Let Them Put on Tefillin

letter-447577_1280

by Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie

Menelaus would have been proud. He was the Hellenistic high priest installed by Antiochus who championed the battle against traditional Jews that brought about the holiday of Hanukka. Not much has changed – it would seem – in 2,000 years.

Instead of the Greeks and the secular Jews combining forces to stifle Jewish observance, today it’s Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines. He has introduced a bill in the Knesset that would effectively punish an adult who brings a minor closer to mitzva observance or Torah study.

Invite a teenager to put on tefillin, and you could be prosecuted.
Paz-Pines says he is concerned about the potential strife in families that may come about if a teenager suddenly goes off the deep end and starts going to shul; or decides that maybe the Talmud is more interesting than Playstation 3.

I have been involved in Jewish outreach for three decades. To Paz-Pines I am a serial mitzva motivator. Were I living in Israel, his proposed law might put me behind bars, or at the least impose a large fine on me.

I have been involved with many families with kids who have become more observant. In most cases, I have found that the family connection between the generations has become strengthened. There may be some short-term tensions as children take a path different from their parents’. However, in the long run there is no question that the values of Torah, respect, dignity and menschlichkeit will shine through, making the families stronger.

There are families where this may not true, but they are a distinct minority. There may be other issues at play in the family dynamic that transcend religious ones. There may be rabbis who act irresponsibility, suggesting a person disconnect from his or her family. A returnee to religious observance may not understand how to balance his new life-style with his secular family. But, on the whole, an increase in observance means greater respect for one’s parents.

I DEVELOPED a keen understanding of this issue from my own personal experience.

My wife came from a traditional Jewish family. Her parents (first cousins) both rejected the observance of their parents. My father-in-law, of blessed memory, left the yeshiva for the secular high school during the British Mandate. He preferred secular nationalism to Orthodoxy. His courageous efforts for Jewish freedom earned him a year-and-a-half in a British prison.

My mother-in-law’s New York parents were Orthodox. Her father had his own shul but she, like her cousin across the ocean, moved away from the strict observance of the family.
Much to the distress of my prospective in-laws, their daughter was strongly drawn to the values of her grandparents. She attended Hebrew University and then made the move to a classical Orthodox seminary in Jerusalem.

When we decided to get married, we did as Chabad hassidim have done for generations. We wrote the Lubavitcher Rebbe for his blessing. We indicated that my fiancee’s parents were underwhelmed that their daughter intended to marry a guy who wanted to become a Chabad emissary. The rebbe responded, telling us that we should not get engaged until her parents agreed. “If they don’t,” he wrote, we should “wait until the end of the school year, and speak to them again.” Only when they agreed should we get engaged.

The rebbe was giving me a powerful lesson in one of the central tenets of the Ten Commandments: Honor thy father and mother.
Two years later, when we told the rebbe during a private audience that my betrothed’s parents had switched from a liberal congregation in their LA neighborhood to a more Orthodox one and that we wanted to try to continue to influence them toward greater observance, the Rebbe again set us straight. He said that, as their children, we should not instruct our parents on how to live.

The mitzva of honoring one’s parents had been driven home – twice – in a real way.

BEFORE MY father-in-law passed away he asked me to “take care of my Dora” – his wife. And this is a responsibility we have undertaken with joy. She may complain that I should “get a real job,” and about “all this religion” stuff. But I tell her, “Bube, has it been such a bad deal? You have six grandchildren, baruch Hashem, and eight great-grandchildren.”

The last two were born just a week ago.

This week we thankfully celebrated the double brit of my daughters’ twin boys in San Francisco. When my mother-in-law heard the Lubavitch-inspired names given the twins, Menachem Mendel and Schneur Zalmen, she said, “Oy vey, why name them that? I’m calling them Mack and Zack.”

We shared a good laugh on hearing her choice of nicknames.

As I look around at many of her contemporaries, I see elderly women not surrounded by large, loving, extended families. They do not have a granddaughter-in-law to visit them daily, great-grandson in tow. They may have one or two grandchildren – if they are lucky – and enjoy an occasional visit from them.

