Friday, August 22, 2008

Mocking the Gedolim

Earlier this week a video was released on the Internet that was at the same time entertaining, shocking, and informative. It was a video posted on Youtube about how color war broke out in a camp called MaNaVu. An editorial in The Jewish Star reproduced at VIN tells us the camp has very strong ties with Yeshivas Rabbenu Chaim Berlin.

For those not familiar with the genre of color war - it is probably the most enjoyable part of any summer camp experience. And the way it ‘breaks out’ is probably the most enjoyable and memorable part of it.

Much like a real war an ‘incident’ happens that outrages one side to a potential conflict - and that leads to war. So too - color war. An ‘incident’ is created and designed to look real. The campers think this is really happening. The more realistic it looks - the bigger the bang.

When color war is finally announced - everyone is relieved and very excited about how it broke out. The camp then divides in to teams and has events related to that. Teams are judged and a winner is ultimately declared. But the most fun is the opening event and that is usually the most 'told over' story brought back from camp. It’s great fun for all.

In this case Lipa Schmelczer of ‘concert ban’ fame was hired to perform in the camp. At the end of the concert he did the unthinkable. He started singing the opening to a very popular rap song designed to make the crowd very lively. The camera then focuses on a very Chasidic looking gentleman in full beard and Chasidic garb – someone who looks like he may be a camp director. He is clearly very agitated by this.

After a few more minutes, he gets up on the stage and physically throws Lipa off of it! He then starts haranguing the crowd about how bad this is. All the while the campers are chanting Lipa! Lipa! Counselors walked over to him an try to appease him to no avail. After a few minutes of a rant, he begins singing a familiar traditional Jewish piece. Lipa then gets back up there and starts to sing along but subtly changes the tune to the rap song he started with.

The Chasidic fellow looks shocked. One thing leads to the next, and pretty soon a counselor gets up on the stage and starts pulling on the Chasidic man’s beard. And little by little the beard comes off as does the Kapote and hat to reveal it is one of the counselors and the shouts of ‘Color war!’ is heard.

Very entertaining to watch. But let us analyze what just happened. This was no less than a ridicule of a ban made by many Rabbanim some of whom are on the Agudah Moetzes.

Recall that the ban was signed hastily and was repudiated by various Gedolim who admitted signing the ban without reading it. But one thing was made clear at the time. The spirit of the ban was to forbid ‘foreign music’ to permeate the Jewish music scene - music of the type Lipa was thrown off the stage in this camp. This incident made a mockery of that ban. There is no other way to look at it. A camp apparently closely tied to a mainstream Charedi Yeshiva – crossed a cardinal line! They mocked an edict of people they consider Gedolim!

I have said this before. The more bans like this are made - the more it will undermine authority of those who make them. Less people will then listen to them when it really does matter.

One of the cardinal tenets of Charedi Judaism is the unyielding loyalty to the ‘Gedolim’. The respect and awe they have is virtually sacrosanct. They consider veering from what their Gedolim tell them to be a violation of the biblical command of Lo Sasur - to not veer to the right or to the left of what a rabbinic authority of a generation says. What they did at camp MaNaVu was to undermine that with ridicule!

If a Modern Orthodox camp had done exactly the same thing, it would have been put in Cherem. The rabbis involved would have been called Misyavnim - Hellenists!

To me this is a very positive development. Not that I want to God forbid see rabbinic leaders mocked and ridiculed. But the fact that people are finally coming to their senses. Sometimes words are ill conceived – even if they are said with the best of intentions as I’m sure they were with respect to the ban.

The time has long passed to stop the turn to the right and reflect on what that has wrought so far - and what it portends for the future.

Some of these edicts are Chumros She’Ein HaOlam Yochal Lamod Bam - stringencies which the public cannot tolerate. This incident proves that this feeling exists even among the devoted of their constituents. Congratulations to them for their courage and for inserting some fun into the camp experience while sending this important message. Long Live Lipa!