Tradition! Tradition?

Response Article To "The Challenge of Change"

Our way of life receives its validity not from its being received tradition from our fathers, but rather from its being aligned with the right and the just in the eyes of God. Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten this important lesson in recent years, sanctifying the way of our ancestors without any added justification. This forgetfulness has serious moral consequences. We need to restore old glory, and this begins by removing the worship of tradition.

Iyar 5781, May 2021

Living a principled life is cast in two distinct molds. The one is tradition, to walk the path of the fathers, or as Scripture has it: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Mishlei 1:8). The second is moral virtue: “Do what is right and good in the eyes of Hashem” (Devarim 6:18).

Charedi education certainly emphasizes the former. We grow up with Chazal’s teaching that our virtue, by which we merited to be redeemed from Egyptian bondage, is refusing to change our language, our clothing, and our names. This approach places the center of gravity of our worship of God on preserving the way of life of previous generations. Tradition. Another message, also central to Charedi education, argues that the primary Jewish virtue is to perform the will of God. These virtues need not clash. Tradition can inform us of the Divine will. However, at times they are certainly in tension, even in conflict, with one another. It is this conflict that I wish to discuss in the present article.

The traditional approach sanctifies ancestral custom without qualification: clothing, names, language, and even foods and melodies are granted normative status by virtue of being “the ways of our forebears.” By contrast, if our central mission is the fulfillment of the Divine will—an approach I dub “the moral approach”—then the yardstick for good behavior is adhering to the right and just in the eyes of God, as we derive the transmitted Torah teachings and from our own understanding based on education, study, and considered opinion. Based on this approach, a person must follow this path even when it involves actions that are unconventional in his society, and even those contrary to its traditional norms.

A discussion concerning the principle of conservatism in Judaism in general and within Charedi society in particular, which Rabbi Pfeffer opened with his important article, must address the tension between tradition and morality, the path of the fathers and the path of the Torah

A discussion concerning the principle of conservatism in Judaism in general and within Charedi society in particular, which Rabbi Pfeffer opened with his important article, must address the tension between tradition and morality, the path of the fathers and the path of the Torah. It seems that in Charedi society, the more so in recent years, the traditional narrative has gained the upper hand at the expense of the moral one. I believe this process is dangerous, and that those who fear God should oppose it, for our future and the future of our children. Below, I wish to explain why I think following in the path of our fathers, when so doing is in tension with the path of morality and integrity, is an illegitimate virtue worthy of condemnation.

 

Glorifying Traditionalism

Charedi society commonly makes use of educational devices, especially a romantic presentation of the past and nostalgia for the ways our fathers lived, so as to cultivate the exalted ideal of traditionalism. This method includes popular stories about past generations, books, music, papers, and mussar lectures. The message that collectively arises from all these platforms is that we must follow in the footsteps of the “holy herd,” shepherding our flock on the pure pasture of ancestral tradition. The more “outdated” (or “outlandish”) a person’s dress code, the less his language is synchronized with everyday speech, and the less customs are current, the more “Jewish” he looks in Charedi eyes (and often even in non-Charedi eyes). This is regardless of his actual diligence in Torah observance, his fear of Heaven, and his care in fulfilling God’s will.

My impression, which I will not prove here, is that Judaism was never traditional. The main innovation of Charedi Judaism by comparison with classical Rabbinic Judaism is the adoption of a traditionalist narrative. Characterizing Judaism as traditionalism is a new, modern invention that blurs its ancient Halachic character. Judaism is always changing. The synagogue of the Chatam Sofer is quite unlike that of Rabbi Yehoshua Falk, and the latter’s is entirely unlike that of the Rosh, that of Chassidei Ashkenaz, and that the Geonim—and so forth. Roughly speaking, we can say that until the advent of the Chatam Sofer and his disciples, alongside the Chassidic movement, the traditionalist concept of “do what your father does” characterized the masses rather than Torah scholars. It never determined the agenda in society. Simple people were responsible for maintaining the past as a living force, though they could also be highly subject to time’s winds of change; but those who led the social agenda from above were the Torah scholars, who enacted arrangements for life based on what they considered to be correct. This could involve fighting changes and standing against the winds of time or changing traditions contrary to the inclination of the masses. Only in the wake of modernity did Chassidim and the students of the Hatam Sofer uplift traditionalism and crown it as the dominant Jewish virtue.

