He’s not really one of us. This is the description I have heard of Jonathan Rosenblum made by Haredim who don’t like to hear what he has to say about them. Which is why I think his latest article will do what many of similar articles in the past have done – fall on deaf ears.
Once again Jonathan has put pen to paper to write a profound criticism of his own community. A criticism often heard here. And even though that criticism is intended not as a condemnation but as mussar towards improvement, it will no doubt receive the same response it always had. It will be ignored.
The criticism he made was in response to Yair Lapid, whom he characterizes as throwing down the gauntlet to Charedim – challenging them to articulate their vision for the future of Israel. Jonathan candidly admits that Charedim have not done anything like that – that he is aware of.
This article is something I could have written myself. In fact I probably have written essays very similar to this one. My only criticism of his piece is his dismissal of Yair Lapid as totally irrelevant. With this I disagree. How can he be irrelevant if he was the stimulus for this very powerful response by Jonathan? I think Lapid is more then relevant to observant Jews for many reasons. Not the least of which is that he represents the very people he wants Haredim to address more properly.
Using R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsh as his guide he has some very important criticisms which he unmistakably directs to his own Charedi community – publishing them in a medium that is geared towards them – Mishpacha Magazine.
He begins by recognizing that Charedim are a minority population albeit a growing one. Rather than trying to paraphrase what he said, here is the key excerpt:
WHILE MINORITY STATUS SHOULD not lead to diminished confidence in the ultimate triumph of one’s ideals, it is crucial, according to Rav Hirsch, that the minority remember that its goal is to win over the majority. Several consequences follow from that goal.
First, the minority must be ever mindful of ways in which its actions make its ideals less attractive. As previously noted in these pages, the Tolna Rebbe has said that had the Torah community done a better job of expressing hakaras hatov for the sacrifices made by soldiers over the years, it could have spared itself at least some of the current animosity.
The cause of the minority will inevitably be judged by the actions of its adherents. We can say, “Don’t judge Judaism by the Jews” as much as we want, but it will be judged by those who claim fealty to its dictates. As Rav Hirsch puts it, for thousands of years, “Judaism was judged by the Jews one saw, and the Jews [as a whole] were judged by the first Jewish person that came into the view of the gentile world.” The standard Rav Hirsch set — what might be called his Kiddush Hashem imperative — is a high one indeed: “Every single member of the minority must reflect in his own spiritual and practical life the truth and purity of his cause.”
Those words only add to the power of a lament I recently read of a rabbi who succeeded in building a large shul in an area of a major city in which there were previously no observant Jews. When he first began in kiruv work, nearly two decades ago, there was “still a certain respect and maybe even a healthy mystique” concerning the Torah observant world. In recent years, however, that has disappeared. Millions of Jews and non-Jews have been exposed to terrible chillul Hashem by “observant” Jews, and communal failures to address the actions of those individuals. As a consequence, a rabbi in kiruv is likely to confront the response, “Why would I even want to check out that world?”
Those words make fully intelligible the seriousness of chillul Hashem: “One who desecrates the Divine Name, even if he does teshuvah and Yom HaKipurim arrives and he remains fully repentant, and he suffered afflictions, still he does not achieve full atonement until he dies” (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah1:4).
Though we remain a minority vis-à-vis the larger Jewish world, as our communities have grown, they have become more insular and that insularity makes it easy to forget our minority status. With that forgetting has gone a terrible proliferation of chillul Hashem.
ANOTHER PERIL FOR THE MINORITY, writes Rav Hirsch, can be a certain passivity and loss of willpower brought about by over-confidence in its cause. Because it rightly “equates its own cause with the cause of G-d . . . it might easily fall into the tragic error of folding its hands . . . [and conclude that] since the success of its mission rests with G-d, it need do nothing.”
That passivity can take the form of failing to articulate a vision that can be understood by those outside our camp and appeal to those whom we must convince if the goal of becoming a majority is to be realized. Instead we content ourselves with slogans that we repeat to each other without ever testing them in the crucible of debate. He goes on to echo Lapid and challenges his own Charedi world to offer a Torah based vision of a state that is home to half the world’s Jews:
In a way, Lapid’s challenge dovetails with the final paragraphs of Rav Hirsch’s essay, in which he stresses the need for the upholders of Torah to avoid another danger facing minorities — “certain intellectual narrow-mindedness,” which becomes disdainful of all knowledge outside its particular domain as “utterly worthless.” Rav Hirsch writes that the cause of Torah “can have real, true existence only to the extent that it can mold and dominate the most varied facts of everyday living. . . . [A] minority must attach maximum importance to the realization of its principles in practice.” How many times have I made similar comments?! I am not Haredi and have been told many times to just mind my own business. But that kind of response just skirts the issues I raise. You don’t have to be Haredi to recognize a hilul HaShem. It is the obligation of every Jew to speak up when they see one. hilul HaShem knows no hashkafic boundaries – nor should any criticism of it be withheld.
Unfortunately the ‘mind your won business’ types won’t listen to anyone outside of their own community since they see our hashkafos as illegitimate and therefore – so too our criticism.
But when one of their own, Jonathan Rosenblum has been saying virtually the same thing I have. Now more clearly than ever. They can’t tell him to mind his own business.
All they can do is use the “No true Scotsman” argument. They will simply discount Jonathan’s very real criticisms by say that Jonathan is simply not one of them. How could he be? No true Haredi would say these kinds of things! He’s a fake Haredi!
It is to Jonathan’s great credit that he has written this essay in a Haredi publication. It takes some courage to open oneself up to the kind of criticism this will no doubt generate by some in his circles. I recall his description of the fear one prominent rabbinic personality expressed of being called a fake gadol if he truly spoke his mind. Not so Jonathan. One can agree or disagree – but he is one Haredi that believes in telling it like it is.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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