The Zionist Conspiracy
Friday, November 04, 2005
November 4, 1995 and Its Impact On Me
I'm not really sure the extent to which the murder of Prime Minister Rabin ten years ago today, on November 4, 1995, impacted my life. On one hand, it's quite likely that I'd eventually have ended up the same as I am now in any event. On the other hand, the assassination by a religious Jew - which followed all of the invective by other religious Jews - and the reaction to the murder by still more religious Jews catapulted me out of inertia and had an immediate effect on my worldview.
I was 22 years old then, in my second year at Columbia Law School, and still living in Boro Park.
I remember coming home from evening services at the conclusion of shabbos, checking my mail and turning on the TV. I flipped through channels very quickly. There were some college football games on, and Jimmy Carter was on CNN. I did not have any interest in either the college football or in Carter, so turned the TV off immediately.
About a minute later my mother asked me if I had heard "about Rabin." I said no, that I hadn't heard anything. She said, in a shocked voice, "he was assassinated."
I knew the definition of "assassinated," but perhaps my mind was unable to fully comprehend what I had just heard, because my reaction was to ask whether Rabin was dead.
We turned on the radio and learned that the murderer was a religiously observant Jew.
My father came home from shul, where, he said, a couple of people had said, "we'll get Peres next."
Soon, an idiot named Mike Guzovsky, a member of one of the outlawed Kahane groups, was heard expressing his excitement on the news stations. His fanaticism was joined by an American "rabbi" who also applauded the murder.
Then there was another person identified as a religious Jew, named Avishai Raviv, leader of Eyal, an extreme right-wing group in Israel, who praised Rabin's murderer, Yigal Amir. (Within days it was revealed that Raviv was actually an agent of the Shin Bet, Israel's secret service, a matter that remains murky and provides lots of credence to crackpot conspiracy theories.)
I turned on my computer and logged onto AOL's Jewish threads. Orthodox Jews were being bashed, even when almost all unequivocally condemned the murder.
I remembered that I had tickets to the next day's Jets game and was supposed to drive a friend to the game. I called the friend and told him that I could not go. He asked if I didn't want to go because of Rabin, which he pronounced "RAYBIN." He was not happy about my backing out, said he had no other way of going, and I relented and watched the Jets lose the next day, as they would lose 28 of 32 times during the 1995 and 1996 seasons.
I needed to get out. I took a walk outside for about an hour, just walking around Boro Park.
What I saw greatly disturbed me.
I did not see anyone express anything positive about the Rabin murder. But nor did I see anyone express anything at all about the murder.
Things in Boro Park were normal, basically indistinguishable from any other Saturday night. The pizza stores on 13th Avenue were full, people were just hanging out and having a good time, nothing out of the ordinary.
There was truly no sense that anything significant had transpired.
The Prime Minister of Israel had been murdered. Just another motzei shabbos in Brooklyn.
At least that was my perception then.
When I went to school on Monday morning, November 6, I had a sense that my despair was unique among observant Jews in the U.S. and that perhaps it demonstrated something about me rather than everyone else. So it was a relief to find numerous e-mail messages about the Rabin murder on an e-mail list for observant students (the list mainly related to updates about the afternoon mincha service in a professor's office).
I added an e-mail, expressing my outrage toward all those who I believed played a role in the hateful atmosphere prior to the murder, particularly American rabbis who indicated that Rabin was a "rodef" deserving of death.
A number of people - including the professor - came over to me to privately thank me and express agreement with the sentiments that I expressed. For the rest of the school year, I had lots of discussions with a couple of fellow students, particularly when I was supposed to be in class.
The next night, my two-hour Jewish Law class with Rabbi Saul Berman turned into a two-hour discussion about the Rabin murder and Orthodox political extremism.
It appeared to me that there was a world of difference between the modern/centrist Orthodox reaction to the murder, and the charedi response. Among charedim, the feeling was largely that the murder had nothing to do with them, that it was committed by a non-charedi religious Zionist lunatic whose ideology came from non-charedi religious Zionist extremist rabbis. Even charedi rabbis who issued strong condemnations - most notably the esteemed Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow - distanced the charedi world from the disgraceful action.
In contrast, I found there to be much more contemplation of the chilul hashem (desecration of G-d's name) caused by Yigal Amir in the non-charedi frum world. To be sure, this was in part because the political extremism that culminated in the Rabin murder mainly came from this sector of Orthodoxy, and there was a special responsibility for the modern/centrist/religious Zionist observant Jewish world to deal with the aftermath.
Whatever the reason, the bottom line was I found charedim to have little to say about the assassination, and non-charedim to be fully engaged in the matter. Yeshiva University President Rabbi Norman Lamm gave a meaningful eulogy, as did Rabbis Lichtenstein and Amital of Yeshivat Har Etzion and almost all of the leading religious Zionist rabbis.
On a lay level too, I found the response to be great different. Apathy at worst or distance at best from most charedim, and great pain on the part of many non-charedim (accompanied by great joy by a small but vocal minority of crazies who were mostly on the non-charedi side, but occasionally were Lubavitch chasidim in Crown Heights, Brooklyn).
All of this created - or more accurately added to - cynicism on my part toward the charedi community, and pushed me to zealously refuse to tolerate - and to speak out against - anything that I thought was wrong in the Orthodox world, and to basically reject the cultural norms of the charedi world - at least the Brooklyn charedi world that I was familiar with.
If previously I had a sense that much of the charedi world consisted of a mix of sincere religious zealots and insincere religious hypocrites, now I would come out and say so explicitly. If I had thought the obsession with modes of dress like wearing a black hat was stupid, I would stop wearing a hat and come out and say that unlike in Europe where wearing a hat was a sign of respect, in the late 20th century in the U.S., there was no religious importance to wearing a hat. If I thought that a charedi rabbi's disparaging remarks toward others was offensive, I would say offensive things about that charedi rabbi. If many frum people in Brooklyn appeared to me to be mindless practitioners of rote ritual devoid of any real interest in the Jewish religion, I would say that too. If I thought that the shidduch system was insane, and that people were obsessed with materialism and what the neighbors thought, I would condemn that too.
I had come to the conclusion that there were serious problems in the charedi community in which I lived, and that following the murder of Rabin, it was my responsibility to do whatever I could to reject what was wrong and to be part of a positive contribution to the Jewish world. After all, I thought, to not condemn what was wrong was to acquiesce in and accept the problems.
Not only did I not care if I what I said was provocative or offensive to people, and not only did I not care what others thought, but to the extent I did feel self-consciousness, my instinct was that if something made me uncomfortable, it was probably the right thing to do.
Not everything I started doing was negative. Even though I didn't live there on campus, I joined Tuesday night learning at Columbia, staying very late to study with a non-observant undergrad student. I got involved in some Jewish outreach activity, and engaged in informal dialogue with secular politically left-wing Israeli students on campus.
Of course, even this was a bit rebellious. After all, Tuesday night learning was mixed (don't worry, my study partner was male) and boys from Boro Park were not expected to have anything to do with even respected outreach groups like NCSY, since it also was mixed.
Having basically been raised to be what blogger Godol Hador would probably describe as left-wing charedi, all this caused me a fair amount of existential angst. I questioned everything I had been taught, read a lot - including just about everything written by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan that made sense to me - and came out of the process more comfortable distinguishing traditional Judaism from imperfect traditional Jews, and distinguishing charedi norms from the essential components of observant Judaism.
That's enough for now. Next week I'll post my thoughts about the religious and cultural differences between the charedi and non-charedi worlds.