Monday, January 2, 2012

Chareidim Who Ignore History Are Doomed To Repeat History's Mistakes

The events in Beit Shemesh and the general Israeli population's reaction reminds me of a story told over in the Talmud and Josephus. (I am not talking about Kamtza and Bar Kamtza because that is not analogous) I am talking about the story found in Kiddushin 66a and Josephus Antiquities Book 13 section 10 that deals with King Yannai's transformation from a follower of the Pharisees to the Sadducees. First let us see the source in Kiddushin 66a (Translation found here):
It once happened that King Jannai went to Kohalith in the wilderness and conquered sixty towns there. On his return he rejoiced exceedingly and invited all the Sages of Israel. Said he to them, ‘Our forefathers ate mallows when they were engaged on the building of the [second] Temple; let us too eat mallows in memory of our forefathers.’ So mallows were served on golden tables, and they ate. Now, there was a man there, frivolous, evil hearted and worthless, named Eleazar son of Po'irah, who said to King Jannai. ‘O King Jannai, the hearts of the Pharisees are against thee.’ ‘Then what shall I do?’ ‘Test them by the plate between thine eyes.’ So he tested them by the plate between his eyes. Now, an elder, named Judah son of Gedidiah, was present there. Said he to King Jannai. ‘O King Jannai! let the royal crown suffice thee, and leave the priestly crown to the seed of Aaron.’ (For it was rumoured that his mother had been taken captive in Modi'im.) Accordingly, the charge was investigated, but not sustained, and the Sages of Israel departed in anger. Then said Eleazar b. Po'irah to King Jannai: ‘O King Jannai! That is the law even for the most humble man in Israel, and thou, a King and a High Priest, shall that be thy law [too]!’ ‘Then what shall I do?’ ‘If thou wilt take my advice, trample then, down.’ ‘But what shall happen with the Torah?’ ‘Behold, it is rolled up and lying in the corner: whoever wishes to study. Let him go and study!’ Said R. Nahman b. Isaac: Immediately a spirit of heresy was instilled into him, for he should have replied. ‘That is well for the Written Law; but what of the Oral Law?’ Straightway, the evil burst forth through Eleazar son of Po'irah, all the Sages of Israel were massacred, and the world was desolate until Simeon b. Shetah came and restored the Torah to its pristine [glory]. 
The Josephus details are a little different, but overall the idea is the same (Josephus Antiquities 13:10 translation found here):
However, this prosperous state of affairs moved the Jews to envy Hyrcanus; but they that were the worst disposed to him were the Pharisees, who were one of the sects of the Jews, as we have informed you already. These have so great a power over the multitude, that when they say any thing against the king, or against the high priest, they are presently believed.  Now Hyrcanus was a disciple of theirs, and greatly beloved by them. And when he once invited them to a feast, and entertained them very kindly, when he saw them in a good humour, he began to say to them, that they knew he was desirous to be a righteous man, and to do all things whereby he might please God, which was the profession of the Pharisees also. However, he desired, that if they observed him offending in any point, and going out of the right way, they would call him back and correct him. On which occasion they attested to his being entirely virtuous; with which commendation he was well pleased. But still there was one of his guests there, whose name was Eleazar, a man of an ill temper, and delighting in seditious practices. This man said," Since thou desirest to know the truth, if thou wilt be righteous in earnest, lay down the high priesthood, and content thyself with the civil government of the people," And when he desired to know for what cause he ought to lay down the high priesthood, the other replied, "We have heard it from old men, that thy mother had been a captive under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes." This story was false, and Hyrcanus was provoked against him; and all the Pharisees had a very great indignation against him.  Now there was one Jonathan, a very great friend of Hyrcanus's, but of the sect of the Sadducees, whose notions are quite contrary to those of the Pharisees. He told Hyrcanus that Eleazar had cast such a reproach upon him, according to the common sentiments of all the Pharisees, and that this would be made manifest if he would but ask them the question, What punishment they thought this man deserved? for that he might depend upon it, that the reproach was not laid on him with their approbation, if they were for punishing him as his crime deserved. So the Pharisees made answer, that he deserved stripes and bonds, but that it did not seem right to punish reproaches with death. And indeed the Pharisees, even upon other occasions, are not apt to be severe in punishments. At this gentle sentence, Hyrcanus was very angry, and thought that this man reproached him by their approbation. It was this Jonathan who chiefly irritated him, and influenced him so far, that he made him leave the party of the Pharisees, and abolish the decrees they had imposed on the people, and to punish those that observed them.
 In both of these versions there is one common theme, there is a Pharisee that insulted the king inappropriately and this allowed for the king to be swayed by one of the Sadducees to become evil. Obviously, if there was no wicked Sadducee there would have been no problem, but that is the point, there is always a "wicked Sadducee." Had the foolish Pharisee, who was punished in both stories (see commentaries on Kiddushin 66a), not insulted the king based on a foolish assumption NOTHING bad would have happened. His ridiculous attempt at righteousness caused much death and sorrow for the Jewish people.

The question is who should be blamed in a situation like this? Obviously, we give blame to the Sadducee, but that is expected of him. The Sadducee is the antithesis of Torah Judaism, should we have expected him to stay silent when the Pharisees allowed the king to be insulted? No, he was doing what was in his nature. It would be foolish for us to place the true blame on the Sadducee just like it would be ridiculous for us to place blame on a lion released from the zoo for mauling a person. Obviously, you place blame on the lion keeper that freed the lion and not the lion itself. The Sadducee in this case was a malicious animal that was "caged" because King Yannai was an ardent follower of the Pharisees. However, the Pharisee that insulted the King's lineage and status "released" this caged beast and allowed it to maul the Pharisees.

This is exactly what is going on in Israel today. Obviously, there are left wingers that are anti the Chareidi way of life that are waiting to jump on them at every moment. The only way the Chareidim can stave off their criticism is by being completely innocent (which has hardly been the case in the past). However, when you have people that associate with the Chareidim and are not denounced by the Chareidi leadership in Israel that do such disgusting acts what do you expect from the left wingers? It is not their fault that they are criticizing the Chareidi community, that is what they have been doing all along. However, since these acts are SO INCREDIBLY reprehensible everyone is listening to them now. They are able to turn the general public against the Chareidim in a way that was not achievable before.

The only way for the Chareidim to stave this crisis off is by giving these thugs the harshest punishment. In the Josephus story (and in the commentators to the story in Kiddushin) we see that the reason King Yannai was so furious at the Pharisees had nothing to do with this single Pharisee. What upset King Yannai was the reaction of the greater Pharisee community. They did not punish the Pharisee that insulted him harshly enough. If the Chareidi community would disavow this sect with the harshest criticism then the general Israeli public would be much more forgiving. NONE of the Chareidi leadership has done anything to disavow these disgusting thugs. That is what is so frustrating. The Chareidi apologists fail to see this. If you do not punish those within your ranks appropriately, you are at fault. You can cry and cry about how they are not 'REAL" Chareidim (whatever that means), but until you take actions against them your words are meaningless and the "King" (the Israeli Public) will punish you for being complacent with their acts.