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November 29, 2014 / 7 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘yeshiva’

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?

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

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.’”

Torah and the Secular Jew

Monday, February 18th, 2013

I’m not sure what a secular-traditional-religious home is – but that is the way Ruth Calderon describes the home in which she was raised. Although I think that could describe a modern Orthodox observant Jew too, I think it can easily describe a non observant cultural Jew. Which is what I think Ruth Calderon is.

Dr. Calderon is one of Yesh Atid’s newly elected members of the Kenesset. By her own words she is not observant. If I understand correctly her education was that of the typical secular Israeli where Tanach (bible) is taught as literature and history and not as holy writ. And yet she has done something amazing. She has founded a secular Yeshiva. I suppose that means that her school is geared towards non observant Jews who want to learn Torah similar to the way observant Yeshiva students do.

As a youth, Dr. Calderon was not satisfied with the secular treatment of Judaism she got in Israeli schools. She knew instinctively that something was missing. Mainly the entire corpus of oral law as recorded in the Mishnah and Talmud. To put it the way she did in her inaugural speech before the Kenesset (as translated from the Hebrew in The Jewish Week):

I missed depth; I lacked words for my vocabulary; a past, epics, heroes, places, drama, stories – were missing… for me, this contained – I contained – a void. I did not know how to fill that void. The Talmud is not only the source of Halacha, it is many other things as well. It rich with culture, history, humor, ethics… and much more. She goes on to tell an inspiring story about her discovery of the richness and fullness of the Talmud and described the virtual love affair she has with it to this day. That love affair led her to pursue its study – at least on a secular level and she eventually earned a doctorate in Talmudic Literature.

Because of her love of learning, her Talmud study did not end there. She learns Daf Yomi with a Chavrusa (study partner). And as mentioned she founded a secular yeshiva. She is convinced that studying the Talmud is a vital aspect of being Jewish – even if only culturally – that is missing for the secular Israeli student… lamenting the fact that the founding fathers of Zionism abandoned its study. Again, to quote Dr. Calderon:

It is impossible to stride toward the future without knowing where we came from and who we are, without knowing, intimately and in every particular, the sublime as well as the outrageous and the ridiculous. The Torah is not the property of one movement or another. It is a gift that every one of us received, and we have all been granted the opportunity to meditate upon it a we create the realities of our lives. Nobody took the Talmud and rabbinic literature from us. We gave it away, with our own hands, when it seemed that another task was more important and urgent: building a state, raising an army, developing agriculture and industry, etc. The time has come to reappropriate what is ours, to delight in the cultural riches that wait for us, for our eyes, our imaginations, our creativity. This is a truly profound and inspiring statement. She concludes her Knesset speech with a beautiful drasha – an exposition from the Talmud (Kesubos 62a) that demonstrates the kind of ethics authentic Judaism is all about… and finally ends with a prayer that is said upon entering the Knesset:

May it be Your will, Lord our God, God of our fathers and mothers, that I leave this house as is entered it – at peace with myself and with others. May my actions benefit all residents of the State of Israel. May I work to improve the society that sent me to this chamber and cause a just peace to dwell among us and with our neighbors. May I always remember that I am a messenger of the public and that I must take care to keep my integrity and innocence intact. May I, and we, succeed in all our endeavors. How beautiful it is to see a cultural -and yet still non observant Jew – extol the virtues of Judaism as expressed by our sages. There are some people who might object to a woman citing passages from the Gemarah. They might feel that it is inappropriate for a woman to even speak in public – let alone teach Torah to men. Or even learn Torah for that matter. I am not one of those people. I am on the opposite end of that spectrum. I fully support Torah study by every Jew – man or woman – who desires to do so.

Hareidim – N.I.M.B.Y.

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Hareidim – obviously they’re worse than the Settlers. Who wants them? Worse, who wants them next living next door to you.

For a supposedly open-minded and tolerant society, some Israelis are very intolerant of Hareidim. So intolerant that they don’t want them as neighbors, while simultaneously complaining about Hareidi neighborhoods being enclaves of intolerance and isolation.

In Friday’s (Jerusalem Post) In Jerusalem, the paper went on its usual rant about Hareidim (legally, mind you) acquiring more property in Jerusalem for their growing needs.

In this latest story, the (secular) residents of Ramat Sharett, who share a border with (Hareidi) Bayit V’Gan woke up nearly too late to stop the “machinations” that put them on the “forward position on the frontlines of the ongoing haredi-secular battle in Jerusalem”.

But luckily these secular residents managed to block the legal hareidi acquisition and construction, and reach a “compromise” with the city, thus acquiring one of the two plots in question for themselves, keeping it out of Hareidi hands who had legally already won it.

