Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Who Comes Off Like the Fool?

Guest Post by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

One of the brightest lights on the internet is Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein. Among his many duties and contributions to Klal Yisroel - he is a regular contributor to Cross Currents.

Rabbi Adlerstein is an articulate spokesman for mainstream Orthodox Jewish thought. I find myself agreeing with what he writes the vast majority of the time.

I am therefore honored to present a guest post on the subject of Charedim and Rabbi David Orlofsky.

It would be a terrible mistake to paint the entire charedi world in R. Orlofsky colors. I can assure you that there are plenty of charedim here, and even in Israel , who find his remarks repugnant and despicable. People should not be guilty of unthinking small-mindedness in assuming what an entire group must be thinking. They are not all thinking alike. I happen to value both Rabbi Weinreb and Modern Orthodoxy. But friends who don’t so much will still be appalled at the chilul Hashem involved in making Torah Jews look like a bunch of buffoons.

The irony is that to anyone not young and impressionable will listen to the clips and see the wisdom of Chazal: kol haposel be-mumo posel. Who comes off like the fool? Do any of R. Orlofsky’s arguments appeal to reason? Does Torah Yiddishkeit come to a halt if you believe that gedolim are sometimes manipulated? I know very few people who don’t believe it – and they are card-carrying charedim with credentials that put R. Orlofsky’s to shame!

They do not reject those gedolim, but find ways around the manipulators. (I.e. they will only ask important questions when they have out manipulated the manipulators by engineering that the latter should be absent when they ask their questions.) Will a group collapse if it had its own gedolim, and not R. Orlofsky’s (who, for the record, for the most part are among those I value as our gedolei Torah)? And R. Orlofsky can believe what he wants, but there are also thousands of bnei Torah whose chinuch included (well before R. Slifkin published his works) a comfort level with a huge group of rishonim and others who took a different view towards science, the age of the earth, etc. than he would want us to believe is the only legitimate approach.

When Rabbi Weinreb (to whose ankles in Torah R. Orlofsky will never rise) asked Manny Nissel for a gemara with which to address the issue he was working on, would any semi-intelligent adult take it the way R. Orlofsky did, or assume that R Weinreb wanted to hear if R. Moshe Shapiro, shlit”a (R Nissel’s rebbi) had a particularly good, sharp vort with which to illustrate the point. He certainly was not asking out of ignorance if there was a gemara on the topic.

There are several layers of tragedy here. One is that the pressure to conform in parts of the charedi community is so intense, that Americans who make aliyah grovel for acceptance. Some of them find it by disowning their American flavor, including what they learned from American gedolim like Rav Moshe and R Yaakov. If they then succeed in become talmidei chachamim, they can win some measure of acceptance, while continuing to demonstrate how “mainstream” they have become.

Those who are not talmidei chachamim try to win their acceptability by becoming self-appointed defenders of the gedolim and public speakers. (Some very special people avoid the conformity steamroller, and preserve their integrity. Their institutions are the ones that parents ought to be seeking out for their kids.) It is this same oppressive conformity in thought, dress, and action that is largely responsible for the thousands of off-the-derech kids that are falling off the wagon at higher rates from the closed charedi communities than the open ones.

The other layer of tragedy is the harm that will come to the institutions with which Orlofsky and others like him are associated. I reject what others here have written. Ohr Somayach may have changed, but it continues to do very fine work – including with new baalei teshuva. So do Ohr LaGolah, Darchei Binah, and the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation. But those institutions are now in a bind. They can keep an otherwise effective and popular teacher and presenter, and suffer incalculable harm by association. Or they can part ways, and regain the position of respect they deserve. I wish them all hatzlachah.