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August 28, 2016 / 24 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘chareidi’

The Price of Enforced Uniformity

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

I found Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein’s somewhat lengthy response to Dr. Yoel Finkelman to be eye opening. It validates my own perception of what it’s like to live in the Charedi world. He does it honestly and openly. The following is what I consider a key part of his response:

The greater harm is not in enforced silence, but in enforced uniformity. The latter has some benefits that should not be dismissed. Too many of us are in the thrall of a belief that individual autonomy is the summa bonum of society. This is simply not part of the vision of Chazal, who did provide for censorship, for enforcement of not only Torah law but communal takanos, and instructed us to find spouses, rabbeim and friends who would be there always to reprimand us when wrong, and apply healthy community pressure to do better than we would otherwise do. Community membership has its benefits.

Nonetheless, the pressure will work for some, and be disastrous for others, especially, as you point out, those with more creativity and individuality. There is a superabundance of one-size-fits-all thinking in our world, and it is terribly harmful.

Indeed there is. It is unfortunately true that there is an enforced uniformity of the masses of Charedim. And that prevents an open expression of honest opinion by their public. Rabbi Adlerstein calls it the price of membership. I call it a mentally unhealthy way to live. Even though he says it needn’t be – the problem is that it all too often is. I think that is changing. More on that later.

Although the concept of Daas Torah is taught a bit differently among various Charedi Yeshivos – as Rabbi Adlerstein points out – the “One size fits all” thinking is the Daas Torah for far too many Charedim. And their Gedolim are by definition the ones most qualified tell us what it is on any and every subject. In this interpretation – to defy Daas Torah is to defy the Torah itself. One must adhere to it or they cannot claim to be a member in good standing of authentic Judaism. To the extent that other streams of Orthodoxy do not see it their way is to the extent that they are outside the pale.

Why do they pay that price?

They feel this way because they are Chareid L’Dvar HaShem. They tremble before the word of God. The truly sincere Charedi genuinely wants to serve God in the best possible way he can in every aspect of his life. He dare not make important decisions in his life based on his own limited Torah knowledge when those greater than himself can make better decisions. To the extent that any Charedi does not seek Daas Torah is to the extent he rebels at the word of God, instead of trembling before it. The deference due our elders adds to their aura.

And yet often their instincts tell them otherwise. And often they will follow those instincts.

A great example of that is the internet. Charedi Gedolim tell them that the internet is so evil that it should be avoided at all cost. Many safeguards are built into their world to eliminate it from their lives. They include bans; expulsion of their children from their schools if they have it in their homes; threats of losing your Chelek in Olam Haba… all in the the pursuit of ridding their world of it. It is a forbidden fruit except when necessary for for livelihood purposes. The common man can have no say in the matter because their own Torah knowledge does not match that of the Gedolim.

So even when these views are honored in the breach by a great many Charedim, they still retain the status of Daas Torah. The fact that so many use the internet in non-approved ways is either rationalized – or considered a weakness. The word of God has been expressed. There is no other way to look at it. Daas Torah has spoken.

But this is the kind of thing that has lead to the quiet skepticism that is settling in their world about the value of their Daas Torah. Too much of it is at odds with their natural instinct and their own experiences. Instinct and experiences that have been influenced not only by what they have learned in the classroom, but influenced by what they have learned outside of it.

When there are so many people who go against the strong admonitions of Daas Torah on something like the internet – there arises a critical mass who realize that the dire consequences of ignoring the warnings – will never happen. Instead they see that it actually enhances their lives. How long they will feel forced to promote the party line publicly while privately ignoring it remains to be seen.The image of Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel apologetically using his smartphone during his address at last year’s convention right after smartphones were condemned by a previous speaker – illustrates this point.

By now a critical mass of Charedim has learned and internalized that the evils –which are real – are not the only thing the internet has to offer.

In the meantime Daas Torah has taken on a life of its own that supersedes even the Charedi Gedolim who are charged with expressing it.

When a Torah personality feels that his own Daas Torah might go against conventional Charedi wisdom he will not express it. Instead he will ask a surrogate to make his views known.

In the end all of this weakens Daas Torah. It can only erode the devotion that Charedim have to their current leaders. It may very well be that the Charedi world will eventually refuse to pay the price of membership. What about their desire to serve God in the best possible way? Who is going to tell them how to do it?

