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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘yeshiva’

IDF: Haredi Yeshiva Deans Cheat, Covering for No-Show Students

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Yesterday, during an in-camera session of the Knesset committee preparing the “equal burden” bill for its second reading before the plenum, the IDF representative at the meeting, Brigadier-Gen. Gadi Agmon, launched a vehement attack on the deans of Haredi yeshivas, accusing them of outright lying and covering up for students who are registered but do not show up for classes, Ma’ariv reported.

The legal arrangement between Israeli governments and Haredi yeshivas over the years, known as the “Torato umnuto” (his Torah study is his occupation) deal, recognized that young men whose only engagement was Torah scholarship would be absolved from enlisting in the army so long as they continue their studies. To be fair, the IDF has been giving similar deals to young men engaged in secular studies, but in many cases those deals involved attending students technical schools who went on to serve a longer stint, often using the skills they had learned.

The “Torato Umnuto” soon became a blanket covering the vast majority of Haredi young men, whether they were actually studying or not. It also turned out to be a two-edged sword, as those young men were barred from legal employment because of their military status, and so many were condemned to a life of dead-end jobs paid for illegaly.

This was the main purpose of the Tal Committee Law, which, back in 2002, was attempting to interject fairness and honesty into a seriously broken system. Many in the Haredi world have pointed to the steady stream of recruits, as well as the steadily rising numbers of Haredim both in the job market and in academic institutions as signs that the Tal law was working. But the Supreme Court, ever eager to equalize the country, was dissatisfied with what it considered lukewarm results and eventually killed the bill in the winter of 2012.

The new law, hammered out by the (Yesh Atid MK and Minister) Jacob Perry committee over the past six months, is a more sweeping version of the Tal law, calling for larger numbers of Haredi recruits in a shorter period of time. But while on paper the numbers might please the high court—in the Haredi world the Perry effort (which they usually pin on Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett’s back) is tantamount to at least the Russian Czar’s conscription of Jews, if not an outright holocaust.

This is the background of Brigadier-Gen. Agmon’s assault on the yeshiva deans, whom he sees as saboteurs of all the arrangements ever reached between the Zionist establishment and the Haredim, whether the Haredi representative were inside or outside the coalition government.

“It is inconceivable that deans of yeshivas would lie knowingly and sign for their students as if they’re present full time in the yeshivas, while in reality they’re not there,” Agmon, who serves as head of the Planning and Military Personnel Dept. in the IDF. “There are thousands who don’t study in the yeshivas [while stating that they are], but we don’t have the apparatus to enable us to identify them and enforce their enlistment,” he added.

Agmon’s appearance marked a distinct change in the IDF’s approach to the new draft legislation being cobbled in committee, this time headed by Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked. Until yesterday, the army stayed away from the discussion, essentially committing to carry out whatever the political echelon would decide. But the gloves were taken off yesterday, and all the spades were called out by the general.

MK Shaked decided to keep the session closed to the media, most likely to enable the Haredi committee members to speak frankly, away from their own newspapers which have been frothing at the mouth over the new bill for six months now. According to Ma’ariv, MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) and MK Ariel Atias (Shas) both agreed that a yeshiva boy who comes of age and is not attending classes should be drafted. Gafni went as far as to say that, should it be needed, those students should go to jail if they refuse to serve.

The problem is that that, too, is part of the Haredi parties’ kabuki theater, whereby they talk a good line, but when it comes to anyone actually encouraging those young men to inject a measure of honesty into their lives and go serve in the army – everybody is collaborating to keep them in the black garb, hat and all.

Zechut Avot : An Eternal Birthright

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The first time was many years ago. I had just concluded explanations about Yeshivat Knesset Yisrael” which arrived in Hebron from Slobodka, in Lithuania in 1924. The Hebron Heritage Museum at Beit Hadassah features an exhibit about this illustrious Torah-learning academy, nicknamed the ‘Hebron Yeshiva,’ which includes a ‘class picture’ from 1928.

As I finished my brief account, an older man approached me, put his finger on a picture of one of the yeshiva students and asked me, ‘do you see him? That’s me.’

That was Rabbi Dov Cohen, a phenomenal Torah genius, who, following my tour, came back to Hebron and gave us his tour.

I always thought that this was a ‘once in a lifetime event,’ having someone point themselves out in a photo taken so many decades ago, here in Hebron.

