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May 25, 2015 / 7 Sivan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Judaism’

Another Defender of the Haredi Status Quo Clucks His Tongue

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Eytan Kobre has got be one of the most annoying defenders of the Haredi status quo in Israel on the face of the planet! He rarely fails to upset my sensibilities. His holier-than-thou attitude goes well beyond polite discourse in disagreement about public policy. It borders on the hateful! And he did it again in his weekly Mishpacha Magazinecolumn. Note in particular the three bullet points where he manages to disparage Jewish Action Magazine, an Orthodox blogger, Rabbi Dov Lipman and the “talmidei hachmim” and “ehrilche yidden” (his words) who hosted Rabbi Lipman on his recent visit to America.

What makes Mr. Kobre particularly annoying is the way he presents himself. He is an attorney. His talented writing skills indicate a fine secular education… attributes that would describe many moderate Haredim. And as most people know, I am a big fan of moderate Haredim – even though I am not Haredi myself.

The problem with Mr. Kobre is that he is anything but moderate. Despite his education and skills he writes like an extremist zealot.

The funny thing is that he does not really say anything about the Haredi belief system that is all that outrageous. But he uses those beliefs to disparage those who dare to challenge Haredi polices that in the view of many need some very serious tweaking at the least. He not only says that such challenges are evil, he implies that those that give a platform to people who advocate them are at best a bunch of morons. Of course, he doesn’t use the word moron. But he may as well have.

The subject of his most recent column is the draft of Haredim in Israel. His point is that if one were to truly understand the protective value of those who learn Torah they would know that all the miracles evident in every war were a direct result of the zechus (merit) of those who were learning Torah. He asks in the most hyperbolic of tones:

Now, as this fragile little country, whose 65-year history has been a string of wondrous miracles, faces the apocalypse being feverishly readied by the lunatic of Tehran, now is the opportune time to drag talmidei hachamim from their shtenders with brute physical or fiscal force, in a grand social reengineering scheme?
… is this the moment to allow the squelching of the amal haTorah that stands between us and a violent vomiting out of the inhabitants of this most spiritually sensitive of lands?

Brute physical force? Really, Mr. Kobre? What have you been drinking? No one in the government has suggested using brute physical force on Haredi Jews.

The fact is that no religious Jew would deny the merit that Torah study contributes towards the country’s security. But it is the height of folly to believe that hishtadlus via a strong military is therefore unnecessary. I’m sure that even Mr. Kobre understands that. But nowhere in the article does he make mention of it. The truth is that there has to be both. The only question is – what should the numbers look like.

What percentage of able bodied men who are dedicated to Torah study should be exempt from military service? In my view that has yet to be determined. I’m personally not sure what the percentage should be. But one thing I am fairly certain of is that they ought to not look like they do now. There is no way that every single Haredi Jew should be exempt from military service by simply registering in a yeshiva.

Mr Kobre might accuse me of hutzpah right about now. How, he might ask, do I know what the numbers should be? Am I a gadol (great Torah leader)? Only gedolim should decide these things, he might say. And right now they have determined that no Haredi Yeshiva student should serve, no matter what his age or status in Torah study.

True, I am not a gadol. But I have to ask, how many yeshiva students were there in 1948? So many miracles occurred in Israel’s war of independence that one would have to be the biggest cynic in the world to not see the hand of God in that victory.

I am absolutely convinced that Torah study in the yeshivos at that time protected Israel and contributed to the miracles. But the numbers of lomdei Torah then were substantially lower than they are now. In fact they were minuscule compared to what they are now. And yet Mr. Kobre would have us believe it is all about the numbers!

One might argue that you never know where we are holding as a nation with respect to deserving miracles. So the more people that are studying Torah the better chance we have for survival. I find this attitude to be a terrible way to look at God’s beneficence towards us. I would posit that considering the miracles that took place in 1948 – God is not interested in sheer numbers.

Yes, he wants us all to fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study. But he also wants histhadlus – to do what we can physically to achieve success. Hazal tell us – ein somchin al hanes – do not rely on miracles. The way to best succeed in winning a war is to have the best physical army we can field – in addition to the spiritual army that studies Torah full time.

