Sunday, May 20, 2012

Can Yerushalayim be saved again?

This is kind of a Yom Yerushalayim post, and kind of because of the chareidi nonsense going on in America today with the 'internet asifa' which highlights to me how messed up the whole system is.

The Talmud (Gitin 56a-b) speaks about the fall of Yerushalayim in the year 70, and how Rabbi Yochanan came to Vespasian and asked him to save Yavne:

Abba Sikra the head of the biryoni in Jerusalem was the son of the sister of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai. [The latter] sent to him saying, Come to visit me privately. When he came he said to him, How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people with starvation? He replied: What can I do? If I say a word to them, they will kill me. He said: Devise some plan for me to escape. Perhaps I shall be able to save a little. He said to him: Pretend to be ill, and let everyone come to inquire about you. Bring something evil smelling and put it by you so that they will say you are dead. Let then your disciples get under your bed, but no others, so that they shall not notice that you are still light, since they know that a living being is lighter than a corpse. He did so, and R. Eliezer went under the bier from one side and R. Joshua from the other. When they reached the door, some men wanted to put a lance through the bier. He said to them: Shall [the Romans] say. They have pierced their Master? They wanted to give it a push. He said to them: Shall they say that they pushed their Master? They opened a town gate for him and he got out.

When he reached the Romans he said, Peace to you, O king, peace to you, O king. He [Vespasian] said: Your life is forfeit on two counts, one because I am not a king and you call me king, and again, if I am a king, why did you not come to me before now? He replied: As for your saying that you are not a king, in truth you are a king, since if you were not a king Jerusalem would not be delivered into your hand, as it is written, And Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one. 'Mighty one' [is an epithet] applied only to a king, as it is written, And their mighty one shall be of themselves etc.; and Lebanon refers to the Sanctuary, as it says, This goodly mountain and Lebanon. As for your question, why if you are a king, I did not come to you till now, the answer is that the biryoni among us did not let me. He said to him; If there is a jar of honey round which a serpent is wound, would they not break the jar to get rid of the serpent? He could give no answer. R. Joseph, or as some say R. Akiba, applied to him the verse, [God] turneth wise men backward and maketh their knowledge foolish. He ought to have said to him: We take a pair of tongs and grip the snake and kill it, and leave the jar intact.

Even while Yerushalayim was under seige by the Romans, the kanaim were trying to destroy the city from within, rebelling against the Rabbis (while still ostensibly respecting them). In the end the greatest of the Gedolim was forced to hide in a coffin to escape from all the askanim around him!

There was a fundamental argument between Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Akiva (though Rabbi Akiva was two generations later and not the leader at the time of the churban). Was it possible to remove the kannaim from the city, or did the whole city including the Beit HaMikdash have to be destroyed and start again from scratch in Yavne?

Rabbi Yochanan who was there at the time was forced to concede that despite his best efforts at changing things from within, there was no hope for Jerusalem. The only way forward for Judaism was to destroy everything and start again. The only way to get rid of the snake was to destroy the jar.

Rabbi Akiva claimed it was possible to remove the evil people from the city without destroying everything. He thought that change could be effected in a way that would remove the kannaim from their positions of power, without destroying the entire fabric of Judaism.

I heard Rav Binyamin Lau speak the other night (more on that later) and he said that perhaps Rabbi Yochanan's final words on his deathbed show that he was never sure whether he acted correctly or not:

When Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai fell ill, his disciples went in to visit him. When he saw them he began to weep. His disciples said to him: Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer! Wherefore weepest thou? He replied: If I were being taken today before a human king who is here today and tomorrow in the grave, whose anger if he is angry with me does not last for ever, who if he imprisons me does not imprison me for ever and who if he puts me to death does not put me to everlasting death, and whom I can persuade with words and bribe with money, even so I would weep. Now that I am being taken before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who lives and endures for ever and ever, whose anger, if He is angry with me, is an everlasting anger, who if He imprisons me imprisons me for ever, who if He puts me to death puts me to death for ever, and whom I cannot persuade with words or bribe with money — nay more, when there are two ways before me, one leading to Paradise and the other to Gehinnom, and I do not know by which I shall be taken, shall I not weep?

(Berachot 28b)

Why did he not know whether he would be going to heaven or to hell? Did he not save Judaism? Rav Lau suggested that perhaps he was never sure whether he did the right thing in abandoning Jerusalem.

Today the Chareidi world is at a crossroads. The artificial system of full time learning for all which was made possible by the kindness of the Israeli government and the kindness and wealth of (primarily) American benefactors, is about to come to an end. The money is running out, and people are more careful about where their money goes. Israel has finally had enough of being abused by the Chareidi leadership, and now wants everyone to do their fair share. This is in addition to the huge number of criminal activities happening in the Chareidi world, and the number of arrests/chillul Hashem that results. Whether it is money laundering, or claiming government money for imaginary yeshiva students, whether it is child abuse, failure to report to the authorities, or just plain violence and destruction.

The 'Temple' that was the vision of the Chazon Ish for the rebuilding of Judaism after the holocaust is on the brink of destruction. The only question is: Can the snakes be removed with tongs, or must the entire jar be smashed?

I tried hard to believe like Rabbi Akiva that the system could be changed from within. I wanted to be part of that movement for change, to let Chareidi Judaism shine a beacon for all Jews, and reach out to all. Instead I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that it cannot be saved. I have escaped to my personal Yavne (aka Nof Zion) to try and rebuild my personal connection to G-d. And I hope that Rabbi Akiva will be proven correct in this case.

How I long to say the words from the end of Makkot (24b): "Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us!"

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