Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Future of Charedi Leadership Requires Mada

Rav Aharon Lopianksky
19th century French thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville has something to add to Charedi discourse. As does French philosopher and mathematician Nicolas de Condorcet , and many other non Jewish thinkers. One might ask, do non Jewish thinkers have any relevance to the Charedi world? 

As reported by Jonathan Rosenblum in his weekly column in Mishpacha Magazine, the answer is yes. Jonathan described a week long conference he attended in Long Island. The 2nd of its kind. It was sponsored by the politically conservative Tikvah Fund whose mission consists of defending the traditional family; stressing national sovereignty and a strong national defense;  and favoring a strong free market economy.

Among those who participated in exchanging ideas with non Jewish politically conservative thinkers is the Rosh HaYeshiva of a Charedi Yeshiva (the Yeshiva of greater Washington) R’ Aharon Lopiansky. The largest contingency of attendees was from Lakewood (followed by attendees from Ner Israel and Israel). Only a handful of these participants had any education beyond high school.

Jonathan points out that the future of Jewish leadership depends on the kind of secular knowledge imparted there. This is an astonishing admission from someone who clearly identifies himself as Charedi and lives in Israel.

What he is really saying is that Torah knowledge alone is not enough to prepare people for government leadership in our day. No matter how great that knowledge is - one needs to learn certain secular disciplines in our day in order to lead.

Jonathan posits that as the Charedi population continues to increase in Israel they may eventually be called upon to lead an entire nation. As it stands now, the only Charedim qualified to even consider a leadership role are Baalei Teshuvu who actually had that kind of education prior to their becoming observant in the Charedi world. No one – especially in Israel – has anywhere near that kind of secular education – or indeed any secular education at all.

Of course Jonathan is himself a Baal Teshuva, having been educated in 2 of the finest universities in the world, the University of Chicago and Yale. That’s why have can talk about de Tocqueville and de Condorcet with such ease.

One may be tempted to say that the views Jonathan espouses in this essay and in previous ones are not mainstream Charedi – and that his views have been ‘tainted’ by his exposure to those schools and his overall past education –both formal and informal.  But Rabbi Lopiansky views had no such ‘tainting’. He was born and raised in the Charedi world and is the son in law of Rav Beinish Finkel, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Mir before R’ Beinish’s other son in law, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel ZTL took over.

That the most of the participants were from Lakewood tells you something. There is an acknowledgement that both Torah and Mada are important, at least in terms of the future leadership of the Jewish people.

Jonathan tells us that 3 of the participants were from Israel. I have to assume that they are actually Americans that were educated here but now live in Israel. Because most Israelis would be ill equipped to attend a conference like this having zero secular education.

So while this conference is a step in the right direction, as it pertains to Israel, there is a very long way to go.

If one has liberal leanings one might look upon at a conference espousing conservative values with disdain. But It is far more important to become educated at all in these disciplines than it is to remain completely ignorant of them.  Besides bright individuals can decide for themselves whether or not they accept the conservative arguments put forth at such a conference. Thinking people with strong religious values can decide which of the two political ideologies (liberal or conservative) supports their religious worldview. Usually it involves a little of both.

The point is that there is a realization on the part of the right – at least those that have been raised and educated in America – that this kind of education is indispensable for the future.

What about Israeli Charedim? Will they come around to this kind of thinking? I hope so, although I doubt that they currently place any value on it. Only time will tell. Articles like this one by Jonathan help. But there needs to be corresponding articles in the Hebrew editions of magazines like Mishpacha and other Charedi publications. If there are enough of those, who knows?