This of course follows up with their previous articles on Hareidim making inroads into Kiryat HaYovel, and other “last bastions” of secularism in Jerusalem, to the dismay of the less primitive and more open and tolerant secular residents.

But don’t be concerned, all these people say that Hareidim deserve to have a place to live, just not in their back yard.

But what happens when it’s not in their back yard?

Not surprisingly, it turns out these tolerant secular open-minded progressives don’t want Hareidim to have a place to live there either.

In the Jerusalem Post’s weekend magazine, they interviewed Brian Lurie, the new president of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and Naomi Paiss, their VP of public relations.

There’s so much disgusting stuff to talk about in that article, but one particular paragraph caught my eye.

As you may have guessed from above, there are so few communities that want to let Hareidim in, for fear of them taking over.

As a result, the Hareidim have been working on building in their own towns and cities (one in the Negev, one in Wadi Ara), where they can let their hair down, and not worry about bothering secular Jews with the threat of encroachment.

But, the NIF and other progressive group don’t like the idea that Hareidim should build all-Hareidi towns for themselves. And so they try to block it.

The Jerusalem Post quotes Naomi Paiss, NIF’s VP for public relations,

“…the NIF was involved in a campaign to change what was set up to an all-haredi 50,000-person city placed in the Harish wadi area [JS: think Baqa Al-Gharbiya and Umm el Qutuf] between a regular middle-class town of ordinary Jewish people, a kibbutz down the road and an Arab village up the hill.”

Paiss says the new city would have ruined an area where pluralism is working by artificially throwing in a new ghetto.

She says she has no problem with Hareidim moving into the new development, but the NIF is proud it has suceeded in making the new development open to all.

So let’s analyze her statement, down the road is a left-wing kibbutz ghetto. Up the hill is an exclusively Arab village ghetto (Baka Al-Gharbiya – Arab population 32,000+, Jewish population: 0). And somewhere nearby is a ghetto of middle-class ordinary (presumably secular) Israelis (who would of course welcome in Hareidim with open arms to their town).

So despite all those other ghettos nearby, a new Hareidi ghetto would have ruined the pluralism of the the area. Really.

I don’t know about you, but the hypocrisy is just reeking.

And perhaps there’s something else that Paiss isn’t actually telling us either.

This area, Wadi Ara, is actually an area overwhelmingly populated by Arabs, and not Jews, though it appears to me that she wants you to think otherwise by mentioning a kibbutz and Jewish town alongside and Arab village.

If I were a suspicious fellow, I’d wonder if perhaps the NIF fears that Hareidim moving in, with their high birth rates, would Judaize the Wadi Ara area. While a “pluralistic” town, “open to all” would prevent that from happening.

But I’m not a suspicious fellow, and I’m sure that wasn’t a consideration, even if she implied that there was only a small Arab village nearby, and not a few, including one with over 32,000 Arab residents.

Is it True that ‘No One Really Frum Has a TV’?

Monday, February 11th, 2013

I’m not going to comment on the substance of Rabbi Daniel Schneierson’s post on YWN, entitled, “Is Chemistry Important?” People can make their own judgments about the importance of chemistry between a dating couple. On that topic, I will just say that a lot of what he says has merit – but I reject the idea that chemistry is not important.

What troubled me about his essay is the following offhand comment which he puts into parentheses: Nowadays no one really frum has a TV…

With this comment he has just wiped out of Orthodoxy most of observant Jewry including many Haredim. (I don’t know him personally but if he is not Haredi – he sure sounds like it in this post.)

I am not going to debate the value of TV. I’ve discussed that issue many times. Suffice it to say that many of the criticisms of the right are true. But just like the internet, there is both good and bad in TV. And just like the internet, it ought not be banned or treated like hilul Shabbos to own one as Rabbi Schneierson does.

The problems with TV do not begin and end with Haredim. Nor even with Jews. There are many people who feel that TV is nothing more than a vast wasteland. And that one could spend their time much more productively without one. You don’t have to be a Haredi Jew to know that. Nor is it lost on decent people of all religions that there is way too much immorality on TV. I’m not going to argue any of that because it’s true.

But to make a blanket statement that nobody frum has a TV anymore (especially in a sort of humorous good natured tongue in cheek sort of way) proves just how isolated the fellow is… and how isolated he wants his community to be.Not because not owning a TV makes you isolated. But because identifying those who own one as not being frum. It is no secret that in his circles – not interacting with non frum Jews is an ideal they pursue. That’s why they try to isolate themselves from the rest of the world as much as possible. And it is why they reject some children from their schools. Children from homes that have a TV or the internet. They do not want to be ‘tainted’ by the ‘goyishe’ values children from those homes bring to the school.

This attitude is so arrogant and narrow minded that it boggles the mind that one can even make a statement like that let alone believe it… and by mentioning it in passing, he insinuates that we all already know that… he is just reminding us of it.

