#488: Crocs are Too Comfortable, Wear Converse!
- Karaite Korner Newsletter #488
Crocs are Too Comfortable, Wear Converse!
Earlier this week I posted a poem about Christmas by a self-described "S.O.B." (Scripturally Observant Believer). Despite her self-designation, she is what many people would call "Messianic". This raised quite a stir in certain circles, especially because line 50 of the 62-line poem referred to: "The truth of Yeshua, the one true Messiah." A few people wrote asking if this meant that I was no longer a Karaite Jew and now believed in Jesus. One reader wrote me, "I am really confused by this week's newsletter with this beautiful poem". Another reader wrote to his own e-mail list:
"This man [Nehemia] use to be focused on living by the true words of the Almighty He now supports things out of the New Testament He seems to also be supporting christmas as well."
All I can say is: "LMAO" (google it). I mean how many times do I need to explain that I am not a Messianic or Christian? Just because I see something of value written by an S.O.B. does not make me one. I didn't say hang the poem up on your wall and recite it as your daily creed. I said give it a read, you might just learn something. It doesn't mean you have to agree with everything in it or even that I agree with everything in it. Here is the poem for those who missed it:
This reminds me of an e-mail Keith and I received shortly after our book "A Prayer to Our Father" was released. A man wrote to us incensed that, although he agreed with 90% of the book, he regretted reading it because there were some things he strongly disagreed with. I wrote back to him that if he wanted to read a book that he agreed with 100%, he ought to write his own book. The idea that you should not listen to anyone who doesn't agree with you on every point of doctrine is quite alien to Jewish thinking. King Solomon taught:
"Plans are foiled for want of counsel, but they succeed through many advisers." Proverbs 15:22
Solomon wasn't saying you have to agree with all the advice you receive or even see eye to eye with all the advisors. On the contrary, he is saying you won't learn anything new or accomplish anything great if you just surround yourself with yes-men and people who are identical to you. The rabbis summed this up succinctly with the teaching: "Who is a wise man? He who learns from every man." (Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1). God gave us discernment to pick out the seed from the chaff. Don't starve yourself because you are afraid of dealing with a little chaff!
I guess I have a tendency to dwell on the negative. Most of the responses to the poem were quite positive. A few days ago I was speaking with a Karaite Jewish woman from Washington State (hi, Pat!) and she told me she actually found the poem very comforting. She was estranged from some family members over her beliefs and identified with most of the poem. She was also confident enough in her own faith not to be threatened by the part she didn't agree with.
My point with sharing the poem was not to get people to embraced line 50 or even to bash Christmas. I think there is something of value there even for Christians who celebrate Christmas and I would venture to say even for atheists. The poem is a powerful expression of the inner struggle between being faithful to your own conscience and doing what is easy just because it is popular. It reminds me of the commandment in the Torah:
"You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice;" Exodus 23:1
This commandment expresses the principle that you must do what you believe to be right and moral even if it is unpopular. It would be so much easier to testify according to the majority, but you must stand for the truth even if you are the lone voice of reason.
While I am on the subject of things I don't entirely agree with, there is this video on Youtube you NEED to see:
The video is rife with Hebrew and Yiddish terminology, so this brief summary should help those unfamiliar follow the main points. It features two cartoon teddy bears discussing the finer points of the Oral Law. What makes it so powerful is that it is both hilarious and profound at the same time. The video starts off with a brown bear telling a pink bear a "vort", a "word" of Torah he heard at his rabbi's house last Shabbat. The vort deals with the inconsistency between what Esau asked for in Genesis 25:30 and what Jacob actually gave him in verse 34. Esau asked for lentil soup but Jacob gave him both lentil soup and bread. The reason for giving Esau the bread, according to the vort, is a dispute in the Talmud as to which benediction to make when eating lentil soup. Does one eat it for the liquid (she-hakol) or for the lentils (mezonot)? To avoid the "problem", Jacob gave Esau bread so he would wash his hands and make the benediction over the bread. The benediction over bread covers all food eaten at the same meal as the bread, superseding the need to decide which benediction to make over the lentil soup.
The pink bear finds the suggestion that Jacob knew about a dispute in the Talmud ludicrous. The brown bear responds that the Avos (forefathers) knew and kept kol ha-torah kulah (the whole Torah in its entirety) which naturally includes the Talmud and all its disputes and discussions. The brown bear explains that Jacob observed the [rabbinical] commandment of shaking a palm branch and citron on the festival of Sukkot. He even fulfilled the commandment of "remembering" the Amalekite attack on the Israelites in the desert, which took place hundreds of years after his death. At one point in the discussion, the pink bear objects to the original point of the vort:
"The commandment to wash one's hands before bread was instituted by the rabbis centuries after the giving of the Torah as a safeguard against eating Terumah [priestly gifts] while ritually impure. Why would Yaakov [Jacob] follow a safeguard instituted by the rabbis?"
The brown bear responds: "The sages tell us that the Avos [forefathers] even kept rabbinical commandments." [Say: "Takanot!"]
The discussion now turns to the rabbinical commandment to refrain from wearing leather shoes on Tish'ah Be'Av, the rabbinical fast mourning the destruction of the Temple:
Pink bear: "Did the Avos wear Crocs on Tish'ah Be'Av?"
Brown bear: "No, Rev Elyashiv said Crocs are too comfortable. He wore converse [sneakers]." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yosef_Shalom_Eliashiv)
The pink bear represents a modernistic YU (Yeshiva University) approach to the Oral Law and rabbinical tradition. This approach, backed by "many rishonim" [rabbis from the 11th-15th centuries], rejects the belief of the Talmudic rabbis that the forefathers knew and kept the entire Torah. The brown bear represents the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish view of the Oral Law that accepts all the statements of the Talmudic rabbis as true and binding. Anything not in line with this Ultra-Orthodox position is disregarded as "not part of our Mesorah [tradition]".
Pink bear: "Is it your Mesorah to pick only the most fantastical, irrational sources from the vastness of Jewish tradition and call anything else Kefirah [heresy]?"
Brown bear, turning to the camera and nodding: "Sounds about right."
Obviously the video is biased towards the YU position. A quick search on Youtube will turn up many Ultra-Orthodox rebuttals, some of them eloquently presented by a variety of cartoon characters. One even has the pink bear responding, now in defense of the Ultra-Orthodox position and with a posh British accent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRwQig67Gps
Boy, is the 21st century going to be an interesting one! By the way, in case you are wondering, my recommendation of the Vort Video does not mean that I now embrace the YU-approach to the Oral Law. I am still a Karaite Jew despite line 50 of the 62-line Youtube video!