In matters of Halacha I think they will still look to their leadership. But in many other matters I think they will also begin to think for themselves. Especially if it involves one’s children. As Rabbi Adlerstein himself concedes:

I have no easy solution other than to remind parents in particular that their responsibility is to their child, while the responsibility of the principal or manhig at times is to the majority of the public. When the two do not coincide, the parent must do what is best for his or her child, not for the tzibbur.

They will look to them occasionally for meta-Halachic advice too. But only when they ask – much the same way we in the Centrist camp do. When they don’t ask and advice is offered on public policy, they will treat it with respect and factor it in to their decisions. But no longer will it be seen as a “One size fits all” mentality. Again, much the same way we Centrists do. Charedi uniformity will not be as sociologically enforceable as it is now. That is where the quiet undertone of dissent will eventually lead. In fact this is where the moderate Charedi – like Rabbi Adlerstein – already lives. And that’s a good thing.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Harry Maryles

Telling it Like it is – Publicly

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

There is a thoughtful and challenging post by Dr. Yoel Finkelman on CrossCurrents that discusses an issue I touched upon in aprevious post. Therein – among other things – I bemoaned the fact that a Torah personality of renown chose to remain anonymous about expressing some very strong feelings he had. He was disappointed and even shocked at how members of his own Charedi world reacted to a Kiddush HaShem done by an Orthodox Boxer.

I don’t know who it is, but I applaud that Rabbi’s concern. However I still question why he chooses to remain anonymous about it. I felt then, as I still do that had he put the power and prestige of his own name behind his feelings instead of asking a prominent writer (Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein) to write about it, the impact would have been much greater.

Dr. Finkelman uses this as a jumping off point to ask why this Torah personality felt he had to hide his identity from the truth. If he truly felt he was espousing a Torah viewpoint, why not come out and say so? What was he afraid of?

Dr. Finkelman provides us with an answer: The infamous Kanoim (religious zealots). We all know about them by now. These are people who ride roughshod on rabbinic personalities and try and manipulate them under the guise of standing up for Torah values. There are consequences when a given Gadol doesn’t listen to them.

I recall an instance where a Torah personality said something similar to Jonathan Rosenblum about another important issue. He was afraid of being called a ‘Fake Gadol’ by stating his opinion on the matter. He therefore chose to not address the problem personally and allowed Jonathan to do it in his stead.

I have said it before and I will say it again. No matter how altruistic one is – if he is afraid to speak the truth out of fear of being attacked, that is not leadership.

Now I am sympathetic to someone that fears the consequences from a zealous group of ‘defenders of the faith’. If someone is not in a position of leadership that is one thing. But if he is, then he is required to stand up and to lead.

Although I do not hide behind an alias, I am not in a position of leadership and do not face the kind of zealotry that these Rabbinic leaders must face. However with a relatively large readership that spans the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy and beyond – I have certainly experienced some of that zealotry. It is not pleasant when it happens. And it affects my family. I almost stopped blogging a while ago because of it. But I feel it is important to speak the truth as I see it and understand it.  Occasionally I have suffered the consequences for that and have been attacked (verbally) on more than one occasion.

Whatever pressures I have felt, multiply that exponentially for a Torah personality of national or international repute. I therefore completely understand when a rabbinic leader fears the repercussions of his words. So even though our situations are similar, they are not comparable.

Perhaps it is easy for me to judge, not being in his shoes. But the truth is that if one is a leader one must rise to the occasion and overcome the fear. If we are to be a people of the highest morals, values, and ethics, it behooves our leaders to be unafraid to teach us what they are… even if it upsets a few zealots.

I would go a step further, if I were in his shoes. I would condemn these Kannaim and put them in their place publicly and de-fang them. They should be identified and told to cease and desist from the overly zealous pressure they put on their leaders. On the pain of excommunication (or something akin to it) by a Beis Din.

All of this begs the question about the actual value of Daas Torah as the Charedi Rabbanim teach it. The fact seems to be that there are issues they believe in which are not publicly addressed. And yet at virtually every Agudah convention at least one speaker, talks about the importance of listening to Daas Torah and hammers away at it.

Daas Torah defines what Agudah is all about. But if their rabbinic leaders cannot express their Daas Torah fully and freely out of fear, what is it really worth anyway? Partial Daas Torah is not Daas Torah. It behooves the membership of the Agudah Moetzes and other rabbinic leaders of prominence to reassess their fears and stand up for their beliefs. And not fear telling the people the word of God as they understand it.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Harry Maryles

3000 Chareidim to be Drafted in August

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Reshet Bet reports that 3000 Chareidim who previously received deferrals for Torah learning, will receive their draft orders starting in August. This will be the first time that thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews are drafted into the IDF.

