Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is it proper for a Jew to have a driver’s license?

[A re-post]

Following the topic of dealing with the outside world, here’s some news from Jerusalem:
Four students were expelled from the Tiferet Israel yeshiva in Jerusalem after it became known that they had obtained driver’s licenses in violation of the yeshiva’s rules.
The decision triggered a heated debate among the ultra-Orthodox public surrounding the question of the legitimacy of owning a license.
After learning that some of their students might have taken driving lessons, the yeshiva heads conducted a thorough investigation and even contacted the Transportation Ministry on the matter.
“Anyone can call the Transportation Ministry, give an ID number and inquire whether that person owns a driver’s license,” one of the students explained.
Following the inquiry, the yeshiva heads convened to discuss the “problematic phenomenon” and eventually decided to immediately expel any student who is in possession of a license.
The rabbis told the students that they could be readmitted once they have their license revoked.
However, one of the expelled students was later readmitted after the rabbis found out that he got the license to help his crippled father.
Most ultra-Orthodox rabbis oppose the notion of a haredi person getting a license. “It’s inappropriate for a person who defines himself learned in the Torah to have a driver’s license,” a prominent rabbi told the yeshiva director when the latter came to consult him on the issue.
From the Rebbe’s book of everyday thoughts, Hayoim Yoim (7th of Kislev):
There are three schools of thought:
  1. The discipline of nullification of the material by indicating the repulsive and abhorrent nature of all that is bodily and material. This is the school of Mussar.
  2. The school of recognition of the superiority of the “inner form” and the spiritual — the dimension of character-traits and intellectuality — and instruction as to how one may come closer to attaining these. This is the school of Chakira, philosophy.
  3. The discipline of predominance of form over matter. This school teaches the unique quality of the material when it is purified, and the unique quality of “form” when integrated with the material; the two are to be so thoroughly fused that one cannot detect where either of them begins or ends — for “Their beginning is wedged into their end, and their end into their beginning”. The One G-d created them both, and for one purpose — to reveal the light of Holiness of His hidden power. Only both of them together will complete the perfection desired by the Creator. This is the school of Chassidus.

From the talk given on motzei Shabbos, parshas Yisroi, 1984:
The last Mishna in the Ethics of the Fathers states: “All the Holy One, blessed be He, created in this world, He created only for His glory.” [...]

This Mishnah answers those who question the use of modern advances in technology for the sake of Torah. They frown upon the use of radio in disseminating Torah, claiming that since their predecessors were able to learn Torah and teach it to others without its use, it should not be used now [...].
Learning Tanya on the radio is a manifestation of the dissemination of the wellsprings of Chassidus to the outside. Through the radio, the actual wellsprings of Chassidus are spread instantly to every place in the world, engulfing the “outside” in the wellsprings — and thereby purifying the “outside”. It is the preparation to the fulfillment of the promise, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the L-rd as the waters cover the sea”, for, as was promised to the Baal Shem Tov, Mashiach will come “when your wellsprings shall spread forth to the outside”.

Radio is a comparatively new technology. Only recently has it been utilized by Jews for holy purposes such as learning Tanya, whereas before that it had been used for secular and even unholy purposes. On this basis, say some Jews, Tanya should not be learned on radio, for radio is intrinsically evil.

Such a claim is not only wrong, but totally contradicts Torah and the Jewish faith.

Nothing and nobody but G-d has the ability to create even the smallest thing (Sanhedrin 67b; Yerushalmi Sanhedrin, 7). This is fully recorded in Scripture (Bereishis 1:1): “In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth”: “the heavens — to include everything therein, and the earth — to include everything therein” (Rashi, Bereishis, 1:14). Evil cannot create; everything in this universe, including the ability to transmit through radio, is a creation of G-d. In the words if the Alter Rebbe (Tanya, p.260): “He alone has it in His power and ability to create something out of an absolute naught and nothingness.”

If the above applies to even the smallest things, it certainly applies to radio, a powerful force that G-d invested in nature enabling a person’s voice to instantly be heard all over the world.

Since everything in the world was created “for the sake of the Torah and for the sake of Israel” (Rashi, Bereishis 1:1), it is clear that the powerful force of radio was created so that it be utilized for holy matters, such as the dissemination of Torah. Indeed, our Sages explicitly state (Pirkei Avos 6:11): “All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory.”

However, as in all matters, man is given free choice to use radio for good or evil — “Behold, I have set before you this day [a free choice] between life and good and death and evil” (Devarim 30:15). And, says G-d, “Choose life!” (Devarim 30:19). That some people misuse radio for evil purposes is therefore no reason not to utilize it for the purpose for which it was created — “for the sake of the Torah and for the sake of Israel.”

We find a parallel to the above in Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 4:7): “The [Jewish] elders in Rome were asked, ‘If [your G-d] has no desire for idolatry, why does He not abolish it?’ They replied: ‘If people would worship something unnecessary to the world, He would abolish it; but they worship the sun, moon, stars and planets. Should He destroy His universe on account of fools?!’” In our case, because there are fools who use the power of radio for bad purposes, should this prevent the use of it for good purposes?

But, counter those people whose whole delight is to interfere with good and holy projects, the use of radio cannot be compared to the above mishnah. The sun and moon, the purpose of which is to give light, were created before fools began to worship them; therefore it makes sense that G-d should not destroy His world on account of fools. Radio, however, was originally used for secular and even profane purposes. How then can we say that radio was created only “for the sake of the Torah and for the sake of Israel?”

An explicit refutation to this argument is found in a Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 16:2), which states: “The world was not worthy to use gold. Why then was it created? For the sake of the Mishkan.” Gold was created in the six days of creation and was immediately in evidence, as stated (Bereishis 2:12), “The gold of that land is good.” Yet from creation to the making of the Mishkan there were 26 generations! And even before gold was used for the Mishkan it was used for idolatry, as Rashi says (Devarim 1:1), “They used gold for Baal,” and as the Midrash relates, there were idols of silver and gold in Avraham’s times. Nevertheless, after gold was used for idolatry, it was used for the purpose for which it was created — “for the sake of the Mishkan.”

Hence, although the earliest use of radio was for unclean purposes, this should not prevent Jews for using it for holy purposes — the goal of its creation.

Ironically, those very same people who decry the use of radio to spread Torah use its power for secular things. The telegraph runs on the same principle as radio, and these people use them in their business dealings. To use radio or telegraph to make money is permitted, it appears. But when it is used to disseminate Torah — it is all of a sudden prohibited to use this “evil” means [...].

Whence comes this illogical thinking and this claim that radio is a creation of evil? It is not the use of radio per se that bothers them. It is the dissemination of Chassidus that vexes them; and their chagrin causes them to find any pretext to condemn the spreading of Chassidus as a bad thing — to the extent that they put forward arguments that contradict a basic tenet of the Jewish faith.

We speak of this only because it is necessary to emphasize and adjure that one should not be ashamed because of scoffers. Instead, one must increase as much as possible in the dissemination of Chassidus via all means — including radio. [...]

May it be G-d’s will that all these matters be fulfilled with pleasantness and with peace, with true and full serenity.
Now, I could understand if owning a car (or a driver’s license) was forbidden to a yeshiva bochur, because it may give him ability to leave yeshiva whenever he pleases, etc. (even though I don’t agree with such pedagogical approach, but that’s another matter). But these rabbis, it seems, think that owning a driver’s license is inappropriate for a talmid chochom in and of itself. To this one cannot answer anything clearer than what the Rebbe said. We came into this world to transform it — not to separate ourselves from it. We must engage the world — in a G-dly way and for the purpose of G-dliness alone — but engage nonetheless.

No comments: