Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Some Good Brisk Politics

After publishing my first online post, I literally "posted" the paper on HaKotel's message board. A verbal battle ensued, as attackers pinned their ideas onto my original article, and defenders penned their ideas onto the growing stack of paper. One comment raised the point that Judaism does in fact include a political vision, thus defining one's rabbinate as a legitimate- if not sole- political source to follow. The following is my defense against an idea that runs much deeper than Amona . . .

I am not a gadol, I have never received s'micha, nor am I considered a talmid chacham. However, as a highly qualified am ha'aretz I still enjoy vocalizing my opinion. Anybody (I can hear the Shanah Bet's lickin' their lips) with more Torah background ought to have a field day with what I write. Ok, let's see what you've got:

Political decisions do in fact have a major Halakhic component. After all, Judaism does advocate a theocratic government, and our American bred obsession for democracy will be one of many sacrifices reduced to ash on the messianic altar.
As pointed out on the message board, yishuv eretz yisrael is likewise not just another mitzvat shmirat n'giah to break when convenient. Without doubt, there is a treasure trove of similar concepts to further prove this point. However, it is not to my person, my place, or my style to offer up more examples. Rather, I am going to skip that bekiut seder for a much more important lesson in iyun; the scope of religious interaction in the political realm must be defined, and an important hiluk is in order.

Every statement of Halakha- responding both to the theoretical case or the practical sheilah- contains two parts: a situation and a decision. Before a psak-decision can be handed down, the situation must be described in accurate and specific terms. It's no great surprise that a misrepresentation of the situation can lead to a faulty psak.
I recall the controversy in Los Angeles but a year ago, when a well-known American posek allowed Listerine mint strips on Yom Kippur; somehow the Rav received a completely inaccurate description of the strips, and only after the fast did all parties realize their mistake.

This, of course, is common sense- yet we blur the lines so quickly when it comes to political sheilot. Obvious: if the disengagement will only increase the terrorist murder of Jews while stunting the growth of emunah and religious commitment, its as assur many pretend it to be; but, if it births an authentic, long-lasting peace that ultimately lends to the flourishing of the Jewish people, it was not only mutar but a hi'uv.

So how can we possibly state our "Halakhic" question? "Assuming my personal political forecast, based largely on the newspapers I read and the social circle I was born into, are in fact accurate depictions of heatedly debated international issues, then is it assur to. . ." Even asking the sheilah assumes the Rav is either a navi or a reliable, well-tested political expert - two roles the rabbinate has yet to master.

Which brings us to the uncomfortable warning label this hiluk sticks on our most proudly held beliefs:
"Caution: your entire 'religious' outlook is based upon a few social assumptions!"
If Western culture really has nothing to lend Judaism outside higher assimilation rates and fading levels of commitment, our Haredi brethen are- oy veh- actually right. If our worship of Zionist symbols distracts us from the real importance of Eretz Yisrael, once again, we've been fooled. Most every religiously backed belief, is in fact, merely a function of world perspective.

But fear not! This does not limit or restrict our ability to form opinions within the Jewish community, adaraba, our ideas have been redeemed from the prison of religious thought. You know those cutie-tutie things R. Elon talks about, like "ahavat hinam" or "ahdut bein achim?" Removing the holy-war tension between the Left and the Settlers mends a tragic socialogical rift . . . even as the political debate continues! Ridding ourselves of the "holier than though" rhetoric makes us recognize the beauty and sincerity in both sides of the Haredi versus Modern Orthodox dispute.

Nothing I said leads to a fatalistic sense of halakhic relativism- "I can't ever establish a completely legitimate world outlook and therefore everything is wrong and right and unclear." All the excitement, energy, and stubborn will that Jews drive into political arguments should be just that- passionate but political, without a hint of religious taint. Go ahead and yell and scream and write and argue and reason your ideas- but don't pretend to spout G-d's holy message. You never know if you're actually portraying Him correctly, and He may not be so thrilled if you've gotten it wrong.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Disengagement from the Rational

I wonder what great Power can create a mind fitted to the complex analysis and intellectual skepticism of Iyun learning, yet equally as capable of rejecting this mode of thought when it comes to Israeli politics. . . like a fashionable trend, the righteous indignation spread throughout the Yeshiva, compelling the socially aware to declare their disgust at Israel's soldiers and spout the propraganda already spinning around, and I quote, "the massacre."

An important clarification: I'm comfortable blaming the IDF for the Jew-on-Jew violence. I think ultimately the violence was their decision. The pictures and the blood send a frightening tingle up my spine- one that I worry will soon return.

What surprised me was the rationale, or more accurately, stupidity, behind the epidemic of opinion. Where came the irrevocable fact that "they were hitting us out of rage and hatred for Jewish settlers?" How can so many intelligent kids compare one day of 200 injuries to six years and six million? How can we equate a government seeking peace for Zion with a nation seeking our permanent destruction?

And how can we get away with it? Thank G-d, R' Elon yelled at the yeshiva for three hours- but despite his efforts, I don't feel comfortable speaking out in HaKotel. Judaism, as practiced today, has a dirty habit of infecting its social, political, and cultural mores with the religious significance that should be reserved for Halakha. R' Elon is special for many reasons, and the heat he takes for distancing himself from the Mercaz HaRav world on this issue only highlights the sad political-theological situation on the other side: where is the multi-faceted perspective, social conscience, and love affair with the Jewish people that Rav Kook represented? Along with G-d and Judaism as a whole, R' Kook's name is being hijacked to justify the current political minhag hamakom.

Sunday's rally at Kikar Zion was civil- but it missed the point. A protest against unnecessary police brutality is a noble show of universal values; woe that it became a color war between Israel's right wing and religious parties: who can pollute the most fliers, raise the largest banner, or boo every mention of Ehud Olmert with the most Haman-style intensity. Clearthinking Jews should not take their cues from 1984's hate hour; we ought to be above the propraganda and comfort in blind numbers that typifies . . . our Arab brethren across the checkpoint. If only it had been a rally against the violence, and not against left-wing politics, if only the demands for a formal police investigation weren't overshadowed by the anti-Kadima rhetoric, if only this had been the unifying, bridge-building, left-right-center dati-chiloni event it so rightly deserved to be . . . we could have witnessed an event not only unique, but effective. Something that would make the Israeli public take notice of our message, instead of see through our immaturity.

True, I feel for the injured bodies carried out of Amona- but I fear for the diseased minds. One can only hope that this great Power fashioned us so, as with the broken arms and bloody gashes, the coming weeks will see these intellectual wounds as they slowly fade away.