Recommendations for the 'new' haredi. Should haredim start waving the stars and stripes from their homes?
By JOSHUA J. ADLEREyes To See: Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust
By Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz
More than just an intriguing title, Eyes to See is a powerful critique of haredi behavior written by a haredi Holocaust survivor living in Brooklyn.
In this controversial book, Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz concentrates on sins committed by haredim and their rabbis in violation of mitzvot bein adam lehavero - commandments between man and his fellow man. Beyond the sins themselves, Schwarz points out, when rabbis and yeshiva heads are caught cheating, they are most guilty of hillul Hashem, profaning God's name.
The interesting angle on this issue is Schwarz's contention that an increased decline in ethical standards, even among haredi leaders, is a post-Shoah phenomenon, corresponding with greater division within the haredi community.
Schwarz faults the haredi world for never having instituted a day of mourning in honor of the Holocaust. He reminds the reader of a time, following the pogroms in Poland and the Ukraine, when rabbinic leaders declared the 20th of Sivan ( Kaf B'Sivan) as a day of fasting and special prayers. According to the author, this day was observed for many years after the 17th century, at least among Polish Jews. Certainly the Holocaust should merit similar remembrance.
Another view, never mentioned in any other book on Judaism, is also touted in this book - namely that Jews should show patriotism and fly their host nation's flag from their homes. Schwarz, who came to the US in the '50s, feels that all American Jews, including the haredim, should display the Stars and Stripes, especially on national holidays such as the Fourth of July and Memorial Day. Jews, more than any other group, should go out of their way to show appreciation for the sacrifices Americans have made for freedom - especially for defeating the Nazis.
Concern for the opinion of gentile neighbors is but one aspect of Schwartz's criticism. Haredim, he insists, should also concern themselves with the impression they make on less-observant Jews. He holds that most so-called "secularists" are not really anti-religious, and should be considered as brothers because they presumably never had an opportunity for religious education. (However, he does not reveal his attitude towards those who are learned, but choose not to observe the rituals according to Orthodox standards.)
One important subject missing in the book is a discussion of the relationship between haredim and the secular Zionist state of Israel. After mentioning that living in Eretz Yisrael is a big mitzva, Schwarz gives a very weak justification for observant Jews who remain in Exile.
Despite such questions, I would especially recommend this book or its Hebrew version to haredim, who might be stimulated to re-evaluate the way they view those who are not part of their community.
A special feature of this book is the appendix, which contains biographical information on approximately 100 scholars and rabbis whose writings are quoted. In addition, there is also an interesting biographical sketch of the author, including a brief description of how the Torah learning of his youth helped him survive the Nazi camps. Among his halachic writings is a multi-volume collection of responsa, Adnei Nechoshes, praised by many Torah sages.
In closing, one must give a great deal of credit to Avraham Leib Schwarz, the author's son, for his felicitous translation and editing.
The writer is managing editor of the Jewish Bible Quarterly, published in Jerusalem.