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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Fake News, Child of Postmodernism

Daf Yomi Sanhedrin 97

The First Lady of the United States is an impostor.  Unwilling to play her public role, the president apparently found a ‘double’ to stand alongside him and act the part.  Meanwhile, they say that she is no longer living with him and has begun life anew in the Midwest under a pseudonym.

That was the story put out jokingly by a writer for the Guardian.  To her shock and amusement, the story went viral in no time.  Two days later, she lamented the situation out there on the internet, the phenomenon known as ‘fake news.’   With the ability to manufacture stories so simple, how can anyone tell what’s real anymore?

Rabbi Yehuda says: During the generation that the son of David comes, the public square will be a place of lewdness, the Galilee will be destroyed, the parchment will be desolate, the residents of the borders will circulate from city to city and will receive no sympathy. The wisdom of scholars will diminish, and sin-fearing people will be despised.  The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog.  And truth will disappear, as it is stated: “And the truth disappears [ne’ederet], and he who departs from evil is negated” (Isaiah 59:15). What is the meaning of the phrase: And the truth disappears [ne’ederet]? The Sages of the yeshiva of Rav said: This teaches that truth will become like multiple flocks [edarim] and go away. What is the meaning of the phrase: “And he that departs from evil is negated”? The Sages of the yeshiva of Rabbi Sheila said: Anyone who deviates from evil is deemed insane by the people.

How do we know that the final redemption is right around the corner?  Rabbi Yehuda provides us with the clues to identify the generation of Moshiach.  Somehow, they sound all too familiar.

Sign #1: The public square will be a place of lewdness.  Historically, people were very private and modest, and there were certain things that one did not discuss publicly.  In our generation, the line between the private domain and the public square has become blurred, and we have witnessed an increasing lack of modesty in society.

Sign #2: The Galilee will be destroyed.  The word Galilee here is a metaphor for the Torah, which is rolled up as a scroll.  At the end of the Torah reading, the act of rolling it up is called Gelila, and Pirkei Avos enjoins us to “turn it over and over, for everything is in” the Torah.  Sadly, however, today more than any time in our history, Torah values have been destroyed.

Sign #3: The parchment will be desolate.  We’re living in a generation today where most people are not getting their information from books. They’re reading various web-sites, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  But it’s amazing to see that the Talmud already predicted our current situation.

Sign #4: The residents of the borders will circulate from city to city and will receive no sympathy.  The refugee crisis today is unlike anything we’ve seen since the end of WWII.  The number of stateless people in the world today is astounding.

Sign #5: The wisdom of scholars will diminish.  It’s not that today we don’t have smart people.  The problem is that instead of listening to their wisdom, we live in an age that everyone has the right to an opinion.  All you need is a Facebook page and a Twitter account. 

Sign #6: Sin-fearing people will be despised.  Somehow today, religion is blamed for everything.  For all the wars in the world.  For the deterioration of the environment.  For societal polarization.

Sign #7: The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog.  Rabbi Yisrael Salanter explains this phenomenon as follows: If a Martian were to land on earth and see a man walking a dog, who would he think were leading the way?  The dog appears to be leading the way, but in actuality, the man directs the animal.  Similarly, we live in a generation where the ‘leaders’ are being directed by the ‘followers.’

Sign #8: Truth will become like multiple flocks and go away.  Nowadays, nobody really cares about the truth.  All they want to know is what their political team believes to be true.  You can literally find any ‘facts’ that will demonstrate whatever truths you seek today.  The latest incarnation of this phenomenon is called ‘fake news,’ but previously its postmodernist version was moral relativism.  Sadly, we live in an era where nobody can make the claim to absolute truth and the consequence is absurdity. 

The good news from all this craziness is that these are all signs of the imminent redemption.  May we see the culmination of these signs speedily in our days!