Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Tisha B’Av Speech to the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation

Today is the fast day of Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) when traditional Jews mourn the destruction of the two Temples and the many subsequent tragedies of Jewish history. In honor of the event, every year the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, a Haredi organization, sponsors a video presentation shown to thousands of Jews across the world. The video usually features prominent Haredi speakers such as Rabbi Paysach Krohn (apparently he is not on for this year), Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rabbi Yissocher Frand and Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon. (For some strange reason when I played the ad for the event on their website they had music playing in the background. Music is certainly not something permitted today.) Usually, when I try to go, I find that the combination of my empty stomach and the rancid theology on screen proves too much for me and I end up having to walk out before the end. For all those with similar theological-gastronomical dispositions, I offer you the speech that I am confident you will not be hearing this year from the Chofetz Chaim Foundation; it is, though, what I would say if I were given the chance to speak as part of their lineup.A good churban to all of you gathered here today from across the globe. The fact that all of you are here in the afternoon on a fast day is remarkable. I say this because I do not wish to come across as completely negative in my comments, as someone who ignores the good in our community. Now that we have gotten past that I would like to move on to business. I am not much of a storyteller nor am I the sort who likes throwing around little vertlach on midrashim, with no purpose other than to entertain and offer pithy moral value statements. I am afraid that if you are looking for someone to make you feel good about yourself you have come to the wrong speaker. By my nature, I possess a skeptical view of human virtue along the lines of Augustine and John Calvin. (You can look those people up later.)

By training, I am a historian and a contemplator of human politics and society. From this, I have become a strong believer in the importance of a bottom-up understanding of human affairs. Major changes happen in society because the vast majority of society agreed to go along with them. As Leo Tolstoy (You can look him up later as well.) understood, those at the top, those supposed “great men,” are not the ones controlling events but are being controlled by them. For example, in the case of Nazi Germany, if you ask me who was responsible for the murder of six million Jews I would not say Hitler or those who ran the camps. Every society has its insane murderous people; they should be mercifully placed in mental hospitals, protected from harm or from harming others. The people really responsible were those regular sane German people who allowed Hitler to come to power and go to war. Without millions of regular Germans agreeing to serve in the German army and run German factories there is no World War II and no Holocaust. These were sane rational people who came to the sane and rational conclusion that the removal of Jews and other undesirables and the expropriation of their property would benefit them. Going along with the Lebensraum policy, had the sanity and rationality necessary for an act of first-degree murder. If it were up to me, I would have put the entire German population above the age of eighteen on trial at Nuremberg and those who could not prove that they actively tried to stop Hitler would have received a sentence of death. (Whether or not it would have been feasible to carry out such a sentence is another issue. Most probably this death sentence would have needed to remain something symbolic.)

Similarly, with the problem of Islamic terrorism, the people responsible for Islamic terrorism are not the terrorists, such as suicide bombers and the hijackers of September 11. The real people responsible are those Muslim and liberals who act as apologists for Islamic terrorism, blaming the West and Israel for bringing trouble upon themselves. I see such people on a regular basis on the college campus where I work. These people get to pursue their vendetta against the West and they hypocritically Pontius Pilate their hands of the affair. (Look it up.) They correctly claim to not be terrorists and make a big show of taking offense at any implication that they are. In truth, they are something worse, moral scoundrels, who lack the courage to pay the true price of their beliefs.

The past few weeks have seen numerous scandals erupt from our community; whether it is youngsters from our community burning trash cans and smashing traffic lights or the arrest of rabbanim in New Jersey. The common refrain is that these are the sins of just a small minority and have nothing to do with the overwhelming majority of us who are good righteous people. My response is that these are precisely the sins not of the few but of all of us in the community for they happen because we, as a community, are making the sane rational and immoral choices that allow for it. And let us not play innocent here, we benefit from these things. The least we can do is have the decency to openly endorse what was done.

Why do we have a population of youngsters with time on their hands and lack of any concern for secular authority to riot? Should young men in their teens and early twenties not be in school, learning a useful trade, or in the workplace practicing a trade? No, because we created a system in Israel in which young men must sit and study Gemara and are discouraged from pursuing any other option. Most people, including people with high levels of intelligence and talent as it pertains to other fields, are not suited for Gemara. Such people might be well suited for other fields of endeavor, but they are trapped by the system they are in; the system we have created. People in such a situation might be tempted to leave the community to pursue other options, but refrain from doing so, in large part, because we have taught them to hate, fear and despise the outside world. Make no mistake about it, we did it with intent; we taught them this precisely because we knew that by doing so we could stop them from leaving, joining the ranks of the of the off the derech and becoming an embarrassing statistic. So we reap what we have sown in the riots. We can no more say that we did not want or endorse the riots than Arabs can denounce the state of Israel as a Nazi occupier and not support the terrorism used to destroy it.

Jewish life is expensive with tuition and large families. It does not help matters if you are less than enthusiastic about advanced secular education. (A necessary platform for many of the sorts of jobs that allow one to pay for such a lifestyle.) We can try giving tuition breaks to needy families, but that simply spreads the cost somewhere else. At the end of the day we, as a community, have to be able to come up with the funds to support ourselves. You are shocked and horrified that members of our community, even leaders in our community, turned to defrauding people of their kidneys? I am talking to the real criminals right now. No one here can play innocent. We just thought it would be best to look the other way and hoped that if we did not notice no one else would. And some Germans innocently thought that the Jews could all just be shipped off to the East and everyone would be the better for it.

For all of you so-called “Modern Orthodox” Jews sitting in this audience, feeling pretty good about yourselves right now; I mean you too. You have allowed yourselves the luxury of using systems built by others. Why are you sitting here listening to this lineup of speakers; why do you not have your own speakers, who actually believe in the sorts of things you claim to believe in? It is sheer laziness. You abandon the running of Torah-true Judaism to people who support an ideology you oppose. Do you think it actually matters that, when this ideology fails, you can claim that you did not support it; for all intents and purposes you did support it.

In conclusion, let us resolve ourselves to taking some moral responsibility for what goes on in our world. There is a churban going on right now. If you are one of those people who looked at articles in the press about Haredi rioting and complained that we are being picked on then you are responsible for our churban. If you are one of those people making comments on websites like the one run by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, telling him that he needs to stop talking about what is wrong with our community and do more to tell us how wonderful we are, then you are part of the churban. My bracha to you all is that, if we take it upon ourselves to clean up our own mess, Hashem should bless us that next year we will have the luxury of only having to mourn the burning of a building in the year 70 C. E.


Miss S. said...

For some strange reason when I played the ad for the event on their website they had music playing in the background. Music is certainly not something permitted today.

Maybe it was acapella music? It is getting so good at imitating instruments nowadays; it is hard to tell the difference!

The Bray of Fundie said...

I hate to admit it but I gotta admit it. This is absolutely brilliant.

ז בִּרְצוֹת יְהוָה, דַּרְכֵי-אִישׁ; גַּם-אוֹיְבָיו, יַשְׁלִם אִתּוֹ. 7 When a man's ways please the LORD, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.

I am that "enemy"

ומלאך רע יענה אמן

I am that evil angel.

All I can say, against my will, is amen brother. My only regret is that it took me so long to discover it.

The Bray of Fundie said...

I'm sure that I'll enjoy it even more after I look up all your references to famous Goyim. (AAMOF I alreay possessedenough cultural IQ to khop the Calvin and Pilate refernces.)