Sunday, August 24, 2008

Holy Language - The Mission of 1A7B - A Perspective on Parshat Eikev

I have noted in my book that Rashi on Chumash is in most places merely relaying to us the words of Chazal. There are many great benefits to being aware of this fact. One is to appreciate the authority behind Rashi's words. A second benefit is that by studying Rashi's source material, we can get a better feel for what Rashi means.

This second benefit has its limits. When Rashi is quoting a passage of Talmud, we have the privilege of looking it up and studying the various commentaries such as Tosafos, Maharsha and even Rashi himself. However, when Rashi is quoting the Midrashic sources we are at a loss. There is very little commentary on the Midrashic material and there is much less on the Halachic Midrash - (Mechilta, Toras Kohanim, Sifri, and Sifra) than there is on the Aggadic Midrash (Mirash Rabba and Tanchuma). Thus, I had a bit of a struggle in my book in defining the ameilus b'Torah that is sourced in Toras Kohanim. Thankfully, there is Pirkei Avot, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch and a host of other sources to rely upon.

Yet, numerous other statements do not come with so many accessories and we are mainly left in the cold. Oh, if only there was Rashi on Rashi (although Sifsei Chachamim, RE"M, and Gur Aryeh give us a lift)!

With this in mind, let us look at a Sifri that Rashi quotes in last week's Parsha - Parshat Eikev - and examine what it says to us.
The pasuk says:

יט ולמדתם אתם את בניכם לדבר בם בשבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך ובשכבך ובקומך



And Rashi explains the words לדבר בם with the words of the Sifri (in English) :


...From here they (the sages) have said that as soon as an infant begins to speak, his father converses with him in the Holy Language and teaches him Torah...

What does it mean that "his father converses with him in the Holy Language"?

Well, the plain understanding is that he must teach him what we call Lashon Kodesh which is the language of Tanach so that the son can study its words. This is why many "Torah" Jews make a big ceremony when their three year old boy is first ushered into cheder and begins learning alef-bet.

There are those who even take this more literally and make it their business to speak to their children in Hebrew (though there is difference of opinion as to the "holiness" of Modern Hebrew) or, alternatively, to speak in a distinctly Jewish dialect which could be Yiddish, Ladino, or even today's American "Yeshivish" (it's takkah the heintiga shnit).

Yet, in addition to these two basic connotations, I would like to suggest an additional, more profound "Chareidi" interpretation. At first glance, it seems that "conversing with him in the Holy language" and "teaching him Torah" are two related but independent activities. I don't see it that way. I see them as as a single activity. How so?

From my forays into the Blogosphere (that has only spanned a few months) and from the norms and rules of socio-political debate that it comprises, I have learned some prevalent expressions and idioms that I was not apprised of when I wrote the book. Would I have known them, I could have employed this terminology in applicable parts of the book and perhaps made it a bit clearer to the Blog oriented readership. Two of my favorites are: apologist and triumphalist.

Apparently, an apologist is anyone who defends a position you do not support no matter how sound his defense is. As such, I am a Chareidi "apologist" in general and specifically in the Miriam Shear controversy despite the fact that so far, nobody has effectively refuted my premise that (a) if one can judge the accused (in absentia), one may judge the accuser - who has presented a first hand account and (b) that each Human being has bechira and is responsible for the decisions that they consciously make and what comes out from them. So I am an apologist, yet, I have never seen any Miriam Shear supporter being called a "Miriam Shear Apologist".

The Blogosphere is full of one-way streets.

On the rare occasions that someone like me can present a strong debate that cannot be deemed "apologetic", then I am a "triumphalist".

There is a Murphy's Law edict that reads: Win or lose, you lose!

But what is relevant to our discussion is the term that I have seen - promoted primarily by the scant chareidi writers - called: Halachic Language. This means that when we make our case for our viewpoint, we support it with the pasukim and maamarei chazal that underwrite the viewpoint. The term "Halachic Language" is what I have seen most frequently but since it implies "Halacha based" it seems a bit inadequate to me. This is because it may miss ideas that are scripture based (which would be called "Scriptural Language") or Aggadic based. As such, I would prefer a more comprehensive term which encompasses the whole chulent: Talmudic Language. Either way, it implies a way of speech and thought that conveys Torah values.

