|Rabbi Y'soscher Katz (TOI)|
I actually like Rabbi Y’soscher Katz. Even though I am in profound disagreement with his Hashkafos, I believe he is sincere in his views and has in the past argued very forcefully in favor of them. That said I cannot believe what he has done in a recent article in the Times of Israel.
Rabbi Katz uses the recent arrests (for government fraud) of Charedi Jews in Lakewood to advance his own agenda.
Now I have no problem with people advancing their own agenda. If they have a cause in which they believe, then of course they are going to want to advance that cause with what ever means are at their disposal. We all do that. That’s what fighting for our ideals are all about.
But when someone distorts the truth and then exacerbates the problem with false claims blaming what those individuals did on their Halachic process, it becomes a Chilul HaShem all by itself. Especially when the person doing it is the chair of the Talmud Department of YCT.
I have not been reticent about my own criticism of what those prominent and supposedly religious Jews in Lakewood did. It is a Chilul HaShem of major proportion to hide income of over a million dollars so that you can collect welfare checks. Not to mention how stupid these supposedly bright Jews were – thinking that they would never get caught. Even if there are more people in Lakewood arrested for doing that, I am sure the percentage will be extremely low. Not that it won't increase the Chilul Hashem. It will.
But in no way is what these people did to be blamed on what Rabbi Katz says it should be. Because in effect it casts the entire Charedi community as a bunch of conniving crooks that see nothing wrong with stealing from non Jews.
This kind of misleading interpretation of how Charedim determine Halacha plays right into the hands of every antisemite in the world. And since Charedim make up the majority of Orthodox Jews in the world – articles like this are a goldmine to neo Nazis. In case you’re wondering what he said that is so egregious here is an excerpt from his article:
(Their) attitude towards stealing from the government is partially informed by the belief that halakha is static… An unadulterated read of halakha may in fact permit this kind of cheating. Many poskim assert that gezel akum (stealing from idolaters) is technically mutar...
Among others, he cites the Rema (a Halachic commentary of the Shulchan Aruch that Ashkenazi Jews follow). And claims that we can extrapolate from the Rema’s words that stealing from non Jews is technically permitted. But any fair reading of that Rema in no way indicates that stealing from non Jews is permitted. The major Poskim of our day forbid it! Dina D'Machusa Dina - the law of the land is the law. That is iron clad Halacha.
In what way does Rabbi Katz think he serves the Jewish community by trumpeting to the world that according to Halacha, stealing from an idolator is technically permitted? Does he think that Lakewood’s Poskim go around telling their people that they should steal from the government? Or even that they might say you shouldn’t with a wink and a nod indicating that if they can get away with it they should?
That is ridiculous. That some people in that community might think it is OK is a function – NOT of Halacha, but of a residual mistrust of antisemitic European governments carried over from their immigrant parents and grandparents who lived under it.There - and in those times - Jews were persecuted and needed to do things like participate in a black market just to make a living. It is a gross mistake for them to extend that to America.
I do fault their leadership for not doing a better job in educating thier people that 21st century America is not the same thing as pre Holocaust Europe. But to publicly say that there is some sort of secret attitude transmitted that according to Halacha one may technically steal from non Jews is not only a lie, it is a massive Chilul HaShem!
Why did he do that? As I indicated - there can be only one reasonable answer to that question. He did it to forward the agenda of Open Orthodoxy. Implying that if we don’t follow his lead and continue to interpret Halacha in the static ways of the past we will all remain a secret bunch of crooks.
Of course he does not say that verbatim. But by sayings that the Halachic process should evolve as society evolves, he implies it.
Is it fair to say that Rabbi Katz’s view of Halacha is in essence the same the Conservative movement? Not exactly. In fairness he cites the pitfalls of both remaining static and changing Halacha:
While such extreme fidelity to the letter of the law seems anathema to most of us, there is a good reason why certain communities refuse to let interpretation of halakha be informed by history and changing realities. Letting halakha dialogue with history, they believe, is a dangerous enterprise because its contours are amorphous and boundaries unclear. One does not know where history’s modification of halakha will meander…
What should then one do? Should one champion a halakhic system which is in dialogue with history, occasionally allowing itself to be clarified and qualified in consonance with new knowledge and more sharply articulated social mores? Or does one embrace and preserve halakha in its pristine original form, ignoring any external attempt at moderation and qualification?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. Living the observant life puts one at a crossroad of two danger-filled paths.
While admitting dangerous pitfalls of both and saying that there is o definitive answer - blaming the fraud on a static view of Halacha makes it clear where his heart lies.
Halacha does not change. Only its application does. We do not adapt Halacha to fit the times. We apply it. Meaning the finest Halachic minds of every generation will apply Halacha to any and every modern day situation. But they will not change it. By giving his dichotomy equal status Rabbi Katz has crossed the line into territory that even liberal Orthodox Jewish philosopher, Dr. Eliezer Berkovtis would not tread. And smeared an entire community in the process.
It is sad that a sincere individual like Rabbi Katz has decided add to the Chilul HaShem just to bolster the Open Orthodox agenda. I am disappointed.