Paz-Pines claims to be concerned about family stability, but in truth he is acting out of his own insecurities. If he believes that his world view is so much better than traditional Jewish values, let him compete in the world of ideas. Let the next generation debate the value of a secular lifestyle versus one enriched with tradition. Let them explore the beliefs that have stood at the core of Jewish identity for thousands of years and reject them if they lack modern relevance.

The early Zionists, while not observant, valued Jewish learning. They included Jewish content in the educational curriculum of state schools. In recent years, however, the secular Left has tried to excise Jewish tradition from the educational system. This is largely a reflection of their own hostility to and insecurity with Judaism. They fear a generation growing up that loves Torah, Talmud and Jewish philosophy.

The proposed Paz-Pines law is Hanukka all over again. The Hellenistic Jews of the time allied themselves with the Greeks in an effort to impose a secular culture. They used the coercive force of government to impose secularism on Jews. Paz-Pines wants to do same today.

If Israel adopts his suggested legislation it will be a return to the Hellenistic culture – the defeat of which the holiday of Hanukka is intended to commemorate.

And that’s a regression we don’t need

This article appeared originally in The Jerusalem Post, Dec. 19

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21 Responses

  1. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Ahron, I agree that there is are conflicts of interest between the politicians and the general population, and that any power you give government puts you on a slippery slope.

    One conclusion is that constant vigilance is part of the price of freedom. However, another conclusion, which does not contradict the first, is that the government’s powers should be limited to those that are essential for the government to possess. The bill of rights seems to serve the US well.

    I know that Israel has anti-missionary laws on the books already. I think that the definition of the role of government that allowed these laws to be passed in the first place is what allows Mr. Pines-Paz to propose this abomination without making himself into the Knesset’s laughing stock. Can you imagine a similar law in the US?

    There is a difference between something ceremonial like Hatikva or the flag (which an Israeli citizen can ignore) and a law with penalties attached.

  2. Ahron says:

    I do not trust the common sense, honesty, or “good” intentions of Israel’s rulers. Like it or not they have a great deal of power in determining what takes place in that country and they often exercise that power. In any democracy there is (and should be) at least a mild tension between the desires of the politicans and those of the populace. Therefore the populace must also make its demands and desires known.

    As you note, the slippery slope argument is applicable here….but unfotunately it’s also applicable to virtually every case of granting any power to a government. (e.g. If we set up a Defense Department with the power to run an army, pretty soon they’ll have the power to draft us and our kids….and send them off to fight in bad wars….and be turned against the citizens and….launch a military coup and….!) There is never any government privilege or policy so safe and reliable that it can be left to run on autopilot.

    With the proviso that Israel’s rulers cannot be trusted to be either competent or well-intentioned, the adoption of an institutional preference for Jewish identity/practice would not be a step very far from the clearly Jewish “Hatikva” anthem, or any of the other myriad laws, regulations and customs that currently mark Israel as a Jewish (or at least Jewishly-rooted) state. In any event there already are anti-missionary laws on Israel’s books though their enforcement is inconsistent at best. And on the other side we have the eminent Mr. Pines-Paz attempting to outlaw Jewish outreach in the Jewish homeland. So the Israeli government will have power and can use that power…in one direction or another.

    But my main point is more conceptual than practical: and that is that it’s legitimate for a democratic country and its government to express clear preferences about the types of ideologies and trends it wishes to encourage and those that it does not. Certainly the process of determining and expressing those preferences is one that must be undertaken with a great deal of intelligence and foresight. (Modern Germany is an excellent example of this, and in the German case most of the disliked movements remain legal–but under government surveillance and the deterrence to prospective members and social influence that such public monitoring entails.) There is never going to be a “perfect” solution in either direction.

    In real terms, the level of political disunity and ideological chaos in Israel will likely dampen or block anyone’s ability to enact such a counterproposal to Mr. Pines-Paz’s bill.

  3. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Ahron: As a Jewish state Israel can quite rationally draw the conclusion that Jewish identity is a strategic asset of compelling national interest

    Ori: This is putting the Israeli government on a slippery slope. You can make the claim that anybody with a modicum of common sense and intellectual honesty will be able to handle it. However, given the track record of Israeli politicians, do you really want to count on common sense and intellectual honesty?

