Monday, Jun 10, 2024

The Host Culture Is Not Yovon

The article published last week in this space generated a stronger response than I have experienced in a long time. I must confess that I initially thought that there would be tremendous backlash. I thought that I would have to take a fair amount of abuse for being so candid. I decided that it was worthwhile, but braced myself. In truth, I did receive a tremendous amount of feedback, but it was almost all positive. I received calls from countless people, fellow like-minded men and women from throughout our collective communities, all saying the same thing: “Finally! Someone has spoken up for us! The Yated has given us a voice and echoed our concerns and our feelings.”
The response came not only from amcha Yidden. Among them were calls from two roshei yeshiva and one rebbe.
It was refreshing and validating. Clearly, there is a massive silent majority that doesn’t have the time or the money to invest in fancy copy and glossy ads, and are disgusted by the parading of overt consumerism and Olam Hazeh, sometimes under a thinly disguised veneer of Yiddishkeit to top it off.
In fact, throughout Chanukah, I have been hearing and reading about the culture of Yovon, the streets of Yovon that the umos ha’olam have brought upon us, and how we must resist it. I follow what is going on in the umos ha’olam quite a bit – it is part of my job at the Yated – and the truth is that it is not so easy to find the culture of Yovon in the host culture.
Truth be told, I am not seeing the culture of Yefes in our host culture, but rather much more of the Bnei Chom. I am also seeing the culture of totalitarian communists, who used overt and covert threats of violence and violent social pressure to club people over the head to conform to their worldview.
To me, this is not Yovon. Yovon was the culture of Aristotle, the great thinkers, who tried to sway people through ideas – ideas that were false and wrong, but ideas nonetheless. Today, it isn’t ideas. It is primarily brute force, total hefkeirus, and a mob mentality that perhaps reminds us more of the “Ivan” and “Stefan” of Poland and Russia, who drank copious amounts of liquor and then took out their knives to try slicing the Jews into two.
Today, we see flashes of the Bnei Chom in the riotous behavior of the Black Lives Matter totalitarian and violent movement. We see it in the open anti-Semitism of “The Squad” and the violent intolerance on university campuses across the country. This isn’t Yovon. It certainly isn’t the Yovon of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato.
Just look at the story of Chanukah. The Yevonim were not an enemy of brutes. They were actually a cultured nation. When they entered the Bais Hamikdosh, they didn’t bust the place down, loot it, and set it on fire like we have seen the BLM rioters do in large cities across the United States. They didn’t even smash and destroy all the oil. They left it intact…
…And made it tamei.
It looked exactly the same as before. The difference? Before they arrived, it was tahor. Now, it was tamei. Cultured people don’t smash oil bottles and spill them all over the place.
Did they destroy the gates of the Azarah with sledgehammers? No. Cultured people don’t do that. Yes, they took over the Bais Hamikdosh, but they didn’t destroy it. That was not their mode of operation. They had no problem retaining the outer shell and tzurah of Yiddishkeit, but they wanted to taint it from within. They wanted the klipah of Yiddishkeit, the outer shell, to remain but it would be devoid of inner purity. Bottom line: They wanted to strip away its kedushah.
Yovon is not the brutal, two-legged animal we have seen in our golus in Poland, Russia, or even the hefkeirus here, in modern-day America.
No, Yovon, is much more cultured…and therefore much more dangerous. They have this ability to be metameh Yiddishkeit in what appears to be genteel, retaining the outer trappings but robbing it of its kedushah.
The truth is that today’s streets and the behavior of the umos among whom we reside are not nearly as cultured as Yovon. On the contrary, they are an embarrassment to Yovon.
You know where the culture of Yovon is truly a threat? From within. From within our own communities and from people who look, dress and daven in the same shuls as we do. The threat of Yovon, sadly, is more from within than without.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Friedman tells a story about the present Rachmastrivka Rebbe of Boro Park, one of the elder admorim of our time.
Several years ago, as the rebbe’s kehillah grew, there were plans to move out of the tiny bais medrash located in the rebbe’s home. The kehillah embarked on a massive building campaign to build a new, large bais medrash in Boro Park. In honor of the hanochas even hapinah, many wealthy people went to the rebbe and gave large donations for the new building. The rebbe gave each person a warm brocha and the money was collected by his son, who would give it to the askanim working on the building.
At one point, there were two bochurim from the kehillah who very much also wanted to give something in honor of the special occasion. What could they give? They did not have large sums of money at their disposal. They decided that in honor of the hanochas even hapinah, they would accept upon themselves to learn a certain number of sha’os retzufos, uninterrupted hours of limud haTorah. They went to the rebbe and presented a paper to him that they had signed, saying that they accepted upon themselves to learn a certain number of uninterrupted hours in honor of the hanochas even hapinah.
When the rebbe read the note, he became very emotional. With tremendous joy, the rebbe gazed at them and exclaimed, “This is the true even hapinah of our bais medrash!” He then extended their visit in his room by giving them a long shmuess full of chizuk and guidance in avodas Hashem.
Later, the rebbe called his sons and said, “Today, I received a very substantial, important donation.” The sons thought that a Yid must have left a million-dollar check, until the rebbe took out that beloved piece of paper upon which the bochurim had written their “donation” and told them, “Look at what an important nesinah I received!”
Why am I repeating this story? Because sometimes we are so focused on the tafeil that it becomes the ikkur. Ask anyone: What is the purpose of a bais medrash? They will answer that a bais medrash is for Torah and tefillah. After all, what else is a bais medrash made for? For some reason, however, the money aspect takes on significance above and beyond its ultimate purpose. The ultimate honor is given to the philanthropist who donates large sums, while the bochur who sits and learns or davens in that bais medrash is barely noticed. Why? Because money is money, and it is important. Without it, you takeh can’t build that bais medrash and sustain a yeshiva. Yet, we must remember that the purpose of money is as a conduit, not something that has intrinsic value.
We find this culture of Yovon almost tainting our Yiddishkeit with what ostensibly looks like Jewish values. That is truly dangerous. For example, I saw ads for latkes and meat products that cost insane amounts of money shamelessly trying to sell these decadent food products by citing various quotes from seforim about preserving minhagim on Chanukah, specifically with regard to eating oil-based foods.
Please! If using minhagim to convince people to eat maachalei cholov or maachalei bosor is not Yovon hiding beneath a thin, transparent veneer of authentic Jewish minhagim, trying to infiltrate our kodesh and kodesh kodoshim, I am not sure what is.
It is these manifestations of Yovon – those that come wrapped in righteous cloaks of some aspect of mitzvos – of which we must be wary.
It isn’t only about selling food. It is also about selling Torah. The Maharsha complained in his time that Torah was being sold to the highest bidder. He protested the fact that distinguished rabbinic posts in 17th-century Poland were being bought by unworthy candidates because they paid money into the community coffers to procure the job.
Not so long ago, the lines between Torah and gedulah were better defined. By and large, those with tremendous wealth were not well-versed in Torah and therefore could not push their opinions on contemporary issues, cloaking it in scholarship. Today, there are those with some degree of Torah knowledge who are not ensconced in the bais medrash and buy print or air space for themselves to peddle their views on contemporary disputes related to halachic and hashkafic issues. They invite and pay rabbonim in various ways to come and convey their opinions and give it a veneer of legitimacy. That is also a manifestation of Yovon in our times.
American naval officer Hazard Perry sent a dispatch to President William Henry Harrison saying, “We have met our enemy and it is us.”
Perhaps we can paraphrase those words and say that if there is a culture of Yovon that we must fear and defeat, that threat is not coming from some Greek enemy, but rather from within, from the Yevoni culture within our own communities.



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