Sunday, January 17, 2010

Striking a Chord - and a Nerve

A self described ‘rant’ on by someone named Shmuel Miskin demonstrates exactly what separates the hard right of Charedim from the rest of Klal Yisoel.

I do not want to mislead anyone with this characterization. By hard right I do not mean Meah Shearim type Jews. They are an extreme group of Jews whose public actions of late are disapproved of even by the hard right. Mostly.

By hard right I am talking about those who see their Gedolim as infallible - defacto if not dejure. A Gadol or group of Gedolim that make pronouncements on any issue must not be questioned. We are required to simply follow them. End of story.

Contradicting them is not within the purview of the rest of Klal Yisroel. This of course is why they are defacto infallible. The hard right won’t say so outright because that would make their Gedolim God-like.

Of course Gedolim can be wrong - they will say. But since they know more Torah than anyone else how can we ‘mere mortals’ dispute them? We do not have the standing to argue with the Gedolim and it is terribly wrong to try.

This was pretty much the message in the Matzav piece.

Apparently there is a minor league baseball team in Lakewood called the Blue Claws. Lakewood’s Beth Medrash Gavoha (BMG) has forbidden their Bnei Torah from going to the games.

I’m not exactly sure why. But I can guess.

It probably has to do with a combination of factors – among them: The low levels of Tznius on the part of female fans who attend; the mixed (male and female) seating; the frivolity one sees and the language one hears from the fans; and the general non Bnei Torah environment.

I suspect the attitude expressed goes something like this: ‘Why spend one’s valuable time with these ‘low life Goyim’?’ ‘Why take the chance that one’s Midos and those of their children will be negatively influenced?’ ‘That certainly cannot be good for the Neshamos of your children.’ ‘Stay away!’ It is a Goyishe atmosphere and at the very least ‘Es Pahst Nisht’ (it's not suitable) for a Ben Torah.

Personally I find this attitude to be counter-productive and conducive to rebellion by the kids. It creates a situation of insularity, over-sheltering, and frustration. (There I go contradicting the Gedolim again...)

That said - BMG has the right to do whatever it pleases. It’s their ‘ship’ and they have their ‘captains’. But what Matzav has done here goes way beyond that. They deny the right of anyone to publicly question these ‘captains’. Not because of the legal rights. But because ‘we simply do not have the Hashkafic right or the Halachic standing to argue with them.

Here is the money quote in reference to Orthodox blogs:

There has to be a point where even the less Torahdike people among us realize that “Kishke” or “Yankel in Flatbush,” or “Hotpants 101” or any other anonymous commenter should not be a bar plugtah with Rav Elyashiv or any other rov whose opinion is reported. Yet, so often, a p’sak or opinion from a gadol is posted online, and we have lay people - with apparently very little Torah hashkafa - sharing their opinions on whether the given p’sak is right or wrong.

And later about his very own Charedim Mr. Miskin says:

Of course, the writer puts a disclaimer: (paraphrased) “I’m just thinking aloud without chas veshalom criticizing daas Torah.”

Sorry, sir, but questioning a policy of a specific institution and specific rabbonim or gedolim is not just “thinking out loud.” If you have an idea, take it to them. Don’t air your creative ideas or disagreements with gedolim on a website if you consider yourself an ehrliche, frum, ben Torah.

… analyzing a policy of a specific mosad, by name, or having a discussion about whether a certain rov, gadol or posek is right or wrong simply has no place in any respectable frum forum, website or publication. And those who violate this very basic principle should be held accountable for it.

Can there be any clearer explanation of the Hashkafa of hard core Charedi than this? Their position is not only that we dare not contradict them. It is that we may not even hint at disagreement with a respectful disclaimer that acknowledges that one is only thinking aloud!

Another thing. I’m not sure who Mr. Mishkin is talking about in his statement but it seems like a thinly veiled reference to me and this blog:

A p’sak or opinion from a gadol is posted online, and we have lay people - with apparently very little Torah hashkafa - sharing their opinions on whether the given p’sak is right or wrong. Why a blog would allow such a letter and such comments to be published is hard to understand, but perhaps it is simply a reflection of the people running these sites.

To this fellow – it is ‘hard to understand’. To him the only Torah Hashkafa is his Torah Hashkafa. The only Gedolim are his Gedolim. And if you want to be a bona-fide member of the ‘club’ you must shut up and toe his line.

As much as I wish it weren’t so - this is why I don’t think we can ever have true unity. This is a ‘my way or the highway’ approach. And it is fully owned by the hard right.

But there is an upside to it. It is my belief that this fellow does not have the majority of Charedim with him. Whether he realizes it or not he only has the hard core who I personally believe are in the minority. And shrinking.

The majority of Charedim are moderate and they are beginning to see that their Gedolim are far from infallible. They are indeed, respectfully – and in some cases not so respectfully - beginning to publicly question them. As the response to Yossi Ginzberg’s post a couple of weeks ago demonstrated - there are a lot of moderate Charedim that agree with him about Daas Baalei Battim versus Daas Torah. That post was re-published in one of the most widely read Charedi oriented blogs on the internet, VIN. And many others linked to it, including Gil Student’s widely read and respected Hirhurim.

I guess Yossi’s post struck a chord. But it also must have struck a nerve. I believe that this phenomenon is what drives Matzav and a poster like Mr. Miskin. They see the trend and are ‘fighting back’!

The truth is that the vast majority of moderate Charedim are in fact integrating with their right wing Modern Orthodox counterparts. That – in the end is what will survive. That’s where the unity will be. There will be less emphasis on centralization of authority. The hard core Charedi right represented in this Matzav rant will always be around, but their power and influence will hopefully continue to diminish.