Rabbi Avraham Edelstein seems like a nice enough fellow. He is the founder and director of Ner LeElef, an organization that trains people for outreach. That is a good thing and something I support.
I am however dismayed by an article he has written in the Times of Israel. Therein he does what a lot of Haredi rabbinic leaders have done. He bashes Rabbi Dov Lipman about his proposed solution to the economic crisis facing the Haredi world . The funny thing is that he actually agrees with Rabbi Lipman’s assessment of the problem.
I have to wonder how the people he trains for outreach and the very targets of that outreach see his approach to Rabbi Lipman.
First he indirectly challenges his credentials by referring to his “oft-claimed status as a Haredi rabbi.” This implies that Rabbi Edelstein does not personally accept him that way. He further challenges R’ Lipman to tell us what the Haredi community stands for and why he wishes to belong to it – as though his every action argues against that.
Rabbi Edelstein also asserts that Rabbi Lipman is late to the game vis-à-vis putting Haredim to work with better jobs through better education. Haredim are already in the workforce, he says. And they have received training in all fields. And that even now further training programs are in the planning stages ready to be launched.
The irony of all this is that (as I pointed out) Rabbi Edelstein obviously agrees that there’s a problem. What he doesn’t agree with is a Rabbi Lipman’s solution. Why? The following excerpt says it all:
Placing the Haredi-community under siege, pre-determining how many Haredim are going to be shoved into this box or that box – all of this will halt the momentum of progress – and lead to exactly the opposite of the intended effect. This is the work of fools – to attempt to create by legislative fiat a transition that needs, in fact to take one or two decades. Rabbi Lipman is certainly not the first rookie politician who dreams of leaving his legacy through some grand social engineering. He will add his failure to the pile of forgotten attempts.
The deeper problem with these self-styled saviors of the Haredim, is that they fail to recognize the real and important values that this community is providing the broader world…
How sad that he takes the good intentions of a sincere individual whose only goal is to help his own community and bashes him for it. Even if he disagrees, why does he question his integrity, compare him to fools and deride him with appellations like “rookie politician” and “self-styled savior” implying that his entire goal is self aggrandizement via building a legacy through ‘some grand social engineering’?
The very real state of Haredim entering the work force was made in passing by Rabbi Edelstein:
The females have ironically been far more qualified than their male counterparts…
Ironically? What he doesn’t seem to realize (or admit) is that there is a very good reason for that. Haredi women are better educated than men in limudei hol (secular subjects). They have a core secular curriculum in high school. Men have none whatsoever. Of course women are more qualified. There is nothing ironic about it.
He is critical of Rabbi Lipman because in his “oft-claimed status as a Haredi rabbi.” He should be talking about Haredi positives. But… not to worry, Rabbi Edelstein will set us straight. Haredim “get it right” by being disinterested in materialism – unlike that the rest of the world that glorifies it.
Really? How black and white of him. Only Haredim have these values?! No other community does? And are Haredim truly – disinterested? I know a lot of Haredim who are not exactly disinterested in material things. As I do non-Haredim who disavow materialism. That Haredim have less material things than others is just the reality of their financial situation and not necessarily a choice.
What about his hashkafa (outlook) of placing the highest value on Torah study? As I have said countless times – I have no issues with a hashkafa that places the highest value on Torah study. I actually agree with that. Talmud Torah k’neged kulom (Torah study is equivalent to all other commandments).
What I do not agree with is a policy that excludes limudei hol in its entirety. It is one thing to love Torah study to such an extent that they “approach their Torah studies with an unprecedented intensity.” But that does not require eliminating limudei hol in its entirety as most American Haredim who have studied limudei hol in their high schools can tell you.
Eliminating all secular studies is taking “Talmud Torah k’neged kulom” to an absurd extreme. And yet that is standard Haredi policy in Israel. That is what Rabbi Lipman is trying to change. The efforts to “put people to work” currently underway that Rabbi Edelstein describes is simply too little too late.
But… for the sake of argument, let us grant that Rabbi Edelstien has a point. That the job situation is indeed improving more than anyone knows. Let us even say that forcing a core curriculum upon Haredi schools is a bad idea since it would be counter-productive – as he asserts.
Does that mean he has to bash Rabbi Lipman for suggesting it? …accusing him of doing this for his self aggrandizement? …and then resorting to name calling and degrading remarks?
As I said he also accuses Rabbi Lipman of failing to speak about the real and important values that the Haredi community is providing the broader world. Says Rabbi Edelstein: “Here is a community where values are not only being studied – they are being practiced.” (My my… what an idyllic community where only good values are preached and practiced.)
Yes, there are many good and decent people in the Haredi world who do have the values illustrated by the examples of Rabbi Edelstein. Probably most of the mainstream Haredi world is like that. The problem is that as wonderful as these examples of lived values are – there are other values that seem to be ignored. Just to pick one – the lack of expressing hakaras hatov (appreciation) to the government for all the financial aid it has gotten till now – while instead Haredi politicians curse them for daring to take some of it away.
Rabbi Edelstein accuses Rabbi Lipman of making this a confrontational issue. I do not see that at all. I believe the opposite is true. The Haredi rabbinic leaders and their surrogates in the Knesset and Haredi media are the ones being confrontational… using some of the most disgusting characterizations about those with his views.
And for what?! Because he wants to inject a couple of hours a day of limudei hol into the classroom?! For this he is called a self-styled savior? … failing to recognize their values? …whose ideas will end up in the dustbin of history?!
Rabbi Lipman is a hero – if for no other reason than he stood up to the ‘good midos’ (positive traits) of some extremist Haredim in Bet Shemesh who called a little girl a whore. Where were Rabbi Edelman’s Haredim then? How many joined him in standing up to those thugs? I don’t recall seeing any…
It would behoove Rabbi Edelstein to re-think his poorly thought out essay and realize that his characterization of Rabbi Lipman is as wrong as was Rav Aharon Feldman’s initial reaction to Rabbi Lipman as a Shana U’Porush. If Rav Feldman can admit a mistake, then surely Rabbi Edelstein can.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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