A Torah Based Exchange – An Open Response to an Open Letter
Note: Matzav.com obtained various email exchanges between Yisroel Besser, Contributing Editor for Mishpacha Magazine, and MK Dov Lipman. Respecting MK Lipman’s wishes, his responses are not included herein. The reader will nevertheless grasp the tone from Rabbi Besser’s thoughts.
Letter #1 (MK Lipman’s response is confidential in our records)
The innocent claim of the cruelest reshaim throughout the generations has been ‘We have come to tame/civilize/redeem you’. The astonished hurt in your words are reminiscent of words uttered by maskilim who weren’t above mesirah in order to bring enlightenment and ‘parnasa’ to their backward brethren of Eastern Europe.
The Bolsheviks, Crusaders, European administrators of colonial Africa and Asia, and conquerors of the Americas all justified their mindboggling atrocities with this same patronizing, arrogant mantra;”We know what’s good for them better than they do, they’ll thank us one day”
How condescending can one be towards those he so yearns to help?! How about ASKING those, whom society you aim to so radically change, whether they would like your help?
To force your views on others, ideas of right and wrong, is rishus of the most typical genre, using power and arrogance to force oneself upon others. The Baltimore rosh yeshiva’s usage of the term ‘rasha’ really doesn’t need too much creativity to be understood, in its simplest sense.
In regard to the beis medrash you established. Perhaps you should consider skipping (!!!) a few of the afternoon shteiging sessions in the Knesset and using that time to walk humbly among the proposed beneficiaries of your legal and financial magnanimity, and find out whether THEY want your tovos.
You might be surprised to learn that the masses of “hareidim” who inundated your email box with letters of support, are not representative of the collective wishes of the chareidim, those who tremble before the dvar Hashem and revere their leaders- who, like Rav Steinman shlita, or for that matter Rav Aron Feldman Shlit’a- were not elected, but rather selected.
I feel for you Dov. You certainly started this journey with sincerity, but at some point, it appears, the fame, power and attention was addictive, so you stayed on the bus too long. You learned in yeshivos, real yeshivos. You know who and what you’re turning your back on. You know that Yair Lapid and all your other new best friends will be quick to dispose of you once you’ve outlived your usefulness.
But here’s the good news. Your yeshiva friends won’t. Im sure they daven for your well-being and clarity and if you have the courage to find a moment of true introspection, you may just run back to Ner Israel and sit down by the first shtender. It isn’t too late.
One final thought. The movements of change that your party aims to be is just one in a long line of saviors- most of them didn’t last long, nor did their ideas. But the ideas in Ponovezh and Mir, Chabad and Ger, they’ve been around forever.
There are plenty of people who saw areas in charedi or yeshiva life that needed work, and they got to work on it. Sure, no system is perfect, and there is lots to do for a humble, committed, dedicated soldier. There are plenty of yechidim, lone operators, who made quite a positive difference. I don’t know you, so I cannot decide if you are sincere are you seem, but if you are, there are opportunities to help.
It must feel good to be buddy-buddy with Yair Lapid, to be able to text Naftali Bennet and all the rest, but its fleeting. One day they will change their numbers and you won’t get the new one. It’s the wrong team to be on.
Because the winning team isn’t the one that gets the attention, the celebrity endorsements or the loudest cheer. It’s the one that wins at the end, the one left standing when game 7 is over.
Letter #2 (MK Lipman’s response is confidential in our records)
Chaver Knesset Lipman
I can address you as rabbi if you prefer, but honestly, titles aren’t mine to dispense. I myself am no rabbi and cannot bestow semicha. As to the finesse of the Baltimore Rosh Yeshiva, shlita, I’m not sure why that makes you feel good if he also called you a rasha- doesn’t that negate the respect somewhat? Like ‘The guy who knocked me out said good day before he walked off’?
After reading your response, I came to several conclusions.
One, that you are genuinely sincere. There are some, like the current prime minister for example, who are political opportunists and the decisions they make don’t reflect an ideology as much as political convenience. You can call them slick, and you can call them phony but you can’t pin a mistaken ideology on them; their only goal is to stay in power.
You, it seems, mean this for real. You seem to think you are doing a good thing. That, my friend, is sad. As they say in Yiddish, ‘ehr meint ess nebech ernst.’
