From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
My article last week, the fictitious letter from a chiloni Israeli to a chareidi, received more comments than any other article I have written since
I began writing for local Jewish newspapers in 2008. Every single communication, whether in e‑mail or in person, was positive. Except for one e‑mail which, while agreeing with my premise, felt that we should not air our dirty laundry in public. My response to that e‑mail was twofold. Firstly, the laundry was hung out on the clothesline by others for the entire world to see. Secondly, my purpose was to take the dirty laundry to the Laundromat to cleanse it from its filth.
Part of the filth is the unwillingness of those that steer the ship to recognize that a correction in course is needed, that old attitudes and formulas can no longer be employed or tolerated, and that in order for the issue to be dealt with effectively, it must be aired. The cover-up, as they say, is always worse than the crime.
One e‑mail I received was from a prominent rabbi in Queens. He said when he first read my piece he assumed it was just another typical chareidi bashing. But when he reread it he realized that I was right on point and conceded that when the Messiah finally does arrive he will know whom to take to task for the delay.
In this week’s article, I would like to pen a response, yes a fictitious response—this time from the chareidi Jew, to his chiloni counterpart, last week’s “author.”
My Dear Chiloni Brother,
Let me begin by expressing my shame and embarrassment when I read your recent letter. My transformation begins now. I will begin by ceasing to refer to you as a “chiloni.” It serves no point other than to highlight points of contention between brothers. Perhaps our worlds will meet at a better place if from now on I just called you “brother.” If I call you my brother, maybe lines of communication closed by years of intolerance will be opened.
You raise so many issues, from the fundamental belief in G‑d to performance of mitzvot, seemingly tedious and irrelevant mitzvot, to national army service. I cannot address all of them in one letter. But allow me to postulate that nature, and man, is the greatest proof of the supernatural, of the Divine, and of adherence to a more spiritual way of life. I acknowledge that it is difficult to put into words. Try explaining in words the love you feel for your children. Try explaining in words what something smells like. Spirituality, G‑dliness, and a Torah way of life for those born Jewish, or those who have converted to Judaism, is a feeling, a sense that must be experienced in order to absorb and understand.
And that is the conundrum. How does mortal man live a spiritually regulated life? If Judaism and a Torah way of life is best for the soul and best for humanity, why is it only the best for Jewish souls? Why are there non-Jews? Why didn’t G‑d give the Torah to Adam, to Avraham? That I will address, my brother, but not in this letter.
I want to address your more pertinent questions regarding the behavior of a small group of misguided Jews.
I cannot apologize for them because they do not speak for me. They do not speak for the overwhelming majority of chareidim who applaud your defense of our country. I share your pain and amazement that they could act in such a fashion. Only they could really tell you what possesses them to act in such a shameful fashion.
But we are not free from sin. We too have a degree of responsibility. Not so much for being too silent after the fact, but perhaps for not being sufficiently vociferous in our support for you before the fact.
We should have been out there front and center demanding that proper respect and admiration for what you do be displayed by our leadership. Maybe that would have prevented the assaults in the first place.
Would it be so terrible if the right-wing leadership would publicly recognize your sacrifices? Would it be so “anti-frum” to embrace a soldier at the Western Wall and say thank you? Would it not bring us brothers closer?
I am no psychologist, but let me share with you where I believe these misguided few are missing the point.
The greatness of G‑d can only be experienced through the recognition of the greatness of man and not the other way around. Love of G‑d can only be maximized through the love of man and not the other way around. The misguided souls have it reversed. Their concept of G‑d has an underpinning of a demanding and vengeful G‑d. They have been raised to fear G‑d at all costs and at every turn. Accordingly, they experience man the same way.
If they would experience G‑d as an all loving, compassionate, patient, and forgiving G‑d, that’s how they would view their fellow man. It all begins with the way they are educated.
If they view G‑d as intolerant and demanding, they will be intolerant and demanding.
So step one is to educate the chareidi youth that G‑d is accepting of all. No one has a monopoly on His love.
Step two, because it begins with man to man, is to demand that our chareidi youth perform acts of kindness not only for the chareidi woman with 12 kids down the block, but for non-practicing Jews in Israel as well. What a revolution that would be.
You quoted from our Torah and Rabbi Akiva in your letter to me. Let me share with you a beautiful insight from another one of our sages, the holy Arizal.
Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a corresponding numerical value both when counting but also when one spells the vocalization of the letter out in its full form. For instance, when counting, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is aleph, and has the numerical value of “one.” When spelled out as a word, aleph equals 111. The second letter, beis, when counting is two, but when spelled out as a word, equals 412. And so on.
The four letters that form G‑d’s name, the yud, the hey, the vav, and the final hey, when spelled out as words, have the lowest value of any other letters in the alphabet.
In other words, the essence of G‑dliness is humility. G‑d chose the letters of the alphabet with the lowest numerical value to express himself to us in this world. That lesson cannot be lost on man but has been lost on those that stoned our—yes our—soldiers. Those misguided few are misguided because of the perverted way in which they perceive G‑d and experience man.
There is no worship of G‑d when in the process man is trampled by his fellow man. With deep love and appreciation for all that you do. I sign off, as . . .
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.