Friday, July 26, 2013

The Disintegration of the Charedi World as We Know it

MK Porush chained to the podium - Photo Credit: Yated
How far has the apple fallen from the tree. According to an article in Israel Hayom, Rav Shmuel Auerbach apparently supports the campaign to discredit Charedi soldiers. One may recall the posters being put up all over Jerusalem depicting fat ugly Charedi soldiers with beards and flowing Peyos chasing after innocent little Charedi children – trying to capture them and ‘convert’ them away from the only authentic version of Judaism, the Eida HaCharedis version. I’m sorry to make the following comparison but if it weren’t so obvious I wouldn’t say it of a fellow Jew. This kind of propaganda is worthy of Josef Goebels’ finest efforts: The fat ugly Jew victimizing the innocent little Aryan child.

Do not misunderstand what I am saying here. In no way do I say that Rav Auerbach is anything but an Ohaiv Yisroel – at least the way he understands it. But his way of showing Ahavas Yisroel fall extremely short of the way his father, Rav Shlomo Zalman would have done it. Even though Rav Shlomo Zalman would have very likely been opposed to the new draft legislation in Israel, he would not have vilified other Charedim to make his point. Or Datim. Or Chilonim. That would have been completely out of character for him.

What makes this significant is not that a Charedi leader has gone to such lengths. But that this particular Charedi leader has. It is no secret that there are two Charedi leaders whose flock believes should replace the man who they saw as the previous Gadol HaDor, Rav Elyashiv. One is centenarian R’ Aharon Leib Steinman. The other is R’ Shmuel.

That means that the man that many Charedim feel is the Gadol HaDor, is a man that approves of vilifying fellow religious Jew. Jews of his very own Charedi Hashkafa. What is even more remarkable is that no one seems to have a problem viewing him that way. Even his opponents from the R’ Steinman faction would concede that R’ Shmuel is nevertheless a Gadol.

How far we have fallen from greatness! Whatever criticism one may have had about the Charedi world, one could not deny their greatness. They were in the forefront of Lomdei Torah. Their sheer devotion to studying Torah was second to none. No group was as dedicated to that one goal as the Charedi community. When it came to sheer knowledge of Torah, both in depth and in breadth – no one could touch them as a group. Nor could they be touched in their level of Ameilus. Their hard work and long hours showed a determination – as a demographic group – to know Torah that in my view surpassed the dedication of any other demographic group to any other singular subject.

Their Yiras Shomyim is legendary. The attention to the detail of Halacha unsurpassed. The way they honor their rabbinic leaders; the way they Daven; their exemplary Midas Chesed – kindness shown toward fellow Jews was an integral part of their personalities.

While all of this is still true… something happened. And the current situation was only the precipitating factor in a long process that accompanied the above achievements. And that may in the end undermine all of them. It isn’t just one thing… but a decades long process of indoctrination that takes the laudable goal of honoring one’s rabbis to an absurd extreme. 

They are seen in ways similar to how Chasdim see their Chasidic Rebbes… and venerated in nearly the same way. It is understandable that when one is striving for perfection in service to God – which is so characteristic of this group – to turn to their rabbis for guidance. Rabbis that have achieved fame via their brilliance in Torah knowledge or leadership capabilities, (or through inheriting the last name of a previous generation of Gadol)… are seen as the final decision makers on all matters public or private; religious or mundane.

If you will ask many a Charedi why they are opposed to the draft they will ultimately say it is because the Gedolim are opposed. No other explanation required. Although they will try to explain it to a public not oriented to blindly accept what rabbinic leaders say.

This kind of thinking is singular to this one community. Charedim are the only ones that listen to the rabbis on all issues. Input from other sources are irrelevant. Even if they make sense. It doesn’t matter. They will continue to argue their positions with others, but ultimately it is what the rabbis say – Daas Torah - that is important to them, not their own Daas.

This has put them at odds with the entire rest of Klal Yisroel on the issues before us today. Instead of conceding that their opponents’ arguments may have some merit, their Charedi representatives in the media and the government go to great lengths to vilify all opposition and bury any possible semblance of support for them. This has evolved into something unprecedented. 

Photo Credit - Yated
Now when one of their own veers even slightly off the path by joining Nachal Charedi, he is treated like a monster. Then there is the ridiculous behavior of a Charedi Kenesset member chaining himself to the podium, or tearing Kriya, or the entire Charedi Kenesset faction going out to say Selichos and Teffilos when the bill’s author, Yaakov Peri came to the podium to present his bill.

Instead of winning the hearts and minds of those on the sidelines the more these kind of theatrics take place, the more they alienate themselves from the rest of Klal Yisroel. Of course they see the rest of Klal Yisroel alienating themselves from Yiddishkeit entirely - by not walking in lockstep with them on this issue. What they are ignoring is that not all Charedim are on board with them. Some, like R’ Dovid Landesman are so put off by how this has all gone down that they are at the brink of leaving the Charedi community entirely.

It should also be noted that R’ Steinman too is very put off by these kinds of shenanigans. Although he too is upset by the draft legislation, he is often vilified by the faction following R’ Aurebach as being soft on the issue. With Satmar leading the way, as signs and posters to that effect were visibly prominent at that anti Israel rally in Manhattan that Satmar sponsored a few weeks ago. What makes that event even more significant is that many mainstream Litvishe Roshei Yeshiva (e.g. Rav Aharon Schechther, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rav Moshe Meiselman – just to name a few)  attended. Some of them even addressed the crowds.

It should be pointed out that Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has written a gutsy piece placing the blame for all this on Askanim - zealous activists. They are abusing us, he says. They are the ones running – and ruining – the show. He’s right about them. But I believe even he misses an important factor. It isn’t only Kannoim. It is some of their leadership as well.

What was once a mighty force for Judaism has deteriorated into what seems to be a frantic group led by desperate people not knowing how to handle change. The smugness of their public spokesman about their own perpetuity will not save their current way of life. If they continue along theses lines - their version of Judaism as the only legitimate form of Judaism that will survive into the future will come to an end. It is in real danger of disintegrating.

Ultimately though, I don’t think this community will disintegrate entirely. Just the current version of it. The world of Lomdei Torah that Charedim have developed is too valuable an asset to lose. But what I do think will happen is as sensible moderate Charedim begin to see that some of their leaders can’t really lead, they will seek their leadership elsewhere. This community will change for the better. Once it get rids itself of unqualified leaders like Rav Shmuel Auerbach and the Charedi politicians in the Keneset that are making fools of themselves. Once that happens their media people, like Rabbi Pinchos Lipshutz will either change his tune or lose any credibility he has left with his readership. It looks like that day is finally approaching.