Friday, September 11, 2015

Missing the Point

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ZTL
Rabbi Doron Beckerman has written an artilce in Cross Currents that in my view undermines some of the excellent points made by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky on the subject of Chumros (religious stringencies) and Frumkeit. The reason he did that, I suppose, is to defend the Chumros kept by the community and Hashkafos that he has himself adopted.

First let me state that I consider Doron a friend. I hope he consider me a friend too. But our Hashkafos could not be further apart. He is Charedi in the mold of Israeli Charedim. So when he sees an article from someone he admittedly respects criticizing the Chumra seeking behavior so definitive of his adopted community, he must feel an obligation to defend it. 

While largely agreeing with Rabbi Karlinksy (and by inference, Rav Wolbe’s denigration of Frumkeit) he cites an anecdote about R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that he says justifies observing Chumros in his community. In essence he says R’Shlomo Zalman held that Talmidei Chachamim should always strive for the highest level of observance in any Halacha – which of course usually means being Machmir. So that even if doing a Mitzvah is L’Chatichila it is still better to be even more Machmir. Such people are referred to as Bnei Aliyah (loosely meaning Jews seeking growth in their connection with God). Doron uses this anecdote to justify  not publishing any pictures of women. Here is how he puts it: 
Let us examine one element of the “Disappearing Woman” subject with above in mind... R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was once approached by a group of Avreichim seeking guidance in spiritual growth. Where to begin? Rav Auerbach responded – “What do you need chumros for? There is no need for them. The main thing is to undertake to fulfill halachah in a lechatchilah manner, not bedieved.” 
The Avreichim agreed, but did not leave the matter at that. They insisted on further meticulousness and growth. Rav Auerbach responded: “All the chumros and hiddurim cannot compare to one small hiddur in tzenius. In matters of sanctity and tzenius, every small hiddur has immeasurable meaning. It elevates, sanctifies, and brings a person closer to his Creator… A person who thirsts for spirituality, the core and the beginning is tzenius and sanctity” 
It’s ironic that the very anectdote by R’ Shlmon Zalman he uses to make his point includes a clear rejection of Chumros!  But Doron skips right over that and focuses on the latter part of R’ Shlomo Zalman’s comment about the importance of Tznius.

Is not publishing pictures of women dressed by the highest standards on Modesty what R’ Shlomo Zalman meant when speaking of observing the highest level of Tznius? Let us look at another rather famous  anecdote about R’ Shlomo Zalman.

R’ Shlomo Zalman was sitting on a bus on his way home when a woman not dressed modestly by religious standards entered the bus and sat down next to him. R’ Shlomo got up and got off at the next stop which was a few stops early. And then walked the rest of the way home. He did not protest this woman. He did not want to insult her by telling her she was not dressed modestly enough. He simply got up as though his stop was coming up and got off the bus.

What this shows is the exemplary Mentchlichkeit shown by  R’ Shlomo Zalman in going to such great lengths to avoid hurting someone’s feelings regardless of how Frum she was.  But what it also shows  is that he did not hesitate using a bus that did not separate men from women. He did not consider being on that bus a lesser degree of Tznius observance.  He wasn’t afraid that an immodeslty dressed woman might get on the bus and sit down next to him. Even though that actually ended up happening.

I don’t know how R’ Shlomo Zalman felt about pictures of women being published. But I have to wonder whether never looking  at an innocuous picture of a woman was what R’ Shlomo Zalman had in mind when he addressed those Avreichim.  I also have to wonder whether those Avreichim took his admonition against Chumros seriously?

One more thing. The following excerpt from his essay sums up what Rabbi Karlinsky was getting at. And I think Doron misses this point entirely: 
Becoming closer to G-d… requires clarity about what G-d demands of a person in every situation, having our feet planted firmly on the ground, operating in reality rather than in some self-generated fantasy world. A true relationship with G-d is rooted in proper actions in the real, physical world. The drive and excessive focus on “getting closer to G-d” (especially in our quick-fix, microwave society) emanates from frumkeit.