Before he became the Rav in Brisk, Harav Chaim Soloveitchik was a Rosh Yeshivah in the famed Volozhiner Yeshivah. Once, when Harav Chaim was traveling on a train, he came across a young man who had previously studied in Volozhin. The fellow had, sadly, left behind a Torah-observant way of life, and he approached his former Rebbi to introduce himself. “What happened to you?” asked Rav Chaim, “Why are you no longer frum?”
“I have a lot of questions in emunah,” said the maskil. “Maybe we can discuss them?”
Rav Chaim responded, “I’m more than ready to hear you out, but first you must answer me this: did the questions come before you forsook Yiddishkeit, or did your questions come after?”
When the young man admitted that the questions only came after, Harav Chaim declined to continue the conversation with him, saying, “Teirutzim ken ich gebben oif kashyos, uber ich ken nisht gebben teirutzim oif teirutzim — I can give answers to questions, but I cannot give answers to answers [teirutzim means both answers and excuses].”
This idea is worthwhile to remember in all areas of life. Everyone is human, and we have the propensity to gravitate toward positions that confirm our predisposed biases. A rebbi of mine, an adam Gadol with whom I had the opportunity to discuss a lot of milei d’alma (worldly matters), drove this point home to me by constantly questioning my stated reasoning for any position I would advocate with the simple query of “But what does that mean?”
It is precisely because of this that I usually enjoy reading my colleague Avi Klar’s offerings in these pages. His articles are a breath of fresh air, especially when he provides a cogent argument for more liberal positions that are, from my point of view, almost counterintuitive. I don’t often agree with him, but his writings provide me with food for thought and, along with other writers I don’t often agree with, they help me gain clarity regarding my own position as well.
All that being said, I feel like I must address his most recent article. Klar praised President Obama for taking the steps he took to “address” the immigration problem in this country, and called anyone who opposed this move by the president saying it is “simply incomprehensible [to] me… how a Torah-observant Jew can be anti-immigration.”
That is where I beg to differ. I think that in his zeal to defend the president, he attempted to ask a strong kushya of us who see it differently than he does, but it really was just a teirutz.
Last week, after the weekly Hamodia was published, I sat down to learn with a chavrusa of mine. This budding talmid chacham is an émigré from France who now lives and is raising his family in Lakewood, N.J. Suffice it to say, he had read the piece by Reb Avi and was not at all happy about it.
He let me know it.
“Does he know how much time and effort I put in to get my green card?” my chavrusa asked. “Do you think he understands that the easiest way to undermine whatever works about the current immigration system is by rewarding those who went around it?”
I knew it wasn’t just his (now apparently pointless) hours of work that upset him. You see, the rest of his family is trying to immigrate as well, having left France in large part due to the rise in anti-Semitism there. I had met his father earlier this year, when he came to visit his son (a green-card holder) and his grandchildren (who are all U.S. citizens). But he had to return to Europe, and is now living in England, waiting for his number to be called so that he can move here permanently and rejoin the rest of his family.
Is it supposed to be the position of Torah-observant Jews that those who do everything right be sent to the back of the line so that those who did not can benefit?
At issue here, more than anything else, is that the president is going beyond his authority by authorizing work permits for these illegal immigrants. These permits may very well supplant “green card spots” and their recipients would be eligible for Medicare and Social Security benefits after only 10 years.
Should people who have already violated this country’s sovereignty take precedence over those who respected it enough to do what the law requires of them — no matter how inconvenient it may be?
But what seems most egregious is that the legality of this move by the president is not just questionable, it is downright laughable. Reading through the portion of the “Opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel” released by the administration that supposedly justifies the work authorization of these immigrants, I felt very much like liberal Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) who, when pressed by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell as to whether he has heard any legal argument rationalizing this, said, “I can’t… I haven’t.”
Torah-observant Jews should want a nation’s leaders, especially of a medinah shel chessed like the United States, to actually adhere to the laws to which they would be bound as individuals. As I pointed out last week, Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, opined that holding a government position does not entitle a person to act outside the confines of what is expected from individuals who are not in a government position.
Allow me to paraphrase words a wise man once wrote in these pages.
The current immigration laws (no matter how broken) were passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president and became law.
This November, voters in all 50 states cast ballots in the midterm elections. Obama’s wish of amnesty was one of the key issues in the campaign.
The Senate was taken out of the hands of the Democrats. In House races, Democratic candidates nationwide tallied 5.5 million fewer votes than Republican candidates (almost double the percentage margin with which Obama beat Romney) and the GOP gained 10 seats.
The American people had clearly spoken in the only opinion poll that really matters in a true democracy — and they voted against Obama’s amnesty.
A desperate president, egged on by radical immigration extremists, decided to resort to legislative blackmail, to wit: unless he gets exactly what he wants on immigration reform, he will provide amnesty himself.
So rather than having 535 duly elected representatives deciding how to restructure our immigration system in a way that works for everyone, one man made that decision.
President Obama and the immigration activists cheering him on have clearly forgotten that this is a democracy, where a majority rules and where there are checks and balances. Their message of “my way or the highway” has made a mockery of the legislative branch of government, and their conduct would be considered immature for kindergartners.
The wise man whose words I’m paraphrasing is none other than Avi Klar. He wrote them in October 2013 to describe what he considered to be illegitimate actions by House Republicans in their quest to defund Obamacare. What I can’t figure out is why, if those words were good enough for Avi Klar to write about John Boehner about Obamacare, they aren’t good enough for President Obama.
Unless these aren’t kushyos, but rather just teirutzim.
Avi Klar will be”H respond next week.