Journaling in America:
Building a Halachic Jewish Community
by Joe Orlow
Comment by Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn - The Satan traps people to sin in two ways. One way is to tempt them with evil desire that they know is evil. The second way is to tempt them to do evil because they think something is a good deed. Rabbis who free women from marriage without a proper GET are the second level,of those who listen to the Satan to do evil things in the guise of goodness. Freeing a woman from a marriage, to these rabbis, is a good deed the overrides the sin of making mamzerim. I think this indicates my difference with the thrust of Joe's article, which I asked him to produce for my blog, because he thinks interesting thoughts that are deserving of discussion.
This page is a very personal post. I hope that it will evolve into a more generic public post at some point. But for now, it's all about me. The writing may be long and rambling, because my life is complicated, and I'm not going to simplify things for the sake of brevity. Sometimes in life things are complicated and take effort and time to master. According to the effort is the reward.
I don't watch movies much lately. And I would not recommend anyone to watch the movie I'm about to describe. But I think there is a lesson to draw from it.
The movie was a low-budget movie, and over the years it has gained a dedicated following. I believe the reason for that is because the movie is an apt metaphor for life.
The movie is "Escape from New York". It takes place in a future where New York City has been abandoned by its citizens and been turned into a national prison.
The hero of the movie, or, better said, anti-hero, is a decorated combat veteran who was betrayed by his country. He re-tools his patriotism, turning his efforts on bringing down a corrupt system that is now leading the country.
The movie starts with this character, Snake Plissken, about to be incarcerated for life in New York City Prison. Concurrent with his imprisonment, but initially unrelated, the plane of the President of the United States, Air Force One, is hijacked and crash landed in New York City, a city which has been turned into a no man's land filled only with prisoners. There are no guards in the prison, only outside to prevent escape. The city is surrounded by walls, and people are thrown into the prison and forgotten.
The warden of the prison, Bob Hauk, now is stuck. The President must be extricated from New York, but it's virtually impossible to do it. The prisoners run the city. The warden's main job is to kill anyone trying to escape. He hits upon an idea to get the President out: Snake Plissken, ex-special ops soldier, who is about to be jailed in New York City, has the skills to find the president.
Hauk makes a deal with Snake. If Snake brings the President out alive in twenty-four hours, then Snake will be pardoned and become a free man.
To motivate Snake, Hauk has a bomb implanted in Snake that will detonate in twenty-four hours. The bomb will be defused only when Snake returns successfully from his mission.
Now the Nimshal, the analogy.
I was at one time a motivated team player for the Jewish Nation. I bought into the idea that my role is to learn Torah, Daven with Minyanim, and keep the Mitzvos. This is what I was taught by my family. This is what I was taught by my Rabbis. It meant a lot to me to be part of a thousands years chain that connected Creation to the Final Redemption. I genuinely believed that the Rabbis revered in America as Gadolim were just that, Great Ones.
And then I realized that some -- not all -- of these Gadolim were corrupt. To be sure, they were learned. But frauds, nonetheless. The reasons seemed to be three-fold:
(1) There does not seem to be an independent board in America that certifies achievement of Torah. That always puzzled me. The lack of such a board leads to a diminishing of Torah excellence. The leaders of some Yeshivos and those who fill positions of leadership at Agudath Israel are seemingly selected because of their lineage, and not their knowledge of Torah.
(2) The continued existence of some Yeshivos depends on raising money for the Yeshivos. Sometimes the heads of the Yeshivos will distort the Torah to keep the money flowing.
In particular, the chasm between what the Torah teaches and the values of American culture seem to be widening. In an attempt to bridge this gulf and facilitate fundraising, some Rabbis have outright permitted things that are forbidden.
(3) These corrupt leader Rabbis are still held in high regard despite widespread knowledge of the corruption. Some other Rabbis feel constricted in their power to oppose the evil Rabbis. These other Rabbis risk losing their livelihoods, reputations, and future marriage prospects for their children if these other Rabbis speak out publicly against the corruption.
Rabbi Dovid Eidensohn encouraged me to write more on the subject of the corrupt leadership. I will now follow through on his implicit suggestion to find a "solution".
