My Jewish Ethos

Yehuda Halevi ms facsimile from Taylor Shechter Archive

Yehuda Halevi ms- Cambridge Taylor-Schechter Geniza Collection

From my archives. First posted 6/13/14.

I love being Jewish. Judaism becomes real when its ideals are lived. I have been privileged to see some real gedolim, living sifrei torah, whose conduct perfectly demonstrated the ideals of Judaism. Personally, they were anavim (modest people) but they were strong, very strong, when it came to fighting for what was right. Some were lay people, others, rabbis or professionals. Their writings, and utterances were clear and rooted in the truth, as best they could know it.

My love of Judaism includes an appreciation for the deep investigation of the Talmud, the analytic clarity of Maimonides, the aching beauty of Yehudah Halevi’s poetery, the wittiness of Reb Yoelish (Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum), the moral clarion calls of R. Michoel Ber Weissmandl, the grandeur of Abraham Isaac Kook’s vision, the staunch philosophical integrity and rabbinic brilliance of the Rav, Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, and of course, the many and varied beauties of the tanach (Hebrew biblical scriptures).

A new vulgar barbarism has invaded the Jewish community in which greed and the hunger for power with its flashing lights, has displaced the sparks of spirit. The old ideal of erlichkeit (decency and integrity) has receded. Frumkeit (ritual observance) has turned into a spade in a competitive battle to out-frum the other guy. Torah has also become a spade with which to bury opponents.

Almost all human beings are selfish and self-centered to some degree but our new vulgarians go way too far. We are all entitled to mistakes, but they abuse the privilege.

Because I love being a Jew I will keep on challenging people who cloak themselves in my Judaism to lord it over others and cover up hideous crimes and dysfunction.

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One thought on “My Jewish Ethos

  1. Kol Hakavod for fighting the good fight.

    However, I respectfully disagree that “A new vulgar barbarism has invaded the Jewish community….” This has been going on for millennia. Chazal’s admonition in Pirkei Avos (4:7) not to use Torah as a “Kardom Lachpor Bo” was not written in a vacuum. There were probably less than 200 years of internal peace within the whole of Jewish history, during which Jews were not using Torah for their own power and greed. The entire Nach is filled with the backstabbing and power plays, beginning with Shoftim, through Shmuel and Milachim. There was calm during the reign of Shlomo Hamelech. There was calm for a few other short-lived scattered periods, and then there were Jews killing each other – quite literally – for the power of Torah leadership. The Torah Power Wars continued throughout Bayis Sheini, and thereafter. They never ended. They became less bloody as time went on, but they never ended.

    Those of us who are first generation naturalized American citizens were fed a steady diet of how idyllic Frum life was “in der heim.” But that was more of an emotional mourning response to the trauma of their personal losses, than a reflection of the reality of the Frum communities in Europe. The truth is unfortunately well documented. Rabbanim and askanim used Torah to fight bitterly for power for the past 2,000 years – including the past 200 years. There was a small reprieve after the devastation, shock and horror of the Holocaust. But it was too short lived.

    There is nothing new about the vulgarity and barbarism of using and abusing Torah as a means for obtaining power, and for burying one’s opponents. The only thing new about it is our waking up late in life to the realization that the idyllic Frumkeit which we loved and believed in, was only a dream. It only existed in our minds and hearts. It was an ideal which we took for granted as a reality, and were then horrified and struck to the core to find out that “Our Frumkeit” almost never existed in actuality. The realization of disillusionment could be devastating for some of us. And not wanting to accept this new reality upon which we stumbled, we fight it tooth and nail. We try to make Frumkeit into what we believed it was, what we know it “should be,” but what we are slowly and painfully realizing it isn’t.

    Because I love being a Jew I will keep supporting those like yourself who challenge people who cloak themselves in my Judaism to lord it over others and cover up hideous crimes and communal dysfunction. But I do so with eyes wide open to the reality of what is and what almost always has been going on in the halls of Jewish power, despite my desperately wanting it to be different.

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