Thursday, April 18, 2013

Changing the Paradigm of the Charedi Jew

Photo credit: Israel Sun via Jewish Action
I have just read Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz’s article defending the Charedi way of life as the quintessential way for a Jew to live …and criticizing those who believe that Judaism is not a “one size fits all’ religion. He is entitled to his opinion. And I am entitled to believe he is wrong.  I don’t know how many times I have written about why I think so. Probably too many to count. So I am not going to do it here.

What I will say is that it isn’t just that he disagrees. It is the condescending way in which he does it. It is beyond his understanding that a Rabbi Dov Lipman who self identifies as Charedi can say the  things he did. Things which contradict the Charedi narrative.

Rabbi Lipschutz does a nice job explaining what he believes Charedism is about. It is about 
“basking in the glow of Abaye and Rava, Rashi and Tosafos, the Rambam, the Ramban and the Rashba, the Ketzos and the Nesivos, Rav Chaim and Rav Aharon, as well as the giants of our day.” 
OK. I understand that. Limud HaTorah in his world is exactly that: the joy of studying the minutia of the Talmud and all of its commentaries. It is about trying to understand its subtleties and absorbing its entire corpus and discussion of biblical and rabbinic law - which is the source of Jewish law as we practice it today.  To use a phrase the Yeshiva world uses - it is about the Geshmak of learning Torah.

In the course of extolling the virtues of the Charedi way of life that he cherishes - he attacks those who veer even slightly form that narrative. Only this time it is not the secular or DL crowd. It is Rabbi Dov Lipman who has himself imbibed in the "Geshmak of Torah". He has ‘basked in the glow’ of all those great historic religious figures. As a self defined Charedi he has never really left it. 

I’m sure he still agrees that if one is capable, has the love and commitment to it, he should do exactly that… continue basking in it. Those who have this kind of dedication and discipline are the rabbinic leaders of the future. No matter what Hashkafa one has, there is no question that Torah knowledge is paramount to rabbinic leadership.

Unfortunately Rabbi Lipschutz does not understand that. He sees Rabbi Lipman as some sort of sellout. Why? Well for one thing because he dares to praise as heroes those who are Kovieh Itim and learn Torah whenever they can – but spend most of their time supporting their families.  

Rabbi Lipschutz obviously sees them as second class citizens. They no longer bask in the glow of a R’ Akiva Eiger for example. They must suffice with learning Daf Yomi on a train on their way to work. It’s not that Rabbi Lipschutz criticizes them. Its that he criticizes Rabbi Lipman for praising them as the true heroes.

They are true heroes. They are Moser Nefesh for Limud HaTorah and do so even though they spend a full day working to support their families. Either by waking up early and learning in a Shiur or with a Chavrusa before Shachris… or learning late at night.... or on their way to work on a train. Are these people any less valuable than an Avreich who spends the entire day learning - leaving support for his family to others (e.g. his wife, parents, in-laws, or the Israeli taxpayer)?

He is critical of the philosophy that values equity in army service, claiming that for the first time the status quo agreement reached with Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion  exempting Yeshiva students will be broken. He is critical of Rabbi Lipman for joining in the political party that advocates that. And he is even critical of  Orthodox Jews who have welcomed him into their synagogues to hear his views. 

None are as blind as those who will not see. Rabbi Lipshitz is guilty of willful blindness. The kind that refuses to see or understand that no one in Israel wants to destroy the Charedi way of life (except for some on the fringes of the left).  Least of all Rabbi Lipman. He actually wants to save it by creating a way for Charedim to be more self sufficient and do their fair share.  

Army service is about sharing the burden. It is also about mainstreaming Charedim into the workplace so that they can earn a livable wage and support their families. It is not about desroying a way of life… unless we are talking a way of life that is rapidly descending into a poverty in ways that they will  not be able to overcome.

Rabbi Lipman is not opposed to those who have the potential for rabbinic leadership getting an exemption or being supported.  It is in fact part of his party’s platform to exempt the truly talented Lomdei Torah and give them even more support than they receive now. He is just opposed to a system that insists that everyone ought to do it to the exclusion of all else – no matter what their strengths and weaknesses are or where their true talents lie.

What about the accusation that the army ruins people?  (…meaning taking Frum Jews and making them un-Frum because of the secular environment). That has already been answered by the creation of Nachal Charedi.

But I think it is a canard in any case. The only way the army will ruin you is if you already are ruined - or close to it. Truly committed Jews will not only - not - be ruined... they will come out stronger than they were before knowing that they have done their duty and remained Frum. 

I think that is true even for a woman. And I mean actual army service – not Sherut Leumi – the Chesed arm of mandatory army service for religious women. That may sound absurd in the face of the way female soliders are looked upon by religious Jews. I can understand why they think so.  And do not want to be seen as advocating religious women signing up for regular army duty.

But it is not impossible to be a Charedi woman and serve – remaining not only Frum – but even Charedi while in service and thereafter. If you don’t believe me, just read the story in Jewish Action about one such woman. Not only did she succeed, but she exploded the myth that the army won’t accommodate Charedi women.  They did. She even influenced her colleague female soldiers to become more observant. And eventually completed her army service honorably.

I don’t know how Rabbi Lipschutz sees this woman. No doubt he would say “Nebech” about her choices and claim Yehoreg V’al Ya’avor for any religious woman to try this. They would become ruined. 

Although I do not advocate woman doing regular army service - the Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor paradigm is no longer valid in my view. Not in this new era of respect for observance by secular parties and with a record number of observant Jews serving in the K’nesset.

I think Rabbi Lipschutz would be wise to take a step back and re-evaluate his view of what is happening n Israel. There is no attempt to undermine Judaism at all. Instead of staying blind to this truth he would do well to open his eyes, see the truth, and then try and convince others in his camp to realize tha. And thereby not only save his world but add to it by making it more self sufficient and more supportive of the real Lomdei Torah - those whose natural desire and diligence for Limud HaTorah will make them future leaders in Klal Yisroel.