The Culture of Controversy and Its Lesson for Us

My meetings with the Reform Jews are based on a clear understanding that the purpose of the meeting is to increase brotherhood, and that there are differences that cannot be bridged * Conversely, there were meetings with Haredi rabbis I refused to hold, because I understood the hidden intention was an attempt to recruit me to their camp * Despite my great love for the Haredi public, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the numerous controversies among them are not accidental, but stem from a culture of division led by the leaders of the community * In recent years, outgrowths of this culture have appeared among some of the Charedi Dati Leumi public. We must learn from the mistakes of our Haredi brothers, and uproot such views among us

During the time I steadfastly maintained my position regarding siruv pikudah (refusing an army order) to violate halakha when no pikuach nefesh (life-endangering situation) was involved, and refused to accept the dictates of the then Defense Minister Ehud Barak, someone called me and said that in Jerusalem, the Haredi rabbis highly regarded my position, and that even a certain rabbi, Gadol Ha’Dor (eminent rabbi of the generation), expressed his desire to meet with me. Someone else called repeatedly on behalf of one of the most important poskim (Jewish law arbitrators) and dayanim (judges) in Bnei Brak in order to invite me for a meeting. I had concern they did not truly respect my Torah position but only admired the clash with the Defense Minister, and wished to draw me into the Haredi camp. Seemingly, this was tempting – for even though I had studied at the Religious Zionist Merkaz HaRav Kook yeshiva, they were willing to respect me. At the time, I was busy writing the laws of Shabbat for “Peninei Halakha,” and I took the trouble to send the chapter on pikuach nefesh to the rabbi/poskek from Bnei Brak, and wrote that I would be happy to receive comments from him. I wanted to ascertain if he was truly interested in a Torah discourse. I also chose a chapter in which Rabbi Goren’s opinion on several issues was presented, and even in this, I wanted to test his attitude. I did not receive any comments on the halakhic chapter. Since this was the case, as far as I was concerned, there was no point in continuing the relationship, and I politely declined the repeated invitations.

Q: Rabbi, with the Reform clergywoman you agreed to meet without setting conditions, whereas with the Haredi rabbi from Bnei Brak, you checked to see whether to meet him or not?

A: The goal of meeting with the Reform clergywoman was clear: despite the deep and acute disagreements of opinion, we met to express unity. On the other hand, regarding the Haredi rabbi, seemingly, there are no visible disagreements about the kedusha (sanctity) of the Torah, and consequently, no need exists for rapprochement, unless, of course, it is a dignified and equitable discussion. If he is not willing to duly read what I wrote, I find no particular need to go out of my way to meet with him. I should note that in many conferences I have attended with Haredi rabbis, I regarded them with respect and love, and listened attentively to them. Of course, if on his own initiative he wishes to talk to me, I would be happy to receive him at my home, with all due respect.

Incidentally, the person who asked me to come to the rabbi of Bnei Brak is one of the signatories of the pashkvil (wall poster) against my position. A few months ago, the honorable Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, one of the great students of our teacher and mentor Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, and Rosh Yeshiva Kiryat Arba and one of its founders, told me that this person phoned him, attempting to incite him against me, and he, Rav Waldman, rebuked him for agitating quarrels and contempt, and humiliating Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars). Nonetheless, he continued in his evil ways.

My Affection for the Haredi Public

I have a great fondness in my heart for the Haredi public. A few years ago, I traveled with companions from the community to a wedding I officiated in Bnei Brak. As we approached the hall, and I saw the young boys and girls filling the streets, I was imbued with a yearning for Bnei Brak, and said to the passengers: ‘Look how beautiful! Do you also feel love for Bnei Brak’? My companions were politely puzzled, noting it was a bit difficult to say it is ‘beautiful,’ noticing as we travelled, the overflowing garbage bins. I opened my heart, and explained that I love the people. The family atmosphere, the children, the Shabbatot. I remember Bnei Brak from my childhood, my two aunts who lived there, the walk to synagogues on Shabbatot with my uncles and cousins. Almost every year I would visit them in the summer, in addition to family gatherings. The atmosphere was so good, warm, pleasant, and happy, that it is hard to describe. Zemirot Shabbat (hymns sung at Shabbat meals) were heard from all the houses, the synagogues were full of worshipers. Children running back and forth, girls jumping rope. My aunts happily welcoming me. In addition, on Shabbat evenings, I would ask my cousins ​​to go with me on a tour of the yeshivas and courtyards of Admorim (grand rebbes), and felt great pleasure in the joy of Shabbat, and the love of Torah. I would sit in the different beitei midrash (learning halls), in order to absorb the beautiful and deep atmosphere of the love of Torah and the masoret (tradition). In Jerusalem as well, my hometown, I enjoyed visiting yeshivas. When the Hebron Yeshiva moved to my childhood neighborhood in Givat Mordechai, I practically had a makom kavuah (regular place in the yeshiva), where I would come to study and pray on Shabbatot and Bein ha’Zmanim, embracing the melancholy and wonderful Lithuanian melody accompanying the study and prayers. Occasionally, I even heard the general shiurim (Torah lessons) with all the commotion and deliberations surrounding them. I especially love Hassidic tunes, from the old niggunim (melodies), like the songs of deveykut (intense cleaving) of Belz and Vizhnitz Chassidut, to their revised, deep and fresh spin-offs. And above all: the families! Numerous beautiful families, devoted fathers, hardworking and loving mothers, and the countless children, and joy. The Haredi dress, symbolizing loyalty to halakha and tradition, I also view as beautiful – both the basic look, and also the finely dressed appearance. I have great love for all of this.