But it happened again.

On Friday afternoon the Farbstein family came into Hebron for Shabbat. Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, today dean of the ‘Hebron yeshiva,’ now located in Jerusalem, arrived with his wife and many grandchildren. And his mother, Rabbanit Chana Farbstein.

Chana Farbstein was born in 1923. Her father was Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, a Torah giant. Her grandfather was the legendary Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, dean of the yeshiva, located then located in Slobodka, which, a year or so later, moved to Hebron. Chana lived in Hebron until the 1929 riots, in an apartment next to Eliezer Dan Slonim and his family.

Friday afternoon, before Shabbat, the Farbsteins took a short tour of Hebron, which began in the museum. When we approached the Hebron Yeshiva exhibit, she moved, as hypnotized, to one of the photos on the bottom row, stared at it, and then pointed to a small girl in the right corner, saying, ‘that’s me.’ To her right, a young woman had her hand on little Chana’s shoulder. ‘That’s my mother.’

A ‘once in a lifetime event.’ And it happened to me for a second time.

Chana later told us that she must have been about four years old at the time the photo was taken.

Even though she was barely five and a half at the time of the riots, she remembered them quite clearly: “I remember a big truck going through the streets. They were throwing rocks at our house and calling out my father’s name ‘Chezkel.’ They were looking for him. It was our good luck, he was in Jerusalem.”

“Do you remember what was told to you, what was going on?”

“No one had to explain. We knew exactly what was happening.”

She said that on Saturday afternoon, her family was removed from Hebron and taken to the ‘Strauss Building’ in Jerusalem, across the street from ‘Bikor Cholim hospital. Asked when she ‘left’ the city,’ she replied: “We didn’t leave. The British came, on Shabbat, and took us to Jerusalem.”

Later she also spoke about remembering the pain of having to pray at the 7th step at Ma’arat HaMachpela, not being allowed to enter the structure. “We would stand there for a few minutes, and then leave.”

Were relations with Arabs always poor? “No, when we went shopping in the market an Arab with a large round basket would go with us. We would put the produce we wanted into the basket, he would carry it and later bring it to our home.”

Chana Farbstein is a phenomenal woman. She also stood with us on Friday afternoon, at the cemetery in Hebron, where 59 of the 67 massacre victims are buried. Her son, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, recited two Psalms at the site, his voice breaking, sensing the atrocities and pain of the events occurring 84 years ago.

The next morning, Mrs. Farbstein walked from Beit Hadassah to Ma’arat HaMachpela for morning prayers, and later in the afternoon, to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood to attend a special class presented by her daughter-in-law, Dr. Esther Farbstein, an expert on Holocaust studies, author of the book, “Hidden in Thunder.”

After Shabbat, as I arrived to interview her, I found her sweeping the floor.

Her son, Rabbi Farbstein, told me that that last winter she had been very ill, and there was grave concern that she might not recover. But recover she did, and despite only meeting her for the first time, her inner strength and iron will were quite obvious.

Whose Values Do They Represent?

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

I don’t see how anyone can claim that they are extremists who are an exception to the rule – amounting to only a small handful of Haredim. I am talking about people who are constantly degrading the values of those they disagree with by acting in truly disgusting ways.

It has happened again. From Israel Hayom:

Shear Yashuv residents inflamed to find haredi tourists bathing in a memorial fountain near the town, which was dedicated to 73 IDF soldiers who lost their lives in a terrible 1997 helicopter accident • Haredi tourists: “Memorials constitute idolatry.”

This kind of thing happens so frequently and in so many different places, it cannot possibly be attributed to a bunch of extremists that are not representative of Haredi values. And yet every time something like this gets reported in the media, there is always a Haredi apologist out there somewhere telling us we shouldn’t judge all Haredim by the actions of a few.

I of course agree with that in principle. And as I have said many times, most Haredim don’t do these kinds of things. Certainly not moderate Haredim but even right wing Haredim. They realize it is a Chilul HaShem. However – as I’ve said many times – the behavior though not approved of actually occurs precisely because of the Haredi values exemplified by the above response of those Chareid tourists.

Is there anyone who thinks that the sentiment expressed by them isn’t believed by them? It expresses a value of the majority of Haredi community.

