Saturday, 31 December 2011

Madness in Ramat Beth Shemesh

 The story is well known.

A prospective Ger came to Hillel and asked him to teach him the entire Torah whilst standing on one foot. Hillel took him aside and told him:
“Don’t do unto others that which you would not want to be done to yourself.. the rest is commentary .. now go and learn”.

To me, as a religious Jew these words are the quintessence of Judaism. If you want to be a frum Jew- it’s not just about keeping the laws between yourself and G-d but it’s the laws between yourself and your fellow man that have to count as well.
As Rabbi Akiva put it “the Mitzvah of loving your fellow as yourself –zeh klal gadol batOrah- is an important principle of the Torah”.

All this is simple- I don’t need to say this. We all know that there are  mitzvoth that are between ourselves and G-d and ourselves and man. And my mission as a Jew is to work on both of these aspects to the best of my ability.
That’s how I serve Hashem!
However, I want to suggest that there are Jews out there who might call themselves frum or even Chareidi yet they do not understand, they are completely misguided and  give the impression that they are frum because they wear the garb the full regalia; the hat, the long jacket , the long peyote and the works, yet they are not frum at all.

Years ago, when I was in Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Yerushalayim- 1981, There was the famed road to Ramot about ¼ mile from the Yeshiva. Every Shabbat afternoon without fail there would be Chareidim who would dutifully go from their vantage point overlooking the road, and throw stones at the Shabbat desecrators who were driving cars on that road on Shabbat.
We Yeshiva Bachurim, would go there to watch and get our Shabbat afternoon entertainment, and  witness the scuttles taking place between the police and the so called “chareidim”.
Incidentally- my Rosh Yeshiva if he would have found out about our attendance there he would not have been pleased, he didn’t approve of watching the goings on because he felt it added fuel to these extremists.
However I never really understood; notwithstanding the fact that one could cause criminal damage, and one certainly could be hurting somebody by throwing a stone. You are not allowed to even pick up a stone on Shabbat let alone to throw it, so I never understood how these Chareidi thugs ever did what they did.
But fast forward the clock to Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet and the events of the past week. The international media have really picked up on this one and it has become a major Chilul Hashem.
A Dati Leumi girls school is next to a Chareidi neighbourhood. There are members of the Chareidi community who disapprove because the girls are not dressed according to the standard of the Chareidi community.
Yet we have to understand the school is Dati Leumi, which means it is a frum school and the children are dressed in a modern but  tzniut way-  it’s just not Chareidi.
Channel 2 Israeli TV follows an eight year old girl (photo above) on her way to school and you see how this girl is literally too scared to go to school. Why? Because protesters from the Chareidi community are there outside the school gates in force every day  hurling abuse and spitting at the kids and calling them all types of names.
In my opinion:  To chant, to spit, to use the violence of words against children goes against the dictum of Hillel. It’s not Chareidi- it’s not frum.
And then there’s the mishugas with the busses. I don’t think there is any serious Rabbinic authority who would hold that you need to separate the men and women in busses.
The secular press are having a field day with this one. Just cast your eyes on the JC,  and they devote two double pages to this story. They even insert a little article about the threat of the Ultra orthodox community-that by 2059 there will be 30% Chareidi Jews in Israel. It’s almost as if the main threat to Israel comes from within.

But I want to tell you something it’s a complete distortion of the facts. Already the mainstream Chareidi organisations have spoken out in unison against this behaviour. A very sharp statement was issued by Agudat Yisrael of America condemning this and calling these people not representative of the Chareidi community.
The RCA Rabbinical Council of America- the largest body of Orthodox Rabbis in the world has also said that the police in Israel need to be supported to do everything they can to stop this intimidation perpetrated by members of that community.
But this doesn’t get reported in the press- instead all Chareidim become tarnished with this brush of extremism.
 Hence the mixing in, and the fomenting of hatred by the secular press to create a schism in Israeli society.

What’s my take on all of this?

In this morning’s Sedra, Yosef reveals his identity to the brothers.

In the words of Rabbi Norman Lamm, Dean of Yeshiva University: Yosef is the quintessential Modern Orthodox Jew- he is straddling two worlds. Brought up in Canaan in a sheltered environment, he now has become the top man in Egypt. He has reached the pinnacle of success- yet throughout he doesn’t forget his identity; he never forgets that it is Hashem who has caused all of this to happen.

So how far does this straddling of both worlds go?  How Modern can you become before you lose your identity and the modern takes over the orthodox- and you become assimilated into the dominant culture?

Yosef sends his brothers back to Canaan to bring the news to his father Yaakov and to bring him back to Egypt to ride out the famine.
To each of the brothers he gives a change of clothes, but to Binyamin his full brother he gives Chamesh chalifot semalot- five changes of clothes.
So the question is: we know why Yosef came down to Egypt in the first place.. because his father showed a preference to him by giving him a ketonet passim a coat of many colours which enflamed the jealousy of the brothers. Yet now Yosef is doing the same thing, he’s showing a preference to his beloved brother Binyamin by giving him 5 changes of clothing. Is it possible that Yosef has not learnt anything from this experience and is going back to where they started?

Now listen to this cryptic statement of the Gemara in Megillah. He says that the 5 changes of clothing that Yosef gave to Binyamin correspond and are reminiscent of the five garments worn by Mordechai a descendant of Binyamin when he rode in front of the king at the end of the Purim story.

Mordechai had risen to prominence in the court of Achashveirosh. He had foiled the plot of Bigtan and Teresh to assassinate the king. He now receives all the kavod for his goodness. Mordechai is a story of success. A Jew has risen to prominence. He even wears the special clothes to show how high up he has climbed on the social ladder. But with all that he remained throughout first and foremost an Ish Yehudi- a Jewish man- that is how he is described.
So Yosef is giving these five changes of Egyptian clothing to his brother Binyamin with the message. You can live in Egypt and you can wear even the clothing. But throughout, like Mordechai your descendant, you remain a Jew. It’s not the black hat or the long coat that makes you who you are- it’s what’s going on in your heart and in your mind!!


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