Sunday, November 28, 2010

Charedim, Heresy, and Amalek

A few days ago I lauded a Charedi Knesset member of Sephardi extraction for his courage in telling it like it is. Rabbi Haim Amsalem publicly promoted ideas often promoted on this blog, among them the idea that not everyone should be learning Torah full time, Limudei Chol subjects should be part and parcel of the curriculum in most Charedi schools, and that only a limited number of students should be encouraged to study full time indefinitely.

The rest should learn a trade or profession, serve in the army and go to work. This is also my view. But more importantly it is the view of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and the view of my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik as outlined in his book, Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind.

For espousing this view, Rabbi Amsalem was hammered by the Sephardi Gadol HaDor, Rav Ovadia Yosef. His council of Torah sages later came out with the following statement. From VIN:

“The Council of Torah Sages met with great sorrow [to discuss] the words of Haim Amsalem, who opened his mouth about our dear yeshiva students who…save the whole world with their Torah,” read the most recent letter, signed by the Council of Torah Sages, reads.

“He cooked this dish in public in order to find favor in the eyes of those who hate Torah,” it continues. “He, as a teacher, is kicking his rabbis. He is added to our troubles - peasants and haters of Torah sages - and caused a desecration of G-d’s name.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai asked R’ Amsalem to resign from the Knesset (return his mandate to Shas). He ‘spent an hour on the radio Thursday lashing out against the lawmaker’. Adding that R’ Amsalem’s claims that R’ Yosef would not meet with him and allow him to explain his positions - was false. Which is kind of strange since he followed it up with the following:

“Yosef himself told his secretary he doesn’t want to meet with Amsalem, since he doesn’t listen to him and distorts his opinion.”

Shades of Rabbi Slifkin and Rav Elyashiv. But I digress.

Nothing however matches what was said by the Shas Newspaper Yom Leyom. They called him a heretic and compared him to Amalek. From the Jerusalem Post:

The front page of the weekly paper, as well as much of a supplement, were dedicated to Amsalem, the Shas Council of Torah Sages’s Monday decision, and elaborations on the “sinful ways” of the MK.

“We demand of Mr. Haim Amsalem by the law of Torah to return his mandate to Shas,” the four-man body of senior Sephardi rabbis had written in their edict. “If he doesn’t do so, he is a thief in broad daylight... And we call on all of those who care about the Torah to keep far away from him and his strange and heretical opinions.”

A wealth of quotes from the council’s decision condemning Amsalem, strongly worded by council head Yosef, were quoted and analyzed by various writers throughout the newspaper.

But Ron Halevy, writing in the supplement, outdid all others in comparing Amsalem to a biblical-era foe whom Jews are ordered to eradicate.

Writing about the “vast damage” that Amsalem’s “empty claims” have caused, Halevy wrote that “with arrogance and boastfulness, that man did the deed of Amalek who the Torah orders us to wipe out his memory, ‘who met thee by the way.’”

There is the no room for respectful disagreement… even where that disagreement is firmly rooted in our Mesorah and espoused by Gedolim of previous generations – most notably by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. Not only that they have cast virtually the entire American Charedi community in the same boat at least partially. Charedi schools in America do offer core curriculum subjects.

Furthermore they cast American Charedi rabbinic leaders like Rav Avraham Chaim Levin as heretics. He too advocates a secular studies program in Yeshivos. Is he to be compared to Amalek as well? ...worthy of wiping off of the face of the earth and erasing his memory?

These aren’t some crazy renegades who have taken Rav Yosef’s words out of context and posted their views on a wall poster in Meah Shearim or a Charedi blog anonymously. This is supposedly a respectable Shas Newspaper.

Rav Amsalem has been assigned body guards by the K’nesset.

I cannot explain R’ Yosef’s attitude - nor that of other Charei leaders in Israel - other than to say that they must fear that any statement that undermines the status quo has the potential to undermine Torah education completely.

Why might they feel that way? Perhaps this is based on historical attempts by anti religious forces to undermine observant Judaism in the very same way. They do not buy the argument that this is no longer the case. They see any attempt to change the educational paradigm– no matter how sincere - motivated by a desire to destroy Torah observance. That it is no longer the case is not even considered a possibility. Thus their intransigent positions and the outrageous reaction from their ‘foot soldiers’.

One can easily see why we are where are we are today. There is absolutely no tolerance for other views no matter what their source and no matter how much sense they make. Dissenting views are considered heresy… and those who espouse them are at least figuratively condemned them to death!

On a practical level things may be changing among the Charedi masses both in Israel and in America along the lines of R Amsalem’s views. More Charedin than ever in America are becoming moderate. But in Israel the pace of change is slow. In the meantime Charedi poverty continues to grow as does the animosity against Charedim by Chilonim and Datim.

When will a recognized rabbinic leader rise up and say enough?! Why must a courageous politician in Israel be left swinging in the wind? Instead of fearing the consequences there ought to be a united effort by as many rabbinic leaders as possible to stand and say once and for all that the Israeli model of Torah education is failing. The emperor has been naked long enough.