Extending a Hand, But Not Crossing the Line

As an observer, if not participant in the ongoing disputation as to the nature and tenor of the State of Israel, I am pleased to pick up the gauntlet offered by the newly launched Times of Israel by extending a hand, but not crossing the line.

I perceive TOI‘s readiness to accept guest bloggers as declared by David Horowitz in his opening Blog/Op-Ed and his call for open-mindedness as a window to right some wrongs and correct some misconceptions.

It is true, as David says, that we in the Jewish homeland are remarkably intolerant of each other. Therefore, my declared purpose is to undermine a wellspring of self-hate that has been fed almost entirely by a lack of self-knowledge.

I’d like to think that being a qualified member of both the religious and academic sectors — I hold cum laude degrees from Princeton and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as well as written ordinations from accepted Ultra-orthodox rabbis in Israel — makes me particularly situated to serve as a peacemaker.

But that said, I am obliged to state that the editorial policies of The Times of Israel, with regards to both verbal and pictorial content, are not of my making nor do I necessarily condone them.

On the contrary, I’m blogging here because TOI hopes to reach at least 50% of the audience I would like to see pulling their chairs up to the conference table. And though I cannot expect to have the other side of the litigation to put in an appearance at this venue, perhaps we can still make some unilateral headway.

So having duly hemmed and hawed through my obeisances and presented my credentials, the time has come to make a point:

As the secular and Ultra-orthodox concepts of am Yisroel are diametrically opposed, they can never be reconciled. Yet, accepting that statement as a given, I’d like to share a few words of wisdom.

The late Prof. Haim Rubin of Hebrew University, with whom I studied Applied Linguistics, once said that if you really want to win an argument with someone, you are going to have to listen to what he’s saying.

Most often when two parties disagree they carry on what should be an interchange without ever responding to each other’s challenges. That’s because each of them is operating within a construct that they dare not abandon.

Only if one of them ventures to enter the thought patterns of his adversary to the point of fully understanding them can he implode the other construct by proving it false in his opponent’s own terms.

Back in my college days as a budding cultural anthropologist, art historian and poet, we were taught that Emile Durkheim in his 1912 classic, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, maintains that man when faced with the unfathomable turns to religion, even if defined only as a shared set of symbols which he therefore deems sacred.

Similarly, in an earlier work, Les rites de passage (1909), French ethnographer and folklorist Arnold van Gennep outlined life crises such as birth, marriage and death as traumatic situations at which juncture all cultures find solace in ritual.

Given the above, we can safely posit that man is ipso facto religious, meaning that if an individual opts not to adhere to the faith of his fathers he will immediately cling to a foreign religion or create one of his own.

A prime example is the Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who during his youth was a Rosicrucian and later developed a Gaelic system based on the phases of the moon.

Similarly, D.H. Lawrence in The Plumed Serpent (1926) advocates a return to indigenous religion including Judaism in lieu of conquistador Catholicism, and in 1927 published a eulogy of a lost culture, Sketches of Etruscan Places, bemoaning the crushing of a society attuned to life forces by the burgeoning, martial Roman Empire.

But van Gennep’s basic premise, i.e. operating within a shared set of cultural symbols passes for normal behavior while the adoption of eclectic, personal, value-enhanced objects or ideas is tantamount to madness, still holds.

Thus the fact that the Ulta-orthodox community in eretz Yisroel firmly believes in divine revelation on Har Sinai and accepts the Torah, not as a set of 613 rules but as the defining element of both the individual Jew and ha’am hayehudi, is anathema to the secular camp.

And I’ll now tell you why.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, with whom I vehemently disagree with regards to his equation of the Occupy Wall Street movement to avodas haba’al, has a neat definition of what is going on in the majority, Western culture that he calls Secular Fundamentalism.

Lapin identifies secularism as fundamentalist by nature in that, like all fundamentalist religions, its tenets are not open to disputation.

Secularism teaches that man is descended from the greater apes and that the world is headed helter-skelter to a calamitous end. In the meantime, it is incumbent upon each of us to courageously “save the planet” or, if not so inclined, to apply himself assiduously to carpe diem, if you know what I mean.

Rabbi Lapin, who is an ecumentalist pandering to the American conservative public, espouses a return to evangelical Christianity (and Jewish observance) as a panacea for all of society’s ills.

Apparently this would also remedy the Darwinian economic depravity that lead to the 2007 meltdown and its aftermath where hedge fund owners fed on the carcasses of fallen banks in a spectacle that would ultimately be billed to the American taxpayer.

We in Israel have been spared the brunt of the above, but according to a variety of local, secular sources and some American Ultra-orthodox leaders, we are now in the path of another immanent, physical danger. There is now another man who would be Hitler, promising to rid the world of our universally despised race.

Since publication of The Gallic Wars it has been well-known that divide and conquer is a prime tactic for overcoming all obstacles. But we the Jewish people in our own homeland having cunningly taken to dividing ourselves, despite the fact that doing so makes us easy prey.

Thus were it possible in this climate to preach a doctrine of tolerance — of fairness, as David has taken the trouble to put on the TOI masthead — we might all have an easy way out.

In future blog entries I hope to detail misconceptions with regards to the iniquity of Chareidi education and Ultra-orthodox Jews deliberately sidelining the fairer sex as promulgated by no less than Reuters and The New York Times.

But for the time being, as I come to bury a hatchet rather than “to praise Caesar,” I thank you for lending me your ears.

About the Author
Y.B. Fishel holds cum laude degrees from Princeton and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as written ordinations from members of Israel's highest, ultra-Orthodox authorities. His reason for being around ToI is to provide a chareidi insider's view of what's happening in Israel.