Saturday, March 29, 2008

Obsessed with Sex

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

(This was first posted on my blog, and has now been cross-posted here, due to your love for Rabbi Horowitz)

Now that the big news has broken, we have to look back and try to figure out how it happened and what our take-away ought to be.

A number of months ago, several RBS residents reached out to Rabbi Yakov Horowitz (Rosh Yeshiva of Darchei Noam in Monsey and head of Project Y.E.S. of Agudas Yisrael) for guidance regarding the violence perpetrated by the kannoim of Bet Shemesh, after which Rav Horowitz bravely wrote several columns condemning the violence in the strongest terms here and here.
At the time, Rav Horowitz said something that turned out to be very prescient.

Rabbi Horowitz said that anybody who is violently forcing his chumrohs on others, and especially those who are physically assaulting women are prime candidates for being sexual predators, pedophiles and wife beaters. He repeatedly told us that over the course of time, it will become evident to all that a disproportionately high percentage of these thugs are not only abusing the women on the buses, but are committing far worse on those close to them. He said that, in his view, these people have a distorted and perverse obsession with women and sexual matters, as opposed to, lehavdil, true tzadikim, whose minds are preoccupied with torah and avodah. Tzadikim and true Chassidim make chumros – on themselves. And never resort to violence on others.

Yesterday, I spoke with Rabbi Horowitz about the subject and he pointed me to the sefer Kav Ha'Yashar chapter 52. The sefer says, I will summarize it briefly, that "A person who busies himself all day with davening with kavanah, and he walks with his tefillin all day long (an unusual behavior – a super-frum chumrah, as men typically remove their tefilin before leaving shul) - it looks like this person is very pious. You think that he must be a kosher and straight person who deals constantly with the holy work of heaven. But you do not really know what is in his heart. As Shlomo HaMelech wrote (in Koheles) - don't be too righteous or too evil, and Chazal said be wary of the "tzvu'im" (hypocrites) - they look like prushim (people who separate themselves from materialism), but they act like zimri, and then they request reward like Pinchas. Rather you should look for someone who is really a tzaddik" – one who is an honest and decent man.

When I asked Rabbi Horowitz what his guidelines were regarding healthy chumros and those mentioned above, he identified three areas:The chumroh is within the realm of the Torah and established Mesorah, and not way beyond what Mesorah advocates. The chumroh is personal and not imposed upon others. When a person is obsessed with forcing (as opposed to appropriately inspiring or encouraging others other people to keep those chumrohs), that is an indication something is wrong.

When the person advocating the chumroh is ready to resort to violence to ensure that others adhere to it, that is a clear indication that something is wrong.Rabbi Horowitz said that the concept of, “Kadesh atzmecha b’mutar lach,” taking on chumrohs – essentially removing oneself from things that are halachicly permitted) is a wonderful thing – especially in these times when society around us is in a moral free-fall. But a chumroh is personal. Nobody has any right to impose his own chumrohs on other people – especially through violence. .

I would like to add my thoughts to those of Rabbi Horowitz.We, as members of frum society, are quick to denounce any public display of kulah. Yet we never see a public denouncement of people who are keeping chumrohs or any public display of chumrohs. The reason we do not is because we do not want to be seen as less frum or not accepting of someone who wants to do a chumroh and come close to Hashem.

Yet in essence it is the same thing. Just like we denounce the Kulah phenomenon, we need to equally denounce the chumroh phenomenon (not personal chumrohs, but when it meets the criteria mentioned above by Rabbi Horowitz).

I remember once I went to an oneg shabbos with a well respected guest Rabbi. He had a question and answer session and the discussion was centered around dressing Haredi. He said what he said, and I asked why there is such an issue with how to dress and that everyone should look the same. His answer was that dressing the part puts you in the social group. Once you are part of the group, in appearance, you can get away with a lot. If you look the part, they are forgiving on many things you might do not in accordance with the social group. He did not mean anything like what is going on here, he just meant issues of individuality on small scales. But it really includes people doing all sorts of things, even leading to the phenomenon discussed here.

Just because someone dresses from and talks with the words of Hashem, chumrohs Torah, does not mean he is someone that is really within the pale, and it does not mean he is somebody who's ways we need to accept. This is a phenomenon that is something we should be wary of. When we see these people, just because they look super-frum and talk super-frum, we should be very, very wary of them. Their behavior is an indication that there is more going on behind the picture.

Back to the burqas and the kannoim. The Burqa ladies were not, as far as I know, imposing their way on other people. She had her group of followers, and maybe she used charisma or subconscious methods to get them to follow her, but they seemed to be non-violent and even unobtrusive - just doing their own thing.

The last person you would have expected to hear about this from is the Burqa woman. Yet we see that is where it happened, in the worst kind of way. As the police said, they have never seen anything as bad as the situation they are investigating in this case.

Just as it happened there, "al achas kama v'kama", how much more so, we must be wary of the public display and aggressiveness in enforcing chumrohs on the public.

Tzniyus is not a matter of a hemline or a sheitel style or a thickness of stocking (technical details notwithstanding). Tzniyus is a way of life of being modest and living the way Hashem wants us to. When the outcry is in public to, for example, separate the genders on the buses (and there is nothing wrong with separate buses, just the enforcing and insisting on them when it even comes to the point of using violence) or hang signs or tell people what to wear when they go certain places, that is no longer tzniyus, but the opposite of it.

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