Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Chareidi Gospel Truth

Rav Moshe Meiselman
Each of us lives with our own individual, subjective truth. Look in the mirror. What do you see? I guarantee that you won't see what everyone else does. Women see something worse than the truth, men something better. (I like to pretend that I still have hair. From my angle viewing the mirror, and with a big enough kippah, I still do.)
We see what we want to see, and not what everyone else clearly sees.
What's true as individuals, holds true as well for entire communities.
Look at the United States today, which has become increasingly divided between "Red" and "Blue." Each group has its own media that it watches/reads/surfs, which feeds it the truths that it chooses to highlight.
This rule applies of course, to every group of every type. Personally, I never realized just how accurately it describes the Chareidi community today, especially in Israel. I really didn't understand just how deeply this rule applies to that community. Until now.
Over the past week, I have encoutered this phenomenon so often, in such dramatic terms, that it (figuratively) slapped me in the face. First, a relative forwarded an interview with Rabbi Moshe Meiselman that was recently published in the Yated. He emailed me saying (in my own words), "Read this article, and then you'll understand just how wrong you are." I read it, and found myself bewildered. I found Rav Meiselman's arguments unconvincing, to say the least, if not baffling and downright mystifying. He seemed to be describing facts and events of which I have no knowledge.
Then, last week, the issue of Rabbi Dov Lipman came up in a private rabbinic arena (I'm leaving things vague). Rabbis that I respect related to Rabbi Lipman (who is a friend of mine) with such vitriol and contempt that I found myself struggling to reconcile their animosity with the generous spirit that I know they possess. What gives? What's the basis for such a deep-seated difference of opinion?
Reading the Meiselman interview several times, it finally dawned on me. We're working with different facts. It's as simple as that. And when there's no common set of facts to discuss, there cannot be room for agreement and compromise. There isn't even place for discussion.
I'll explain, using Rabbi Meiselman's words to illustrate my point.
Discussing the "Status Quo" agreement between David ben Gurion and the chareidi community, Rabbi Meiselman said,
Meanwhile, everyone else in the country - besides the bnei hayeshivos - was expected to serve for three years in the Israeli army. One would think that this was due to security concerns. While this is partially true, there was another, more sinister reason for requiring almost everyone to serve in the Israeli army. Ben Gurion mentioned that the army was the social leveler, enabling all the diverse elements of Israeli society to be united and molded in a new Israeli mentality and nationality.
(Interviewer) In what way was the army to impact the culture and atmosphere of the country?
The army served the purpose of allowing Ben Gurion and the Zionists to impose their anti-Torah lifestyle, philosophy and ideology on the thousands who would serve in Tzahal. One must understand that being in the army means that soldiers must totally subjugate themselves to the rules and orders of their superiors. This enables those running the army to create a new social identity.
This was the reason that the gedolim leading the chareidi community insisted very strongly that bnei hayeshivos not go to the Israeli army. They rejected the new social identity that the Zionists were trying to impose on the residents of the country.
Here, in plain English, is Chareidi Truth 1A: Secular Israel (and secular Israelis) harbor a deep-seated desire to destroy the Torah, and by definition, Judaism. This is not a matter, in their perspective, subject to debate. It's simply the truth. Sometimes the secular hide this desire and couch it in rhetoric, and sometimes it's explicit. But it's always there, deep-down. Moreover, even when they say explicitly this is not the case, they're lying.
This, of course, leads to the Second Truth: Anyone who tries to destroy Torah is a Rasha. Since secular Jews wish to destroy the Torah (see 1A), they are Resha'im (wicked people).
This, of course, leads inveitably to a Third Truth: Anyone who collaborates with a Rasha is himself a Rasha.
With this in mind, we can now understand how Rabbi Meiselman could make the following assertion:
On Lag Ba’omer, Naftali Bennett visited Bnei Brak and declared that the lifestyle of the chareidi community is a greater existential threat to Israel than the Iranian nuclear threat. What Ben Gurion said sixty-five years ago our enemies say today. He declared that he will force us to integrate into secular Israeli society. In fact, one of Bennett’s campaign goals was to make Sunday a day of rest so that the Dati Leumi community could share cultural events with the secular community and achieve cultural unity. While his primary goal is to secularize the chareidim, his secondary goal is to do likewise to the Dati Leumi community.
What? What!? Did Bennett really say that "the lifestyle of the chareidi community is a greater existential threat to Israel than the Iranian nuclear threat"? That sounds pretty harsh. What did he really say? It turns out that in fact he said that,

שילוב רבבות החרדים בעבודה - באהבה - הוא יעד לאומי, ממש כמו עצירת הגרעין האיראני
The inclusion of tens of thousands of Chareidim to the workforce - with love - is a national goal, exactly ilke stopping the Iranian nuclear threat.

