Archive | August, 2007

I will not remain silent

28 Aug

There are times when we read statements in the press, or listen to lecturers, and we are absolutely outraged with what they have said. As an Orthodox Jew, I feel that there are times when an Orthodox rabbinic leader makes a statement that is absolutely intolerable, and I cringe at the implications of the leader’s thoughtless words.

In addition, I find myself concerned that other Jews or Gentiles might lump me together with the person who made the unforgivable remarks, assuming that this famous figure is speaking on behalf of all Orthodox Jews who just don’t have the “guts” to come out and speak the “truth.” In such situations, it clear to me that the rabbinic principle of shetikah kehoda’ah – that silence is tantamount to agreement – may very well apply, and so it is important that voices that disagree come out strongly against such statements and their implications

I refer now to the insensitive and baseless remarks made by the Shas party spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef regarding the soldiers who died in the Second Lebanon War last summer.  In case you missed the remarks he made in his weekly Saturday night sermon (2 weeks ago), here they are:http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3442321,00.html

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef seems to have a direct line to God; he knows exactly why people suffer. Everything makes perfect sense to him. Everything is neat and tidy, every suffering, every death, no matter how cruel, seems to be perfectly justifiable to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef His teaching was based upon a disagreement in the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sotah 44.  Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yossi haGalili debate the meaning of the following military exemption listed in the Torah“And the officers shall say to the people “Who is the person who has built a house and not yet dedicated it? He should return to his house less he dies in battle and another dedicates it. Who is the person who has planted a vineyard and never used the fruit; he should leave and return lest he die in battle and another use the fruit. Who is the person who is engaged to a woman and has not married her? He should leave and return home lest he dies in battle and another marries her.” Who is the person who is scared and frightened in his heart? He should leave and return lest his neighbor’s heart grow weak as his has. (Deuteronomy 20:5-8)

According to Rabbi Akiva, the last case in the Torah means exactly what it says – it is an exemption for the one who is fearful, lest his fear become contagious. 

According to Rabbi Yossi haGalili, however, it rather provides an “out” for the soldier who knows that he is sinful and thus fears that he will not have divine protection during the war. He can thus leave together with the newlywed soldiers or the one’s who have built a new homes but have yet to dedicate them, quietly slipping out without bringing attention to themselves

Now, most commentators on the Torah, including the Rambam, understand the passage as Rabbi Akiva did, according to its simple understanding. And, that is considered by most halachic authorities as the normative halachic understanding of the verse.  The opinion of Rabbi Yossi haGalili remains outside of the halachic norm. And so, my question is why isn’t that good enough for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef? Why must he choose to apply, to discuss, to suggest, or to in any other way support the position that was counter to that of Rabbi Akiva and not accepted by most halachic authorities?  And to do so in his public discourse, on camera yet, seems to me to be pure and straightforward provocation. Such a decision, from my perspective, is totally irresponsible, and totally unnecessary.  If he thinks that such statements will lead to a massive surge of repentance among Israeli soldiers, he is certainly mistaken. If anything, it has just created a greater distance between them and anything that smacks of religious observance.What he was most likely doing was further distancing his followers from the soldiers who make up the “unholy” army which he and they shun, but simultaneously depend upon every day of their lives.Israeli soldiers die in battle because war in dangerous. Period.

May God protect every one of them, and forgive those who speak without thinking.

Advertisements