Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just Because we are Xenophobic doesn't mean that we Hate Geirim

Note 1: This post may be difficult for readers who are not familiar with One Above and Seven Below

Note 2: This post deals with the issue of questionable Geirus. It does not deal with the issue of disqualifying a Bet Din or Dayan.

The issues of Geirim in our midst have dominated many headlines - and Blog titles - of late.

I do not want to express an opinion on the controversial ruling of the Rabbinical High Court but I do wish to comment about the chareidi approach to geirus in general.

Quite obviously, my book is my current obsession, and, consequently, I have an intimate relationship with its Amazon.com listing page. Toward the bottom of that page there is a section about Customer Discussions with a list of active groups. The groups that appear on my page are either under the category of "Religion" or "Judaism". Like mountain climbing, I have done some exploring on the groups merely because "they are there". (No, lately I haven't climbed any mountains higher than Massada and Meron.) I have no desire to actually participate in these groups because they are not really my cup of tea. Still, businessman that I am (was?), I will not pass up an opportunity to plug my book.

So, when a new discussion opened entitled "What is Judaism About?" I thought that it could not hurt for me to invest my 2 cents.

To address the lead question I wrote as follows:

Judaism is about that G-d created man in his image and gave every man the opportunity to attain immortality by making himself like G-d. No original sins, intermediaries, or artificial additives are necessary. Just do what G-d says.

Followed by:

For more information, see my book: One Above...

Business is business.

The OP (Original Poster) threw me this question:

...shall I assume that by "gave every man the opportunity to attain immortality" you mean "gave every human being the opportunity to attain immortality"? If that is not your meaning, please tell me.

My response was:

Your assumption is correct. Every Human being can come close to G-d and elevate their soul (which is fundamentally immortal). It's just that G-d's list of demands for Jews is much more complex than the "short list' for non-Jews (kind of like your tax forms). It is like the world is a big corporation. Everyone works towards the corporation's "Corporate Mission". The Jews are the administrators and the executives. They have more responsibilities and obligations and, accordingly, get a higher salary but everybody in the organization that does his job gets paid. Anybody (Jewish or not) can move up the corporate ladder but they have to assume the higher responsibilities and carry them out.

We believe that G-d is a capitalist.

OP rejoins:

I've read quite a few pages of your book online. You devote a lot of words to telling people not to read it. Would you say that "gatekeeping" - keeping people away - is an important part of the Jewish religion?

Hirshman responds:

Judaism is not for everybody and my book is not for everybody. There is nothing benign about Judaism. It is a breath of life for those who follow it properly and the kiss of death for those who "misuse" it (Deuteronomy 30:15). This means that it is helpful to some and harmful to others. When we urge people to embrace Judaism, it is for their benefit. And when we tell people not to embrace Judaism, it is for their benefit.

Later in the discussion she asked if I had anything more to contribute. Here is what I wrote:

The most important concept of Judaism is expressed at length in chapter 6 of my book and I cannot do the topic justice here. Briefly, it is this - Judaism is comprised of only 2 commandments (1) I am the L-rd your G-d ... (Anochi Hashem) and (2) There shall be for you no other gods (Lo Yihiyeh). These being the first two of the ten commandments - the only ones that we heard directly from G-d as opposed to the others that we heard through Moses. These 2 commandments basically apply to all mankind and are representative of the 2 commandments that were given to Adam(besides to reproduce): (1) From all the trees of the garden you shall eat and (2) from the tree in the center of the garden you shall not eat. In both cases these two headline commandments represent all of the positive commandments and the negative commandments respectively. That means that each of our 247 positive commandments is a manifestation of Anochi (or Adam's commandment to eat) and each of the 364 negative commandments are examples of Lo Yihiyeh (Adam's commandment not to eat). We extend this concept to maintain that the (chareidi) Jewish viewpoint is that every single activity that we do, even mundane ones like eating and sleeping and procreating, can be done for a lofty purpose (for the benefit of the soul and our ultimate purpose in life) or for an earthly purpose (for the benefit of the body alone) and thus it is either a fulfilment of Anochi or a transgression of Lo Yihiyeh.
There is no such thing as a neutral activity. This is what I meant when I wrote that there is nothing benign about Judaism.