    A chiloni prime minister (and so far, they have all been chilonim) might agree that kiruv is good for keeping the Jewish identity of Israel. S/he might also think that Judaism is a lot of different things, religion being one of them. I’m pretty sure that’s what the leaders of Israel in the fifties and sixties thought, for example.

    A chiloni prime minister is quite likely to think that the IDF is a strategic asset, which outweighs Talmud Torah (remember – s/he is chiloni and does not follow the Torah). Since religious zionists are over-represented in IDF combat units and charedim are under-represented, it would be quite rational for such a PM to decide RZ kiruv should be made easier, but Charedi kiruv harder.

  4. Ahron says:

    Ori, I disagree insofar as your apparent assumption that any and all religion-relevant legislation in Israel should be fully content neutral. Israel is a Jewish state–the only such state–and that makes some cases there special. All national governments have the natural right to–and in fact frequently do–make special provisions and accord special status to institutions and ideas that are of crucial national interest. Take Germany as the most obvious example: there is freedom of speech, press, association, etc….. until you start veering into the realm of anything resembling any movement that could be seen as threatening the German constitution. Hence the existence of an entire government agency (the beautifully named Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz!) devoted to nothing other than defending the constitution of Germany against potential threats.

    In other words Germany looked at its national character and crucial interests and decided that not all organizations are to be treated equally, especially when it comes to movements that challenge the accepted moral structure of the German state (among the office’s targets: Scientology!) While the intense German need for such a service is obviously rooted in the history of Nazism the general idea is readily applicable for every decent government. (Indeed even back in 1987 a major North Atlantic intellectual journal featured an article (poetically titled): “Does America need a ‘Verfassungsschutzbericht’?” emulating Germany’s Constitutionally-focused report on nation-challenging activity within the US. The author answered “Yes”.) The point is that there is nothing inherently illegitimate in a state being intelligently biased in favor of certain movements and against others.

    As a Jewish state Israel can quite rationally draw the conclusion that Jewish identity is a strategic asset of compelling national interest (perhaps an uncommon way for frum yidden to view their kabalas ol malchus shamayim. ) I don’t think this should mean legislating mandatory Tefillin-donning (!) but it could certainly translate into a mild legal/bureaucratic bias against Christian missionizing–with no attendant bias against Jewish kiruv. Israel does not have to be run with a Halachically-rooted legal system or as a “theocracy” to make such distinctions. They are, in fact, elementary.

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Hillel,

    Over the last few centuries, the west evolved a number of rules to allow people with widely different opinions and beliefs to live together in peace. The current situations is not ideal, but it beats the pogroms and expulsions of the middle ages, or the Dhimmi status Jews “enjoyed” in Arab countries until they were deported after Israel became independant.

    One of these rules is that the government should keep its nose out of matters of religion as much as possible. When religious activity has to be regulated (building codes, for example), the regulation should be as neutral as possible. If one religion is allowed to do something, all religions should be allowed to do it. If one religion is forbidden to do something, all religions should be forbidden to do it.

    You can say that Israel is a special case, being a Jewish state. However, it is not a state run on Halacha. As long as the rulers of Israel are such that we need to pray three times a day for G-d to “restore our judges as at first and our counselors as in the beginning”, it is a bad idea to have them make religious decisions. At some point they may decide that a non Halachic version of Judaism is equally valid, or that Religious Zionism is better than Charedi Judaism.

    I suspect that the missionaries honestly think they are doing it “LeShem Shamayim”, BTW. Good people make mistakes, and it’s not like they can check with their gedolim.

  6. HILLEL says:

    Ori:

    I’m surprized at your comment. How can you compare the Shas system, which brings Jews closer to their roots and heritage to the missionary vultures who seek to lure Jews away by subterfuge and fraudulent misrepresentation.

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Hillel: When a family gets basic food and clothing from a “good Samaritan,” there is a natural reaction, known in the advertising trade as “reciprocity”—the basic need to give something back in return for favors received.

    Ori: That is true. However, kiruv efforts are also more than just intellectual debate. For example, Shas’s school system is, among other things, a kiruv tool. It also provides families in Israel with a substitute to a failing school system and day care services (Shas schools keep the kids for more hours than the public system). That also evokes reciprocity.

