Every person with integrity and a sensitive heart will rise up and be deeply disturbed by how, time and time again, a foolish attempt is made to pursue and discredit the President of Yeshivat Har Hamor, Rabbi Zvi Thau, Shlita, as was done in the letter of Rabbi Yaakov Medan, may he live and be well. There is no doubt that an error has occurred under his hand, and in the manner of Torah scholars, there is no doubt that he will personally fulfill the principle of "admitting and abandoning," especially in these days when anyone with a conscience will be shaken by the fear of judgment.
To the sorrow of the heart, once again, empty complaints are heard, a cycle of meaningless and boring words. I have written about this in the past, and I have no interest in reiterating the same things.
In the following lines, I will request an examination of what lies at the core of the storm, or more accurately, the attempt to breathe life into an imagined and unnecessary plot that even worthy Torah scholars are drawn into. What is the internal narrative that drives it, as it appears below? In my view, this is the tip of the iceberg of a broader struggle.
If we haven't recognized it until now, then we must open our eyes and acknowledge that a cultural battle within the religious community is raging upon us. In general terms, we can define it as a clash between two spiritual and cultural factions within the religious public. On one hand, those who feel a commitment and loyalty to the Torah in all its aspects and are subject to the religious and spiritual authority of many of their great scholars; they view Western culture with great suspicion and remain vigilant against falling into its net, expressing skepticism regarding what society has defined as "progress and enlightenment."
On the other hand, there are liberal streams that move along a diverse spectrum, with most of them leading their lives comfortably within the common culture of Israeli society, despite its declared secularism. They even view this as a cultural achievement for advanced religious enlightenment, a realization of the vision of "the encompassing" that connects the religious and secular, a direct continuation of the Mizrahi movement but with less commitment to traditional Jewish law, and their rabbinate's opinion is seen as merely a form of a second opinion.
Over a century ago, Rabbi Kook already saw the religious seeds of the Mizrahi movement and its flexibility confronting secular Zionism. In the correspondence between Rabbi Kook and the leaders of the Mizrahi movement, we see how the rabbi, was anxious with the sight of religious people trying to please everyone and live in an indecisive duality. The latter felt a constant threat from his growing influence in recent years within the flourishing Torah world, especially among the defined Ultra-Orthodox rabbis. They perceive this as a threat to enlightenment, and it may even present a mirror that narrows the value system by which they live.
Rabbi Thau stands on the other side of the spiritual atomic reactor that is expanding and taking root within the religious community, posing a threat to religious freedom and neutralizing the infiltration of liberal values into religious fundamentalism. I understand that even within the liberal public, there are many points of light and good intentions, along with their concern for Israel's well-being according to their approach. However, their fear is no less than that of their counterparts, as there is a growing antagonism and existential persecution within them, a resurgence of the hatred of Joseph's brothers, "And they hated him, and they could not speak peacefully to him," and then, "And they conspired against him to kill him."
Before we make the effort and attempt to create dialogues with communities whose culture is currently distant from ours, it is our duty to promote inner peace, and only then will we be worthy of expanding it outward.
It is possible that the letter's author, who is known to have very close relationships, even with figures on the radical left, has for many years been engaged in an attempt to formulate a statement "in order to promote Jewish solidarity and a sense of unity and shared destiny among the different components of the Jewish people in general, and in the State of Israel in particular, and to honor each of its sectors," as stated in its opening words. However, in relation to one of the prominent rabbis, the sense of solidarity and the strong sense of protection that remains as long as no other decision has been made by a court, compel us to judge favorably and not accept slander, which is a biblical prohibition, especially when it concerns a Torah scholar and a great authority? Is it possible that brotherhood has been particularly elusive in the case of Rabbi Thau?
About twenty years ago, there was a debate regarding the study of the Bible in an institution led by Rabbi Medan himself. Even he himself, at times, promoted an interpretive approach that aims to explain the scriptures in their simplicity, sometimes even in contrast to the interpretations of the sages (Chazal), and used scientific methods. They did not hesitate to criticize the patriarchs as if they were the last sinners, a practice that was called "Bible at eye level" in his time. On the other hand, Rabbi Zvi Thau stood up and warned about the destructive influence that could arise from these study methods, especially in diminishing the great figures of the nation.
The Rabbi expressed concern that by scrutinizing their actions and comparing them to ourselves, we are essentially depriving ourselves of the ability to set a high moral standard. In doing so, we legitimize our human weaknesses since we realistically cannot live lives of pure righteousness and truth. By tarnishing their inspiration and the purity of spirit of our great leaders, we diminish our own moral expectations, adopting a mindset that "there is no righteous man on Earth who does good and does not sin" and that "all men are equal." In this way, we provide legitimacy to the teachings of the father of psychoanalysis, and the theory of impulse replaces the Torah of Israel, replacing our ability and aspiration to be "holy."
The creation of a biblical approach has facilitated the complacency that, with a wave of the hand and a lack of responsibility, allows the casting of aspersions on Torah scholars who live lives of purity and truth. Indeed, there is a stain in their hearts in relation to the possibility of finding holy individuals within us, which, in their view, is not feasible. This is evident in the dismantling of the rabbinical hierarchy within the liberal public and its rabbis, who promote discussions around roundtables where diverse and even serious ethical and halachic issues are addressed, issues that stand at the forefront of our world. In these discussions, each individual, regardless of their level of knowledge or depth of learning, can express their opinion freely.
On one hand, this allows room and a positive feeling for the average person to express their thoughts. However, on the other hand, by dismantling the rabbinical hierarchy, one does not truly grow and flourish. In essence, this is the essence of the modern post-positive approach: there is no absolute truth, and those who claim otherwise are seen as obscurantist and dangerous to enlightenment, seeking to control the masses who have departed from reason.
By the way, I am very much in favor of honest dialogue based on mutual respect with every person in the world. However, when I stand before my rabbis, I know my place, and this intimate relationship allows me to receive and progress. The liberal public has created in its imagination a frightening creature with which it fights and has placed it within a convenient definition called 'Hardalim,' (Zionist ultra-Orthodox) which allows for non-substantive confrontation, while demonizing and generalizing. But in reality, if one takes the time to meet and get to know their fellow human beings, they may find a close and humane encounter with the public and its rabbis, driven by the rightful respect for Torah scholars. There is no doubt that it can uncover sensitivity, modesty, love, and an endless dedication to public values. Then, one may realize that the distance is not as they thought, and many of the goals are similar.
I understand that such a connection between different segments of society can benefit all of us and enable us to expand our circles to include other parts of Israeli society that are still distant from our way of life. In this day and age, we should all strive to fulfill within ourselves the verse:
"וְסָ֙רָה֙ קִנְאַ֣ת אֶפְרַ֔יִם .. אֶפְרַ֙יִם֙ לֹֽא־יְקַנֵּ֣א אֶת־יְהוּדָ֔ה וִֽיהוּדָ֖ה לֹֽא־יָצֹ֥ר אֶת־אֶפְרָֽיִם"
"Then Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim", promoting unity and harmony among all segments of society.