Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?

There are signs that the pendulum is starting to swing back in the worlod of Charedim. At least in the United States. I’m not saying that the changes are earth shattering. But they are perceptible. There is still a long way to go in the Charedi world. But if a letter in the Yated is any indication – it is a beginning. I just hope that it is not an end as well.

The following is reprinted – unedited - with permission from the Yated Ne’eman:


Dear Editor,

If you are a bochur who walks the walk, talks the talk, and dresses the dress, then the eye of scrutiny is upon you at all times. You are an ambassador of Torah to the outside world. What an awesome task to portray the beauty, righteousness and pleasantness of Hashem’s Torah on a constant basis!

Since each and every one of us is a ‘work in progress,’ endeavoring to fine-tune and iron out our wrinkles in avodas Hashem, large doses of praise and small quantities of constructive criticism (as suggested by Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum) are necessary.

Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger, you are correct that tributes and applause need to be heard often to counter all the critics and reprimands. I am prepared to commend the bochurim whom I have come in contact with. There is a mesivta bochur who happily brings a ‘special child’ to Shacharis each day and to Motzoei Shabbos events.

Another wakes up early and puts tefillin on an elderly man who is hospitalized and alone. Whenever there is a shivah house in need of a minyan, a group of bochurim is on call for an early Shacharis or late Maariv.

A woman who cooks meals for the homebound is assisted by a bochur who does weekly driving. Tutoring, ball playing and going for walks with younger boys are all done by neighborhood bochurim. These are a few tiny examples of chassodim that are performed by our Torah ambassadors. Share these and other happenings to develop an ayin tov towards our yeshiva boys.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l, the paragon role model, teacher and writer of “Alei Shur” and “Planting & Building, Raising a Jewish Child,” describes the importance of teaching every person as a unique individual (rather than with today’s cookie-cutter mentality). The expectations for a student must always be appropriate to his age, prepare him for emotional ups and downs, help to develop daas and empathy, and ensure that he is balanced. Are these components of our current elite and intense yeshiva education?

Rabbi Hisiger, a major problem is brewing. A new design called the ‘Bionic Ben Torah’ has been created. This creature is always dressed immaculately in starched white and black. He eats, drinks and sleeps l’sheim Shomayim. He is a 365-days-a-year, 24/7 masmid. He is interested solely in Torah projects. He is a tremendous baal emunah, and is structured, organized and totally dedicated to his avodas Hashem.

Who can measure up to this “Bionic Ben Torah”? Anything less than this is krum... (emphasis mine)

A light blue or striped shirt? Krum.

Thick stripes and pastel colors? Super krum.

Playing keyboard or drums? Krum.

Guitar, bongos or flute? Super Krum.

Playing baseball or basketball? Krum.

Hockey or football? Super krum.

Reading a book on history and economics? Krum.

Psychology or science? Super krum.

Carpentry, mechanics or photography? Krum.

Art, crafts and painting? Super krum.

Talented wedding dancing? Krum.

Gymnastics? Super krum.

Society has completely whitewashed and rewrote the reality and truism of Torah giants. I was the camp mother at Camp Bais Yaakov in Ferndale in the mid-70s. The highlight of my day was watching Rav Nissin Alpert zt”l play a vigorous game of handball.

Visiting rabbeim, roshei yeshivos and mechanchim enjoyed a competitive ping-pong tournament. A renowned rosh yeshiva today was a past semi-professional tennis player. Composing niggunim, musical kumzitz gatherings and dancing were frequent normative bnei yeshiva behavior, not looked upon askance.

Yeshiva bochurim swam, fished, biked, played ball and board games, sang, painted, jogged and worked out. Building bookcases, shtenders and wooden desks, knowing how to cook, and being the ‘proficient with tools bochur’ was honorable and noble.
Who changed the script that worked so well?

Sincerely, Mrs. Caren V. May

If I am not mistaken this is the same cvmay that often comments here. She is a wise woman who I believe generally agrees with me. But neither is she shy about disagreeing. I salute Mrs. May for the courage of her convictions and for stating them forthrightly to the Yated. (Blue shirts - Krum? – I wonder where she got that idea?)

The Yated Ne’eman is one of several Charedi papers. It was founded with the approval and guidance of Charedi Gedolim. Its purpose was to reflect Daas Torah based on the input of those Rabbanim. To the best of my knowledge no controversial subject is ever published without their review and approval.

Past editorials reflected that and were often very strident in rejecting other Hashkafos or criticisms from sources outside the Charedi world. Some their critical pieces were in fact quite objectionable to me.

But when editor Rabbi Pinchos Lipshutz published his article on sex abuse a while back, I noticed a shift. They went from being completely self congratulatory – even triumphalist - about their succeses - to an attitude of introspection. At least on that issue.

Now comes this letter. The Yated never used to allow articles that were in any way critical of their lifestyles. But this letter from Mrs. May clearly is. The issues she laments missing from today’s Charedi world are the very same issues I have written about. The mere fact that the Yated published them means that they give them some merit.

I realize of course that the very next issue may contain a rebuttal to her letter (which I believe was a response to a previous article). But the mere fact that the Yated published it shows that these issues are a real concern now.

It remains to be seen what will come of this - whether anything will change or not. But at least they are thinking about it. We need to move that pendulum a little bit more now.