Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Av 5760 - August 3, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
A Question of Definition

by A. Yitzchaki

This past Lag b'Omer was relatively quiet, since no chareidi kids were given flags to burn by freelance photographers. But they won't have to wait until next Independence Day in order to nab flag desecraters. They don't have to send a bored photographer to pay a foolish kid to burn the flag in front of the camera. All the TV watchers have to do is to watch "cultured" clowns who receive a lot of money, spit in their faces and undermine their values.

On a popular satirical program aired on TV, Israeli citizens could see firsthand how their national flag became a rag, as it was first termed by the winner of the Israel Prize, the late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz. According to media reports, two clowns who were satirizing the peace process took the flag and tore it to bits. Afterward they kneaded the bits into a gooey dough, and formed it into a football.

This was not a live program. It was taped, and thus planned by editors, producers, photographers and an entire broadcasting crew. In addition to that, it was previewed by the discerning eyes of the station's comptrollers and only afterwards broadcast to the public. None of these people saw anything wrong with ripping the flag and transforming it into a rag, as long as the program was dubbed satirical.

Irate viewers, apparently quite a few, called the producers. The producers quickly realized that they had better apologize before the affair blew up. Someone even filed a complaint with the police, though it will probably be disregarded on the basis that it "lacks public interest."

Interstingly, the Ha'aretz TV critic sharply attacked the producers for apologizing saying that satire will often offend "not-so-sacred cows."

The critic claimed, "Publicly abandoning the producers transforms them into cripples, and the exaggerated panic which seizes them will be internalized in the future by satirists who will be afraid to dare."

It's all a question of definition. A number of years ago, a comedian appeared on a program that mocked Torah values, only to receive sweeping support in face of the criticism leveled by chareidi elements. Supporters claimed that satire is included in the limits of freedom of speech.

In his column in the Hebrew Yated Ne'eman writer P. Chovav examined the limits of the tolerance of the chareidi haters, and wrote a piercing, humorous satirical article which mocked Rabin in the extreme, for satire's sake, of course.

Needless to say the media, which quoted select excerpts of that article, was deeply shocked by the offense to the memory of the assassinated Prime Minister. Only a few brave journalists internalized the message, which was that satire must have clear boundaries, the main one being "don't undermine the hallowed values of one's fellow."

When clowns disgrace the Israeli flag, they can hide behind the banner of satire. No serious reporter will devote an article to attacking them, and the editorials certainly won't take the trouble to relate to a "marginal" element of hundreds of thousands of people. This is in shocking contrast to the burning of the flag by a chareidi youth in front of several onlookers.

Therefore, when a chareidi public figure defines the flag as "a rag on a stick", which is what Professor Leibowitz alluded to, he can just explain to his assailants that he was really employing satire.

The burning of the flag on the fifth of Iyar or on Lag b'Omer can also be defined as a "work of art" and as is known, where art is concerned, there are no hallowed values, and one may disgrace whatever one pleases.

All in all, it's just a matter of following what you want the masses to believe.

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