Saturday, 26 October 2013

this is not the beginning of the end...

So i'm sure you are all pleased to hear that i have calmed down somewhat and am no longer quite so angry. at least, i am no longer angry towards people who have voted abutbul - friends who have please take note, i won;t shout at you any more ;-) - i understand, with my head at least if not my heart, that there are people who feel that 'abutbul was an ok mayor, better the devil you know than the devil you don;t, and don;t talk to me about politics, lies or anything else cos what else do you expect from politicians, i don't want to hear it.' which means that they would not have discovered quite how unequally the nastiness was spread. and also that most people would have voted before all the voter fraud was known about.

 i read a long letter written by an anonymous charedi, which was sent to me to show me that the charedi fear of eli cohen was very real. i believe him: it was very very real. that, however, does not make it legitimate. it was clear from the undertone of the letter that the letter-writer believed that the mayor of beit shemesh should not consider the needs of the non-charedi residents. he wrote about how dreadful it would be to vote for eli cohen, because he had promised to have establishments open on shabbat for those who are not shomrei shabbat, in non-shomrei shabbat areas. clearly, he is confident that a charedi mayor will not let this happen. equally clearly, he is opposed to such a thing ever being allowed to happen. ergo, he does not want the needs of non-charedi residents to be met; or at least, not when he disagrees with their validity. he showed exactly what the non-charedi real fear of charedim is: that they will take a non-charedi town which happens to have many charedim living in it, and turn it into a charedi town which does not permit entertainment establishments, modes of behaviour, dress, or leisure that are not in accordance with a charedi lifestyle.

i am still annoyed at abutbul, his campaign machine, and the rabbis who supported him. i am angry that the election race was turned into a jew-vs-jew affair when it did not need to be. i am angry that the rabbis used inflammatory religious rhetoric to support one candidate, even if they were not aware of the depth of the lies and nastiness due to rather selective exercising of 'see no evil, hear no evil'. i am angry that these rabbis ignored the fact that beit shemesh was already a place of tension between right and left, and instead of calming charedi fears of a dati-leumi-masorati-chiloni conspiracy against them, they fuelled them. i am angry that abutbul's campaign machine cynically exploited charedi fears just to keep power. (and i do understand that many charedim heard their rabbis tell them about the terrible threat to their charedi lives in beit shemesh from a cohen-lapid-bennett plot, and believed them, because why would they not trust their rabbis? and were scared, and voted accordingly. they were obedient tools.)

i am most angry out of a very personal sense of hurt, that these rabbis rejected me, and others similar to me, as 'not good enough' for not sending our children to the 'right' school, for not wearing tights, for wearing denim skirts, and yet they accept as 'good enough' someone who carries out lies, intimidation, and general hotzaas shem ra. i understand very, very well now how a child would go off the derech and reject judaism because of having seen hypocrisy and unethical behaviour coming from people who are honoured and acclaimed as 'frum'.

i am not opposed to daas torah, but this is where daas torah breaks down. it has been over-used. i do think that the concept of daas torah exists; however, i think that it is misunderstood and abused.
misunderstood, because it was never intended to take the place of thinking things through for yourself. you were meant to think for yourself, weigh up the pros and cons, and ask daas torah for advice and guidance when you could not work out for yourself what would be best.
abused, because just like you cannot shop around for the opinion you want, you cannot manipulate the information you give your daas torah, and then expect his advice to be accurate. the gedolim whose wish was carried out by the rabbis 'on the ground' were not told the truth. they were told lies about cohen's intentions, lies about who was backing him; sometimes they were quoted from when they were making a generalistic statement of recommendation and not when talking specifically about beit shemesh and it's 2 possible candidates.

from where i stand, i see 2 options for daas torah. either it will become stretched to breaking point; people will no longer believe that the voices of daas torah possess any wisdom, insight, or understanding, because they have heard the statements of daas torah invoked so often, to support behaviour which is more wild, more unethical, more hypocritical than before. if this is daas torah, then daas torah is foolish. and sadly, they will all revolt against the whole concept of kavod to rabbonim and deference to gedolei hatorah. i think this is already happening - viz last week's attack on rav shteinman, and death threat ot rav shmuel auerbach.

or, there will be the opposite effect. daas torah will be venerated so much that no one will dare to make a decision without checking with daas torah first. it will not just be asking the advice of a rav when unsure which school to choose for your child. it will be asking daas torah without even looking at the options first. it will be fearing to take a step without getting the daas torah ok. and i think that this has already happened also.

one point in the election campaign which amused me: one of the fake posters produced by the abutul machine claimed that the rabbinic leaders of the dati leumi community said to vote abutbul. as soon as it was spread around, the dati leumi community said 'we are not listening to this, because voting is not a halachic issue in which we need a psak. all that this can be is a guideline, and we are not following it'. it was funny, because it was followed by an official statement from said rabbinic leaders that the statement was a fake. evidently, the dati leumi community showed that they were true talmidim of these rabbonim; they were right, their rabbonim would not produce such a statement telling their communities how to vote in beit shemesh.

over shabbat, i heard people saying that this is not the end; there are lawyers working on getting the election redone, or overturned, or whatever the right word is. i applaud their optimism, but as far as i am concerned, this is the end. it ended a week or two ago, when the abutbul campaign machine upped its level in lies and divisiveness, and rabbis and charedi leaders continued to support charedi fear of fellow jews. i do not know how we can live together, when charedi leaders, both rabbinic and from the laity, encourage divisiveness and hatred in place of acceptance and unity.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

'the story of the jews'

'blog on this one, O historian!'
Alright then, i am.

but it's gonna be rather short.

i've finally watched only 2 of the 5 episodes of simon shama's 'story of the jews'. here's my 2 cents, for all that that may be worth (considering inflation, not a lot).

i think that covering 5000 years in 5 hours forces shama to concentrate only on the broad sweeps and patterns of Jewish history. His theme: that the story of the Jews is that of survival, both physical but, more importantly both to the theme and to Shama himself, religious & spiritual survival. his over-arching message and the thread running through his work is that Jews have always been concerned with keeping the religious flame alive through religious life. Jews have faced the problem of how to keep a religious alive without a land or tangible focal point, and in this documentary he traces how, in each era and in the face of each new threat, Jews have changed and shaped Judaism to keep it vibrant & relevant, and yet recognisably authentic.

To me - and to most of my friends, i expect - the sweep of Jewish history is already familiar. I've most enjoyed the way in which Shama wonders at the beauty of the structures which Jews have built in every land in which we have settled; and yet, as he says, always reaching for the suitcase again. There is an eternal, touching pathos which comes through - of the Jew perpetually packing the suitcase and heading out yet again, but each time we come to rest, we yearn to stay at rest and not to have to pack up again. and so we build these big and beautiful synagogues, but leave them behind with barely a backward glance.

and i've really enjoyed Shama;s personal story of jewishness - the friend he's argued with about gemara, the passion with which he declares his zionism, the sadness as he admitrs that he mourns for all of those jews in 18th-19th centuries who thought that by succeeding in wealth and secular culture, they could rise above their jewishness, only for it end in ashes.

there are a few details i did not know, but mostly i'm enjoying watching an acclaimed secular historian share his Jewish identity, express his passion, and trace a pattern of jewish history over the centuries.