Dei'ah Vedibur - Information &

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Kislev 5766 - December 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Why We Censor

". . . Life and death I have put before you, and blessing and curse. And you should choose life so that you and your descendants will live" (Devorim 30:19).

Is it wrong to add: "Don't choose death"?

Is it an unwarranted, or intolerable, restriction of someone's freedom if rabbonim say to him: "This reading material is deadly for your soul. Keep away."?

Are rabbonim expected to just "mind their own business" (which is truly in part the spiritual health of Klal Yisroel) and not speak out when they see people who sincerely seek the truth and wish to expand and deepen their knowledge and understanding of Torah, and innocently try to realize their ambitions by studying "books [that] are in opposition to our Torah" (HaRav Shechter and HaRav Kamenetsky) and in fact "do terrible offense to our hallowed tradition, and distort and undermine the Torah's clear truths," as the Novominsker Rebbe wrote?

Is there anything wrong with this? On the contrary, if the rabbonim see things this way is it not a terrible crime for them not to warn the innocent? If Slifkin has a right — granted to him by modern society — to express his ideas be they what they may, certainly those who see those ideas as distortions have no less of a right to express their views in reaction. By their own evaluation, and in the view of anyone who follows them, they even have a clear obligation to proclaim their assessment to anyone who might be exposed to those ideas that are "in opposition to our Torah" but were definitely not perceived as such before the rabbonim made their views known.

Many books include ideas mentioned by Slifkin, but only his were condemned. Why? Because of "the impudent and audacious spirit of throwing off the yoke (prikas ol) of the mesorah miSinai and our sages (rabboseinu hakedoshim) who are its bearers (maggidehoh)," that is not found in those others.

Are the rabbonim asking or telling us to stop thinking? Do they wish us to be intellectual wimps who cannot and do not evaluate critically what they hear?

What an absurd suggestion! If we close down our minds we will not even be able to understand the Torah that they transmit to us daily, not to mention the holy words of our Sages of previous generations back to Sinai. No intellectually honest person could say that our rabbonim do not want us to think! The often-heard response that pronouncements such as this one are anti- intellectual betray a desire to ridicule us and our rabbonim, not a serious charge.

Free, serious and deep inquiry is our goal, constantly pursued. But — yes there is a "but" — it must be within the spirit of Torah and not in the spirit of the secular world which is deeply, unremittingly hostile to Torah.

As one observer of the modern scene wrote, "rarely have we faced a culture more antithetical to the values of Judaism, not superficially but at its very roots." Superficially it appears friendly, and certainly compatible. But at its roots the hostility is very strong.

When we faced the Greeks in the time of the Maccabim, the issues were clear and in the open. They said, "Write on the ox horn that you have no part in the G-d of Israel." You cannot get more direct than that. They did not let us learn Torah and do mitzvos. The violated our money and our daughters and our Sanctuary.

Now they leave our daughters alone (except for once-in-a- while attempts in the State of Israel). They shower us with wealth. They allow us to learn and to do mitzvos with hiddurim that were undreamed of by earlier generations.

Yet the spirit of the Western world, in its media, in its science, in its art, in its politics, is a challenge to the authentic Torah spirit from the floor to the rafters.

Just pick up a Mesillas Yeshorim and consider the catalogue of things that the Ramchal lists as inimical to the very first step of the Path of the Righteous (Chapter 5), and it is clear that modern society has raised the difficulty of overcoming them to new heights: 1] Dealing with distractions and necessities of the world; 2] Laughter and ridicule; 3] Pressures of an evil society.

The mass of modern media and communication make the temptations of excess in the first area stronger than they ever were, even as it has increased greatly the amount of information that we really have to deal with. The amount of comedy and ridicule has increased tremendously compared to any previous period, even as its prestige has grown, making it harder to dismiss. Finally, society is so intrusive, even as it is free, that it exerts tremendous pressure to conform to its increasingly decadent values.

These are each individually powerful challenges, and their wearing-down effects are accruing. But note that in each case their is nothing overtly coercive about the hostility. The media appear friendly. Society appears open. The ideas appear tolerant.

It is hard to know who is for us and who is against us. Our rabbonim do not reject modern society wholesale, but they draw lines for us: This is ok. Stay away from that.

Whoever wants to, is free to go it alone. He or she can plunge in to the treacherous waters of the modern world alone, and try to reach the truth heroically alone. It is a big task for an individual.

The rest of us will take shelter under the banner of gedolei Yisroel. As in the generation of Chanukah, so too in our generation — the gedolei veziknei hador cry out to us all: Mi laSheim eilai!

Whoever wants to reach Hashem should join them!

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