Baruch Hashem, Nothing Has Changed

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by Dovid Landesman

Reportedly, when the Munkatcher Rebbe, the Minchas Elazar zt”l, returned to Hungary after visiting with the Alfandri in Yerushalayim, his chassidim asked him: “Rebbe, is there anything new in Eretz Yisrael?”

He replied: “Baruch Hashem, nothing has changed. There was sinas chinam two thousand years ago and there is sinas chinam today!”

The gemara tells us that Bayis Sheni was destroyed because of sinas chinam, yet does not give us details as to what that means. We are left on our own to determine what qualifies as baseless hatred and what might constitute justified hatred. Perhaps we can shed some light on the question by examining the social conditions at the time of the second churban.

Klal Yisrael was factionalized and there was a great deal of active animosity between each of the sectors. Society included the remnants of the Hellenists who were allied completely with the Roman oppressors of Judea, determined not to be identified as Jewish. There were the Tziddukim who had created a different form of Judaism, loudly proclaiming that the tannaim had falsified historical Judaism with the introduction of all types of legislation meant to preserve the rabbinical power base. There were Isiyim who preached an extreme, ascetic form of Judaism, removing themselves entirely from the community to live in isolation. There were Kanaim and Beryonim whose agendas were purely political. And there were Perushim, practioners of traditional Judaism. Sounds somewhat familiar, no?

Each of these sectors would seem to have sufficient grounds to detest the other, for the differences between them were pronounced and seemingly irreconcilable. Yet Chazal characterize their loathing as being baseless. Why?

Perhaps hatred remains baseless, in Chazal’s formulation, when it is not used constructively. If I find a situation intolerable but all I do about it is complain instead of actively seeking to change it, then the engendered animosity is baseless and is condemned. But if I use my hatred constructively as a vehicle to effect change, then even if I am not successful, I have channeled my energies in a positive way.

Let me elaborate. To my mind, and this is a da’as yachid that may very well not even qualify as a da’as hedyot, the Eidah has forfeited its right to present itself as the representative of chareidi Judaism in Eretz Yisrael by virtue of their refusal to participate and share responsibility for the functioning of a multi-level society made up of both observant and non-observant components. They have no game plan, no program and were they to suddenly be presented with the role of operating a modern state, they would be at a complete loss. I don’t think that there is a single member of the Eidah who would be prepared to live with the social services infrastructure of the Arab world.

Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnefeld zt”l often characterized the old yishuv as a living museum of historical Judaism, and in his day, given the size of the population and the level of expected amenities, that was a possibility. In the 21st century, however, it is a pipe dream to think that the Eidah can isolate itself from society. In truth, they do not and rely on the traifene medinah to provide them with essential services – whether housing, health or transportation. To my simple mind, if you refuse to co-operate with that medinah, and do not see yourself as bearing responsibility for its success, then you forfeit your right to complain about the actions that it takes. Spare me, please, the argument that it is the hevel pihem shel tinokot shel beit rabban that keeps the medinah functioning. That is surely true, but is completely irrelevant as is the argument that the Eidah pays sales tax, arnona and v.a.t. which entitles them to essential services. I have no argument about their entitlement; I contend that one who does not try to work within the system forfeits his right to criticize the system unless he offers a viable alternative.

At the time of the churban, all of Jewish society’s components saw no further than their own agendas and refused to co-operate with each other for the common good. Chazal therefore described them as being infested with sinas chinam. Is it not significant that when Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai decided to work with his nephew, the head of the sikrikon, that some of the tragedy was averted. I leave it up to the rabbanim of the Eidah to draw their own conclusions.

I would, with the reader’s indulgence, add two postscripts. Rav Y. Horowitz suggested a massive e-mail campaign to disassociate our community from the violent fringes of Meah Shearim. Bemechilah, I think it is the wrong tack. Instead, I would suggest something far more concrete to demonstrate our distance. If you are driving in Yerushalayim and come across a police road block set up to contain the demonstrations, stop for a moment and offer the policemen a cold drink, a piece of cake or a bag of potato chips or nosh. By treating them like menschen you will do much to reduce the violence levels and demonstrate that you, at least, are not a part of it.

I would also like to add that despite the ugliness of the current situation, there are still so many positive things going on in Eretz Yisrael, events that can only take place there. I had occasion to ride a bus this week from Ramat Beit Shemesh to Yerushalayim. As the driver made his way through one of the neighborhoods, he spotted a very pregnant chassidishe woman running toward the stop, one hand holding a young child, the other trying to maneuver a baby carriage with an infant inside. He stopped the bus about two blocks before the stop, opened the door and told the woman: “G’veret, be careful. You don’t have to run.”

There were two teenage girls sitting in the front of the bus; one’s dress style indicated that she was a Beis Yaakov student, the other’s lack of dress indicating that she was not observant. When the driver stopped, they both jumped off the bus to help the women, one taking the toddler, the other taking the infant while the woman folded her carriage and placed it underneath the bus. The woman thanked the driver for his courtesy, the girls for their help and I said to myself: “Ribbono shel olam, I hope You have nachas from all of your children.”

[Rabbi Landesman is a veteran mechanech and mechaber seforim in Israel]

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6 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    I wonder if the Eidah has inherited all of the respect for the community that R. Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld ztl exhibited. I have written a (partial) defense of a position of RYCS that was rejected by among others R. Shmuel Salant ztl. As an aside to that part of the article i included the following story in a footnote:

    A ruling of R. Sonnenfeld about a man who died on Shabbat adds balance to the view that some might hypothesize about this chareidi icon. The chevra kadisha of Jerusalem wanted to attend to the decedent 40 minutes after sunset. After setting aside the wishes of the family and ruling that that the chevra kadisha can attend to the body at that time, despite the fact that both R. Sonnenfeld and the deceased customarily waited for 72 minutes for the end of Shabbat, news of a second death that Shabbat afternoon, caused the widow to suggest that the second man can now be tended to first, leaving her late husband untouched until well after 72 minutes. R. Sonnenfeld insisted that the chevra kadisha work in their normal order, tending first to her husband, who died earlier. His logic was that when personal stringencies (72 minutes) conflict with the community’s traditional practice (an 8.5 degree depression angle or about 40 minutes), the latter is overriding, insisting on a strict adherence to custom.

  2. Chardal says:

    >The source is Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l in Torah Nation, chapter of the churban bayis sheini. His explanation of the Kamtza-Bar Kamtza story is truly eye-opening and extremely relevant to our times and this post.

    And see R’ Shaul Yisraeli’s Zt”l explanation of this story in his introduction to Eretz Hemda which has the polar opposite conclusion.

  3. Esther says:

    Nathan,

    The source is Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l in Torah Nation, chapter of the churban bayis sheini. His explanation of the Kamtza-Bar Kamtza story is truly eye-opening and extremely relevant to our times and this post.

  4. Akiva Blum says:

    “Is it not significant that when Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai decided to work with his nephew, the head of the sikrikon, that some of the tragedy was averted. I leave it up to the rabbanim of the Eidah to draw their own conclusions.”

    From the Gemora, it appears that his collaberation was done very quietly. If not for the Gemora, would would know nothing about it. Do the rabbanim of the Eidah work with some people very quietly? We would never know.

  5. Nathan says:

    I once learned [from a source I do not remember] that the basless hatred [Sinat Chinam] that destroyed the Second Temple [Bayit Sheni] was the basless hatred of the Hellenistic and apikuris Jews, not the basless hatred of the Chachamim.

    If anyone would supply the exact source for this teaching, it would be appreciated.

  6. Izgad says:

    I would see this issue as a major part of the failure of the rabbinic establishment in nineteenth century Eastern Europe and why I assume that the Haredi community will undergo a major collapse within the next few decades. The rabbinic establishment in nineteenth century Eastern Europe had nothing to offer Jews besides for being poor, oppressed and waiting for Moshiach. This becomes particularly problematic where the gentiles around you are moving ahead and you no longer can be confident of your own superiority. Say what you will about the Zionists and the Socialists, but they had a plan. They were offering real solutions that regular Jews could work for give their lives meaning. In the post-war period the Haredi community had something to live for, rebuilding the Torah of Eastern Europe. The problem now is that they succeeded. My generation can the continued existence of orthodoxy even Haredi orthodoxy for granted. Now what? The Haredi community now has nothing to offer its youth besides for bans and humrot.