Friday, March 14, 2008

The BPS (Bansmanship Policies and Standards) Commission

[In the "Better late than never" department, here's a link to last Sunday's Haveil Havalim. Sorry for the delay, Gila.]

[And in the "Better on-time than late" department, here's a link to the new Haveil Havalim; thanks for the link, Jack.]

In honor of Purim, and to blow off steam after a long week, I present to you something I [really, really] hope you won't take too seriously... which has no relationship whatsoever with this:

The BPS (Bansmanship Policies and Standards) Commission

There was a time when a ban meant something, when sages were sages and charamim were charamim, when the cagey old machrim sheriff roamed the streets of Bnei Brak, hand on the ready kulmus in his holster, his eyes peeled for law-breakers. In those days, in those parts, there was a respect for the law, because you knew that to venture on the wrong side of the issur was to risk a thousand mimeographed klalos. In those days, any cherem which reached our desk was automatically approved, our names attached with zerizus; we were confident that in signing on to a cherem, we were serving the interests of klal yisrael.

Those excellent charamim, from a beis din of mumchin, incorporated art and science. They served the best interests of Torah and yiras shamayim with aesthetic perfection. The text incorporated interwoven midrashim and pesukim, subtle gematria combinations and roshei teivos and sofei teivos detectable only under expert analysis. And the rhymes, the meter! Such poetry as even Ibrahim Ibn Sahl and the rest of those “ibn” poets never conjured with all of their pseudo-Arabic Qasida and Muwashsha structures.

But no longer. There is a decline in bansmanship, as the shamta has become popular sport instead of sacred craft. Today, every young upstart thinks he can ban with the best of them; bansmanship has become a hobby for the young, the uninitiated, the wet-behind-the-payes, to whom the legacy of machrimim of yesteryear is ancient history.

This new generation of communal authorities pays no attention to the counsel of its elders; to their minds, they have invented the practice, and none who came before can advise on technique or judgment.

The bans of these new batei din are barely legible, their Yiddish weak and their grammar worse, poorly crafted, rushed to the pashkivilim producers who neglect their duties as editorial gatekeepers. We recall one publisher who refused a poster of ours - our beis din tzedek, yes! - decades ago, because we had employed a mixed metaphor in describing the inevitable, horrific results of the acceptance of fax machines in our community. No longer; today it is all about the shekalim.

The result is clear: Such charamim are not charamim, and raise no reaction at all in the people they are meant to enlighten and aid. In our own day, בעוונותינו הרבים, prutzim run free, unconcerned about any communal response to their lawlessness. With our own downcast eyes we have seen people walking בקומה זקופה, with upright posture, without shame! Email addresses are exchanged in open conversation, without so much as an apologetic, “I only use those Intanets for email, and then only when my wife is present.” These sub-standard charamim are weakening klal yisrael.

Therefore, we have reached the stage where we cannot simply sign on to any cherem that crosses our desk.

Instead, with a heavy heart, we hereby create the Bansmanship Policies and Standards commission. From this day forward, any “rabbi” wishing to create a cherem must approach one of the approved batei din listed by our beis din tzedek. All new charamim, particularly those come from the ארעא חשוכא overseas, will require a thorough background check, in order to verify the kashrus of those who have penned it. Charamim issued by unlisted batei din and rogue tzurba meirabbanan will not be honored.

Note that any past cherem will continue to be honored, if their issuers were recognized as of the date on the cherem. However, any talmid chacham wishing to be included on the list of approved machrimim going forward will be expected to undergo a rigorous training and examination regimen, coupled with a thorough investigation into his background and conduct, and that of his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, and their mechutanim, and their mechutanim's mechutanim.

It is certainly not our wish to create division in the global Jewish community. It is our hope that through these new standards, we will be מחזיר עטרה ליושנה, we will restore the true meaning and authority of cherem, and so bring about משיח צדקנו, כן יהי רצון.

beis din - court (batei din pl.)
beis din tzedek - our court
cherem - ban (charamim pl.)
intanets - the thing connecting my computer to all of those treife computers
issur - ban
klal yisrael - The Jewish people
klalos - curses. Not at all related to the plural of 'klal yisrael,' really!
kulmus - quill
machrim - issuer of a ban (machrimim pl.)
mechutanim - in-laws, sort of
mumchin - experts
prutzim - people who don't listen to beis din tzedek
shamta - yet another word for ban
talmid chacham - my son-in-law
tzurba meirabbanan - young buck
yiras shamayim - awe of Heaven
zerizus - energy, zeal, gusto, joie d'Torah