Naftali Bennett in Bnei Brak
Did he say that he wants to destroy the Chareidi lifestyle? Actually, he said the opposite. Did he say that the Chareidim were a threat greater than the Iranians? Far from it.
Last I checked, Naftali Bennett is religious, served in the IDF, and has attempted, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to serve as a buffer between the Chareidim and Yesh Atid. But here Rav Meiselman explicitly calls both Bennett and Ben Gurion "enemies", and makes crystal clear that he, perhaps even more than Bennett himself, realizes that Bennett's true goal is, "to secularize the chareidim, his secondary goal is to do likewise to the Dati Leumi community." How does Rav Meiselman make such blatanly false statements, and put words into Bennett's mouth that he never said?
Rav Meiselmen isn't lying, God forbid. In his mind, Bennett really did say those things, and really does believe. Let's remember our mirror of personal truths, and the Chareidi rules: Bennett is in the coalition with Yair Lapid (who is a Rasha) so :

Bennett = Lapid = Evil

This being the case, when a wicked person makes a statement, it's only logical to intrepret that statement in the most extreme, negative form. Bennett made a connection between the Chareidim and the Iranians? "He must really mean (deep down) that he thinks that the Chareidim are worse than the Iranians, and presents a greater threat to the future of (the-dream-of) secular Israel."

Lipman and Lapid
This also explains the terrific venom focused on Rabbi MK Dov Lipman, who was called, not coincidentally, a Rasha by none other than the Rosh Yeshiva of his former yeshiva. Really? A Rasha? Isn't that a bit harsh? Sure, Rav Feldman walked back the statement a bit, but in his heart of hearts? Of course Rabbi Lipman is a Rasha, because he's working with Lapid, who's also a Rasha. Thus, our mathematical equation is:

Lapid = Bennett = Lipman = Evil

Moreover, Dov Lipman especially enrages him, because the very core of his activities - working with the secular community to try and improve the lives of the Chareidi community - is antithetical to the core identity of a "real" Chareidi. A real Chareidi knows the truth: that Lapid deep down wants to destroy the Torah. If Lipman doesn't believe this, he's fooling himself, and betraying the community he purports to represent.

I wish I were making this up. But I'm not, and if you look carefully, you'll see this attitude pervasive throughout the Chareidi press. (Mostly in Hebrew, where it's more pronounced a vitriolic. In America, the Chareidi community has learned over the years to temper its message in a more politically correct way.)
Take an open letter to Minister of Education Shai Peron (a former Rosh Yeshiva), published on a major Chareidi website, titled, "You Hate Us, and We Hate You." Personally, I find the letter, written by an anonymous Kollel student, troubling for its frankness and open expression of hatred. (Isn't the Torah supposed to bring us closer together? Isn't it supposed to speak of peace and love?) Towards the end of the letter, the writer states:
אין אני פונה אליך בשם הדת. דתך אינה יהדותי, ואלוהיך האחרים אינם אלוקי. אלוקי ישראל אשר בו האמינו כל דורות ישראל, ברא את העולם, הוציאנו ממצרים, נתן לנו את התורה ובנה לנו את בית הבחירה, לכפר על כל עוונותינו.
ואילו אתה, מר פירון, מיהו אלוהיך? הלא מבחינתך את העולם בראה האבולוציה, במצרים אילו היית – לא היית נגאל, את לימוד התורה אתה רוצה לעקור, וכפרת עוונות הוא מושג מיסטי וערטילאי בעיניך, ובכן מיהו אלוהיך?
I don't turn to you in the name of religion. Your religion isn't Jewish, and your other gods are not my God. The God of Israel in whom every generation of Israel believed created the world, took us out of Egypt, gave us the Torah, built for us the Beit Hamikdash to atone for our sins.
And you, Mr. Peron - who are your gods? From your perspective the world was created through evolution; had you been in Egypt you would not have been redeemed. You wish to uproot the study of Torah, and the notion of atonement for sins is a mystical and abstract concept to you. Thus, who are your gods?
I wish I was making this up. I wish someone purporting to speak in the name of the Torah, didn't spew such venom at a recognized Torah personality in my community.
But I'm not making it up. After all, our kollel fellow isn't really saying anything new that isn't already accepted within his community (just read the comments). He's simply preaching the Gospel Truth.
How then can we possibly have a conversation, when we're not even speaking about the same facts?