Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Real Chillul Hashem

As a religious, Torah-respecting, semi-demi-hemi charedi, there is one aspect to last week's elections which still bothers me. in a sentence, it is this: the corrupt Abutbul election campaign has tarred by association a great number of talmidei chachamim whom i respect. had respected. not yet sure which.

You see, I who live in the eye of this particular storm know that the charedi mayor and his coterie are corrupt.
(Note: i do not want to say that chareidim as a group are corrupt. this is not true and an insult to the many many chareidim who are beautiful examples of G-d-fearing Torah-observing menstchen (and frauen). Also: those who do not live here need to know that Abutbul is the puppet at the tip of the iceberg, to woefully mix my metaphors. He is not calling the shots. If he was not there, someone else would be. This does not excuse his behaviour, though - he is a willing lackey).
And the vast majority of my fellow-townspeople know this too. even the ones who voted for him. (they just found different ways to make their own terms with it, some by saying 'it's irrelevant, i follow the gedolim', some by saying 'it's irrelevant because he is charedi' and some by claiming that the corruption is either practically irrelevant (eg 'only 36 fraudulent votes were actually cast and abutbul himself didn't know about it, so the Election Mark I should stand' - thus ignoring both the import of any sort of fraud, and the fact that it is the charedi-abutbul coterie who did it), or that it is a conspiratorial lie.)

I should note too that i am using the term 'corruption' in a very broad way. The Abutbul coterie (by which i mean not just the man himself but the group of people who surround him and direct him, & most especially directed his campaign) deliberately lied about past events; they deliberately misquoted and twisted the words of Eli Cohen; they lied about his intentions; they blackmailed individuals to vote for him using religious & communal coercion; they broke the laws of election campaigning repeatedly and ignored reprimands; they bribed individuals to vote for him; they gave him credit for achievements which were not his own; they used inciteful language to whip up hate; they falsely claimed that individuals who would appeal to particular communities supported him. I could give a longer and more detailed list, but that would be boring. Suffice to say: lies, cheating, blackmail, bribery, defamation, slander, incitement to violence.

So far, so bad enough - there is a large corrupt streak running through the charedi world, and abutbul and his coterie are major representatives of it. Thanks to the elections round one, and also various other infamous episodes in recent history, everyone knows that there are corrupt chareidim around.

However, it seems that some people do not know about this corruption: certain talmidei chachamim. And this is the crux of the matter.

The corrupt Abutbul coterie brought in numerous 'outside' talmidei chachamim (whom they termed 'gedolim') to tell the masses that they MUST vote Abutbul. Here's a partial list, off the top of my head: Rav Obadya Yosef z"l; Rav Chaim Kaneivsky; Rav Nebenzahl; Rav Tau; Rav Aron Feldman; Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky; the Novominsker Rebbe; Rav Ahron Leib Steinman; Rabbi Orlowek; Rabbi Leff; Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller, Rabbi David (? i think this was his first name) Abuchatzeira. By associating these individuals with the corrupt Abutbul campaign, his coterie besmirched them all with their own corruption. I can think of no greater chillul Hashem than to have made Torah and Torah scholars appear corrupt, through inducing them to support corruption.

So, all of us who care about Torah and her teachers face a problem: respected, knoweldgeable, wise talmidei chachamim who know so much Torah and give such good advice, have supported a corrupt group of political schemers.
It's a conflict: how do we resolve this?
I've read many individuals who've said that this just proves that all the aforementioned chareidi talmidei chachamim are corrupt themselves.
I've heard people say that all these Torah powerhouses are foolish, naive and ignorant indivuals who know only Torah but nothing of anything beyond the daled amos of their own beis medrash, and so were easily manipulated into saying whatever some bearded askan wished them to say.
I've heard still others say that this shows how unjust the 'gedolim' are, that they did not bother to check out the facts and speak to people on both sides of the mayoral race, but only listened to the chareidi one who asked them for support.
I've seen too the argument that all these gedolim were lied to by their gabboim and shamashim to convince them to support Abutbul, and/or that letters of support were forged, and so you can not believe anything a 'gadol' says, because they are manipulated by their gabboim and shamashim.
And many people say that this shows that the whole concept of 'Daas Torah' is a load of lies and placebos, because Daas Torah even see corruption when it was right before their eyes.