I don’t know that the majority of the Haredi world actually considers such memorials to be idolatry. But I think it’s safe to say that they do completely characterize such memorials at the very least as un-Jewish. And something we ought not recognize in any way. The only difference between those Haredi bathers and the media apologists is that the apologists realize that disrespecting the memorial will be seen by the entire rest of the world as disrespecting the dead being memorialized.

So Rebbeim in Yeshivos advise their students never do anything that will be seen to dishonor lost loved ones in public. That would be considered a Chilul HaShem.

But those tourists probably think it is a Chilul HaShem – NOT to stand up for the truth. They therefore acted the way they did  with pride – having no problem desecrating that memorial by bathing in it.

The idea of showing one face to the public and another one internally was illustrated recently when a  Rosh Yeshiva or Rebbe described what he tells his students about how to act when sirens sound on Yom HaZikaron. He said when the sirens sound while they are in the confines of the Yeshiva, they are to be ignored. When they are out in public, they should stand silently along with the rest of the country. Why? Because it is not a Jewish way to memorialize the dead. Doing so in private therefore has no meaning to them. In public, however, they are to ‘play along’.

One may ask, what’s so terrible about that? What’s wrong with teaching students about the proper Jewish way to mourn the dead? There is of course nothing wrong and everything right about that.

What is wrong here is that it is more than about teaching proper Jewish thought.They aren’t just teaching their students how to properly mourn the dead. They are teaching them that Israel is run by a bunch of Apikurism (heretics) who ‘ape the Goyim’. Students are taught to disrespect everything about the government of Israel and Israeli society. Israel is constantly being vilified to Haredi students by their Haredi teachers.

The smarter ones also realize that there should be no public displays of disrespect to the Israeli populace. For example in how they mourn their dead. That would be a Chilul HaShem. Nonetheless the lesson constantly taught and heard over and over again by students is that Israel is evil and if not for the Chilul HaShem it is indeed correct to dishonor the ‘Goyishe way’ in which Israel does everything. Including the way in which the dead are memorialized.

There are of course some Mechanchim who do not make those caveats to their students. Especially in places like Meah Shearim. Is it any wonder then that there are Haredim who feel free to desecrate a memorial in the way these Haredim did? They are merely expressing their true Hashkafos – oblivious to the Chilul HaShem – thinking that it is a Kiddush HaShem!

That is why when these bathing tourists were asked about it, they responded the way they did. It is the same kind of thinking had by Haredim who held a barbecue in a public park this past Yom HaZikaron while the rest of Israel was somberly mourning soldiers killed in action. ‘It’s not the Jewish way to mourn this way – and by golly we’re going to teach these ‘evil’- or at best ignorant Jews by example what we really think of it!’

It’s the same kind of thinking that goes on when a woman get’s spat upon because the spitter does not approve of the way she dresses. This too happened recently in the city of Ashdod recently. From Ynet:

A, a 15-year-old girl and her mother complained that a haredi man asked the girl not to walk by a yeshiva located in the city center, and even spat on her because of the way she was dressed.

The girl was walking along the street Monday, as she does everyday, to pick up her 6-year-old little sister from kindergarten. At a distance of a kilometer and a half away from her home, the girl – who wore a tank top and a skirt – was approached by a haredi man who yelled at her: “Walk behind the parking lot’s wall”

At first, A., did not understand what he was talking about, and asked the man “Why?” to which he replied “Because you’re immodest, there are people studying Torah here.”

A., who did not want to confront the man picked up her pace and defiantly told him “I’m not going to,” to which he answered “Why are you so stubborn?” and then spat on her.

This is becoming so common it almost as though it were the norm in Haredi circles. I can understand why a Haredi man concerned with the Kedusha of his Yeshiva would be upset at a woman wearing a tank top passing by. And even though I would disagree with him doing it since she has the right to dress as any she chooses in public – I would understand if he politely asked if she would in the future dress more modestly around the Yeshiva.

But when he demands it and then spits on her when she doesn’t comply, that is a Chilul HaShem even though in his own mind he thinks it is a Kiddush HaShem . As would all the spitters, screamers, and haters all over the world who would act the same way under similar circumstances.

As if that weren’t enough let us not forget about the bus ‘bombers’. No… not the Islamist  suicide bombers. The Haredi ones in Bet Shemesh who yesterday smashed the windsheild of a bus and broke other windows with a hammer after after a woman refused to sit apart from men. They later attacked two other buses by ‘bombing’ them with stones and breaking their windows.

