Sunday, November 11, 2007

Eisenstein’s War against the Jews

I received an e-mail on Friday that made some thought provoking comments. Chief among them the following:

“As the Charedi, Ultra Orthodox community is growing in strength and numbers it is further distancing itself from normative Judaism and causing a rift that may never be healed. As it hurtles headlong into obscurantism, anti-modernism, misogynist, anti-Zionism it is making itself irrelevant to not only the rest of the Orthodox community but those non-observant Jews that will have nothing but derision for them. Then they claim that anybody who does not share their obscurantism, such as the fundamentalist totally disproved and laughable belief in a 5768 universe is a heretic.”

While I do not agree with it in its entirety, it definitely reflects my sentiments. We may in fact very well be at the beginning of a rift in Klal Yiroel that will become so wide that it will be irreparable. We have a war on our hands declared by the most radical fundamentalists in the Torah world. It is not a war L’Shem Shamayim. But it is a war against the Jews. Not all Jews. Just certain types of Jews.

The latest salvo in this war was fired last week from a podium by one of its top generals, Rabbi Nachum Eisenstein who declared thousands of Orthodox Jews to be heretics, many of them Jews of great religious stature.

Jews who dare to seek sensible answers to sincere questions are the enemy. Questions they had about some of the most fundamental elements of nature which point to an ancient universe. Evidence that seems to contradict the religious fundamentalist belief that the universe is less than 6000 years old. Anyone who dares attempt to reconcile those contradictory with the Torah by explaining that the days of creation were not literal 24 hour days... even if using legitimate rabbinic sources in doing so... is now deemed a heretic... an anemy that must be ‘cleansed out’ of the Torah world.

So Rabbi Nachum Eisenstein would have us believe. I don’t know how accurately this reflects the views of his 97 year old mentor, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in whose name this declaration was made. While I do believe that Rav Elyashiv himself believes that the universe is less than 6000 years old... I truly question whether he actually now declared those who believe it to be older... are considered heretics. I truly believe that Rabbi Eisenstein misrepresents his elderly mentor’s views on this.

Someone made the following comment yesterday:

It has generally been accepted in the yeshiva community in Eretz Yisroel- and R' Harry, please check this with your esteemed son- that absolutely nothing said in RYSE's name has any validity- whatsoever!- unless disseminated in writing, in his OWN handwriting.

I believe it. And indeed my son has said exactly those words to me.

For if Rav Elyashiv actually declared these beliefs heresy, where was he until now? Beliefs about an ancient universe didn’t happen yesterday. They didn't just fall out of the sky and implant thmeselves into the brains of thousands of Ehrliche Jews. They have been around for a long time. Rabbinic sources for them go back centuries... way back to the Rishonim, the medieval commentators. Why did he wait until he was 97 years old to declare these beliefs heretical? Did he not know about Rabbi Carmel? Or Rabbi Kaplan? Or the Tifferes Yisroel? I’m sure he did. Yet he never felt the need to declare there beliefs heretical until now... at age 97.

Yet this is what Rabbi Eisenstein has told us. And in doing so he has dismissed the opinions of many other Gedolim who have publicly declared these beliefs be perfectly fine. I believe that this is Rabbi Eisenstein’s’ personal war. Not Rav Elyashiv’s.

The problem is that we have no way of knowing for sure. Rabbi Eisenstein has usurped the authority of Rav Elyashiv. Precious few people have an opportunity to see Rav Elyashiv without going through Rabbi Eisenstein or others like him first. The elderly Rav Elyashiv is fiercely protected from the masses.

Rabbi Eisenstein would have us believe that he is in effect ‘Rav Elyashiv’ now. And many people see him this way. When he speaks they hear Rav Elyashiv. It’s not that he is lying about what Rav Elyashiv says. But he is definitely hearing Rav Elyashiv through his own zealous mind ...a mind which is determined to push his own agenda. He was a zealot when I knew him as a young student at HTC. And he is a zealot now.

In my view this is a criminal act of epic proportions. In my view, Rabbi Eisenstein is defining Torah Jewry in his own image while claiming the mantle of Rav Elyashiv. And in the process he is driving deeper and deeper a wedge that may end up cutting off masses of Orthodox Jewry as illegitimate.

Countless numbers of Baalei Teshuva who saw the beauty and truth of Torah, were able to embrace it without resorting to simplistic and unsatisfying answers. The rabbis, many of them Charedi who reached out to them told them it was perfectly acceptable to believe in an ancient universe. What are they going to think now?

This is a war and we have to fight back. The Torah world needs to rid itself of people who seek to destroy the lives of so many people... and restore sanity to the Torah world before it’s too late.