Monday, December 26, 2016

An American Charedi in Israel

Image from Cross Currents
I marvel at the apologetics of Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz. In last week’s Mishpacha Magazine he reacted to a cover story the week before. In that article they praised (with some caveats) the city of  Ramat Bet Shemesh A (RSB-A) for the diversity it showed in Charedi education.

Rabbi Malinowitz defended that community’s American orientation. Meaning he felt there was nothing wrong with clinging to the culture one was brought up with. Even to the extent of finding social nourishment with like minded Americans; and to the extent of speaking English as the primary way of communication between friends; or in seeking English language lectures from their Shul rabbis. 

While others lamented the fact that a place like RBS-A interfered with acculturation one needs to live in Israel, Rabbi Malinowitz felt that this was not as important as the spiritual lift one gets by moving to the holy land. Which is why he supported the Charedi schools there which have an American program of combined Limudei Kodesh (mornings) and Limudei Chol (afternoons). This is what American parents want for their children.

And yet he felt compelled to write a letter to the editor saying that as a general rule this type of school is not approved of for the general Charedi population. What’s wrong with it? He basically said it’s because the Gedolim of Eretz Yisroel said so. He offered no other explanation. What about Parnassa, that a good secular education can help you obtain? He answered that there are a lot of ‘catch up’ programs that the Charedi world can avail themselves of for that purpose. I find it telling that he could provide no other explanation other than it is his task as a rabbi to promote the wishes of the Gedolim - who forbid it.

What it tells me is that - deep down - Rabbi Malinowitz actually might believe as I do that it might not be such a bad idea for Charedim not to have to find ways to ‘catch up’ with Israelis that have had a good secular education. Even though he did not say so expressly. Whether that should be the case for all Charedim or just those that are not the elite (meaning most of them) is besides the point. I think that in his heart of hearts he might actually think that most Charedim should be better prepared via their elementary and high school education for their future material welfare.

Which brings me to an article in Cross Currents. I am a huge fan of the author of this article, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein for many reasons. One of which is his understanding of the Christian mindset with respect to Israel and the Jewish people. At least as far as fundamentalist Christians are concerned. He is one of the very few that has ability express such an accurate view of that based on his job as the Director of Interfaith Relations for the Weisenthal Center. The only other legitimate view from an observant perspective is that of  my friend Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein who has dedicated his life to bettering relations between Christians and Jews (albeit not without some pretty harsh criticism from the right).

Rabbi Adlerstein writes about his recent appearance on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. In the course of his artilce he lauds the right wing rejection of television. Most Charedim both here and in Israel do not have a TV in their homes - although he admits that there are a lot of closet Charedi TV homes out there. 

I am not here to argue the merits and faults of TV today. Although there is much to discuss on this issue it will have to wait for another time. I was struck by Rabbi Adlerstein’s joy at how his young Israeli grandchildren are being raised in an environment that is so sheltered from the outside world. Not that he approves of being overly sheltered. He clearly does not and indicates as much. But he does like the fact that his young grandchildren are not yet exposed to it. He says that they eventually will be as were his older grandchildren there… and that’s a good thing. But will they really be exposed? Or is it through Rabbi Adlerstein’s own efforts that gives them exposure?

As  beloved grandfather he teaches... and they learn.  I doubt that any of his Israeli grandchildren would have had any idea what a Christian is like without him.  And I doubt that most Israeli Charedim have any clue about what’s ‘out there’ other than what they are taught by Mechanchim. Whose philosophy is to insulate their children as much as possible.

I also have to wonder why he is so complacent about the kind of education they will receive there. Rabbi Adlerstein is what I call a moderate Charedi. Unless I am mistaken his children are very likely a part of the Charedi world in Israel. There is very little that is moderate about the Charedi world there. Which means they will have little exposure as possible to the outside world. For as long as possible. That is the nature of  Charedi education in Israel. They are all about insulating their children from the outside world. For example - they do not even allow them to participate in sports – let alone follow a professional sports teams.

I also have to wonder how happy he is with lack of any secular education his grandchildren will receive  - assuming they will follow the path of mainstream Charedim there and end up in schools that have no secular studies. If they do choose one of the ‘American style’ Charedi Yeshivos - they can suffer socially. Which is why many American parents just suck it up and send their children to mainstream Charedi schools.

If they go mainstream - will he be happy that his grandchildren will have to ‘catch up’ with their Israeli peers in order to compete for jobs?  Is living the life of a Charedi in Israel really more spiritually uplifting than living the life of a Charedi in America? Would R’ Moshe Feinstein have been a more spiritual person - had he made Aliyah?

This is not to disparage making Aliyah. It is just to question why a Charedi raised in America would think living in Israel under the conditions described is so much more spiritual than in America - that they are willing to give up their American values to do it.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s me.  Maybe for some – making a Charedi  style Aliyah and abandoning American values is worth the gain one gets in the spirituality of living in Israel. But I don’t get it.