The bottom line for me is that there ought to be divinity student exemptions. But they ought to be applied to the best and brightest among us – and only the highly motivated of those! The rest ought to be willing to serve in some capacity. This does not mean able bodied Haredim must give up Torah study entirely. One can continue to study Torah by being koveiah itim – establishing a fixed time for it… even while serving one’s country. Furthermore all conscripts can go back to the beis hamedrash once their military service is completed after two or three years.

There are those who argue that once you are out of the beis medrash – you will never return to it. Well… so be it. All that means is that they were only there in the first place for sociological reasons. Real masmidim will want to return… and they are probably the ones who get draft exemptions anyway.

But perhaps we should take Mr. Kobre at face value. He believes that we should maximize Torah study at such a dangerous time for Israel. If that is really the way he feels, then he ought to give up his law practice here in the United States, move to Israel, and “pitch in.” I’m sure if he went to the Mir and asked if he could join the full time lomdei Torah there, he would be accepted. He is after all a pretty bright fellow and his learning would no doubt contribute to his goal of relying on Nissim (miracles). How in good conscience can he continue stay here and work for a living?

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And the Bashing Continues…

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

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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Intermarried Rabbis

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

I am not one to criticize the Reform Movement. Not because I think they are beyond criticism. But because they are so out of my orbit of mandatory ritual – that any criticism from me would be entirely meaningless to a movement that doesn’t mandate it. They do not believe in the binding nature of Halacha. And until recent times they rejected virtually all ritual – claiming only the ethos of Judaism to be valid.

In recent times they have done a 180 with respect to the ritual observance. They finally realized that avoiding all ritual left them bereft of any Jewish identity.

Nonetheless there is a debate in Reform between liberal factions who want to stick with the old tradition of rejecting all ritual (How ironic is that! …sticking to a tradition?!) and a newer breed of rabbis on the right of the Reform Movement who want to re-embrace ritual albeit on a voluntary basis. That seems to be taking hold to a certain degree.

Some Reform Jews are indeed beginning to observe Jewish rituals. When ritual becomes voluntary, it becomes easier to observe. There is no sense of responsibility or guilt if it is not done. This is why the Talmud teaches us that a metzuveh v’oseh (a person who is commanded to perform a ritual and complies by doing it) is greater than an eino metzuveh v’oseh (A person who is not commanded to do the Mitzvah but does it anyway). The metzuvah v’oseh feels the “strain” of obligation on his shoulders. The eino metzuveh v’oseh does not.

In this way a Reform Jew can pick and choose which ritual seems more meaningful to them and reject those that aren’t. Either way there is no sense of obligation, burden, or guilt attached.

Where it was once taboo, Reform rabbis can now be found wearing a kipa on their heads. Hebrew has been reintroduced into their prayer services. Torah is talked about more frequently and its study encouraged. In short there are more than a few elements of ritual that are being promoted by Reform rabbis and accepted by Reform Jews.

I have always felt that this was a positive development. Mitoch shelo l’shma bah l’shma. The more Mitzvos one does that are meaningful to them even if they only considered voluntary, the closer they become to being truly observant. Former Reform Movement head, Rabbi Eric Yoffie is of the newer breed of Reform rabbis that encourages mitzvah observance. This is how he raised his children. If I recall correctly one or more of his children are now Orthodox. And he is quite proud of them.

But all is not rosy. There is a pull in the other direction… all with good intentions. It is a pull based on sensitivities to others. The motivation is noble. But their innovations based on them are tragic. Redefining “who is a Jew” to include people of patrilineal descent (those born of a Jewish father and a non Jewish mother) is one such innovation. It increases their numbers but not with Halachicly definable Jews- which include only those born of a Jewish mother or sincere Halachic converts.

The latest such innovation is a move generated by Reform Rabbi Ellen Lippmann. She is “married” to a non Jewish woman who terms herself a “permanently lapsed Irish Catholic.” In an open letter published in the Forward she urges that their rabbinical seminary (The Hebrew Union College – HUC) policy barring intermarried students from entering their rabbinate be changed. It is not enough, she says, that intermarried couples be accepted into their temples. It should be reflected in the policies of their schools as well. While there is still resistance by some of their leadership, it seems like their future includes intermarried rabbis.

How absurd this is. It follows a trend that began with ordaining women; to ordaining GLBTs (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender people) and is now trending toward ordaining intermarried couples. Like I said, I am in no position to dictate policy to a movement in Judaism that is non-Halachic. But it is the height of folly to be going in this direction.

