So Who (What) Are We?

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32 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    “They have neither the time for niceties nor the bandwidth for constant politeness.”

    Do they have the time or bandwidth to explain how niceties and politeness eat up precious time? Among people in general, and of course among Jews who take Torah very seriously, these tools for interpersonal relations make things go much smoother.

    • I would argue, Bob, that the importance of “these tools for interpersonal relationships” vary in importance from culture to culture. When they are expected, they are essential. When not expected, as is the case among many Israelis, they are not.
      As I argue later in the piece, Israelis start the interaction at the second level, rather than the first-with many of the preliminaries unnecessary….

      • Bob Miller says:

        Since the context is that we Jews are a family, let’s focus on that. Family life doesn’t need exaggerated shows of politeness, but we both know that total matter-of-factness doesn’t work either, even when we’re being very helpful to someone else.

      • Baruch says:

        So it’s impossible For Jews to be both polite and caring? Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations!

      • Mycroft says:

        There is a problem. I was reading a book about Aging and example …”Polite in Tel Aviv might be thought as rude in Ottawa..” Successful Aging by Daniel J. Levitin page 8

  2. Isaac says:

    These wonderful comments and the attached article reminded me of a source that addressed this question years ago. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in “We Jews: Who Are We and What Should We Do” wrote a wonderful volume that dedicates the entire work to this question. In fact, he has an entire chapter dedicated to the approach that Judaism is a family. It is a wonderful book that gives the same answer as Rabbi Goldin but in a more comprehensive manner.

  3. joel rich says:

    so poor middot are allowable (or at least not discouraged)within a family?

  4. I hesitate to keep answering-but i have to-last comment I’ll make on this particular issue
    I think that we
    ‘re missing the point
    Poor middot are , at least partially, in the eyes of the beholder.
    I would stack up the deep caring shown by Israelis and Israeli society against the often superficial caring of other societies any day!

    • joel rich says:

      OK then no need to respond but that deep caring IMHO doesn’t provide a pass for poor middot which the beholder measures against traditional halachic sources.

  5. dr. bill says:

    Like many other things, there are both absolutes and items left to local custom. The boundary is most often (at least slightly) unclear. Tzniut is a good example.

    in Israel a few decades ago, someone entering a post-office found only a floor-washer mopping up. He asked, does no one work here today? the response, no we are closed this afternoon, no one works in the morning.

  6. Gavriel M says:

    This is the most preposterous explanation for the defects in Zionist society that I have ever seen. Next time I have to pick up dog s**t and broken glass in the middle of a children’s park, I’ll console myself with the precious time the dog owner saved himself.

    Israel was built by meshumadim gemurim. It’s not the worst country in the world and it’s not the best either. There’s no need for religious Jews to join an anti-zionist pile in, but there’s no need to leap to its defence either. The goal of Jews is not to integrate into zionist society by becoming rude and learning to drive like someone with a personality disorder, but to replace it with something better. There is nothing more lame than Anglos trying to gaslight themselves into thinking that every uncivilized facet of Israeli society is really awesome.

    (And, yes, as the above commentator noted, is the medium term, dispensing with niceties costs more time than it saves. Dispensing with niceties to save time is the mark of dysfunctional people with low time preference).

  7. Michoel Halberstam says:

    Dear Gavriel, its nice to have the luxury of comforting yourself by listing all your reasons for feeling superior. Yes, even if you think you are more religious than the next guy, these words have no meaning and will not engender any valuable response. But keep on doing it. Lots of like minded fools can’t get over the urge to do so. MJH

  8. dr. bill says:

    Gavriel, your statement is oxymoronic IMHO. the fact that they built the state of Israel means axiomatically that they are not “meshumadim gemurim.” perhaps some rabbis in the early years of the state thought so, but witnessing the Russian aliyah and Jews from all over the world arriving to escape rising anti-semitism should be more than sufficient to prove Rav Kook ztl and the Rav ztl prescient and correct. If I needed to label anyone a meshumad gamur, i would look elsewhere

    • Gavriel M says:

      the fact that they built the state of Israel means axiomatically that they are not “meshumadim gemurim.”

      What does that even mean?

      but witnessing the Russian aliyah and Jews from all over the world arriving to escape rising anti-semitism should be more than sufficient to prove Rav Kook ztl and the Rav ztl prescient and correct.

