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Tuesday 6 May 2008

Reform Reflections: Inspiration from the Haredi community

Reform Reflections: Inspiration from the Haredi community

Posted by Rabbi Michael Marmur
Although they will not thank me for the endorsement, I have decided to
come out in favor of the Haredi community in Jerusalem. Many in the
Ultra-Orthodox world are disgusted by the decision of the courts,
supported by the Attorney General, not to force businesses in Jerusalem
to refrain from selling chametz during the festival of Passover this
year. Following the decision of the court, representatives of the edah
charedit have sent letters to some sixty businesses and outlets pleading
with them not to sell leavened products during Pessach in the City of Gold.
I like this response. By turning to these fellow Jerusalemites and
asking them to reconsider their decision, these Haredi representatives
are playing according to the rules of a modern liberal democracy. It
remains to be seen if some within the community escalate their
opposition to the dreaded chametz, and move from words to sticks and
stones. But so long as the opposition is reasoned, respectful and
peaceful, it should be supported.
I write these words in the midst of my own battle with the forces of
leaven, the chametz which lies around my house, in my car, and even more
elusively - in my heart. I perceive these days of Passover preparation
as some of the most significant and profound of the Hebrew calendar. The
Passover of which I dream is indeed leaven-free. But the Israel I dream
of living in is one in which leaven should not be outlawed. Exploiting
the institutions of state in order to enforce the great teachings of
Judaism is a tragic error, and it helps contribute to alienation and anger.
A representative of the Haredi community (this is a confusing and
imprecise term, since there are almost infinite variations and nuances
within the Ultra-Orthodox world) was interviewed on the radio this
morning, and he explained why it was so crucial to keep all chametz out
of Jerusalem. He told the tragic tale of Orthodox grandchildren visiting
with their secular grandparents in Jerusalem who were given pizza to eat
on the festival of Passover because their ignorant and innocent
grandparents did not know better. They had assumed that Jerusalem
restaurants would only sell Kosher for Passover comestibles, and as a
result the sanctity of the festival was sullied. The spokesman went on
to state that Jerusalem, city of holiness, must be pure during the
festival of Passover.
The story about the mistaken grandparents tells a great deal about the
weird configurations of Jewish identity in our times. Within three
generations there are radical transitions from secular to Orthodox, and
vice versa. But the idea that legislating against the owner of the kiosk
will make the complexity go away is wrongheaded, short-sighted and
Jerusalem should be pure this Passover. It should be purged of poverty,
and garbage, and corruption, and prejudice, and hate. I passed some
graffiti on the wall in a "good" neighborhood in Jerusalem this week.
Its author, clearly an honorable son of our people, expressed gross
anti-Arab sentiments. Now that is chametz of the worst kind, and that
needs to be removed - before Pessach, and every day.
On this Festival of Freedom, we should defend the right of our neighbors
to do things we don't like, and defend the weak from assault and
oppression. It's actually fine in my book to engage others in
conversation, to try to persuade them to act differently. Persuasion is
better than legislation, and much better than aggression.
One more thought, for those of you who are ahead in your house cleaning,
or those of you who don't clean your house in a special way for Pessach,
or those of you who are limited in the amount of physical work you can
do. Open your Inbox and delete all the unnecessary e-mails which have
just been lying around for a year: this is a new additional version of
chametz for the twenty-first century. I don't want the courts to outlaw
e-mail (although that does sound tempting). I wasn't proposing a new law
- I was just making a suggestion. It's a technique I have learnt from
the Haredi community.


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