When I was a kid TV obsessed me. I would watch anything that was on TV whether the subject matter interested me or not, because it was on TV. As any Chassidic kid will know getting to watch TV in the Chassidic community is no simple task. For a start there aren’t all that many. The overwhelming majority of households do not have a set at all. The few TV sets that do make their home with a Chassidic family can expect to spend most of their existence behind a cupboard door in the master bedroom at best, to be revered and worshipped in stealth with the volume real low, so the kids don’t hear.
Like the few other inquisitive and curious boys in my class, I had a regular place where I could go and visit and spend an hour glued to a screen. How in the wide world my parents did not wonder where I was I cannot imagine. Nor can I imagine that any of my children would go into a stranger’s house without anybody knowing they were there. Such however, was the lure of goggle-box, that we did take risks. If my parents had found out that I was going to visit some old folk and watching TV in their homes they would have blown a major fuse each. Happily they did not, and no major calamities occurred to any of us as far as I know.
I have a theory that the Rabbis were not stupid. They were fully aware when they wrote the rules that there were those, in the thinking part of the population, who could not possibly live under these rules. Any rules! That did not stop them making the rules because the rule is that you don’t change rules for rule breakers who don’t follow rules anyway. In other words the rule makers were fully aware that there is a portion of the population who would not listen to them, and would do things the way they themselves understood. Rather than water down the rules and lose some of the potential benefits on the sheep, they allowed for the fact that some would break away.
What they did not arrange for, was a mechanism whereby the rule-breakers and the eccentrics should be able to remain within the fold and not be ostracized by the yes-men. The result is that there is a thriving underground of intellectual thought but it is often hostile to the community that holds it in chains.
There is a disturbing lack of new intellectual growth in the community. It is all very well that we have finally discovered the 197th solid reason why the matza we eat is a remembrance to the exodus from Egypt while the instructions to eat it were given before the exodus, but that is not going to feed a family of seven whose husband and father is still struggling to come up with the 198th.
What we really need is a Rabbi with the courage and the daring to stand up and say “Rabosai our community is consuming more than it can produce. The mitzvah to learn Torah is great but the mitzvah to provide for our family is a great one too. The Talmud says that a father who does not teach his son a trade can be compared to a father who teaches his son to steal, for he surely will.” Removing the stigma from the rule breakers for breaking the rules will firstly mean that they will not be forced to drop out and leave the community for good just because they were not born with the capacity to live by rules. Secondly it will allow us all to reap the benefits of the trials they endured in bucking the system.
I have to be totally honest and admit though, that my theory does not always check out. When I was a kid, TV obsessed me. I used to think that if I had my own I would watch the thing all day… now I have two and here I am sitting at the computer typing a bloody blog!