Revising Koheleth (Ecclesiastes)

In one of Ecclesiastes (Koheleth’s passages) attributed wrongly to King Solomon, written in the era of wide-spread Grecian philosophy, the author indicates that “there is a time for everything under the sun”. To his list, I might add “there is a time to write and a time to refrain from writing”.

Or to further quote the Chofetz Chaim, made public by the Power of Speech. org : “IF YOU HAVE NOTHING GOOD TO SAY,   SAY NOTHING”.

I don’t attribute much to that quote. If we want people to know and to understand our feelings and concerns, even the negative ones, we should not remain silent.

World history has taught us that in the face of dictatorships and oppression, remaining silent makes of us co—conspirators. Our mouths are not open simply for eating or drinking. The purpose of an open mouth is also to express open feelings openly.

On my wall hangs a very large megillat yichussin, family tree, listing the names of every member of my maternal family from 1727 to 1927, the males (all of them Belzer chassidim), their wives and the names of all their children.

Attached are photographs from the late 19th century and 20th century in Poland of some of the male members, all ultra-Orthodox rabbis. All of them since 1727 attached to the dynasty of Belz.  I look at all of them dressed in  black coats, full beards, and long payot (side-curls), sitting on high thrones with an open volume of Talmud resting on their laps.

I knew none of them since I was born six years after the genealogical scroll was created by a sofer (scribe) in Lwow (then Austrian Lemberg) and I question silently how I came to be born into that Chassidic and probably non or anti Zionist family.  Fortunately, since I did not know them I cannot have dialogue with them nor, gladly, with many of their surviving family who remained alive after the Holocaust.

I did, however, know several of their sons who did not follow the dress and traditions of their parents. They were traditional Jews, supportive of Jewish claims to a Zionist homeland in an Israel yet to be born. As two of them once shared with me, “if our fathers had been wise enough to leave Europe before the catastrophe……..”   but they were not.  They followed the advice of their medieval rabbis who told them that Palestine and America were not good places for religious Jews.

We need to know and to remember that some millions of Jewish lives could have been saved if their rabbis had encouraged them to leave the anti-Semitism of Poland and seek refuge in safer lands.

So I cannot be silent about my disdain for those rabbis and for their successors now living among us in Israel and still preaching dislike and even hatred for Jews who differ from them.

I have no quarrel with modern Orthodoxy or Litvak Orthodoxy. My quarrel is reserved for a strong dislike of the ultra-Orthodox of the ghetto mentalities who spit when passing a loosely-dressed woman walking on the  same side of the street.  I dislike them for delaying ElAl flights because they refuse to occupy a seat next to a woman passenger..

Ecclesiastes may have included “there is a time to write” in his philosophical phrases but he could never convince me that “there is a time to refrain”.

Perhaps, in the absence of  an Haredi Airlines with a mechitza (separation) barring them from looking at another woman, the El Al directorate might do well to consider special seating areas on all flights, reserved only for the medieval ghetto-minded passengers who fear that a woman’s glance or the pleasant smell of her perfume  might entice them into a sexual fervor.

According to a rumor, that happened only once to a non-religious male passenger who was enticed into a bathroom by a female stewardess on a flight over the Atlantic.

For the Chofetz Chaim, “if you have nothing nice to say,  say nothing” , it would have been words my parents taught me to heed.

I was a bad student. Believing in one’s right to openly express an opinion, I did not heed parental advice.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.