    Jacob Haller: The subject of the article is a bill proposed in the Knesset and the role of government involvement (intrusion) into the marketplace of ideas. Parental decisions regarding gadetry in the home is exactly that; a parental and home decision. That’s outside the realme of political discourse.

    Ori: I agree that the two are not analogous. However, part of the issue here is which types of influence on teenagers are “fair play – they’re old enough to decide on their own” and which types are “seduction, using their emotions to overwhelm their logic”. Obviously you’d consider kiruv efforts to belong to the first type and many Internet sites to the second. Where do you draw the line?

    It would be easy to answer: “Anything that brings them closer to Torah uMitzvot is good, anything else is not”. However, that answer only works when talking to people who are themselves committed to Torah uMitzvot. If you want to convince people in Israel, who are mostly chilonim, you need a more content neutral argument.

    Michoel: You brought a raya (proof) to the Hellenized names of the Chashmonayim from a Wiki which is based on Josephus. It is a weak raya.

    Ori: Unfortunately, Josephus is one of the few surviving sources on this period. If you exclude him, we have very little about society during the Chashmonayim period. We do have proof, though, of two Hellenistic names and a lack of respect to Beit haMikdash towards the end of the period in Talmud Minchot 64b: “ת”ר כשצרו מלכי בית חשמונאי זה על זה והיה הורקנוס מבחוץ ואריסטובלוס מבפנים בכל יום ויום היו משלשלין להן דינרין בקופה ומעלין להן תמידין היה שם זקן אחד שהיה מכיר בחכמת יוונית לעז להם בחכמת יוונית אמר להן כל זמן שעסוקין בעבודה אין נמסרין בידכם למחר שלשלו להן דינרין בקופה והעלו להן חזיר כיון שהגיע לחצי חומה נעץ צפרניו בחומה ונזדעזעה ארץ ישראל ארבע מאות פרסה על ארבע מאות פרסה באותה שעה אמרו ארור שיגדל חזיר וארור שילמד בנו חכמת יוונית” Note that the person who gives the evil advice knows Greek wisdom.

  8. Michoel says:

    Ori,
    You brought a raya (proof) to the Hellenized names of the Chashmonayim from a Wiki which is based on Josephus. It is a weak raya.

  9. HILLEL says:

    To Ori:

    You wrote:
    “If the Charedi way of life is truly superior, Charedi teenagers should be trusted with Internet access in their homes because it should not be able to tempt them away from Torah uMitzvot.”

    A deceptively simple proposal–would that life should be so simple.–Like a computer…evaluate the alternatives rationally, and come to the proper conclusion.

    Men–and especially teenagers–are not built that way. There are emotions and temptations that sabotage rational thought. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, in His “Nineteen Letters,” explained that that was the fallacy of Greek rationalism–too much sensual hedonism sabotaged their rational thought.

    Teenagers need help–structure–to level the emotional and sensual playing field. It’s hard enough for adults, but virtually impossible for teens and children to survive the internet with their moral compass intact.

  10. Jacob Haller says:

    Regarding Ori’s comment

    ““If most Israelis believe that Judaism is superior to other religions, they should not have a law against missionary activity.”

    Among other issues, the missionaries are less than transparent about their intentions. They invest a lot of effort into falsely reporting their belief as “Judaism” by using every form of Orwellian-style deceit to hide every tracable vestige of what they’re really promoting.

  11. Jacob Haller says:

    Ori P’s comment

    “If the Charedi way of life is truly superior, Charedi teenagers should be trusted with Internet access in their homes because it should not be able to tempt them away from Torah uMitzvot.”

    That’s a completely different topic. The subject of the article is a bill proposed in the Knesset and the role of government involvement (intrusion) into the marketplace of ideas. Parental decisions regarding gadetry in the home is exactly that; a parental and home decision. That’s outside the realme of political discourse.

  12. HILLEL says:

    To Ori:

    You wrote: “If most Israelis believe that Judaism is superior to other religions, they should not have a law against missionary activity.”

    Missionary activity today is not a matter of debating and convincing. The missionaries target poor families who can’t afford the basics of food and clothing.