Allow me to paraphrase a conversation I heard between a wise man and a high school student today. The boy asked his rebbi what he should do in the following scenario; A friend of his had confided in him that he had done a very bad thing. Now, asked the boy, he wasn’t sure how to respond. To say ‘Wow, that’s cool,’ would make his friend feel happy, but it’s wrong. But to say ‘How could you,’ would hurt his friend- also a problem.
The rebbi replied. ‘If you tell your friend ‘wow that’s cool’ he will really be hurt, because it means you aren’t surprised at his behavior, that you don’t have expectations from him. But if you say ‘You’re so much better than that, Im shocked’, well, that’s making him feel good.’
I think, Dov, that my earlier email made it clear that I love you as a fellow Jew. I look at your picture and I see a sweet, well-meaning yiddishe face, and I genuinely feel kinship with you. I think you know it’s true, so that’s that for the love thing.
Another conclusion I reached is that you’ve picked up the art of persuasive sound bites, and use your talking points well. It’s hard for me to argue, since I am not as gifted- especially as my arguments are less intellectual, and have more to do with whats in my heart- reverence for people who have toiled in Torah for decades, a basic feel for mesorah, and a confidence in my own Rabbeim.
You claim to represent the interest of charedim, even though I don’t know a single charedi who voted for you. Maybe the unnamed Eida Charedis fellow and the inbox supporters did- I don’t know every charedi, but I do know many of them, and they certainly didn’t vote for you. Ostensibly, there should be joy in the charedi camp at your generous offers of help, but I have yet to see it.
The cry of charedim who want to make money….let’s be honest, just for a moment. The issue isn’t parnasa, but the army. The tzibbur of shomrei Torah Umitzvos, for the most part, has no problem going out to work, and in fact, I agree that many would welcome the opportunity. The Meah Shearim Jews and Yerushalmi kehilla have always gone to work, usually just after their weddings- the issue is the army. The army isn’t a place where an ehrliche Yid feels comfortable, so here you have a whole community stuck in a rut- they cannot go to work because they are conscientious objectors, so to speak. The great guy Yair Lapid knows this, but he doesn’t love charedim, because if he did, he would use his influence to find a solution- help them get out of going to the army and then they will happily go to work. Problem solved.
Re English and math. I can hear that a lack of education can be a hindrance to parnasa, but I look, for example, at the Hebrew edition of Mishpacha- which enjoys tremendous success in the charedi camp- and its filled with science, math and other relevant and helpful information. My charedi friend in Yerushalayim finds money to send all his very charedi children to English tutoring and they do all sorts of science experiments. There are solutions for one who truly wants to help.
Though I write as a private citizen, not within my editorial capacity at the largest charedi publication, the magazine I work for is in the forefront of dealing with these issues. We have done numerous articles and studies that support this, including conversations with charedi leaders who are working tirelessly to create jobs, training and a more stable economic situation.
Re the beis medrash being a positive step…I would only remind you of the words of Chazal regarding a certain forbidden animal who waves his hooves, as if to show his kashrus. That’s much more vile then simply laying low and not patronizing people. I love secular Jews too, I grew up in a home where our Shabbos table, our guest room, and very often my own room was ‘hefker’ for a steady stream of unaffiliated Jews, and I try very much to do that in my own home.
My Israeli, anti-charedi computer technician here in Montreal asked me, of his own volition, to please learn the halachos of tefillin with his son and we went together to purchase a pair. When he put them on, he had tears in his eyes, and my friend the technician said, ‘I don’t know if I really hated charedim in Israel or if I just thought I was supposed to hate them, from the media, from culture…I never stopped to think about it.’ So please don’t accuse me of not appreciating the importance of loving all Jews and drawing them close.
In your email, you slip and there is an open cynicism in your reference to the Gedolim (charedi leadership). I am not one to defend people Gedolim, and they don’t need Sruli Besser’s defense; but because I love you, I urge you to be careful. Hizaher b’gachalasan. It burns.
As for the Chofetz Chaim. Again, Im no scholar, but there is an instructive story in the biography written by his talmid, Rav Yoshor. Loosely quoted:
The Chofetz Chaim had great respect for the chassidim of Poland, and their relentless battle againsthaskalah. Once, there was a prominent rov they suspected of sympathizing with the Enlightenment, of helping to spread its venomous message, and they rose in defense of authentic Yiddishkeit, attacking this individual.
