Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Social Engineering

Ad for the Convention
The bi-annual Midwest Agudah Convention was held in a Chicago suburb over the weekend. I was unfortunately unable to attend. But I have been told what some of the discussion was about. And it was no surprise to me that one of those subjects was about what is happening in Israel.  I fully expected that to be the case.

One of the speakers who is a member of the Agudah Moetzes made the claim that the Israeli government’s attempt to draft Charedi Yeshiva students into the army and all the other things they are planning to do to is nothing more than a cynical attempt at social engineering.

I’ve heard it so many times: Drafting Yeshiva students into the army has nothing to do with military need.’ This fact is used as proof that the government is out to destroy the Charedi world. Which Charedim define as the sum totality of Yiddishkeit.  Everything else is secondary (B’Dieved) or ancillary. A world without Charedism is a world without Torah. This is why they call it a Shas Shmad.

What about Yeshivos Hesder or the various versions of Nachal Charedi? Not good enough.  Those are all B’Dieved at best! The ideal of full time Torah study for everyone for as long as possible is the only thing that is recognized as God’s primary path for us.

I find it curious that they use the term social engineering in a pejorative manner. Because Charedim have been doing exactly that for the nearly seven decades since the Holocaust!

Social engineering is the psychological manipulation of a group of people into doing things they otherwise might not do. The Charedi world that I grew up in was very different than it is today. My formal religious education began in the mid 1950s in Detroit’s Yeshiva Beth Yehudah.  This was an Agudah oriented Yeshiva led by pioneering educators sent by Torah VoDaath Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz. Although the term Charedi was not in use then, this day school was clearly in that category.

But the Charedi world then looked nothing like it does now. There were no black hats then. The clothing worn by the students in both elementary and high school those days were not black pants and white shirts but the same as everyone else’s. The idea of full time Torah study was not pushed on everyone. It was reserved for the few who had the intelligence, drive, and desire to do it. Everyone else was expected to become a Frum Bal HaBos (layman) and support his family. Although Torah study was clearly advocated as a most important Mitzvah it was never promoted as the only Derech (path) for a Ben Torah to the exclusion of all else.

The community Kollel did not exist. Lakewood Yeshiva was in its infancy. And even its founder, R’ Aharon Kotler never expected it to become what it is today.  All he wanted to do was recreate intact – the European model. Which consisted of an elite group of students that would dedicate themselves to full time Torah study.

What has happened since then can only be defined as social engineering. Somehow Lakewood became the model for every single student in every single Yeshiva in America. No one was forced to think this way. But psychological pressure has resulted in the world we live in today. A world that was socially engineered by Mechanchim who saw R’ Aharon Kotler’s Hashkafos of full time Torah study as the utmost fulfillment of the word of God – and implanted that idea into the brains of their students.

The Charedi metamorphosis in Israel was quite similar. But it had some additional baggage which made the their lifestyles even more married to this ideal. When the Chazon Ish  and Ben Gurion agreed to exempt full time Yeshiva students, the numbers were indeed small representing the elite of elite in Charedi Israel. They numbered in the hundreds. There is also the fact that the Chazon Ish (with some justification) saw the draft destroying that small community of Torah students -thus destroying the very concept of full time Torah study. He felt (again with some justification) that the mindset of those early pioneers was to assimilate all factions of Jews into a prototypical Israeli – which did not necessarily include being observant. The Chazon Ish rightly believed that this agreement saved the system from extinction.

But it did a lot more than just  that. It socially engineered a society whose reaction to the government today is based on the fears of the past – fears that are no longer valid. At least not anywhere near to the extent that they once were. While it’s true that there are those in the government that would love to destroy the Charedi world in its entirety – it has long been the case that it is not so. The government as a whole is no longer interested in that and see it as an impossible goal in any case.

All they want is for the exponentially growing Charedi world to become more contributory to the state’s welfare and to become more self sufficient. There is no real attempt  by anyone to destroy a single Yeshiva despite their protestation to the contrary. The opposite is true. They are happy to leave this world as is - provided they accomplish those two things. If this were not the case, there would be no Nachal Charedi in any of its incarnations. And Charedi schools would not get a dime even if they had a core secular curriculum. But the facts prove otherwise. Shas, the Sephardi political party founded by Rav Ovadia Yosef ZTL, has agreed to that mandate and will therefore be fully funded.

If this is social engineering, I am in favor of it. The claim made in Agudah may be a valid one. The government of Israel is trying to socially engineer change. But the change is for the better. If social engineering was valid when Charedim employed it – it is just as valid now because it will produce a change for the better. A change that is sorely needed without requiring even the slightest change in the Hashkafos they teach their young or the lifestyles they will lead.

The Sephardi community realizes it. And I would be willing to bet that in their heart of hearts many members of the Agudah Moetzes in America know that too. Including the speaker at that convention.