Friday, August 16, 2013

Death Wish

Rav Aharon Leib Steinman
I can hear it all now… again. ‘When are you going to give it up?’ ‘Why do you care what the right says?’ ‘Don’t you realize how much they reject you by now?’ ‘Stop worrying about the Charedi world!’ Forget about them and concentrate on your own world – which is much better than theirs!’

Sorry, I can’t do that. All Jews are my brothers. Even the bad ones. And certainly the ones who are L’Shma but in my view misguided to the right or the left. Especially when they are venerated rabbinic leaders with a long history of accomplishment in many areas. And a history of doing the right thing even if it goes against popular opinion. This is the case with 100 year old Rav Ahron Leib Steinman. He is not a politician. He says what he believes every time he is asked for his opinion.

I therefore cannot help but be extremely disappointed and perplexed by recent comments attributed to him. From Ynet
Sources close to Shteinman also said that he tells pupils to think of Lapid and of Education Minister Shai Piron when saying Birkat haMinim, which is said three times every day other than Shabat, and that is read with the purpose of destroying the enemies of Israel: "And let the arrogant government be speedily uprooted in our days. Let the noerim and the minim be destroyed in a moment. And let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not be inscribed together with the righteous." 
Did he really say this? This isn’t just about disagreement. If true then in essence Rav Steinman has a death wish for Rav Piron, who until his election to the Knesset was the Rosh HaYeshiva of a Religious Zionist (RZ) Yeshiva in Petach Tikva. It is more than a death wish. It is a prayer that he die – comparing him to the worst enemies of Klal Yisroel for whose annihilation we pray for 3 times a day in Shemonah Esreh!

I understand his strong disagreement with Rav Piron.  But to tell people that they ought to pray for his death is more than just expressing disagreement. Who knows what kind of violent activity that will generate?! We know that there are violent extremists who identify as Charedim. We know some of that violence is so severe, that it sends people to the hospital. 

Is an assassination attempt by a Charedi extremist against Rav Prion that far fetched? Even though the vast majority of Charedim abhor any violence, let alone murder, is it not possible that there is at least one person that may become so motivated by such pleas that he will take the next step – and make that prayer a reality? It isn’t only the RZ camp that has the Yigal Amirs of the world. I’m sure that the Charedi camp has them too. Rare as they are, they do exist!

So, yes… I am having tremendous angst from this. I cannot just reject someone who is venerated by masses of mainstream Charedim… a man that has proven himself to be a compassionate leader in so many other circumstances throughout his illustrious career. And I cannot give up on this community. Not anymore than I would want them to give up on me.

The fact is that there are a great number of Charedim that actually feel the way I do. They too are troubled by statements like this – even when they agree with Rav Steinman on his opposition to the draft and to a core curriculum of Limudei Chol (secular studies).

One such individual is Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. He has written an essay on his website directed to what he calls ‘the silent majority’ (I call it mainstream Orthodoxy) about the Charedi violence in Israel which he refers to as a Chilul HaShem. Here in part is what he says: 
A common thread in many of the emails we received after posting two columns condemning the violence in Eretz Yisrael was a sense of frustration among the Silent Majority at not being able to undo or mitigate the Chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d's name) caused by the wanton acts of a few people...
Hopefully Hashem’s children can join together, collectively call a “Time-Out” to the current strife, and engender the shalom (peace) that will have Him shower His blessings upon us in the coming year. 
We at Project YES would like to invite all members of our very diverse readership to use the comment thread below to share your thoughts and suggestions about what we can do to generate achdus (unity) among us despite our differences.
I propose that we spend the three Shabasos before Rosh Hashana speaking to our children and grandchildren about the importance of Kavod habriyos and shalom (mutual respect and harmony) and think about what we can do as the adults in their lives to model those values.  
I heartily endorse this idea. But I am beginning to think it won’t make any difference. The people who listen to the words of Rav Steinman will hardly pay attention to Rabbi Horowitz. The truth is that Rav Steinman is venerated world-wide by even moderate Charedim. My guess is that there will be a lot more mainstream Jews in Israel praying for the death of Rabbi Piron rather than there will be mainstream Jews that think about generating Achdus.