Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Charedi View about the Truth of His World

Guest Post 

The following post is in response to someone who claims to be a Charedi Jew and comments frequently of late using the alias of harediandproud. Here is the gist of his comment which was made in response to Shlomo Pill:

You live in the twilight zone if you think Charedim are the ones who "fabricate numerous historical inaccuracies". One of the greatest fabrications in Jewish history is a movement that makes stuff up as they go along and then backdates it to Moshe Rabbeinu.

If you think that Jewish communities throughout history looked and acted more like YU than Lakewood and Satmar then well feel free to convince yourself of that.

But I suspect that you don't. In fact, it is my sneaking suspicion that the average MO knows that his lifestyle is somewhat a copout, which is why they relish in attacking their Charedi brothers. Can't beat 'em, don't want to join 'em? Bring 'em down.

The proof is in the pudding. Charedim are content to live their life and let others live as well. How many charedi blogs are there dedicated to attacking MO? ZERO. How much of charedi conversation revolves around MO? The same. How many MO blogs attacking everything charedim do? Dozens.

Harediandproud’s arrogance is quite astonishing. He repeatedly claims that his way represents the Mesorah of old and that anything else is an aberration of Judaism. 

It would be one thing for me to respond. But it is quite another when a fellow Charedi responds – especially one with an education in one of the premiere Yeshivos in the Charedi wolrd - Philly. And who also has a Mesorah about the way things were in that world from a father and grand-father who lived it.  

Nothing like personal experience to trump arrogance based on faulty perceptions of the past and a dishonest assessment of the present.

The response is profound and deserves to be highlighted. Although it is generally my practice not to publish anonymous posts, the words uttered in this post are truly worthy of being highlighted. They follow unedited in their entirety.

Once again, it is precisely because of my rebbeim at the Philadelphia yeshiva who taught us to be honestly self critical, that I feel compelled to respond to the inaccuracies of this (harediandproud’s) post.  

Are you really suggesting that the absence of Chardei blogs criticizing MO is a sign of respect for that approach? In the schools, camps, and communities that I have been a part of it is common practice to put down MO as a matter of course.

The followers of that hashkafa are considered inferior and “less frum” whether they are condescendingly called Young Israel members, YU students or Mizrachiniks.

Rav Solovitiechik was routinely described in an undignified manner, and many a shmuz criticized those positions whether the speaker was Rav Elya Svei or, more recently, Rav Malkliel Kotler.  Even today a casual glance at the comment sections in articles posted by Yeshiva World and Vos Is Naiz reveals the negative attitude that the Charedi world has for the MO community. One may agree or disagree with that approach but please do not say that it does not exist and that the yeshiva world is happy to leave other communities alone.    

The deeper issue that troubled me about your comments, however, was the assertion that today’s Charedi lifestyle is indeed a direct continuation of the life lived in Europe. As someone whose grandfather learned for eight years in Slobodka and who was (my ziede that is) a yedid of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, and Rav Aahron Kotler, I must sadly say that you are mistaken as today’s yeshiva community is vastly different from the world of Lita.

In those days yeshiva bachurim were encouraged to develop “breidkait” (to have a real breadth of both intellect and personality). They were supposed to be as sophisticated as the world around them but steeped in torah and mitzvos. That is why in all the great yehsivos – including those run by Rav Aharon Kotler - the talmidim were clean shaven and wore gray hats. 

In a comparable vein they were encouraged to be aware of current events. Rav Elchanon Wasserman actually read the local newspaper as a yeshiva bachur – as described in the Artscroll book on his life – and his talmid muvhak Rav Mendel Kaplan read the NY Times each day as well.  It was precisely because he was raised in such a climate that Rav Hunter (who learned in Slobodka) was able to write a profound work such as the Pachad Yitzchak.  

Does that picture match up with the image of yeshiva bochurim today? Have we produced sifrei machshava even remotely similar to Rav Hutner’s work?

Moving on to more fundamental issues, let us examine the concepts of life time learners and daas torah. In Slobodka there were never more than 20 members of the kollel and they were allowed to stay a maximum of 5 years before they had to go out and impact the world around them. (The former information comes form my family; the latter from Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky) Only the truly gifted were encouraged and allowed to be supported by the community. Is that the practice in BMG where everyone can come and stay forever? You can argue that our present day system is better but you cannot say that it is the same as it was in Europe.

In regard to listening the gedolim a comparable phenomenon exits. Were their great manhigim in Europe who guided klal yisrael? Of course; who can forget the incredible leadership of Rav Chaim Ozer and many, many others. However, the idea of gedolim being all knowing on all issues is simply a modern invention. 

When the Netziv – the great Rosh Yeshiva of Volohzin – wanted to bring in his son as his successor the bachurim revolted and he withdraw his candidacy. Did those talmidim not recognize the gadlus of the Netziv; of course they did but he respected their opinions as well and appointed someone else. Can one even begin to imagine a modern day scenario – where yeshivas are simply passed over b’yeruhsa - playing out in a similar fashion?  

Finally whether it is noting the fact that we are all makpid on Cholov Yosrael and have total separation of men and women at weddings , while Rav Aharon allowed regular milk to be served in Lakewood (as described by Rabbi Yosef Tendler) and Rav Moshe’s own children’s wedding had mixed seating, it is clear that today’s yeshiva world is quite different than the Litvesha world that preceded it. You can claim that the Charedim of today are following the derech hachassidm or that we have improved on the past but you cannot say that the line is unbroken from Mir, Slobodka, and Telz to BMG.