Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Defrocking a chassid

[Post I’m reading: Egypt’s new “democracy” wants to destroy Israel, at the Muqata]

So I’m standing on line at passport control with a couple hundred of my closest friends of the past eleven hours, all of us naturally wondering why Monday morning at Ben Gurion saw only 3 lanes open for foreign passports [“We had no idea there were planes coming in!” someone sitting in an office somewhere might explain…], when a youngish traveller brought forward an elderly man in a wheelchair and cut an entire line, dozens of people.

A woman toward the head of the line muttered loudly, and then repeated several times with successively greater amplication, that he should have asked, that he should be ashamed of himself, and that “derech eretz kidmah [sic] latorah” [half-quoting, and somewhat agrammatically altering, the midrash in Avot d’Rabbi Natan that points out that human beings were told to live as a decent society long before they were given the Torah, in order to prepare them for the Torah].

From an emotional standpoint, I agreed with her; perhaps the man in the wheelchair needed a bathroom or some sort of medical care, or couldn’t take being in the chair for the next hour, but who gave them the right to jump the queue without so much as an apology? She should have addressed the young man directly and not simply rabble-roused for the crowd around her, but the complaint itself made sense.

But there was an additional element here, which upset me. The wheelchair-bound man, and the person wheeling him, were chassidim; Skverer, I think. And if I had to make certain stereotype-based generalizations based on dress and tone, I’d guess the woman was right-wing Conservative or left-wing Modern Orthodox. And it seems to me that the complaint was more a product of religious animus than indignation at the chassid’s rudeness.

I’m not excusing people who cut lines; I was as upset as she was, and more so because it was obvious that this would generate chillul HaShem. But her tirade made offensive assumptions about Torah. She could have complained about his behavior without turning Torah into a weapon, without acting as though she had exclusive claim to interpretation of the Torah’s desires.

From my vantage point, the woman was not venting frustration with his behavior; she was delegitimizing him as a Torah-observant Jew.

I sometimes hear observant Jews complain about women who want to wear tallitot or tefillin, saying that the women involved don’t grasp the true nature of these mitzvot, that if they understood what tallit and tefillin were all about then they wouldn’t campaign for the opportunity to wear them. I understand their point – but I don’t necessarily have the right to delegitimize others’ views. And the same should have been true for this woman, standing in line, delegitimizing the view of the chassid who was wheeling the elderly man.

Perhaps he has a different view of Torah and its priorities. Perhaps he felt the people on line would remember מפני שיבה תקום and similar statements about respecting the elderly and their needs. Maybe, as he sees it, דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה means that people who are in line should be automatically understanding of the needs of the elderly, and should not demand apologies for addressing those needs. Or, perhaps, he assumed that people in line would see that he was helping an elderly person and would apply the principle of דן לכף זכות, of judging others favorably.

And she responded by revoking his status as a chassid, so to speak. Uncool, in my book.

So that’s my rant for the morning. Have a great day.


  1. dan l'kaf zchut according to R'YBS is retrospective, cavdeihu v'chashdeihu is prospective.

    Did the wheelchair occupant or assistant explain their reasons after being challenged? was there anyone in charge of the area who could eplain the line policy? Did he call an halachic authority?....

    one must also consider vhiyitem nkiyem...

    Joel Rich

  2. for some reason I can't post my link for HH in the carnival page. Here is my link:
    Thank-you. Rickismom

  3. Joel-
    I absolutely don't defend that person who cut the line. But I don't think that justifies the approach of the baalat mussar here.

    Odd. Perhaps it's because no host is listed for this week; I don't host until the 13th. Might be a good idea to check with Jack.

  4. Rickismom,

    Try submitting again.

  5. Speaking her indignation in public is not appropriate for a number of reasons; the possible embarrassment that it could have caused is certainly near the top of the list.

  6. Zach-
    While I disagree with her for the reasons outlined in the post, and I certainly don't condone public humiliation, I'm not sure that it would be inappropriate in all situations. I believe there are times and forums in which public mecha'ah is demanded.