Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In Which @azigra Loses Respect for the Goan of Villna Thanks to the Dumb Way People Speak About Him

A guest post by @azigra 

A fellow in the shul I attend was invited to speak during the hour wait for ma'ariv to begin on the second night of pesach. Of course his speech didn't begin right away because it was necessary to wait for a fight that had broken out in the back to cool off. It had something to do with whether ma'ariv was set to begin unnecessarily late. Interestingly, and not relevant to the point of this essay, the fellow who insisted that ma'aiv should begin later based on some halachic stringency claimed that the women couldn't begin preparing until a certain time anyway. The other guy, the one who didn't care about God or the Torah, responded that at least we can get home earlier and help our wives in the kitchen. Just some food for thought.

The speaker announced that he would just be sharing some select thoughts and stories from a Villna Goan Haggada he had with him. I had a very large print out of pesach related post from S.'s website, as well as some others, like The Awl, Seforim Blog, and Jeffrey Goldberg's blog at the Atlantic, (sorry DB! you didn't have anything new,) and I had no intentions of paying attention. However, everything he said was so backwards and wrong in my mind that I mostly just sat there containing my urge to yell out and argue with him. Now contrary to how you may perceive me online (ie. mean and cynical,) in real life I'm actually really nice and sweet (and good looking, very, very good looking,) and it was not in my nature to be so combative with a guy who was simply trying to help assuage people's restlessness.

I intend here to write what this fellow read from his haggada and follow it with the comments I imagined yelling at him. Some of these thoughts really only came to me later in the shower, where most of my brilliant ideas are born and I engage in an endless amount of imagined fights with real people.

(1) The Villna Goan was well known to have vast amounts of secular knowledge, the speaker claimed to have seen a handwritten manuscript of the Goan's on some secular topic. An observer or admirer of the goan asked him whether he too should seek to gain secular knowledge to which the Goan advised in the negative. The reason is that all knowledge is contained in the Torah and therefore if you just study Torah you will eventually obtain all knowledge there is to know. (This was repeated in a preachy way.)

Many people believe that the Torah is completely divine and that it was the worlds blueprint. This is a cute concept that sounds nice coming from a pulpit on shabbos morning However, in practical terms it makes no sense. Sure you can pick up lots of information studying the Talmud, not just the non relevant stuff like the laws of Korbon Pesach, but also some math concepts, for example. But to claim that you will be completely educated and covered in terms of worldy knowledge just from studying Torah is absurd. What I wanted to ask this guy is whether he's let Rabbi Chaim Kanievksy perform brain surgery on him, or whether he'd let Rabbi Moshe Feinstein fix his fridge, or whether the Chasam Sofer would have been able to formulate antibiotics if you put him in a lab with all the ingredients? Of course the answer is NO and therefore this alleged opinion of the Goan is wrong and stupid.

(2) The next idea he shared was as follows: "something something pasuk something" we see from there that the Jewish concept of God is that he is in heaven and earth. Yes, he lives in the skies but he comes down to earth as well to be with mankind. Completely unlike the Gentiles concept of God which has Ze in the heaven and not on earth.

Um, excuse me, but which religion has God COMING TO PHYSICALLY LIVE ON EARTH and to be among his people? Last time I checked it wasn't us. The very concept he was using to extol Jewish theology with was only applicable to Christianity and since that was a positive idea it means that Judaism has a bad concept of God.

(3) Story Time: The Goan only went home for Shabbos, for the other 144 hours of the week he remained in the study hall. One week some random poor needed a place to go for the Friday night meal and the Goan sent a messenger to his wife asking for permission to bring him. The response was no, since 'I already have one guest coming Friday night (ie her husband,) and I don't need another'.

Lesson: The Goan of Villna was married to Jackie Mason.

