Friday, May 23, 2008

The Way We Were

Hirhurim has a post today that is near and dear to my heart. Professor Yitzchok Levine writes about his experience at last week’s Torah Umesorah convention. The speaker was HaRav Avrohom Chaim Levin, Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe, Chicago. He spoke about my Alma Mater, Yeshivath Beth Yehudah in Detroit.

First a word about Rabbi Levin. He is a member of the Agudah Moetzes. And he is one of the worthiest members on it. He is obviously Charedi and there are differences between us on certain issues. But the respect that I have for him has no adequate words of description. He is a Gibor – a great person of tremendous Torah knowledge. He is also a man of great courage and strength. An Ish Torah and an Ish Emes. Truth and wisdom emanate from his being. He is unafraid to speak his mind or protest what others saying if he disagrees even if it goes against the current wave of Charedism. He proves that Charedi Judaism is not monolithic.

Just to cite one example, a couple of years ago at an earlier Torah Umesorah convention, Rav Aharon Feldman the Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Israel remarked that America would never be able to produce the kind of Gedolim Israel does - because those of potential must waste their time on secular studies in high school instead of focusing full time in Torah as they do in Israel.

Rabbi Levin stood up and said, No! Not true! He pointed out that his yeshiva mandates secular studies in high school. And his graduates over the last 50 years do not take a back seat to anyone in Torah learning or Yiras Shamyim – fear of Heaven.

Aside from that he is a Mentch. When Telshe Chicago first opened its doors on a shoestring budget almost 50 years ago, their students were sent to private homes for their Shabbos meals. My parents hosted some of those young men over a period of several years. Rav Levin never forgot that. When my father died over thirty years after that, Rav Levin came to my house to be Menachem Avel me even though I had absolutely no real contact with him or his Yeshiva since the late sixties. He talked about the Hakaras HaTov – the gratitude he had to my father to that day! He is a role model for Charedi Gadlus. For any Gadlus!

Rav Levin demonstrates this once again with his remarks at the Torah Umesorah. Here are some excerpts from Dr. Levine’s guest post on Hirhurim:

"During his address (Rav Levin’s) mentioned that Forty years ago there were 8 boys in the eighth grade in Yeshiva Beth Yehuda in Detroit." Of these eight, he pointed out that five were not from Shomer Shabbos homes. He then went on to say, that all of these five boys eventually became outstanding Torah personalities.There is no question that Torah Umesorah played a key role in the development of Yiddishkeit in Detroit, and Rav Levin had pointed to just one aspect of this...

Beth Yehudah was built almost entirely by talmidim of Reb Shraga Feivel or those who had come under his sway. Nowhere was his inspiration more intensely felt than in the sense of mission his followers brought to Detroit...
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After Rav Levin had made his remarks about the 5 boys from non-religious homes who had become exceptional Torah personalities, I (Dr. Levine) turned to the person sitting next to me and said, "You realize, I am sure, that today these 5 boys could not get into most of the yeshivas in Brooklyn."

Yeshivath Beth Yehudah is my alma mater. I experienced the kindness and dedication of those early pioneers first hand. Anyone who reads my bio at the top of this blog will see how much importance I attach to those early pioneers, two of whom I mention by name. They helped shaped who I am today - and how I raised my children.

But the response of the person Professor Levine made his comments to do not sit well with him. Nor do they with me nor should they with anyone:

He replied, "It was a different tekufah [era] then. We are no longer concerned with parents who send their kids to public school. If someone wants to start a yeshiva for public school kids, then let him. It was a different tekufah."

This is a sad but very sad but telling commentary on what I believe is the typical attitude by far too many people in the Charedi world. The idea he really expressed was: Kiruv?! Tough! Go find someplace else. We’re busy. We can’t pollute our holy environment with mundane matters like that.

There is no question that the era of tolerance and acceptance in a multi faceted environment of Torah is now lost - supplanted by our current era of intolerance and rejection where it is anything but multi faceted.

It is now all about insuring a singular mentality that accepts only one version of Torah Hashkafa, and rejects everything else. It is about not accepting anyone from anywhere but a single slice of Judaism. The ‘Charedi Yeshiva’ has morphed from what was once a ‘shining Yeshiva on a hill’ of the type exemplified by the Beth Yehudah of my era - into an intolerant mass production ‘Torah factory’ whose focus is only on those who fit exactly into a mold – by background, by intelligence, and by Hashkafa. Everyone else can just go fend for themselves.