Wednesday, May 22, 2013

And the Bashing Continues...

Rabbi Avraham Edelstein
Rabbi Avraham Edelstein seems like a nice enough fellow. He is the founder and director of Ner LeElef, an organization that trains people for outreach. That is a good thing and something I support.  

I am however dismayed by an article he has written in the Times of Israel. Therein he does what a lot of Charedi rabbinic leaders have done.  He bashes Rabbi Dov Lipman about his proposed solution to the economic crisis facing the Charedi world .  The funny thing is that he actually agrees with Rabbi Lipman’s assessment of the problem.

I have to wonder how the people he trains for outreach and the very targets of that outreach see his approach to Rabbi Lipman.

First he indirectly challenges his  credentials by referring to his ‘oft-claimed status as a Haredi rabbi’. This implies that Rabbi Edelstein does not personally accept him that way.  He further challenges R’ Lipman to tell us what the Charedi community stands for and why he wishes to belong to it – as though his every action argues against that.

Rabbi Edelstein also asserts that Rabbi Lipman is late to the game vis-à-vis  putting Charedim to work with better jobs through better education. Charedim are already in the workforce, he says. And they have received training in all fields. And that even now further training programs are in the planning stages ready to be launched.

The irony of all this is that (as I pointed out) Rabbi Edelstein obviously agrees that there’s a problem. What he doesn’t agree with is a Rabbi Lipman’s solution. Why? The following excerpt says it all: 
Placing the Haredi-community under siege, pre-determining how many Haredim are going to be shoved into this box or that box – all of this will halt the momentum of progress – and lead to exactly the opposite of the intended effect. This is the work of fools – to attempt to create by legislative fiat a transition that needs, in fact to take one or two decades. Rabbi Lipman is certainly not the first rookie politician who dreams of leaving his legacy through some grand social engineering. He will add his failure to the pile of forgotten attempts. 
The deeper problem with these self-styled saviors of the Haredim, is that they fail to recognize the real and important values that this community is providing the broader world…  
How sad that he takes the good intentions of a sincere individual whose only goal is to help his own community and bashes him for it. Even if he disagrees, why does he question his integrity, compare him to fools and deride him with appellations like ‘rookie politician’ and ‘self-styled savior’ implying that his entire goal is self aggrandizement via building a legacy through ‘some grand social engineering’?

The  very real state of Charedim entering the work force was made in passing by Rabbi Edelstein:  
 The females have ironically been far more qualified than their male counterparts… 
Ironically? What he doesn’t seem to realize (or admit) is that there is a very good reason for that. Charedi women are better educated than men in Limudei Chol (secular subjects). They have a core secular curriculum in high school. Men have none whatsoever. Of course women are more qualified. There is nothing ironic about it.

He is critical of Rabbi Lipman because in his ‘oft-claimed status as a Haredi rabbi’ he should be talking about Charedi positives. But… not to worry, Rabbi Edelstein will set us straight. Charedim ‘get it right’ by being disinterested in materialism - unlike that the rest of the world that glorifies it.

Really? How black and white of him. Only Charedim have these values?! No other community does? And are Charedim truly – disinterested? I know a lot of Charedim who are not exactly disinterested in material things. As I do non Charedim who disavow materialism. That Charedim have less material things than others is just the reality of their financial situation and not necessarily a choice.

What about his Hashkafa of placing the highest value on Torah study? As I have said countless times - I have no issues with a Hashkafa that places the highest value on Torah study.  I actually agree with that.  Talmud Torah K’Neged Kulom.

What I do not agree with is a policy that excludes Limudei Chol in its entirety. It is one thing to love Torah study to such an extent that they ‘approach their Torah studies with an unprecedented intensity.’ But that does not require eliminating Limudei Chol in its entirety as most American Charedim who have studied Limudei Chol in their high schools can tell you.

Eliminating all secular studies is taking Talmud Torah K’Neged Kulom to an absurd extreme. And yet that is standard Charedi policy in Israel. That is what Rabbi Lipman is trying to change. The efforts to ‘put people to work’ currently underway that Rabbi Edelstein describes is simply too little too late.

But… for the sake of argument, let us grant that Rabbi Edelstien has a point. That the job situation is indeed improving more than anyone knows. Let us even say that forcing a core curriculum upon Charedi schools is a bad idea since it would be counter-productive – as he asserts.

Does that mean he has to bash Rabbi Lipman for suggesting it? ...accusing him of doing this for his self aggrandizement? …and then resorting to name calling and degrading remarks?

As I said he also accuses Rabbi Lipman of failing to speak about the real and important values that the Charedi  community is providing the broader world.  Says Rabbi Edelstein: “Here is a community where values are not only being studied – they are being practiced.” (My my… what an idyllic community where only good values are preached and practiced.)  

Yes, there are many good and decent people in the Charedi world who do have the values illustrated by the examples of Rabbi Edelstein. Probably most of the mainstream Charedi world is like that. The problem is that as wonderful as these examples of lived values are – there are other values that seem to be ignored. Just to pick one – the lack of expressing Hakaras HaTov to the government for all the financial aid it has gotten till now - while instead Charedi politicians curse them for daring to take some of it away.

Rabbi Edelstein accuses Rabbi Lipman of making this a confrontational issue. I do not see that at all. I believe the opposite is true.  The Charedi rabbinic leaders and their surrogates in the Knesset and Charedi media are the ones being confrontational… using some of the most disgusting characterizations about those with his views.

And for what?!  Because he wants to inject a couple of hours a day of Limudei Chol into the classroom?! For this he is called a self-styled savior? … failing to recognize their values? …whose ideas will end up in the dustbin of history?!

Rabbi Lipman is a hero – if for no other reason than he stood up to the ‘good Midos’ of some extremist Charedim in Bet Shemesh who called a little girl a whore. Where were Rabbi Edelman’s Charedim then? How many joined him in standing up to those thugs? I don’t recall seeing any…

It would behoove Rabbi Edelstein to re-think his poorly thought out essay and realize that his characterization of Rabbi Lipman is as wrong  as was Rav Aharon Feldman’s initial reaction to Rabbi Lipman as a Shana U’Porush. If Rav Feldman can admit a mistake, then surely Rabbi Edelstein can.