As an application, a true Torah Jew (what I call Chareidi) does not say to his little son: "Don't tease your sister." He says: "Don't tease your sister, it is onaas devarim." He doesn't say, "Help your brother clean his room." He says, "When your brother cleans his room, you do azov taazov and help him out." And, of course, not, "Doing that is a waste of time" but "Doing that is bitul zman and/or bitul Torah." I believe that this is what the Sifri means when it speaks of "talking to your son in Lashon Kodesh" and "teaching him Torah". You must speak to your son in the language of the Torah. In Talmudic Language, whether English, Hebrew, Yiddish, or what. From the chareidi perspective, there can be Torah in everything we say because there is Torah in everything we do.

This is the message that I was marketing on page 223 of my book when I wrote that the chareidim speak Isaiahish and that it is a foreign language to most consumers.


Shortly after my book came out, a young blogger - an idealistic RYBS apologist (hey, two can play the same game) - came out with a critical review. Because I felt that the review totally missed the target and did not address or refute the main mission of the book, I did not feel that it is worth my time (excuse me, I mean that I thought it is bitul zman and/or bitul Torah) to invest in a protracted response. But so as not to leave the antagonism totally unneutralized, I submitted the following statement:

The mission of One Above and Seven Below is to promote understanding. It is meant to enable those who do not understand how chareidim think and who would like to understand how chareidim think, to do so. To point out that non-chareidim (or even non-conventional charedim) think differently does nothing to infringe upon the thesis about the conventional way of chareidi thinking. If you are interested in learning about how chareidim view Judaism, read the book. If you are not interested or if you already know about how chareidim think, then do not waste your time or money on this book. Learn Chumash and Rashi, instead.


What I wrote is indeed the main mission but I want to elaborate a bit on this mission statement and rephrase it as follows:

The mission of 1A7B is to promote understanding (as above). It is meant to counter those who denigrate the chareidim without justification by presenting the chareidi perspective using Talmudic Language.

Talmudic Language - is very powerful. As long as it is not misused and manipulated, it is rock solid. Just as only a diamond can cut another diamond, a statement of Talmudic Language can only be refuted by other statements of Talmudic Language. That is why I use it in my book and I use it in my posts.

But it comes at a price. Many people in the Blogosphere do not relate to Talmudic Language. This is because they are not fluent in it. And accordingly, they are intimidated by it. And so, for want of refuting the substance of the hashkafa, they present a vague brush-off using choice terms such as "condescending" or "arrogant". Thus, in general one who pushes an argument using Talmudic Language is commonly accused of being "condescending". Numerous times I have stood on the receiving end of this epithet transmitted by people who had nothing to say about the points expressed. So, although it may in fact be condescending (if they say so), I am far from convinced that I am the one to blame for it.

My most confrontational post was the one wherein I reviewed the Miriam Shear incident using Talmudic Language. How do this woman's actions match up to what the Torah and Chazal and Shulchan Aruch tell us is the way for a Jew to act? The way Chazal explain Kedoshim Tihiyu, the way they explain Chillul Hashem, and the way they explain Din v'Cheshbon? I chose to dramatize it in a setting that would measure the case solely by this criteria. I had to rely on a Heavenly court because I found that these criteria were not being employed anywhere on Earth.

It was not surprising that a number of readers took me to task for the temerity to predict such celestial procedings but almost nobody (minimal exceptions) had anything to say about the points couched in Talmudic Language except that it is condescending.

Yet, a true chareidi will always speak his mind in Talmudic Language. And we will teach our sons to do it when they sit at home and when they journey on their way and when they lay themselves to sleep and when they arise. Why?

למען ירבו ימיכם וימי בניכם על האדמה אשר נשבע ה' אלקיכם לתת להם כימי השמים על הארץ

7 comments:

Baruch said...

Shortly after my book came out, a young blogger - an idealistic RYBS apologist (hey, two can play the same game) - came out with a critical review.
For those who aren't so famiar with my blog (much of Achas Lmaala's readership is), Yechezkel Hirshman's here referring to me. I appreciate his mature and respectful disagreement with my positions and his care to avoid writing anything unnecessary in this post that could cause people to think negatively of me (lashon hara). Unlike Yechezkel, I use my real name in the J-blogosphere, and I do appreciate that people take note and as such avoid attacks on my character.

