Friday, March 07, 2014

Mesorah? Or Radical Departure?

Guest Post by Gershon Distenfeld

Mishpacha Magazine Cover 
Gershon was educated in right wing Modern Orthodox day schools and high schools. He attended Yeshiva University and is currently (and for many years) active in various Jewish educational enterprises in his community of Bergenfield, New Jersey - and is a founding member of some of them.

He has submitted a profound and heartfelt view of current events that I believe increasingly represents the feelings of a great many religious Jews of all stripes. Some openly and some quietly.  I present it here in full. As always, the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect my own.

This week, many of us read yet another opinion piece on the current matzav in Eretz Yisrael attempting to justify the unjustifiable and saw another blatant distortion of reality on the cover of Mishpacha Magazine as seen in this blog post (reproduced here - HM). This is really nothing out of the ordinary as foolishness like this has become so commonplace that it normally doesn't warrant comment.

But then I saw the video (no longer available) that everyone has probably seen by now and decided that I could no longer stay silent.

In what can only be described as a disgusting and vile video, I had a hard time even watching the 4.5 minute slander against acheynu Bnei Yisrael. Reb Harry did a more than adequate job yesterday on the video so I won't pile on. But it's an opportunity to state very clearly what is on the minds of many Frum Jews here in America.

And that is simply one word: Dayenu! The majority of Torah observant Jews are horrified at the positions of the Israeli Charedi community.

The fact that Charedim seem to feel that they have no obligations to the broader society other than learning Torah on their behalf is a radical departure from Torah true Yiddishkeit and the Mesorah they are claiming to uphold.

Of late, the Charedi press has been critical of the "open orthodox" movement for innovations in Halacha, and there is certainly some truth there. But they would be better served to look inward and see how they have perverted Yiddishkeit and have strayed much farther from the true mesorah than the left wing orthodox crowd could ever dream of.

People are entitled to their opinions but they can't make up their own facts. So much of the Charedi the propaganda machine in EretzYisrael and even here in America are so distorting the truth and they need to be called out on it. So in that spirit, let me first address the claim that the Israeli government wants to abolish Torah through their "harsh decrees."

If the charedi yeshivos actually learned Nach, they find it replete with stories of real people, dealing with real issues in society – including fighting wars to defend our people.

The Torah exempts three categories of people from their sacred obligation to fight our wars – and there is no talk there about an exemption for those who are in Yeshivos or Kollelim.

When I learn Tanach, I get a very different impression of how many of our most revered leaders interacted with the world around them. I can't find any pesukim that indicate that Avrohom Avinu, Moshe Rabeynu or Dovid Hamelech (or countless others) sat in theBeis Medrash and asked others to support them and their families. Quite the opposite. They all engaged in parnasah!

I've heard all the excuses and justifications about why it is different today. None of them are convincing as this goes against all of Jewish history. It also goes against a man's chiyuv he signs in his kesubah and it defies common sense that Hashem created a world where a group of people can just be takers at the expense of others.

Now let me address the claim that the “Big Bad Israeli Government in general and the Yesh Atid party in particular are out to destroy Torah. Here is a letter to the editor I submitted to Mishpacha Magazine this week.

I was shocked to see your recent cover accusing the Israeli government of making Torah study a crime. I'm not sure how a magazine that is usually quite reasonable can distort the truth in such a blatant way.

By your logic, the government is making studying basket-weaving a crime as well. After all, if I studied basket-weaving full time, I'd be in the same situation as those who are studying Torah full time. Who knew it? The Israeli government believes that studying basket-weaving is a crime!

What is a crime is a citizen shirking his/her responsibility to support the country they reside in. You know, the one that defends them, provides for the upkeep of roads, electricity and countless other things that all its citizens use.

Israel is a democracy and like in any democracy, citizens have certain obligations. People are then free to use the remainder of their time to do whatever they please as long as it doesn't harm others. Some people will choose to study Torah, others will choose other pursuits which I would agree may not be as valuable. But to say that the state is criminalizing Torah study is pure fantasy.

