It seems as if the Orthodox community suffers from an ability to completely miss a text for...well, I can't say "for a subtext," because the sad fact is they seem to be missing it, period. This thought occurred to me as I listened to the haftarah yesterday, full of its warnings about thieves and bribery and injustice, and wondered just what people like these beauties arrested last week hear when that is read. (Leaving aside, of course, kiddush clubs and hassidic mumbling of haftarot.)
In fact, there's an even more obvious example: The very use of the term "Hillul Hashem." It seems that to too many Orthodox Jews, it means, "An embarrassment to the Jewish people." (To be more precise, to Orthodox Jews- you didn't hear as many people defending Madoff, or signs going up about the issur of lashon hara then, did you?) Well, yeah, to a degree. But why ignore the literal meaning? It means "a disgrace of God" (to be a bit more accurate, God's name.) Now, granted, some may not like saying that God can actually be affected by our actions, although the idea exists elsewhere as well. And far too many people, as it happens, don't really believe in God, whether they know it or not. But the simple fact of the idea of Hillul Hashem is that the (religious) Jewish people, by virtue of their closeness to God as well as their mission to spread His word, are His image on Earth, and if they mess up, well, that hurts His Image, of course.
(Looking back on this years later, I realize I missed the most important point: Namely, that too often the threat that there will be a "hillul Hashem"- however that's understood- is used to try to prevent behavior that just shouldn't be done because it's objectively wrong. But perhaps that's asking too much, Lord have mercy.)
And boy, are they messing up lately. The problem, sadly, is that while Orthodox Jews may be big on the "closeness" idea, most- at least in the Haredi end of things- have no inkling of the "spread of the word" mission. In Israel- where the "other" to whom the message is to be spread is Jewish!- it seems the main goal of Haredim is to "get theirs" and let the rest of the country go chase themselves. In America, it's not much better, which is why Gil Student can write a whole post about how Jews shouldn't concern themselves with gay marriage (mirroring not just the Haredi world as a whole but those slightly to its right, those indifferent ones across the spectrum, all organizational life, and leftists who are just fine with it, r'l) and someone can actually articulate, in a comment, that "I don't think the Torah requires us to monitor morals of wider society." That, of course, misses the whole point of the Torah.
And so that leaves a scattering of Modern Orthodox (and Dati Leumi, in Israel) and, of all people, R' Mayer Schiller and other unexpected voices. The rest, sadly, increasingly follow a religion of men, not of God.
Ah, that's all too depressing. Let me move on to a cheerier, albeit somewhat related, topic. Last Monday I attended my last meeting of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, our annual meeting with the local police precinct commander. I handed over "the books" to the new treasurer, and the president made some remarks about how they'll miss me. That would have been more than enough for me- I hate being the center of things, even though I crave it. (I am large, I contain multitudes.) And then, this morning, the doorbell rings, and it's another board member: They got me a beautiful leather computer bag, complete with cards wishing me well in Israel. I tell you, it's difficult to explain to non-Jews why one is packing up and making Aliyah, but with such neighbors, it's almost required that I say that I'm not leaving them so much as moving to the place I've always wanted to be. Of course, it helps that both halves of that statement are true- and that's probably the best way to go anyway. I hope.