Friday, March 26, 2010

Learning about Israeli society through a haircut

With Pesah quickly approaching, on Tuesday I headed back to my trusted hair-cutter Micha (next to the new Marzipan on Rahel Imeinu, for those keeping track at home). As I've noted before, Micha sometimes insults me without meaning to, but always inspires a good conversation, usually based on what's on the radio, and gets a laugh to go along with that.

There's a fierce give and take around the Ashkelon hospital right now, a fight which manifests the larger tensions between the Haredi influence on government society and everyone else. After discovering ancient graves where the Barzilai Hospital was planning to build its new emergency room (which had been bombed by kassam missiles coming from Gaza), Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman demanded that the new building not be built adjacent to the hospital, but rather in a new location, away from the main building, and not over the (to-be) former graves. While the hospital would have moved the bodies, the United Torah Judaism (a Haredi political party) appointee would not budge on the decision, and the Netanyahu cabinet essentially chose to keep the coalition over overturning Lizan's decision. The project will delay the building for two years, according to all sources make it tougher for doctors to do their jobs. For more information on the events over the past week see here and here.

When this news item came across the radio while I was getting my hair cut, Micha went on a bit of a tyrade against the decision and religion in general. I noted that this was more politics than religion, but it's hard not be furious about the decision, I'll give him that. He also acknowledged the political supertext of the decisions at play.

After finishing the cut, I paid him, gave him a "todah achi" (literally, thanks, my brother, but doesn't really translate as such) put on my kippah. He pointed to it and said, "Keep wearing that kippah (a knitted one). Don't wear a black one."

On one hand it was an amusing comment. As the hit show Srugim (Hebrew for knit kippah) illustrates (among other things), how one wears this head garment reflects deep sociological realities in Israel. But really it's just depressing -- you're religion is fine. Just don't become like THEM.

In a state of 7 million and a nation of about 14 million, there sure is a lot of finger pointing. With good reason many times. But in wears on all of us.

(Thanks to the Peaceful lion for this insight)
In his dvar torah this past week, Rav Benny Lau of Ramban synagogue in Katamon (among one of his many titles) presented the concept of Takkanat HaShavim to illustrate the tremendous gulf between the law in its ideal state and that in its actual State, manifest by the Ashkelon controversy. The Tosefta (Bava Kamma 10:2) offers two opinions for the penalty of how one must repay a situation where a person steals a brick and subsequently builds a house with that brick. According to Beit Shammai, the individual must deconstruct the entire house and return the actual brick. Beit Hillel says that the individual must pay a monetary penalty, an enactment which becomes known as Takkanat HaShavim. If the individual were required to tear down his house, Rabbi Yohanan ben Gudgedah argues (Mishna Gittin 5:5) according to Hillel's logic, the thief would be crippled monetarily and spiritually from doing the needed teshuva that is required of him.

Such is the case here, argued R. Lau. The decision by UTJ and the deputy health minister continues a crippling of peoples' relationship to religion, it highjacks the law and returns it to the strictest interpretation which was rejected centuries ago by civil and religious discourse.

The comments in the barber shop were tinged with anger. And with good reason.

It is more than a political party that comes out looking like the other with a case like this. It is tradition, crede, even God which are shaded black. R. Benny's words ring strongly in my ears. May his leadership and those like him be an inspiration for those in Israel and inded around the world.

And with that, the blog is back in action. It's good to be back.


  1. nice post, it's sad to hear first hand about how painful this internal tension I hope you're loving the new season of Srugim as much as I am!

    Hag Kasher V'sameach!

  2. Good to hear from you Gabe. It's moments like these that make the experience very real and tangible. Enjoy the final weeks of school.