Sunday, March 24, 2013

Welcome to the Club

HaGaon R' Moshe Sternbuch
This morning on the Daas Torah blog, there was a document posted that was verified to have been written by R’ Moshe Sternbuch.   In so many words he is clearly of the belief that the proposed draft of  Charedim in Israel is a government ploy to uproot the Jewish people from Torah observance. He is the latest of just about  all the rabbinic leaders in Israel (and even in the US) to be opposed to the draft in Israel. They seem to all believe that the draft is an existential threat to observant Jewry.

I am not surprised at this. But it is quite telling that people who venerate these leaders are not walking in lockstep with them.

Just to be clear. If the true motive of those who are promoting the draft was to uproot the Torah, I would be on the same page with those who oppose it. But I am not at all convinced that is the case. And neither are some of the most prominent Charedi writers who are published in Charedi magazines.

In the latest issue of Mishpacha Magazine, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman (brother of Ner Israel Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Aharon Feldman) has taken a similar view to the one I have: that the Israeli public is not necessarily anti Torah …that even secularists like Yair Lapid have come around to the view that “Charedim have won”. To me and any thinking person who has noticed it, that says that the idea of drafting Charedim is not at all about uprooting the Torah but about actually “sharing the burden”. 

They key phrase in that last sentence with respect to the Israeli rabbinic leader ship is: “any thinking person who has noticed it.” They are thinking people. But I don’t think they noticed it.

Rabbi Feldman is just the latest Charedi albeit a moderate one to ‘notice’.(Technicaly this former editor of Tradition Magazine may not characertize himself as Charedi. But Mishpacha is a Charedi magazine and his columns generally reflect that perspective). Among others who have noticed are: Mishpacha publisher R’ Moshe Grylak, Jonathan Rosenblum, and R’ Yitzchok Adlerstein. I’m sure there are more.

These are people who would never dare to contradict those they consider to be Gedolim. They tend instead  to modify their own views to be in accord with these leaders when they have differed - and found that out.  And yet these rabbinic leaders have never been more unified about an issue than they are on this one.  

Why the rift? (...if one can call it that – I’m sure they would not characterize it that way.) I think they realize that these leaders are not seeing the reality that they see. They do not know for example that the majority of Israeli people believe in Torah Min HaShomayim. That is what a recent statistical study has shown. 

Being so focused on their own world these leaders do not see or hear those statistics. Or they just don’t believe them. Or they say it doesn’t matter because the Knesset is comprised of non-believers that can be compared to the Maskilim of Czarist Russia who did in fact collaborate with the Czar to uproot observant Jewry.

These writers may not say so publicly, but If they were to be approached privately – I think they would admit that these venerated sages are  -via their myopia - living in the past. They still respect them as Gedolim. But at the same time they see a different reality than do their leaders and therefore have a different approach.

While I am sure that they are opposed to the draft too, these moderates do so reluctantly mostly, I believe, because they do not want to be seen as opposing their Gedolim… a hallmark of Charedi Jewry.

This is a very significant development. It shows that Charedi Jews are increasingly finding the perceptions of their Gedolim to be occasionally flawed. The arguments oft quoted by them for listening to their Gedolim in all matters apparently do not hold as much sway as they used to.

I believe this has privately been the case among the majority of the Charedi public for quite some time now. At least for moderate Charedim which I believe comprises their majority.  

Here is what changed. Arguments that bolster defacto if not dejure infallibility have eroded. Although they may still pay lip-service to it – rhetoric heard at the Agudah convention about how we must listen to the Gedolim in all matters – both Halachic and Haskafic is increasingly being ignored. Arguments like Yifatch B’Dor, K’Shmuel B’Doro and concepts like: ‘even when they say right is left and left is right – we must listen to them ‘ are no longer automatic. The idea that they know the most Torah and therefore the rest of us have no standing to disagree will not be automatically applied either. Not in instances where the perceptions of reality differ as they do here as is the case with the above-mentioned Charedi writers.  

This change might be perceived as a very subtle one. Perhaps it is. Subtle though it may be I think it is huge. It is a reflection of Emes to be able to see that these rabbinic leaders are fallible at least in their perceptions of reality. By expressing a more positive view of the Israeli secular public and not seeing evil intent behind every move in the Knesset they show not only what they see as Emes but a willingness to not repeat the harsh rhetoric of their leadership even while supporting their opposition to the draft.

It is huge because if they can see their leaders perceptions as wrong here, they can be wrong in their perceptions anywhere. Perceptions that in the past that have resulted in bans. Like those on both R’ Nosson Kamenetsky’s and R’Natan Slifkin’s books.

I think it is fair to say that up to this point, some moderate Charedim have walked in lockstep with their Gedloim on these issues. I’m sure that they probably still do on rulings of the past. But as new issues like this come up in the future, the ‘mold has been broken’.

It seems to me that their own perceptions of reality will no longer be subsumed by their blind acceptance of how their leaders perceive reality. This is how those of us who are not Charedi – have always seen things.  It is the basis of my many posts questioning some of their rulings – like those about the aforementioned bans. Although I’m not sure they want to be members - all I can say to these writers is – welcome to the club.