Why, I would ask, stop there? If Reform Judaism is to be true to its ideals of ecumenism and an ethos free of prejudice, why not let a non-Jew become a rabbi? As long as they renounce the divinity of Jesus why bar them? That would be discriminatory! Non-Jews can be trained in pastoral duties. They could counsel Jews just as easily as non-Jews. Let them be educated at their rabbinic seminary. There are some pretty talented non-Jews out there that can be very spiritual and trained in Judaism’s ethos. These non Jewish Reform rabbis would not after all be required to do any mitzvos since even Jewish Reform rabbis aren’t.

This is of course ridiculous and they would never do this. But as absurd as this is, the argument is valid. Furthermore if ritual observance is voluntary, why not just drop the whole charade and just call anyone with an ethical perspective on life a Reform Jew? The only caveat (for the moment) being that they reject the divinity of Jesus. Once they do that – they can be called a Jew if they live an ethical lifestyle. Why stop with patrilineal decent? On the other hand why call yourself Jewish at all? What’s the point?

And yet there is that pull to the right that encourages observance on a voluntary basis. The battle rages on in their circles.

As Orthodox Jews – why should we care what happens in Reform Judaism? Because Kol Yisroel areivim zeh lazeh. We have a responsibility to our fellow Jews to keep them as Jewish and observant as humanly possible. I therefore add my own protest to this idea. To the extent that they increase mitzvah observance we ought to encourage them. To the extent they they move further away from Judaism we ought to discourage them. The one thing we should not be is apathetic.

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Ending Zealotry in the Name of God

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Sometimes I just want to explode! I keep reading stuff about how some people believe they are foreordained by God to be His messengers. As such they feel they have a right to do whatever it takes to see that His will is done. His will… according the best of their understanding. Whatever it takes usually ends up hurting innocent people. In some cases it includes even murder and suicide for that cause. That’s what Islamists do.

Although there have been exceptions (Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir come to mind) Jews do not tend toward murder or suicide. But we do have our zealots. Many of them. And they can be found among the extreme fringes of observant Jewry. These people will have the same sense of doing “what’s necessary” in service to God.

There are religious Zionist zealots called “price taggers.” They have attacked innocent Arabs or government installations in retaliation for injustices they believe were done to them. But they are not the only price taggers. In the most ironic of ironies, there is a new group of zealots who have taken a cue from the price taggers. They refer to themselves as Torah taggers. And they are Haredi.

These Haredi zealots are the polar opposites of the Religious Zionist price taggers. They actually support the goals of the Arabs. Instead of insisting on colonizing all parts of Eretz Yisroel at all costs – as do many on the extreme right of religious Zionism – they would cede all of Eretz Yisroel to the Arabs. But that is not what animated them recently.

This time it was the Women of the Wall (WoW). They have decided to act in the name of God. And have vandalized the home of Peggy Cidor, one of their leaders. This is being reported inmany media outlets. The graffiti uses some pretty disgusting language about these women. From the Jewish Press:

Some of the graffiti sprayed on the door and stairwell of Peggy Cidor’s apartment read in Hebrew: “Women of the Wall are wicked,” “Peggy, your time is up,” “Peggy, we know where you live,” and “Jerusalem is holy,” according to the Women of the Wall.

Now I know that graffiti is not the same as physical violence. But these are the same people who throw rocks at cars, spit on reporters, yell at little girls calling them whores, burn dumpsters, throw acid on women who do not dress according to their modesty standards, beat up vendors who dare to sell MP4 players, burn down stores that sell clothing that do not measure up to their modesty standards, beat up women who dare to sit in the front (men’s) section of a Mehadrin bus, intimidate victims of abuse and their families, torch restaurants that allow mixed seating… and use all manner of violent behavior in the name of God. Graffiti is just their latest tactic.

Kotel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich has condemned their actions.. saying that these people do not represent Judaism. But these people argue that they are the epitome of Judaism claiming justification for their actions because of WoW’s breach of tradition.

The apologetic response I often hear from the right is that these are just vandals and not mainstream anything! Not even mainstream Meah Shearim. In fact the Women of the Wall actually conceded this point in their own statement saying that it was likely the actions of bored youth.