Feeling hurt by their attacks, this fellow asked the Chofetz Chaim to support him- after all, he was a victim of lashon hara.
The Chofetz Chaim refused to get involved, despite the fact that the chassidim had attacked this Yidwithout sufficient evidence of his haskalah leanings. The gadol hador explained his reasoning by quoting a gemara in Bava Kamma, that says that if someone is rushing to defend his friend from being harmed by another person, and in his haste to help he inadvertently damages the keilim of another, he is pattur. The gemara explains that this isn’t the halacha, but a sevara; If we were to charge this would-be rescuer as a mazik, no man will ever come to his friends’ defense, as he is worried about causing damage. (Sanhedrin 117, Bava Kamma 74).
Said the Chofetz Chaim; Perhaps the chassidim were hasty in labeling this person as a maskil, but he is like the keilim that get damaged on the way to save a life. If they were to be held responsible, then they would be unable to continue their important work of defending and protecting the mesorah, which requires instinctive and automatic reaction!
Back to your email. You speak so nicely about the vision for achdus; it’s like a Hollywood love story where in real life, the main actors have gone through a bitter, acrimonious divorce. Please don’t tell me that they love us, please don’t do that…please. Just don’t. Yair Lapid doesn’t love charedim.
The magazine I work for has a deep respect for all sorts of Jews- we appreciate the great work of Chabad and the passionate ideals of religious Zionists and the unwavering support for any Jew in need offered by Satmar. We have interviewed all sorts of secular Jews, in respectful settings and with respectful tones, and respect our readership enough to let them form opinions. I have personally interviewed several chavrei Knesset and even the chief rabbi, and I was greatly inspired by their ahavas Eretz Yisroel. Our magazine interviewed many of your non-religious contemporaries in the Knesset, several times.
Now, once again, I don’t own the magazine and I don’t decide who goes in or not, (we also have a rabbi who makes final decisions- I know, I know, its archaic) but this I can tell you- if the idea was raised at an editorial meeting, I would vote against it, and I’ll tell you why.
Because you are not Danny Danon or even Naftali Bennet. They don’t play games and hide their agenda under lofty rhetoric, don’t come with shocked questions how come all the ‘geholfenne‘ aren’t more excited about their savior. They don’t say, with a straight face, that they are here to bring us back to the Torah way, based on ‘mekoros’, when there are very learned people in many yeshivos who are well aware of the same mekoros as you, and at least as vigilante in keeping halacha.
Im going to say something that may sound hurtful now, so please understand that I need you to see yourself the way many others see you. They see you as the kid in grade school who is so desperate to endear himself to the bullies that he shares his snack with them. The big boys take his snack, but the good kids feel bad watching- they know it isn’t for real. I think it might be fair to say that you weren’t elected for your political experience or accomplishments- but for your big black yarmulka and willingness to ‘kasher’ a party with it. So we kind of pity you, just like that kid in school who gets to sit at the lunch table with the cool kids, the loud kids, the in-group…until he doesn’t anymore.
There is no us and them. We are all Jews. But you agree that, for example, a mumar lchalel Shabbos is a mumar lchol haTorah kulah, (Rashi Chulin 5a ‘Since its if he denies that Hashem created the world). So there is a us and them within the bigger, over-riding ‘us’, just as there are tall people and short people, there is a mumar and an ehrliche Yid. Your buddies aren’t us, not in the sense that we need or welcome their help.
This is the end of our correspondence. You will have the last word. I am not glib or smooth enough to continue a war of words, and so much of my position is based on ‘Hanach lahem l’Yisroel she’im einam neviim heim, bnei nevi’im heim.’ The Torah true community doesn’t like you very much right now, even though they still love you, as do I.
I realize that you might take these words and use them to show how you’re being misjudged, maligned and all that, and I’m okay with that. No one voted me into office and no one is watching me carefully to see that I don’t break, so I can handle the attack.
Lots of love- and a genuine hope that you bring your not inconsiderable gift of passion, energy and dedication to work for the values and ideals that have sustained us through a long golus.