Friday, July 03, 2009

The Tyranny of the Zealots Must End

There has been a bit of buzz about Rav Elayshiv’s comment with respect to Kol Koreis. Those are the occasional edicts that come out on various issues affecting the Orthodox world – usually in the form of a sign posted on walls and poster boards one finds in the Charedi sections of Israel.

There was apparently an incident in the Beis Hamedrash of a nameless Yeshiva whereby one student was caught by one of his Roshei yeshiva listening to some music instead of learning. He had an MP4 player hidden out of view and was faking learning while actually swaying to the music of the player.

These Roshei Yeshiva decided that the best way to deal with this problem was – you guessed it – come out with a ban. They approached Rav Elyashiv and asked him to sign a Kol Korei prohibiting the use of MP4 players. He responded with a question: “The tzibur still pays attention to such letters?”

It is very telling thats R’ Elyashiv is so keenly aware of the questionable efficacy of these posters. I surmise that R’ Elayshiv realizes that this medium has been abused and its power and influence over the public lessened.

But what people may not have noticed here is that R’ Elyashiv is not the person initiating the ban. Though he might agree with it, he isn’t the one stirring the pot here. It is a group of ‘rabbis’ who have crowned themselves as ‘keepers of the gate’’! These individuals have decided that they are going to be pro-active in preventing this type of device from entering their confines. They are the ones who will write the Kol Korei and they will be the ones to distribute them all over town.

R’ Elyashiv will probably approve of it - either directly or via a surrogate. And his name will be affixed at the bottom as though he was the one who ordered it done. And of course once his name is on it, all the wannabe Gedolim will jump on board and sign it too. This will result in a long list of signatures by Rabbanim most of which no one ever heard of - signing on to a ban because R’ Elyashiv signed on. They probably won’t even read it. They will hear the name ‘Elyashiv’ and that’s enough for them. It’s an honor to be asked to sign a document with his name on it!

This is how I believe most bans take place. They are not issued by the figures that undersign it. They are issued by a group of zealots - in this case a group of nameless Roshei Yeshiva - who have R’ Elayshiv’s ear.

Now I am not here to make any judgment value on the MP4. If I recall correctly this is an improvement on the MP3 in that it not only plays audio – it plays video such as movies and whatever else anyone wants to download off the internet. I will only say that I am opposed to banning technology even when it can easily be misused since it can also be used for good. But that isn’t my issue here. It is the relative ease of getting elderly Gedolim to sign on to Kol Koreis thereby lending more legitimacy to them.

I can’t help but believe that these Roshei Yeshiva are of the same type of Charedim who call for protests like the one last week against the municipality of Jerusalem for trying to open a parking lot on Shabbos. These are the individuals who - at best - look the other way when violence occurs and - at worst - secretly approve.

I say this because this violence is organized and not random as demonstrated by this interview. And these Rabbis have to know that. They may not be directly involved but are probably cut from the same cloth. They are zealots who have taken matters into their own hand.

The situation is out of control. For these Roshei Yeshiva it is about their students. But the ban will be for everyone. This is what some of these Asaknim want anyway- control over everyone. And by hook or crook they are going to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

We are not talking about Gedolim demanding new standards via edicts and bans. We are talking about Kanaim who have taken matters into their own hands. And in the case of some of them - it is sometimes backed up with violence.

Elderly Gedolim are being manipulated by overly zealous Roshei Yeshiva, Askanim, vigilanties, and/or outright Charedi thugs. These are the kind of people who now run things in the Charedi world. And they are very clever about it. They ask for seeminlgy reasonable things like raising the Tznius standards or removing an item they see as a Michshol, or protesting Chilul Shabbos. They easily convince elderly rabbinic figures to sign on. But the reasonable often becomes unreasonable and downright intimidating. Ask Rav Nosson Kamintesky or Rabbi Natan Slifkin. Or the resdients of Kikar Shabbos who suffered through violence instigated by people like these.

But even an elderly R’ Elayshiv realizes that one cannot keep crying wolf before people will stop paying attention. I just wish he would tell all of these Kol Korei writing zealots to cut it out! I wish he would realize that many of these people are not his friends and that they are using him to achieve their own goals of creating a Meah Shearim (some would say Taliban) world for all Jewry.

This is not the world I grew up in nor is it the one I want for my children and grandchildren.

These people may think they are on the right side of the Torah. But they are not. They may think they are - but looking Frum is not being Frum. They dress the part and have long beards. But to paraphrase R’ Chaim Brisker - Nebach a Rasha is still a Rasha.

If the more moderate Charedi leadership does nothing to stop it, it could spiral into a future that will make the Meah Shearim of today look moderate by comparison. A lot of people made fun of the Burka lady. But who knows what the future holds if we keep going in this direction?

On the other hand, maybe the handwriting is on the wall. Maybe R’ Elyashiv’s comment opens up a ray of hope. Maybe these Kol Koreis will be once and forever treated with the disdain they deserve as trash to be ignored and discarded– right along with the Asaknim/Kanoim who instigated them. God willing!