You know what? I don’t buy that. At least not completely. There is just too much of that going on all over Israel in places where individuals like these are found. And they all react in similar ways – with violence of one sort or another. The thugs who beat up a defenseless woman on a bus in Jerusalem are not the same people who called a little girl a whore in Ramat Bet Shemesh. But they are of the same mindset. The actual vandals may be few in numbers relative to the whole. And they may take ‘the law into their own hands’ – whereas most of their community does not go that far. But make no mistake about it. These aren’t just kids out on a lark with a can of spray paint out to do indiscriminate damage. These are people with a plan and a goal. They are zealots for God!

A Haredi Thawing? Oops, Never Mind

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Once again I am disappointed. A few months ago in a moment of reflective candor – Mishpacha Magazine Editor in Chief, Rabbi Moshe Grylak, put aside the rancor that so often characterizes the Haredi response to the kinds of issues now before them and actually had a good word or two to say about the recent elections in Israel. He praised the fact that there are a record number of observant Jews now serving in the Knesset. Formerly anti-religious parties now went out of their way to court Kipa wearing rabbis as part of their lists.

Although still firmly in the camp that opposes current attempts by the government to equalize the burden of army service by subjecting Haredim to the draft and that also opposes the installation of a core secular studies curriculum, he definitely seemed to be thawing out a bit. At least as far as the cold harsh rhetoric is concerned.

I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he was taken out to the proverbial “woodshed” by a rabbinic leader. But in his latest entry in the war of words against sharing the burden and altering even slightly the ‘no secular studies’ policy in their schools, he has returned to the harsh almost vitriolic rhetoric of the past.

Here are some selected excerpts from Rabbi Grylak’s editorial atoning (without using that word) for the terrible mistake of thinking something good may come of this new Knesset:

[O]ur gedolim agree that the current situation calls for intense public prayer…

From its inception, Torah study has always met with difficulties, malicious decrees, persecution and plotting…

Due to this age-old animosity, Torah study has faced countless threats throughout history. The peoples who would rather be left to sleep in peace among their abominations will do anything to silence the voice of Torah. Ever since the Roman decrees against Torah study, burning of Torah scrolls and deadly persecution of Torah Sages have run like a red thread through the chronicles of Torah life, encompassing the entire Jewish people…

When liberal-minded rulers in Europe first proclaimed emancipation for the Jews and granted them various civil rights, leaders in the world of Torah and [H]assidus saw this as an incipient disaster, leading to assimilation and the loss of a large portion of Jewry, another form of Holocaust. We have been witness to this sad reality from then to the present day.

The same secret applies to the survival of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. (emphasis mine)

Those who plot against the Torah world today are motivated by the same animosity that has long stirred in the hearts of the nations. They can’t enjoy their Western liberalism and self-centered individualism in peace, because the presence of Torah gets in the way of a new permissive society unfettered by Judaism. So, sensing where their values have led them, they can only justify themselves by striking out at those who won’t let them sleep in peace.

I think Rabbi Grylak has satisfied his attempt at teshuva (repentance). He echoes the harsh rhetoric of his rabbinic leaders. What happened to the nice words he said about all the Kipa wearers?

Shhhhhhh… don’t mention it. He made a mistake! He’s sorry! He corrected it! Don’t embarrass him. Leave him alone.

Well, I’m not going to leave him alone. I am going to praise his first thoughts and question his recanting them. In the first instance he spoke from heart. In the second instance he reverted to the harsh words of his rabbis. Rabbis that are still fighting ghosts. Ghosts that Rabbi Grylak says are still here motivating the “Torah haters” they are fighting.

There is one paragraph in that editorial that is very telling:

We should be grateful to Ben Gurion for making army service obligatory on anyone who leaves yeshivah for the workforce. In this convoluted way, young men have remained in yeshivah for decades, thus realizing the dream of the Chazon Ish and Rav Aharon Kotler, who saw it as their obligation to rebuild the decimated Torah world following the war. As a result, a generation of talmidei [h]achamim has emerged that has immeasurably changed the face of Haredi society.

It seems to me that this is a clear admission that the main reason the Torah world has grown to its current size is not because these young men were motivated by a love of Torah study, but by a fear of being drafted.

Is he then not saying that this growth is artificial? That not everyone in a Yeshiva or Kollel would be there if they had a choice? That perhaps they could be more productive for Klal Yisroel and in the eyes of God and man if they developed and used their innate talents for Klal Yisroel instead of burying them for the sake of avoiding a draft?