      Rav Kook, for what it’s worthy, refused to join Mizrahi because it was too subservient to secular zionism. I do not in any way dispute the correctness of establishing state. I am merely pointing out the indisputable, namely that the state was founded by people who ranged from non-observant to anti-religious and that Jews have no obligation to twist logic so as to portray every fault of the society they created as representing some deep hidden beauty. Dangerous driving is just bad, bus drivers driving past stops and closing the doors on old ladies (I saw this yesterday!) is just bad, incompetent obstructive bureaucracy is just bad. Full stop.

      • dr. bill says:

        My late father’s family came from the southern border of Poland and were in the lumber business and his father traveled to Vienna on business (around the turn of the 20th century.) He was on occasion asked how he deals with the Tumeh that envelopes Vienna. He said I go to shul, I go to my clients, I go back to shul, I eat and learn and I go back to sleep. I do not notice Tumeh.

        A person tends to see things that fit with his narrative and miss those that do not. That is ingrained into human nature; it will help you if you remember that.

      • They tell a similar story about the Klausinberger Rebbe, zt”l – a tzadik, if there ever was one. The hospital he built in Netanya apparently is close to the beach. Some of his chassidim complained that they found it difficult to visit the hospital because of all the women in various states of improper dress. His response? “Hmmm. I’ve walked there many times, and never noticed.”

      • Shades of Gray says:

        I heard a similar story, with  a touch of wit, about R. Alexander Linchner, who was a son-in-law of R. Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz and a principal of Torah Vodaas. As the  founder of Boys Town Jerusalem,  Rabbi Linchner met with many wealthy people, including women who were not modestly dressed. Someone once asked him, “you’ve met with the likes of  the Chazon Ish and Baba Sali, how do you also speak to such women ?”  R. Linchner responded, “all I see is people in long, green ($) dresses.”

        (My source for this story heard it from a  relative of R. Linchner.)

    • Mycroft says:

      The Rav certainly was certainly considering Aliyah in mid 30s when he visited Israel when there was apparent potential to receive a major position. He gave the Hesped at Agudah convention for RCOG. Certainly, by end of World War 11 he had joined Mizrachi, there is evidence that certainly before the end WW 11 he had to a great extent switched to Mizrachi. Not sure proof that Rav was prescient. He recognized mistakes that were made.

      • dr. bill says:

        Ironically both the Rav ztl and Rav Herzog ztl lost to one of the most prominent rabbis to join Mizrachi before the first world war, Rav Amiel. While Rav Herzog was a mizrachist, the Rav decidedly was not. neither had Rav Amiel’s zionist resume, particularly to be the CR of Tel Aviv. the letter his father wrote supporting his candidacy needs to be read carefully

      • Mycroft says:

        Dr Bill
        I remember reading the letter Rav Moshe wrote praising his son RYBS. IIRC part of the praise refers to RYBS being an expert in philosophy. Not sure what you are referring to when stating letter….needs to be read carefully

      • dr. bill says:

        it was written for a (very) more modern city and addressed the likely objections a young candidate would face.

      • Mycroft says:

        It was written by a proud father, what else is new RMS proud of RYBS or R NK of MOAG proud of RYK.
        Certainly father and sons of both RYBS andRYK had something to be proud of. What else is new

  9. Shades of Gray says:

    Start-Up Nation, an international bestseller about learning from Israel’s meteoric economic rise, begins with the following old joke before describing the positives of Israeli assertiveness in business, even among junior employees:

    “Four guys are standing on a street corner, an American, a Russian, a Chinese man, and an Israeli. A reporter comes up to the group and says to them: “Excuse me. . . . What’s your opinion on the meat shortage?” The American says: ‘What’s a shortage?’ The Russian says: ‘What’s meat?’ The Chinese man says: ‘What’s an opinion?’ The Israeli says: ‘What’s “Excuse me”? “

    “…Newcomers to Israel often find its people rude. Israelis will unabashedly ask people they barely know how old they are or how much their apartment or car cost; they’ll even tell new parents-often complete strangers on the sidewalk or in a grocery store-that they are not dressing their children appropriately for the weather. What is said about Jews-two Jews, three opinions-is certainly true of Israelis. People who don’t like this sort of frankness can be turned off by Israel, but others find it refreshing, and honest.”

    Perhaps the above can be explained by the stereotype of the Sabra, which like the desert fruit, needs to be tough on the outside to survive in a hostile region, but is sweet inside. A letter in Mishpacha from an American oleh mentioned this reason, as well as the family aspect point (“Why Wait in Passaic: Continued”, 1/30/19, available online):

    “Often, I get into conversations with precisely the “toughest” cases and I am surprised, time and again, to find that under the rudest exterior and most chiloni appearance there beats a Jewish heart that’s warm and open to me. I prefer rude brothers to polite strangers any day.”

