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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Torah Study’

A Mistaken Plea to Klal Yisrael

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

One of the most pressing issues facing Israel right now (at least internally) is the issue of “What to do about the Haredim.” I do not say this in any pejorative sense at all. But the fact happens to be that the last election was all about that.  This is a subject that gets discussed a lot here. And it may be tiring to keep reading about it. But the issue has not gone away and remains as controversial as ever. It has as of yet not been solved.

I purposely characterized this as an over-all problem and not just a problem with the draft. Drafting Haredim into the army is but one facet of a much larger multifaceted problem. Aside from ‘sharing the burden’ of military service by submitting to the draft in equal proportion to the rest of the population, there are issues of rising poverty; the increased reliance taxpayer funded government welfare programs for sustenance; the  lack of education; and the ability to get decent jobs. And they are all related.

Let me begin by first making clear (if it isn’t already obvious by my many posts on this subject) that I am not opposed to the Haredi way of life. Nor do I reject the philosophy of learning Torah full time as a legitimate Hashkafa – even though I do not see it exactly the same way they do. But even if I didn’t agree at all – people have a right to believe as they choose and act in accordance with their beliefs as long as they do not interfere with the rights of others. My only issue with Haredim is their unwillingness to accept – or at best to consider as second class – other Hashkafos. Like Torah U’Madah  or Torah Im Derech Eretz.

To the extent that Haredim in America are better educated and a lot more productive than their Israeli counterparts is to the extent that I support them. Yes, there are pockets where poverty is great and education poor to non-existent. Yet I think it is fair to say that most Amercian Haredim do get a basic secular education and in some cases go on to have professional careers. Or at least have to ability to do so. And the draft is not an issue here.

But as I mentioned so many times in the past – Israel is a whole other ballgame. Haredim in Israel are nowhere near where American Haredim are.  Haredi Hashkafos in Israel are so extreme that there is no such thing as education outside of Limudei Kodesh (religious studies) in high school and beyond.  There are some exceptions to that – but those schools are few and at best considered outside the mainstream.

I bring all this up in light of the lengthy cover story in Ami Magazine. Publisher Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter interviewed Rav Dovid Soloveitchik who is the son of R’ Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (The Griz).  He is a leading rabbinic figure in the Israeli Haredi world and widely respected even among Haredim in America.  R’ Frankfurter studied in his Yeshiva (Brisk) for a year and considers himself a Talmid.

R’ Dovid summoned him to Israel and expressed the urgency of spreading the word about his (and the virtually all the rest of the Israeli rabbinic leadership’s) opposition to the draft. That they consider serving in the army a Shas HaShmad is no secret. He has spoken about this many times. I covered one of those times right here.

What makes this interview interesting for me is the fact that Rabbi Frankfurter actually asked him questions that I would have asked. Although he unhesitatingly accepts the answers from his Rebbe, I do not. He promised to ‘spread the word’ through his magazine and this cover story certainly did that. At least to paid subscribers or those who went out and bought the magazine.

But the questions were a lot better than the answers which can all be refuted. The question I am most referring to is the following.

Rabbi Frankfurter asked him why Haredim could not do both – learn and serve in the army at the same time. His answer was that Torah can have no Hesech HaDaas (interruption of focus and concentration). Torah requires exclusivity. If someone wants to learn Torah he cannot have anything else with it. He must give himself over to Torah completely. A Bachur must commit his whole life solely to Torah. And he quotes the Rambam (Hilchos Talumd Torah 3:6) to prove his point:

A person whose heart inspires him to fulfill this Mitzvah in a fitting manner and to become crowned with the crown of Torah should not divert his attention to other matters. He should not set his intent on acquiring Torah together with wealth and honor simultaneously.

This not only precludes serving in the army while learning, it precludes any possible preparation for the workplace via an even basic secular education.

With all due respect, to the Rosh HaYeshiva, this is hardly an argument for not having a dual army/Yeshiva program like hesder. Nor is it an argument (as implied by his response) to reject all limudei hol past 8th grade (where basic math and the Hebrew grammar are the only secular subjects taught).  What the Rambam must have meant is that it is indeed preferable to study Torah without any distraction. But I doubt very seriously that he meant that this should be the way of life for every single student from age 12 and up to the exclusion of ever learning how to make a livable wage.