Not that I think that Rav Aharon Kotler’s goal of rebuilding the glorious Yeshiva world – decimated in the Holocaust – is a bad idea. I think it was a good idea. An important idea. A necessary idea. He deserves all the credit he has gotten for it. I actually support the concept of Yeshivos like Lakewood and Mir. I want to see them flourish. Not because of artificially inflated numbers due to draft dodgers. But because of a genuine love of Torah study that generates the kind of greatness seen in the Yeshivos of Europe.

Rav Aharon Kotler’s goal of restoring the great Yeshivos of Europe has more than surpassed his goals – looking at it in sheer numerical terms. Instead of Yeshivos that have the elite of Torah scholars studying in them (as was the case in Europe) the vast majority of male Haredim are now studying in them. This is not what European Yeshivos were about. They were not about quantity. They were about quality. We do have quality now. But I suggest that the same ratio of greatness in Torah that existed then exists now – camouflaged by the geometrically greater numbers that are in Yeshivos now – learning at mediocre levels.

If the draft was suddenly abolished, I wonder how many Haredim would stay in the beis medrash? My guess is that it would probably be a lot since they are indoctrinated to do that. But I think we might just see a significant drop off that would auger well for Haredim as a whole in many ways – not the least of which is financially.

The questions that remain are the following. What is really being gained by continuing to force Haredim to stay in the beis medrash full time via a draft that exempts Haredim? Is this the best use of our young people? Is the poverty class of semi motivated people that this situation has created really what God wants of His people?

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A Crack in the Wall of Haredi Opposition

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

There are two major issues that the Haredi world in Israel is now being confronted with. One is the draft. The other is the funding of their schools. The new government has promised to severely reduce allocations to their schools if they do not adopt a minimal core curriculum of limudei hol (secular studies).

It’s hard to tell exactly where the truth lies. But there is definitely something going on with Shas, the party guided by the rabbinic leadership of Rav Ovadia Yosef. And it is for the better.

According to a Ynet report last week, Shas actually agreed to install a core curriculum into its educational system. That would mean that it will not lose any funding. It would also mean that all Sephardi yeshivos would be able to continue functioning as they have in their study of Torah for the vast majority of the day – leaving only a couple of hours for the core curriculum. If that is the case, it is an earth shattering decision. A crack in the wall of unified Haredi opposition to limudei hol.

If this were to happen a new era would begin whereby Haredi students (at least Sephardi ones) would for the first time be able to learn some of the basic skills necessary for the modern day job market. Skills that would enable them to go on towards a higher education and even professional schools.

Not that they would all do that. I’m sure that the Haredi ethic of full time Torah study would still be emphasized and that a core curriculum would be seen much the same way it is by Haredim in the U.S. – as a necessary evil required by the government. While that is still problematic, the mere fact that they are mandating a core secular studies program is a major step forward as it will provide better options for those who do want to enter the workforce at some point in their lives. They will have those skills in their pockets.

I would hope that even though they would be installing a core curriculum under protest, that they would have at least the same attitude about it that Rav Elia Svei had that there is no mitzvah to waste your time. If you are going to study limudei hol, you may as well do it well. His Yeshiva high school in Philadelphia once boasted a fine secular studies program.

But the the truth is that it is not yet clear that Shas is on board with this. There has been some controversy about a short conversation between Education Minster Shai Piron of Yesh Atid and MK Aryeh Deri of Shas. In an attempt to avoid hatred between the two factions, Piron phoned Deri to assure him that funding will not be cut until a new system that will include a standardized core curriculum will be established for Haredi schools that will not damage the Haredi way of life. It has yet to be determined if this will happen.

Unfortunately the conversation was characterized by Deri as a victory for Shas. That deteriorated into an accusation by Finance Minister Yair Lapid into calling Deri a liar. So much for trying to avoid hatred.

But, despite all this uncertainty, I see light at the end of the tunnel. It seems that Shas has at least blinked. If in the end there is some sort of core curriculum adopted by Shas… that will destroy the so-called unified opposition by Haredi rabbinic leadership to secular studies. The idea put forward that the evil Israel government is out only to destroy Yiddishkeit incrementally – a little bit at a time will lose its validity. Because if Shas has adopted this program it will show that a gadol (great leader)is now convinced that this is not so… something which most of the rest of the religious world already knows. Besides – they would have to accuse Rav Yosef of joining with the forces of evil. I do not see that happening.

