“And I need some divine guidance from you!
Well, in reality, it will not be from you directly as I understand that this is not one of your most pressing problems of the moment. So I will just have to settle with the opinion of one of your professional representatives here on Earth – my local Rabbi. My difficulty is, how can I be certain that his interpretation of your divine will is the correct one?”
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef - "anxious and trembling?"(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This hypothetical question to God is not as absurd as it appears, well, not if you belong to that select group the “Chosen of the Chosen People”, the ultra-Orthodox Jews usually referred to as “Haredim”. It is interesting that the word “Haredi” is variously translated as meaning “anxious and/or trembling”.
If you had to live your life worrying about whether or not you were complying with the hundreds, if not thousands, of rules relating to simply being alive, you would also be “anxious”. Most normal people would be gibbering nervous wrecks, and would be regarded as living in a way totally removed from reality, in a sort of parallel universe.
Well, come to think about it, that is exactly the situation in which the Haredim find themselves. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that the situation is one that has been carefully created by their religious leaders over the centuries as a means of exercising control and domination.
It would be unfair to criticise the God created by man for the actions of those claiming to act in his/her name. As I have explained at length in a previous article, it was man who also created the necessary infrastructure to market the initial concept. (1)
So, I suppose you are wondering: “What on Earth has all this got to do with onions?” Well, there is a direct connection; the onion is simply a representative symbol of what brings additional anxiety into the lives of those who are already anxious enough.
I can best illustrate this by relating a true story that describes events that occurred recently inside one of our Haredi communities. Firstly, I need to explain that within Haredi society it is the norm for each individual to have their own personal Rabbi. This Rabbi is more than simply a spiritual adviser. He is a combination of guru, mentor, Halachic interpreter and the absolute epitome of “he who must be obeyed.”
He may also be required (or volunteer) to carry out a close inspection of the woman’s knickers once a month to certify that her period is over and that the process of procreation can begin again. By all accounts it is certainly not “sex” as understood in the secular world. And I’m also not certain if the Rabbi regards this inspection as an obligation or a perk of the job.(2)
But I digress – so back to the mundane world of onions!
This onion brings tears for the wrong reason.......
This story is about two longtime friends, lets call them Sarah and Rivka. One day, Rivka visits her friend and finds her eating some fish. She had brought with her a small salad, within which were some sliced onions. Sarah questioned her friend about the knife she used to cut the onions; she was particularly concerned that the knife had not been in contact with any meat product in the 25 hour period prior to being used.
According to the Halacha (Jewish religious law), onions or lemons are considered examples of items whose juices are so powerful that they absorb the molecules of anything that knife had been in contact with.(3) They decided to consult their respective Rabbis for their opinions. Now this is where the story takes an unexpected turn.
Their Rabbis were known in the community to be engaged in some kind of “power struggle” over which of them gave the most definitive rulings. The problem was that their different character, personality and worldview, inevitably resulted in contrasting opinions. Rabbi “R”, whilst still adhering to the basic tenets of the law, always searched for a reasonable or pragmatic way to resolve a question. Rabbi “G”, on the other hand, was a stickler for the absolute traditional interpretation, without any deviation or consideration for reality. He considered himself the leading authority and reveled in his strictness.
Consequently, when confronted with the conundrum of the status of the onion, his decision moved beyond this one specific onion, and entered a much wider realm. He counselled his supplicant thus: “If your friend is so careless in cutting onions as to not be aware of the dangers involved, you must assume that she is also careless in her general adherence to other religious strictures. I rule that you cannot trust her, and I forbid you to eat in her home ever again.”
And thus ended a beautiful and longstanding friendship. Two families torn apart by the ego of one Rabbi.
Those of you not sitting with your mouths open in disbelieving horror, will be wondering: “how could this be possible? What was the real strength of their friendship? How could anyone allow a Rabbi’s rant to have such influence on their life?”
It is impossible for a rational individual to comprehend, but Haredim live in a framework of minutia that would drive normal people insane. Some might contend that one would need to be somewhat insane to choose to live in this way, with these degrees of unlimited constraints.
The truth is that this way of life is a perfect example of the power of brainwashing from the earliest possible age. It has very little to to with the love of a God, and everything to do with the desire of the Rabbis to control, dominate and manipulate the lives of gullible people in order to satisfy their own needs, desires and ambitions.
Somehow, this situation has evolved from the historical need of the Jews to maintain a form of lifestyle that ensured that they would not assimilate and become absorbed into the society in which they were living. What was, at one time, a relatively simple following of dietary restrictions on a basic level, together with the observance of religious traditions, has somehow mutated into this plethora of codes and laws.
Many argue that what may have been necessary in the diaspora, ceased to be relevant with the creation of the State of Israel, at least for those who moved here. Jews were no longer a minority seeking to preserve their unique character, but were now an independent and, hopefully, a proud people restored to their homeland. So what is there to prove and to protect against?
The Haredim are the perfect example of the validity of the oft repeated adage: “you can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the Jew.”
Some of the more extreme sects are determined not to come to terms with the 21st century. And, so long as there are onions and knives and messianic Rabbis and their adherents, so will they remain locked in the time capsule of their ignorance.
I don’t know what you feel about this blind faith, and I know such blindness is not exclusive to Judaism.
But it sure frightens the hell out of me, however it manifests itself.
Andyboy – Telling it as it is!