It pains me to say this. Unfortunately as time goes on I see that it is more and more the case. The vast majority of Charedim in Israel are clueless. And therefore soldiers of war in the fight against what they see to be the Godless world outside of Torah. They have no clue about what the reality of the outside world is. They live in a world of assumptions dictated to them by a very small group of rabbinic leaders that they view as virtually infallible.
Of course they will deny that these leaders are infallible and readily admit that they can – and have in the past – made mistakes. But that does not shake their devout devotion to every single word they say. So that the world they now live in – difficult as it may be – is the only option they see. It doesn’t matter how convincing an argument might be about reality. When a man who is perceived as a Gadol – let alone the Gadol HaDor – speaks, it may as well be God Himself speaking.
Any arguments to the contrary are seen as an insult to the Gadol, to God, and to His Torah. So, whether it is in matters of belief or matters of lifestyle whatever they say, goes.
This was once again made clear to me after viewing the video below. It is an interview with Machon Shilo head, Rabbi David Bar-Hayim. I don’t really know this man or his politics, but I believe he is right on the money on this issue.
The question was asked about how someone like Rabbi Yona Metzger could have attained the position of Chier Rabbi of the State of Israel. As most people by now know, Rabbi Metzger has been arrested for fraud and theft of millions of shekels.
The fact is that Rabbi Metzger’s less than honorable reputation was known long before he ran for that position. Ample examples of his shenanigans abound. One of which is clearly described in the video.
And yet he won the election because of the kind of loyatly Charedim have to Rav Elyashiv. Rav Elyashiv chose Metzger because he promised to do away with the Chief Rabbinate’s automatic endorsement of the Heter Mechira. (That permits farmers to continue farming their land during the Shemita year – the biblically mandated 7th year sabbatical of Israeli land which is to remain fallow during that year). That rumors persisted about Rabbi Metzger’s character (as per Rabbi Bar-Hayim) was of no concern to Rav Elyashiv. Not that he had any respect for the Rabbinate. He abandoned that institution years ago – resigning as a Dayan (judge) on matters of principle.
His goal was to eliminate that long established legal loophole. He believed that this loophole was completely invalid and wanted to abolish it. Rabbi Metzger was only too happy to comply.
So the respected Dati Leumi candidate, Rav Yaakov Ariel who would have continued the Rabbinate approval of the Heter Mechira – lost. And the results now – ten years later – are a huge embarrassment to the Jewish people.
I am not questioning Rav Elyashiv’s Psak on the Heter Mechira. I am questioning the apparent lack of concern about all other considerations in the choice of a candidate… that his only concern was destroying the Heter Mechira. There was no thought given to the consequences that may occur if such a man is placed in such a prominent position. Indeed the consequences were disastrous. And yet Rav Elyashiv’s words were considered Daas Torah – and tantamount to the word of God Himself! What is wrong with this picture?!
There are other issues that show how blinded Charedim insist on being to any reality other than what their Gedolim say. We saw it with the ban on Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s books and the ban on Rabbi Nosson Kamenesky’s books. (Even though I believe that in both instances Rav Elyashiv was misled by Charedi community activists the results are the same. Rav Elyashiv spoke – and people listened!)
No where is this approach more damaging than in the area of sex abuse. One can see this very starkly by what happened to Rabbi S in Lakewood. The idea for example that self policing sex abuse and dealing with it ‘in-house’ has long ago lost any credibility. The damage done to innocent people with such policies in place has been demonstrated time and again.
The reason rabbinic leaders in organizations like the Agudah Moetzes and Lakewood Yeshiva insist on going to rabbis before going to authorities when there are suspicions of abuse is to protect the accused. They know that an individual’s reputation can be damaged for life is he is falsely accused – even if he is exonerated. But thy refuse to recognize that it is rarely the case that children make false accusations.
They also factor in damage to the reputation of the school when things are made public by virtue of reporting it directly to the police. That’s why they prefer handling things from the inside.
So even though the reality is that credible accusations of abuse are best handled by professionals and much damage has been done in those instances where they were handles ‘in-house’ – nothing will not change in the Charedi world because Daas Torah has spoken.
There are indications that things might be changing. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein has a very interesting post in Cross Currents along these lines. Here is what he says:
We fully live the charedi life style, but our hearts are sometimes not so enthusiastic about it, and our minds are increasingly alienated from it. We are victims of repeating memes with which we were bombarded, and then discovering that they are not true.
He then goes on to show that a commonly made claim by rabbinic leaders and politicians in Israel that the government is run by a bunch of evil men – is totally false.
What seems to be happening is that people like Rabbi Adlerstien who are among those making such discoveries – are beginning to speak up and tell the world about the emperor’s clothing. He is not the first one to do that. Just last week Rabbi Berl Wein did the same thing. As have other moderate Charedim in the past – like Rabbi Dovid Landesdman, and Valley Torah High School principal, Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger in a very eloquent statement about how to handle sex abuse in this video.
I am happy to hear that there are many Charedim that have become disillusioned with some of their memes. They are the ones who will hopefully bring change. My only question is how many of them think this way? And how many still buy into the infallibility of rabbinic statements? I suppose time will tell. But you probably know which side I’m rooting for.
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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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