(4) I don't recall the fourth thing that I didn't like but I'd still like to use this space to complain about something else. Consider this Part Two of my post from a few weeks ago 'Charedi Miscellani':

Last week, DovBear had a great post (Which is the real Chabad tweet, April 3, 2012) mocking a tweet by some Chabad guy who was amazed about some insignificant coincidence involving MMS's birthday. It got me thinking about some other praises I've heard over the years meant to strike awe in in your hearts and create admiration for some rabbis that were really nothing but insignificant facts. For example, I can picture myself sitting in my third grade class and the rabbi is telling us how the Satmar Rebbe (Joel) was very meticulous with keeping a "guf naki" meaning he always made sure to use the bathroom prior to praying to the extent that he was certain his bowels were completely empty. He was so careful with this that when he was in his 70 he had some kind of an X-ray and everyone was shocked that the health of his intestines was like that of a teenagers. Clearly the man had OCD, a slight psychological disorder, but his problem became a source of praise and piety to the small minded.

Another example is about a fellow who was a dean at Torah Vadas by the name of Chazan, he was so involved in his Torah studies, that he didn't even know the address of his house or how to get there from the yeshiva. ("what an oved hashem!") The Shpolia Zayde, some Eastern European rabbi, couldn't name the different currency bills and coins in the country he lived in. ("what a ztadik!")

In November 2011 The Five Towns Jewish Times ran a photo on their cover of Chaim Kanievsky and his late wife looking at a laptop. I think the caption was said they were being shown a video of the wife's father R Elyashiv and called the picture "priceless". At the time, because I can be annoying sometimes, I emailed the editor Larry Gordon the following (and ensuing email conversation):

AZIGRA: Larry, What exactly is “priceless” about a picture of Kanievsky watching a video of her father? If it was the 1870’s and it was Thomas Edison showing them how the lightbulb works, I’d get why the picture would be interesting. Who cares about people watching a video in the year 2011. It would be more interesting to me if they and their followers stopped pretending the locomotive still hasn’t been invented.

LG: You have to be able to see things in the proper context and appreciate it. If you can't, you can't....

AZIGRA: Yes, the context is as follows: 'This individual is so holy and aloof from the daily meanderings and purposelessness of the miserable working class that he is not familiar with technology. It is an example of how unique and special he is'. There is nothing special or interesting about this, and it shouldn’t have been on the cover.

LG: They are high profile individuals, he is considered one of the great sages of this generation and she just passed away over Sukkos. That the photo depicts them in a mundane human pursuit is probably inspiring to some. If you don't get it that's ok....don't worry, it's alright.

AZIGRA: Of course they involve themselves in mundane human pursuits, that comes with the territory of being a human. Your printing of this picture implies that they are not human and this is irregular for them to eat, sleep, and defecate.

LG: no, wrong again. they are people who routinely give f themselves around the clock for others

AZIGRA: The point is they are guys like you and me and they also knows a lot of jewish law. This is like US Magazine printing pictures of Kim Kardashian filling her tank with gas “STARS, THEY’RE JUST LIKE US” Of course they’re like us.

LG: good luck...

AZIGRA: Larry, I take it back. I get why the brain-dead orthodox Jews who read Avi Shafran’s drivel would be “inspired” by a picture of a rabbi watching a video. It actually makes sense to me now. Thanks for your time.

And finally, I used to catch mincha in a shul owned by a Satmar guy. The bookshelves were in the back near the door and I once noticed a copy of the book Al HaGeula Ve'Al Hatemura. This book was Joel Teitelbaum of Satmar's polemic against the State of Israel. Forget his politics and religious opinions, both of which he was horribly and deadly wrong on, I was bothered mostly by something I read in the preface of this edition. For some reason the publisher decided to include a biography of Rav AI Kook which mentioned something about his first wife that was so heinous and evil that my heart actually skipped a beat from reading it. AI Kook was married to the daughter of Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz-Te'omim, otherwise known as the Aderes. The Aderes' daughter died soon after her marriage to Kook and without having any children. The "biographer" wrote about her death in the followng manner: "out of His great and imense kindness he had the wife of Kook die young to save the Aderes from having offspring produced through Kook."

Enjoy the rest of your day.

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