I don’t know where that puts the Ashkenazi rabbinic leaders. But my guess it is somewhere between a rock and a hard place. All the screaming and shouting about leaving the country instead of succumbing to the evil decree will be seen for what it is – an unreasonable fear of the past. A past based on legitimate fears about removing Jews from the shackles of Torah. Where anti-Torah forces insidiously wanted to introduce a few innocent core subjects that they hoped would become a slippery slope away from Yiddishkeit. This is what I have called fighting ghosts.

I don’t know whether the current Askenazi rabbinic leaders will change their attitude. My guess is that they won’t. How they will deal with Rav Yosef is an interesting question. But I’m sure they will stick to the program.

What may very well happen is that a new grass roots paradigm will arise along the lines of a Yeshiva like Marava. Marava is a Haredi Yeshiva that operates on the American model. They have a serious limudei kodesh (religious studies) program and a serious limudi hol program. Which is subject to the educational standards of the State. These new schools may not measure up entirely to Marava, but they will measure up to whatever the government decides is a required core curriculum.

It would therefore be a prudent move for these rabbinic leaders to be in on the negotiations of what a core curriculum should consist of. If Shas has decided to go along with this program than I’m sure they will be in on the process.

If this happens the Ashkenazi Haredi world can then have its cake – and eat it too. What will happen is what should have happened a long time ago. The vast majority of their students will get a minimal amount of preparation for a better life – a life that will no longer almost guarantee poverty. But there will also probably still be some Haredi schools that will not offer secular studies. They will be privately funded. And there will be a lot less of them. They will contain the elite students of Torah with the potential to be gedolim.

Not that I think they too wouldn’t be better off with a strong knowledge of limudei hol. But… one battle at a time.

Now that Shas has (hopefully) come around… this is a step in the right direction which may spark an overall change. The only question is… have they? Or is all this just talk? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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Rav Soloveitchik’s Clear Stand on Homosexuality

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

A rabbi who studied at Yeshiva University recently posted a blog where he commented on the prohibition of homosexual relations in Vayikra 18:22, “[E]very time I encounter these two verses, I feel I understand them less.”

Y.U. recently commemorated the twentieth yahrtzeit of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik (zt”l), the rosh yeshiva most associated with this institution. A man of immense integrity and Halachic loyalty, Rav Soloveitchik had no such problems understanding the clear, Divine language of the Torah. Speaking in 1974 about how “it’s quite in vogue to be heretical,” Rav Soloveitchik related the following:

A philosophy of [homo]sexualism is being preached throughout the Western world, to such an extent that a certain rabbi came to me and said, “How can we defend ourselves against it?” I told him, take out a Chumash and read a pasuk. V’es zachar lo sishkav mishk’vei ishah. [Vayikra 18:22] We are on the defensive, you understand. Why? And the same is true of abortion and so forth.

Rav Soloveitchik likewise observed in Man of Faith in the Modern World:

We think we know the motivations for the prohibitions against stealing, murder, adultery, and false testimony and for the positive commandments which reflect a sensitivity to the rights and welfare of others. They seem to be morally uplifting and socially stabilizing. In fact, however, their moral reasonableness is often in question in our modern world. The campaigns to legitimize abortion, euthanasia, adultery, and homosexuality are examples of the unreliability of the social conscience…

Specific to sexual morality, Rav Soloveitchik emphasized the universal nature of such standards. He noted in The Emergence of Ethical Man with reference to the Seven Noahide Laws,

It is worth mentioning that both prohibitions (bestiality and homosexuality) apply to non-Jews too and form part of a universal religion that is based upon the concept of man and personality.

Rav Soloveitchik elaborates in Abraham’s Journey on our duties to the gentile world in this area:

Our task was and still is to teach the Torah to mankind, to influence the non-Jewish world, to redeem it from an orgiastic way of living, from cruelty and insensitivity, to arouse in mankind a sense of justice and fairness. In a word, we are to teach the world the seven mitzvot that are binding on every human being.

What Rav Soloveitchik said in 1974 is truer than ever: normative Judaism is on the defensive in the modern world. The answer to this hostility is not to abandon our internal and global duties. The answer is not to pretend that HaShem is ambiguous where He is perfectly clear—an act equal parts arrogance and cowardice. May Rav Soloveitchik’s example give us focus and strength in days ahead

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/guest-blog/rav-soloveitchiks-clear-stand-on-homosexuality/2013/05/19/

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