5/13/2007

A Pseudo-intellectual D’Var Torah

I was reading one of those ‘divrei Torah that are distributed weekly by what seems like every organization in Israel. This one in particular was written by someone whom I’ve heard speak – a first class demagogue. What I read in this DT just annoyed me. Not because of the content, but because of the pretentiousness. The author is a pseudo-intellectual (Heb. ‘shvitzer’), and writes like one, too. To wit:
· He quotes Milton Friedman like he knows something about him, but speaks of him as though he’s still alive. The man died last October or November (and it was pretty big news). He’d have known that had he tried to give some minimal biographical detail, instead of just lauding him as “one of the greatest economists in the world”.

· Later in the essay, he refers to the same noted economist simply as ‘Milton’. Either he was on a first-name basis with a Nobel prizewinner a half-century his senior (but news of whose death eluded him for half a year and more), or he is getting the 20th century American economist confused with the 17th Century English poet. Probably trying to impress the Gushies.

· He referred to Tyrannus Rufus (presumably Quintus Tineius Rufus, Roman governor of Judea during the Bar Kokhba Revolt) as the ‘Gentile philosopher’. I know that people try to associate ‘Antoninus’, friend to Rabbeinu Ha-Kadosh, with Marcus Aurelius, but turning a brute like Rufus into a philosopher is just too much.

· Referring to the dialogue between Rufus and R. Akiva in Bava Batra 10a, he assumes that Rufus’ point was that it’s God’s job, not man’s job, to fight poverty. That’s not the point at all. His point it that poor people deserve to be poor, that we have no right to feed them if God doesn’t want to feed them.

· He notes that the Parsha (Behar) makes the point that ‘not everything is ours’. In my Chumash, the point is that NOTHING is ours.

· He makes really stupid and inaccurate blanket claims, like saying that nobody can really predict what the market will do and that justifications and reasons are only given post facto. Big talk from a rabbi, knocking down a pretty big industry of people making lots of money predicting – admittedly, with verying degrees of accuracy – what the market will do. That’s like criticizing a basketball player for missing half his shots. Of course nobody’s right every single time; you’re hoping for overall success, and people can and do show that they can do that. Point is, it’s just not smart to make big generalizations like that.

· He makes some kind of claim that ‘postmoderns’ would be enraged at the idea that people who say ‘what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours’ are like the people of Sodom. What does postmodernism have to do with anything? (mah inyan shmitah etzel har Sinai?!) Is he just trying to sound sophisticated?

Ultimately, the issue is that this guy is basically a high school teacher and demagogue. His job is to make 10th grade boys think he knows jack, and he can probably do that with the average 10th grader. But this dvar Torah goes out to people in the business community, adults, who know BS when they smell it. Every yeshiva has one or two of these guys – guys who read pop junk in the John so they can be the man with one eye in the land of the blind. One such bozo once tried to convince me that the Rambam wrote the Moreh in Ladino. Idiot. I’d prefer that these guys just remain silent and be thought fools than to open their pie-holes and remove all doubt (that’s a paraphrase).
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