By Michael Eliyahou
Further to my last post:
As to the identity of the Gedolei HaDor Whose Decrees Must Be Obeyed. There’s just kind of an assumption that they are, and who am I to question it? With all due respect to the tsaddikim who are justly recognized for their greatness: it reminds me of an anecdote that I heard from a Sanskrit scholar, told at his Shabbat table after traveling in India with his wife. One day a local came running up to them shouting excitedly, “His Holiness is coming! His Holiness is coming!” To which the professor said, “Whose Holiness?”
To be sure, there are righteous men and women who are wiser than us, and it makes sense that we should listen to them. But what are the forces that are defining what it means to be a Torah-observant Jew, in all aspects of life? Hasn’t somebody figured that out? I see parameters and norms that have emerged here in Israeli Orthodox society, but frankly they don’t ring true with all that idealism that I encountered early on.
How are the following issues decided, for example?
– Why technology and its products are feared and banned, or at the very least ignored
– Why the yeshiva and kollel culture do not take more responsibility to teach men how to earn a living
– Why it’s considered okay to litter, or why it is not considered a priority to teach one’s children to take care of their physical environment
– What constitutes Jewish culture, and what to do with elements of foreign cultures that Jewish people bring with them to Israel – not to mention with Sabra culture
– The obligatory uniform for men and its ISO standard black fedora
– The punctilious rules of modesty for women in all of its details (which keep changing)
So in summary, what I see as the burning issues in the Orthodox Jewish world is that it pretends to have an infrastructure and proudly proclaims to its children and to the outside world that “we’ve got it.” And yet the evidence is sorely disappointing. It’s not equipped to deal with reality.
We can do better than this. I’m sure of it.
Personally, I still haven’t found a community with which I can identify in good conscience and confidently do my part to carry out their agenda. I have always identified with the Sephardic/Edot HaMizrah tradition, and I am supremely happy with that choice. Although it often makes me a stranger to most of the English-speaking religious community, in some ways this has insulated me somewhat from feeling like I need to be in lock step with the frum world, since it often defines itself by Ashkenazic norms and the Yiddish language. But even so, I am disappointed by how quickly the Sepharadim and Bnei Edot HaMizrah are forgetting their cultural past.
I cannot accept the “life in kollel” ideal because I need to be actively making a living and being engaged with the physical world. In fact, I believe that many more supposedly Torah-observant men should be doing so. Furthermore, I cannot even find a rabbi/posek who I can trust to understand all the issues and be able to answer all of my Halakhic or Hashkafic questions. Having made the journey I made in life to get here, to the “ideal life” in our “official location,” that is a horrible feeling.
I look forward to reading your ideas (and, ultimately, finding a solution to this mess).