Thursday, April 05, 2018

Celebrating an Embarrassment

Limousine motorcade honoring 63 Peleg 'Bnei Torah' (YWN)

It’s worse than I thought. The damage to Klal Yisroel  wrought by Peleg’s (the Jerusalem Faction's) late leader, Rav Shmuel Auerbach is beyond anything I would have imagined. Perhaps that is why I have heard that he  has been referred to a Zaken Mamre (a rebellious elder) by leaders of the more rational (in my view) segment of the Yeshiva world. 

That term is reserved for a member of the Sanhedrin that rebelled and ruled against the other members - a crime punishable by death. Although not exact and clearly not applicable in our day, the comparison is apt and shows just how egregious his rebellion is considered by mainstream Charedi leaders.

I hate to speak ill of the dead. But it’s hard NOT to when (as reported by YWN) you see the tens of thousands of Yeshiva students in Jerusalem participating in an event honoring 63 of their own hat violated a law considered acceptable by the mainstream.

I was under the impression that Peleg consisted of a relatively small group of Yeshiva students. Perhaps no more than a few hundred or at most a few thousand. But the turnout at this event clearly indicates otherwise.

One might recall the kind of protests Yeshiva students form this group participated in on behalf of the misguided belief promoted by R’ Auerbach. He believes it is forbidden for Yeshiva students to register for the draft. Even though by doing so they could continue as they have for decades – avoiding army service for as long as they are registered as full time students in a Yeshiva or Kollel. That is in fact the road taken by Rav Aharon Leib Steinman. He urged Yeshiva students to register.

This fight is not about whether there should be some form of service by Yeshiva students to their country when it is demanded of everyone else. Although I personally strongly support that notion, I can understand the mentality that opposes it. This isn’t about that. It is about how far one has to go in order to reject that notion. The rational approach is R’ Steniiman’s. Which is to follow the law when it doesn’t interfere with one’s primary goal. Which is to study Torah fill time for as long as possible without distractions or interruption. (Although there are other reasons that the Charedi world opposes army service, they are beyond the scope of this post.)

R’ Auerbach’s position is more – idealistic – one might say. He refuse to have even the slightest connection to army service. Registering for the draft is a contradiction to that. Not to mention that in their eyes it is a slippery slope to eventual service. Which is the reason they are willing to go to jail rather than register.

I don’t even have such a problem with that. My problem is how they react to it when it happens. As noted here a few of the times when that reaction raised it’s ugly head – the Chilul HaShem that ensued was a price to high to pay for that ideal. A price that undercuts any idea that you are doing it L’Shem Shomayim (in service to God’s will). There is an expression in the Gemarah that goes as follows: Yatzah S'charo B’Hefsedah – The gain is overwhelmed by the loss. The Chilul HaShem that resulted with those protests surely negates any gain they would have had – even if one would agree with them in principle.

As much as it pained me to see those kinds of things being done by students touted as the ‘best and brightest’ among us, I was somewhat consoled by the fact that these people are in the minority. But after seeing those crowds celebrating 63 draft dodging Yeshiva students that went to jail for their misguided beliefs, I wonder how many of these participants supported those protests seeing them as a Kiddush HaShem instead of the Chilul HaShem. I am also beginning to wonder  which side is mainstream? It appears that both sides are. And that’s depressing.

Why are these young people like that? Let me speculate a bit.

While the numbers of non observant Jews in America is declining, the very successful increase in the numbers of Orthodox Jewry in the 20 and 21st can in my view be traced to the successful network of religious day schools, high schools, and Yeshivos. I don’t think there can be any doubt about that. 

They taught us to be observant which kept us from total assimilation. But in some cases (both here and in Israel) that has brought us some collateral damage. Because some of that Chinuch has been distorted into a mindset that one must ignore the world outside and follow only what is taught on the ‘inside’: what is taught in the religious schools. 

Being observant almost by definition means being different. That difference is extended by some Mechanchim (educators) to see the entire outside world as the antithesis to an observant life. The combination of rejecting the outside world while relying on one’s teachers for instruction and advice in all matters is where the problem lies. This worldview creates a predisposition to ignore common sense when an educator tells you to do so or implies it. That allows a Chilul HaShem that would be obvious to any normal person to be considered a Kiddush HaShem. If you are told you are fighting God’s wars by resisting the draft and at the same time see anyone getting in your way as an enemy of God, you get Peleg.

If I were a non observant Jew thinking about becoming observant and saw this… I would do a quick 180 and ask myself ‘what was I thinking?

I was going to write a simple post today wishing everyone a Chag Sameach for the last day (or days) of Pesach. And I still do. But this event has so upset me that I just had to speak out.

Gut Yom Tov