General Orna Barbibai, head of the IDF human resources division said that 25% of Israeli men and 50% of Israeli women (and not just Chareidim) are not drafted into the army.

She added that due to the increased needs of the IDF, there will be no shortening of the service time as had previously been considered.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Are the Ultra Orthodox Incapable of Seeing God Fearing in National Religious Jews?

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Last Friday, Cross Currents published an essay by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein that I consider to be of seminal importance. It is illustrative of one of the biggest problems impeding the future of Judaism. It involves the way the Charedi world is educated and the reaction of at least one of their rabbinic leaders to it. It is almost as if he had an epiphany.

The article itself involves a Kiddush HaShem that was done by Akiva Finkelstein, an 18-year old Dati Leumi honors student in Israel, and in and of itself is not anything we haven’t seen before. From Cross Currents:

An honor student in a dati Leumi school, he trained for eight years, and became Israel’s welterweight champion, and representative at an international competition in Armenia. Scheduled to fight motza’ei Shabbos, a change in the rules demanded that he be weighed in on Shabbos itself. His father flew in to help argue the case for him, and convinced the powers that be that Akiva could not get on the scale, but it would be OK if the officials lifted him on to the scale. At the appointed hour, the overall boss balked at this in a monumental act of small-mindedness, and told Akiva that he would either step on the scale himself or be disqualified. The secular Israeli coach urged him to do it. Akiva refused; in a single instant, he sacrificed eight years of training.

It was indeed a tremendous sacrifice and a true Kiddush HaShem. Unfortunately, the story does not end there. Rabbi Adlerstein goes on to tell how an unnamed Torah personality contacted him about the reaction by some members of his own Charedi community. He was extremely upset by it. What upset him? Again – from Cross Currents:

These comments gave Akiva no credit for the decision, but denigrated the eight years of training. Think of all the Torah he could have learned in the time he spent outside the Bais Medrash! Akiva was a loser, and so were his parents.

If I were to say that this reaction sickened me and ask what is becoming of the Yeshiva world – I would be called a Charedi basher. That is in fact how I have reacted many times to this kind of thinking.

But it was not me reacting to it this time. That was precisely the reaction this Torah personality had. In fact if one goes on to read the rest of Rabbi Adlerstein’s description of that personality’s reaction it could have easily have been me saying it. Bottom line is that he asked Rabbi Adlerstein to write about it.

That is the silver lining of hope for change in Charedi education.

It was very revealing that what many if us have known for years about the attitude of some on the right, is apparently proven to be a fact. It is also gratifying to know that a Torah personality is now aware of it and is pained by it.

I have written extensively in the past about correcting this erroneous Hashkafa that Charedi students have somehow incorporated into their thinking. At least there are now Charedi leaders that see this too. And saying so. At least anonymously. But the fact that this leader refuses to both be identified or personally address the problem in his own words and instead asks that a surrogate do it for him is part of the problem too.

I can attempt a guess at who it might have been. I know two members of the Agudah Moetzes personally and one by reputation and all three could have had this reaction. But it could have been anyone – including those who are not on the Agudah Moetzes.

I’m glad that there are Charedi leaders on the same page with me on this. But the fact that they refuse to make their views public and put the power and prestige of their own names behind it is one reason the problem will no doubt be perpetuated. This silver lining therefore contains a cloud.

What will it take to make this Charedi Rabbinic leader come out of the closet on this? I would be willing to bet that he is not the only one among his peers that feels that way. Being pained is not enough. Even making it known in an anonymous way is not enough. If the pendulum is to swing back sooner rather than later on this it’s going to take a lot more than expressing pain anonymously.

I don’t know why he refused to be identified. My hope is that he reads my comments or others like it and reconsiders. It is only then that a community that views the concept of Daas Torah as embodied by their Gedolim as defacto infallible that things have any chance of changing.

A word about criticizing Charedi rabbinic leaders.

There are some people that will see this post as a jumping off point for bashing members of the Agudah Moetzes and other Charedi rabbinic leaders. That would be terribly wrong in my view. I know there is a lot of anger out there about the reactions of the right about issues affecting the Jewish people. Good and well-intentioned people are perplexed by it.

But just as there are reasons that good and sincere people are upset, does not make those they are upset at bad people, God forbid. Charedi rabbinic leaders like those on the Agudah Moetzes are sincere too. They too have integrity. I firmly believe that they are as truthful and devout as their reputations indicate. They firmly believe that everything they do and say in the public arena is in the best interest of the Jewish people. And they have a lot more Torah knowledge that most of us.

