Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Greening of Torah Jewry

Rabbi Berel Wein is an interesting fellow. He is a Musmach of my alma mater, HTC, and maintains a close relationship with the Yeshiva. He is also the brother-in-law of Telshe Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin. And he has a very close relationship with him as well.

His views on issues affecting the Torah world are well known and have been recorded and published in various media. His history tapes are legendary and were turned into a very successful three volume book series. He is also a prolific writer and has written many articles on issues having to do with the Torah world.

And he speaks his mind. He does not try to be politically correct. This is probably one of the reasons his writings did not pass muster with Mesorah Publications (Artscroll). His books are instead published by Shaar Press and distributed by Mesorah. I’m not exactly sure what this means but I surmise that his books are “Kosher” enough to be distributed by them but not “Kosher” enough to be published by them.

In any case I am a fan and more often than not, I agree with his views.

There is one article he wrote a while back about his analysis of the current state of Torah world with respct to Charedism and Modern Orthodoxy. He believes that they will eventually merge, incorporating elements of both worlds. I think he is right about that.

He views this phenomenon from a practical rather than ideological perspective. And he points to evidence that it is already happening. I see that too. Ideologies seem to be almost beside the point to the vast majority of the members of both communities.

What is happening is that many Chareidm have adopted many of the modern orthodox modalities for paranssa and are attending colleges, graduate schools, or professional schools while maintaining their status as Charedim. And many Modern Orthodox, in part because of the “move to the right” have gravitated to the lifestyles choices of Charedim, by putting on the black hats, throwing out TVs and spending more of their free time learning. Of course in both cases, they have maintained their connection to their source Hashkafos, but they have also been moving towards each other in how they lead their lives.

I’m not sure how far this is going to go… whether it will be a complete synthesis of the two Hashkafos. But I’m inclined to think that at some point in time, at least in America, there will be that synthesis. Torah Im Derech Eretz, Torah U’Mada, and Charedism will meld into one sociological grouping that will encompass the vast majority of Klal Yisroel.

I don’t like the idea of my own Hashkafa of Torah U’Mada going the way of the dinosaur. It may take a while but I fear that it is. But the fact is that the Charedim are winning. They have all the Mechanchim (or most of them) and their Hashkafos are the ones most widely being taught. The more thoughtful Charedim who actually think about the future are now thinking, and will increasingly think of Parnassa as a necessary requirement for a decent Torah lifestyle.

True, we have a long way to go before it becomes the standard for all Charedim to think of preparing themselves early on for Parnassa, but, I think it is inevitable, and of course it is already happening to a large extent. There are many Charedi professionals, doctors, lawyers, accountants and what have you, all of whom had the foresight to prepare themselves for a decent Parnassa. They understood the practical importance of doing so early on.

Of course the Charedi Hashkafa of learning as long as possible and not thinking about Parnassa until the proverbial “knife is at your throat” is still the guiding principle. But things do seem to be changing, albeit at a snails pace.

By the same token, Modern Orthodox Centrist Jews of the type found in the Yeshiva University Beis HaMedrash have been, and still are, moving to the right, many of them rejecting or ignoring the Hashkafos of Torah U’Mada and looking at their secular education as a means for a decent Parnassa. Same as those Charedim.

There is one monkey wrench in the works however, the situation in Charedi Israel. The Hashkafos of learning Torah full time for as long as possible is very strong there. Combine that with the complete disdain and rejection of secular studies makes the Parnassa situation there more dire. To be fair one of the main problems is the army service requirement before entering the labor force. But equally responsible is the strong insistence of their Roshei Yeshiva or their Gedolim to stay in learning and ignore any Parnassa concerns. This has been testified to many times by “victims” of that mentality. And that kind of thinking has crossed the Atlantic too and has taken hold to some degree here.

Never-the-less, there is a definite trend here amongst many Charedim to prepare themselves for Parnassa at some point. And I think that trend is increasing. I don’t know what kind of rift may occur between those who have adopted the Israeli educational model and those who have moderated their Charedism to allow for better Parnassa preparation. That remains to be seen. But it is a definite phenomenon in the Charedi world.

What will happen on the other side of the Atlantic also remains to be seen although it’s not looking so good for them right now. The poverty there is tremendous and some marriages have seen the breaking point in part because of it.

So the future from a sociological standpoint isn’t so bad, at least for Americans. But from a Hashkafic standpoint, I am disappointed. I truly believe that the study of Mada is important beyond just Parnassa needs. That Hashkafa is on the wane. But Klal Yisorel is not going to starve in their process of maturing. At least not in America.