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Thursday, April 06, 2006


Taking Dor Yasom to a Whole New Level

We are a generation of orphans. An orphaned generation. Both.

I wanted to add some comments of my own to this brilliant post by R' Harry Maryles. But there are already over 150 comments there. Anything I'd say would be lost in the shuffle (see my earlier comments about blog comment boards). So I'm going to address it here.

We've been betrayed. We have no Rabbinic leadership on a global level. In many cases, we have no Rabbinic leadership on a local level, either. I won't get swallowed up in the explosion of sewage surrounding the Tendler controversy, but I will say that as much as R' Harry feels betrayed by the so-called gedolim, I feel betrayed just as much by people whom I once respected and admired. Yiddishkeit has always been represented to me as noble, refined, intellectually rigorous, spiritually inspiring, and most of all, RIGHT. But the more riots break out in Boro Park, the more Cross-Currents and Deiah V'dibbur pontificate about Haredism, the more Rabbis are brought down by rumor and vitriol, and the more batei din and Jewish organizations are tainted, the less I'm interested in identifying with it all.

A good friend of mine, Reb Dovid Roness, shlit''a, is still interested in identifying with it all. His passion and erudition were brought to bear recently, when he engaged the Agudah's Rabbi Avi Shafran in an e-mail debate about his column, "Pride and Principle," which outlines his explanation of why Agudah refrained from participating in the World Zionist Organization's recent elections for its American board.

To summarize what I think are the salient points, Shafran says that the WZO has--in its Jerusalem Pledge and by extension its worldview--placed the State of Israel in a position of centrality and moved Torah off to the margins. This offends Agudah's principles, and thus, they refrained from participating.

Roness argues that the positioning of Israel as 'central' doesn't mean that Torah is not also central. And if this whole argument boils down to semantics, why wouldn't the Agudah put the greater good--specifically, securing additional funding for yeshivos and Torah initiatives and influencing many irreligious and unaffiliated Jews in a positive way--ahead of a minor quibble over a word?

Shafran insists that the wording of the WZO is deliberate and reflective of their "zionist theology." Roness disagrees. And the argument revolves for a number of pages, bringing religious zionism, gedolim, kiruv, principles of honesty and integrity, and other tangential issues into the mix.

Dovid sent it to me, just to see what I thought about the whole mess. Following is my response:

Heilige tzadik,

I wish you could somehow turn back the clock and recoup the hours spent on this frivolous exchange. Don't write him back. Accept that this schism will not be bridged. Accept that Moshiach is going to come because of yiush, not because of achdus.

My main problem is that the whole thing can be boiled down into two lists - your position points and his.

He says centrality=zionism as theology=renouncing Torah=bad.

You say centrality=important=enabling frum people to influence funding and mind-share in the greater Jewish sphere.

Obviously you're right. It's silly to view his definition of the Jerusalem Pledge as anything other than spiteful and closed-minded. If it was written by zionists, it must be kefira. That's his take. Why? Because some of the founders of zionism were kofrim. That's what the whole argument of "history has shown..." amounts to. Reality on the ground - money for yeshivos vs. money for rainbow parades, and kosher food and mincha minyanim at WZO events vs. dinner dances and kosher-style banquets - has no bearing on his view. The potential good is outweighed by his adherence to a position that was benighted and narrow-minded 60 years ago, and is only moreso now.

Regardless of whether you accept Medinat Yisrael as 'kol dodi dofek' or 'an entity whose significance cannot be determined at this time,' it's there. It's happening. It's where the Jews are. It's where the greatest opportunities to influence unaffiliated Jews are. Look at Irgun Shofar! Odd as they are, they're at least *doing something.*

The old joke goes, "There's a good reason that OU's magazine is called 'Jewish Action,' and the Agudah magazine is called 'Jewish Observer.'"

That's the bottom line. Agudah is best when filing ineffectual briefs in US court cases, when pushing Pirchei and Bnos programs for yeshiva kids, when attempting to have unqualified mechanchim take day-long 'pedagogical enrichment' classes, and so on. They don't "do" klal yisrael. They don't have any aspirations beyond their daled amos, and they rationalize it (smugly and reprehensibly) with the chorus, "truth seekers will respect our commitment to principles."

Okay. But they won't. Not unless you reach out and engage them and show them what arvus and ohev es habriyos um'karvan latorah means.

An acquaintance of mine who's a musmach of Sh'or Yoshuv once said, "The modern have issues of kids going off the derech and turning to sex and drugs because of TV and movies and the Internet. *WE* don't have problems like that." (emphasis mine)

He, and people like him, see the dichotomy of us vs. them very clearly. To my limited understanding, G-d doesn't.

Now that I think about it, Agudah treats the irreligious the way we're commanded to treat potential gerim. "We're not going to advertise. We're not going to push. If they're interested, let them come to us."

The reasoning behind this is simple - they're afraid to engage the unaffiliated. What if some of that unaffiliation rubs off? What if their pat answers don't pass muster with intelligent people?

So that's it. Agudah's not interested in reality. And I guess, because I'm willing and indeed committed to working within reality, I'm somehow less attached to Torah principles. Okay. I'll live with that. It's a classic chakira - cheftza/gavra. How we balance the two determines where we fall on the political/philosophical (but NOT theological, chas v'sholom) spectrum.

Thanks for encouraging me to write this down. It's going on my blog!

But whatever - you need to drop it. You need to accept that Agudah's NOT going to see things your way, even though I believe torah y'vakshu mipicha. I'm very humbled and impressed that you even attempted to engage him in dialog. I wouldn't have even tried.

Have a zissen, kusheren, freilichen Pesach. Enjoy health and nachas and simchas and success in everything you do. And my sincerest bracha for you and me is, may our children be so articulate, well-informed, forceful, and committed to Toras Hashem as is borne out by your writings.

Excellent post! Yasher koach!
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