Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Apology - and a Reputation Restored

Badge of the Israeli Defense Forces
Anyone (religious or not) who gives his life in defense of the Jewish people gets rewarded with immediate Olam HaBah. We are therefore bound by common decency to have Hakoras HaTov - gratitude to the soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces for putting their lives on the line daily in exactly that way. This is sometimes overlooked by the Yeshiva world in Israel (especially in the current political climate) that focuses on the other side of the equation: The Torah side.

This sentiment was expressed by Rabbi Nissan Kaplan in a Hashkafa Shiur a couple of days ago. It has been recorded. I heard it. He meant it. This reestablishes the Mir Hashkafa as expressed by its past Gedolim like R’ Chaim Shmulevitz who expressed the same sentiment publicly at a Seudas Hoda’ah, thanking God for sparing Yeshivas Mir in the ‘73 Arab Israeli war. As I have said many times, R’ Shmuelvitz spoke of two necessary armies of Israel the spiritual one of the Yeshiva world and the physical one of the IDF.

I agree with R’ Eliyahu Fink who said yesterday on his blog, Fink or Swim
In a fairly remarkable section of the lecture, Rabbi Kaplan demands that his students express hakaras hatov (gratitude) to the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces. In strong language, Rabbi Kaplan impresses upon his audience that the philosophy of their society is that the people who keep Israel safe and secure, from Knesset Members and police men, to soldiers and special forces... 
I believe that Rabbi Kaplan’s remarks in his class last night effectively communicate his true feelings on this issue. In fact, I think that he has gone further than critics of charedi society would ever dream.
Rabbi Kaplan correctly says that hyperbole is a common tactic in Yeshiva. The students know it. The rabbis know it. No one takes the hyperbolic statements literally. He’s right about that. 
I think this explains what happened and what Rabbi Kaplan’s true feelings are. They are in line with the more moderate factions among Charedim about the new laws affecting Charedim. They see them as very negative and are vehemently opposed to them. And some among them express their views with hyperbolic comments from time to time. But the truth is, moderate Charedim are quite aware of the importance of the army and value its contributions to their own welfare as well as the welfare of the rest of the country. What was missing (until now) was any public expression of that… or any mention of it in a Shiur to their students. Rabbi Kaplan has now corrected that by doing both.

I had thought from the beginning that the words in his original Shiur were hyperbole.One of the reasons I judged them that way is because of what I had heard about him in the past. The son of a very good friend of mine came back from Israel a few years ago extolling his virtues. This did not fit with the words in that original Shiur.

After I posted my critical post about Rabbi Kaplan, I received emails from some of his former students. Here is what one of them said: 
I can testify based on what I witnessed personally for 5 years in his shiur that Rabbi Kaplan has been moser nefesh for his talmidim.
I witnessed how for example, he calls weak talmidim who missed the shiur to try to encourage them. After the daily shiur there were always lines of people waiting to speak to him and he patiently spoke to each one and told him what he needs. I also know that he spends time late night contacting old talmidim outside Israel to help them with their problems. All this on top of his busy schedule of preparing daily shiurim in talmud, mussar, chumash, halacha, and shalom bayit shiurim to the mir yeshiva.

We have an obligation to judge him favorably and remind everyone of his merits. He has apologized profusely and we must urge everyone to accept him back with love.
I believe that Rabbi Kaplan is a good man. The love his students have for him is obvious. And for good reason it seems - even if based only on this email. (I’m sure there are many testimonials like this about him.)

There’s more. Rabbi Fink goes on to say: 
The lecture ends with a surprise dismantling of another charedi stereotype. Rabbi Kaplan talked about advising young men to leave the study hall and enter the workforce. He reported that he heard from 10 of his students in the last week. Of the ten, he had advised six to go to work and the other four were advised to study because they had potential to be great scholars and teachers. After some time, the four who were still in yeshiva followed up with Rabbi Kaplan because they were struggling financially. Rabbi Kaplan advised one of the four to get a job. The other three were advised to return to their studies. Within a short while, the remaining three were hired as rabbis teaching in other yeshivas. 
This is more like it. It almost matches my own views (as a practical matter- not a Hashkafic matter).  As an aside, if this approach were used in every Yeshiva, there would be more than enough Charedim to fill the quota of recruits. And there could be no complaints about pulling people out of the Beis HaMedrash since that is exactly what Rabbi Kaplan advised them to do – to leave the Beis HaMedrash and support their families.

Yes, he is Charedi and his views on various issues (like drafting Charedim) do not match mine. And as part of the Charedi culture in Israel he has expressed those views in hyperbolic ways. Ways which he now regrets and has apologized for. I respect him for that. And though I disagree with some of his views, I respect his Hashkafos; his right to express them publicly; and teach them to his students.

At this point I would like to apologize to him, his family, and Mir Yeshiva for any grief that I may have caused them through my writings.