OP asks:

This is very interesting. Does this idea imply that sleeping only for the benefit of one's physical health is a kind of idolatry?
I respond:

First off, it is quite obvious and well known that maintaining one's physical health is not only a rhetorical "mitzva" but an actual one that is dictated in Deuteronomy 4:15. That was not the focus of this concept. The focus of this concept is as follows:

We are here on this Earth to fulfill some divine mission. This is accomplished by performing the commandments (mitzvot) and Torah study. We must maintain our physical health BUT we must maintain it for the purpose of accomplishing our mission. Thus, as long as our 8 hours of sleep is used to facilitate our service to G-d over the 16 waking hours, then not only the 16 waking hours but also the 8 sleep hours are all considered to be employed in G-d's service. Thus one gets full "credit" for being a servant of G-d for 24 hours. Conversely, when one does not properly use his 16 waking hours for Torah study and mitzvot, then the time that he spent sleeping, even if it was to maintain his physical health, did not contribute to facilitating his service to G-d. Thus, he will be judged that not only were his 16 waking hours self-serving (and thus "idolatrous") but the 8 hours of sleep that did nothing but facilitate his self-serving lifestyle are also "debited" as self-serving and he will be viewed as one who was delinquent in his responsibilities not just for 16 hours but for a full 24 hours.

Tough deal.

And a tough deal it is. What all this is saying is that Judaism is no benign game. Depending on how it's played it is either Bracha or Kelala; Chaim or Maves; Anochi Hashem or Lo Yihiyeh Lecha; One Above (Im Bechukosai Telechu) or Seven Below (V'Im Bechukosai Timaasu).

Get it?

Every Jew's purpose in life is to fulfill Anochi Hashem and Im Bechukosai Telechu and hang around the One Above camp. If he is transgressing on Lo Yihiyeh Lecha and is stuck at V'Im Bechukosai Timaasu and is populating the Seven Below camp, he is doing a harmful disservice to himself and to all of Klal Yisrael.

This certainly applies to a full born Jew; but, when I say "Every Jew", I mean every Jew.

For someone who was not born Jewish, this applies at least as much - so why should he want to become Jewish if it is just to spend his life in the Seven Below camp and live a life of keri? And why should the Jewish people want to accept a non-Jew who is only knocking on the door of the Seven Below camp?

One who stations himself in the Seven Below camp brings chance misfortune on the Jewish people, chance misfortune upon the world and chance misfortune upon himself. It brings klalah and maves.

Many of us are under the impression that a convert who sacrificed for Judaism will merit exemplary reward for his keeping of Torah and mitzvot - more than that of a regular Jew who received it as "an inheritance". I also assume that this is the case.

But be aware that Judaism is a two-way street!!

If it is true that a convert will receive a more splendid reward for observing Torah because no one forced him to be "Im Bechukosai Telechu" and he is doing it on his own initiative, then it is imperative that if he violates the Torah, he will receive a much harsher retribution because no one asked him to be "V'Im Bechukosai Timaasu" and he is doing it on his own initiative.

This is because Judaism is an opportunity, like a business opportunity or an investment. And it follows the same rules – the higher the yield, the higher the risk. The higher the salary, the higher the responsibility. And there is one more rule – if you don't have the capital, don't invest.

Now that we understand this, let us consider a situation where a questionable "convert" who never observed Shabbat, or Kashrut, or Taharas HaMishpacha, and never intended to do so, now comes before a bet din. If he is deemed a Ger, then for all his violations he is subject to retributions that are much harsher than that of a born Jew who was forcibly obligated to observe the Torah. And he is not bringing the Bracha of Im Bechukosai Telechu upon the rest of Klal Yisrael, either. Are we doing him a favor by sustaining his "geirus"? Are we doing ourselves a favor? Are we doing the world a favor?

I am confused, because most of the voices on the Talkbacks and Blogrolls have passionately screamed that it is a reprehensible travesty and injustice to annul a questionable Geirus. How can we interfere with someone's aspirations to join the Jewish people and obtain Israeli citizenship? Well - sure we can do it to save their children from being mamzerim so they can get married, but to save them from chamas keri? Who believes in that?

We believe in that.

When we stood at Mount Sinai, we were all geirim. We entered a covenant with circumcision, immersion, and hartzaat dam briss. With this geirus we became a mamleches kohanim and a goy kadosh. We became eligible for two crowns for Naaseh V'Nishma. But we also became eligible for annihilation for transgressing on Lo Yihiyeh Lecha.

Why is Lo Yihiyeh Lecha in the singular?

Rashi in Shmos (20:2) says that it was to give an opening to Moshe to save them from annihilation after the Golden Calf. He could claim, "Your commandment of Lo Yihiyeh Lecha (singular) was not addressing the entire nation. It only addressed me. They are not geirim after all and are not subject to such harsh retribution."

This is how Moshe gets Klal Yisrael out of a pickle jar. He does us a great favor by downgrading us. By doing the reprehensible travesty and injustice of "revoking" our geirus "retroactively". Of course, the downgrading came at a price - no harsh punishment, no splendid reward. We had to surrender those two crowns. We were disgraced.

Why did he allow us to be disgraced like that?

Because that was what was best for us. Because it saved our necks.

And who set this whole thing up?

G-d did it. Because it was what was best for us..

This is called being Merciful.

Are all those voices who cry "foul" being merciful?

I am not too sure.

We love geirim (real and imagined) and all Human beings more than anybody - and we want what's truly best for them.


anti blog said...

HI, read your book thought it was very good but I must state that I disagree with your choice to create a blog. If you want to state your intelligent opinion do so as a commentor on other's blogs but why stoop to their level and start your own blog. The premise that any person has the right to state their opinion publically on Torah matters is one of the root problems with non-Charedi Judaism. It is our recognition that those who are amel B'Torah are the one's whose opinion counts is one of the things which separates us from them. Thus joining them gives tacit approval to the evil medium known as blogs. In any case I wish you Hatzlacha and continued success on your holy mission, I just wish it was done as an author, commentator and not as a blog master.
Kol Tuv

Anonymous said...

A "blog" is nothing more than an efficient and inexpensive way for a person to create their own website.
Where is it written that Adam cannot publicly discuss their opinion of Torah matters? If we are to be a "light unto the nations" how can we accomplish our mission if we don't educate the nations?
By publishing his knowledge in a centralized public place like this, Rav. Yechezkel is able to reach a much wider audience thus spreading Torah knowledge that much more effectively.
If you are going to call a blog an "evil medium" might as well include paper! Why not demonize the pencil or keyboard? Is it only the receptacle that is evil or is the tool also evil? What about the one who wields it?
We were blessed with no shortage of differences to separate us from them, we don't need to create any more of our own!
Sh'vua tov.

Baruch said...

I wouldn't have as much of a problem with Mr. Hirshman having a blog if not for this line:
Obviously, maintaining a Blog is a big commitment of time that, frankly, no Chareidi worth his salt should have at his disposal...I read into this gift of found time a bracha min haShamayim to operate this Blog - but, I have my doubts (I did not seek a bracha from my Rav!).

ישראל דוב said...

Ask your Rav if a blog is being "light unto the nations," Also ask him about teaching torah to goyim.

I agree that the blog was the wrong way to go, It's a chaval that we have to wait for the second book because Y' Is spending all his time on a blog.

I just spent 30 min, reading comments on your blog, I should have been learning ( or sleeping so I can learn right in the morning ). I really liked your book, and I would have never spent my time reading a blog if I didn't come looking for information on the next part. Mikshol L'Rabim ?