Monday, December 14, 2009

Fear is Not Leadership

A very good Charedi friend of mine who currently works in Kiruv told me of a crisis he went through many years ago. He was in Israel - had been learning in a Kollel for many years and there was practically no money on the table. With his family growing and his wife becoming increasingly worried about their financial well being, he approached his Rosh Kollel asking him if he should get up from Kollel and start looking for work. The answer was a resounding no.

He listened and stayed on. But his financial situation kept getting worse and Shalom Bayis was becoming a real issue. So he asked again and got the same answer. After repeating this scenario a few times and with a financial knife at his throat and his Shalom Bayis on the line he left that Kollel with a very tepid 'send off' from that Rosh Kollel and started looking for a job. He eventually got one in Chinuch.

He has since severed the bond he once had with that Rosh Kollel. A short time after he got his job - a Chinuch issue arose and he sought the advice and counsel of his former Rosh Kollel. That Rosh Kollel could not help him.

I bring this story up in light of the recent post on Cross-Currents by Jonathan Rosenblum.

The views are almost identical to mine. I have in fact expressed these very same thoughts. Many times. In doing so - I have been accused of Kollel bashing. Had I penned these identical words, I’m sure I would have gotten the same response I always get.

The thrust of Jonathan’s post is that learning Torah full time more than a few years is not for everyone. When previous Gedolim mandated that everyone must strive to learn full time for as long as possible – it was because they were trying to rebuild from the ashes of the holocaust and recreate the Torah world of Europe.

That world did not exist in America or in Israel then. The push was to instill those values into a culture that had long ago been abandoned – even among the Orthodox.

But by now it has been more than rebuilt. And it is time to go back to a society where most Jews will eventually work and support their families. This is a system I have always advocated. The means of getting there which include college and professional schools - as well as vocational training is the way for most people to get good jobs. Indeed many Charedim have gone those routes. But the Hashkafa opposing it is still the dominant one in many Charedi circles – especially in Israel.

Will Jonathan lose his Charedi credentials for being so frank and controversial? I doubt it. He works for Agudah and I'm sure he will continue to do so. There are apparently rabbinic leaders there who actually agree with him. But his outspokenness is unfortunately not the hallmark of his ‘boses’ - the Agudah Moetzes.

The truth is that there is a division in the ranks of many right wing rabbinic leaders. There are those who have an attitude like the above Rosh Kollel. It is a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude - Kollel or bust. They are the ones who characterize non Kollel members as lesser human beings. And there are those whose views are reflected by Jonathan. The problem is in their reticence to publicly speak about it.

From Jonathan’s post:

One of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the United States told me recently that the gedolim cannot even discuss questions surrounding poverty because if they did the “street” would just label them fake gedolim.

This is in part why the problem exists. And it is one of the reasons I question their claim to Gadlus. It is because they fear losing the title. They are afraid of the street! So they will not do what is necessary – what Gedolim of the past did. Those Gedolim did not care about their title!

That’s why we have Roshei Kollel like the one in the anecdote above. That Rosh Kollel will not hear what he needs to hear. He had thus almost ruined that Avreich’s life.

In the end, that Avreich ‘escaped’. But a friend and fellow Avreich of his who is still there was not so lucky. His Shalom Bayis could not withstand the stress. He has many children most of whom are no longer Frum. And his marriage is in danger of collapsing. Are there other factors that contributed to this? Perhaps. But one cannot discount the financial pressures and their impact on the family.

Jonathan says that it is obvious why rabbinic leaders aren’t screaming his message from the rooftops. They are afraid of tampering with the success that the Torah world has achieved in this regard since the holocaust. But I strongly disagree. If it were properly presented they would have nothing to fear. The infrastructure is in place. And they would still be encouraging the right people to stay in learning as a career.

Rav Ahron Soloveichik said it a long time ago. Only the Yechidei Segula should be encouraged to do that. Not the Hamon Am – not the general populace. This is one reason why Rav Ahron was a Gadol. When he saw the truth he proclaimed it from the mountain tops. He cared very little about his own Kavod. He was a seeker of Emes and proclaimed it wherever he found it.

But the rabbinic leaders of today are quite the opposite. They fear an over-reaction that might result in wholesale abandonment of Kollelim and a loss of respect. But neither would happen. In fact the opposite will. Respect for them would be increased, in my view if the proper Hashkafos were taught at the outset.

Fear is what drives this vehicle now. Here is how Jonathan puts it:

There is another reason that there will be no such public statements. Any such statement would be met with vicious attacks by the “kenaim,” who would say about the gadol in question: Who are you?

I’m sorry. One cannot call himself a leader if he fears that by expressing the truth he will lose his title.

The points Jonathan makes are groundbreaking for a Charedi spokesperson. I strongly suggest reading the post on Cross-Currents - specifically the 6 questions asked at the end. Those questions ought to be answered publicly at the highest echelons of the Torah world.