Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Charedi Gadol

Is the man in this picture a Centrist? Hardly. This is a picture of 99 year old HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman whom many consider one of the Gedolei HaDor. He is about as Charedi as one could be. And yet some of his positions on social issues are very centrist.

He can get away with that because he has earned his credentials as a Gadol. Is is the long time Rosh HaYeshiva of Ponevitch’s Yeshiva Litze’irim. And he is the author of a brilliant work on Shas entitled Ayelet HaShachar which he originally published anonymously.

So he is not only a Gadol but an Anav. One who is not worried about being called a ‘fake Gadol’. I will never forget Jonathan Rosenblum writing about one such ‘Gadol’ (unnamed) that refused to state his opinion on a controversial matter (I no longer recall what it was). He feared being labeled ‘a fake Gadol’. He was worried about his ‘Shteller’ …his position as a Gadol! …his Kavod!

Not so Rav Shteinman. Like Gedolim of the last generation, he has no such fears. He is more concerned with Emes and the welfare of Klal Yisroel than he is about how some people will label him.

In fact his positions on some of issues would be considered very un-Charedi. Just to name a few, he is not in favor of staying in full time Kollel for all Jews – even Charedim. He supports career training programs designed for Charedim. He is also in favor of Nachal Charedi – where Charedim can fulfill their military obligations to the State of Israel and then go into the workforce.

He is opposed to the kind of anti Sephardi racism that exists in certain Charedi circles. He actually once famously scolded a school principal who tried to explain why he did not permit Sephardi girls into his Ashkenazi school. If I recall correctly he said that all of this principal’s ‘reasons’ were nothing more than excuses and that his motives were less than pure.

He is also very opposed to the elitism that seems to be increasing in the Torah world. The idea that we must be selective in whom we do or do not allow into our schools. This echoes my own views on the subject. Which I expressed in a couple of posts not long ago.

It was reported in a recent article in the 5 Towns Jewish Times that Rav Shteinman was asked for his blessings for a new elitist Beis Yaakov school in Jerusalem. It was to be a school designed for the best of the best – children from only the finest of homes which included children of Roshei Yeshiva and Roshei Kollel. The Avreichim who approached him were certain that their new schools with its ‘improved’ religious standards would be given the best of recommendations from this Zaken and Gadol. But they were sadly mistaken. He rejected it completely.

From the 5 Towns artilce:

Rav Shteinman responded that… the plans for the school should be negated immediately. The group attempted to explain to the Rosh Yeshiva the dire need for the new type of institution, but they were unable to budge Rav Shteinman. They were stuck and had to scramble to register their daughters in the other Bais Yaakov institutions.

Word quickly spread throughout Yerushalayim. There were other elite schools too, that were established for the same purpose. Kollel Yungerleit flocked to Rav Shteinman, only to receive the same response, “There is no inyan whatsoever to be frummer than Bais Yaakov. Anyone who registered their daughter at an elite school should negate the matter and re-register in the Bais Yaakov schools.”

Yerushalayim, this past month, was in a state of shock. A few days after the incident developed Rav Shteinman explained, “The Bais Yaakov schools do an extraordinary job in educating our girls, and there are a number of reasons why developing more “elite” schools is unwarranted. One reason is that it is important that the parents understand that a child raised in a manner that is disconnected from her friends, can and does ruin the child forever. Children learn with their peers and the elitism can be most destructive to them.”

It can be seen from this statement that Rav Shteinman is opposed to the kind of isolation that is currently the rage in Charedi circles. The more separation there is from those with ‘lower religious standards’ the better. Rav Shteinman’s response to that: It’s destructive!

My gut feeling is that if the Charedi world in Israel would listen to this Gadol as much as they respect him, they wouldn’t be having half the problems they now have.

This is not to say that I agree with his every position. I doubt for example that he views Torah U’Mada in the same way I do. But it doesn’t matter. I respect him as a true Gadol and I agree with him on the issues mentioned here.

I honor this man’s purity of heart and his wisdom. He is a Gadol. But he is not from this generation of ‘Gedolim’. At age 99 he is from the last. If only there were more like him.