Monday, March 03, 2014

Charedim, Israel, and Daas Torah - The Way it Is

R' Aharon Leib Shteinman
Is there any real leadership in the Charedi community in Israel today? Not according to Jonathan Rosenblum. At least not in the Lithuanian Yeshiva world in Israel. This may come as a surprise to those who have read his columns before. He self identifies as a Charedi.  And the single most stand out feature of Charedim is their fealty to Daas Torah – the wisdom of the Torah as expressed by the rabbinic leaders of their given generation.

One may ask, ‘How can Jonathan say that?’ ‘What about Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman?’ ‘Or Rav Shmuel Auerbach?’ ‘Surely these sages whose knowledge of Torah has few peers if any are worthy of being called leaders of our generation, aren’t they?’

The answer is that they are not leaders. They cannot lead. Because they are virtually at war with each other. Each faction thinks that the other has veered from the path of Torah. So that it is impossible to know who is right. Which sage should one follow?  How bad is it to follow ‘the wrong’ sage? One may recall what Rav Chaim Kanievsky said about Rav Auerbach and his followers. He practically threw them out of Judaism.

R' Shmuel Auerbach
The fact that they came together in for purposes of protesting the draft of their students did not diminish the war between these factions. At least not according to Jonathan’s son who lives in those circles. He told Jonathan the night before he spoke about these issues in California last week, that despite the seriousness of the draft. The bigger issue in the Charedi world is the war between these rabbinic leaders. When there are divisions of such great intensity, there cannot be leadership.

(What about Chasidic leaders? Well one need not look any further than Satmar – probably the largest and fastest growing group of Chasidim - to see the divisions there. What about the Eida HaCharedis? There has just been a huge split there two - for pretty much the same reasons as the split in the Yeshiva world.)

Now it is true that every generation has its leaders as per the Gemarah ‘Yiftach B’Doro – K’Shmuel B’Doro’. The biblical Shofet (judge) Yiftach who is described in the Gemarah in less than flattering terms was nonetheless the leader of his generation - same as was the greatest Shofet in the bible, Shmuel in his own generation. The principle being that caliber of leadership may not be the same, but leaders they are.  And yet it appears that in Israel in our day there is no leadership.

This is an astonishing admission for a Charedi to make – even a moderate Charedi like Jonathan. But I’m glad he’s the one making it and not me. Because if it were me, I would very quickly be accused of bashing the Gedolim. Or Charedim. Or both.

Another astonishing admission by Jonathan (and there were a few more which I will get to) is that there is at least one major Charedi Rosh Yeshiva that laments that the Machlokes (controversy) between the two factions will result in droves of Charedim leaving the Charedi fold. (I never expected any Charedi leader to say something like this. But if its true, that is a good thing as long as they stay observant.)

Although there have been worse ‘religious wars’ between rabbinic leaders in the past,  they have always lead to devastating consequences. For example the bitter war waged by R’ Yaakov Emden against R’ Yonason Eibishitz caused many religious Jews to lose respect for their rabbinic leaders - which many believe was a precursor to the Reform Movement.

Another astonishing admission (…although others have already made this observation – I have never read or heard anything said about it until now) is that the new draft law is something that Charedim will actually be able to live with. This was conveyed to Jonathan by many of the Charedi rabbinic leaders he spoke to about it. The fact that is that it will not be implemented until 3 years from now. And most of these leaders quietly believe they will be able to fill government draft quotas relatively easily.  All the talk about this being the worst tragedy to befall Klal Yisroel since the destruction of the 2nd Temple is just posturing. 

What are the real issues facing the Charedi community in Israel? Jonathan spells them out quite clearly. The primary one giving credence to the secular side of the argument. The fact that a growing Charedi population that will continue to not contribute to the economy perhaps being the biggest issue. An society cannot survive economically when 30% or more of its citizens take more out of it than they put in. There is no economist in the world that will question that. 

And as the proportion of Charedim in Israel continues to increase the more of an issue this becomes. There has to be more Charedim going to work. There is no alternative.  The political power that Charedim used to have to perpetuate the system is gone. Who knows when if ever it will return. But even if it had the power to force the government to print money to distribute to its flock. It would be worthless in the face of the kind of spiraling inflation that would generate. You have to have a balanced budget (or at least a fiscal policy that pushes it towards a balance) in order to sustain the value of your currency.

Jonathan then makes yet another astonishing comment. Without saying so in so many words -he actually says that we have enough Yeshivos already… and perhaps even too many. The goal of the Chazon Ish he says was to rebuild the Yeshiva world destroyed in the Holocaust. We have by now surpassed that goal exponentially.

I could go on. But for me this was an eye opener. I have made many of these arguments myself - many times. And every time I do, some Charedi apologists come out of the woodwork to accuse me of Charedi bashing. Or Gadol bashing. Or they hint at what my Olam HaBah might be like - if I don't shut up.

But I have also said that most Charedim in the world are moderate. And Jonathan is one of them. I am a huge fan of this former fellow Chicagoan (despite the fact that I have on occasion disagreed with him - sometimes strongly). If this is truly the way things are in Israel, then there is indeed hope. Lots of it.