Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Joke and its Implications

My nephew, studying in Yeshivas Mir, visited (together with his sister) for Shabbat. He told me a joke that's making the rounds.
A woman climbs on a bus (here in Israel) wearing very little clothing, and sits herself down next to an obviously Chareidi man. Clearly uncomfortable with the immodesty sitting right next to him, he stirs in his seat for a while, and then reaches into his bag. Pulling out an apple, he hands it to the woman.
"Here," he tells her, "take a bite."
"Why?" she wonders. What's with the apple?
"Take a bite," he tells her, "because after Chava ate the apple, she realized that she was naked."
The woman thinks for a moment, and pulls an apple out of her bag.
"Here," he tells her, "take a bite."
"Why?" he wonders.
"Because after Adam ate from the apple, he realized that he'd have to work for a living."
Ironically, my niece had heard the joke, but not the last line. Somehow in seminary everything's about tzniut, even when the joke isn't really about tzniut. But I digress.
I share the joke with you not just because it's funny, but because my nephew learning in the Mir told it to me, obviously highlighting a tension present not just in the yeshiva, but in the entire Chareidi world.
Last week, Rabbi Chaim Amsallem, a Knesset member from Shas gave an extremely controversial interview in which he stated that Jewish men should work. Not shocking for a reader of this blog, but in the context of the Knesset debate about stipends for Chareidi kollel families, it's a bombshell. Shas is supposed to be in favor of the stipends and kollel learning in general. For a member of their Knesset delegation to go off the reservation and take an opposing view is tantamount to heresy. Literally.
After he gave the interview Shas party hacks literally called for him to resign. Most surprisingly, he said "no," defying the explicit demands of Rav Ovadia Yosef, which in the world that is Shas really is kefirah. (He claims that the party has been taken hostage by interests that are in bed with the Ashkenazi Chareidi world, and that traditional Sephardic Jewry never subscribed to a lifetime of full-time Torah learning. He's clearly correct, but since when does being right have anything to do with politics, here or anywhere in the world?) While the English-language press has noted the story, in the Hebrew press it's huge - especially in the secular Hebrew press. They love frum-on-frum fighting.
When Rav Amsallem defied Rav Ovadia, the gloves came off. The Israeli press is reporting that in Shas' paper,
במאמר נוסף הושווה הרב אמסלם ל"עמלק אשר נצטווינו בתורה למחות את זכרו". בסיומו של אותו מאמר אף נקבע: "סופו של האיש יהיה כסופם של עוקרי הדת ומסלפי ההלכה, אשר נתרסקו אל תהום הנשייה".
In an additional article, Rav Amsallem was equated to "Amalek, who the Torah commands us to destroy his memory." The article concludes, "The end of this man will be like the end of those who uproot religion and distort halachah, who fell into the depths of hell."
Ouch. Even for politics in Israel, that's a little harsh. OK, very harsh.
I have two reactions. First and foremost, the very fact that someone from the Chareidi establishment would dare utter words against the current kollel system represents yet another crack in a broken system that clearly demands reexamination. Like my nephew's joke, everyone knows the truth. The only question left is when reality will hit and the guy on the bus takes a bite of that apple and starts getting trained for gainful employment.
Secondly, while I might agree with Rav Amsallem's sentiments, I think he should have quit. When you sign on to Shas, you sign on to the party line. You do what Rav Ovadia tells you to, whether you like it or not, and whether you think he's being manipulated or not. That's how the system works.
If you don't like it and want to start spouting truths against the party line, maybe you should have started your own party, or joined one closer to your line of thinking.
Or, better yet, maybe you shouldn't have gotten into politics at all.