Monday, January 03, 2011

Is Success Breeding Failure?

What a record of achievement. The world of Yeshivos in its modern day incarnation has never enjoyed as much success as it does now in the 21st century both in America and in Israel. What was once a dearth of Bnei Torah learning L’Shma in Yeshivos has exploded into unprecedented numbers and by all accounts is growing exponentially. I’m told for example that Lakewood has plans to double in size – from about 5000 students to about 10,000 within the next few years!

This is quite an accomplishment for the pioneers of the last century. Men like Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, RavYosef Kahaneman – the list goes on - were not only able to transplant the Yeshiva movement as established by Rav Chaim Volozhiner in Europe to America and Israel, they have exceeded all expectations. A real victory over assimilation.

And a glorious victory it is. Not only are more Jews learning more Torah than ever before – the depth and scope of Torah knowledge being absorbed by serious Bnei Torah who learn all day long is breath taking. There are probably more Talmidei Chachamin today than at any other time in history. While it is true that we are no longer producing Talmidei Chachamin anywhere near as great as the Gedolim of the past, we are certainly producing far greater numbers of them.

And the love that these sincere students have for God and His Torah; and the joy they have in serving Him is palpable. When one walks into a Yeshiva like Mir and sees a virtual sea of Bnei Torah learning intensely one cannot fail to be impressed - even awed - by their level of dedication and their ability to focus on Torah learning for so long every single day.

This is uniquely a Charedi accomplishment. I don’t think this is replicated anywhere in modern Orthodoxy. This is not God forbid to say that the great numbers of students in Yeshiva University who are themselves Masmidim are any less religious or dedicated to Learning Torah. But as a group, Yeshiva University pales in comparison to a Lakewood or a Mir whose sole concern is pure Torah and little else aside from meeting their basic material needs.

One can debate the merits of the Torah U’Mada approach to learning Torah a Yeshiva University takes versus the merits of the ‘Torah Only’ Lakewood approach – and I certainly do. But I am not here today to debate their respective values. I’m here only to state the obvious. The amount and the scope of pure Torah learning in a Lakewood far exceeds that of a Yeshiva University. That is simply the nature of focusing only on one thing.

God must be smiling on His people. If learning Torah is the most important Mitzvah in the Torah then the Bnei Torah of the right are the ones who most fulfill it. That is undeniable. Those who succeed – and I emphasize succeed - at this level are among the happiest and well adjusted among us. They serve God at the highest of levels and are the most meticulous in doing the Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Makom.

Their caring for their fellow Jews that I have personally experienced testifies to their meticulousness in Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chavero. That is what living a Torah lifestyle at that level does.

This is not to say that there aren’t problems. Obviously there are many. They are often discussed here. However to say that their problems overwhelm their greatness is just plain wrong. I know these people. They are genuine. They are good. And they are role models of dedication to learning Torah and doing Mitzvos.

Unfortunately this is not the image that the secular world sees – especially in Israel. The one they see is reflected in an article in Ynet. And that in turn results in a false perception by Charedim of the secular world.

Many a secular outsider who has no connection to Torah or true understanding what it is all about -mostly through no fault of their own – sees only the worst. They see the political arm of Charedim seeking to avoid their responsibilities to the nation. Responsibilities like army service. Or self support. They see Bnei Torah unwilling to contribute even to their own welfare let alone the welfare of the nation. They see instead a group asking for government handouts in order to learn some archaic texts.

They see bitter accusations by Charedim against the government when they don’t get what they want. They see contempt for the rest of society. They see rabbinic leaders constantly bashing the government - accusing them of hating Charedim. And Charedim who hear these accusations all the time are indoctrinated to believe them. That reinforces the belief that the Israeli secular government is just an extension of pre-Holocaust anti Semitic European governments - who wanted to do the Jewish people in.

And this great community of Talmidei Chachamim ends up hating the secular government. This situation feeds off of itself – with each side increasingly antagonistic towards the other. It is a viscious cycle that can ultimately destroy us.

Just to be clear - no one is more upset with the structure of the Charedi educational system than I am. No one would love to see it fixed more than I do. But neither is anyone one more respectful of what they have accomplished. The Charedi system of Torah learning should not be abolished. On the contrary. It should be preserved – but as I have stated many times it should be modified.

Part of any change requires a change of its image from one of being a bitter enemy of the secular government to one of understanding as to why there is so much animosity towards Charedim. It isn’t hatred. It’s anger. An anger that is in part due to the lack of understanding of what Charedim are truly all about.

Instead of the religious establishment constantly villainizing the secular establishment it would be far more productive if they would try and understand their problems and educate them about the real Charedi – the one I describe in the opening paragraphs. They need to emphasize the importance of Torah to the very existence of Israel as a Jewish State - instead of just demanding dollars and crying foul if they don’t get it.

Politicians should be doing everything they can to reverse the image of the Charedim as draft dodgers who don’t want to work for a living, do not contribute to the economy; and who prefer taking handouts. The last thing that should ever be heard from a Charedi politician or rabbinic leader – or anyone connected with the education of the Charedi public is how evil the government is.

Instead they need to show their public appreciation for whatever government help they get even while trying to increase it. And if they don’t get it – to just shut up! If only the secular world would see a grateful Charedi public with its hand extended in friendship we would all be better off. As it stands now – we are headed for a civil war.