Response To Comments on “Charedi Spring”

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Two of the challenges to my recent piece were so good that I held up posting them until I could formulate a response. The questions, alas, may be better than what I have come up with. Readers might be able to do better, and are invited in to the discussion.

The questions are in italics, followed by my response

Here’s as good a place to ask as any. It is my understanding that the Satmar Rav believes and taught that one must not show hakaras ha-tov to the Medinah (to be fair I think he also taught that one should not benefit from them, but as you point out, everyone does nevertheless).

We are also taught that the Satmar Rav’s views are and were mostly definitely a “ve-elu.”

How are these positions to be reconciled? This is of course a larger question – how and are we supposed to respect people whom are considered to be great who frankly spread such teachings?

I will address your points serially.

I don’t know enough about the Satmar Rav’s position on hakaras hatov. Let’s assume, arguendo, that you are correct. Even so, there would be nuance to his position that you have not owned up to. When Hubert Humphrey campaigned for the Vice Presidency, he paid a visit to the Satmar Rav, who immediately opened the conversation with a question about Humphrey’s willingness to send more arms to Israel. Humphrey had been forewarned about Rav Yoilish’s views on the Zionist entity, and expressed his surprise. The Satmar Rav responded, “No, no. You don’t understand. We have a disagreement with members of the family – but we don’t want to see anyone in the family get hurt.” (Source: Dr. David Luchins)

That is gadlus, and that is not what we are witnessing coming from RBS-B or Kikar Shabbos.

Even if this were not true, we apparently differ on how to understand “eilu v-eilu.” Since I wrote the book, perhaps I can be excused for favoring the approach of Maharal who explicitly denies in Be’er HaGolah that both sides of any dispute are equally correct. He restricts that to only some disputes, such as those between Hillel and Shammai. In other cases, while there undoubtedly is much to learn from both disputants, one side may indeed possess far more of the truth. Personally, I have little problem applying that idea to many other disputes, in which I find myself strongly drawn to one side more than another. I’ve stopped losing sleep about that.

What you really want to do is egg me on to the next concession, and I will oblige. Let’s say I concluded that, as far as I could see, Gadol X was (shudder!) wrong. Ein le-dayan elah mah she-einav ra’os. I can’t force myself to believe what I don’t believe, nor even to pretend that I do.

Now what? Do I frame my appreciation of that Gadol in terms of the one position he takes that I find entirely unacceptable, and write off everything else he stood for? For that matter, am I devastated and destroyed when I find out that some of my rabbei’im were human (imagine that!) and had human failings? Or do I move on, and continue to be inspired by everything else they accomplished?

I’ve learned how to filter. Lots of good stuff gets through the filter, even after the unacceptable is blocked out. People who can’t do that will have very few people in life from whom they can learn – at least not real people, rather than figments of their imaginations. We have much to learn from great people, even after realizing that they will not be correct all the time.

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Great piece, but there’s one point which needs to be clarified: The second and third reasons you mentioned for why this can’t be authentic Torah is, I’m sorry to say, applicable to a good deal of the charedi population in Israel, and not just to the hooligans. Whenever I read the charedi press here (which I’ve done plenty), I am appalled by the dreadful lack of hakaras hatov both to the State and to HKBH who gave us this State. There are constant complaints about the “porkei ol” and how difficult the secular Zionists make it to live a Torah life here (which is, of course, nonsense; Torah life here is great). And as for bringing disgrace to the Torah, you yourself wrote “Where they should see a lifestyle to admire, they see a community that cannot support itself, covers up its misdeeds, and shows itself entirely unsuitable to face challenges of real life.” This applies to many (most?) mainstream charedim, not just the meshugaim in Beit Shemesh.

So, does that mean that mainstream charedim also cannot represent authentic Torah?

I hope not. There is just so much good coming from that community that it would be a horrible conclusion to come to. Still, your question weighs heavily, and I have agonized over it for days. No one I’ve spoken to (all of them products of charedi yeshivos) has come up with a good solution. I will have to make do with some tentative musings.

I think we have to differentiate between attitudes and deeds. I reject certain attitudes – at this point, a good number – that are part of Israeli charedi life, even while I fully appreciate, savor and embrace other parts of it. Attitudes, however, are not as toxic as deeds.

Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have some tendencies that are less than holy. We struggle with them; we recognize that they should not be acted upon, and daven for siyata d’shmaya that they should be held in check. We don’t define ourselves as failures for having these tendencies. We are much more disappointed with ourselves when we actually slip and translate those shortcomings into action. Moreover, we hold on to the hope that we can transform ourselves into even more worthy human beings.

Similarly, there are attitudes in the Israeli haredi world that I can no longer make excuses for or apologize for. But they remain, for the most part, attitudes. As attitudes, they are damaging enough, because they create the environment in which worse is bred.

Still, creating an environment is not as bad on a moral scale as giving free rein to reprehensible attitudes, and turning them into flagrant activities and misdeeds. Too many people do not have enough hakaras hatov for what secular Israelis do for them, in providing them with military security and the monthly checks that feed their children. Nonetheless, they would not parade around in public in uniforms that called their benefactors Nazis.

I believe that this is a great difference. I believe that people who cross over and turn bad attitudes into bad deeds are not such good candidates for one day modifying their views and accepting something more reasonable. As the Sefer HaChinuch says, a person is shaped by how he acts. People who spit, curse at little girls, beat up men coming to the assistance of women accosted for sitting on the wrong benches of an unofficially mehadrin bus, disrupt community concerts, and steal sidewalk benches so that women should not sit there – all such people have so distorted Torah to have become thoroughly warped, anti-Torah people. I do not consider them my religious brethren.

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18 Responses

  1. Daniel Schwartz says:

    How am I not relying on my own personal filter? In two ways. I am mevatel my Daas to some Torah gadol or gedolim. Yes, they are of my choosing. My chinuch is that this is legitimate.

    Why then use the term “Da’as Torah?” That term is a very pregnant one, which engenders all kinds of conflict. BTW, I too look to rabbis, people with whom I have sold relationships for advice, sometimes in areas beyond p’sak Halacha. Like Prof. Kaplan, I too believe that great rabbis, by virtue of their superior intellect, learning and insight, have much to offer the community beyond p’sak Halacha. But the term “Da’as Torah” is designed to convey an added level of authority to rabbinic opinion on non-Halachik or meta Halachik issues. The idea that one not imbued with that authority should be empowered to apply his “filter” is anathema to very concept. As you put it, who’s gadol? In your model,is a Jew who follows the da’as of David Wolpe following Da’as Torah? Why?/Why not? Ultimately Da’as Torah is an appeal to ultimate authority. And that I reject in toto. There is only one Ultimate Authority and we are all enjoined to try to discern it.

    [YA –

    Why then use the term “Da’as Torah?” That term is a very pregnant one, which engenders all kinds of conflict.

    So I should allow others to co-opt terminology with which I grew up, and that is still used by many, many people the way I use it? Why should I be forced to play by their rules? I disagree with the recent extensions of Da’as Torah. Not the extensions you mean. I do believe that those who have it can give important advice 1) on non-halachic matters providing that they have full grasp of all the background and the parameters of the issue, and 2) on matters of guiding the Torah ship of state through difficult decisions.

    But the term “Da’as Torah” is designed to convey an added level of authority to rabbinic opinion on non-Halachik or meta Halachik issues. The idea that one not imbued with that authority should be empowered to apply his “filter” is anathema to very concept.

    Only the way you frame it, although you would be supported in this by lots of people. But my definition is still popular with lots of others. The filter is not anathema, because the “older” version of Daas Torah recognized that it was the province of everyone whose mind was shaped by deep and long immersion in Torah. People disagree; therefore there will be differences between possessors of this special Torah insight.

    As you put it, who’s gadol? In your model,is a Jew who follows the da’as of David Wolpe following Da’as Torah? Why?/Why not?

    Because David Wolpe will be the first to admit that he did not spend years in deep and long immersion in Torah study. (If you insist, I will put the question to him the next time we meet.) Daas Torah is first and foremost the reshaping of a person’s mind through the effect of its proximity to Torah, which is the closest thing we have to the Mind of G-d.

    Ultimately Da’as Torah is an appeal to ultimate authority. And that I reject in toto. There is only one Ultimate Authority and we are all enjoined to try to discern it.

