People that read this blog regularly know of my admiration for centenarian Charedi leader, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. He is an Ish Emes. A man who tells it like it is, despite popular opinion, or the consequences to himself. This – among other things – is what makes him a leader in Klal Yisroel. But as people also know, I have had some profound disagreements with him.
While Charedim consider it near heretical to disagree with a Charedi Gadol, I don’t. As long as one does it with respect, one has a right to his own view. I can’t even imagine denying a view deeply held even by a Charedi if he (or she) feels strongly about a given matter. Just because it differs with a man they consider to be a Gadol.
And yet most Charedim seem to do exactly that. They are Mevatel (nullify) their own Daas (wisdom) to that of the Gadol. I won’t do that because I can’t. If I believe strongly in something, then the only way I will change my mind is if I can be shown the error of my ways. Telling me that a Gadol disagrees with me won’t sway me. Now one can discount my views if they think they are unworthy compared to those of a Gadol. One can say that since my knowledge of Torah is minuscule compared to that of R’ Shteinman it is therefore worthless. That is their right. They can take my view for what they think it’s worth. But it wont change my mind.
And this is once again the case with a new Psak by R’ Shteinman. Hadrei Haredim – Hebrew edition reports that Rav Shteinman has paskined that women are forbidden to attend any degree granting institution. Even a Charedi college like the one created by Adina Bar Shalom (Rav Ovadia Yosef’s daughter). He actually mentioned her by name in his Psak.
I’m not sure why this came up now. Nor do I quite understand his strident opposition. But I do know that such Halachic decrees could not come at a worse time.
Most people know that Charedim are the poorest demographic in Israel. Well that statistic has gone from bad to worse. From the JerusalemPost:
(T)he poverty rates among the ultra-Orthodox populations increased to 66% in 2013 from 60% in 2012. The reason for this the report cites, is due to a lack of increase in employment rates, low earnings, and the cutback in child allowances.
It makes absolutely no sense to prevent people from helping themselves. If he believes that women that attend universities will somehow be led astray by what they study there and go OTD, how much more so should there be a fear of children going OTD from family dysfunction caused by poverty?
Getting a degree in a field that will enable women (and men) to find better paying jobs should be something that is encouraged, not forbidden. I believe that Rav Ovadia Yosef, ZTL approved of his daughter’s Charedi college. He understood that there is a serious need for such institutions in the Charedi world. In my view, he was absolutely correct.
There has been some discussion in various media about the futility of large families getting out of poverty even with good jobs. That a family of 12 or 13 children (not so unusual among Charedim) would need incomes well in excess of what even a high paying job pays. That well may be true. But does that mean that they shouldn’t even try to better their lives with an education that could provide better jobs? Maybe it won’t pull them entirely out of poverty, but it will certainly help.