An Atzeres Tefillah
It is with good reason that the huge gathering in response to the Shaked Committee Report was styled as an atzeres tefillah (a prayer gathering), and not as a protest. Even in moments of high tension, when the Torah community feels under threat, what we say and how we say it matters. The rules of cost-benefit analysis do not cease at fateful times; they become ever more important. And that is why we need the clear da’as of the elders of the generation.
In every chareidi history of American Jewry’s responses to the Holocaust, one event always merits special mention l’gnai (for criticism) – a mass protest called by secular Jewish organizations in the mid-1930s calling for a boycott of German products. Those histories cite credible reports that Hitler, ym”sh, was enraged by the protests and thereby strengthened in his determination to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. (At a later stage, Agudath Israel of America was the only Jewish organization to circumvent the British-declared boycott of Nazi-held territory in order to send packages to starving Jews in Poland and elsewhere.)
Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz relates in In Their Shadows a lesson the Chazon Ish taught him that should be the guiding light for all who speak in a public forum. Rabbi Lorincz had prepared a fiery oration attacking Chaim Weitzmann to be delivered in the Knesset prior to the vote on a second-term for Weitzmann as president. As always, he submitted the speech to the Chazon ish days in advance of its scheduled delivery. And when he heard nothing from the Chazon Ish, he assumed that it was approved.
Just as he was about to mount the podium in the Knesset to deliver his speech against Weizmann, who was known to be hostile to Torah Jews, a messenger entered the plenum with instructions from the Chazon Ish that Rabbi Lorincz should not deliver the speech and should instead should absent himself from the Knesset for the duration of deliberations.
Later, the Chazon Ish explained to Rabbi Lorincz the basic calculation behind his instruction. Weizmann’s re-election was assured. So Rabbi Lorincz’s speech could have no possible positive effect. The only thing that it could achieve would be to reinforce President Weitzmann in his contempt for Torah Jewry.
That basic calculation applies today. In politics alliances change frequently and today’s adversary may well become tomorrow’s ally. As threatening as the Shaked Report is – particularly the criminalization provisions — it is far from representing the limit of possible damage to a vulnerable Torah community, and we will in the future need every potential ally we can get, including MKs from the national religious community.
In addition, if we permit ourselves to spew forth venom and hatred, however understandable our imprecations may be, we not only reinforce the reciprocal hatred of our enemies, but also create sympathy for them, and thereby strengthen their hand.
Here another page from Jewish history is relevant. At a gathering to protest the statement of a certain rabbi who had spoken in a denigrating fashion of the saintly Chofetz Chaim, one of the speakers used the term, yemach shmo against the rabbi who had insulted the Chofetz Chaim. As soon as he did so, he turned the subject of the protest into a nirdaf (the one pursued), and entirely took the momentum out of the rallies called to protest the insult to the honor of the Chofetz Chaim.
The ultimate support for the atzeres tefillah, however, comes from Megillas Esther. Mordechai called upon the Jews of Shushan to fast and pray for Esther – to direct their words Heavenward – not to waste words on expressing their contempt for Haman.
This article first appeared in Mishpacha.