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THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
I am reposting the following Drasha in honor of the recent announcement by President Richard Joel of Yeshiva University that he will be stepping down from his role. And not a moment too soon. After the loss of over a billion dollars on his watch, the cover up of a decades old sexual scandal, and the humiliation of a dedicated staff of educators and other professionals, I can think of only one other person in recent years who has delivered the same degree of respect to Klal Yisroel: Ann Coulter.
On Faith and Reason
I would like to begin this week’s Drasha with a beautiful Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Shlomo Kluger had a beloved Talmid named Beryl who was a brilliant student of the Gemarrah, an Iluy – a genius. Beryl was one of the close coterie of students with whom Reb Shlomo shared the inner secrets of the Kabbalah, and one of the 5 Talmidei Muvhak -- trusted principal students - who accompanied Reb Shlomo everywhere: To the Mikvah, to be Mevaker Choilim, and to the strip clubs of Brody, Galicia. Indeed, it was Beryl who was charged with carrying Reb Shlomo’s Talis, his towel, and a large wad of singles.
One day, Reb Shlomo was awoken in the middle of the night and was requested to come immediately to the local constabulary in Brody. Beryl, his beloved Talmid, had allegedly murdered his own wife and two children, put their flesh into a big pan, covered it with mashed potatoes, onions and eggs, and cooked and served them up as a human Yapchik. (The fleish-lined potato kugel was apparently very well received at the local Shalom Zachor the previous Friday night, and Beryl received many compliments.)
Shocked, Reb Shlomo asked the police to be left alone with his Talmid Muvhak. “Beryl”, Reb Shlomo asked, “What did you do?”
Beryl, sitting behind bars, in his cell, responded. “Rebbe, I was going for a walk, taking out the garbage, minding my own business. When all of the sudden the Reboinoisheloilum came to me in a vision and commanded that I show my love for Him by slaughtering my only son, just as Avraham Avinu had been prepared to do in Parshas Vayayra. And He also ordered that I show my gratitude to Him by slaughtering my only daughter, just as Yiftach had done in Sefer Shoiftim.”
“And what about your wife?” Reb Shlomo asked, focusing his deep, penetrating glare on his student.
“Oh, that was my idea. That bitch made a terrible cholent every week, and that really detracted from my Oineg Shabboskoidesh, forcing me to violate one of the Aseres HaDibrois.”
Reb Shlomo emerged from the prison, shaken. He immediately gathered his supporters in the conference room of his Yeshiva, and lowered the volume on the TV playing ESPN in the background. After sipping from his Gleizeleh of tea filled to the top with Shlivovitz, Reb Shlomo addressed the group. “Rabboisai – A great injustice has been committed. Reb Beryl sits behind bars for following the explicit words of Hakadoshboruchhu! He sits in the custody of the Goyim, Yimach Shmum. And, on top of that, he owes me money, which I will never see unless he gets out.”
“But Rebbe, Beryl admitted to killing his wife and two children!” one of the Talmidim declared. The statement was followed by a momentary hush of silence
“ADMITTED?!” Reb Shlomo screamed in a booming voice. “Do you think you can trust an Aimishteh-Damned word that Minuval says?!”
Rabboisai, I share this famous story because Yiddishkeit is under assault. It is not under assault by the Egyptians or the Persians or the Greeks. It is not under assault by the Romans or the Crusaders, or the Germans or the Arabs. Klal Yisroel is under assault by its own traditional leadership, the ophthalmologists….errr…..I mean, the rabbis.
It seems like at every turn a new travesty committed in the name of Yiddishkeit comes to light, is defended by our “Gedoilim” and tolerated by the mindless masses.
-- Three months ago, it was the guilty plea by Yosef Kolko on sexual abuse of a minor. Kolko, after admitting his guilt to therapists, had claimed innocence leading up to the trial, and had the full support of the rabbinic leadership of Beis Medrish HaGadol and the broader community of Lakewood. It was only when additional witnesses surfaced that he altered his plea.
-- This was followed by the continued insistence by Yisroel Belsky of Yosef Kolko’s innocence. Belsky is not an obscure figure – he is a Rosheshiva of Toirah Vodaas and is one of the three leading Poiskim of the OU, so his behavior is a model for many in the Orthodox community. His dug-in position sends a message: Sexual abuse of children is tolerated in the Jewish community, as long as you have the right friends.
-- And just last week, Yeshiva University issued its long awaited, long promised report on sexual allegations carried out and covered up by Yeshiva University Rebbes, teachers, and administrators. Instead of exceeding the frankness and openness of the Penn State internal investigation -- the aspiration set forth by the Yeshiva University administration months ago, Yeshiva University's report rivals similar reports of the Catholic Church -- it adds no new information, acknowledges wrongdoing without outlining any consequences, and urges the public to trust them to implement a new set of policies and procedures. (An old joke -- Question: How does a lawyer say "Fuck You?" Answer: "Trust Me...")
I am often approached by my Talmidim citing such examples of behaviors and attitudes that run counter to contemporary sensibilities as reasons for abandoning Yiddishkeit. Just this week I was party to the following exchange (this is true, by the way): “It was bad enough when I was arguing with the Ultra Orthodox. This is worse. It seems the "leaders" of Modern Orthodoxy are no better. My Charedi friend's advice that I should not let the Jews interfere with my Judaism, isn't helping.”
I would like to share with you, my beloved Talmidim, that as much as you believe you are the first to have such sentiments, you are not. Such ideas are echoed in the words of the Nevi’im, who quote the Reboinoisheloilum as rejecting religious piety without human decency as false behavior. Bain Adam LaMokoim without Bain Adam LeChaveiroih is like getting into a car that has no gas: It will go nowhere. It is like eating frosting without eating the underlying cake: It is empty calories. It is like being Mezaneh with an inflatable Bashert: It may feel good, but it is making love to air. It is an empty act. It has no meaning. At best, it is a falsely pious form of masturbation.