Readers who want to see the last major public correspondence between Yechezkel and myself can do so here:
http://achaslmaala.blogspot.com/2008/08/fan-appreciation-week.html

My review's here (see esp. fn. 3):
http://www.mediafire.com/?43syei9km9b

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

How do this woman's actions match up to what the Torah and Chazal and Shulchan Aruch tell us is the way for a Jew to act? The way Chazal explain Kedoshim Tihiyu, the way they explain Chillul Hashem, and the way they explain Din v'Cheshbon? I chose to dramatize it in a setting that would measure the case solely by this criteria. I had to rely on a Heavenly court because I found that these criteria were not being employed anywhere on Earth.

It was not surprising that a number of readers took me to task for the temerity to predict such celestial procedings but almost nobody (minimal exceptions) had anything to say about the points couched in Talmudic Language except that it is condescending.

Yet, a true chareidi will always speak his mind in Talmudic Language.


I don't see how the last sentence (about how a true chareidi expresses himself) is justifying the first.
What does Talmudic Language have to do with setting yourself up as an arbiter, judging other people's compliance of their obligations of "bein adam le'makom"?

I would appreciate you giving some basis for doing other people's cheshbon hanefesh. I know other bloggers do this to chareidim when their favorite MO idols are trashed by them, but why do you feel you have the right to do it?

Yechezkel said...

"I don't see how the last sentence (about how a true chareidi expresses himself) is justifying the first."

This line is echoing what I wrote in more detail on page 170 of my book (paragraph beginning: The sincere chareidi...) and again on page 194 (concluding paragraph). If you have not read them, please do so. Then we'll talk.

"What does Talmudic Language have to do with setting yourself up as an arbiter, judging other people's compliance of their obligations of "bein adam le'makom"?"

I actually set myself up as a Heavenly prosecutor, not a judge. As I wrote in the Bat Kamtza post, I purposely and wisely did not bring this dramatization to a judgement stage.

Also, this goes way past "bein adam l'makom". It is obvious that I would not get involved in it if I didn't feel personally affected (which we all are). This has caused (or at least added to) a blanket indictment on the chareidi community at large.

Besides this, I do not really understand your question. The Talmudic Language are the Torah standards that we will all have to answer to on Yom HaDin. I thought this was clear from my post.

"I would appreciate you giving some basis for doing other people's cheshbon hanefesh.

Vayikra 19:17.

I am more than happy to let them do their own cheshbon haNefesh. Rest assured I did not shy from sending a copy to imahawk@aol.com.

I am writing these posts to counter the vast majority who see fit to do some anonymous chareidi's cheshbon haNefesh and my entire message is: clean your own house first. If you read this post thoroughly you would see that my main gripe is if you can judge the accused you may judge the accuser. IOW, I claim the same license to judge as everybody else does.

"I know other bloggers do this to chareidim when their favorite MO idols are trashed by them, but why do you feel you have the right to do it?"

Because Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh (this is Talmudic Language). I feel personally included in her "indictment". I wrote a whole book (or half a book) to counter unjustfied attacks against chareidim because I consider myself one (note my definition). Thus I am defending myself.
Is there something wrong with that?

Chezkel

G said...

I claim the same license to judge as everybody else does.

Just so I'm clear...so you choose the actions of others as your barometer of how to conduct yourself?

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Because Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh (this is Talmudic Language).

I think this is a disingenuous response. Especially since you immediately say you are attacking the accuser's personal motives as a way of defending yourself and your community's reputation--not as a sincere attempt to correct the accuser's wrongs for the accuser's sake.

I feel personally included in her "indictment". I wrote a whole book (or half a book) to counter unjustfied attacks against chareidim because I consider myself one (note my definition). Thus I am defending myself.
Is there something wrong with that?


I think there is something wrong with defending yourself by avoiding the accusations head-on, and instead, deflect accountability by scrutinizing the accuser's personal motivations.
Two wrongs don't make a right.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

>"I would appreciate you giving some basis for doing other people's cheshbon hanefesh."

Vayikra 19:17.

