Thursday, April 02, 2015

Perpetuating the Big Lie

Rabbi Pesach Lerner
I don’t know Rabbi Pesach Lerner at all. Never met him. But from what I have read about him, I know that he is the former Executive Vice President of the  National Council of Young Israel – a position he held for many years. And that he has made it his cause to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from prison. I am sure Rabbi Lerner deserves his reputation as a man that has worked tirelessly for the Jewish community in these and many other capacities.

He is currently promoting a cause that I discussed last Sunday. Vote Torah is what he is asking people to do. That means joining the World Zionist Organization and voting for the Religious Zionist slate of Jews so that religious Jews will have a greater influence in how the WZO spends its money and its efforts. While I have my reservations about the $10 membership fee they are charging in order to vote (which I consider a poll tax that will discourage some voters), I basically agree with him that one should ‘Vote Torah’ if they can afford the $10 fee.

I must however strongly protest the way he presented the issue on Cross Currents. I realize that he is trying to appeal to the many Charedi readers that follow Cross Currents. That’s a good thing. However the following remarks are a complete mischaracterization of what happened, bordering on an outright lie: 
Israel recently suffered through one of its least friendly governments, in terms of its relationship to Torah study, Torah scholarship, and authentic Judaism, in many decades. The government radically decreased support for Torah, threatened imprisonment for young men who remain in yeshiva, and endangered both authentic Jewish standards and the offices that preserve them.  
This statement comes right out of the playbook of Charedi politicians in Israel and their supporters - both here and abroad. No matter how many times they say it, it will not change the truth. It is simply untrue to say that a single Jew will ever be jailed for studying Torah. But that does not stop them from using the of kind inflammatory language designed to get their flock up in arms about it. 

Most of us that have studied in Yeshivos have come across the Gemaros that discuss the evil decrees by the Roman conquerors of Israel against Jews that studied Torah and kept the Mitzvos. The cruelty of the Roman government in issuing punishments to those that violated those decrees is best described by the story Asarah Harugei Malchus – the 10 sages that were tortured to death by their Roman captors. This is the image that they hope is conjured up by saying that the government wanted to punish Jews for studying Torah.

As I have said many times, this is a lie. A big lie. The kind that if you repeat it enough, people will come to believe it. The law that they are referring to is the law regarding the consequences for people that do not comply with the draft laws. Dodging the draft is punishable with jail time. So that anyone doing so, Charedi or secular would have to pay that price. Charedim who refuse to serve in the army will therefore perforce be put in jail for that. But let us be clear. This is a jail sentence for draft dodging. Not for studying Torah. No one will stop them from learning Torah even after they are arrested and put in jail.

I don’t know how many times I have made this clear. But it is a plain as day that this law is not about punishing Torah study at all. Any fair minded person can see that. Which brings me back to Rabbi Lerner’s comment. He is in essence perpetuating that lie! I understand that he is preaching to that choir. They have heard it before. And he wants them to know he identifies with them. But I doubt that he actually believes that. And yet… there it is. He says it in black and white. And I cannot protest it enough. The ends do not justify the means.

A far better treatment of the ‘Vote Torah’ initiative is presented in a 5 Towns Jewish Times article by Rabbi Yair Hoffman,  a Charedi Mechanech. How sad it is that a rabbi that has represented the Modern Orthodox synagogue movement known as Young Israel sounds more like a Charedi politician in Israel than an actual Charedi Mechanech does.