    When a family gets basic food and clothing from a “good Samaritan,” there is a natural reaction, known in the advertising trade as “reciprocity”–the basic need to give something back in return for favors received.

    This very basic human response is exploited by the missionaries to seduce poor and ignorant Jews into their sphere of influence.

    (P.S. They also assuage any uncomfortable feelings some Jews may have by fraudulently presenting what they offer as just another form of Judaism–like Jews for J.)

  13. kar says:

    mazel tov on the birth of your grandchildren

  14. barry goodlife says:

    One wonders if oh-so-modern, democratic, family values-oriented Paz-Pines is prepared to allow for a balanced, non-biased bill.

    If P-P was truly concerned about disruption to family dynamics, wouldn’t organizations aimed at convincing dati/chareidi students that they are ‘benighted’ also be liable?
    Wouldn’t night clubs and bars and casinos which regularly entertain chareidi clientele–as reported often by Haaretz–also come under this ban?
    What about political views? Shouldn’t there be a ban on literature, and campaign ads aimed at ‘converting’ Likkudniks to Labor or Meretz etc?
    After all, think of the anguish of a dyed-in-the-wool Laborite or Meretz party member when he discovers his child voting for Yisrael Beiteinu, or Shas!

    Somehow, I don’t think any of this will be heard from MK P-P.

    Menachem Begin would have trashed Paz-Pines (verbally) from across the Knesset plenum; Ben Gurion would have dismissed the suggestion with a comment reminiscent of his “Oom-Shmoom” derision of the UN’s opinion on a past crisis. P-P should be ashamed.

  15. G.W. says:

    What an inspiring story! People really ought to keep the long term in view: what kind of grandchildren will you have.

  16. Bob Miller says:

    MK Paz-Pines is not acting or thinking properly, which seems like an incurable problem, but his wearing tefillin on his arm and head would help his condition.

  17. HILLEL says:

    By supporting GayPride parades in Jerusalem and opposing the Lubavitcher Hassidim’s efforts to encourage Jewish observance among the ignorant masses of secular Israeli Jewry, MK Ophir-Pines and his Labor/Meretz brethren have made it clear that they are the modern-day version of the Hellenist Jewish turncoats who opposed the Macabbees and supported the Greek pagans.

  18. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie: If he believes that his world view is so much better than traditional Jewish values, let him compete in the world of ideas.

    Ori: A superior product does not need the government to enforce a monopoly in the marketplace, and a superior way of life does not need the government to protect it in the marketplace of ideas. If MK Ophir Paz-Pines truly believes in the superiority of secularism, he shouldn’t be afraid to compete on level ground.

    However, the same logic cuts both ways. If most Israelis believe that Judaism is superior to other religions, they should not have a law against missionary activity. If the Charedi way of life is truly superior, Charedi teenagers should be trusted with Internet access in their homes because it should not be able to tempt them away from Torah uMitzvot.

    Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie: If Israel adopts his suggested legislation it will be a return to the Hellenistic culture – the defeat of which the holiday of Hanukka is intended to commemorate.

    Ori: What defeat was that exactly? If you look at the names of the Hasmonean rulers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hasmonean#List_of_Judaean_Rulers), starting with the generation of Matityahu’s grandchildren they all have Hellenized names. The Macabees defeated the political power of the Seleucids, but were still very much a part of Hellenistic culture.

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    From an American constitutional perspective, one can argue that it is a curtailment on a First Amendment right of free expression of religion-something that Israelis who cry about “religious coercion” based upon a European anti clerical tradition, tend to have zero awareness about.

  20. Ahron says:

    The original schisms revealed by Channukah are primal within the Jewish people and have never yet been resolved. One thing made clear by Channukah it is that those who attempt to excise Torah from within the Jewish people should expect to be met with a powerful response, whether the would-be excisors are Jews or others.

  21. Fern R says:

    May we all be lucky enough to be “serial mitzvah motivators.”

    I was raised Reform but started going to a Chabad shul while in college. I started becoming more observant which intrigued my 16-year-old brother. He eventually started joining me at shul and becoming more observant as well. Recently our Rabbi gave my brother his first teffilin. The idea that a Rabbi like ours might go to jail (if we were all in Israel) for helping us seems beyond absurd.