    We are enjoined to do that secondarily. Primarily, we are instructed to obey the normative directives issued by HKBH through revelation, and as handed down to us by the Baalei Ha-Mesorah. Beyond that, yes, there is still much that is not understood or codified, about which we are each on our own journey.

    As the old graffiti read:

    G-d is dead. (signed, Nietzsche)

    Nietzsche is dead. (signed G-d.)

    In the end, it is entirely irrelevant if you or I reject or accept the authority of Da’as Torah. What is important is whether HKBH included the concept in His Torah.]

  2. Yitzhak says:

    Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin has a fascinating discussion of the appropriate attitude toward the Satmar Rav in his Bene Banim II:34 [Available on Hebrewbooks.com A summary is offered on the Bein Din L’din website]

  3. Steven says:

    I would be very careful with this line of thinking; while true in an absolute sense, history and sociology has shown repeatedly that ‘attitudes’ lead to deeds and only a change in ‘attitudes’ changes behavior. It’s one thing to acknowledge an ‘attitude’ considered bad (e.g. racism) and to work on correcting it or at least not giving in to it. It is another thing altogether to have the ‘attitude’ and just suppress it around other people who do not share it.

    Suppression lead to frustration and frustration without relieve, eventually, leads to acting out. I worry that things are actually worse then they seem.

  4. Dovid says:

    In this week parsha, on the pasuk “Shimon ve’Levi achim,” the Midrash says, “Achim le’Dina ve’lo achim le’Yosef.” We can’t be passionately dedicated to some members of the klal but be hostile to the others. Shimon and Levi had good reason to resent Yosef (“dibasam ra’a”), but they still owed him basic consideration.

    Looking beyond the violence and harrassment in Bet Shemesh, there is the greater problem of the Bet Shemesh charedim’s attempt to block the opening of a dati leumi school near (not even in) their turf. Never mind that it’s a religious school (a factor which is irrelevant given that these charedim, and many others, regard dati leumi people as secular, or worse). Even if it were a chiloni school, and the girls wore mini skirts, it would be wrong to push them out of their property – even through legal and peaceful means of intimidation. Leaving aside the issue of violence, this episode reveals how this community is looking out only for its own kind, without regard for other members of the klal who do not conform to their ideas and lifestyle.

  5. lamomma says:

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

  6. busy says:

    But yet this (crying for the “tziyonim”, supporting measures that ensure their safety) is not how the majority of Satmar chassidim act today. If the Rav ztl indoctrinated (for lack of better word) his followers to espouse this view, is he not also responsible for the inevitable slippery slope his followers slipped down because of this view? Is it such a stretch to go from staunchly being anti-Zionist to calling all non-Charedim, Nazis?

  7. Daniel Schwartz says:

    The Satmer Rav certainly did not show hakarat hatov to the Zionists, not even to the one who saved his life. But that’s for another day. R. Adlerstein’s cogent remarks create certain doctrinal difficulties. His answers to the two questions both rely on his own filter, his analysis of the facts before him and his sense of right and wrong. Ultimately he chooses what to accept and what to reject, what fits his weltanschaung and does not. As applied to acts and pronouncements of gedolei Yisrael, of what value then is the notion of Da’as Torah if it is to be filtered by the receiver of the message anyway? Does not that cornerstone of Chareidiut require that R. Adlerstein be mevatel his conclusion to the (assumed) greater wisdom of the Torah sage; even moreso when he disagrees with the sage’s pronouncement? And if R. Adlerstein is allowed to apply his filter, are we not all allowed to do so? For me this is not a question, as I never believed in the silliness that is Da’as Torah. But for those who do, or for those who cling to some version of the doctrine, as I believe R. Adlerstein does, where is the reconciliation?

    [Reb Daniel, you’ve chosen to hold me to a definition of Da’as Torah to which I do not subscribe. (It is a shame that you find the concept to be “silliness;” Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlit”a, doesn’t find it silly in his shiur about it delivered over Chanukah. My view of it – as I heard it from my rabbeim – is much closer to his. Perhaps this is only my personal experience, but all the people I know who had serious yeshivah background and keep a strong kesher to limud Torah – whether they learned in “black” yeshivas or “white” yeshivas – maintain some sort of Da’as Torah concept.)

