Monday, August 10, 2009

Taking Back Control from Bullies

There is a news story in Yeshiva World News that is noteworthy. Not so much because Askanim were denied a request for a Kol Korei. But by the reaction of Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, a man Charedim consider one of the Gedolei Hador.

Apparently some prominent Charedi community activists - known more commonly by their Hebrew name ‘Askanim’ approached Rabbi Steinman with a document ready for his signature. They felt that organized group vacations should be banned especially those that are not in Charedi areas. After getting Rabbi Steinman’s signature - they would make copies and post them on billboards all across Israel in Charedi neighborhoods. This is known as a Kol Korei.

These are the same type of Askanim that brought down Rabbi Nosson Kaminetsky and Rabbi Natan Slifkin. These are the same type of Askanim who have gotten open air concerts banned. These are Askanim who believe that the more one is sheltred from the world the better.

Rav Steinman not only refused but reportedly had the following reaction:

Rav Shteinman jumped up, the weekly BaKehilla reports, with the Gadol HaDor stating that any bachor taking vacation now, even a day or two, enhances his abilities and performance following vacation.

The Rav explained that the result of the vacation is indeed visible the entire month of Elul and after that as well, question “even this you wish to take away from them?”

In my view this last statement is more important than the fact that he refused to sign the Kol Korei. If one analyzes what he said, it is almost as though he regretted ever signing any ban.

Now - I’m not sure that he ever actually signed one. But my guess is that his name has been used in the past in this kind of context and that he may have gone along with it. But based on his reaction here it seems that if he did - he did so reluctantly.

This is both good news and bad news. It is good that he seems to finally be putting a stop to this kind of thing. But it is bad that he ever allowed himself to be manipulated to sing any ban. It seems like he has some regrets about it.

This is not to say that he didn’t agree with the sentiments of those Askanim with respect to sheltering negative influences in the community. He probably does. But I think he realizes that you simply cannot ban everything that has even the slightest risk to it. I’m sure that those Askainm are correct about non Charedi influences being present in non Charedi areas. But Rav Steinman was nevertheless clearly upset by the request to ban them.

He has finally stood up to these bullies. It took a a Zaken – an elderly Talmid Chacham – a Charedi one – to do it. I hope this is the beginning of more of the same. But there is perhaps a significance to this that should not be overlooked.

Perhaps he feels as I do that over sheltering is counter-productive to the ultimate goals of Judaism. I doubt that he takes this idea to the same level I do. Nonetheless he obviously felt that the risk of exposure to the secular world via a group vacation in non Charedi areas is worth the benefit - which he stated explicitly: Vacations enhance one’s ability to perform on the job- in this case learning in Yeshivos. It’s called R & R – rest and rehabilitation.

Sounds almost Modern Orthodox to me.

If a certain amount of risk is suitable in this instance, then perhaps it is suitable in other areas of life as well – if there is a similar payoff in areas of learning, Mitzvah obervance, or in Shalom Bayis. One can for example allay fears about not being able to support a family by learning a profession or trade earlier in life - this too can surely enhance the over-all level of learning - among other things.