Simple people were responsible for maintaining the past as a living force, though they could also be highly subject to time’s winds of change; but those who led the social agenda from above were the Torah scholars, who enacted arrangements for life based on what they considered to be correct

Even today, the narrative of Charedi traditionalism is largely lip service, while the internal dynamic of society continues to be rife with development and innovation-driven by Talmidei Chachamim. Despite the commonplace glorification of traditionalism, the Rabbinic Judaism of today is far from being a traditional Judaism. Just as before, the true traditionalists who refuse to change family customs are the “baalei batim.” If one of our grandfathers attends a “minyan avreichim” (of Kollel students) he will recognize very little: not the dress, not the atmosphere, and certainly not the prayer liturgy and Halachic rules. By contrast, if he enters a “baal-batish” synagogue, he will certainly find far to identify with. On the other hand, baalei batim are also more exposed to the winds of time and have little strength to stand up against them, by contrast with Torah scholars who can fight change and seek to curb it.

My purpose here is not to detail historical facts, but to discuss the relationship between moral values and traditionalism. After all, even if our fathers did indeed cling to traditional positions, we ourselves must refrain from doing so, to the extent the possible is immoral. There is no permit to violate a commandment just because “this is what our fathers did.” Let us, therefore, set aside the question of “how our fathers behaved” and ask: How should we?

 

Traditionalism: No Vantage Point for Critique

The most prominent characteristic of the traditionalist position is the unwillingness and inability to critique of the ways of our fathers. “Traditional Man” does not examine or criticize his father’s customs; his entire raison d’être is the unquestioning continuation of his father’s ways. He makes no effort to ensure that these inherited ways are correct and proper; questioning them is itself heresy. Tradition is the exclusive metric for the right. If his father burned widows alive (as the custom in parts of India), then this is what should be done. There is no yardstick outside tradition for determining the right and the good, and the claim there is something immoral in tradition is thus a priori unacceptable. It can be argued that foreign customs were somehow merged into pure morals, but this argument cannot escape the metric of traditionalism. If it is proven beyond doubt that his ancestors have always burned widows, then this becomes moral—by definition. If Traditional Man is willing to accept that there are criteria outside of tradition that can be employed to disqualify family custom, then he is not truly traditional.

Tיe difference between the traditional and the moral positions is not the number of customs one adheres to, but rather the answer to the question: “Why are you doing this?” By contrast with the traditional answer of following one’s ancestral custom, the moral person believes there is a moral metric, outside of tradition, that can be employed to determine the morality or otherwise of our actions

The difference between the traditional and the moral positions is not the number of customs one adheres to, but rather the answer to the question: “Why are you doing this?” By contrast with the traditional answer of following one’s ancestral custom, the moral person believes there is a moral metric, outside of tradition, that can be employed to determine the morality or otherwise of our actions. As every yeshiva student knows, Rabbi Hillel Sacks, grandson of the Chafetz Haim, refrained from using his grandfather’s Kiddush cup because he did not believe it to contain the required volume of wine. I cannot say how factual the anecdote is, but it nicely reflects the anti-traditional stance. This position argues that the fact one of our illustrious forefathers followed a custom does not automatically justify it. It must instead be examined by a higher criterion to determine whether it is good and worthy.

These two positions, traditional and moral, create two different meanings for the concept of respect for teachers and elders of previous generations. According to the traditional position, respect for elders comes from the very fact that they are older. They are entitled to respect by virtue of their high standing in transmitting the tradition. There is no other standard. According to the moral position, respect for elders comes from their having taught us the proper way to live. If, God forbid, we had discovered they had led us morally astray, the respect for them would dramatically lessen. Rabbi Sacks, for instance, unquestionably had enormous respect for his grandfather, the venerable Mishnah Berurah. But this respect did not derive from his being a forebear with high status within the Jewish tribe, but from his having been among the greatest Torah luminaries in recent generations, his books have become a core part of the canon in the modern-day Jewish bookshelf. This difference is not readily apparent, but it is nevertheless a very important one.