As for the video itself, some questions beg to be asked:

How low can these people sink? Where is their ahavas Yisrael? Are they even aware that achdus is a prerequisite for Moshiach to come according to almost all opinions? Do they not see the irony in littering the streets of Yerushalayim and referring to those who will clean them up as "yoshvei kranos"?

And as Rav Slifkin pointed out yesterday, this can't be viewed in isolation. It is the natural outcome of the current Charedi mindset and hashkafa.

I hate to say it but it sometimes feels like we are a leaderless generation. We may have people who have accumulated a wealth of Torah knowledge but – but a "Gadol" has little to do with the amount of Torah knowledge one possesses. Permit me to quote from a shiur of Rabbi Yissocher Frand:

The pasuk in Shemos says: "The boy grew up (vayigdal hayeled) and she brought him to the daughter of Pharoah and he was a son to her. She called his name Moshe, as she said 'For I drew him from the water'" [Shmos 2:10]. The very next pasuk says, "It happened in those days that Moshe grew up (vayigdal Moshe) and went out to his brethren and saw their burdens" [2:11].

The Ramban comments that these two juxtaposed pasukim both use the same term -- 'vayigdal' -- to indicate the growth of Moshe. The Ramba"n points out that the first pasuk is referring to Moshe's physical growth and the second pasuk is referring to his spiritual growth. In the first pasuk, Moshe grew physically. In the second pasuk, he became a 'Gadol' -- a man of spiritual stature. This pasuk provides an insight into who the Torah considers to be an 'Adam Gadol' [great person].

The Medrash, on the phrase "Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and saw their burdens," states that Moshe saw their burden and cried over them. He would moan "Woe is me over your fate. If only it could be me who would suffer rather than you." He would then roll up his sleeves, so to speak, and participate in their hard labor.

The juxtaposition of the term "Gadol" (which the Ramban attributes to spiritual greatness) and the mention of Moshe's participation in the suffering of his brethren is a clear indication that the Torah's definition of a Gadol is someone who cares about the fate of his fellow Jew. The degree to which a person feels the pain and trouble of another Jew, defines how much of a "Gadol" he is.

It's sad to say, but many of the people we call "Gedolim" today are anything but. Talmedi chachamim - yes. Medakdikei b'mitzvos beinadam l'makom - certainly. But Gedolim? Not even close. A true Gadol cares about all of Klal Yisrael. A true Gadol loves Chiloni Jews as much as Charedei Jews. A true Gadol actively tries to make the lives of people better. And a true Gadol certainly doesn't slander their fellow Jews who put themselves in harm's way to protect other Jews.

As the gemorah says - in shamayim, olum hafuch ra-isi. Elyonim milmatah, v'tachtonim milmalah. The true Gedolim of today are people who not only empathize with people but roll up their sleeves and work to make people's lives better. They get criticized right and left by other "Gedolim" but they are the true leaders just like Moshe Rabeynu and rightfully should be referred to asGedolim.

So what can we level-headed people do? How can we make a difference? I would suggest two things:

1) We need to realize that this is not a case of elu v'elu. In my view this is a corruption of our mesorah just as much as non-orthodox movements are. We shouldn't be afraid to say it - loudly and clearly. People can't afford to remain silent anymore. Shitikah k'hodaah.

2) We need to stop sending money to any organization that doesn't denounce this perversion of yiddishkeit. I don't think it's good enough for people to stay neutral. Charedei hashkafa is way too dangerous to the future of Klal Yisrael.

Permit me to end with a bracha that those Charedim who see the light (and there are many of them) and realize the tragedy that theCharedei leadership is imposing on its people, are matzliach in escaping to a Torah true hashkafa. The majority of Frum Jews loyal to our true mesorah are in your corner, and we are here to help in any way we can.