Friday, July 1, 2011

Let Jewish Teenagers go into Monasetaries and Soon They will be Texting on Shabbos

A decade ago, when I spent my post high school year in Israel, I attended Yeshiva Ohr Hadarom, headed by Rabbi Shalom Hammer. He is a good speaker and a decent person, though we failed to get along due to a personality clash and intellectual differences. Rabbi Hammer, for all intents and purposes, is a Haredi rabbi, operating in Modern Orthodox circles due to his religious Zionist politics and, one suspects, simple economics; it would not have been practical to get a position as the head of a Haredi yeshiava, a Rosh Yeshiva, so he tried playing Rosh Yeshiva with a bunch of Modern Orthodox teenage boys in the hope that they would be in the market for that sort of thing. Much to his frustration I was not looking for a Rosh Yeshiva to give me a connection to Judaism and God. I treated him as the adult authority figure in charge; I did not and he complained about this to my face that I did not give him the respect "he deserved" as a "Rosh Yeshiva."    

In a recent blog post, Rabbi Hammer discusses an incident where a bunch of his daughters' friends went into a monastery.

Considering that all of the teenagers on the trip are from Orthodox home and that according to most Orthodox rabbis it is forbidden to enter a church or monastery, my daughters were particularly upset that this considerable group of their friends would casually breach Orthodox halacha. Even more disturbing to them was that when they told their friends that they would not enter the monastery as it was forbidden according to rabbinic halacha, the majority of the group reacted explaining that this was only a Rabbinic prohibition and not worthy of serious consideration.

Rabbi Hammer connects this willingness to be lenient in this matter to the recent scandal breaking out in the Orthodox community that many Orthodox kids text on the Sabbath. These kids believe that it is ok to make compromises in Jewish law so they pick and choose what to keep as it suits them.

I see a connection between entering a monastery and texting on the Sabbath, though it is not the connection that Rabbi Hammer makes. I certainly oppose texting on the Sabbath and would see any person who does as being outside the Orthodox community. (This, of course does not mean that they are bad hell-bound people, with whom I will not be friends with.) That being said, I think the root of the problem, at least in part, lies in the attitude toward Jewish law taken by people like Rabbi Hammer and imbibed by the kids he tries to teach in which everything is either permitted or forbidden.

Take the example of the monastery. Now before I continue I should confess that I do enter churches despite the fact that I do recognize that there are real problems with doing so. (See "What Church Services have Taught Me about Prayer.") I do it because I study Christianity professionally; I also do not associate the Church with persecution nor do I see it as necessarily something idolatrous. (If I am willing to walk into a Chabad house and give Lubavitchers the benefit of the doubt of not worshipping idols despite the giant rebbe picture then I must give Christians the same benefit of the doubt with their crucifixes.)

Whether I am doing the right thing or not, any competent halachic authority would recognize that entering a church or a monastery is in a completely different league from texting on the Sabbath. For that matter, of all the places a teenager might think to go to, we should rather teenagers visit a monastery, where they just might learn something about history and other religions, than go drinking at a club.This needs to be brought over to students in a tangible way beyond simply muttering something about rabbinic and biblical prohibitions. You wish to enter a monastery, fine; make the case to me, based on Jewish sources, that this is ok. If you can hold a straight face and make a plausible case then I will let you go. Regardless of whether I agree with your decision, I will accept the fact that you are part of the halachic process that is Orthodox Judaism.

What happens when rabbis and teachers take the short cut with students and write off everything they oppose as wrong and against Judaism? The result is not that students will accept all these injunctions as serious prohibitions to be obeyed absolutely. On the contrary they will in turn take short cuts of their own and treat all prohibitions as simply an opinion to be accepted or rejected as they see fit. If going into a monastery is simply something that rabbis claim is a serious prohibition even when it is obvious that it is not, then when rabbis say you should not text on Shabbos they must also just being doing what they usually do and forbiding even minor things. So one can text in good conscious and still be an Orthodox Jew.

Wishing all my readers a good non-texting Sabbath.        


Grossbard said...

I was there, and still have a connection to rabbi hammer? How is he Haredi?
He even took off his beard a few years back...

Rosten said...

Writing on Shabat is forbidden according to the Rema only for the writing that the Torah was given in. that is a script called ivri as opposed to Ashurit which is the script of our modern Torah scrolls. To be frank however i have not been able to see how the Rema derives this Halacah. From what i remember in the Gemara in Gitin there seems to be no source for him. (Maybe that Gemara looks different in Mesechet Shabat?) The way the Gemara looks in Gitin is that writing is forbidden from the Torah but in a case of acquiring land from a gentile in Israel it is permitted (Rav sheshet) by the hand of a gentile (added to Rav Sheshet by the Gemara). This would mean to say that writing is deuraita (forbidden by the Torah) and by the hand of a gentile it is derabanan and in that case there is no gezera. That seems straightforward saying that writing is deuriata. Even in any script. This does not mean to say not to depend on the Rema. It just means I don't remember his source.
Of course it is possible that the Rema is depending on rav sheshet himself before the later amoraim reinterpret his statement.