 

The Moral Problem of Traditionalism

Why is it so important to distinguish between tradition and morality? As I have tried to clarity above, it is important because a traditional position is not necessarily a moral one. It is not necessarily anti-moral either, but it can be employed to justify any nonsense custom or perpetuate distorted and flawed social arrangements. Indeed, my impression is that many of the issues requiring house cleaning within Charedi society derive from it having adopted a traditionalist narrative in recent decades.

To cite one example—and at the risk of causing some offense—some factions that espouse uncritical traditionalism customarily shave married women’s heads, a custom for which there is no convincing halachic source. Nobody defends it on grounds outside tradition. The only argument for the existence of this custom is that “this is what our fathers did” (even if various dubious justifications are sometimes given). But that is precisely the argument employed in India for legitimizing burning widows on the pyre of their dead husbands, and the same argument is used by the African tribes who cast blemishes on little girls by a ritual dubbed “female circumcision.” Their justification for these shocking acts is that “this is how our fathers instructed us.” Even if they bear the name of other gods with their fathers and grant this custom a religious dimension, the core does not change—for them, God is just another term for ancestral worship.

This is not what the Torah teaches us. In the second part of the Shema that we read twice daily, the Torah teaches us how to answer our child—the one who wonders “What are the testimonies and the laws and the ordinances?” It does not instruct us to tell him “That’s just how we do things” or even “That’s what our fathers did,” but rather something else entirely:

For your son shall ask you tomorrow to say “What are these testimonies and laws and ordinances which Hashem our God commanded you. And you shall tell your son: We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt and God took us out of Egypt with a strong hand. And God gave great and terrible signs and wonders on Egypt, on Pharoah, and his whole household before our eyes. And He brought us out of there to bring us to give us the land He swore to our fathers. And God commanded us to do all these laws, to fear Hashem our God, so it be good for us for all the days, for our living as that day. And we will be treated righteously, for we will be on guard to do all these commandments before Hashem our God, as He commanded us. (Devarim 6)

The Torah’s response is comprised of two parts. First, it tells us to stress that we did not always behave in this way; indeed, things looked quite different in the past: We were slaves to Pharoah, and we had none of the testimonies or laws we follow today. The basis of all these is not some tribal myth going back to the mists of time. They are not sanctified because they are our path; to the contrary, they were not always our path. We received the present ways of life only when we broke free of what came before when God took us out of a house of bondage and made us free. In other words, the first thing the Torah emphasizes is that this is not a familial tradition that was always part of who we are. These are commandments we received at a particular time and under particular circumstances.

More importantly, the Torah proceeds to teach us that what we most need to remember is why we received all these laws. They are not arbitrary diktats; they are not simply tradition, the way of the fathers, the way we live. Rather, they are the just and the good, laws intended for our benefit and life

More importantly, the Torah proceeds to teach us that what we most need to remember is why we received all these laws. They are not arbitrary diktats; they are not simply tradition, the way of the fathers, the way we live. Rather, they are the just and the good, laws intended for our benefit and life. This is not tradition but justice; its purpose is to provide us with a good and worthy life, and whose source is God, who knows what is correct and true and good.

The preservation of tradition in tribal societies is based on a foundation of myth. The mythological response to the question of “Why do we do this” is “Because this is the order of things.” In other words, we must act this way because it simply cannot be otherwise. The two central characteristics of myth are eternal primordiality and fate. The myth describes the primordia and most eternal order of things and assumes we cannot break free of that order. The mythological explanation for custom is not “so it will be good for you” but that “this is how the world is built.” The Torah challenges both these foundations in the abovementioned verses: the assumption that custom is based on an ancient and eternal order, and the view that there is no need to justify custom. It teaches the son to ask about custom—it is good to ask—and instructs us to justify custom based on history (we were slaves) rather than myth, purpose (so it will be good for you) rather than fate.

 

Yirmiyahu Against Ancestral Tradition

The later prophets, Yirmiyahu and Yehezkel, reproach the Jewish people day and night for clinging to the traditions of their fathers instead of following the path of the Torah. In a very famous chapter in Yirmiyahu, read in the haftarah portion of Tisha Bav, Yirmiyahu bemoans the national condition:

Who is the wise man, that may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of Hashem has spoken, that he may declare it, for what the land perished and is burned up like a wilderness, that none pass through? And Hashem said: Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, neither walked therein; But have walked after the imagination of their own heart, and after Baalim, which their fathers taught them. (Yirmiyahu 9)

The prophet wonders why the land was lost, and his response is that the people refused to study the Torah, preferring instead to arbitrarily follow their hearts and the ways they inherited from their fathers. Later, we learn how God tries to send Yirmiyahu to convince the Jewish People to stop following in the footsteps their fathers. Yirmiyahu valiantly tries to convince them to abandon their evil traditions and cling to the ways of God, of truth and of justice, just as Avraham Avinu left his family and its traditions, adhering instead to the path of justice and law.

