Friday, October 22, 2010

Taking a Bitter Pill

Stories like this are truly depressing. They are depressing at so many levels that it leaves me with a feeling that there is just no hope for our Charedi Israeli brethren. They are a rapidly increasing population that is entrenched in a system that encourages poverty. And they are going to have to sink before they learn how to swim.

Not that anyone says they are required by the Torah to be poor. But that they are required to follow a path that more often than not leads to it.

A story published yesterday at tells us of a meeting of venerable Rabbanim who are resisting Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s declared crackdown on Charedi schools. He wants to insure that they follow the ministry’s core curriculum requirements. These Rabbanim have once against ordered that their community resist this with all their might. Who attended? A veritable who’s who of Charedi rabbinic leadership. From Matzav:

Present at the meeting in Bnei Brak were Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, Rav Nissim Karelitz, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Shmuel Auerbach, Rav Berel Povarsky, Rav Yaakov Adas, Rav Moshe Tzadka, the Belzer Rebbe, the Sanzer Rebbe, the Boyaner Rebbe, and Rav Yisroel Hager of Vizhnitz. Also present were a number of roshei yeshivos and cheder principals from around the country.

They say that this fight is solely about who is going to control the education of Charedi students:

Maran Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv wrote a letter comparing Sa’ar’s moves to those of the Polish authorities in pre-World War II Europe.

At the end of the session, a kol koreh were drafted, stating that “Only Torah sages have the authority to determine the course of study in the Talmudei Torah and all other educational institutions… Talmud Torah principals should not agree to any external supervision over the curriculum… or any other thing that would mar the independence of the pure education they are charged with.”

First let me say that I do not in any way mean to disparge any of these great Torah figures. Compared to them, I am truly a nobody.

But I truly do not understand their level of opposition. It is beyond reason to so stridently oppose what has to be at least a partial remedy for the intense, consistent, and growing poverty of the most committed Jews among us.

I understand their Shittah of teaching Torah only. They insist that anything other than Torah study is an unacceptable dilution of it. It is as though they are saying that any kind of secular studies that might be introduced into their schools - at any level - is forbidden by the Torah law. At least that is how they’re selling it - and that’s how they’re fighting it.

I have to ask (as I have so many times in the past) if it is so Assur, why do American Charedi rabbinic leaders allow it in their system? Are there two Torahs?! It can’t be Assur there and Mutar here.

Often one will hear the following response: America and Israel are two different situations. They cannot be compared.

Really? Why not?

I’ve also heard explanations along the lines that ideally it would be best to follow the Israeli model of no Limudei Chol - secular studies. But that would never ‘sell’ in this country, so we have no choice here.

But that answer would turn Moetzes member and Telshe Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Avrohom Chaim Levine into a liar. He gave an impassioned defense of the secular studies program offered in Telshe saying that it was their Shittah going back to Europe to offer secular studies and that it has never in the slightest hindered the achievement of their students.

It would also put into question Rabbi Ya’akov Perlow’s attending college and reciveing a degree. How could the sitting chairman of the Agudah Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah voluntarily do something like that? It doesn’t matter that he now opposes college – if he even does. One learns far more by example than one does by words. Did he think it was a good idea then and change his mind? Was there no Daas Torah when he decided to attend college?

And what about the last Chairman of the Agudah Moetzes, Rav Avrohom Pam? Did he violate Daas Torah by attending college and receiving a degree in math?

And we aren’t even talking about college here. We are talking about elementary school and high school!

To me the answer is obvious. There is nothing wrong with studying secular studies in a Yeshiva. It violates no Halacha at all.

Much of the complaint by Israeli rabbinic leaders is based on their claim that it is being forced upon them by a non Torah entity. An entity to which they attribute nefarious motives. They claim that the government wants to get a foothold in their system using these innocuous means in order to further an anti Torah agenda.

This was the case of the great European Yeshivos. Similar efforts were attempted by the anti Semitic Czarist rulers in Russia and their secular anti Frum Jewish partners. The Roshei Yeshiva knew the ulterior motives. The Czarist government and secular Jewish goal was to assimilate all Jews - ridding them of any Torah observances by at first mandating innocuous secular subjects. The Roshei Yeshiva correctly closed their doors rather than to subject their students to that. Those secular Jews made no secret about their agenda.

But I do not believe for a moment that this is the goal of the education ministry or the Israeli government. They look at an economy that is being under served by Charedim. And with Charedim increasing their percentage of the population, they see disaster coming as less people work and contribute financially.

Not that there aren’t people in the Israeli government that wouldn’t want to destroy any vestiges of religious observance. I’m sure that there are. But most government ministers are not really interested in that. They simply want to see a functioning society and a functioning government that is fully funded so that it can pay for the vital services they provide. Like the armed forces. Or the health system. Or the welfare system.

But let us say for arguments sake that their accusations are true and that the only reason they oppose Limudei Chol is because the evil government wants to force it upon them.

OK. Let them devise their own a Limudei Chol curriculum. That cannot be forbidden.

If they will retort that instituting Limudei Chol would prevent the kind of intensive studies that will give Klal Yisroel its future leaders, I would dispute that with evidence that some of the greatest Charedi leaders in Klal Yisorel have had formal secular educations and they still became great leaders. I would even argue that those who had such educations became great because of - rather than in spite of it.

But even if one would concede that a Limudei Chol program of any sort would hinder the development of Gedolim - why force every single student into the same program? Surely they cannot believe that every single student has the potential for becoming a Gadol! Why not allow at least those who do not have that potential – which is proabably the majority of their students – to also study subjects that will help them earn a living wage in the future? Why the strident opposition to even the slightest amount of Limudei Chol?!

Certainly the government has the right to withhold financing until its conditions are met – even if those conditions were unreasonable. And in this case they are more than reasonable. Especially when one considers core curriculum requirements to be in the best interests of the country. Which I fully believe it is.

It should be made clear that no Yeshiva is being forced to close. They have complete freedom to teach whatever they wish. But eliminating government funding may have that effect on many of them.

These rabbinic leaders have said that this is discriminatory and that it is unfair to place additional burdens on their schools that already woefully short of their budgetary requirements. It will crush them.

It breaks my heart to say this, but I side with the government here. It is a bitter pill to swallow but the Charedi educational system must take its medicine or die!

The Charedi leaders will cry foul and accuse the government of being Reshaim! - evil people with evil motives. The government will survive that. But the Charedi system may not survive without government funding. At least not in its present form.

This may force them to re-think their attitude about Limudei Chol and come back to the government with a proposal to install some sort of minimal Limudei Chol curriculum. The government will probably accept that as a compromise and agree to re-instate funding. And that is a good thing.

Of course it would be a lot better if they didn’t let it come to that. But I the way things are going, it may have to.