If that were the case, the Rambam could never have studied medicine. He must have at some point done both. Perhaps his Torah study was at its best when he was not distracted by parnassa (livelihood) concerns. But I seriously doubt that he would tell anyone to ignore it. What he probably believed was that one should strive for pure Torah study. But not at the expense of learning to make a living. Else, how could he have become a doctor? He therefore must have also believed that it is legitimate to combine Torah study with preparation for a Parnassa. Either that, or he was not very good at taking his own advice.

The same argument can be made for the requirement to give up a couple of years to serve in the army. And if one can still study Torah during that time – like the hesder program does – all the better.

That secular studies harm Torah scholarship is disproved not only by the Rambam – who many say was an exception to his own rule because of his genius, but by his own cousins the Rav and Rav Ahron who both attended university, one receiving his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Berlin and the other a law degree from NYU. Is there anyone who would say that the Rav or R’ Aharon were deficient in Torah knowledge?

Lest anyone say that they too are geniuses, Rav Ahron clearly states that full time Torah study is not for everyone. Who says that every Haredi in Israel must learn full time from the moment he starts school until well after he is married with children? Rav Ahron might argue the reverse and say that geniuses in Torah like the Rambam should study full time and not be distracted by parnassa concerns. Everyone else should be kovieh itim (set aside regular times for Torah study) and serve God by what suits his intelligence and personality the best.

Returning to the issue of the draft – I completely reject R’ Dovid’s characterization of it being a Shas HaShmad. He compares it to Czarist times and characterizes what is going on now as a 100 percent war against the Torah.  I think it is quite clear that R’ Dovid is living in the past on this issue. He remembers Ben Gurion who personally saw no value in Halacha and thinks the current political leadership is no different.

For example Ben Gurion and his wife did not bother having a religious marriage ceremony. They only had a civil ceremony in New York. He refused to ever wear a kipa. He ate bread on Pesach. His concession to the Chazan Ish about maintaining the status quo – guaranteeing Haredim would continue their British mandated control over religious matters in the new State of Israel was entirely political. He did not want them to oppose the creation of a state in the U.N. which they were going to do. When he promised them that, they supported the creation of the State.

But things are not like that now. Had he paid attention to Yair Lapid during the election he would know that. Ever since the six day war and especially since the Begin era there has been an increase in the respect for Torah among Israeli leaders.  Unlike R’ Dovid, Haredi writers have taken note of the fact that the current Knesset has more observant Jews serving than at any time in history.

This is not a Shas Hasmad. If it were, I would support them. The more these rabbinic leaders say it is, the less credible they sound. Instead of ‘spreading the word’ the way R’ Dovid and his Shaliach (messenger) Rabbi Frankfurter are. They ought to sit down with the government and work out a compromise that everyone could live with.

Just like there was a divinity exemption in my day when America had a draft, so too there should be one in Israel. The only problem in Israel is that because of the philosophy of full time Torah study for everyone – every single Haredi man gets a divinity exemption. That is not right. Divinity exemptions are designed to produce clergy that will serve the populace. Not so that every single member of it becomes a member of the clergy.

With this philosophy in place, the Israeli government has no choice but to set up a quota system – where a certain percentage of young Talmudic scholars will be fully exempt and even subsidized by the government with a living wage. The rest must register and share the burden just like Dati and secular Israelis do. What that percentage should be can be negotiated by men of good will.

There should also be a track whereby a Haredi can both serve and continue his studies simultaneously the way Hesder boys do. And certainly religious sensitivities of Haredim must be honored so that their way of life is not compromised. Which means that Nachal Haredi and similar programs need to be improved and expanded.

I truly believe this approach or something like it is the best solution. But as long as Haredi rabbinic leaders like R’ Dovid Soloveitchik so stridently sees this as a Shas HaShmad, it will not happen.

As for injecting some secular studies into their curriculum to improve their lot… well… one step at a time.

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A Brighter Future for Haredim in Israel

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Maybe I am a hopeless optimist. But I see a lot of changes happening in the Jewish world. And they seem to all be for the better.

One of those things is something that Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn wrote about today on his blog, Daas Torah. Rabbi Eidensohn is a Charedi Rav whose credentials are quite impressive. His Magnum Opus are the widely respected indices (in both Hebrew and English) to two of the greatest Halachic works of the 20th century: the Mishnah Berurah, by the Hafetz Haim and the Igros Moshe by R’ Moshe Feinstein. He has a Ph.D. in psychology and has also written books dealing with the issue of sex abuse. He is also very close to Rav Moshe Sternbuch.

