Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Lesson to be Learned

There is a fascinating article on VIN. I must say that I am both shocked and pleased that these views are becoming more prevalent in the Charedi world. I have been saying these things for years. And I am constantly being rebuffed by those who either don’t value it or disagree with its essential truths.

I am talking about the sorry secular educational standards in the Charedi world. I have long railed against the nonexistent one in Israel. At the same time I assumed that there is a minimum level of decent secular education on the American side. But I have also realized that the pendulum was swinging further and further away from that. It has not entirely vanished. Yet. But based on descriptions in the VIN article, it seems that the push to abolish all secular studies in the Charedi world is way ahead of schedule.

What happened last Thursday is not unrelated to this issue. Not at all. When people can’t get decent jobs they will sometimes turn to crime. They may find illegal businesses to set up and earn money that way. Careers open to college educated people are closed to those without it.

I’m not necessarily saying that’s what happened in the money laundering case. But it is not too much of a stretch to see a connection between a lack of a decent education and job opportunity. And it is not too great a leap from there to what we have seen last week. Yesterday there were two additional fraud cases in the news. Both involved either Chasidic or non Chasidic Charedi Jews.

This is all aside from the fact that there is a serious lack of ethical behavior being taught in these schools. Apparently Agudah realizes that problem now and the call for an emergency meeting last night reflected that. But VIN is right. There is another huge problem and is being ignored. He called it the elephant in the room. It is all about the serious lack of secular education.

I’m not sure whether things are going to change in this department because a few voices that are now beginning to speak up. The Hashakfos taught now have been ingrained in Charedi educators for decades. They consist of - but are not limited to - the following:

*Talmid Torah K’Neged Kulam means full time learning is the highest calling and therefore to be vigorously pursued to the detriment of every other pursuit.

*A thousand people need to be put in the Beis HaMedrash in order to produce one Gadol - even if 999 of them fall through the cracks it’s worth it to get even one Gadol.

*Baalei Batim are second class citizens.

*Secular studies do not have any real value.

*Torah is not just the Ikkar - It is the only!

*Working is at best a B’dieved.

*One should stay in learning as long as possible. Preparing for an eventual job is out of the question while one is involved in learning.

This is a culture that was not built in a day. And it will be very difficult to change the paradigm – if that is even possible anymore. Nor am I convinced that Charedi rabbinic leadership is inclined to do so – even now!

But if they don’t treat the whole ‘paitent’ …if they do not try and remove both diseases… if they try and remove only one and not the other – the ethical problem and not the educational problem – the patient will surely die.

That was about what did not take place last night at the Agudah meeting. Now a word about what did.

I’m not sure how that meeting went last night. I am not going to listen to the available recordings of the entire evening. I simply do not have the time. As of yet I have seen no synopses or reports about it anywhere.

But if what is trickling out so far is true, I am unconvinced that they accomplished much. Having a convicted felon there saying ‘I’m truly sorry’ - no matter how sincere - does not really cut it for me. It may even have undercut whatever good might have come out of that meeting. Bernie Madoff was sorry too. Truly sorry. That really impressed his victims. And the Judge. His sentence: 150 years in prison!

He is going to be spending the rest of his life in jail. How much more askance should we look upon a religious leader who is responsible for a huge Chilul HaShem!

YWN had a relevant post about about Rav Schwab’s thoughts on this subject. Here are quotes by him - all taken from Chazal:

“He who has committed Chillul Hashem, even Teshuvah, Yom Kippur and suffering cannot fully atone for his sin until the day of his death.” (Yoma 86)

“Better to commit a sin in secrecy than to commit Chillul Hashem in public.” (Kiddushin 40)

There is no delay in the Divine punishment for Chillul Hashem, whether committed knowingly or unknowingly.” (Kiddushin 40)

“If one steals from a non-Jew, swears falsely and dies, his death is no atonement for his sin because of Chillul Hashem.” (Tosefta B. Kamma, 10)

“He who desecrates the name of Heaven in secrecy is punished in public.” (Avos 4)

“All sins are forgiven by G-d but Chillul Hashem. He punishes immediately.” (Sifri Haazinu)

Looking at these quotes -I do not see inviting a felon to say I’m sorry as being justified at all.

I feel sorry for the Spinka Rebbe. There are certainly worse felons than he. I do not wish him any more pain than he is currently suffering. And I’m sure he is suffering. I can understand the embarrassment he and his family must be going through.

But Agudah should not have invited him. They did not do themselves a favor. Nor did this help solve the problem. Kiddush HaShem is the only antidote to Chilul HaShem. Kiddush HaShem does not mean saying I’m Sorry.

Let ‘s reflect on everything that happened here over the last few weeks. The fact that there was an uptick in uncovering more crime by religious Jews less than 48 hours before Tisha B’Av should not be lost on us. There is a message in there somewhere.

Perhaps it is that the entire religious world should examine and analyze deeply why this happened and learn from it. We need to combine our efforts in this area. And rid Orthodox Jewry of the terrible scourge of one Chilul HaShem after another. It is time for a new era to dawn. One that turns the tide towards more productive and ethical lives for all of us. And forever eliminates any chance for a Chilul HaShem like this ever happening again.

Update: (7/29/09 5:11 pm cdt) A video of attorney Benjamin Braffman speaking from the podium at last night's Agudah gathering has been made available online. I offer it here (above). I believe he is exactly right. What he experienced is a huge part of the problem with these communities too.