New York – Rabbi Hoffman: Violent Jerusalem ‘Hafganot’ Are Destroying ‘Klal Yisroel’

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    Jerusalem – The recent Hafganot about Shabbos violation has revealed a very ugly fact that is happening in our community. Gedolim are quoted on issue “A.” And people respond with behavior “B” – in a manner that is completely antithetical to the Torah way.

    Yesterday, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz wrote a fabulous editorial about the issue of the hafganot and the manner in which the hafganot are planned and take place. In it he describes exactly how the so-called “askanim” are the ones that are calling the shots and are actually arranging for the violence.

    The “askanim” are directly contradicting Rav Elyashiv’s explicit directive that there be no violence. The people that respond to chilul Shabbos in so ugly a manner are very distant from the true Torah way, and probably more distant than the violators of Shabbos that they think they are protesting.

    Let us recall, for example, how a number of years ago Rav Elyashiv’s car was attacked by stone-throwing zealots who were upset about one of his positions. When Reb Leib Shteinman was in America, his presence was vehemently protested by screaming, disrespectful zealots because they viewed one of his rulings as too lenient and wrong.. Here, excessive frumkeit trounced upon Kavod HaTorah, to say nothing about many other Torah prohibitions. Years ago, Chana Gourary, the eldest daughter of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was also beaten up badly by someone who felt that she was not frum enough.

    No religious person in his right mind would ever condone such activities. Anyone who had seen her bruised and bloodied face was horrified that a frum Jew could have done such a thing. What is going on Yerushalayim now is no different. The violence is horrific and completely antithetical to what the Gedolim hold.

    A few weeks ago the Jerusalem Post had an interview with Yoelish Krause, a Meah Shaarim-born “community organizer.” [Hmm, shades of president Obama!]. In the interview we hear how he casually discusses the strategic placement of the participants in different geographic locations of a Hafganah.

    What??? Is he serious? If true, the man should be put in Cherem! Anyone who can bring this issue up with Gedolim has a moral obligation to do so. Aside from the massive Chillul Shaim shamayim involved in the violence, there is another reason why our Gedolim should be shown what is being wrought by those whose behavior is antithetical to Torah and its way of life. It is a reason that is extremely important.

    Why? Because we see horrific images and scenes in the religious Muslim world and we are aghast. Two years ago in Afghanistan, religious zealots broke into the home of a headmaster of a school that taught Muslim youth, shot him in front of his wife and eight children and beheaded him.

    Could such extreme actions, chalilah, ever enter our world?

    Historically, has it ever entered our world? What measures can and should be taken to ensure that these strands not develop within our own community, and how can we make sure that at the same time these measures not impede healthy religious growth?

    In other words, we are caught in somewhat of a dilemma. If we, as a community, ignore the phenomenon of “overly frum” there is a danger that it will become too extreme; yet if we condemn things too harshly, we can impede true Torah growth. We want to raise standards, including our own.

    But let’s backtrack and examine whether extreme overly frum behaviors have ever entered our world. Perhaps the first such incident occurs in Parshas Shlach (Bamidbar 14:44): Vayapilu laalos- regretting the fact that they believed the report of the spies, some of the Jews did want to enter the land now.

    Moshe tells them, “No, do not go.”

    They ignore him.

    In their zealotry they ignore the instructions of Moshe Rabbeinu himself and take the “frummer” route. Rashis cites two views as to the connotation of the word Vayapilu – the first is azus – overly bold the second is fog –walking in darkness. (Both are apt and instructive.)

    Shlomo HaMelech also addressed the issue when he wrote in Koheles (7:16), “Al tehi Tzaddik Harbeh – Don’t be overly righteous.” Life is precious. Don’t refuse medical treatment on the Shabbos. Shlomo HaMelech is addressing a pertinent social point. Religious societies will certainly develop strains of individuals with excessive zeal – beyond the norms that the Torah desires.

    And this excess should be condemned – in no uncertain terms.

    The Gemorah in Sotah 21b comments on the Mishna’s statement that a “Chassid Shoteh” destroys the world. What is a “Chassid Shoteh” the Gemorah asks? One who sees a woman drowning and says it is not appropriate for me to look at her to try to save her.