You think your blog post was a valid form of giving tochacha??!! Have you read the Rambam's procedure for tochacha?
ו,ט המוכיח את חברו--בין בדברים שבינו לבינו, בין בדברים שבינו לבין המקום--צריך להוכיחו בינו לבין עצמו, וידבר לו בנחת ובלשון רכה, ויודיעו שאינו אומר לו אלא לטובתו, ולהביאו לחיי העולם הבא. אם קיבל ממנו, מוטב; ואם לאו, יוכיח פעם שנייה ושלישית. וכן תמיד חייב להוכיח, עד שיכהו החוטא ויאמר לו איני שומע; וכל שאפשר בידו למחות ואינו ממחה, הוא נתפס בעוון אלו כולם שאפשר לו למחות בהן.

ו,י [ח] המוכיח את חברו תחילה--לא ידבר לו קשות עד שיכלימנו, שנאמר "ולא תישא עליו חטא" (ויקרא יט,יז). כך אמרו חכמים, יכול את מוכיחו, ופניו משתנות--תלמוד לומר, "ולא תישא עליו חטא"; מכאן שאסור להכלים את ישראל, וכל שכן ברבים.

Yechezkel said...

Especially since you immediately say you are attacking the accuser's personal motives as a way of defending yourself and your community's reputation--not as a sincere attempt to correct the accuser's wrongs for the accuser's sake.

I had both goals in mind. I think they are both worthy causes.

I think there is something wrong with defending yourself by avoiding the accusations head-on,

I have actually written no less than 5 posts that directly address this incident and another 2 or 3 that have indirect implications(including the 2 Aug 29 posts on Parshat Re'ei). In the Bat Kamtza post and Lo Tigrau, I directly confronted the accusations head-on. So I do not acknowledge the validity of this criticism.

and instead, ...
Two wrongs don't make a right.


My first response is that, to this point and in light of the 2 rebuttals I just presented, I do not concede a wrong and so your "Two wrongs..." declaration is null and void. But I want to say more.

This cliche is a trite Western philosophy and in general, it makes sense, but it is not a maamar chazal and it does not always apply. This is the main argument for those who oppose capital punishment. However, the Torah says:
ולא תקחו כפר לנוס... ולארץ לא יכפר לדם אשר שפך בה כי אם בדם שפכו
Now, what happened to "Two wrongs don't make a right?"

I analyzed this incident based on her accounts and came to the conclusion that this is "retzicha" - a cold- blooded character assassination. I identify with the "victim" and I am the "goel hadam". The Torah says that one has a right (and obligation) to do this - even though "Two wrongs don't make a right".

Still and all, I am not crying for blood. I do sincerely want that the perpetrator and her sympathisers should reassess the incident and desist from actively cultivating hatred and chillul Hashem and blaming the "other" party. Let's play nice. that is what i am trying to accomplish. you seem to have a problem with it and it puzzles me.

You think your blog post was a valid form of giving tochacha??!!

It looks to me like your message is "Ok. It was the right thing to do but the wrong way to do it."

The truth is,from the start, I thought your taana of "Doing someone else's Cheshbon HaNefesh" was very silly. Obviously, nobody can do anybody else's cheshbon haNefesh if he tries. Nevertheless, to contend that somebody is guilty of breaches in kedoshim Tihiyu, Lo Tikravvu, V'haya machanecha kadosh, Chillul hashem, darkei Shalom, and Even HaEzer is every Jew's right (and responsibility) both for the benfit of the person it is directed to and for the uninvolved onlookers. When I wrote Vayikra 19:17 it was more of a "dichui b'alma" that L'dvarecha that you think I need to answer for it, here is my answer. Now that you want to flak me on it, I have no problem retracting it and reiterating that don't think I need to answer this taana.

After all this, I am a bit thrown that you are taking a challenging position on this issue when in the past you have been more sympathetic to my outlook. I suspect that there is a root issue that is bothering you that is not visible on the surface. If you want to discuss this further, please contact me off-line (1a7b.author@gmail.com) but you must assure me that you have read my book (preferably all of it, but at least chapters 1,2,6,7, and 9). If not, I am afraid we will not understand each other and nothing productive will result.

Kol Tuv,

Chezkel