So the next time you hear a Haredi spokesman say that these people do not represent them, I would take that with a huge grain of salt.

Update
The woman who was asked to move to the back of the bus was interviewed by a religious radio station in Israel. She described the situation as follows. As a new immigrant unfamiliar with sex segregated buses in her new community she sat down at the front of the bus with her young children and all the packages she was carrying.

She was then immediately but politely asked to move to the back by one of the Haredi women who came up to her. At first she refused because of all the packages and her children. She was offered help with all that and she then agreed to move. The bus driver became irate when he saw this and decided to call the police. That is apparently when all hell broke loose.

In my view, this changes little except the precipitating event caused by the bus driver. The bus driver may have been foolish and impetuous in making that call when the situations seemed to be taking care of itself.

But the rioting Haredim that responded by damaging that bus and other buses nearby is what ought to be focused on here. This is not a civilized response to a grievance against what a bus driver did. And although the bus driver should have perhaps not exacerbated the situation, clearly he too acted out of his indignation at what he thought was wrong.

If one will say that I too am being apologetic, I would only ask that you compare how the bus driver reacted to what he saw as an injustice – to how these Haredim reacted to what they saw as an injustice. Had those Haredim reacted in a similarly civilized manner, there would be no story. And no Chilul HaShem.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Bnei Brak Erasing Zionism from Street Signs

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Bnei Brak, Israel’s largest predominantly Haredi city, has announced it is cleansing its street names from any hints of religious Zionism in favor of names of Haredi rabbis, including Knesset Members whose  questionable contribution to the country consisted of pumping as much as the taxpayers’ money as possible into the coffers of Haredi yeshivas.

Mayor Avraham Rubinstein assured residents that they can voice their objections before the decision is carried out, and that the city even will inform relatives of those whose names no longer will appear.

For example, the street named after Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second prime minister, will disappear.

This is not the first time the city has removed a Zionist name. “Herzl Street” no longer exists. He was not only the founder of modern Zionism but also was fiercely secular.

But a wholesale removal of Zionist names in a city that was built by religious Zionists is another nail in the coffin for co-existence between Haredi anti-Zionists and secular and religious Zionists.

Kibbutz Galuyot Street, named after the concept of Israel’s being a collective society for Jews from the Diaspora, will be named after Rabbi Shalom Berman Street, who headed the Ponevezh Yeshiva.

Even Jerusalem Street is too Zionist for Bnei Brak, probably because Mea Shearim has not taken over the entire capital. The street now will be named after Shlomo Ungar, who also was head of a yeshiva.

Second Aliyah Street no longer will exist, and in its place, a street sign will read “Admor from Lublin.”

“Mother of Moshavot” Street will changed to “Rabbi Avraham Shapira Street,” named after a Haredi Knesset Member.

Religious Zionists are a dying species in Bnei Brak. One of them, a worker for the city, told the Hebrew-language newspaper Maariv, “Changing the names of streets named after religious Zionists who built the country and who were part of the reestablishment of Israel is tantamount to the expulsion of the remaining religious residents in the city.”

The announcement of the changes comes on the eve of Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning of the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples due to Israel’s sins, including self-hatred.

The news of the erasing of Zionist names in Bnei Brak is just what anti-Zionist non-Jews, such as the Iranian government, wants to hear.

Its government-controlled Press TV apparently has a “friend” among the Haredi anti-Zionist community in Israel because the Iranian media outlet gladly published the news on its front page Sunday.

It noted that Bnei Brak’s “majority…are Haredi Jews, most of whom oppose Zionism because of its secular orientation. They also believe it is forbidden for the Jews to rule in Palestine before the arrival of the messiah.”

Norman Lamm Quits Yeshiva University

Monday, July 1st, 2013

In a letter announcing he is stepping down as Yeshiva University’s chancellor and rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Norman Lamm acknowledged his failure to respond adequately to allegations of sexual abuse against the university’s rabbis in the 1980s.

Lamm, now 85, became the school’s third president and head of its rabbinic school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, in 1976. He stepped down as president in 2003, becoming chancellor, but stayed on as RIETS’s head.

