Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Spiritual Selfie

Rav Yitzchok Hutner (right) with Rav Moshe Feinstein
Is a model built on a multitude of people dependent on a few rich benefactors and secular government handouts a responsible communal construct? Is growing a generation of men who study until they can’t, and need to then find a source of income without the self-confidence and skills they could have easily acquired had they taken the yoke of parnassah at a younger age, in the interest of the spiritual commitment of the next generation – and the one after it?
Are mega-donations by fabulously wealthy people an economic plan? Why do we avoid a vision that creates and lionizes a strong middle class – honorable, hardworking balabatim who make a living in dignity by employing skills learned in academic environments worthy of the intellectualism with which we pride ourselves? Why instead do we promote the “spiritual selfie” – getting through our generation, without planning for those who come after us?
These are not my words. Neither are they the words of Yair Lapid, Dov Lipman, or Rabbi Berel Wein. These are the very wise words of yet another Charedi whose thinking is clear. His name is Yaakov Rosenblatt. And he is someone who - having studied in a Kollel in Lakewood for many years - clearly has Charedi Hashkafos.

I can’t speak for him. But if I recall correctly he once wrote that his attitude changed because he left the cloistered world of Lakewood Yeshiva and for business reasons settled in Texas. There he was exposed to a different kind of Jew than one will find in places like Lakewood: The Baal HaBos. These are householders that work for a living. But contrary to the stereotype of the Baal Habos that one picks up in the world of Lakewood – as an unlearned and uncaring individualmind. These Baalei Batim care about Torah study and doing Mitzvos. They differ from the Lakewood Jew mostly in their desire to support their families first! A high value that is undervalued in the Torah world. Especially in Israel.

Of course he is not the only Charedi to have seen the light. Others have also seen this light. They too value the work ethic. And more… they value elements of the secular world which contribute to enabling  the Jewish people to better support themselves. They even value the pure wisdom of that culture.  The Gemarah tells us, Im Yomar Lecha, Yesh Chochma BaGoyim – Taamin! If (someone) said to you that there is wisdom among the nations, believe him! Thus the idea of getting a good secular education at least for purposes of Parnassa is not one that is foreign or even secondary to Judaism. It is an integral part of it.

There are other prominent Charedim who understand this. Like Jonathan Rosenblum who personally told me that he places great value on the education he received at the University of Chicago and later at Yale. 

And while he doesn’t advertise this, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow has a college degree, too.  Having attended Yeshivas Chaim Berlin under the leadership of Rav Yitzchok Hutner in the late fifties, he did what most of the Chaim Berliners did then. And he did so with the approval and probably even the encouragement of R’ Hutner, who  at one time (together with R’ Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz) considered adding a secular college program to his Yeshiva. It was only the directive of Rav Aharon Kotler that prevented it. Rav Aharon felt that a Yeshiva should be pure Torah and nothing else.

When Yaakov Rosenblatt told me that his words were published on Cross Currents, I told him that he better watch out. He will no doubt be accused of contradicting the Gedolim. He may even lose his Charedi credentials for that. After all he has suggested an attitude adjustment to what many consider  to be Daas Torah.

But Daas Torah has changed with a changing of the guard. The current rabbinic leaders no longer see the Daas Torah of the previous generation of Gedolim – as Daas Torah. Secular education is no longer a value. Charedi high schools in Israel forbid it in their schools. They are fighting all attempts to install even a basic curriculum. They promote the idea that working for a living is a B’Dieved… that if one can’t ‘make it’ in learning, then Nebech he can go to work. What about training for that? Well, that’s not their problem.  They are Roshei Yeshiva, and their Yeshivos are not Paranssah factories.

What about the past generation of Gedolei Yisroel in America (like Reb Shraga Fevel Medelowitz, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, and Rav Avrohom Pam, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, and Rav Ahron Soloveichik) that looked favorably upon preparing for a Parnassa? Fuggedaboutit! The wisdom of the Torah has changed with the times, I guess.