Thursday, August 14, 2008

Elu V’Elu – A Centrist Perspective

One of the things that really underscores the black and white way that most/many Charedim understand Centrism is the belief that it is a ‘my way or the highway’ approach. The following comment directed to me illustrates that:

I was a bit surprised to see that RHM has a live and let live attitude regarding (Israeli) Charedim. Don’t you claim that they are wrong for living the way they do...

The answer is no. I don't. As I apply it to Charedim, live and let live is a corollary to Elu V’Elu. And when I say Elu V’Elu, I mean it. I grant legitimacy to the ‘Torah only’ approach of Charedim and their value system that leads to the lifestyles they have. There is much that is good in that system. That I prefer Centrism is not to say that I believe other Hashkafos to be wrong. It’s just that I think the Centrist Hashkafa of Torah U’Mada is better. And I use reason to argue for it.

Those who disagree and adhere to the ‘Torah Only’ Hashkafa can argue theirs is the preferred approach. We can each bring Rayos - proofs - to support our Hashkafos. In my view Klal Yisroel would be better off in many ways if my Hashkafa were adopted by all. Charedim would argue otherwise. Elu V’EluDivrei Elokim Chaim. As long as it is all L’Shem Shamyim.

Live and let live means that if someone believes that the Charedi lifestyle is best, he has every right to live that lifestyle and I would never dream of imposing any other lifestyle on him. That I would like to create circumstances that would benefit them does not detract from their right to fight those circumstances.

For example - my desire for the Israeli government to impose minimal secular educational standards in Charedi schools in order receive government funding. Charedim have every right to oppose and fight such a government imposition. Indeed they did and succeeded - in my view to their own detriment.

Had the government succeeded in making funding contingent minimal standards, it still would not have taken away their right to have ‘Torah Only’ schools. It just would have taken away government funding. They could have as many Torah Only schools as they like. Forcing them to close would be wrong and I would be totally opposed to that because it denies an individual or community the right to live according to their own standards. But they won. And I can live with it, albeit reluctantly and with sadness for the resulting poverty to which it contributes.

There is another misconception about Centrist Hashkafa - at least the way I define it. It is the idea that only a handful of the superstars should sit and learn long term, while everyone else goes to work.

This is not correct. My belief as a Centrist is that only those with potential to be Gedolim in Torah should learn long term – that is - more than two or three years in a Kollel if they so choose. But those learning long term would be more than just a handful. Yes, only a handful of those will become Gedolim. But there are many with such potential. However not all will achieve it. Since we cannot predict who will and who will not. We should support those with the motivation and ability and thus the potential to achieve the goal of Gadlus in Torah.

There are many areas of Gadlus, such as in Psak Halacha, or in Being Mechadesh Chidushim, or in becoming a Rosh HaYeshiva. But as I’ve said many times, to become a Gadol, learning Torah is not enough. There are many other factors that are necessary for that. Let us support those with potential and the cream will rise to the top. They will find their niche.

I would venture to say that the majority if not the vast majority of those who are learning long term do not fit into that category. They may be bright and learn well, but they are not Gedolim- never were and will be. They never had the potential and they know it. In my view those people would be far better off preparing for a Parnassa somewhere along the way while learning (e.g. going to college – probably a couple of nights a week before marriage– to learn a profession).

If they wish - they would continue learning full time afterwards - even after marriage - staying in Kollel for a number of years (two or three). Then they should get up and get a job. This does not mean they have to stop learning. They would still be Koveiah Itim - specific hours every day to continue learning Torah. That is my ideal scenario - or some version of that.

In answer to the question ‘Do I wish to change the way Charedim think?’ …Yes, I would. But only through the power of persuasion and argument, not by way of force.

Does Elu V’Elu apply to all ideologies? The answer is no, of course not. It can only include those Hashkafos that are not heretical - or even near heretical. So Elu V’Elu would include Chasidus for example - but not Meshichism …or Conservative or Reform Judaism. And obviously not Jews for Jesus. The Hashkafa of Centrism does not contain any elements of heresy or near heresy in it. Those others do.

Centrism has the same exacting approach to Halacha as Charedim. The difference is in how we value things outside the Torah. A Centrist will ascribe positive value to the study of Mada and has a positive attitude to the participation in the general culture - in those things that are permitted by Halacha.

A Charedi may in fact do the same things, but his attitude will be different. He will be defensive an apologetic seeing it as B’Dieved. Centrists on the other hand believe that studying Mada may be done L’Chatchila as long it is done for the right reasons - L’Shem Shamyim. For example learning a profession in order to support a family is a L’Chatchila. Becoming a doctor in order to save lives is a L’Chatchila.

Why Centrism is denied Elu V’Elu status remains a puzzle to me.