His resignation Monday from his two posts at the school were attributed to an agreement reached three years ago and come several months after a report in the Forward newspaper that detailed allegations of abuse dating back to the 1970s and ‘80s against two rabbis at Y.U.’s high school for boys, principal George Finkelstein and Talmud teacher Macy Gordon.

“Rabbi Lamm’s decision to retire is based on an agreement that was reached three years ago,” the university said in a statement. “His contract expired June 30.”

Last December, Lamm acknowledged to the Forward that he knew about some of the allegations but chose to deal with them privately; law enforcement authorities were never informed.

“My question was not whether to report to police but to ask the person to leave the job,” Lamm said.

On Monday, Lamm issued a mea culpa for failing to pursue the allegations.

“At the time that inappropriate actions by individuals at Yeshiva were brought to my attention, I acted in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill-conceived,” Lamm wrote in a letter emailed to faculty, students and alumni in which he discussed his retirement. “And when that happens — one must do tshuvah. So, I too must do tshuvah [repentance].

“We must never be so committed to justifying our past that we thereby threaten to destroy our future. It is not an easy task. On the contrary, it is one of the greatest trials of all, for it means sacrificing our very egos, our reputations, even our identities,” he wrote. “But we can and must do it. I must do it, and having done so, contribute to the creation of a future that is safer for innocents, and more ethically and halakhically correct.

“True character requires of me the courage to admit that, despite my best intentions then, I now recognize that I was wrong,” Lamm wrote. “This is what I am modeh [acknowledge] as I reflect on my tenure.”

Finkelstein was forced out of the school in 1995 after being accused of inappropriate contact with students by wrestling with them. He then went to work as a dean at the Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach, Fla.

Gordon was placed on a leave of absence in 1984, according to the Forward. Both of the rabbis now live in Israel.

Lamm’s comments about the sexual abuse allegations represented four paragraphs of a six-page resignation letter that otherwise was a reflection on his tenure at Y.U. Lamm also made an oblique reference to his failing health, noting, “Conditions have caused me to rely on help from my family in writing this letter.”

Richard Joel, the president of Y.U., declined to discuss Lamm’s remarks on the sexual allegations or be interviewed for this story. He released a statement to JTA through a spokesman.

“I would like to express my appreciation to Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm for his half-century of service to Yeshiva University. During his tenure he helped guide the University with steadfastness and vision,” Joel said in the statement. “Dr. Lamm’s contributions to the Jewish world as a distinguished rabbi, philosopher and scholar are unparalleled.”

In its report last fall, the Forward cited three former students who said Finkelstein invited students into his home or office to wrestle with them, that they could feel his erect penis against them during the tussling, and that Finkelstein told the students he loved them and tried to kiss some of them. Everybody at the school knew of Finkelstein’s penchant for wrestling with boys, the former students said.

Finkelstein denied to the Forward that there was anything sexual about his contact with students, though he said the wrestling, in retrospect, was wrong.

Gordon was accused of sodomizing a former student with a toothbrush when the student was 16. The former student and his father both told the Forward that they reported the incident to Y.U.’s leadership but did not report it to the police because they did not want to damage the school’s reputation or further harm the boy.

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.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Lakewood’s $10 Million Coup

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

This is one of those stories that worry me. VIN and NJ.com report that Lakewood Yeshiva (BMG) has been approved by the State of New Jersey for an over ten million dollar grant in what Governor Chris Christie is calling a “new era” for the state’s institutions of higher learning.

I’m sure that Lakewood applied for that grant legally and truthfully. I do not believe for a second that there was any fraud involved. And I congratulate them on a successful outcome. Lakewood certainly needs the money. But I remain with some serious concerns.

The grant was given for the construction of a library and research center. Governor Christie’s goal is “keeping New Jersey’s “best” and “brightest” in-state, while attracting new research and business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs.”

What worries me is that in spite of what I am sure was a completely honest presentation of Lakewood’s plans to the state; I am not convinced that the state’s purpose in granting them that money is even a dream in the back of the minds of Lakewood’s leaders. Nor do I believe for a minute that such a library will serve any other purpose than the stated mission of such an institution – Torah study. The kind of research that library will offer will no doubt be only in that vein. Neither am I convinced that it will result in anything near attracting new business partners.