    The Mishna and the Gemorah are clearly addressing relevant issues. The sages felt that there was certainly a need to state that a Chassid shoteh “destroys the world.”

    One can think of no better description of what is happening now in Yerushalayim. The excessive piety that is leading to violence is clearly “destroying the world.”

    The Yerushalmi (3:19) gives another illustration: A child is drowning and the person responds, “When I take off my tefillin then I’ll save him.” The Yerushalmi is giving us a relevant case of warped priorities.

    There is a fascinating Drashos HaRan that guides us as to how a community should actually run. He compares the ideal leadership of a community to the Ktores mixture of the Temple. Just as the Ktores mixture should contain a varied amount of elements to produce the sweet exquisite aroma that the Torah requires, so too should the leadership of a community contain a multiplicity of voices. The leadership should have someone whose tendency may be to be a bit too cheap and someone else who may be a bit of a spendthrift. All together, they will balance each other out and arrive at the correct Torah norm. The point is, however, that although there may be a place for excessive zeal, it should not be allowed to become the dominant voice.

    What is necessary is a working definition of what constitutes “overly frum” and a means to ensure that the effects of such a mindset do not take over in places where they clearly should not. A working definition should of course encompass every case of “overly frum.” It should also be accepted by all segments of the community. The purpose of it of course is not only to maintain our sanity, but to ensure that people will not be hurt by hashkafos that are evil and wrong. And yes, we must stress that they are, in fact, evil.

    We shall attempt a definition:

    Overly Frum – An overly zealous approach to religion that goes beyond and against True Torah norms as manifest in either hate, violence, or extreme actions.

    The concept is not limited to issues of life and death. It can also be applied to overly extreme views in kashrus too (see Shach Yore Deah 90:23).

    The next question of course is: how do we define “True Torah norms?” We must also realize that it is a reality that norms change. Socio-religious mores differ with different times and with different venues. Years ago what might have been construed as “overly frum” has now become today’s Torah norm. Think about it. Once our parents or grandparents all attended Yeshiva dinners with, gulp, mixed dancing. Would it have been considered “overly frum” to have boycotted a mixed dancing affair back then?

    The fact is that True Torah norms can only be defined by listening to our Gedolim and to the poskim to whom we ask our shailos. If we act on our own going beyond and against the advice of our Torah leaders – then we have a problem. Even though at times norms may change, they must be the arbiters of what should and should not be the correct approach to any given socio-religious question.

    Indeed, the Torah already has prescribed safeguards that ensure that things do not go overboard. There is a Mitzvah in the Torah to follow the advice of Gedolim. The Mitzvah, found in Sefer Dvarim (17:11), is “Lo sasuru min hadavar asher yagidu lecha yemin oh smol – do not turn from the matter that they tell you either to the right or to the left.” When it comes to an issue, particularly with a community or with a school or with Shabbos, advice should be sought by the leading sages of Israel.

    The key is to seek their advice, and not to inject one’s own positions and desires for hafganot in which one wishes to later incorporate violence.Thus these questions should be addressed not by politicking and influence peddling, but rather by posing the questions to Torah authorities. After these questions have been posed and answered, the matter should stop, and the decision of the gadol should be respected.

    Some cases in point: A Litvish yeshiva, where many of our local families have grandchildren, has recently taken what seems to be an “overly frum” step. They are restricting enrollment to families where the mother does not drive a car. Now this is a Litvish yeshiva, not a Chassidish one. One can wonder whether this decision was made in consultation with Gedolim or not.

    Another case in point is the violence that is present in these Hafganot. Here there is no question. The Gedolim were clearly not consulted, nor were they told of the excessive behavior. Nor were they told of the strategic placement of the rioters prone to violence.

    Of course another danger lies in how exactly an issue is presented. A skilled practitioner of self-deception can present things to one’s Rav or Posaik in a manner in which one hears what one wishes to hear. At times it may be necessary to present both sides of an issue, and at times it may even pay to have two people present both sides.

    One final thought: Rabbi Horowitz should be given a tremendous Yasher Koach for being so far the only person to have spoken out on the issue. It should not be an issue that exists for a day or two and is forgotten about. The future direction of Klal Yisroel is at stake.

    Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at [email protected]


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