Sunday, April 23, 2017

The ‘Gold’ Standard, Eytan Kobre, and Me

Eytan Kobre
No, I don’t have a split personality. Nonetheless one might be tempted to think that by reading this post after reading Rabbi Shalom Gold’s open letter last Thursday.

First let me say that I largely agree with Rabbi Gold’s critique of Eytan Kobre (and to a lesser extent Mishpacha Magazine). Rabbi Gold expressed unmitigated outrage at Eytan’s perspective on Israel. Quoting many passages from the Torah, Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim he set out to prove that Eytan’s dismissal of the importance of the land of Israel as defining of our national character (that only the Torah does) - was far from the truth. The fact is that the Torah is exactly that instrument that tells us of the importance of the land, thus making Eytan’s claim somewhat curious to say the least.

That said - I found Rabbi Gold’s attack to be quite the over-reaction - although I understand why. For example I do not think that Eytan’s words were a smorgasbord of nonsense, apostasy, or blasphemy. If you believe in the Torah, you believe that what it tells us is important. Eytan knows importance attached to Israel by the Torah. He was trying to express (rather badly in my view) the Charedi criticism of religious Zionism. Primarily its obsession with the land. That is not the sum and substance of the Torah. And yet if one pays any attention to the content of most religious Zionist rhetoric, it is about making Aliyah and little else.

The right sees that as only one of the 613 Mitzvos and not to be focused upon almost exclusively as do religious Zionists. More significantly the right also sees the State of Israel as the antithesis of the messianic redemption because of its secular founders who they view as anti religious.

Religious Zionists, on the other hand, see the creation of the State as the first flowering of the redemption.

Eytan’s anecdote about a Russian Jew’s desire to move to Israel and ultimately doing so - being the work of Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) was in extremely poor taste!

All of this explains why Rabbi Gold, a strong religious Zionist, was so upset. I don’t blame him at all.

I do not see the State of Israel the way either of them do. I do not believe it is the first flowering of our redemption, despite the occurrence of many miracles enabling the Jewish people to regain sovereignty over it for the first time in 2000 years. And even despite the return of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Temple mount! (Which also involved miracles.) There are just too many things countering that notion.

But I do value the creation of the state as one of the most important and positive developments of the 20th century. I look at all the achievements the state has accomplished with pride, whether it be in Torah study, agriculture, high tech, medicine, science, military prowess, and many other fields. I give credit to the Theodore Herzl and the secular Zionist founders for making it all happen. They were the instruments God chose to accomplish it.

Why He chose secular Jews over religious ones is a question only He can answer! But it is a fact that no one can deny. A fact that has benefited the Charedi world as much as anyone. The sheer numbers of people studying Torah L’shma (for its own sake) in the State of Israel is unprecedented! But as Rabbi Gold pointed out in very strong terms, Torah study is not what the land of Israel is about.

Yesterday I was told a story by someone that studied in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin. It demonstrates how Rav Yitzchok Hutner felt about it.

Right after Rav Aharon Lichtenstein made Aliyah (and before he became Rosh Yeshiva of Gush Etzion) he came back to the US and visited his Rebbe, Rav Hutner. Rav Hutner asked him how he liked Eretz Yisroel. Rav Lichtenstein proceeded to answer that it was wonderful… that there were so many Yeshivos and so many people learning Torah. 

Rav Hutner did not like that answer. He started rebuking at his prize student! He told him in so many words that Israel is not about Torah study. It’s about the land itself. To walk the streets of Israel and behold the land is a merit he now has that even Moshe Rabbenu didn’t - even though he yearned to do so. 

Sounds more like Rabbi Gold than Eytan.

And yet, I appreciate Eytan’s perspective as an Orthodox Jew living in America. Something we have in common. It was in response to an earlier column by Jonathan Rosenblum who noted that  America had changed since he lived here and had become far more polarized politically than Israel. 

I recall being amused by that comment considering that Israel is one of the most polarized places in the world. Is there any real doubt about extremes that exist in both the Charedi camp and religious Zionist camp in Israel? Their American counterparts are nowhere near as extreme. Here, most members of each are pretty moderate - despite having ideologies that are pretty divergent with respect to Israel (and other religious issues).

Eytan tells us that he doesn’t feel guilty about not making Aliyah – citing his Gedolim ‘who direct Jews to live wherever it’s best for them…’ As someone that lives in America, I can certainly appreciate that perspective. But at the same time I realize that as a Jew, living in Israel is an ideal I can’t fulfill. I have just grown too comfortable here. And would find making Aliyah a tremendous hardship for a variety of reasons that I will not get into here.

On a totally unrelated matter, I have to give credit to Eytan for his comments about the OU’s new President Rabbi Moshe Bane. Specifically the following: 
As a past national lay chairman of NCSY, he witnessed the “excitement, creativity and dynamic Torah-oriented programming” it invested in its outreach programs for Jewish teens, and expresses the belief that “if Judaism were as inspiring to us as it is to those NCSY students, we would find the time to focus on religious growth.”  
A few weeks ago, I noted Rabbi Henoch Plotnik’s column in Mishpacha where he made the following observation: 
Way too many of our young men and women have been forthcoming enough to admit that they are truly not “feeling it,” but simply “doing it.” 
Wouldn’t an NCSY type program for Charedi youth be a way to turn much of that apathy into ‘excitement and creativity’?