Friday, September 09, 2005

Sixth Sense

As an exercise in objectivity I was once given a newspaper report to read about the political situation in the UK. Its headline read “41% of Britons express confidence in the government’s handling of negotiation with Sinn Fein” (the political wing of the Irish Republican Army), or words to that effect. We were asked to write alternative headlines with the same information. Surprisingly enough, in our group of five only one came up with the obvious variation the coach was looking for. “59% of Britains express no confidence in the government’s handling of negotiations with Sinn Fein.”

A naïvely provocative email I received through the kosher grapevine gloatingly declares: “On August 15, 10,000 patriotic Jews were expelled from their homes and made refugees in their own country to fulfil the dictates of the US sponsored Road Map to Peace. There are approximately 6 million people in Israel .10,000 divided by 6,000,000 equals 0.00167.

“Two weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in the southern U.S. and laid waste and complete desolation to the City with a population of 500,000. US News agencies are openly calling those displaced by the hurricane "refugees. There are approximately 300 million people in the United States. 500,000 divided by 300,000,000 equals 0.00167!

"Fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind, fulfil His word!" -Psalms 148:8”

It does not take a rocket scientist to pick holes in the mathematics. There were no 10.000 evacuations nor were the evacuees made refugees. The disengagement was as much a surprise to the Americans as it was to us and the entire population of New Orleans was not made homeless just for starters. Still devotees of the gematria (kabbalistic numerology) in Chassidistan willingly accept such drivel as the gospel’s word and divine proof of the ‘rightness’ of their cause.

Unfortunately we the ultra-orthodox, for all the time we spend studying those, often mind-numbing tracts and developing our ability to rebuild the complicated, logical reasonings of the Talmud, have no real training in demolishing an argument or picking it apart. Doing that to Talmudic logic is a one-way ticket to purgatory. Which is why I have to say, with all due respect of course, that to manipulate the learned elders of our community and get them to accept anything you like is child’s play, providing you choose your words right. Believe me, I have done it!

I was therefore only mildly surprised when the supreme leader for life of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth (a.k.a. the local Chassidic Rav) issued a decree a week before the disengagement forbidding the tying of orange ribbons to car aerials in Stamford Hill. Did our own street-savvy Rabbis feel it was too provocative for Londoners to see such open displays of disobedience to the democratically elected Sharon? Unlikely.

The four books of the Shulchan Aruch that function as the basis for all Halachik law are famously joined by the fifth: Common sense! Mine tells me that this was either an ingratiating sop to themselves to the marginal anti-zionists or a pathetic misjudgement of the sentiment on the street, that would prefer to see real issues addressed instead of children’s horseplay with ribbons. Still there is hope. Recent unofficial polls show a strong 20%* of members has faith in the Rabbinate and their ability to effectively manage and represent our community.

*Poll carried out on 5 subjects. Please take a possible sampling error of around
3% into account

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