Thursday, April 14, 2011

Message to Charedim: Buy Mishpacha Magazine!

Mishpacha Magazine is a well known Charedi publication. And although it promotes Charedi ideals some of which I disagree with, I consider it a fine publication, that is honest, fair and by Charedi standards pretty open minded. That has been demonstrated many times in articles about people and issues that are rarely if ever discussed in Charedi publications. People like Yeshiva University’s Rav Hershel Shachter have graced its cover and stories about the problems facing their community are fairly common.

Their perspective on many of these issues is similar to my own. For example the poverty that Charedim face and the solutions that involve being trained for the workplace are the kind of things I have suggested as being part of the solution. But make no mistake about this magazines orientation. It is four-square Charedi. They do not for example allow any pictures of women to be published – even in an advertisement. No matter how Tznius she may appear.

And yet they are in danger of being banned by Charedi rabbinic leaders in Israel.

There has not been any call for that by anyone yet. But there has been plenty of animosity expressed from those quarters towards Mishpacha for suggesting some of the things I have to help themselves out of their dire straits. Not that Mishpacha would go as far as I do – like introducing a core secular curriculum into the Yeshiva high School system. No they would never do that as they are on the same page with their rabbinic leaders on that issue. But for having the attitude suggested by its publisher Eli Paley - as reported in Ha’aretz:

"The main value of every Haredi, even those who go out to work, is that Torah study is paramount .... We wanted to show the other side that working is a necessity and that many people who devoted years to Torah study now need solutions that enable them to live a Jewish life and earn a living,"

Truly amazing. A significant statistic quoted in Ha’aretz is that according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, employment among Haredi men is just 39%, and among women about 58%.

It’s not as if Mishpacha is ‘God forbid’ promoting college. No. They aren’t even promoting a minimal secular studies program in high school. Nor have they devalued the primacy of Torah study over working for a living. They simply say that working is now a necessity as part of a viable solution to poverty. These are not Torah U’Mada people. They are not even Torah Im Derech Eretz people. They are Charedi in every sense of the word but see a need to change the paradigm a bit.

Mishpacha had a supplement to one of its editions that touched upon it. And what is the reaction of the Charedi leadership for this very sincere attempt to suggest a solution that is out of the box? From Ha’artez:

"The conservative Haredim were very unhappy about the "provocative" supplement. Immediately after it was published the party organs attacked the weeklies, mainly Mishpacha, claiming that the paper was "upsetting the order" and introducing "foreign ideas" to Haredi society.

Not satisfied with that, the Haredi machers launched a boycott of the commercial weeklies via a letter signed by all the directors of Haredi educational institutions. It sent a clear message: Anyone who brings the weeklies into his home will find it very difficult to send his children to the most prestigious institutions.

The message is clear: ‘Our way or the highway!’ The right wing Charedim are so fearful of changing their paradigm that they are threatening people with virtual expulsion just for reading a magazine that suggests an idea. They see working for a living as revolutionary and subversive to the ideals of Torah. I think the following observation is correct: Again from Ha’aretz:

Those who favor Haredi employment are portrayed as collaborators and false Haredim who are causing the destruction of Haredi society.

When are Israeli Charedim going to stand up for their familes and say, ‘Enough’! Enough of the antagonism to working for a living. And at a minimum demand the kind of changes in attiude suggested by Mishpacha! Let those institutions bar their children form those schools. The more the merrier. And let them support Charedi institutions like Kemach which helps Yeshiva students acquire an academic degree. How do right wing Charedim look at Kemach?

"The association is totally boycotted in the Haredi press," says a Haredi public relations man. "The members of the association do holy work and enable yeshiva students to earn a living, but somehow they are seen as people who are causing yeshiva students to leave the study halls, so they're not allowed to advertise in the Haredi press at all."

This is maddening!

Let me be clear. No one - not even adherents of Torah U’mada and Torah Im Derech Eretz - wants to God forbid destroy Torah learning. We all encourage it at the highest levels. We all believe that for the select few who are the Yichidei Segula – those individuals with the potential to become great Torah leaders – they should be learning full time. We may differ with Charedim about the value of accompanying that learning with the study of Mada. But we all agree that for some - learning Torah should be their profession.

However for the majority of Bnei Torah their profession should be making a decent living for their families. And preparing for it in some way. Learning Torah is to be considered of prime importance. One must be engaged in it to the best of their ability - devoting as much time to it as they can. But that does not mean sacrificing one’s family into a life of poverty. There is no nobility in being poor.

Lest one wonder if I am supporting rebellion, let me put their mind at ease. I am. I support rebelling into a life that will exalt the name of God with great Lomdei Torah and with a working class that can support themselves and those Yechdia Segula who learn Torah full time.

How does one begin? By getting a lifelong subscription to Mishpacha Magazine and letting their Yeshivos know about it!