The prophet wonders why the land was lost, and his response is that the people refused to study the Torah, preferring instead to arbitrarily follow their hearts and the ways they inherited from their fathers

But the Jewish People’s hearts were hardened, and they were unable to abandon the ways of their fathers. They were convinced that a person must follow tradition, demonstrating the principle with the famous parable: “The parents ate unripe grapes, and the children’s teeth were set on edge” (Yirmiyahu 31:29). The people identified the Divine path with the way of the fathers; if the transmission included idolatry and abuse of the weak, they would continue to cling to those norms with full devotion. Thus, they could continue to speak of “The Hall of God, the Hall of God, the Hall of God” as they stole and murdered and were adulterous and burned incense to Baal (ibid. 7). The Hall of God is part of the tradition, but the traditional framework itself could become a nest of vipers while remaining holy in their eyes.

 

Tribal and Halachic Traditions

Many express their wonder at how despite the high moral benchmark Charedi Jewry sets itself, we nevertheless hear time and again of severe social injustices, of exploitation and theft and abuse of the weak, of mistreatment of the divorced, the sojourner and baal teshuvah. Those in power pull political strings for their own benefit, control institutions, and committees and do as they wish, while the weaker masses buckle under their dominion and must comply and accept their diktats. The Torah teaches us to love the stranger and the orphan and the widow, to help the weak and ensure just governance. How then can such phenomena exist in a society so diligent in halachic matters, so careful in the study of Torah? The answer to this, in my opinion, is that Charedi society has unfortunately taken on a character of a traditional society.

What underlies the traditional position is the desire to maintain the tribal structure of the family. For the traditionalist, the most important thing is what is “ours” and what isn’t, and most importantly— who is “ours” and who is not. The most vital thing for the traditionalist is to be part of the tribe, and what makes tradition meaningful is the fact that these are the tribal customs, “our way.” Following the tribal custom indicates that the person following is part of it, and the deeper he is embedded in the tribal structure, the more his status rises. The most respected elders of the tribe are treated this way because they are “the most like us.” They embody the tribe itself. Strangers, the orphans, and widows, the baalei teshuvah, and all those who are “not quite us” must suffer their weaker, inferior status.

When custom is granted legitimacy because it is “ours,” this has immediate consequences for who is obligated by custom and to what degree. If a person is born on the outer perimeter of the tribal community, he must go out of his way to prove he is part of it. To that end, he needs to work hard to demonstrate his affiliation, flaunting his adherence to custom and being (to borrow) more Catholic than the Pope. Such a person will be tested by the size of his kippa and the length of his tzitzit, the thickness of his socks, and the form of the wig his wife wears. By contrast, if a person belongs to the most inner circles of the tribe, as the son of an important institutional director or a respected community leader, then he need not be so diligent with the rules. He does not have to prove his place as “one of us,” for his status is established and assured. Quietly, of course, his daughters-in-law can study in academic institutions, his daughters can travel abroad, and his grandchildren can almost entirely forgo the rigid norms of the community.

Tribal tradition allows for the preservation of a certain power structure in which the status of every member in the community is clear: There are the strong who manage affairs, and the weak who receive community services and protection when they comply with the rules and are rejected from the tribe when they fail to do so

A second consequence of the traditional tribal order is that the most important thing to be preserved is the community hierarchy. Tribal tradition allows for the preservation of a certain power structure in which the status of every member in the community is clear: There are the strong who manage affairs, and the weak who receive community services and protection when they comply with the rules and are rejected from the tribe when they fail to do so. When someone comes with the aim of undermining the social order, demanding that the strong loosen their hold on the weak, he presents a serious threat to the traditional tribal structure, hinting that there is an alternative to “our fathers ate unripe grapes, and the teeth of the sons were set on edge”—“Each will be put to death for their sin, all who eat unripe grapes will have his teeth set on edge” (Yirmiyahu 31:30).