    About the Israeli propensity to give unsolicited opinions, there is an apocryphal story told about Ben Gurion and President Eisenhower, who were each claiming that they had the tougher job. Ike says, “I am the president of two hundred million people”. Ben Gurion replies, “but I am the prime minister of two million presidents”.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    1. We should judge each other l’chaf zechus (other than the exceptions named in Chofetz Chaim).
    2. We should give each other sound advice, in a loving spirit. This doesn’t mean agreeing to all the creative excuses. How does anyone progress if we all tell him he’s just fine as-is?

  11. Michoel Halberstam says:

    Gavriel Apparently we should stop trying to find good things to say about Israeli society because we don’t like the Mizrahi. Do you seriously think you can peddle such an argument to Rav Kook, who was as you say really not interesting in joining the Zionist organization.

    The urge to point the finger at one cause for everything that is wrong, and that has to do with the defects if Zionism, is part and parcel of an ideology that rfeally has nothing positive to offer, but wants to be in charge anyway.

    • Gavriel M says:

      Hold up a second. I didn’t randomly start listing everything I don’t like about living in Israel. I’m responding to an article, which tries to justify even ambiguously sinful behaviour such as dangerous driving as a facet of the unique beauty of Israeli society.

      As I said before, Israeli society isn’t the worst and it isn’t the best either. In certain respects it is, frankly, kind of crummy. The most obvious and pervasive example of is the way Israelis are inculcated into trying not to be a freier (i.e. a civilized person), which makes daily life unnecessarily hectic, stressful and difficult for no benefit whatsoever. I suspect Rabbi Goldin has a nice income stashed away from the States and for him Israeli dysfunction is basically an abstract thing, something he occasionally encounters on the bus or at the ministry of absorption. Try, however, looking at the deep beauty of Israeli society when you’re working minimum age for a boss who screws you over every chance you get. Try it when you’ve called you’re landlord for the 15th time to get him to deal with the cockroaches he carefully concealed from when you signed the contract. Try it when you’ve been waiting six months for the police to provide you with redress etc. etc.

      None of these features are even uniquely Israeli. They are just as pervasive, for example, in ex-Soviet countries and that’s not a coincidence. There’s absolutely nothing virtuous about trying to explain every bad thing about Israel as an expression of its fundamental Jewishness. If anything, it’s slightly blasphemous.

  12. Baruch says:

    “All I see is people in long green ($) dresses”

    That is not a very complementary story.

  13. Nachum says:

    Can’t reply to the above anecdotes, but here’s another:

    Two Buddhist monks, one older, one younger, were walking down a country road. They came to a small stream. A young woman, not wanting to get her dress wet, was standing at the edge, hesitating to cross. Without pausing, the older monk picked her up, carried her across, and put her down. The two monks continued on together.

    After a while, the older monk saw that the younger was agitated. He asked him why and the younger one exploded: “I can’t believe you did that! You picked up and carried that woman! How could you have done that?”

    The older monk responded, “I left the young woman back at the side of the stream. You’re the one who’s still carrying her around.”

  14. Bob Miller says:

    If we have any integrity, we won’t be bought by donors with agendas. I doubt Rav Linchner’s donors were in that category. However, a multi-billionaire is trying to buy our very frum votes in 2020 (along with everyone else’s) and a new photo posted on this very site provides an example.

  15. Shades of Gray says:

    “That is not a very complementary story.”

    I think you mean “complimentary” 🙂   

     I checked with my source, and he clarified that  R. Linchner  meant the response in question tongue-in-cheek.

    He  told me another  complementary–and complimentary– story about Rabbi Linchner. For a few years on Simchas Torah, a busload of Jews from a  Reform congregation in Great Neck would arrive in Torah Vodaas in Williamsburg  to observe the dancing in the beis midrash. R. Linchner took these congregants under his wings, and explained to them what was going on. He is not sure why this group  decided to come to Torah Vodaas, but he observed R. Linchner interacting with them during the hakafos.

    In “Where Heaven Touches Earth: Jerusalem From Medieval Times To The Present” on the bottom of page 539, linked below, there is a  brief entry on Boys Town; you can see a description of the imprint  R Linchner made on the  younger generation of Israeli  immigrants from limited backgrounds , as well as a picture of him:  

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