The Sorrow over the Lack of Torah

The problem is that despite the deveykut, diligence and great talent, the Torah appears in a partial and incomplete way. This happens because of alienation from the soul of the Torah, from its overall purpose, namely, to bring blessing and tikkun (rectification) to the world. In practice, this receives expression in alienation from the most basic and fundamental mitzvot and values: Segulat Yisrael (Israel’s unique virtue) and its destiny, the study of emunah (faith), yishuv ha’aretz (settlement of the Land), army service, and the value of work. These are the foundations of the Torah, and since they are so all-embracing, they precede the Taryag Mitzvot (the 613 commandments).

The Controversies are Not Accidental

From here, to the phenomenon of harsh controversies. Had it been a dispute in one of the sects of Chassidut, or in one of the yeshivas, despite the great sorrow and Chilul Hashem (desecration of God), it could be understood. After all, we are all human beings, and sometimes even righteous people get into difficult disputes. However, when the phenomenon encompasses almost every area, the conclusion must be drawn that the Haredi worldview is the cause. When backs are turned on the value of ahavat ha’briot (love of mankind) at its basic level; when expression is not given to the value of Segulat Yisrael, and love for every Jew is not openly expressed; when there are those who systematically despise any Talmid Chacham who does not follow in their way, and others do not protest his affront; when IDF soldiers guarding our people and country are not respected, and there is no vigorous protest against evildoers calling soldiers and police Nazi’s – a culture of contempt, violence, and civil strife is created. No more restraints prevail from the terrible disputes.

The root of the evil is the approach of division and separation, which runs contrary to the great principle in the Torah – the mitzvah of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Sifra, ibid.), about which our Sage Hillel HaZaken (Hillel the Elder) said the entire Torah is a detailing and interpretation of this principle (Shabbat 31a). Hashem wants His beloved sons to be in unity, as the Torah says (Deuteronomy 14: 1): “You are sons of the Lord your God, ‘lo titgodedu,’!, literally, “do not cut yourselves,” which Chazal interpreted “you shall not form separate groups, sects, and factions”! (Yevamot 14a). “All of you together, be one group,” and it is also said: “It is He that builds his ma’alot (stairs) in the heavens, and has founded His aguddah (fitted together vault) on the earth” (Amos 9: 6) (Sifra, ibid.). In this Haredi approach, there is a systematic violation of the brit (covenant) of Hashem, and the brit of the Torah. The hatred that begins towards those removed from Torah and mitzvot, such as Reform Jews, gradually spreads to those near. Thus, all the harsh phrases they used towards Reform and assimilated Jews, such as “ocher Yisrael” (destroyer of Israel), “poretz gader” (literally, ‘one who breaks through a fence’, or figuratively, one who violates Rabbinic rules), “kofer” (heretic), “tzelem be’heichal” (erecting an idol in the Temple), and “avodah zara” (idolatry), are used by sibling Admorim (grand Rebbes), and Roshei Yeshivot (yeshiva heads) one against the other.

Ask children in any school, religious or secular, “Is it right for two brothers not to talk to each other”?! All will answer: “Of course not! It is forbidden”! How is it possible, then, that people called “Admorim kedoshim (holy grand Rebbes), “Gedolei Torah” (Torah giants), and “Roshei Yeshivot” behave like this?! Why do they fail to resolve quarrels in a din Torah (Jewish arbitration)?! Why do we repeatedly hear about families of rabbis who appear in non-Jewish civil courts abroad, and in secular courts in Israel, due to quarrels and disputes?

The Approach Warps the Mind

If the Haredi rabbis and reporters, who frequently criticize the Dati-Leumi (National-Religious) public, dared to criticize this awful phenomenon – forbidden by the most severe prohibitions in the Torah – it would have been possible to correct. However, for some strange reason, they are able to see clearly all the flaws of the Dati-Leumi public, and are blind to the transgressions of the leaders and rabbis of the Haredi public. Apparently, for some of them, the routine violence against anyone who dares to criticize their “sacred” approach has caused their sense of criticism to atrophy. For indeed, who would want to endanger himself and his family with severe harassment?! This creates a situation where one is unable to judge faithfully according to the Torah the obvious, and no one is able to cure the disease from which the terrible disputes arise. The beloved and good Haredi public is not to blame – the leaders who reinforce the approach of division and hatred, or at least tacitly agree to it, are the culprits.

Bringing the Controversy to the Religious Public

Why is all this important? Not in order to seek respect through their degradation, but to draw a lesson. Because in the last generation, allegedly “le’Shem Shamayim” (for the sake of Heaven) and out of “sacred fervor”, a group of baalei machloket (dispute mongers) is growing among the Chardal (Nationalist-Haredi) and Torani (Torah-oriented) public, who are copying the evil culture of controversy into the yeshivas and communities of the Dati-Leumi public. The pure jugs of oil from which the light of the rectified Torah should be lit, are defiled with the impurity of controversy and contempt of Torah. Therefore, it is crucial to contemplate and delve deeper into the ills of the Haredi approach, so as not to degenerate into the abyss of hatred for others, and so that the Torah does not become a sam ha’mavet (a death potion). Also, so that the holy words and rebuke of our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, will be engraved on our hearts: “The more a Talmid Chacham is a lamdan (Torah scholar), the more closely he fits the definition of Talmid Chacham labeled ‘Moshe Rabbeinu’ – the more he must be full of ahavat ha’briot“(Sichot Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, ‘Midot’, p. 13). “We must cleanse ourselves from the impurity of hatred, and from the impurity of the hatred of such Talmidei Chachamim, and such Roshei yeshivot, who desecrate Hashem, advocating in the name of the Torah to cause hatred of mankind to enter the world, God have mercy on us, God save us!” (Am Yisrael, p. 212).

For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good” (Psalms 122: 8-9).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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