Ben Waxman

Serious, fatal, moral flaws actually need attention

Rabbis should use their pulpits to speak out against real ills, instead of citing old lines that sound pat at best

A few post Tisha B’Av, pre-Tu B’Av thoughts.

Year after year, I listen to various rabbis from various yeshivot, various streams of thought, talk on Tisha B’Av. Every year, I am left with the feeling of “when are they going to finish already.” Rabbis who talk endlessly about sinat chinam, baseless hatred, in such a bland, meaningless way that the entire issue becomes irrelevant. Rabbis who talk about theological issues which, if we want to be truthful for a moment, have no relation or meaning to us today. Talks by people who quote this or that source with zero passion, as if they’re talking about the traffic or a new store that just opened.

Rabbis: Yes, the Shechina, the “presence of God” is gone and we have no idea what it means. However, let’s look at our society for a second. 80% of the Jewish people don’t keep Shabbat. Most people in Israel (and elsewhere) would happily not pay VAT or income tax if they had a chance. The Shechina isn’t coming back any time soon, so perhaps talking about its absence is simply a distraction.

On the other hand, I had the misfortune of listening to someone reduce the question of sinat chinam to “What, you don’t say Shabbat Shalom to people? No wonder the Temple hasn’t been rebuilt.” With all due respect, I cannot think of anything more ridiculous than to claim that the continued exile of the Jewish people is due to poor social skills; that not saying “Shabbat Shalom” is somehow equivalent to a person who did everything he could to bring about the destruction of Jerusalem, with all the death and suffering that war entailed. This reduction of real issues to such fine points is also a way to distract us from the truth.

What truth? That we have serious, fatal moral flaws in our world which we are simply failing to address.

To paraphrase something that Shaul Magid said, Tisha B’Av is not the day when we try to figure out how to be better. It is the day we when look at ourselves in the most invalidating manner possible. It is the day when each of us has the job to be a mini-navi, a small prophet. The prophets didn’t admonish us on poor manners. They screamed about the society’s corruption, about people who had no problem praying while cheating their workers, about corrupt judges and rulers, and yes, about people who chose to worship idols.

Were someone to ask me for advice on how to prepare a Tisha B’Av talk (something not likely to happen, I know) I would tell the speaker: Take out a paper and pencil. Make a list of those stories you read that left you feeling sick, which gave you the feeling of having been punched in the stomach. Whether it be:

  • a former chief rabbi now sitting in prison for corruption,
  • a rosh yeshiva awaiting his sentencing for sex crimes
  • the fact that in almost all of the major scandals to have involved Israeli political figures in the last few years, religious Jews have been major players
  • yeshiva heads who do everything they can to protect sex offenders
  • American rabbis: how many of you said the words “Lakewood fraud scandal”?
  • general Israeli society or political culture that cannot get in the least bit excited about crippled people or Holocaust survivors living in poverty, but will expend endless amounts of energy helping people expelled from their homes (that is, if they were living in certain areas in YESHA. If you had the misfortune of having your home destroyed in Tel Aviv, well, that’s your problem.)
  • people who have to  choose between food and health care
  • people who are simply unable to disagree without using the word alt-right, libtard, zionazi, leftist (for some reason, that word has become an insult in Israel), or any other word meant to kill a conversation because the other guy is obviously evil incarnate.
  • anything that hit you hard, that gave you a visceral reaction

What are people afraid of? Will your congregants yell at you if you bring these subjects up? Will people turn off the internet broadcasts and flame you on Twitter or Facebook if you say something about not paying your foreign workers a decent wage (that a worker is illegal is no excuse)? Will other rabbis accuse you of fanning political flames if you say something about rabbinic nepotism?

You don’t have to be Jeremiah or Amos to understand that having people with felony indictments against them serving on the national rabbinic council is nothing less than a complete abomination.

A couple of positive things: AlphaBeta has a wonderful children’s broadcast about sinat chinam, something everyone can watch and learn from. Arutz Meir’s “The Secret of Jerusalem” is fantastic. Both however are behind a paywall.

Wedding season is coming next week and all this will be forgotten, until the next time we turn on the TV and get punched in the stomach.

About the Author
Ben Waxman was born in the US and served as a Peace Corps volunteer. He lived in the Jerusalem area for decades and now resides in the Shomron.
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