Friday, December 01, 2006

No Need to Apologize, Sarah

Yesterday, I noted Chayye Sarah's critique of Bnei Akiva. Evidently, she caught it on the head for it and has now issued an apology. While I understand that some readers were a bit miffed by her generalizing, in effect, I believe that she hit the nail squarely on the head. Bnei Akiva is, and always has been, the spearhead of Religious Zionism. It, therefore, largely reflects the latter's achievements and ills. So, let's not get carried away defensively supporting Bnei Akiva. Instead, it would behoove Sarah's critics to take a long look at ourselves and admit our ills.

One of those ills is an obsessive, exclusive emphasis upon the importance of settlement in Eretz Yisrael.

Now, let me make this perfectly clear. I believe that only the Jewish People has any legitimate title whatsoever to Eretz Yisrael (including the East Bank of the Jordan). I, and my family, don't only talk the talk. We walk the walk, by living over the so-called Green Line. The Arab claim to any part of the country is specious and comes down to a Talmudic ממה נפשך. If our right is based upon Divine Right, a right attested to by Muslim tradition, there's nothing to discuss. If it's by dint of conquest, as they themselves argue, then we conquered them. Why does a victory in 635 CE trump Joshua, David and Solomon, the Maccabees and (more importantly) the IDF? [Please don't invoke Israel Finkelstein here. Eilat Mazar and others have effectively checkmated his minimalist interpretation of the Biblical record.]

That having been said, the following needs to be said.

In a famous lecture, the Rav observed that:

'Kedusha is generated only by closeness to God. Who is holy? Whoever is touched by the Holy One, by God's hand. But, the question arises, how can man exist in the proximity of God? The gemara (Ketubot 111b) asks, "Is it possible for man to cleave to the Holy Presence? Is it not a 'fire devouring fire?'" The gemara answers that we should associate with talmidei chakhamim, with Torah scholars. How can one feel the hand of God resting on one's shoulder, feel the breath of eternity on his face? - through the Torah! Halakha does not favor mystical union, in which one's identity is negated. How can one get close to God and yet preserve the full sense of personality, of encounter? The answer is through knowledge, the study of Torah.

The inherent sanctity of anything in the phenomenal realm is predicated upon its involvement in the Torah, in the commandments, in the Word of God. Without God, without His Torah, Hebrew is merely Western Amorite, Eretz Yisrael is Canaan, Jewish Chosenness borders on racism, and commandments become mere ceremonials. Happily, all of these have intrinsic, ineffable sanctity because God has commanded that they be central foci in His Service and in the fulfillment of His plans for Man.

They can, however, be abused and that abuse is aform of sacrilege. Ben-Yehudah was right. Hebrew was never intended to be a sacred tongue with no daily use. However, it is possible to defile it. Agnon wrote in Hebrew. David Grossman's recent screed was in Western Amorite (and this has nothing to do with Gilad Zuckerman's rather frivolous attempt to claim that Modern Hebrew is no longer related to its Biblical, Mishnaic and Rabbinic predecessors. I challenge him to read Chaucer (or even the Bard) with a commentary and then try to convince Oxford Dons that he didn't write in English).

Tangible sanctity inheres to Eretz Yisrael. That sanctity, however, as with every form of kedusha, bears obligations. It obliges the creation of a moral, just society thereupon, based upon the Torah. Indeed, in his lecture on Parshat Lekh Lekha, in the mid-70's, the Rav passionately declared the 'Eretz Yisrael does not tolerate immorality.' is not enough. It is our task to build that society. We sin against that vision, we undermine our settlement by allowing 'all of the evil maladies of Egypt' to flourish here.

We damage our hold on Eretz Yisrael when we sit, self-satisfied in our little ghettos and berate our secular brethren. We sin against God and His Torah, when we coerce others to abide by standards of conduct that no Tanna, no Amora, no Rishon and no Acharon required. summarily dismiss Most of all, we sin against Eretz Yisrael by not demanding of our leaders (and ourselves) that they acquire the cultural, intellectual tools to engage the wave of vicious, demagogic attacks that come our way incessantly. In no other way will we staunch the hemmorhage of the abandonment of Torah in our ranks.

Furthermore, has it no occurred to anyone that without belief, without conviction to Torah that we will lack the inner fortitude to face our enemies.

Has it occurred to no one, aside from Yisrael Harel, that it is precisely the absence of a deep and abiding awareness of the Jew's mission, and the heroic and sacrificial character of his existence, that is directly responsible for the orgy of self-doubt and self-destruction that grips the so-called elites (political, juridical, economic, academic, 'cultural', and journalistic)?

So, in fine, Sarah has a serious point. It is time to clean out the Augean Stables of Religious Zionism. It is time to redirect the tremendous energy of Bnei Akiva toward solidifying our existential and religious hold on Israel. It is time to fight for Qedushat Eretz Yisrael, by being a Qiddush HaShem, in order to redeem both banks of the Jordan.


tafka PP said...

Great post. I want you to know that if all our teachers had been as honest as you were the year we studied on a BA program in the Old City, who knows, I might still be frum.

(Probably just outed myself now. Ah, what the hell.)

Anonymous said...

1. These days BA is only one of a number of RZ spearheads (Ezra, Ariel, etc.).

2. I share your fan-ship of Richard Landes, but do you really think that BA has Augean Stables to clean?

3. Oy vey! Even your post is Israel-centered! Jews *everywhere* must fulfill your words! They may apply more to Israel than other places, but they are universal.

4. I agree with your and Sarah's assessment of BA.

Ben Bayit said...

I'm sorry - David Berger would have us Modern Orthodox Jews promulgate the same "takana" against Chabad affiliated hechsherim. he's been going on about this for 20 years - now that some Litvak RY has acted on it, you're complaining?!?!

Mehadrin buses - as much as I detest them - are a function of micro-economic theory - supply & demand. Charedim have lots of kids and can't afford cars. ergo they use the buses. Egged is providing them with what they want. Let the Israeli Yuppies give up their cars, institute inner city tolls like has been done in Europe to allevitae congestion, get on the bus and then complain.

Simply put - we are under no obligation to sacrifice our children on the altar of kiruv rechokim - even if we profess to be modern orthodox. Rav S.R Hirsch was correct - as he was MO. Austritt rules when the rest of the people go meshuga to be like the goyim.

Ben Bayit said...

I want to add that I have no binding - nor blinding - allegiances to BA. Even though I look like the typical BA graduate (and my wife is a BA graduate), I personally grew up in Pirchei Agudas Yisrael. However, b/c of that I also have no binding - nor blinding - allegiances to modern orthodox doctrine. There are things in the Charedi world that are "good" and we can learn from them. I believe that in the current environment, Austritt (which was eventually adopted by most of the Charedi world during the 20th Century - even by the Eastern Europeans who initially opposed it) is one of them.

Jeffrey said...

My wife is a BA grad, I grew up in USY and my daughter goes to Ezra.

I never denied that there are wonderful things in the Haredi World, things that the MO's would profit greatly from adopting.

Austritt, however, cannot work in an internet world. You can't avoid the need to steel yourself spiritually and engaging the outside world, even if only to satisfy yourself that it's empty.
Better to engage them on their turg, than on ours.

Ari Kinsberg said...

we read some agnon in high school, but that was a while ago and i don't remember it too well. how did he "defile" hebrew?