February 1, 2013
Metaphors from the Ghetto
For the audio of Peter Himmelman acting as the fictional Rabbi Mordechai Grossfeller click here.
My name is Rabbi Mordechai Grossfeller and I’ve asked you to come gather in this Beis Midrash tonight to speak about a very troubling phenomenon that is plaguing the Jewish educational system, and by extension, the future of the Mosaic tradition itself. That is, specifically, the tendency of our young people to imitate the customs and mores of ghetto society. Surely, none of us has not seen incidences of our yeshiva buchurim emulating the dubious fashion trend known as "sagging"; whereby, a youth’s trousers are worn below the hipline, oftentimes so low as to reveal the underwear, or heaven forefend, the actual buttocks themselves.
We in leadership roles shake our heads in consternation. We daven for answers and get none. Why...why, we ask ourselves. Haven’t our children been given the best of everything? The best yeshivas, the best teachers, the best chulent -veys z’meir!
It’s time we pull our heads out of the sand. Just as our forefathers coming out of Egypt had to pull their heads up - and out of slavery, so we too need to look coldly and bravely at this plague as well.
What is it that is so appealing about this - urban culture? What is it that is perceived as so lacking in our own? Let me be the first here to put forth a hypothesis.
The disenfranchisement of our youth is caused by a sense of powerlessness. We are a nation that has been living in exile, without a sovereign homeland for over two thousand years; existing as guests in host nations that have been at best, grudgingly accommodating, and at worst, the perpetrators of the most insidious mass murders to ever take place of the face of this earth.
The powerlessness that this “outsider” status conveys is too much for our boys. Look at the aggressive nature of so-called urban culture. It’s a marvelous thing in its way. To be feared and to rise up with loud garish music, threats of mortal danger and a masculine sexuality that says beware! What then does our holy Torah have to say on the matter?
In the Pirke Avos, the Ethics of our Fathers we read: Who is strong? The answer we get is shocking in it’s simplicity and it’s astute appraisal of human nature. He who controls his passions is strong we are told and only he who has attempted to contradict the will of his base nature knows how true this is.
My answer to the youth of today is to confront this dictum head-on. To look at the control of one’s selfish impulse as the “hood” and to imagine that the taming of one’s unchecked sexuality is akin to a “gang war”.
As educators, I ask each of you to consider telling the struggling youngsters that the mitzvah of respecting parents and teachers requires as much skill and bravado as “free style rapping”. Why not compare the beauty and intensity of Gemmarah study with the dreamlike sensations of smoking an “eight ball”. And shall we not suggest to our youngsters that the laying of Teffilin is as exciting as “hooking up” with “shortie.”
In other words, let’s indulge our children’s passion for the urban man’s culture of strength by applying it to Judaism. Perhaps we can refer to Shabbos observance itself as an opportunity to “sag” one’s trousers and to metaphorically reveal one’s buttocks as a meshal of strength and rebellion. It’s the selfsame strength and rebellion that the chosen people must endeavor to do on a daily basis when they rise up each morning before Hakadosh Barchu and declare before the entire world:
Hashem elokakanu Hashem echad!
And with that I wish you a Git Shabbis.
Rabbi M. Grossfeller