Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Chasid Shoteh

The Tanna Rabbi Yehoshua makes the following statement in a Mishna (Sotah 20a): A Chasid Shoteh (foolishly pious individual) is a destroyer of the world. The Gemarah (21b) goes on to describe a Chasid Shoteh as a man who refuses to save the life of a drowning woman because she is naked and doesn’t want to look at her.

That the Gemarah brings up this concept is recognition by Chazal that there are indeed dangers to over doing Tznius. I am beginning to wonder if the increased haranguing about issues of modesty these days will start creating people like this – if it hasn’t already. While being a Chasid Shoteh will never be the norm it will not be from this community not trying to be. At least that’s what it is begining to seem like.

Once again, modesty issues are on the front burner in Charedi Israel. As if this were the most important issue facing Orthodox Judaism today. It seems like almost every new ban or edict issued by Charedi rabbinic leadership in Israel deals with Tznius. And yet issues like poverty, sex abuse, and money laundering in the Frum world are barely on the radar screen.

The latest volley in the battle between secular society and the Charedi world is the latter’s new prohibition forbidding their flock to volunteer for Israel’s MDA (Magen David Adom). MDA is Israel’s version of Red Cross. The claim is that this organization is not run according to Torah standards and will cause violations in Halacha. But I suspect that the real concern is about Tznius. They call it spiritual dangers. From Ynet:

"We hereby inform you that it is forbidden to volunteer in the Magen David Adom organization even for the purpose of saving lives," the rabbis wrote, adding that it was only permitted to volunteer "in an organization which conducts everything according to the way of Torah and Halacha."

OK. I understand that there are Halachic rules to follow even in the business of lifesaving. Although saving lives requires Shabbos to be breached if necessary - there are non lifesaving medical situations that require keeping Shabbos. Something that a non Halachic body like MDA might ignore.

But somehow I don’t see that as the real issue. Shabbos problems can be fixed. People of good will on both sides can come to some sort of accommodation that will allow Charedim to serve on this life saving body without violating Halacha.

Good will is after all what MDA is all about. How else would one characterize people whose sole mission 365 days a year is to save lives? They are probably seeking Charedi volunteers precisely as an act of good will toward the Charedi community whom they serve right along with everybody else. To say that MDA has an agenda of attracting Charedi Jews in order to uproot Frum Jews from their Judaism is the height of cynicism.

I refuse to believe that is the case. I see this new edict as a more subtle way of discouraging interaction with the non Frum so as not to learn from their secular ways. Kind of like the same principle that guides their opposition to serving in the army. That - and the fact that men and women serve together which is in and of itself anathema to Charedi Israel. Not to mention the various levels of immodest dress that many secular women wear. Especially in the scorching hot days of the summer.

The problem is that MDA is first and foremost a life saving entity that I am pretty sure has in the past saved the lives of many Charedim. They do not discriminate when it comes to saving lives. Charedi or secular they will come to your aid when called upon and do whatever it takes to save your life. Recruiting Frum Jews is an attempt to enhance their life saving capabilities in that very community.

That rabbinic leaders are undermining that is perplexing to me in the extreme. How does it serve them if MDA remains understaffed and someone dies because of it? And will it be better or worse for them if an MDA volunteer that happens to be Frum is on the rescue team?

I do not cast any aspersions on the Rabbanim that have come up with this new edict. Those listed are great people. Perhaps there is more to the story. I don’t know. But based on these facts, I am deeply perplexed as to why they would put the dangers of Tznius violations ahead of the potential life-saving needs of the community. There is something very wrong with this picture.