Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Respect - Not Elitism

Lakewood Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Malkiel Kotler
I had a discussion earlier this week with a prominent Charedi Talmid Chacham. We were debating the merits of the kind of religious education that takes place in Lakewood these days. It was in the context of the recent rebuke by Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz about the elitism in religious schools there which leaves too many children out in the cold. 

He told me that Lakewood Rosh HaYehiva, Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler went to Betzalel Hebrew Day School.  There was no "cheder" in his days! Betzalel was a Modern Orthodox coed day school. Point being that one does not need an elitist school to become the Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood. 

Nor does one need to be the son of the previous Rosh HaYeshiva. One may recall that the late Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, graduated from a coed high school. He was a distant cousin of the previous Rosh HaYeshiva. I believe that experience helped him better understand the broader Orthodox world and better relate to the American Bachurim that went to the Mir.

That reminded me of a belief I have always had about Jewish education in Chicago. If the coed Ida Crown Jewish Academy were the only game in town, and everyone - right to left - had sent their children there for lack of an alternative - the academy would be a far different and far better school than it is today. Its products would be more unified having gained by experiencing peers from homes with a broad range of Hashkafos.

He disagreed saying that we benefit from different derachim by having different schools as long as they respect each other. The strongest case would be that Yeshivas should be more open like they used to be.

Citing views I have expressed here in the past, I responded by saying that the problem with diversification is that with rare exception schools with different Hashkafos don't respect each other. 

I'm not so sure we gain by each Hashkafa having its own niche. We have become exclusionary instead of inclusive. Which is the source of the problem in Lakewood. By not integrating we don't learn from each other anymore. Instead we each learn about our own Hashkafa - and the Mechachim of each segment extol the virtues of their own Hashkafos while disparaging the hashkafos of others. Sometimes indirectly. And sometimes directly.

I miss the old days where we were all in the same boat. We might have joked about each others different Minhagim, but we were all friends and nobody looked down upon the other.

That generated the following response. It is one that if implemented, would make Orthodoxy a far better society -  integrated in an Achdus that respects differences – as long as they do not cross heretical lines. It follows:

I think it is fundamental hashkafa that there should be different derachim in service of Hashem and all (legitimate) derachim be respected and that we learn from each other.  And not withstanding the problems you raise, Chicago has also benefited tremendously from the various mosdos that reflect different derachim. 
As someone that learned in Lakewood and knew the attitude of many Gedolim in my era, I am uncomfortable with the prevalent chinuch approach, which is not dealing with things in a nuanced way because black and white is easier. 
Some examples that come to mind. 
There are issues with tznius in girl's high schools, so institute uniforms! So instead of dealing with  the issue by giving the girls a deeper appreciation of tznius, just make uniforms .  Its easier.
 The price we pay is that there is no room for self expression, a cardinal sin to a Gadol like Rav Hutner and his Slabodka Hashkafos. 
Having opportunities for secular education and preparation for parnosa present challenges for some students, or may lead some who are destined for greatness in learning to pursue a career instead.  (I think all would agree that being a doctor or a lawyer is fine but it would have been tragic had Rav Noson Tzvi Finkel become a lawyer!)    
So instead of being a true machanech like Rav Hutner and guiding talmidim in their career choices, we just declare it taboo! 
... I agree with many of the issues you raise, but the (very small!) piece of Rav Hutner within me says that the way to address them is not to lower the bar and discourage different derachim and mosdos, but rather to rise to the challenge and learn to respect each other. 
It's hard for me to see Moshiach coming until we do!  
He added a story that was published in Parsha Encounters,  a weekly publication of the Chicago Community Kollel.  It demonstrates what it means to respect different derachim.  
The highly respected Holocaust survivor Yosef Freidenson had a brother Shamshon Raphael, a name not very common among Polish Chassidim!  He explained what prompted his father to name a son after Rav Hirsch ZTL. 
 “My father would visit Frankfurt on business.  There, for the first time in his life, he saw Jewish women who were accomplished doctors and lawyers and, at the same time, were meticulous in covering their hair.  He said to himself that if Rav Hirsch could build such a community, he wanted the merit of having a son named after him!” 
It’s important to keep in mind that what he saw was very different thanhis own approach in avodas Hashem.  He would not want his daughter to be a doctor or a lawyer.  Nevertheless, not only was he able to respect that derech, he was able to be inspired by it and to admire it! 
What a lesson in ahavas Yisroel, love of fellow Jews, did Eliezer Gershon Freidenson teach his family! And what a lesson he teaches us!