Thursday, April 28, 2005

God For Bid

Roger Waters introduced me to sarcasm as an art form. A fellow Shaigetz was arguing that we Chassidim, masters of the catty sarcasm that comes with the territory through the speaking of Yiddish, are unable to appreciate the angry variety as a valid form of expression. He advised listening to a CD called Amused to Death. An entire album that for me is summed up by one single phrase; “What God wants God gets, God help us all.”

Rashian in its scope, this sentence is the perfect expression of all that is wrong in our society. It is God that wants families torn apart over who is Rebbe, it is saying.
God who wants kids on the street rather that wearing a different style hat.
It is He wants opinions squashed.
He wants the couple not to meet till the wedding.
He wants the water to need a ‘Kosher for Pesach’.
He wants no ‘love’.
He wants my love.

With all I have learned and in all the years that I have been minutely studying texts, it is sadly the words of a rock songwriter and singer that best sum up my current gloom. The two edged sword of a permissive society with next to no religious persecution and bigotry - the luxury of a too easy life - has given our leading classes far too much free time. The intense contemplation of their navels has resulted in a plethora of specious Chumres (over-strict interpretations of the law) and a stiflingly puritan atmosphere.

Because God wills it so, it is fine to allow the new generation to hit the workforce with no qualifications, no ambition and no money. It is better your son should sleep under London Bridge than he should bring his goyishe music in the house...

An incongruous sight indeed greeted me when I came to perform my annual dodge and sell my non-existent chometz to an undefined goy for an imaginary sum and for a strictly limited period, in a deal that is sealed by me picking up a slightly sorry looking black silk gartel and leaving a tip for the earnest agent. The hallway was blocked by the worst end of a lady of Polish origin, in tight blue jeans, who was polishing the floor. The label above her back pocket read ‘Superior Posterior’.

I do not begrudge the Rabbi’s lady help with her work in the house. I do wonder what the reaction would have been had it been the Rabbi's lot for his glance to happen upon an, even inferior, posterior in my humble hallway. The leadership class however, lives in a world its own. A world of speedy divorces and leisurely family planning, all God’s will of course.

There is still that bitchiness that comes with the territory, similar to the one that comes with Yiddish only much more vicious and deadly. The one that has every new acquisition of a Rabbi or Rav in the Chassidic world (and even beyond sometimes) witness to the dirtiest, smelliest, most treacherous battle it is our misfortune to know. So while we have to allow them to meddle clumsily in our problems, Rabbis go to the courts to settle their own petty differences, and those we are taught to respect either stoop so low that we gasp or get treated so shabbily it leaves one wondering whether they are fit lead at all. God help us all!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Ring of Truth

The Charles and Camilla wedding was postponed by a day, ostensibly to allow Charlie attend the Pope's funeral but in fact because it was clear that nobody would even have noticed his sordid ceremony had the two collided. It was celebrated therefor upon the Shabbes day and the poor C.R. was forced to give it a miss.

Ingratiation has always been percieved as one of the Chassidic leadership’s specialties. I have, truth be known, on occasion been irritated by the way they go all smiley and friendly whenever there are outsiders looking and we do all know they will sign anything if there is but a chance to earn a buck. It was therefore for me bittersweet vindication to see the Chief Rabbi, representing objective moral guidance from a Torah perspective I thought, so cavalierly betray everything he purports to believe in and bless the Royal adulterer’s union. I wonder indeed what possessed him to rush forward, unbidden, to bless a marriage he would not allow in his own congregation. There is after all no way in Jewish law that a man can wed a woman he bagged while she was married to another... Or is there?

We do find in Talmudic law the concept of marriage dissolvment. The way it works is dead simple. The Beth Din (Rabbinic court) decrees the woman’s wedding ring to be worthless with retroactive effect. As in Jewish law the ring has to have a specific value for the ceremony to be valid this marriage becomes effectively annulled. Not much help in this case; Camilla did not marry her first man under Jewish law, but it’s still a thought for some others maybe.

Ironically the Pope, whose expiry was timed so inconveniently for Charles, could have annulled Camilla's first wedding to the cuckold, had the Prince’s great-grandfather Henry VIII not founded the Anglican Church, with the king as its supreme leader, to save himself having to kill another one of his wives after the pope of the day refused to do just that. Meanwhile, in a triumph for love over adversity, the two sinners have been joined in unholy matrimony with a blessing from someone purporting to represent us who never even got the chance in the end to don that smart top hat. All to the good I say, now lets move on and forget their whole regrettable existence.

The idea of annulment holds its attraction for me for a different reason altogether. I don’t know for how long this has been going on (I hear stories going back to shtetl times at least) but a divorce has become an expensive luxury. I cannot remember hearing about a single instance where the stronger party (i.e. the one with the least to lose) did not force a monetary concession out of the other. And this in a community in which the marriages of children are arranged in fifteen-minute meetings in stuffy front rooms with only the suspicious courtesy among the adults outside any indication that something momentous is afoot.

I propose a prenup. agreement that should be made mandatory for all couples. It should contain a clause stating that should any party receive monetary gain for giving or taking a divorce the marriage is annulled retroactively. Breaking such a clause (if it’s well written) would throw the couple into such a legal quagmire that they will have the scholars quivering in their peyos and I guarantee neither will ever marry in a Beth Din again.

Unlike the Prince we cannot all afford fifteen million pounds in a divorce settlement, even if we know we are wrong, and I bet there are many who will wish they had a safeguard like that.