Once again, I am impressed by the level headed approach taken by a moderate Charedi, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, to problems facing the Torah world in Israel. An approach that has been anathema it seems to the more hard core Charedi forces there that include some Charedi rabbinic leaders and most certainly Charedi politicians. Which of course has the typical Charedi in Israel taking an equally hard line approach even when some of them are secretly sympathetic to the concerns that are often stated here.
In this particular instance we are talking about the sad state of Limudei Chol (secular studies) in that community (and as Rabbi Adlerstein rightly points out – increasingly in America too). He states the obvious – at least to me. Something that has been stated here many times. That there is a woeful lack of developing any study skills that are oriented to secular studies – not used in Limudei Kodesh (religious studies in mostly Gemarah and its ancillary works).
Rabbi Adlerstein does not make this up. He gets it from an expert that is not only sympathetic to Charedim but has helped them achieve their livelihood goals through his school, Machon Lev (Jerusalem College of Technology or JCT). After Education Minister, Rav Shai Piron, has completed interviewing a few successful Charedi students, JCT president, Dr. Chaim Sukenik, made the following observation. From Cross Currents:
JCT’s President Dr Chaim Sukenik (the former Dean of Exact Sciences at Bar-Ilan, and an old friend who is decidedly not hostile to charedim) acknowledged that the success rate of his mechina program (which is already self-selecting for more motivated students) is only about 50%. The culprit is The Gap: all the knowledge and skills that are needed to succeed that are not in place for people who have been learning full-time till age 25 or 30 without acquiring any secular studies at all.
Not all people can bridge that gap. Those who tell themselves that they will quickly be able to compensate for what they are missing when they are finally forced by circumstances out of the beis medrash are not fully engaging reality. (Ironically, perhaps, many people in the US charedi community are making the same mistake, believing that they can easily make up for lost time. Many find out too late that they cannot.)
How has the ill-advised behavior of the politicians and the overheated rhetoric of Yair Lapid impacted programs to help charedim? Dr. Sukenik wrote to me: “Overall, the Chareidi men will tell you that the political pressure has made life a little bit more complicated, but, at the end of the day, the process that we have seen over the past ten years, is continuing. Our women’s program in Ramat Gan adjacent to Bnei Brak hit a bump in the road with this year’s registration due to severe rabbinic pressure that the girls not get an academic degree but in the end the numbers stayed stable.”
This is truly eye-opening… or at least it should be. My only quibble with Rabbi Adlerstein is that he seems to place equal blame on Charedi politicians and on ‘the overheated rhetoric of Yair Lapid’. Some of Lapid’s comments may have been inflammatory (…probably in response to some of the inflammatory rhetoric hurled against him by the right. Can anyone really blame Lapid for his rhetoric when he is constantly being called to a Rasha?)
The real culprit has been the ‘ill-advised behavior of the Charedi politicians’. (I don’t know why Rabbi Adlerstein was reluctant to add that the word Charedi in that sentence as I just did. Because they are the ones he surely meant.)
Rabbi Adlerstein then lists several examples of how the State of Israel is trying to accommodate Charedi men and women ‘who wish to find ways to enlarge their potential for parnasah, as well as make a contribution to the State (besides that of their avodas Hashem), be it in the military or in National Service’.
It should be clear to any fair minded individual who looks at this objectively that the enemy is not the State of Israel, Nor is Education Minister, Rav Shai Piron, or even Yair Lapid. The enemy is something as simple as daylight. The rabbinic leadership is out of touch with the real world. They suffer from a myopia that focuses only internally. And they seem to have a paranoia about anyone outside their community that differs from them – as out to get them!
Their representatives in the Kenesset just salute and ask them how high up the flagpole they need to go. The typical Charedi in the system is indoctrinated never to question the wisdom of their rabbinic leaders! And the American Charedi rabbinic leaders just rubber-stamp everything coming out of their counterparts in Israel.
The fact is that there are exceptions that do succeed – as Rabbi Adlerstein notes. But there are far more that don’t in a community that is perpetually growing exponentially with each generation.
So here’s the thing. I don’t think there can be a scintilla of doubt about the need for a core secular curriculum. I have presented many arguments for that in the past, including the one made by Dr. Sukenik.
Rabbi Adlerstein is right. There are some politicians that might be called Reshaim. But it is also true that for the most part, it is not government policy. The opposite is true. And I include Yair Lapid in this category.
I think Lapid’s address to Charedi students at Kiryat Ono last year is illustrative of that. He realized that Charedim ‘have won’ and concedes that not only do they have something to offer, but that the secular world would do well to learn some of the same Limudei Kodesh that Charedim do. All he wants to do is bring Charedim into the mainstream of Israeli society. NOT to assimilate them, but to make them more productive and contributory.
But Charedim see red and characterize him as desirous of ripping them out of the womb of Torah and throwing them to the ‘wolves’ of society’s negative influences in order to disabuse them of their religious ways. Now Lapid might think that it would be a good thing if they did that, I don’t know. But I think he realizes that this is not going to happen and that it is not his primary goal in any case. What he wants most if for them to contribute more. If they did that and remained Charedi, he would probably be thrilled, despite some of the rhetoric he might have said to the contrary in response to being so strongly vilified by the right.
If Charedi leadership would stop vilifying him, Rav Piron, and Rabbi Lipman, I think it would go a long way towards the kind of educational compromise that would benefit everyone. But that would take some common sense. And as I have said many times, there isn’t too much of that floating around these days.
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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.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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