Wednesday, January 05, 2005


I've been (falsely) accused of ridiculing Torah Jews, so instead of using humor to score points off Avi Shafran's latest article I'll oil up, put Spartacus on the television, and see if I can wrestle with the ideas the rabbi presents. More in a minute.

Ok, wrestling's done. Phew. That was fun. You'll be happy to hear, I am sure, that DovBear has no objection to Avi's central message. Human beings are always tempted to assign meaning to events, so why not use the Tsunami as an impetus for good? Let the discovery that our lives can end in an instant encourage you to make something more of your time here. Nothing wrong with that. It's good advice, and as a whole, a good article.

Those of you who were on tenderhooks, waiting for my judgement, can go back to your regulary scheduled day of watching Opra and learning how to dress yourselves.

And now that my religious bonafides are in order, I do have a few nits to pick with the rest of the article.

When a student informed the [Chofetz Chaim] of the mass deaths in Japan, he was visibly shaken... [his] dismay and resolve were genuine

I don't doubt that the CC had this reaction, but I'd like to know how Avi knows about it. Was he there? Did he read it in a book? Did someone mention it to him at shalosh seudot? Or is Avi projecting his own ideas of how a great sage should act on to the story?

But there is something more in the Jewish sources, something that might surprise many contemporary Jews:

Because contemporary Jews are no-nothing morons, who need wise men like Avi Shafran to show them the way? Is it just me, or is Avi reverting to his old tricks, and looking down his nose at other Jews again?

Nations have responded with aid, and countless hearts, including Jewish ones, have ached at the images and reports of parents seeking, or mourning, children; of children seeking, or mourning, parents; of lives altered radically and terribly; of others snuffed out in seconds.

But, at least from a truly Jewish perspective, there is a special reaction to those events that Jews must feel and act upon. Mass destruction has visited the world, and that cannot be something a Jew simply takes note of before moving on.... That repentance goes far beyond donations to relief agencies

Earth to Avi: Tzedakka is a valid response to this tragedy - and any tragedy. And though you might prefer that we give the money to Agudah, from a "truly Jewish perspective" sending a donation to the relief agencies is tzedakka, and a perfectly legitimate act of contrition. Here you've written a whole long article urging us to use the Tsunami to improve our behavior, yet you demonstrate thinly concealed disdain for the most logical response. I don't disagree that we can do more. Give Tzedakka might, indeed, be a minimum response, but why are you arguing that it isn't a legitimately Jewish reaction?

I've wrestled with this. Two jars of cooking oil are gone, and I have mat burns. But, still, I don't understand.