Sunday, December 31, 2017

Not on a steed

בראשית מט:יא אסרי לגפן עירה ולשרקה בני אתנו כבס ביין לבשו ובדם־ענבים סותה

“He binds his foal to the vine, and his ass's colt to the choice vine-branch. He has washed his garment in wine, and his mantle in the blood of grapes.” (Genesis 49:11)


So Jacob visualises משיח (the Messiah I.L.), and how does he see him? He sees the saviour of mankind, the conqueror of nations, not on a steed, but on a young ass's foal. The "ass" is always used to represent peaceful well-being, peaceful national greatness, whereas "steed" is used to represent military might. Similarly the ass is chosen from all the "unclean", animals, to express by פטר חמור the dedication of all one's movable possessions. It is the animal that carries people at a leisurely pace and bears his packs and baggage for him. Thus the Jewish conception of the power of kings is not to be represented by horses. The Jewish Kings were prohibited by the Torah להרבות סוס. A Jewish King was also not to be chosen until after ירושה וישיבה, after the complete conquest and settlement in the land, expressly not primarily for military purposes, and it was just in that that the sin of the people lay in Samuel's time, that they demanded a king to lead them in the wars defending the land, as Samuel reproached them Ch. XII. 12.ותראו כי־נחש מלך בני־עמון בא עליכם ותאמרו לי לא כי־מלך ימלך עלינו וה' אלהיכם מלככם . That is why here the one real true king, saving Israel and mankind appears onבני אתונו ,עירו. Two points are stressed with this picture painted here of the future time. The king of mankind does not ride on a charger, but on an ass, so he comes as the King of Peace, and he ties up his animal to a vine. If one can tie an animal, and especially an עיר, the lively mettlesome young donkey, to a vine, it is a sign of an infinitely increased development in nature (the vine stem growing like that of a tree ), and in general of immense prosperity and abundance. Abundance in an infinitely increased blessing in the world or nature, and peace in the world of mankind are the two signs that always characterise this final age in the mouth of our prophets. As long as the animal of peace is not placed in its true worth, the leaders of men always represented on horseback, on chargers, and as long as one does not tie up one's animals to vines, for so long are we still a long way off from the promised regeneration of the world of nature and the world of Man.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the Pentateuch, Genesis 49:11  

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Torah Im Derech Eretz in the Land of Israel

Since I moved to Israel I have been asked a number of times for my impressions of Torah Im Derech Eretz in Israel. Israel being such a different culture than the USA I wanted to give it some time before I spoke. It's been a few years now and here are my thoughts.

There is no Torah Im Derech Eretz in the Land of Israel today. I'd be shocked if there's even one person who is pulling it off substantively.

The main problem is the draft. The army is no place for a Torah observant Jewish boy or girl, regardless of the fraudulent claims otherwise. The army life is a crude life, full of shouting and bluster of every kind. One becomes aggressive, even violent. Anti-religious and certainly anti-charedi programming is rampant. The problems with mixed gender environments and not-so-kosher food are just part of the problem with the army, even though they may be the most referenced part.

In order to qualify for what remains of the draft exemption a person cannot have worked even one day in his life. So for all this complaining about the charedim not having jobs, the complainers have to consider that the draft laws are maybe the primary reason for it. Since the draft applies to all men under the age of 40, the draft is killing the idea of charedim earning a parnassah.

Also because secular zionists have dominated secular education here for a century, the charedim have become totally opposed to secular education  -- and for good reason in that the founders of the state and its early intellectuals were atheists and the current leaders and intellectuals are pretty much the same.

So you have a situation where charedi life is anti-parnassah and anti-secular studies  - not exactly Torah Im Derech Eretz.

So what about the dati leumi who do go on to earn a parnassah and get some kind of eduction -- after their serving the military, of course.

There you have the problem of racism, really intense racism. I thought southern racists in 1930s America were bad. Hirsch's whole concept of the Jews helping and caring about humanity does not exist in the state of Israel. People here, particularly chilonim and dati leumi are constantly worked up not just about the Arabs but about Moslems everywhere and the Europeans and the South Americans and the Asians and the Africans and the Antarticans. Even the Americans who give them so much money and political cover are constant fodder for condemnation and ridicule. To Israelis, the human race is the enemy.

And speaking of ridicule, well there's the derech eretz situation in Israel. I'm sure I don't need to explain. Perhaps you know the joke that ends with "and the Israeli said, what's excuse me?" Maybe you haven't heard it. Goes like this. A survey taker asks several people, Excuse me what's your opinion of the meat shortage? The American says, what's a shortage? The Pole (this is a joke from the Soviet era) says what's meat? The North Korean says, what's an opinion? And what does the Israeli say, he says, what's excuse me?

There are some minhag Ashkenaz communities here. They do not practice Torah Im Derech Eretz. They are mostly Israeli Charedim who say birchos ha-Torah before korbonos or who only allow one person to say kaddish. Ashkenaz yes, Hirsch no. As I said, nobody here practices Torah Im Derech Eretz. That includes me!

They all admire Rav Hirsch. In fact I see the Hirsch Chumash in Hebrew not only in Yekke shuls but all over the country. It's quite popular here. But Torah Im Derech Eretz in all its parts is not.

Some aspects of the life in Eretz Yisroel today are very positive. My account here is not intended to say otherwise. In particular, the charedi communities can be very impressive. And certainly one finds some likeable and decent people. But it is not Torah Im Derech Eretz in any significant way, certainly not a Germanic TIDE.

Now TIDE is supposed to be relative to an era. It is the application of Torah to life. It doesn't have to a Germanic flavour.

Still, I'd say that because of the oppressive forces here, because it is not what you'd call a free country but rather a militaristic state, TIDE of any kind can't really develop.

If Torah Im Derech Eretz is your derech, do not come to Israel unless you are prepared to find a new derech and you might be surprised how difficult that can be while maintaining sanity and faith.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Problematic Term

Is the term Yekke pejorative? I think these days it has become a term of endearment. However, I'm not sure it was always that way.

Rav Schwab wrote, "We also refer to those yelidei Ashkenaz who, all of the sudden become ashamed of their traditions and their time-hallowed customs. Incidentally, we don't appreciate the poor attempts at humor that poke fun at their G-d fearing parents and grandparents as "Yekkes." The "Yekke" of today, like the "Pollack" of yesterday, belongs to the ugly pockmarks of a galus mentality, which became outdated some time ago. We are taught that "He who gives even one of his fellowmen a nasty by-name forfeits his portion in the world to come." Rav Schwab, Selected Essays p. 144.