When Yechezkel comes with the message of “Each will be put to death for their sin” to the Jewish People, they refuse to accept it, clinging as strongly as possible to the idea that people are forcibly tied to the tribal order to which they belong (Yechezkel 18). The Jewish People tell Yechezkel that the path of God by which each will be put to death for their sins cannot become reality; instead, all are necessarily tied to the customs of their fathers. In other words, the strong must remain strong and continue to oppress the weak; undermining of this would destroy the social fabric.

In our great and many sins, we refused to heed the warnings of the prophets. Our ancestors did not listen to Yirmiyahu, and they continued to oppress one another, abusing the weak and the vulnerable. Yirmiyahu then came and told them their fate was sealed: Since they did not heed God’s instruction to desist from enslaving one another, the entire tribe lost its right to exist, and desolation was decreed upon them (Yirmiyahu 34). This desolation is the same destruction mentioned in the prophecy at the beginning of the book when Yirmiyahu wondered why the land was lost. The answer: Because they would not free their slaves, continuing instead to cling to tribal traditions informing them that the strong must oppress the weak, all in the name of tradition.

 

The Sons of Rechav and the Virtue of Tradition

I have gone some distance to express my opposition to tradition, but tradition is not all bad. Loyalty to the way of fathers is without doubt an important trait. So long as it is not the yardstick for good behavior and just conduct, there is great value for a person to observe a custom not just because of his rational understanding, but even because it is transmitted to him as tradition. Tradition and loyalty to the ways of the fathers are the basis for cultivating good habits. One cannot create a good society in one generation, which is why God commands Avraham to form a family and instruct them in the ways of God: “For I knew that he will command his sons and his house after him and they preserved the path of God to do charity and justice” (Bereishis 18:19). For the commandments to become an inseparable part of the national way of life, we need people to be raised on them in this way, as an inheritance. Only thus will they remain faithful even when doing so is far from comfortable or pleasant.

Anyone raised in an observant family would never think twice about whether to smoke or check his phone on Shabbos. His way of life is one in which Shabbos observance comes naturally. In addition, loyalty to his ancestors strengthens his adherence to Shabbos observance even when he finds himself in a hostile environment; his identity and his connection to tradition holds strong. As part of a people, all of whom follow a concrete tradition, we are strong; as individuals thinking about the right thing to do, we are far weaker. Loyalty to tradition embeds our Godly virtues and makes them second nature to us, keeping us strong even under trying conditions.

Jewish loyalty to tradition, unquestionably an important value in Jewish education, only strengthens the prophets’ demand to abandon tribal traditionalism and adhere to the right and the good. After all, we are sons of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, and we stood with our fathers at Mount Sinai, where we were given God’s Torah commanding us to free slaves and do the right in God’s eyes, rather than following the imperatives of society and common custom

Yet, Jewish loyalty to tradition, unquestionably an important value in Jewish education, only strengthens the prophets’ demand to abandon tribal traditionalism and adhere to the right and the good. After all, we are sons of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, and we stood with our fathers at Mount Sinai, where we were given God’s Torah commanding us to free slaves and do the right in God’s eyes, rather than following the imperatives of society and common custom. Our tradition is one of repenting from the ways of our fathers, as the Jews returning to Zion did in the days of Ezra and Nechemyah, confessing their sins and the sins of their fathers and taking upon themselves to leave them and return to the Torah (Nechemyah 9).

For this reason, immediately after Yirmiyahu rebukes the Jews for not freeing their slaves, God commands him to test the loyalty of the sons of Rechav to the instruction of their father Yehonadav, who commanded them not to drink wine. Yirmiyahu calls the sons of Rechav, dwelling in their ascetic tents, and invites them to the house of God “to the office of the sons of Hanan ben Gedalyahu, the man of tents, next to the office of the ministers which lies above the office of Maasiyahu ben Shalem, the gatekeeper” (Yirmiyahu 35:4). The sons of Rechav, homeless shepherds, are invited to the most important and sacred place in the kingdom: the office of the “man of God,” a place that requires special permission from the gatekeeper to enter. Yirmiyahu waits for them, and when these simple people come to the upper office, he sits them down in front of him, serves them goblets full of wine, and commands them “Drink!”

