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Judaism: The Truth of Satire

A little clever satire can be a good thing for us.
Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 6:38 AM


There is a wickedly funny and enormously sad piece of satire making the rounds about a “Lithuanian” charedi father attempting to explain to his inquisitive child the story of the Hasmoneans and their triumph over the Greeks. On the one hand the Hasmoneans were staunch “Lithuanian “charedim who learned all day, while on the other hand they apparently had weapons, organized an army that they themselves led in actual warfare against the Greeks.

They also engaged in commerce and agriculture, albeit always wearing only white shirts. And, apparently, they wanted to establish an independent Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The child realizes the enormous disconnect between the traditional story of Chanuka and the Hasmoneans and what he has been taught at home, in school and amongst his peers about the country and society he currently lives in.

The father admits to himself the existence of this savage disconnect with reality and the Chanuka story, but says one may not state so publicly lest one be accused of being a Zionist.

Here, as in all good satire, there exists more than a bit of exaggeration.  But, there is no doubt that more than a kernel of truth also exists in this fictitious conversation. The charedi world in the main, especially the “Lithuanian” branch (with whom I identify myself as belonging to) has yet to come to grips with the realities of today. It is still fighting the battle of the nineteenth century against secular Zionism, a battle long ago ended and not relevant any longer in today’s Jewish world.

Part of the problem in changing this mindset of complete disconnect with reality. We have grown so comfortable over the past centuries of Jewish life as being the persecuted victim, that we are frightened to shuck off that protective mantle. We see the world in black and white colors only – the good guys and the villains. There is no room for nuance or moderation in such a worldview.

If we are involved in rabbinic scandal, financial misdeeds, abusive physical and sexual behavior, violence against police, corrupt elections (and those elected thereby) and are caught by the authorities for so doing, the immediate knee-jerk reaction is that we are being persecuted because of our religious practices, different dress, traditional lifestyle and distinct societal mores.

Somehow we have forgotten that idleness, poverty and a persecution complex all are, in the long run, self-destructive conditions. These were the conditions that secularized much of Ashkenazic Jewry over the past three centuries. Eventually a system built on declining governmental welfare allotments and unending charity from others - a system decried by Maimonides and other great rabbinic sages and religious leaders throughout the ages – is a Ponzi scheme that inexorably will collapse of its own weight.

And we are ill served by religious political leaders and the handlers of old and revered great Torah scholars who, for purposes I have never really understood, oppose any change of the current miserable status quo. And, there is never any plan advanced to help rescue their adherents from the deepening abyss of poverty and personal despair. 

So, a little clever satire can be a good thing for us. A good look at the absurdity of some of our societal practices, at the disconnect with reality, at an educational system that impoverishes its students for life and stifles creativity and different opinions can only help us in the long run to advance the cause of Torah in Israel and in the Diaspora!

A middle-aged person recently came to see me before embarking on a trip to the United States to raise money to pay for his crushing debts accumulated over the years that he has not worked. The irony is that he graduated university and is  a qualified engineer and is easily employable. So when I asked him why he doesn’t go to work instead of undergoing the humiliation of canvassing door to door in the American winter for a month to receive charity, much of it given begrudgingly, I sighed deeply at his answer: “I have daughters to marry off and the husbands they want to marry will not accept daughters of someone who is working!”

I wanted to answer him harshly: “But they will accept daughters of someone who begs others for charity!” However, I bit my tongue and wished him success (?) on his journey. I was impotently outraged all day at how this type of mindset has corrupted such a wonderful people. Perhaps we need more satire to have the truth of the situation sink into our society.