The next thing is electricity on shabat.
this is a long story. After looking at the chazon ish i was very impressed. I went to rav nelkenbaum and he said that he heard from a gadol that the chazon ish is not correct. I went back to the chazon issh afetr that and even since then i have not been able to find what was wrong with it. It looks self consistant. the only thing wrong is that his is creating a new type of prohibition of building that is different from the understanding all of the rishonim.
Later I saw the book of R. Shelomo Zalman Aurbach who also says the same thing as I just did. Electricity is simply not fire nor is it building or tikun mana.
So R. Shelomo Zalman Aurbach wrote to the Chazon Ish saying exactly this.
The Chazon Ish wrote back just repeating what he had already written in his book.
R. Shelom Zalman wrote back again and received the same answer again.
That is to say he received no answer. but a third time he did not want to write because he did not want to be an annoyance to the Chazon Ish.

The sum total of all this is electricity is not fire, nor building, nor tikun mana (unless one depends on the Chazon Ish against all other Poskim including all the rishonim.)

The only thing is a light bulb could be a problem because of the interpretation of the Rambam about a coal in a Reshut Harabim. Looking at the language of the Rambam it would seem a light bulb would be clearly forbidden (to the Rambam at least).

Rosten said...

now i remember a third point that i almost completely forgot. It is the rambam and raavad in hilchor tumat kelim. this is relevant but after looking closely at the ramabam and raavd i realized there still was no support for the chazon ish.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

What were you doing or not doing that was recognizing him as an authority figure but not "respecting" him as a rosh yeshiva?

Anonymous said...

From Izgad

Sorry. My internet has been down for the past few days.


Good to hear from you. The main way that I would consider Rabbi Hammer to be Haredi was in his views on authority. He wanted to be more than just a halachic adviser, the modern orthodox model of rabbinic authority, but wanted veneration.


I was your basic smart alec teenager. I did not break the rules, at least not in any serious way, but I talked back to him and it got on his nerves.


I will get back to you.

Izgad said...


Right now Orthodoxy is in a mess because rabbis in the nineteenth century made the scientific mistake of thinking that electricity is fire. We have dug ourselves in even further as the ban on electricity has come to define Shabbos. This is going to become an even bigger problem as our society becomes more and more dependent on electricity. I take it a given that by the end of the century there will be a major halachic shift in how electricity is handled. That being said I do not see teenagers texting as a helpful way to bring about change.

Rosten said...

it is not just electricity. In general later authorities are flaky. This brings down the whole quality of what we call "Torah".
A lot in life depends on what books are part of ones canon of accepted authoritative books. (and which people one considers as authorities on spiritual matters.)

Rosten said...

just for the record i want to mention the reason i thought the rambam hilchot kelim was relevant to electricity. For it is the unstated source for the rishonim that understand making a vessel means it cant be taken apart and put together by an amateur. This would mean that since an electric light can be tuned on by an amateur it is not making a vessel,
What i had originally thought is that there was perhaps some support for the chazon ish from the raavad. but after some thought i realized this was wrong.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your blog, but am very disappointed in your suggestion that a large picture of a tzadik on the wall (or would you only say this about the Rebbe?) might be idol worship, ch'v.

Chabad is very careful not to put pictures on the mizrach wall.

Since when is a picture of a tzadik idol worship? Is there some size to the picture that you have determined crosses the boundary?

Many non-chassidic yeshivos have pictres of gedolim on the walls.

I found the comparison in bad taste, and offensive.


Izgad said...

Good point about Chabad not sticking their pictures on Mizrach side. That being said Chabad makes a point of sticking up pictures specifically of the late Rabbi Schneerson. Not that I have anything against Rabbi Schneerson, beyond the fact that he was a geocentrist creationist, but putting up pictures of him is a visible sign of a general trend in Chabad ideology that places Rabbi Schneerson above every other figure in Jewish history. This may not be idolatry in of itself, but it is a red flag and Chabad cannot play innocent in what they are doing. I would also add that this willingness to place a contemporary person above all Jewish tradition in ways not justified by the halachik process was the main thing that convinced Rabbi Jacob Sasportas that Sabbatianism from the very beginning was a new religion.
Yes I am against it when Haredim stick up pictures of their gedolim. I have heard Haredi rabbis declare “our gedolim are always right.” This is idolatry as it implies the infallibility of beings other than God. So I see Chabad, which certainly preaches the infallibility of their Rebbe, as simply a more extreme version of an idolatry that infects most of the Haredi world.

Abacaxi Mamao said...

I am not sure how/why texting on Shabbat would put someone outside the bounds of Orthodoxy, since anyone who has studied the issue of electricity on Shabbat can see that claims against its use, especially for things like cell phones or smartphones, which have no incandescent bulbs involves, are tenuous at best. I believe that I could make a much stronger argument for texting on Shabbos than for going into a Catholic church, especially during services.

And I think electricity is going to have to be dealt with/rethought long before the end of this century!

Izgad said...

I agree that within our lifetime we are likely to see Orthodoxy shift its stance on electricity as it is problematic. That being said, for better or for worse, Orthodoxy has come to define Shabbos in terms of not using electricity. Perhaps this is like women rabbis where Orthodoxy has created a fake halachic fight out of a social one. I would certainly rather Orthodoxy fought against texting than women rabbis.