In the most recent contribution Rabbi Eidensohn has made what I believe to be an astounding admission. Especially in light of the very name of his blog. He said that with the passing of R’ Elyashiv, there is really no more Daas Torah!

That is pretty shocking coming from someone who is as close to Rav Sternbuch as R’ Eidensohn is. It is also shocking in light of the fact that there is a conflict going on between two Charedi factions – each loyal to their own “candidate” as to who should succeed R’ Elayshiv for the ‘post’ of Gadol HaDor – the ultimate expositor of Daas Torah: R’ Aharon Leib Steinman or R’ Shmuel Auerbach.

I have often said that the rabbinic leaders of today are not the Gedolim of yesteryear. The right wing has always countered with the following expression from the Gemarah: Yiftach B’Doro, K’Shmuel B’Doro. What the Gemarah is telling us is that even though a later generation’s Gadol (Yiftach) is is not as great as a previous generation Gadol (Shmuel HaNavi)… they are the best we have and we must listen to them. And that what they tell us is still Daas Torah. And yet a man of R’ Eidensohn’s credentials says we have no longer have it!

I would disagree with him. I think we do have Daas Torah – individuals who can speak to us using the wisdom of the Torah they have achieved. I just don’t think it is necessarily or exclusively in the hands of Haredi Rabbanim. Especially when there is such infighting among them about who should be representing it to us.

Which brings me back to my original point. I am optimistic about recent developments in Israel with respect to the Haredi situation in Israel. It seems like the Haredi world of the past is doomed. I do not mean has v’shalom that it will disappear. Quite the contrary. I think it will be strengthened.

The new government in Israel (assuming it has any longevity to it at all – which is a real question) is determined to change the Haredi paradigm of full time Torah study for every male for as long as possible without any preparation for the workplace and exemption from any military service. This is something I have been advocating for decades.

The fear of this change is on the minds of virtually every rabbinic leader in Israel. So afraid of change are they that they see it as a shas hashmad – something which a Jew is supposed to give up his life for even if he is asked to violate the most minute mitzvah.

They fear that conscription of Haredim will destroy Yeshivos and that all serious Torah study will come to an end. Once a Haredi is drafted, and does his army stint, he will never return to serious Torah study. He will instead seek a job. This is existential for them. Life or death! To a man… it seems that every single Haredi rabbinic leader of all stripes – and even some of the more right wing Religious Zionist rabbis (Hardalim) – have all called for resistance to the draft in various forms. Like going to jail; or leaving the country to study Torah elsewhere.

But their fear is misplaced. The new government is not interested in destroying Torah Study – despite its even religious members being accused of it and being vilified by some of those rabbinic leaders. Neither Naftali Bennett nor even Yair Lapid can be compared to the Czarist Russia of old. They are interested in mainstreaming Haredim into society to be more productive – outside the beis hamedrash as well as inside.

Adding to their fear is the loss of power that Haredi parties have until now enjoyed. Even as their population numbers increase along with their representation in the Knesset, they are no longer part of the governing coalition. That means they will not have any cabinet posts or the power that goes with them to allocate funds to their cause.

This is kind of ironic considering all the predictions that say Haredim are growing at such a rapid rate that they will eventually become the majority. That may still be true at some point in the future. But if things go the way they are now, it will not be the same Haredi world that exists now. It may very well be a Haredi world that looks more like the American version. There seems to be some realization about that too. From Daniel Eidensohn:

My niece who attends a chareidi seminary for American girls here in Jerusalem – was recently told in all seriousness by a teacher that the New Chareidim constitute a serious threat to the Chareidi way of life and authority. My niece wasn’t sure what New Chareidim are and why they are so dangerous – as she leads a very sheltered chareidi life – typical of many American chareidim. She couldn’t understand why Israeli chareidim are so afraid of a way of life which is typical in America.

Indeed. This is what all the screaming by Israeli rabbinic leaders is all about. But as R’ Eidensohn says, Daas Torah no longer exists. And as I said these fears are misplaced. Instead of looking at this as a Shas HaShmad – they should be looking at this as an opportunity to get their community out of poverty and into the mainstream so that their members can better support their families.