    Is it a cornerstone of charediut that we are mevatel our thinking to the Torah sage? Which Torah sage? Isn’t that the real issue? In some circles, it is perfectly obvious that the Torah sage is X, or is W,X and Y speaking together. I imagine that in those circles, I am not a charedi. Do understand, however, that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people trained in charedi yeshivos who think similarly to me.

    How am I not relying on my own personal filter? In two ways. I am mevatel my Daas to some Torah gadol or gedolim. Yes, they are of my choosing. My chinuch is that this is legitimate. There is not ONE Da’as Torah; there can easily be multiple views. It was legitimate for talmidim of Rav Meir Simcha to follow him even when opposed by the Chofetz Chaim. There are people to whom I would yield, even if I disagreed strongly.

    Additionally, if ALL major Torah personalities agreed on a course of action for the community, I would follow it, even if I disagreed. At least, I hope I would be omeid in the nisayon.]

  8. Shades of Gray says:

    It’s hard to understand the wisdom of dressing people up in Holocaust garb, done by a small minority in the Eidah. Even l’shitasom, they should have easily anticipated the way public opinion works, as happened when certin of the Gush Katif settlers did the same, which after all, was the entire purpose of these events, to influence public opinion! It’s clear that such protestors view themselves as being persecuted, and part of that is true(i.e., attitudes of the secular media), though they exaggerate it. Regarding the Beit Shemesh situation, the defensive attitudes in the Israeli Yated Neeman are correct, to an extent, that there is incitement and a political purpose, such as when politicians sit on Mehadrin buses to provoke a reaction.

    But the question, not examined, is how to give nuance to powerfully negative ideas which may be misinterpreted by some youth. The idea of nuance in education is relevant regarding certain ideas of the Satmar Rebbe and teaching havdalah bein yisrael l’amim, but it’s just as relevant on the other side, such as teaching ideas about Torah Umaddah, or in the settler community. It would be as unfair, and indeed lacking nuance, to use extremism of groups of the Edah to bash an entire community, as it would be to use Noah Feldman’s the “Orthodox Paradox” as Exhibit #1 against Modern Orthodox educational philosophy, although the latter did highlight issues as was discussed at the time. It’s possible that the phenomenon Off the Derech kids in some of the Charedi world will bring attention towards the needs and challenges in education for nuance regarding relating to the “Other”, since that is one of their grievances and some kids are more sensitive to a lack of nuance in that area when and if it occurs.

  9. Abe71 says:

    “In other cases, while there undoubtedly is much to learn from both disputants, one side may indeed possess far more of the truth. Personally, I have little problem applying that idea to many other disputes, in which I find myself strongly drawn to one side more than another. I’ve stopped losing sleep about that.”

    Is it possible that, in “Eilu Ve-eliu” disputes (obviously that is all I am talking about since the following thought would otherwise be taken to absurd extremes), a determination of which position is more correct would depend on the person considering the issue? Each person, depending on particular background, tendencies, education, situation, might feel that one or the other of the positions is more emesdik for them. Since no 2 people have the exact same experience from which the issue would be viewed, it would depend on that person’s particular background, education, family etc. to determine on which side of the issue they fall out, and no proponent of either side would be in a position to declare any proponent of the other wrong since by definition no two people are the same. Thus, Eilu Vaeilu divrei elokin chayim. Is that not the thrust of the quote by Rav Schach brought by Shua Cohen above? Thus a Tzioni can respect a Satmar Chasid and vice versa. . .

  10. DF says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, the discomfort you feel about the second question stems chiefly from a reluctance to criticize Charedim specifically, for fear that it will reodound negatively upon all orthodox Jews generally. That attitude, which comes from America circa 1950s, when orthodoxy was small and defensive, is showing its age. But that era has long since passed us by. It is well past time for a fundemental makeover in our overall attitude towards Charedim.

    The fact is, the concept of Charedi Jewry is just as much a historical invention as Reform. To the extent one has no problem calling Reform “inauthentic”, one should also refer to Charedim by the same term. [Best of all, of course, would be to apply no epithet to any Jew.] Both grew out of events happening in Europe 200 years ago. Naturally there has been organic change since their founding, but as a matter of simple fact, Charedim, no less than Reform, is not a linear descendant of Minhag Yisrael Sabba, but is actually a movement created in response to outward stimuli.

