Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Does the Talmud have anything to say about Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Christie’s Snow Dilemma?

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2010 at 9:54 am

The answer, of course, is yes! If you look deeply enough, th Talmud has something to say about everything. Bloomberg was hammered for seeing the world through the eyes of Manhattan Island, forgetting momentarily that he was responsible for Brooklyn and Queens. Christie was MIA.  Both have lost tremendous political capital by demonstrating very publicly how out of touch they were with the voters.  Trash and snow removal are the lifeblood of government.  Screw these up, and you may as well start to number your days as a politician.

In Brachot 27b, Rabbi Yehoshua has indirectly challenged Rabban Gamliel’s authority for the third time. Rabban Gamliel publicly humiliates him in front of Yehoshua’s colleagues.   Big mistake.  His colleagues take umbrage and collude in having Gamliel deposed.  Rabban Gamliel is out of touch on a number of levels. First, he doesn’t realize that Yehoshua enjoys broad support of his colleagues. Second, he doesn’t realize that his policy of controlling who enters the House of Study is not popular, and third, when he finally goes to Rabbi Yehoshua’s home to apologize, he notices for the first time, that Rabbi Yehoshua makes coal for a living. To which Rabbi Yehoshua replies:

Woe to the generation that you are its leader! You do not know the sorrows of the sages or how they support themselves and make a living!

Being a wealthy patrician had caused Rabban Gamliel to be out of touch, to not realize that when a storm is coming, the leader cannot be seen basking in the sun at Disney World. He cannot demonstrate that the New York he governs, doesn’t include the outer Boroughs.  He cannot be insensitive to the hunger and deprivation of his colleagues, and how they sacrifice for the values that he and they uphold. The public humiliation of Rabbi Yehoshua was increased sevenfold by the patrician in power’s humiliation of one who barely scratched out a meager living. The temptation for arrogance, insensitivity grows with the increase in authority. It is inevitable that with more responsibility often comes more insularity. This is the subtext that runs through this very famous dispute. Rabban Gamliel thought that because of Rabbi Yehoshua’s humble origins that he was an easy target, Yehoshua’s formidable intellect notwithstanding.

To be sure, Rabban Gamliel felt that any dissent was a threat to the new post Temple reality, and in his own mind, any dissent needed to be handled severely.  The same story teaches that even though his authority was challenged, and threatened, he still showed up at the Beit Midrash every single day. His ego did not interfere with his devotion to Torah.

Nevertheless, his ignorance of Rabbi Yehoshua’s personal circumstances denotes the insidious nature of privilege. The rich guy would put the poor guy in his place and be done with it. This time he would publicly belittle him and be done with the matter. Little did he know, or learn from his predecessors. After all, Shammai was a rich guy, and Hillel was anything but.

Rabban Gamliel II, a student from Beit Hillel should have realized that.

It is a lesson that the Mayor and Governor should have learned as well.

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