Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fuzzy Math

In a post yesterday, ProfK made a point that reminded me of a discussion that we had here on Shabbos:
Along with the aforementioned "laws" are two others: 1) the whole is equal to the sum of its parts and 2) no part can be greater than the whole. This is where things get a little sticky in the frum world. There are those who act as if these principles are false when it comes to religion.

If the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, then there is no "whole" without all the parts. We have Klal Yisroel--let's call that our whole. There are any number of parts that make up that whole. They are not all identical but they are all parts. Because there can be no whole without ALL the parts, every part has value. Try paying for something that costs $1.00 with only 81 cents. There are some parts of Klal that are clearly not happy with this state of things. Not only do they feel that other parts of Klal have no value, but they don't seem to consider them parts of the whole at all. Some parts seem to feel that if the other parts disappeared altogether the whole would be strengthened, not diminished. Some parts seem to feel that unless all the other parts are exactly like them then those different parts cannot belong to the whole.
On Shabbos, we were discussing the Charedi world - particularly in Eretz Yisrael - and the economics thereof. Included on the guest list were two brothers with opposing views: One half-jokingly suggested cutting off the charedi world completely when it came to finances, while the other was clearly upset by this remark.

Now, I'm more than a little biased: I have 40 charedi relatives, including more than a few who are directly benefited by the government, living in Israel. I'd like them to be able to live in a much more comfortable fashion, without question. But as I posed to this brother... who exactly should be paying for this?

It is very simplistic to argue that which I've heard many times before, that the Charedim are doing their share of supporting the country by learning. Whether this is true or not, and even this brother seemed to feel that it should be limited to a much more select group, this is a line of reasoning that simply will not fly among the rest of the country. This is true for a few reasons, but primary among them is the lack of feeling by the rest of the country that the Charedim include them in any other way into their lives. It is hard to completely cut yourself off as a group from everyone else for everything but money - to treat almost everyone else as a subgroup of Judaim, while simultaneously announcing that your group deserves to get handouts from everyone via the government. And while it's very easy to wave off the government as anti-Torah, but without showing them why they should be pro-Torah, it's impossible to expect them to give money toward it.

While thinking of governments, we found it interesting later in the day to read 3:2 in Pirkei Avos later that day: "Pray for the welfare of the government, because if people did not fear it, a person would swallow his fellow alive." According to R' Yonah (via Artscroll), it is a call for Jews to take an interest in public issues. Meanwhile, Mili D'Avos notes that it is a continuation from 3:1, which calls on people to recognize where they come from (a putrid drop) and where they are going (to a place of dust, worms, and maggots) so as not to sin. While that works when it comes to sinning against God, it doesn't when it comes to man - after all, he is coming from the same nothing and heading to the same fate, and a person might feel they have "earned" a higher stature. To counter this, R' Chanina says that it is only fear of governmental intervention that can stop someone.

It is interesting that communal problems often start where groups seem to at best ignore, at worst outright defy governmental guidelines and decide for themselves what should be happening. If groups within the Jewish community wish certain things for themselves, the way to go about it is not to try and force it on the rest of the community, even as they don't take part in the whole. It has to come by working from within, by understanding the give and take necessary to get whatever it is they desire. This needs to be done on a personal, religious, communal, and governmental level, or the splits that are already all too clear will lead to a level of abandonment in which neither side will feel a responsibility to help the other recover from the mistakes they warned about.