That they can and sometimes do make mistakes is because they are human. It is also true that differing Hashkafos will sometimes lead to different interpretations of what is seen as a mistake. It is therefore entirely wrong to denigrate them in any way. What we may do is respectfully disagree with them. Which is a standard I try and maintain when I do it. I ask that if people comment on this – that they do the same.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Harry Maryles

The Way We Were

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

I though I might take a break from my regular fare here and talk a bit about my illustrious family. Many people know my New York cousins. Not so many know me. At least not outside my blog.

I found this picture not long ago in a box of pictures I have in my bedroom closet. It was a small black and white print which has been restored and enlarged. It is currently hanging in my den.

The two people in the photo were always referred to by my parents as “the uncle” and “the tanta” (Yiddish for aunt). Binyamin (Binny Mendel) Maryles was my father’s uncle – his mother’s brother. The tanta was his wife, Chaya. She was a Baumel and the sister of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm’s grandmother.

These two figures had tremendous impact on my life. They were the one’s that sponsored my parents’ immigration to the US after the Holocaust. That was in 1946, the year of my birth. These two people and their children made it happen. The uncle and the Tanta were also the patriarchs of the much bigger New York branch of the Maryles family.

Their four children, Simon (Symie), Toby, David (Dave), and Joe (Yoshe) are patriarchs and a matriarchs in their own right. Two of them have passed away. Simon who joined the Canadian army during WWII so that he could fight Hitler before the US got involved – died a few years ago. David died very tragically from leukemia back in the 50s.

David is featured prominently in the ArtScroll biography of Mike Tress. Mike, Dave and a little known Askan by the name of Moshe Sherer were very active in Hatzalah during and after the Holocaust. They were also for all practical purposes the founding fathers of Agudath Israel in America. When I had an occasion to meet with Rabbi Sherer and he heard my last name, he immediately asked me if I was related to David.

David’s children have made their mark too, as did Yoshe’s children, Toby’s children and Simon’s children . Some of them were very active in Jewish education. Ironically David’s children all became active in modern Orthodox and religious Zionist organizations. His grandchildren attended MO schools. His great grandson and namesake, Binny -a Musmach of YU, is the rabbi of a Young Israel and is involved in he hierarchy of the Young Israel movement.

The uncle’s grandchildren run the entire gamut of Judaism. From Lakewood Charedi to Yeshiva of Flatbush modern Orthodox… to secular. One of his great grand-daughters is a Yoetzet. Another is an Orthodox Jewish feminist who was recently tapped to head JOFA.

While I have my differences with some of them on both ends of the religious spectrum, I could not be prouder than to be a bearer of the name.. and a member of the clan.

My father was not a Maryles. He was a Shapiro. My New York cousins – jokingly – do not hesitate to remind the Chicago branch of the family of that all the time. My father changed it to his mother’s maiden name –Maryles – during the Holocaust. That is a story in and of itself, but not for now. I was however born a Maryles.

What few people know is that the name Maryles has some very significant Chasdishe Yichus attached to it. The uncle was the fifth generation grandson of a Chasidic Rebbe by the name of Rav Shimon Elbaum – the Yaroslover Rebbe. He was a Talmid Muvak of the Chozeh M’Lublin. He changed his name from Elbaum to Maryles – which is a Hebrew acronym “Mei R. Yisroel Leib’s meaning “From Rav Yisroel Leib”. That was his father’s name.

Yisroel Leib was a Misnagid – a strong opponent of Chasidus. He so opposed his son’s “conversion” to Chasdidus that he said on his death bed that he should not say Kaddish for him if he included “VeYatzmach Purkanei V’Karev Meshichei”. That is the added sentence of Nusach Sephard that Chasidim use. I guess that R’ Shimon changed his last name because he wanted to pay tribute to his father in some way to sort of make amends for his break from tradition by becoming a Chasid.

Harry Maryles

The Unmentionable Pig

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

One of the stranger aspects of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, “Chareidi” press, is their determination not to use the word “pig.”

Last night, 2 Israelis were killed when their car smashed into a wild boar on Highway 5, East of Tapuach Junction.  Here is how the Chareidi newspaper, HaModia reported it:

HaModia Newspaper reports on the unmentionable wild boar.

“In a head on collision last night, in which 2 “wild other things” ran into the road, 2 men in their 40’s were killed.