    And now, 200 years hence, we have reaped the whirlwind. It was easy for us to condemn the distortions caused by Reform on our left flank. But we’ve been silent about the distortions on our right flank. Rabbi Adlerstein notes correctly that there is plenty of good about Charedim, but that’s also true about Reform, and that never stopped anyone from criticizing them. Thus, in short, the answer to the second question in this post is that the discomfort is real. The only way out is to shift the paradigms we inherited in Eisenhower America, and realize that charedim are not simply an exotic part of the orthodox mosaic, but are actually a diffrent “denomination”. We should always love them as brother Jews, naturally, but we should put them in proper perspective the way we view other non-religious Jews. It wont help vis-a-vis the “nations of the world”, but internally it will resolve the nagging problems described in the post.

    Finally, I would say not to fool ourselves into thinking this is only an Israeli problem.The American Yated Neeman may be sightly watered down, but it reflects the same values as its parent company, and it is the paper of record for many in the American orthodox community. Mutatis Mutandis [as they used to say] but Beit Shemesh today is Lakewood tomorrow is Los Angeles in a few years.

    [YA – You don’t have to go further than the Chazon Ish to find agreement with some of what you say. I assume that most of our readers are acquainted with the story of the Yekke who complained to the CI when his own daughter wanted to marry someone in Kollel, which was foreigh to his mesorah. The CI told him that with the return of Klal Yisrael to its land, it was important to establish a beachhead for Torah, a strong showing for quality limud Torah througout the Land. He acknowledged that it was an artificial attitude, necessary only for a while. When pressed, he said two generations, perhaps three. We are well beyond that, but no one wants to pull the plug. Hence, the horo’as sha’ah has become semi-permanent or permanent.

    That, indeed, is a distortion of the ethos of Torah Judaism.

    But it is still not Reform, c”v. They cut themselves off from the source. Charedim, suffering from cholas ahavah, have attached themselves too strongly. From the former we have seen mostly assimilation; from the latter, we have generations of people loyal to Hashem and His Torah, from whose ranks a return to historical equilibrium will still come one day.]

  11. BenShaul says:

    An additional point re the Satmar Rebbe Zt”l. He once told his followers, or perhaps someone who criticized his attitude re the “tzeyonim”. “you only see what i say when i am facing you (ie the public stance) but what you dont see is when i am facing the RBSh”O, and how i daven for them and express my love and concern for every jew” and then he burst into tears.

  12. Shua Cohen says:

    The following may be helpful with regard to the position of the Satmar Rav, zt”l. In his eulogy for the Satmar Rebbe in 1979, Rav Shach made the following instructive comments (from Rav Shach Speaks, Bergman Publications, 1999, pp. 261-276):

    “His great soul encompassed the qualities of ‘rav’ and father and much more. Physically, he was distant from us…yet we all felt his influence. Even those who were unable to fully comprehend his position — and it was not an easy position to comprehend fully — were also influenced by him…He had a deep love of the Jewish people; he was a paragon of kindness and mercy. His uncompromising stance on public affairs was a result of his love for the Jewish people. This is what we had in our midst; now we have lost it. Who will replace him?…We did not understand his position fully because we were not educated in the manner in which he was, but this was how he understood matters, and he saw fit to express himself accordingly, influencing everyone, albeit indirectly. Were it not for him, who knows what might have become of the rest of us?”

  13. joel rich says:

    No one I’ve spoken to (all of them products of charedi yeshivos) has come up with a good solution.

    ===========================================
    Given their/your connections to the chareidi world, perhaps you mjght get the question kicked upstairs to the gedolim (einei hakahal) for their respons(es). I imagine that their are those even within the community who must harbor some doubt? Is our torah learning protects the nation enough to carry the day?
    KT

    [YA – Alas, the Moetzes stopped calling me regularly for advice a long time ago. Probably a few gilgulim ago.]

  14. Chana Siegel says:

    Bless you. A thorough and civil response to a thorough and civil article. This, we could all live with.