My approach, though, is not so much to find a solution for tearing unquestioning followers away from a corrupt leadership. My approach is to find a way for me to move forward while distancing myself from those who refuse to challenge their evil masters. Because being part of a community that seeks guidance from corrupt rulers is not an option for me.
The Torah teaches that if a Jew has it within his power to influence another Jew to do the right thing, than he must use that influence. Failure to try and influence others to do right can even shift sins from the sinners back onto the one who failed to correct the sinners. Thus, a father has a responsibility to give Torah guidance to his family.
It goes even further. Even if someone in a position of authority is convinced he cannot influence others, he still must make the attempt. After all, maybe his words will be heeded.
I'd like to go back to the movie and draw another lesson from it, and to tie the lesson in with the obligation to correct others.
In the movie, Snake has two micro-bombs implanted in him. He has less than a day to complete his mission successfully or he will die.
As a Jew, I am in a similar position. Day by day, I am given a burden of what I need to complete each day. I am, so to speak, given a "token" (as Rabbi Aharon Lopiansky called it). This token is a pass to get me through the day. Thus, I wake up brand new in the morning, and must complete my task for the day. I am not required to complete the overall mission of Mankind. But neither am I free to neglect my part of the job.
This is a key lesson! So many of the people I speak with, who DO recognize the corruption of the leadership, have thrown up their hands and given up. Don't they realize that if we all coordinated our efforts and did a drop of work each day, that, like penetrating oil, we would eventually achieve our goal of uprooting the evil leadership? I hate to say this, but I think that deep down some of my friends would rather just get a good feeling from knowing they are "right" than to actually do what it takes to make things "right".
And what is our work? To keep speaking out. Whether we think it will help or not. Because we don't know. Maybe it will help
Another movie lesson: The prisoners in New York City cannot escape because the island is surrounded by walls and by water and they are under constant surveillance. Furthermore, the bridges are mined. I, too, am walled off. Many times I reach out directly to the corrupt leaders, to those who are close to them, and to their followers. And many times they refuse to speak to me, or they speak a little and then clam up, or they try to justify the unjustifiable. Any attempt I make to communicate about the corrupt leadership is cut off with a volley of defenses that essentially come down to this: once someone has achieved Gadol status, he becomes infallible. Thus, they I relegate me to a prison for the politically incorrect.
In the movie, the President is kidnapped and barely escapes death by exiting Air Force One in "the pod" moments before his plane crashes into New York. The irony is, that for Snake to save himself from a life sentence in prison, he must save the President, a man who represents everything Snake abhors. At the end of the movie, Snake manages to save himself and the President, yet still brings down the whole corrupt system.
The Nimshal may be forced a little here, but I think that the corrupt leaders realize that their little game of propping up the "Gadol Hador in America" at all costs has backfired. This "Gadol Hador" has, so to speak, double-crossed them. He has kidnapped the integrity of the Moetzes Gadolei Hatorah, and trashed it for his own gratification. So, although I am in a virtual prison, removed from many Rabbis, yet their integrity has also been tossed in here with me.
This is actually backed up by my experience with talking to some of the corrupt Rabbis. When I point out that they are out of order, they urge me to set things straight and save the day. And, like Snake, I intend to. And bring down their corrupt system at the same time.
When I was a kid growing up in America, people didn't talk about their bodies and bodily functions. The culture changed, though. now, everything goes when it comes to the physical. But it has apparently become verboten to discuss "Truth" with a capital "T". Talk of the metaphysical is in "bad taste".
"Moral Relativism" rules the roost. Every religion is "right" for its followers; there is no "wrong"; and anyone who wants to say otherwise needs to mind their manners.
I will come back to this idea of "Truth" in a while. First, I want to introduce a way to undermine the corrupt leadership.
Perhaps the most egregious example of the corruption is the willingness of the leadership to annul marriages. This is not the place to explain the mistakes that are being made when marriages are annulled. Please take it as a given that the corrupt leadership is annulling marriages, or tolerating the annulment of marriages, in a way that contradicts Halacha.
A simple way to undermine the corrupt leadership is to take away from them the opportunity to annul marriages. The way to do that is to tell people not to get married in a way that may lead the wife to seek an annulment if and when she wants out of the marriage. Instead, people should be told to get married through a process that will not require a Get to dissolve the marriage.
I will refer to a marriage that requires a Get to effect a divorce as a Kiddushin marriage, or k-marriage. A marriage not requiring a Get to end it is a Pilegesh marriage, or p-marriage.
This idea to re-establish Pilegesh marriage as a way to do an end run around the corrupt leadership is a good plan in theory. In practice it is a little hard to implement. The reason for this, I have found, is two-fold.
(1) Some people in the Orthodox community find the idea of promoting p-marriage as something that a "cult" would do. That is, there has been no Jewish community that had widespread use of p-marriage in hundreds of years. Why start it up again?
To those who say I am part of a cult, I counter that my detractors have it backwards. Those who oppose p-marriage on the basis that it is cultish, it is my position that they are the ones in a cult. They follow Rabbis who go along with annulment of marriages, something which is in contradiction to the received Mesorah. Now, THAT is cultish! Imagine. Rabbis whose sole claim to authority is the Torah then go ahead ahead and ignore the Torah.
Still, we cannot ignore that our opponents seek to marginalize us. And it is difficult to reason with them. Because, as I noted above, it is considered the height of vulgarity to speak as if there is an Absolute Truth.
(2) The second reason I've found that makes it challenging to promote p-marriage, is that even with people who are willing to discuss Truth, we do not always share the same basic assumptions that are required in order to have a discussion.
I am an old-fashioned Jew. I believe that G-d spoke at Mt. Sinai. I believe that the Torah received there is the Torah we have in our hands today.
Others, who identify, as modern Jews, have similar beliefs. But they have a slightly different take on the way the Torah has been handed down. This different take has huge implications.
The moderns feel that the Halacha can "evolve". That is, that Halacha has to touch the Mesorah, but does not necessarily have to conform to the Mesorah.
An example will illustrate this. The Mesorah does have a concept of marriage nullification. Thus the moderns feels they can adapt this concept and apply it to cases it was never meant to cover. Old-fashioned Jews are constricted to applying the Halacha in exactly the same way it has been handed down to them from previous generations.
What follows from all this is that it is not possible to present a Halachic justification for p-marriage that will satisfy everyone. The best approach to promoting p-marriage, it seems to me, is to let everyone formulate their own justification.
As an old fashioned Jew, it is important to me to justify p-marriage by saying we are re-establishing it in order to prevent the birth of Mamzerim that may result when a woman "freed" from a k-marriage has children with another "husband". But in the final analysis, it doesn't matter to me if people don't agree with this justification. What matters is that people who do not respect the implications of k-marriage should then choose to be in a p-marriage over a k-marriage.
Meanwhile, some moderns will offer a justification that p-marriage is more "fair" than k-marriage. They will promote its egalitarian set-up in that the husband and wife have an equal and unilateral power to end the marriage. In contradistinction to this, only the man can give a Get in a k-marriage.
Thus, the approach to Halacha differs between old fashioned Jews and modern Jews. And even though we both agree that Pilegesh marriage should be encouraged today, I don't think we will be able to formulate a Halachic treatise that would satisfy both groups. Nonetheless, we should work together and coordinate a campaign promoting p-marriage.
Furthermore, those who think p-marriage is the stuff of cults will eventually come around when faced with the growing adoption of p-marriage as the basis for marriage. Those who throw around the "cult" word are unmoored from Halacha and float with the fashionable currents. Despite this, they are observant of most of the Mitzvos, often scrupulously so. They will perforce come to terms with p-marriage as it gains in popularity and as its Halachic basis becomes evident to them.
Finally, the corrupt leadership will be left in shame as it contemplates the mess it created. The community, by adopting p-marriage, will signal its abandoning of those Rabbis who consciously change the Halacha, all the while claiming that they, the Rabbis, must be listened to because they are the arbiters of what the Halacha is in regard to all matters.
People will be free to marry without having a corrupt Rabbi conduct the ceremony. People will be free to un-marry without going to a corrupt Bais Din. Jewish children will be born without any question of being Mamzerim. The corrupt Rabbis and their corrupt courts will be exposed.
Rabbis who clung to the true Torah will be the ones that people turn to in order to learn Halacha.