Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Scared to Death

Scared to death. This is what I’m told by people who are close to some of the prominent Charedi rabbinic leaders: They are scared to death. When I express my incredulity at that, it is usually followed by, 'Harry, you have no idea!'

I have always said that most of the rabbinic leaders in the Torah world today are good and decent people who are very knowledgeable in Torah and generally have great compassion for Klal Yisroel. And it is often the case that they spend countless hours of their very valuable time in service to Klal Yisroel …more so than most of the rest of us. But is that enough to make someone a rabbinic leader?

Is it enough to have great Torah knowledge and compassion while working very hard for the Klal? Not if they live in fear of asserting their views at the expense of their reputations. Though such fear may be understandable and even justified, it undermines their authority - if they succumb to it.

Who exactly are they so afraid of? I’m told that they are afraid of Askanim - community activists. They are afraid of what the Askanim will do to them if they say or do anything they don’t like. Because this fear is so real, it has a corrosive effect on their leadership and on the cohesiveness of the Torah world.

Good Charedi people are beginning to reflect some of the same attitudes I have. Like the one Jonathan Rosenblum did in an article entitled Bans are not Chinuch.

Because of this fear, the intimidating Askanim have assumed a defacto leadership position. They are the ones calling the shots now.

Issues are left unaddressed by Charedi rabbinic leaders who seem to focus on ‘the insignificant’ at the expense of ‘the significant’. As a result we have strongly worded condemnations of religious concerts and very little addressing of issues like child molestation.

I think part of the reason that Askanim have become so successful is because there are certain rabbinic leaders that actually agree with them. They shout from the rooftops the same messages that these Askanim do… haranguing on an agenda item of their choice. Askanim feel free to intimidate those who disagree since they have backing from a few Kannoistic rabbinc leaders themselves.

Those rabbinic leaders who are more inclined to be moderate and show the kind of caring shown in the past by leaders like Rav Pam - are threatned by the strident militancy of these Askanim and the Kannositic Rabbanim who support them. Where are the Rav Pams today? They may have his compassion but they do not have his courage to express it!

They are ‘scared to death’. I have heard that phrase so many times that it’s moved me to ask publicly, ‘Who is really in charge here?’ The answer is obvious. It is the Kanoistic Rabbanim and Askanim. It is not the good and decent rabbinic figures who disagree but are in such fear of their views.

How can anyone be considered a Gadol if he is afraid to do or say the right thing because he fears of personal consequences from his own community activists? Is there not any one left who will stand up against these people?