ‘rewrite’ his essay substituting some of those issues and the names (all of which are a matter of public record) that go along with them. 

While it is a bit over the top, you know what? It is not really that far off. I should however add that the people mentioned below are not my heroes nor are they the heroes of most of the Orthodox Jews that I know. But they are still heroes to some. 

So with apologies to Rabbi Feldman, I present his essay with those changes. It follows.

In the world of Torah and Yiras Shomayim, the thoughts of Torah true Jews  center on the most vital topic of the day: Torah study. Even if we normally consider less crucial matters such as relationship with others or with God, the Roshei Yeshiva tell us what really matters: who the Torah world values, with its heroes and winners. A look at some of the heroes:

—  Nechmya Weberman, The Frum Satmar ‘therapist’ that, savagely raped a feamle ‘client’ for years in his office. Despite his conviction, to this day Satmar maintains his innocence, and was given a standing ovation when he walked into a room
—  Moti Elon, mainstay of the Religious Zionist world , was suspended from his Yeshiva for inappropriate behavior with his young students.
— Yehuda Kolko, former star Rebbe of YeshivaTorah Temimah, plead out of sex abuse charges although the evidence clearly pointed to him as a sex abuser ( a la Jerry Sandusky).
— Baruch Lebovitz,  a Chasidic travel agent, was sentenced for 32 years for sexually molesting a child in his automobile. His verdict was overturned on a technicality.
—The Spinka Rebbe, former head of Mosdos Spinka, was imprisoned after pleading guilty to tax fraud and money laundering.
— Shedon Silver an Orthodox Jewish NY State legislator was  arrested for accepting cash rewards from clients and then deliberately steering them into lucrative government contracts.

Assault, domestic violence, drunkenness are found all too often - even among our own.

Where do these heroes incubate? Naturally, in our day schools and Yeshivos. In days of yore Talmud study was adjunct to academics, supposedly developing character and discipline to prepare the scholar-Talmud Chacham to contribute to the general welfare. Today, many Yeshivos are Kollel factories, inculcating not only Talmudic skills, but also poverty and narcissism.

The overriding dream of so-called Talmud student- is to sit and learn at the expense of the public hoping to be drafted as a Rebbe by a top Yeshiva. Academics hardly enter the picture. One Top Yeshiva student recently complained about taking a classroom examination: ” I came to Yeshiva to learn, not to take tests.” Three Ponevezh Yeshiva students, charged with violent protests, got off with a warning from the judge and a requirement to do “community service.” One student, charged with aggravated assault, was dismissed from Ponevezh, so he immediately transferred to Brisk where he was readily welcomed.

The judges don’t dare send Bachurim to jail, lest the judges themselves suffer ostracism. No wonder these young reprobates feel that the law is only for ordinary people.

While paying astronomical administrative salaries, Yeshivos constantly raise tuition fees, and are very miserly about their teacher salaries. How does a top Rebbe feel when his pay is less than 1% of that of the President of his Yeshiva?... or when he dares not give a failing grade to a donor’s son who rarely attends classes and can hardly write a simple sentence?

But enough about these heroes. What about us, who create the heroes? Despite the thuggery of many of the people, the vast majority of donors pay millions of dollars these Mosdos.

Granted, we admire the  grace and discipline of a top Yeshiva Bachur. That he may have no moral grace or discipline is irrelevant; we enjoy him because of his skill and talent. Torah study can be appealing.

The first line beginning a Mesechta is a is beautiful picture of the Torah that is about to uncoil. The motion of the Rebbe, the fluid movements of logic, the pinpoint assertions of an Amorah  or the running commentary of Rashi and Tosephos — this is what makes the Gemarah so massively riveting.  As young Bachur puts it: “Leave morality to Baalei Batim; we are here to learn Torah , period.”

Man seeks out something beyond himself. If he is fortunate, he worships God; less fortunate, he creates his own heroes and worships them. But a larger question looms: recognizing the ugliness, why are some religious people still interested in Judaism?

True, I personally would not cheer these reprobates/heroes, but why am I somewhat disappointed when they are jailed, and mildly pleased when they get off with a slap on the wrist? Am I different from the Golden Calf worshippers who cried Eileh elohecha Yisroel, or from the Roman throngs who cheered as the lions devoured the hapless slaves?

There are rehabs for alcoholics, for addicts of all kinds. Perhaps we need rehabs for religious people who are addicted to the world of false heroes despite its unsavory elements. There we might finally recognize that he who is able to renounces false heroes, he is the true hero.