THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Cultural Assimilation
This week I address the critical question of cultural assimilation.
Mike S.. writes:
"Dear Rabbi Pinky,
"The following question has been troubling me for some time. If the newspaper delivery boy delivers the paper on Shabbos and tosses the paper on the second step, which is less than ten tefachim (Ed. -- approximately 36 inches) off the ground (the anti-Semite does this every Shabbos but never during the week), and if I accidentally kick it up the stairs and into the front hallway, can I read the sports section too, or am I limited to looking at the pictures of Kate Moss wearing nothing but a Prada handbag that I tore out of the Style section after I caught my wife, may she live to be a hundred and forty, studying it with a gleam in her eye? (Sigh, no, I'm not that lucky you pervert, she was only eyeing the handbag.)
"Your sagacious and twisted advice would be greatly appreciated."
Voos iz givehn ah newspaper?
Do you mean to tell me that you would desecrate the Shabbos Koidesh, the timeless gift of the Aimishteh, the sacred bounty of the Rebboinoisheloilum, with the polluted ways of the goyyishe velt? You NEED to read a newspaper, and the stock market isn't even open until Monday??!!
Indeed, your question is quite troubling, and is fundamental to our very existence as Jews, who participate in public society and lead in all endeavors -- from medicine to business to film making to tax evasion -- but due to our Divine Covenant are forbidden to reap its key benefits, aka, hot shiksas and cheeseburgers.
Allow me to restate your question and broaden its scope: Should we open our cultural and daily lives in order to be better assimilated with the broader secular society?
Indeed, Chazzal, our holy sages, pondered this question endlessly, as it took a long time for cable to arrive at Sura and Pumpedisa, and the XBOX had apparently not been invented yet. They read holy books, they debated endlessly, they meditated on the topic with yogis, and they engaged management consultants. But they were never able to reach a satisfactory conclusion once Hooters opened up in Babylon.
On this topic, Rav Yoisi Haglili is quoted in a Braisah in Mesechta Shabbos suggesting, "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." No one has ever understood what the gehennem he meant, but that obviously never prevented any comment from being included in the Gemarrah. Commenting on the quote, Abaya suggests that Rav Yoisi was hit on the head with an apple and was delirious when he made this statement.
Rav Shayshess, in a Gemarrah in Soitah, however, discusses this question directly. He notes that Hakkadoshboruchhu created the world for Klal Yisroel to live in, contribute to, and enjoy to its fullest. He suggests, however, that the Aimishteh's idea of fun apparently includes persecution, yeshiva tuition, having our wives cover their hair with $3000 wigs, and eating tuna out of a can during business lunches at the finest restaurants in the city.
Rav Puppa, however, disagrees. He suggests that the Rebboinoisheloilum does not want us to participate in the activities of the outside world, and prefers instead that He pay us our rewards in the World to Come. Says Rav Puppa, this is a wise choice by the Aimishteh, so that in the short term He can invest His capital elsewhere to incur a lower risk and secure a higher rate of return.
Sherira Goyn, commenting on this machloikess hundreds of years later, suggests that the disagreement between Rav Shayshess and Rav Puppa was not about assimilation at all. Rather, it was about who had the sillier name. According to Rav Shayshess, "Puppa" was such a silly name it was akin to torture, since anyone who heard the name laughed so hard that shnot would shoot out of his nose. But, according to Rav Puppa, "Shayshess" was the sillier name, and he would have chosen to kill himself if he had been given that name.
However, according to Meshulum ben Klonymous, the tenth century scholar, liturgical composer, Kabbalist, and male exotic dancer, the argument between Rav Puppa and Rav Shayshess was indeed about assimilation. But, Reb Meshulum suggests, neither of the two sages were correct, since they never spent a day outside the Bais Medrish, the Rabbinic study hall, and as a result, says Reb Meshulum, "didn't have a freaking clue as to what the real world is about." Shoyn.
In our day, how should we address this question? I would like to suggest that we are indeed very fortunate in modern times in that we can truly balance the greatness of Toirah lifestyle with the marvels of science, philosphy, and the tax-loss carry forward. We can go to Tokyo and daven in a minyan. We can go to London and find a eiruv. We can travel to Saudi Arabia and never once be offered pork. We truly do live in special times.
And in order to help celebrate these times, and enhance the outside world while preserving a Toirah true lifestyle, I have decided to embark on a magnificent business venture....err, I mean Toirah endeavor. I would like to introduce a new Hashgacha that will give the highest seal of approval to kosher food worldwide.
Introducing: The Yushka K. The Yushka K is Yeshivas Chipass Emess's new kosher certification symbol. We stand for: Food so good, it tastes like traif.
How do we guarantee you the finest quality kosher certification? First, we send in a swat team of bearded Rabbis to raid the kitchen of each product's manufacturer. They check every ingredient for kosher contents, every nook and cranny for hidden traifus, and every drawer for loose change in order to bring you the finest kosher certification. But we don't stop there. We bring in a team of gentile chefs and their hot shiksa dates to taste the product. To avoid any favorable bias, we always make sure that at least one is a member of the KKK and another is a member of the PFLP-CS, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- Culinary Squad.
Only when a product meets these exacting standards does it earn the label "Yushka K".
So, indeed, our unique lifestyles can accommodate both our heritage and the world outside. So, yes, Mike S., you should pick up that newspaper on Shabbos and find out what is going on in the outside world. You can even do the crossword puzzle during the Rabbi's speech. Don't worry, you won't be branded a heretic. In all likelihood, everyone else around you will be fast asleep.
Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess