1/09/2010

Rav Eliezer Melamed in Modiin

I attended two shiurim today; I cannot remember the last time I did that. The latter shiur was given by Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber on changing the liturgy. Although it was very broadening and informative, it was not very enlightening (for me, anyway), since I am somewhat aware of the history of Jewish liturgy. I had the opportunity to shmooze with him a bit afterward. I raised the issue (related to the parsha) of his grandfather's responsum regarding whether an otherwise Orthodox synagogue could call itself Neolog in order to gain government funding (Afarkasta De-Anya II YD 140) in which he relates to the value of names in general, but comes up with the insight (that I was excited about because it validated what I thought at the time that I saw it) that 'name, language, and dress' were only important in Egypt because there was no other way for the Israelites to preserve their identity. Later, once the Torah was give, these elements became much less important (see s.v. hen omnam here). He ultimately rejects this idea; after all, he was in the sphere of influence of the Chasam Sofer (he was a rabbi in Romania in the early 20th Century), upon whose ethical will the 'name, language, dress' narrative is based (see what I wrote here and here).

Earlier in the day, between mincha and ma'ariv, I went to hear R. Eliezer Melamed, who has been in the Israeli media a lot lately for ostensibly encouraging insubordination in the IDF and refusing to attend a hearing called by the Minister of Defense. R. Melamed' shiur was on oneg Shabbat and the balance between physical and spiritual oneg. Drawing from a variety of sources, he showed that Shabbat must be divided between spiritual and physical pursuits. He then engaged in an actual analysis of how time should be spent o Shabbat, concluding that aside from shul, one should spend about 6 hours learning on Shabbat so that the physical and spiritual pursuits are temporally even. I was unhappy with this conclusion for several reasons:
1) I am aware that there are groups, the Chaitniks for example, who are very serious about the whole chetzyo lachem/ chetzyo la-Shem deal. Nevertheless, I do not believe these statements to be of a halakhic nature; rather, the key is that some kind of balance is achieved between spiritual and material pursuits on Shabbat. I am aware that there has been a trend, since the time of the Chafetz Chaim, to quantify mussar and virtuous practice. I do not feel that this is the correct approach, though.
2) Even granting the legitimacy of the 'stopwatch approach' (which he clearly espoused, contrary to the protestations of some of the other attendees), I disagree with his math. I think he underestimated the amount of time that people spend in the 'higher' pursuits - for example, walking to shul or a shiur, etc. He also underestimated the amount of time that people spend on things that are neither 'lachem' or 'la-Shem'. He acknowledged that some sleep falls into this category, but there are so many other responsibilities that go into this. If someone takes the kids to the park so his/her spouse can get some sleep, what is that? There are other places where the lachem/la-Shem boundary is not so clear.
3) In general, I do not think he appreciated his audience. For the balebatim that formed the crowd, there is far more time spent in shul and learning Torah on Shabbat than during the week. Even if it's only listening to layning, the drasha, and reading a couple of shul rags, it is far more than is done during the week. I'm all for more learning; don't hold it over the heads of the balebatim, though.

Of course, at the time of the shiur I could hardly formulate all this, so I took a subtler approach, raised my hand, and asked: If one learns during chazarat ha-shatz, does it count double?

Rav Melamed spent a few minutes at the end addressing questions of insubordination. He reiterated that he is very against the army getting involved in dismantling settlements, independent of whether or not they should be dismantled. He also predicted that there would be a compromise wherein he is demoted from being Rosh Yeshiva at Har Bracha in return for the yeshiva returning to Hesder. He said that the end of Hesder would not be the end of the world, since the Tal law provisions are not that different. He reported that his approach is based on the written words of Rav Goren and Rav Avraham Kahana-Shapira. He claimed that his main concern in all of the controversy is that the IDF remain completely conducive to religious soldiers, who should not have to compromise one iota on their religiosity. He added the dubious claim that this is what is keeping thousands of Haredim out of the army, and that it is for the army's own good that he encourages his students to stand up for their rights. It was clear that he sees standing up for the highest standards of Shabbat and kashrut as fundamentally similar to the issue of settlement evacuations.

For me, his most controversial point (there were other points of disagreement, vut not as fundamental as the following) was his explanation of why he did not attend a hearing called by Ehud Barak. He claims that if it had been just a 'meeting', he'd have gone; a 'hearing' implies that the Rosh Yeshiva is subservient to the government, is not allowed to remain independent, and is merely a 'Rav Mita'am' ('puppet rabbi', essentially). Of course, I do not see the issue that way at all. Most rabbis in this world are answerable to someone and must navigate  tightrope between full independence of expression and the people who keep him employed, etc. It's very typical for Israeli rabbis to view any type of rabbinic accountability as some kind of weakness or unacceptable compromise.

Again, I could not offer a critique on the spot, so I asked: Is there not 'subservience' to others? For example, big donors? He distinguished, unconvincingly in my opinion, between government pressure and other pressures, likening it to a judge for whom predispositions are OK but bribery is not. I thought the question was better than the answer.

Finaly and unrelatedly, something else on the Rabbi Riskin issue - check out this link to a letter from R. Yaakov Emden. He's bashing the Frankists for blurring the lines between Judaism and Christianity, claiming that even Jesus and Paul did not wish to proselytize among the Jews or ask them to give u Jewish observance. He's generally fairly positive on Jesus and Paul, interestingly. R. Emden seems to have been quite well versed in the Christian testament. See here, about 1/2 to 2/3 the way down the page.
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