  15. L. Oberstein says:

    i would appreciate if someone could distinguish between principled action and dysfunctional behavior.
    The Luchin’s story about the Satmar and Humprey is an example of saneness, likewise when the Satmar tried to convince the Joint Representative in Switzerland to save Jews who were converts to Christianity. Satmar gives tzedakah beyond maaser and is a bastion of chesed, so one sees they are good Jews with a different point of view. The Sikrikim or whoever they are seem to be social misfits, batlanim and neerdowells who are frustrated and bored and very ignorant. I cannot find anything positive to say about those who put concdenteration camp uniforms on their children. If I were Shimon Peres, I would say,”My grandfather was burned to death in his shul with his kehilla and these people say that I am a Nazi”

  16. Gavriel says:

    This is why Rabbi Adlerstein is the most respected writer on Cross-Currents. He doesn’t engage in triumphalist propaganda or knee-jerk defensiveness; instead, he offers a thoughtful consideration of issues.

  17. Dovid says:

    (I’m the fellow who wrote the second question addressed here.)

    Thank you for the characteristically insightful and thought-provoking response, and I hope you forgive me for nudging you further for additional clarification.

    Even if your distinction between attitude and deed works for the issue of hakaras hatov, I don’t see how it applies to the third of the points you had made in the original article – that behavior which brings disgrace to Torah cannot be authentic. You explained by saying, “Where they should see a lifestyle to admire, they see a community that cannot support itself, covers up its misdeeds, and shows itself entirely unsuitable to face challenges of real life.” These are deeds, not attitudes. Actually, they’re more than deeds – we’re talking here about a community’s entire lifestyle. If this lifestyle brings dishonor to Torah, and anything that brings dishonor to Torah cannot be a true reflection of our mesorah, then why – according to your analysis – shoudn’t we write off mainstream charedi Jewry as a distortion of authentic Judaism?

    I must also question your distinction as it applies to hakaras hatov. Isn’t hakaras hatov, by definition, an attitude? But there’s more. You wrote in the original piece, “According to Chovos HaLevavos, owning up to the obligation to reciprocate what others have benefited you (even when done for the wrong reasons) is the key to any growth in serving Hashem.” By your own words, the demand of hakaros hatov means sensing an obligation to reciprocate the kindness extended by benefactors – not just to avoid calling them names and acting violently against them. Do mainstream charedim in Israel “own up to the obligation to reciprocate” the work of Tzahal and the millions of taxpayer shekels that support them? I am sure many do, but from what I read, many do not – and I’m not just talking about those who verbally assault innocent schoolchildren. According to your definitions, then, we have no choice but to label a great deal of the Israeli charedi population as distorters of Torah tradition.

    I am not saying that mainstream charedi Jewry in Israel does not represent an authentic expression of Torah. I am just trying to figure out why you’re not saying that.

    [YA – I share your discomfort and concern. My response may have been tenuous. I may be guilty of trying too hard – but for good reason, I hope. I am reluctant to pillory the entire community for these failings. The mainstream community is in flux, and behind the stern and unflappable facade, there is much turmoil. That turmoil signifies to me a lack of the brazenness and certainty of the RBS-B extremists.

    For whatever it is worth, I have heard many – yes, many – in the mainstream camp express hakaras hatov for Israeli soldiers. I have heard many struggling with the idea, and assuring themselves that they are indeed offering something in return to the State – the merit through which Divine Protection comes. I personally believe in the value of that merit. Even those who disagree, however, might see a difference between a person who spits on the gifts of the State and those who at least have to rationalize to themselves that there is some reciprocity in the relationship. It is hard to see how the former will ever come around; the latter have not permanently distanced themselves.

    Similarly, I see enough people in the mainstream charedi camp who are indeed troubled enough about the image that they project that they at least think about it, and deal with it, even if they resort to rationalizations that I can’t accept. I think that these subtle differences have meaning. In may case, they have enough meaning that I refuse to consider an entire tzibbur of otherwise yerei’im u-sheleimim as outliers.]

  18. Nachum says:

    “There is just so much good coming from that community”

    I’m wondering if you can list some- especially of the type that comes from them as Charedim (i.e., if the State does the same thing, it doesn’t count). Oh, and I wouldn’t count tzedakah etc. that responds to self-imposed problems.

    I actually really want to know. Sometimes you wonder why the community needs to exist at all.

    [YA – My response can be found in a separate post]