Monday, November 10, 2008

A One Two Punch

One of the brightest spots on the Charedi horizon is Mishpacha Magazine. This is a magazine that is geared to the Charedi public but is not subject to the editorial veto pen of the Charedi rabbinic leadership – as is The Yated or Hamodia. My understanding is that Mishpacha does, however, enjoy their tacit approval - if not official approval. They certainly toe a Charedi line in many of its publishing policies. For example, I do not believe they publish any pictures of women. Though I disagree with this policy the positives of this magazine far outweigh negatives like this.

What is positive about this magazine is their courage in publishing controversial subjects - and controversial opinions on them. Jonathan Rosenblum’s recent column (see yesterday’s post) is but one of many examples of this. So too is another column appearing this week in Mishpacha. This one is by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. It hones in more precisely on the issue of secular studies – specifically learning basic skills required for earning a living in this country.

As with Jonathan’s article, so too does Rabbi Horowitz reflect the very same attitudes I have. And as I mentioned yesterday, if I were the one making these comments they would be written off as coming from a modern Orthodox perspective -‘the enemy’.

Rabbi Horowitz is clearly not ‘the enemy’. He is Charedi. He is a valued member of the Agudah ‘team’. He heads their Project Yes that deals with children at risk. He has published articles in their magazine, The Jewish Observer. And he is often a featured speaker at their conventions. The article should be read in its entirety. It is a relatively short one and is well worth the time. It is available here.

Rabbi Horowitz is not afraid to call ‘a spade a spade’. There is a current push to devalue anything secular at all including the English language in most if not all Charedi circles. Certain Chasidim in particular insist on treating the English language as secondary. The result in many cases is illiteracy. The claim is made that learning the English language too well it will somehow departs from the Mesorah and dilute their Judaism. These are Rabbi Horowitz’s views:

The indisputable fact that virtually all fervently observant Jews in Europe were fluent in their native languages is an important one to reflect upon. Why? Because it counters the revisionist history that developing English language skills in our children is somehow charting a “new” path that deviates from our mesorah, our tradition.

Need I say more? Revisionism is but one of the elements that has infected the Charedi world. They deny the truths of history - if it serves their purpose. Now… their purpose is noble. It is to preserve the heritage of authentic Judaism and not let foreign influences in that will dilute the purity of Judaism as they see it. But their means are in this case counter-productive and in essence do no such thing. They preserve only the Yiddish language. The downside is that by treating English as a second language they hinder the ability to become gainfully employed.

Revisionism is the new building block of the Charedi world. If a piece of history does not fit the image of how they wish to portray Judaism, it must not be taught - or it must be modified to fit the image! Rabbi Horowitz recognizes this very point, identifies it correctly as revisionism and labels it harmful:

What is most unsettling is that having a command of the native language is more crucial in today’s job market than it has ever been.

And there is more:

Many point to individuals who became fabulously wealthy without a command of their native language. But they are just that. Individuals. The brutal reality is that most people who are poorly educated struggle mightily to earn a living and support their families — and this applies even or especially to those who plan on entering chinuch or rabbanus. Expecting to strike it rich with limited education is analogous to a fi fteen-year-old dribbling a basketball and dreaming of playing in the National Basketball Association.

This is truly a wise observation – one that should be fully absorbed by all who point to the fabulous successes of some people in their community who are illiterate and have become wealthy despite that fact.

And yet, there is no push by Charedi leadership to change this attitude. This attitude goes beyond the extremes of those Chasidim that treat English as a second language. To a lesser but still very significant extent, this seems to be a prevailing attitude among all Charedim. The following excerpt demonstrates this fact:

A close friend of mine owns a business in an area with a large chareidi population, and is always looking to provide Avreichim with jobs. His “entrance exam” is rather simple. He gives prospective applicants a sheet of paper and asks them to write two paragraphs in English about why they would like to land a job in his company, and then to turn on a computer and type those lines. His thinking is that if an applicant cannot perform those two tasks, they are useless to him in his business. Suffice it to say that this would probably be my last column in Mishpacha if I shared with you the percentage of applicants he turns away because they cannot do that.

This should shock anyone who feels that current Charedi attitudes about secular education are correct. If you have a son whose primary goal is to go to Lakewood for an indeterminate length of time, you should be worried - if they have attended Charedi elementary and high schools.

Once again, these are indeed my views. But they are not being expressed by me. They are being expressed by a certified Charedi Mechanech in a popular Charedi periodical. The percentages of Charedim who cannot do simple tasks is so large, that it would embarrass the whole community if the parentages were published.

This is a ‘one-two punch’. First Jonathan Rosenblum and now Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. Mishpacha is to be strongly commended for constantly publishing articles like this. If they continue to enjoy the tacit support of Charedi Gedolim, maybe these Gedolim do secretly seek the paradigm change I have called for.

I just hope that they stop keeping it a secret.

Update: Rabbi Horowitz has posted his corrected Mishpacha article at his website. It is linked above and here.