Sunday, October 26, 2008

Elisha Ben Avuyah

During my stay in Israel I was told about a Talmid Chacahm who lives in Ramat Bet Shemesh. He has written several SeforimChidushim on Shas. But, alas, he has recently gone 'Off the Derech' (OTD). He is no longer religious. A widly accepted Posek in Bet Shemesh has Paskin’d (issued a religious ruling) that one may continue to learn his Seforim. They contain no Kefira – heretical thought.

When I asked about the reason this Talmid Chacham decided to give up on Judaism I was told the following story. He was a very poor man and could not provide for his family. When seeking advice for finding some way to make a living, he was told that perhaps he could try sweeping stairwells in apartment buildings! That broke him.

I don’t know to what extent this is true. I’m sure there were other issues. This may just be the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. But it speaks volumes about the lack of understanding in the Torah world about people with unique needs.

This is not the first Talmid Chacham to go OTD. To the best of my knowledge the first one ever recorded doing that was Elisha Ben Avuyah - the famed Acher. His Torah was permitted to be learned too. His teachings are quoted in the Mishnah. It is also known that the Tanna, R’ Meir was a disciple of his even after his apostacy - accepting the ‘good’ while rejecting the ‘bad’.

I am not in a position to analyze what went wrong with either the Talmid Chacham of Ramat Bet Shemesh or the Tanna, Elisha Ben Avuya. I will leave that for others wiser than I. But I would note that one of real problems facing Judaism today is the inability to understand people with special needs or questions of faith. They seem to be almost rejected by the Torah world. No one seems to be able to deal with their questions or their problems.

Instead they are marginalized or even ostracized. I am reminded of the young man from a Charedi background who had a guest post here a while back. He was sexually molested and ultimately went OTD. In a last desperate attempt to get his son to return to observance his father convinced him to see a Rav and tell him his story. But he was rebuffed by this Rav as having no Ne’emanus –no credibility - since he was no longer religious!

There is a poster who uses the name Elisha Ben Avuyah who commented recently on one of my posts. He commented quite frequently on another blog (now defunct) that dealt with questions of faith. His comment resonated with me. I thought that surely there would be many responses to what he said. But so far only one! In my mind that just reinforces his lament, which was written in response to my post wishing everyone a happy Sukkos. His comment follows:

I can't wait for the end of Simchas Torah. Rather than inspirational and spiritually uplifting, Jewish holidays are depressing to me and a waste of time. If I do get to spend time with my family, it's as a barely tolerated guest, not as a father or spouse.

Why bother going to shul? The walk home alone is depressing. My living situation pretty much precludes being able to make any kind of Shabbas or Yom Tov meals, and even if it didn't, who wants to sit down to a solitary meal? Listen to the zmiros reverberate off of the walls? Make a l'chaim to the shadows?

On Rosh Hashona it made much more sense to make money satisfying customers than to pray for parnossa. At the Yam Suf, God told Moshe that there is a time for prayer and a time for action and when people are willing to pay you it makes much more sense to take the money instead of praying and hoping it comes.

If I was a college student, particularly if I had wealthy parents, kiruv groups would eagerly find a host family for me. Since I'm not of means, though, I'm persona non grata and can go to hell as far as most frum Jews are concerned. I stopped asking my rabbi and others to please find me a place to eat on shabbas or yomtov - it was only making me resent them for their apparent lack of concern for my neshoma.If I could find some kind of role model that might be helpful, but apparently no religious Jews have ever struggled with faith and observance since none of the books about gedolim or tzadikim ever mention crises of faith or less than exemplary behavior that was changed.

I don’t know the identify of this poster. I also do not know what his personal circumstances are or how much at fault he is for his own situation. But I do know that the religious community is failing him as it did that Talmid Chacham in Ramat Bet Shemesh.

He seems to have been barely tolerated and nearly ignored by his religious leaders. He has issues of Emunah - and no one to talk too... no where to go.

There is something terribly wrong in a world that allows this kind of thing to happen - whether it is a major Talmid Chacham who despairs of earning a livelihood or an individual with serious questions of faith and virtually ignored. Both were ‘thrown the wolves’.

I think that the incident with Rav who told the young abused person that he had no credibility puts this issue in stark relief. There is no tolerance for people who are outside the bell curve of 'normalcy'. If someone is molested and goes OTD - or if a huge Talmid Chacham is told he should go clean the stairwells of apartment buildings - or an individual dares to ask a question dealing with matters of faith… he is seen as out of the mainstream and left to fend for himself. After all – the thinking goes – what is one suppose to do or say? Besides - the greater good is served by dealing with those inside the bell curve - the vast majority of religious Jews who don’t have these kinds of problems.

I understand it. But I think it’s wrong and desperately needs to be fixed. Kol Yisroel Areivim Zeh LaZeh. Every Jew has a responsibilty towards every other Jew. That's EVERY JEW...not just most Jews! We ARE our brothers keepers. The community of those who have left the fold is too large and too precious to be treated this way. And it seems to be growing rather quickly.