Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Being Role Models to the World

MK Sharren Haskel (Jewish Press)
How important is it for religious Jews to bring secular people closer to God? One might answer that there may very well be value in doing that. But that it is far more important to improve our own service to God.

If I had to point to an aspect of the Chaerdi world that best characterizes them, it would be this very point. That is pretty much what the term ‘Charedi’ implies. Being Chareid L’Dvar Hashem’ Trembling with awe at the word of God’ requires one to constantly evaluate just how much they embody that value. For the Charedi world - it is all about religious self improvement. Work on yourself first, and then you can worry about the other guy. 

While it is of course important to work on self improvement in one’s Avodas HaShem - in God’s eyes that is not enough. 

Last week’s Parsha (Noach 6-9) is a clear indication of this. These are words are found in the very first Pasuk: Ish Tzadik, Tamim Hayah B’Dorasav Es Elokim HisHalech Noach – (Noach was) a righteous man, perfect in his ways; with God did he walk. 

Rashi in his commentary notes in one of his two famous but opposite implications of the word ‘B’Dorosav’ that Noach would  not have been a Tzadik had he lived in Avrohom’s time. As righteous as Noach was, he was nevertheless unwilling to bring anyone of his generation close to God during the entire first 600 years of his life that preceded the flood. His entire generation remained evil and worthy of complete destruction.

Contrast that with Avrohom. In this week’s Parsha (12-5) it says about Avrohom, HaNefesh Asher Assu – the souls that he made. Rashi in his first explanation of these words says it refers to the people he brought under the Kanfei HaShechina - the wings of God - disabusing them of their immoral, idolatrous ways.

By not doing what Avrohom did, Noach – as close to God as he was  would not have merited being called a Tzadik in Avrohom’s time.

The question arises, how do we do that today? What does one do to bring people under the Kanfei HaShechina? That is what Kiruv is about. Which is best achieved by being role models. We must behave in a manner that will bring people to say about us, ‘How wonderful and wise are the people of God’. When people say that about you, they will want to emulate you.

If one is seen as illiterate by cultural standards, will anyone see them as a role model? Even if they have exemplary Midos? I'm not so sure about that. They might consider them fine people, But not anyone to emulate.

This brings me back to one of my signature issues: Education in the Charedi world. Which is devoid of any real secular studies curriculum. In America and other western cultures, this applies mostly (but not exclusively) to the more right wing Chasidic world.  But in Israel it includes almost the entire Charedi world including the non Chasidic Yeshiva world.   

The primary problem for me has always been the lack of training for the skills required to advance one’s education for purposes of Parnassa - being better able to support their families. There is little doubt that the poverty level of these communities is greater than that of the secular public. 

The counter to that is the argument that they don’t mind living at their modest income levels and are otherwise quite happy with their lives despite the lack of any secular education. Who are we to impose upon them an educational standard they do not value – and in some cases consider anti-religious?!  

Well... even if their Parnassa is none of our business, that is not the only reason for getting an decent secular education. In fact I would argue that it is even less of a reason than becoming role models for the outside world for both secular Jews and non Jews – as per the above discussion. 

By focusing only on their own Avodas Hashem, it will be harder if not impossible to be role models in contemporary society. In the case of the more right wing Chasidm who eschew secular education to such an extent that they consider speaking English too well -  ‘Chukas HaGoy’ there is no way they can be a role model for anyone other than themselves.

In order to fulfill the mandate of bringing people under the Kanfei HaShechina we must do the kinds of things that the typical secular individual respects. If you are a well educated observant Jew you will surely be respected for that. And if on top of that you have exemplary Midos, you will have a much better chance at influencing people to be more Godly.

Which is why I continue to support all efforts to require a decent core secular curriculum  along the lines of most other Charedi schools in the Chasidic schools that have refused to do so.

I am, however, happy that the current Israeli government is trying to do something about the broader problem there. From the Jewish Press: 

MK Sharren Haskel (New Hope), a native of Toronto, Canada who chairs the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee, on Monday announced that a dedicated subcommittee would be formed to deal with state-Haredi education.

“The subcommittee will draw up the state-Haredi education law and will regulate the matter for the first time via orderly legislation,” MK Haskel told her committee members, adding, “We will do this in cooperation with the Haredi department of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, and leading figures in Haredi society, in order to find the right format that would help Haredi children realize their potential in any path that they choose.”

If a way can be found to have ‘leading figures in Haredi society come to some sort of compromise that will offer a minimal core curriculum - I am all for it. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation. If on the other hand past is prologue, I doubt they will. Which in my view means continuing to short change their earning potential and perhaps more importantly - short changing their obligation to be better roles models for secular Jews.  And that is a shame.