Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Charedim that are Incapable of Forming a Sentence

It appears that there is a very definite theological split between Charedi Jews in Israel and those in the West. It isn’t only a theoretical split. It is a split with major consequences that impacts on the nature of their lives. It is a split that will create two very different worlds.

The Charedim in Israel will be so vastly different from their American counter-parts that I suggest American Charedim will have more in common with Modern Orthodoxy than they will with Charedim in Israel

I am of course talking about the two attitudes with respect to secular studies.

Nowhere is this contrast of theologies better demonstrated than in two articles that appear almost simultaneously. One in Hamodia and the other in Ha’aretz.

Let me begin with the Hamodia article. Hamodia – as most people know - is a very Charedi newspaper. If I am not mistaken, they do not publish anything without the approval of their rabbinic authorities or surrogates. And yet an article by Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Klein on the importance of secular studies appeared on their pages. Rabbi Klein is director of publications and communications for Torah Umesorah.

Except for some minor philosophical quibbles I obviously support what Rabbi Klein says there. Not that any of this has never been said. It has – by me and many others. But I do not recall them being said by someone who is clearly in the Charedi camp.

Nor is it an all encompassing argument. There are many more arguments he could have put forward to broaden the scope of his advocacy and he could have used additional sources to strengthen his arguments. (See for example yesterday’s post in Hirhurim.) But one thing is clear. He is advocating a strong secular studies program in all segments of Orthodoxy. Here is but one excerpt that emphasizes that point:

There is value in imparting literary and verbal skills to our children in the language of the land. It does not seem desirable, for instance, that a Jew wearing Chassidic garb should sound like a recent immigrant (unless he is). Neither is it desirable that a young man who spends his days in kollel should be incapable of forming a complete sentence in the language of the land. In my estimation, it is wrong that when an articulate frum Jew does speak and write properly, he is immediately viewed as being either a baal teshuvah or one who has strayed.

Coming from someone who is clearly in the Charedi camp – this is quite a statement. Had I said it, I would have been accused of Charedi bashing!

Now contrast that with an article in Ha’aretz. The attitude expressed there by Charedi leaders is all but condemning of any secular studies at all. The issue is ostensibly about the rights of Charedim to educate their children as they see fit. Let us grant that they have this right. Although I do not concede that the government should provide funding for it unless it meets their educational standards.

But let us leave that aside. They have a point about educational freedom in a democracy. But the philosophy that fuels their attitude about secular education is almost the antithesis of the American one as expressed by Rabbi Klein in Hamodia.

The Israeli government wants to eliminate the current exemption of Charedi schools from a core curriculum that would help provide the skills necessary to get good jobs in the future. The following is Rav Ovadia Yosef’s response to that:

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in his weekly sermon that graduates of state schools were "fools and Shabbat desecrators."

"People worry about matriculation exams, they want their son to have a job," the rabbi told his followers. "Why, are rabbis starving? God provides, provides any living being. What's the matter? He'll have a living, he'll have everything. He'll be a rabbi, a Torah scholar, a rabbinical judge, they'll give him lots of money. Yes. Why should he think of other things?"

Israeli Charedi leaders also argue that job skills acquired in Yeshivos will be sufficient – if not superior to - those learned via a government imposed core curriculum.

According to the Ha’aretz article Charedi students are petitioning the courts to block the latest attempt by the government to require a core curriculum. Currently Charedi schools are funded by the government without any secular studies program at all.

There is an attitude in Israel that all secular studies are a waste of time. ‘Why should we think of other things?’ …is the basic attitude about it. It has no value and no place in the life of a Charedi Yeshiva student.

Is this not a theological difference between American and Israeli Charedim? Like I said in an earlier post there seems to be two Torahs. One for Israel and one for America. And they contradict one another.

But in truth there is only one Torah. It requires us to have secular knowledge for a variety of reasons. I cannot understand an attitude that says, ‘Why should we think of other things’?! There are so many answers to that question it would take an entire book to spell them out. Rabbi Klein has made a good start.

There are those who say that the real reason that Charedim in Israel are opposed to government mandated core curriculum is the idea of interference in Torah observance by non - or even anti –religious Jews. It causes Jews to be 'fools and Shabbat desecrators'! They see it as an attack against Torah and that’s what they are really fighting.

I'm sorry but I do not buy that for a minute. There is no way that a core secular studies curriculum makes one a fool and Shabbat desecrator. If that were the case every Dati school in Israel that has a full secular curriculum would have destroyed the Judaism of hundreds of thousands of Jews.

Instead it has produced a vibrant Dati community that not only supports itself but has contributed to the welfare of all of Israeli society – Charedim included - via their knowledge and skills.

But I do believe that’s what many Charedi leaders think. If that is what’s driving them, why not consult with American Charedi rabbinic leaders and design their own program. I cannot believe that the educational philosophy of these two worlds can be so radically different and still be identified as theologically the same.

My appreciation to Professor Yitzchok Levine for allowing me to link to his PDF posting of the Hamodia article.