Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Yeshivat Ateret Shlomo

After watching the video presentation of Yeshivat Ateret Shlomo I didn’t know whether to be inspired or frustrated; whether to laugh, or to cry. I guess I felt a little bit of all of these.

Ateret Shlomo is apparently some sort of united Yeshiva system spread out across Israel. It boasts literally millions upon millions cumulative hours of Torah learning per year. It includes Yeshivos, Yeshivos Ketanos, Kollelim, and elementary schools. The images presented in this video are truly amazing. From young children, to adolescents, to Avrechim – including Mechanchim, Rebbeim, Roshei Yeshiva and Roshei Kollel – some famous and some not so famous –all learning or teaching Torah with great intensity.

The purpose of this video is a pitch for donations to support all this learning. I can’t really fault them for that. Learning full time is a legitimate endeavor that everyone should support. But as I watched this video I felt not only inspiration - but frustration. This is the very system in Israel that perpetuates poverty by lack of offering any secular education or career training to any of their students. It is all Torah learning (mostly Gemarah) all the time. Nothing else.

As most people who read this blog regularly know, I support full time learning. But not for everyone. It is a virtual impossibility that every single individual male born into a Charedi household is worthy of being supported in full time learning for the rest of his life. I will not elaborate here except to say that for most people learning full time after 2 or 3 years in Kollel is counter-productive to their own welfare, that of their families, and that of Klal Yisroel. Rav Ahron Soloveichik points out that only the Yechidei Segulah -those few with potential for greatness should do it full time. Those are the only ones in my view that deserve our full financial and moral support.

The majority of the male Jewish population has other strengths that are not being utilized. Their contributions to God, His people, and the world would be better served in those areas. Areas where they could be trained to be the best - rather than be only the second best in Torah learning.

Furthermore the ability to contribute significantly to their own material welfare and that of their families is being blocked by this system. They are being cheated out of a decent life by denying them educations and training in exchange for learning full time.

From their video it would seem that Yeshivat Ateret Shlomo is from the Charedi mold in Israel that effectively rejects the notion that other strengths should be encouraged. They instead discourage anyone from pursuing their real strengths – forsaking them for full time learning within the walls of their Batei Medrash. They see Parnasah – a livelihood - as a secondary choice for everybody. Their attitude at best is: ‘First you try full time learning without any distractions for as long as possible.’ ‘If that doesn’t work… well then go get a job and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’

Without any training or even minimal education outside of Torah learning most of these people are not equipped to do anything but menial, low paying jobs. Most of them have large families that even a decent job would insufficient to make ends meet.

So as inspiring as this video is it is also extremely frustrating. I know they need the money and I would never tell anyone not to give them any. Nonetheless I have some very heavy personal reservations. Giving them support perpetuates a system that is unsustainable and even harmful. This Yeshiva would condemn the attitude expressed by Rav Ahron - that not everyone should learn Torah full time.

That’s only half the story. The other half is the unbelievable gall at presenting this fundraising tactic.

Forty Talmidei Chacahm isn’t enough? I guess not!

For those who aren't aware of it, Kupat Ha'ir has a program whereby 40 Talmidei Chachamim Daven for you at the Kotel. This is a Segulah they thought up as a fundraiser. Story after story has been told about the success of those Teffilos. I get those glossy brochures often and I’ve read those stories. They are amazing. Infertility problems -cured. Need a Shiddach? Easy! Involved in a tax fraud and don’t want to be caught? No problem. These forty Talmidei Chachamim have a proven track record of success. They will pray for you – for a fee.

But for Ateret Shlomo - 40 Talmidei Chachamim is Bubkis!

Try 1800 Talmidei Chachamim! Oh my gosh! 1800! If forty can do all the above - can you imagine what 1800 can do?

Are you a Goses – gravely ill and about to die? Don’t worry. It’s a done deal. Donate money to Aterest Shlomo and ‘get in on the action!’ You will be back to normal in no time.

Internet use for purposes of seeing this video is permitted this one time as a Hora’as Shah. It is a onetime dispensation – Do not get carried away and stay online after viewing it. It can ruin the Segulah.

I wish this was a Purim Joke! But it’s not. If this Yeshiva is willing to make money this way, I truly question the values it teaches.

Update: In the interests of fairness and balance I refer readers to a related Cross-Currents article by Rabbi Dovid Landesman entitled The Achish Melech Gat Awards.