The accident took place in the area between Tapuach and Migdalim in the Shomron.  Magen David Adom’s (Israel’s emergency medical and rescue service) attempts failed to save the wounded, and doctors pronounced the men dead on the scene.  MDA reported that next to the car were 2 dead “wild other things” and it is assumed they caused the fatal accident.”

It’s a bit ridiculous that HaModia can’t even use the word, “pig” (or wild boar).

Had this not been such a tragic story of 2 people being killed, I would have added a picture from Maurice Sendak’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are.”

May their memories be blessed.

Jameel@Muqata

Why Do We Need an Asifa?

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

There is a huge argument raging right now on Twitter about the next big Internet Asifa scheduled for the end of May in Citi Field. Let me briefly summarize the other positions:

 

#1 The Asifa is just the latest attempt by the zealots and the gedolim they control to control our thoughts

#2 They’re worried about a neo-hashkofa haskola* and are trying to limit access to blogs and the like

#3 They fear their authority is eroding

* I first heard the phrase “neo-haskola” from Mis-nagid in 2005, and have used it promiscuously ever since

To which I reply: No, sorry. This Asifa has nothing to do with any of that. They’ve given up trying to ban the Internet, and the average haredi isn’t interested in thinking or reading. The problem, primarily, is porn.

To which the others reply (paraphrased): But people have always looked at porn! That can’t be the issue! Its a scam! A trick! They don’t really care about porn! They are just using that as an excuse! What they really want to do is run our lives, and close our minds. If they are saying they care about porn, they are a bunch of liars! And hypocrites! Porn has always been a problem! How dare they make believe that they all of a sudden care!

To which I reply: Sure people have always looked at porn, but over the last few years porn has become easier to consume. You can do it quickly, privately and at no cost. The desire to look at porn is a constant, I agree. But the obstacles to looking at porn have been mostly removed. When obstacles disappear consumption goes up. That’s ECO 101.

To which they reply: What are you talking about? You could ALWAYS look at porn

To which I reply: Sure people have always looked at porn, but over the last few years its become easier. You can do it quickly, privately and at no cost. The desire to look at porn is a constant, I agree. But the obstacles to looking at porn have been mostly removed. When obstacles disappear consumption goes up. That’s ECO 101

For some reason, my opponents are unable or unwilling to understand this. In their replies, they point out again, and again in various ways, that porn was always available. What they aren’t grasping is that nowadays more people are seeing more porn because, thanks to the Internet, the porn-watching experience has become so simple. In yesteryear, a shy kid might not be brave enough to ask an older cousin for a magazine, and he might not have had the money to buy one himself. Plus there was always the danger of being spotted in the store, or of the parents finding the contraband. Today, none of that is a worry. The teenager of 2012 can sit with his iPod and feast at a never-ending porn shmorg — all free, all private, with little to no risk of discovery. As a result, porn consumption has skyrocketed.

The purpose of the Asifa is to raise awareness and to discuss solutions. The analogy I gave on Twitter is this: Say you lived in a neighborhood that was frequently visited by bears. The non-idiots in the community would understand immediately that bears are attracted by food and you can encourage them to move on by cutting off their food supply. The non-idiots would take down their bird feeders and keep their garbage in doors for as long as possible. Expert non-idiots might start treating their garbage with some kind of bear repellent. But what abut the non-idiots who just don’t know about the bear? What about the people who are idiots? Until both groups are told about the problem and taught bear-control procedures, the bear will keep coming back. So, what you need to do is have a public meeting, where the problem can be publicized and solutions can be taught.

Its the same with the porn problem. Non-idiots already have filters and are already watching their kids and teaching them how to make good choices. But most people are not non-idiots. Most people don’t know what to do, and may not even be aware of the severity of problem. For instance, most people don’t know (until its too late) that a kid with an iPod is running a XXX theater during recess. Most people don’t know (until its too late) that their 15 year old texts on shabbos. Most people don’t know (until its too late) that their spouse has developed an inappropriate friendship with someone on Facebook How do you fix that? How do you protect people before it’s too late? By raising awareness at a public meeting, which is just another word for asifa.

I’m oversimplifying. Other problems the asifa will tackle include kids who text on shabbos, adults who look at porn, and married people who use the Internet to form emotional connections with members of the opposite sex or to meet extramarital partners and set up assignations. All of that happens today with greater frequency for the same reason 14 year old boys see more porn: Its become cheaper and easier to do. The purpose of the asifa is to raise awareness about all of these problems and to let people know what they can do to protect themselves and their families.

DovBear

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