I undernstand their fear. It is the fear of the unknown. Change means facing an unknown future. And they fear the worst. But the worst won’t happen. The IDF is not prepared to put every single young Charedi into the army. They don’t really have the room or the need. Although I still strongly feel that there should be no general exemption given to any single demographic group from being put in harm’s way, the reality is that most Israeli service personnel are not put in harm’s way – if I understand correctly. Most of the military jobs are not in the battlefield. Many soldiers have ancillary or supporting jobs. And exemptions exist outside of the Yeshiva world too.

My guess is that there will be a compromise that will require some sort of military commitment by most Charedim… but that it will be along the lines of the old Tal Law – that allowed Yeshiva students to stay in the Beis HaMedrash full time until age 23 or so… and then they will be required to do some sort of military service – perhaps combined with their continued Torah study. They will not have to completely leave the Beis Hamedrash. After fulfilling their military requirements, they can continue to learn in the Yeshivos they are in – and go back to full time study if they choose.

Some, on the other hand, may actually leave to find a job – and the skills they picked up via their army training will aid them in getting better jobs. Additionally full exemptions will probably be given to the top students in any case so their Torah study will continue full time without interruption. The percentage of those exemptions can be worked out amicably in my view. Where there is a will, there is a way.

The future that I see does not change the commitment to Torah study. It just allows for options that heretofore were not available.

I am not saying that the version of the future I just outlined will happen exactly in the way I suggested. It may take some sort of alternate form. But whatever form it takes it will be for the better. Because it can’t get much worse. There is no reason in the world why Haredim should continue to be the single biggest – and fastest growing – welfare demographic in all of Israel. The result will be the ‘new Haredi’ the teacher in that seminary so feared. And hopefully will stop fearing when she realizes the better world it has created for them.

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Is Learning Torah ‘Sharing the Burden’?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

I have to respectfully disagree with the esteemed Mashgiach of Lakewood, Rav Matisyahu Salomon. An article in YWN quoted him as saying that the statement being made about Haredim in Israel not ‘sharing the burden’ is apikursus – heresy.

I suppose that the way he explains it, it might be heresy to say such a thing. To make the claim that learning Torah is not “sharing the burden” is indeed a slight to learning Torah. Learning Torah does help protect Israel from harm by its enemies just as a physical army does. Those are two necessary components.

But it is a gross misunderstanding to characterize “sharing the burden” in the way Rav Salomon does. The burden that is not shared – is the one that involves putting oneself in harm’s way. I can’t repeat this enough times. Rav Salomon cannot possibly think that yeshiva bachurim (lomdei Torah – those who study Torah) risk their lives in the same way as a solider in combat does. They are nowhere near harm’s way while they are in a Beis HaMedrash being protected by soldiers who do share the burden of risking life and limb.

Once again we see a great rabbinic figure who apparently does not understand what it is that really upsets the non-Haredi public – which includes many observant Jews. To say that our views are apikursus is both false and insulting – even if unintentionally so. Nor does Rav Salomon even attempt to give credit to those who do risk life and limb protecting those lomdei Torah – as did a Gadol of the previous generation, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz.

How sad it is that a leader of such great stature in the Haredi world feels he has to insult so many observant Jews in order to make his point about the importance of learning Torah. Would it not serve Klal Yisroel better if he were to first acknowledge the contributions of those who do serve in the IDF?

And wouldn’t it also serve Klal Yisroel better if he were to understand that “sharing the burden” means participating in the risk to life and limb equally… and not meant to denigrate the contributions of lomdei Torah to our survival as a nation?

Statements such as those made by Rav Salomon are very upsetting. Is there any wonder why there is such a lack of Achdus in Klal Yisroel? But all is not lost. I do in fact agree with his final paragraph:

HaRav Solomon said if there are מקטרגים (opponents; detractors) on the Torah, the Gra teaches us that this is a sign of the תביעות (claims) against us in Shomayim [Heaven] and while today we do not have prophets, one can know this is bases on מידה כנגד מידה (measure for measure) and we must look and see from where the פורענות (troubles) come from and this is the area where the teshuvah [repentance] and מעשים טובים (good deeds) must be focused.

Indeed. Perhaps God is sending a message about an area that needs improvement. And perhaps the first place his community should be looking at is in how they have reacted to this very issue. Perhaps if they would treat those of us who have made this statement (about sharing the burden) with a measure of understanding and respect instead of calling us apikursim, we would return that respect and understanding measure for measure.

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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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/3000-chareidim-to-be-drafted-in-august/2013/01/03/

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