This project will help to retain some of the finest minds in Torah Judaism. Lakewood is the premier “Torah Only” Yeshiva in the United States. It attracts the best and brightest among its constituents. Expansion means attracting more of the same. Some of whom may settle there and eventually have good jobs (and some – not such great jobs).

But even so, Lakewood cannot claim that as its goal. It can only say that this is a by-product of their ‘Torah Only” system. This is a yeshiva that forbids its students to take any secular courses while enrolled there and discourages it even after they leave. This is a yeshiva whose rosh yeshiva (dean) made disparaging remarks about someone who has been a pioneer in providing higher education for students of yeshivos like Lakewood so that they could get decent jobs… basically referring to him as a second class citizen (…full time students of Torah being first class citizens). One might even say that the rosh yeshiva would view someone like that as undermining the goals of Lakewood!

It is also no secret that Lakewood uses the welfare system legally for students who qualify for aid. Most of them probably do – since they do not have jobs but do have large families. Even those whose wives work (most of them, I’m sure) do not make enough money to disqualify them from some sort of government assistance. Again, nothing legally wrong with that.

I have to ask, is there not a moral or ethical issue of misrepresenting yourself to the world in this way – even if you qualify legally? Is there not something wrong with able bodied people choosing not to work and using the welfare system as a means of income?

And by the same token, is there not something wrong with taking over $10 million knowing what the government thinks you are going to do with that money – and using it for something else – even though it technically qualifies? A Beis HaMedrash may be a library. But is a $10 million Beis HaMedrash going to attract business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs?

Even if it truly a research library and not a Beis HaMedrash – it will certainly only contain Seforim – religious books – even if some of them will be in English. What kind of research will this foster – other than research in Torah studies?

I of course have no problem with such a library. I think it will be a valuable resource for student of Torah. But is this what the State of New Jersey had in mind in approving $10 million dollars to Lakewood?

Lakewood’s goal is not Governor Christie’s goal. Lakewood wants to expand its student base. The enormous growth in the numbers of Orthodox Jews, especially among Haredi Jews of the “Torah Only” persuasion, demands such an expansion. For some time now, Lakewood has been talking about doubling its capacity to over 10,000 students!

I guess they have found a way of doing that. But is it ethical? Will the state be happy with the results? And how will this be perceived by the secular public? Will they not see this as being unethical? Is this ultimately the wisest way of raising money for their cause? Will the potential negative fallout be worth it if it happens?

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Deputy Minister Calls Haredim ‘Parasites’ on Radio

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Yesh Atid’s Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy said on a Haredi radio station Wednesday that Haredim are “parasites.” He immediately apologized, but the damage was done.

Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party and now Finance Minister, is widely hated by the Haredi community for his position that everyone in Israel, Haredi or not, should serve in the army or at least spend would-be army time doing national service

He angered the Haredi community even more this week with his proposed two-year budget that  would cut payments for child support, a move that would be felt in the Haredi community, where families have a higher than average number of children. Money for yeshivas also would disappear.

Levy said on the Kol BaRama radio program that Haredim “should share in the burden, to integrate into the job market, stop being parasites drawing on the Israeli public’s resources… You can’t keep leaning on those who pay taxes, who enlist to the army, who serve the country.”

He immediately apologized for the use of the word “parasites” and then defended himself with a routine of “some of my best friends are Haredim.”

“I still visit the rabbis and pay them respect. I hold great respect for tradition and culture, and I come from a religious home,” he said.

Levy said that regardless of the faux pas, his point stands. “You are citizens of equal rights, thus you should be equal in your obligations as well.”

Haredi Knesset Members lost no time in criticizing Levy and Lapid, who irritated them even more in the Knesset on Monday when he told Haredim, “I understand you’re going through tough times. Weren’t you sitting in the government which created the deficit? Were you on Mars?”

He said the Haredi MKs are partly to blame for a bloated government deficit because of funding for yeshivas and other funding for the Haredi community.

Lapid came in for across-the-board criticism, even for posting Facebook messages on the Sabbath Haredi MK Moshe Gafni of Yehudat HaTorah said Lapid posts on the Sabbath because he loves it and wants a fight.”

“I suggest to my fellow hareidi MKs not to play into his hands,” he added. “He comes and says, ‘We’ll deal with the Haredi Jews.’”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/deputy-minister-calls-haredim-parasites-on-radio/2013/04/24/

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