I imagine myself in that situation, led respectfully to the most powerful office in the state, with the most important, respected, powerful, influential, and publicly prestigious people present, and faced with none other than God’s own prophet who commands me: Drink! It is clear to me that no matter who my father was and what he would command me, I would not be able to withstand such pressure. Even if I was convinced it was poison, I would have difficulty refusing. How can one stand up to such force? But the sons of Rechav refuse:

And they said “We will not drink wine for Yonadav son of Rechav commanded us to say You shall not drink wine, you and your sons to the end of time. And you will not build a home and you will not sow seed and you will not plant a vineyard which you shall not have, for you shall dwell in tents all your days so that you many live many days on the land where you live. And we will listen to the voice of Yehonadav son of Rechav in all that he commanded us to not drink wine all our days – we and our wives and our sons and our daughters. And without building homes for our dwelling and we shall have neither vineyard nor field nor seed. And we shall dwell in our tents and hear and do all Yonadav our father commanded us. (ibid.)

The sons of Rechav observe their father’s commandment because they are convinced that this is the path to the good life, as they explain to Yirmiyahu (so that you may live many days). But were it not for their ironclad loyalty to tradition, there was no way in which they would have refused to drink wine in such conditions. After all, what could go wrong just this once? The situation was far from normal, and the entire weight of their surroundings, the establishment, the Rabbis and operators was placed on their shoulders, pushing them to drink. Yet, loyalty to tradition managed to maintain their commitment to their father’s instruction even in the face of such tremendous pressure.

The loyalty of the sons of Rechav served as a good point of connection for the demand from the Jews: If they kept the instruction of their father Yehonadav, who was neither a prophet nor a messenger for the word of God, how can the Jewish People espouse tribalism and abandon the commandment of the God of Israel? Loyalty to the tradition of the Torah needs to be much stronger than the loyalty of ordinary people to their esteemed father:

So said the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Will you not receive instruction to hearken to my words? said the Lord. The words of Jonadab the son of Rechav, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father’s commandment: notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but you hearkened not unto me. I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and you shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but you have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me. Because the sons of Yonadav son of Rechav have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them; but this people hath not hearkened unto me: Therefore so said the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have pronounced against them: because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have not answered.

The failure of the Jewish People to uphold the Torah was because the hardness of their hearts, rather than fidelity to tradition alone, drove them to cling to the wayward path of their fathers. It is not the halachic tradition of doing the good and the just that they wanted, but only tribal traditionalism; not fidelity to the commandments, but loyalty to the tribe and doing good in the eyes of the powerful men of society.

***

“Anyone who doesn’t vote Agudah is not one of us!” The latest round of elections ended just several few weeks ago, with United Torah Judaism party facing a new threat: Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party. Until recently, the party’s main line was: We are the mezuzah of the state, we maintain the Torah and Shabbos and protect the values of Judaism, while other parties, including the religious ones, bow their heads before the secular hegemony. But Smotrich’s party, characterized by a Charedi-National approach, ostensibly presented an alternative to UTJ. It presented a militant line on everything related to halachic observance, no less than UTJ, and became a legitimate alternative at the polls for no few people who voted for UTJ out of loyalty to the Torah.

This process could have led to healthy competition, with each party sharpening its message and explaining how they represent Jewish values better. Yet, instead, party propagandists chose to wave the flag of tribalism and play on the heartstrings of “one of us.” Their arguments were simple: Anyone who votes UTJ is part of the tribe, while those who fail to do so are not. They could be God-fearing, they could be morally upright, but they are “nisht fun undzere.” Not one of us. Torah and halacha can be conveniently shunted aside, leaving the task of saving a person from the perjuries of Hell to the tribe itself (based on the latest electoral slogans, tribal loyalty at the ballot boxes can even grant a person a place in heaven).

The takeover of Judaism by the tribal discourse is dangerous. It is dangerous to Judaism and its preservation, and it is dangerous to those members of Charedi society who bind themselves to a tribal mindset leading to repression and injustice. We must remember and remind that being Jewish is not a tribal tradition but a single message—doing the good and the right in the eyes of God. Anything that is so is worth doing, and anything that is not should be avoided, rejected, and extirpated from the world, irrespective of tribal opinion.

This is the lesson we all received at Sinai. The rest is commentary.

 

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