Thursday, December 14, 2006

Extremism, Commitment Ceremonies, and Effective Rebuke

Since there is discussion on Mishmar and elsewhere about the zealotry of extremist elements in the charedi community, I wish to reflect on the concept of effective tochacha, or rebuke. The connection is obvious: acting violently, or in an anti-social way is done to protest acts of evil. However, upon reflection, such conduct is seriously flawed even on its own terms.

Before considering any course of action, one needs to identify what one is trying to accomplish. Is the purpose to influence the sinner? If so, the rebuke needs to be done effectively.

On the other hand, the purpose of protests may be either to show that one is not complicit and does not agree with the evil being committed, or alternatively, to actually prevent the act in question. Here as well, there are factors to weigh, which would prevent, say, setting fires to trash bins in the streets of Jerusalem.

However, I wish to focus on the previous goal of protesting, namely, to effectively fulfill the commandment of tochacha.

As Rashi discusses in parshas Devarim, from our earliest history, we observe that tochacha needed to be administered in an effective way. Moshe Rabbeinu learned this from Yaakov Avinu(Metsudah translation) :

This teaches that he admonished them only shortly before his death. From whom did he learn this? From Yaakov--- For Yaakov admonished his sons only shortly before his death. He said, "Reuvein, my son, I will tell you why I did not admonish you during all these years; because I did not want you to desert me and go to join my brother Eisov.

There are four reasons why one whould not admonish a person until shortly before one's death:

1) so that he does not admonish him again and again

2) so that his fellow not be ashamed when he sees him, etc., as it is taught in Sifre.

Similarly, Yehoshua admonished the Bnei Yisroel only shortly before his death, and so Shmuel, as it is said, "Behold testify against me," and so Dovid admonished his son Shlomo, [shortly before his death.]

The other two reasons mentioned in the Sifre (not quoted in Rashi) are:

3) So that the sinner does not bear a grudge against him

4) so that he does not defend his innocence belligerently, leading to altercation.

Moving further in our history, we find Rav Tarfon wondering if anyone in his generation was even capable of giving Tochah effectively(Erchin 16b). Yet, the Rambam, gives guidelines for proper rebuke in the sixth chapter of Hilchos Deos.

Significantly, the Rambam tells us that it must be clear that the sinner realizes that the rebuker has his best interest in mind. This may mean establishing a positive relationship between the two.

Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky uses the above Rambam to explain why Yaakov refers to the strangers he met at the well as "my brothers"(achai), a term used for people who one already knows and recognizes(see pesukim quoted by R. Yaakov).

Rav Yaakov explains based on the Midrash quoted by Rashi, that Yaakov rebuked the people he met at the well regarding their work ethic. Rav Yaakov says that because Yaakov Avinu wanted his rebuke to be effective, he first needed to establishe a relationship with the strangers, and he did this by referring to them as "my brothers". Once this initial positive connection was established, he could then offer tochacha in an effective manner.

I imagine that Orthodox organizations struggle with their task of offering effective censure. Ill-advised statements issued against heterodox movements may cause more harm than good.

In the RCA statement issued last week ("Response to Rabbinical Assembly's Decisions Regarding Ordination of Gays and Lesbians, and "Commitment Ceremonies"), it noted that:

This decision represents yet another significant step in the further estrangement of the Conservative movement from Jewish law (halachah) and tradition. Homosexual behavior is a clear and unambiguous biblical prohibition. The attempts to formulate halachic license or creative interpretation to permit prohibited behavior should not mislead anyone committed to traditional Judaism, into thinking that there can be any permissibility to homosexual activity, whether by rabbis or laypersons. And thus, to permit those who openly proclaim their non-adherence to Torah law, to assume positions of rabbinic leadership, is an entirely regrettable step.

However, it also used words like "great sadness", " we are also saddened" and "regrettably, these decisions will in the end serve to further deepen the schisms within the Jewish people".

While Agudah's statement, as I've seen on the internet, was a stronger one, it also was carefully balanced.

Thus, it referring to the Conservative movement's decision as an “an abandonment of all pretense of fealty to Judaism”, and stated:

that a movement claiming to uphold the Jewish religious tradition can arrogate to stand halachic Judaism on its head is tragic. It will no doubt cheer those who place contemporary mores above the Jewish mandate, but in the end, it seals the fate of a movement long mired in muddle and malaise.

However, it ended on an encouraging note:

While every Jew is precious in the eyes of Heaven… and while some of us may face more difficult challenges than others as we strive to live by the Torah’s prescriptions, that striving is the very essence of what it means to be a Jew committed to Judaism.

I would end by noting that bloggers may perhaps learn from these organizations a thing or two about the need for carefully crafting one's words in order to more effectively demonstrate points.

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