Thursday, January 31, 2013

Harav Aviner Declares War on Beit Hillel?

This morning, Harav Aviner published an article called "A guide to populist Rabbis" (Hebrew). The article is a semi-comical semi-serious  list of traits that "populaist -trendy" rabbis display. It is fairly clear that the target of the attack are the liberal rabbis of  "Beit Hillel" (who just published their semi-controversial halachic brochure in English). Here are some of the highlights (updated with translation) charecterizing the populist rabbi:

1. Enlists support and admiration amongst a broad spectrum of the public, especially the secular and the liberal religious.
2. Gains this support by emphasizing frustration, adapting prejudices against certain Jewish laws, and promising overnight miracle solutions.
3. Emphasizes and focuses upon topics that are dear to the hearts of those populations, such as: democracy, academics and the status of women, and shows lenience regarding conversion, sexual modesty, and other matters
4. Wages a stubborn battle against Charedi Rabbis who possess political power due to their spiritual greatness or their genius in Jewish law, and seeks constantly to undermine them by sabotaging that power.
5. At the same time, makes selective use of isolated, lenient Charedi rulings, fleshing out those rulings, extending them and establishing them as representative examples.
6. Systematically blames Torah scholars, and the whole Charedi public, for numerous troubles in society and presents themselves as the bearers of light for the generation.
7. Repeatedly presents Torah scholars as extremists, far removed and cut off from the public, who distance the public from the Torah, while they themselves have a monopoly on the mainstream approach, and are connected to, friendly with and in touch with the people. By such means they claim glory for themselves at the cost of shaming others.
8. Renders moral messages shallow, glossing over them with their personal charisma. These Rabbis are not like Moshe, who testified about his own speech impediments. See Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook’s letter in this regard to his son, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah in his youth.

the article continues to explore some of the "strategems" the populist rabbis employ, which can be summed up as arguing that populist rabbis are trying to fit halachah into the norms of the Hiloni public, rather than the other way around. Their strategems include marginalizing halachot that are inconvenient or, arguing that they are no longer relevant since the world has changed.  (See a previous post of mine on "Modernizing Halacha")

The attack comes at a fairly weird time. Just a few weeks ago, Beit Hillel posted a rather cheery summary of their meeting with Harav Aviner, The backdrop to that meeting was Rav Aviner's publication of rather harsh Tzniut guidelines, that were largely attacked in the popular press.  Clearly, the meeting did not go as well as Beit Hillel believes it did. This article by Harav Aviner is somewhat similar to a declaration of war between the two large communities of Religious Zionism - the more extreme Hardal (or Torani) group and the more liberal Religious Zionists.

On the lighter side - was amused to see that right above Rav Aviner's piece there was a large ad for Michlelet Herzog - the teacher's college in the liberal Gush:

HT: @ravtzair, and Eitan for the screenshot. 

Update: changed the translation from my own to the vastly superior one found at . H/T Michael Sedley.

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