Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fault Lines

How should we grapple with the tragedy in Haiti? In the past, various rabbis have put forth reasons for major tragedies. For example, an earthquake in Israel was blamed upon the Knesset supporting pro-gay legislation. And Hurricane Katrina was blamed on lack of Torah learning in New Orleans, or else as punishment to Bush and Condaleeza Rice. People readily cite gemaras, and indeed Chazal laid blame for catastrophic events on conduct. But even if we will follow suit, despite our lack of ruach hakodesh, how can we state with confidence that reason X among various reasons given in the gemara is the reason for the present tragedy? I've discussed this point in the past.

Also, often, if we blame the victim (and at the time of tragedy), this is more than a bit offensive. And if we blame other groups, it could be read at exploiting the tragedy for our own gain, to advance our own arguments and score personal or political points. The most "productive" approach, IMHO, is to use it as tool for introspection. What can we learn from this, and how can we use it to improve our own conduct?

As Yeranen Yaakov writes:
Indeed, I just heard the audio of a very recent shiur given by someone who had discussed the earthquake in Haiti. He said that the Hafetz Hayim was once informed of the Mississippi River overflowing. He replied that we must do Teshuva for this.
At Cross-Currents, Rabbi Avi Shafran makes a similar point, about introspection:
The distance between the shtetl and the Far East was measurable not merely in physical miles but in cultural and religious distance no less. Yet when, on September 1, 1923, a powerful earthquake hit Japan’s Kanto plain, laying waste to Tokyo, Yokohama and surrounding cities, killing well over 100,000 people, news of the disaster reached even the Polish town of Radin. That was the home of the “Chofetz Chaim,” Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, the sainted Jewish scholar renowned around the world even then for his scholarship, honesty and modest life. 
Informed of the mass deaths in Japan, the 85-year-old rabbinic leader was visibly shaken, immediately undertook to fast and insisted that the news should spur all Jews to repentance.
That is, it should spur us to introspection. In fact, he says it explicitly:
From a truly Jewish perspective, though, there is more that we must do in the wake of a disaster as terrible as the recent one in Haiti. We must introspect, and make changes in our behavior.
But is what Rabbi Shafran engages in introspection, or is it extrospection? He elaborates:
No prophet or wise man, only eyes and ears, are necessary to recognize that the Jewish world today is rife with “evil speech” – speaking and writing ill of others (whether the words are true, false or – so often the case – some toxic mixture of the two), and with the hatred that breeds such sins. Jewish media are filled with accusations and “scoops”; they compete gleefully to find the vilest examples of crimes to report, to do the most attention-grabbing job of reporting them, and to be the first to do so.
The very week of the recent catastrophe in Haiti, a national Jewish newspaper published a comic strip featuring grotesque depictions of religious Jews and aimed at disparaging Jewish outreach to other Jews. And another Jewish newspaper ran an editorial placing the alleged ugly sins of an individual at the feet of Jewish rabbinic leaders, simply because the presumed sinner, before he was exposed, had arranged for several respected rabbis to deliver lectures and had encouraged people to make donations to their institutions. Having thus “established” guilt by that association, the editorialist demanded that every Orthodox organization and rabbinic leader publicly condemn the alleged sinner or be smeared themselves with sin. Then he mocked rabbinic authorities as a group for, instead of issuing condemnations of sinners, rendering decisions on social and halachic matters, as if that were not precisely what rabbis are for.
Those are examples of anti- Orthodox invective. But ill will and its expression, tragically, know no communal bounds – in fact, the offensive comic strip seized upon intemperate statements made by Orthodox Jews about others.
Sure, it is "introspection" in that he is laying the blame on fellow Jews, and in many cases fellow Orthodox Jews who agree with these others. And what did they do? For one thing, they demanded that the Gedolim and Orthodox institutions publicly condemn Rabbi Tropper.

But is this really introspection, or is it using it to blame ideological opponents for the tragedy? Is this truly introspection? Well, we can say that he is telling others to engage in introspection. :)

Meanwhile, Rabbi Slifkin also reacts to this article. See inside:
At last, the Gedolim have broken their silence about Tropper/EJF, and their official spokesman has written a statement. But first, some background. ...  
1. From R’ Harry Maryles:  
I knew what this con man was about 20 years ago when I first met him. He was responsible then for ruining the life of one young man I am very close with - making life miserable for his parents. His mother went to the grave suffering an estrangement from her son for which Leib Tropper was responsible. His father suffers to this day from it. He took advantage of this young man’s misfortune and conned him into doing something no decent man would ever do. And he made it seem like he was doing him a favor. This young man is now 20 years older and still suffering the consequences of it. Consequences that after 20 years have little chance of being reversed! I cannot get into details because confidences would be broken. But suffice it to say his only concern at that time was not to help this young man but to help himself by gaining the support of a wealthy friend in doing this con....  
(numbers 2 through 19)... 
So now, we finally have the official statement from the Charedi rabbinic establishment about all this. And what is it?  
It is that we should see the terrible earthquake in Haiti as punishment for our sins; specifically, for evil speech - and a specific example given of such evil speech is the criticism of the Gedolim for not saying anything about Tropper and EJF!  
The article warns that the "misuse of the holy power of speech is not a small evil." That is true. But there are times when silence is also a misuse of the holy power of speech.


Yosef Greenberg said...

Great pun as the title!

First mention of "that" scandal here. Took a while.

"But even if we will follow suit, despite our lack of ruach hakodesh"

Thanks for reminding me that chazal did indeed have ruach hakodesh. :)

joshwaxman said...

well, i did have one passing reference to him as both a "blogger" and a "doer"

and i've been sitting on a post in partial defense, but indeed. this is more of a post about reactions to the scandal over the scandal itself.


Yosef Greenberg said...

I did see that reference, I just forgot. That was a great pun as well.

"and i've been sitting on a post in partial defense"

Typical. But I understand why you would be sitting on it. The rave review it would garner might be too much to bear. :)

I just can't imagine the defense. Maybe shifting some blame to enablers? AFAIK you, not your type.


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