This man is a Rebbe (Shoel U’Meishiv) in a yeshiva. And he is teaching his students to think of any Jew with a TV as not frum. And he teaches it in the most insidious way – in a semi humorous post as a foregone conclusion, without any qualification.

This is the”my way or the highway” attitude of so many Haredim. And the mechanchim they produce make it very dangerous one. He is teaching intolerance whether he realizes it or not. Owning a TV makes one not frum and therefore a purposeful sinner. One must not intermingle with purposeful sinners because they will influence you to sin.

I know he means well. He thinks by insinuating that frum people don’t own TVs it will reinforce the idea of just how bad owning a TV is. He believes that owning a TV is so dangerous to your Frumkeit that he subliminally teaches you to consider TV owners as not observant. After all the definition of being Frum has historically been whether one keeps Shabbos. According to Rabbi Daniel Schneierson the new definition of being frum is not owning a TV. He subconsciously implants in the mind of those over which he has influence that owning a TV is like hilul Shabbos.

The fact that there are entire communities of Jews that own TVs and that there are not insignificant numbers of moderate Haredim among them – doesn’t phase him. He probably writes them off as not frum too.

The Frum Student’s Alternative to Yeshiva in Israel

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Most students who attend Orthodox Jewish high schools in America are strongly encouraged – either formally or informally – to spend at least the year following graduation studying in a yeshiva in Israel, and a majority of them do.

That year spent in Israel is a cherished luxury for those who yearn to focus all their energy, nearly all day, nearly every day, absorbing the canonical Jewish texts and commentaries, without the distractions of secular life or study.

But not all observant high school graduates are prepared to sit and study Jewish texts for upwards of 10 hours a day, for an entire school year.  For those students, the choice has long been either giving in to pressure and signing up for an unwanted tour of duty that too often has unpleasant if not downright dangerous consequences, or to forgo altogether what may be the last opportunity to study Jewish text in the Jewish homeland at all.

Not anymore.

A speical program in Israel for post high school observant boys from the Diaspora has appeared on the scene.  This program is known as a “mechina,” and, at least thus far, its combination of text study with Zionist and educationally-inspired tiyulim (hikes), chesed (community service) and rigorous physical activity has provided the right answer for those who want to live in Israel before college, but for whom a traditional yeshiva was not the best fit.

Like a yeshiva, a mechina is based on traditional Torah learning, but it also dedicates a significant chunk of its curriculum to developing Torah-based leadership skills and real-life tools outside of the classroom.

Noah Lerner, from Edison, New Jersey will be attending Rutgers University next year.  This year Lerner is at Mechinat Yeud, a two year old program on the outskirts of Efrat.  Despite being from an observant family, Lerner was not planning on spending a year in Israel. He was eager to get on with college and move swiftly towards his goal of becoming a successful businessman. But now that he is more than halfway through his mechina year, Lerner could not be happier about his decision.

It was only by accident that Lerner found out about Mechinat Yeud.  He was sitting in the library during a free period in the beginning of his senior year, when he was approached and told there was someone in another room talking about a program in Israel that was not a yeshiva.  Lerner went to the session more out of boredom than interest in the program, but was excited by what he heard.

The learning is very important at Yeud, but what Lerner really loves is the opportunity to immerse himself in Israeli culture, “to have The Land be the classroom, to see the places I’ve learned about, to strengthen my Jewish identity in a way I’ll never have the opportunity to do again.”

A typical week at Yeud consists of rigorous learning sessions and lectures by leading Torah scholars, but also learning through experiences such as hikes Yam l’Yam (from the Mediterranean to the Kinneret), explorations of archeological digs, krav maga sessions, modified IDF boot camp, sessions on biomedical ethics and Jewish Law, volunteering at an animal therapy center, sessions on Jewish leadership roles in their future communities and working with “little brothers” with special needs or from underprivileged homes in the local communities.

Shmil Atlas is the executive director of Mechinat Yeud.  He recently spoke at length with The Jewish Press in an effort to explain what he hoped to achieve by creating Yeud. He said he and Rav Yaacov Shapiro, the founder and head of Yeud institutions – there is a Midreshet Yeud as well – had a vision of creating something dramatic and different with a year long educational program for observant young men from the diaspora.

Atlas says there are currently two ways the Modern Orthodox world responds to the secular world.  One is to become more isolated, to withdraw into what comes closer to a charedi experience, in order to shut out the outside world.  The other way is to daven, to engage in chevrusa learning, but when not specifically engaged in prayer or Jewish learning, to step completely outside of the “bubble” and act exactly like everybody else, i.e. not live as if Jewish values bind you when not engaging in “Jewish” life.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/the-frum-students-alternative-to-yeshiva-study-in-israel/2013/02/05/

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