Others, who are more nuanced in their thought, are more conflicted. We feel betrayed and let down. How can someone so knowledgeable in Torah be so easily hoodwinked? How can someone we respected as thoughtful and wise decide to support one side in an election without properly investigating the whole situation? How can so much Torah knowledge leave one so foolish?

I don't really have any answers yet, but i have a few thoughts.

1. Some of the gedolim in question really do not know much about what goes on outside of their beis medrash. Some are particularly old and frail and reliant on their gabboim/shamashim to guide them.

2. Some letters of support really were forged (see: corruption).

3. A few years ago, my husband and I went to meet with Rabbi Orlowek (as mentioned above). He is well-known for his almost prophetic insight into children's characters and their educational/parenting needs: you bring him a photograph of your child, and he'll tell you about that child's nature and how best to help him. So we did this, we brought him photos of our three children. Before he began, R' Orlowek cautioned us that he is not a navi (prophet). This is not nevuah (prophecy), this is just his years of experience and his close reading of body language and facial cues that enable him to pick up on a person's feelings. He told us that, as he is not a navi, he is not infallible. These are your children, he said. You know them best. If i say something which does not sound right to you, then listen to yourselves, not to me, because you know them best. And sure enough, while what he told us was 95% accurate and 100% helpful and useful, there were a couple of times when we exchagned glances with each other and said no, that's not really what he/she's like at all. No, that's not a problem he/she has. And he said right, well it's your child and you know them best, i am not a navi.

And so now i remember this, and I think, if that was the case for our children, for their whole chinuch and discipline and life path, then why can that not be true too for our town? Perhaps here, too, neither Rabbi Orlowek nor the other 'gedolim' are neviim, and they are all, again, wrong about our town, because it is our town, and we know it best? We do not really believe that rabbis are infallible; can we just accept that they were wrong here, that yes, they were misled, that they did not dig deeply enough into the issue, that they were lied to and believed those lies - but can we still continue to trust and respect them as talmidei chachamim and wise Torah teachers despite the fact that they are human? It's a thought.

4. Perhaps, like many of us once did, these talmidei chachamim trusted chareidim to be honest. Perhaps they believed the apparently frum, G-d-fearing people who approached them and begged them hard to do what they can to convince people to vote for the chareidi candidate because of the chillul Hashem that would otherwise ensue.

This doesn;t solve it for me. I still ask myself why they chose to get involved; why they did not use their seichel to speak to both sides and check out the situation for themselves; why they were so naive that they could be taken in in this way; why their Torah learning did not make them wiser than this. I continue to try to retain my respect for talmidei chachamim, both in general and in the specifics listed above. I remind myself about shabtai zvi and the number of rabbonim at the time who believed him, too. I think of Rav Yaakov Emden and Rav Yonatan Eibeschutz, who had a fierce quarrel which bore very little in common with hillel and shammai, but we still learn and value both their Torah. I think about how the Dubner Maggid so misjudged the Vilna Gaon in giving him eitzah - but we still appreciate his teachings. I think too about Rabbenu Yonah, who did passionate teshuvah years after his scathing condemnation of the writings of the Rambam. Perhaps just not enough time has passed yet.

Perhaps, too, we just have to learn to live with the questions and confusion. It is Purim, after all.

1 comment:

  1. about these 'talmidai chachamim': what is their attitude towards democracy, voting, political systems, and the like? they'd probably point out that democracy is not a torah concept, that it is Greek and not a political system that has it's roots in Yiddishkeit. Perhaps -given their views on personal autonomy and freedom of choice [any colour as long as it's black] - consider the possibility that they don't think much of the idea of participatory democracy, so they do not set much store by the whole process; that for them it's just so much western hefkerut; that people should not be choosing who governs them because it's a meaningless exercise and those who do are wasting torah time; free will means to do Hashem's will as signposted by daas torah and not to think for yourself


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