Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Yosef’s Folly

Rabbi Yosef Schubert is a Charedi Rabbi. And he is anything but moderate in his thinking. He is quite extreme in fact. Not in the Meah Shearim sense -but in a philosophical one. He makes that very clear in just about everything he writes.

His latest contribution is in and therein he demonstrates the folly of extremist Charedi thinking. The issue is the unequivocal obedience to what he believes to be Daas Torah. He has written a critique of those in his own Charedi community in this regard - a community which recently eulogized and praised Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander and his monumental achievement, the creation of Touro College.

It was no small feat to do what Dr. Lander did. He obviously had Siyata D’Shmaya - God’s help in his holy task. It is hard for me to fathom anyone criticizing the creation of Touro College after it has had so much success. In fact I don’t think anyone did – until now. Dr. Lander’s achievements were extolled in one published eulogy after another – including Charedi ones.

Touro College has enabled Charedim in America to survive. I need not get into details. Suffice it to say that it has given the means to countless numbers of Charedim to earn a decent living by getting a college education. It has also educated Charedi women allowing them to earn enough to support husbands who choose to remain in Kollel. One can debate the wisdom of long term Kollel learning as a universal mandate. But no one can debate the fact that Touro has contributed mightily to enabling it.

So what’s the problem? Well according to Rabbi Shubert, the Gedolim of the previous generation apparently opposed the establishment of Touro.

As most people who read this blog regularly know, I freely acknowledge that the people he lists in opposition to it were indeed Gedolim. Names like Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, and the others are awe inspiring to me.

Rabbi Shubert says it is slap in their faces to praise both Touro and its founder Dr. Lander who disobeyed them, no matter how successful Touro has been. Touro is indeed a major success. Beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. And yet Rabbi Shubert laments the creation and existence of this key element which has helped keep his very own Charedi world alive. Why? Because it was built in disobedience to the Gedolim.

According to the Hashkafos of Rabbi Shubert it was not only an insult to the Gedolim who opposed it - it was fundamentally forbidden to disobey those Gedolim. They were nonetheless completely ignored. This upsets him greatly. And he cannot understand why it upsets virtually no one else. At least publicly.

This is the one of the fundamental flaws of extreme Charedi thinking. They see Daas Torah as inviolable. Though they understand that even the Gedolim can be wrong they nonetheless believe it is absolutely forbidden to disobey them.

But as I’ve said many times paying lip-service to fallibility while saying it is Assur to disobey them gives them defacto infallibility. Rabbi Shubert would say, right or wrong - left or right, we must obey. Personally I don’t think these venerable sages arrogated that to themselves. They were humble servants of God. I believe they realized their own human limitations. Not that they didn’t want to be listened to – of course they did. But I don’t believe they felt that their views were the only ones that represented Daas Torah.

I don’t know exactly why those Gedolim were opposed to Touro. I could offer a few theories. Perhaps they thought that such schools could eventually destroy Kollelim and Yeshivos by enticing away some of the best Yeshiva minds into a “Kosher” type college that caters to the Frum. Maybe it’s Touro’s very Kashrus that they opposed.

Or maybe they felt that there is just too much Torah to learn and even a lifetime of learning is not enough to cover everything. Any college education would therefore be seen as detracting from necessary Torah study.

Or maybe they just felt college is just plain old Assur. I don’t know. But I do know that there is a different Daas Torah that disagrees with them. It is the Das Torah of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, the Rav, and his brother Rav Ahron - just to mention a few.

I am 100% certain that the intentions of those great Torah giants who opposed Touro were L’Shma. No one can touch them in that department.

Were they right?

In my view they were wrong. They made a mistake. They were in the end fallible. There is a Higher Power that has ‘Paskined’ differently than did those Gedolim and blessed Dr. Lander’s endeavors with monumental success.

I have no way of knowing this but if they were alive today, I think those Gedolim would admit it. They would see that not only did Touro not detract from learning Torah, it added to it. Torah learning has increased in the US because of it. Not to mention that it has probably helped increase Shalom Bayis in Charedi families.

But the myopic Rabbi Shubert sees none of this. Rabbi Shubert is one of those Charedim who I would call deep Charedi who are extremely right wing in their views.

They are not the moderate Charedim many of whom ‘disobeyed’ the Gedolim by attending Touro and bettering not only their own lives and the lives of their families - but have substantially contributed to perpetuating Charedi Hashkafos! Touro has truly revolutionized theCharedi world in America and will help propel it into the future. The vast majority of Charedim know this and are either taking advantage of Touro or at least supporting it. These are the Charedim of the future - not those who continue to condemn progress as an insult to Daas Torah.

Moderate Charedim are integrating sociologically with modern Orthodox Jews. This amalgam is the Judaism of the future. It will be a Judaism of Torah, Avodah, and Yiras Shamyim. There will be Yeshivos and Kollelim just as before but there will be a working public that supports them and respected by them. It will be a community that honors learning and does not dishonor working. This new Charedi world will exemplify the Yissachar – Zevulun relationship it should be rather than the charity case it is now.

The very large and extreme Charedi world of Rabbi Yosef Shubert is at best on temporary life support. It cannot sustain itself and will eventualy end up in the dustbin of history - just like all of the other extreme movements in history. Today’s deep Charedim differ little from the Essenes of ancient Israel. Essenes were the extreme religious Jews of that era. They too believed in insularity and isolation. They are extinct. I doubt that the fate of Yosef Shubert’s world will be any different.

Update: 11:30 AM CST

The following needs to be made clear. It has been pointed out that the letter upon which Rabbi Shubert based his criticism did not contain the names of Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky as Rabbi Shubert said it did. These rabbis signed onto a letter that spoke specificly about opening a Touro type school in Israel not in the US. They - among other Gedolim of the time - pointedly refused to sign an earlier letter forbidding Touro in America.