I am reminded of a famous Machloikess in a Gemarrah in Mesechta Shabbos. Dof Lamed Chess Amud Baiz cites a Braisah with a Machloikess between Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah and Rabbi Akiva. According to Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, one may not masturbate on Shabbos because it is a Melachah MiDioraisa, an primary act of work directly banned by the Toirah. However, Rabbi Akiva holds that one is allowed to masturbate, as long has be does not use a Kli Rishoiyn.
The subsequent discussion in the Gemarrah tries to understand the two positions. According to Rav Pappa, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah holds that masturbation is a Melachah because it is an Issur of Lach, kneading. However, Rav Sheyshess holds that it is an issur of Memachek, smoothing. Finally, Rav Huna holds that masturbation is not any of the identified Lamud Tess – thirty-nine – Melachois banned by the Toirah because they mirror activity involved in building the Mishkan. He holds that masturbation is actually a fortieth Melachah associated with building the Mishkan, What does this mean, asks the Gemarrah? Very simple, says Rav Huna. When the Leviyim were engaged in every activity associated with building the Mishkan – Zoirayah, Choiraish, Koitzer, etc. – they worked very hard, often performing backbreaking labor. But Levite union rules required that they have a break every three hours. And what did the Leviyim do during their mandated breaks? Why, they masturbated, of course! And since break time is part of the work day, one must consider masturbation an Av Melachah, no less than Bishul, Melabain, and Makeh B’Patish! It’s Gevaldick!
And what of Rabbi Akiva, who holds that masturbation is permissible on Shabboskoidesh? This is the topic of a famous discussion amongst the Achroinim. According to Reb Shmuel Yehoishua MiSlovakia HaKoihain-Priest, the SHEIS-KUP, Rabbi Akiva allows masturbation because it is only a De’Rabbanan, a Toildah of Boineh, and since the act contributes to one’s Oineg Shabbos, masturbation on Shabbos is indeed permitted by Chazal!
And what of the act itself? The NewAge Chassid says a beautiful Vort. He suggests that the Toirah itself alludes to masturbating on Shabbos. The two versions of the Aseres HaDibrois use two different verbs when commanding the celebration of the Shabbos because Hakadoshboruchhu acknowledges two different approaches to masturbation. When the Toirah commands “Zachor”, the Aimishteh is alluding to masturbating while thinking about a past sexual encounter. But when the Toirah commands “Shamor”, Hakadoshboruchhu is also inviting one to masturbate while fixated on an imaginary situation – Your sister in law, your wife’s best friend, your mother-in-law Chass V’Sholom, or your neighbor’s three goats. As long as the image remains in your imagination and you do not act upon it outside of the privacy of your own bedroom or bathroom, they you are not only permitted to masturbate, but you are Mekayaim the Mitzvah of Oineg Shabbos. Shoyn!
Rabboisai – As long as we are discussing the Aseres HaDibrois, the Ten Commandments, there is one commandment which is critical to the underlying topic. In Sefer Shmois, Perek Chuff we read, “Loi Sa”Aseh Lechah Pessel, VeChol Temuna Asher Bashamayim MiMa’Al Ve’Asher Ba”Aretz MiTuchas, Va’Asher BaMayim MiTachas La”Aretz. Loi Sishtachaveh LaHem, VeLoi Su’Uvdaim...” “ Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them…”
My beloved Talmidim – Many of our contemporary “Gedoilim”, leading rabbinic figures, would take offense at the above satirical Drasha and object to its off-color humor. Yet they will defend child molesters. They will cover up abuse. They will break up families, stealing children away from a parent because the parent does not fully subscribe to their philosophy of religious practice. They will use financial pressure, social pressure, and even violence to enforce their objectives. And they will continue to enclose Judaism, smothering out the new ideas and philosophies that give new life and new meaning to our beautiful tradition. Rather than open the doors and windows to new thoughts and ideas like Sa’adya Goyn and the RAMBAM and many of the greatest thinkers in Jewish history, they aspire to smother ideas and Truth, in order to retain control and to retain power (and often to ensure financial gain).
This is not Judaism. This is the worship of false gods. Many of the “Gedoilim” of today have indeed become the Psalim and Temunot – The graven images and likenesses that the Toirah warns us about. Blindly following their words is not Judaism, it is nothing less than Avoidas Alilim – Idol Worship.
We have been given a world and are inheritors of a grand tradition that seeks to understand and embrace the Divine, to attune our lives to the ultimate Truth. For some, that is done through strict adherence to the evolved rabbinic formulae; for others, it involves a different kind of quest, one of a more personal nature.
But when we disregard reason, when we disregard common sense, when we defend those guilty of abusing children, Yisroel Belsky, when we believe that our knowledge of the Gemarrah gives us the right to disregard the secular legal system and ignore heinous crimes, that is not Judaism. When we believe that our religious institution is "too big to fail" no matter what its crimes and moral responsibilities, Yeshiva University, that is not Toirah. That is idol worship.
So, my beloved Talmidim, do not be confused by the actions of certain so-called “Gedoilim” who function through threat and intimidation. That is not Judaism. Stand up to their idolatry. You are empowered to do so – The rabbis have no exclusive rights to Judaism or Toirah. Judaism and Toirah belong to us all. And we have the right, and, indeed, the moral and ethical responsibility, to take it back.
In the words of a famous very wise non-Jew, Mohandas Ghandi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.
A Chessiva V'Chasima Toivah, you Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess