Sunday, July 07, 2013

Another Disgusting Rant

There are very few people in the media that can infuriate me more than Eytan Kobre. He seems to have a talent for that. He has done it once again in his latest contribution to Mishpacha Magazine (Republished at Cross-Currents).

It isn’t his positions so much that infuriate me. Even though I disagree with him in many but not all ways, it is the way he disagrees that makes him insufferable.  

Mr. Kobre (Rabbi Kobre? ...Perhaps, but I have found  no indication anywhere that he has Semicha) has taken the beauty of Torah study as proof that the way in which Charedi Yeshiva students in Israel do it - is the most sublime expression of the Torah Jew. And not to be tampered with on pain of being considered amongst the lowest of low human beings.

First let me be clear about how I see Torah L’Shma – Torah study for its own sake. I think it is something to be admired and supported. I have said this before. There is little more inspirational than walking into the Beis HaMedrash in the Mir and seeing thousands of young men studying B’Hasmadah Rabbah - texts of the Talmud, Rishonim and Achronim. I admit to being jealous of their ability to do that all day long for many many years. The very thought of that kind of dedication to Torah study is breathtaking. So on this point, Mr. Kobre and I do not disagree all that much.

Where I differ from him is in how many of those should be fully exempt from  army service; whether there should be any formal study of Limudei Chol (secular subjects) before and during high school; and whether a government should support a Yeshiva high school  that does not do that.

With respect to the draft, I do not see Masmidim whose sole desire is to study Torah - losing that desire because of an obligation to service for a 3 year period. They could still study Torah during that time when not doing actual service… and can return to the Beis Hamedrash full time once their service is completed. In addition - the top 1800 (out of about 5000 eligible every year) of these young men, would still be completely exempt as valued contributors to Israeli society. How this undermines Torah L’Shma is beyond me.

Unless you apply the faulty reasoning that Mr. Kobre and company apply. They claim to know the motives behind this new plan. They claim that the entire purpose of a draft is to assimilate Charedim into the secular culture thus undermining their very Judaism. I guess Mr. Kobre is a mind reader. Despite clear denials in writing and in the way their draft proposals are structured, he insists that that their motives are nefarious.

On the educational issue, Mr. Kobre has virtually no credibility. Not unless he considers himself a second class citizen. His description of Israeli versus American Charedim is one of seeing the Israeli as far superior. There is no question he says that the Israeli paradigm is far superior to the American paradigm. Here is how he puts it.
(T)he simple reality (is) that America doesn’t produce anything like the quantity of accomplished  talmidei chachamim, yeshivos and kollelim, the seforim output, the society of spiritual strivers, that only Eretz Yisrael’s unique Torah atmosphere does…
Quantity over quality. This is the standard of Torah L’Shma that he seems to worship. What is interesting is that Mr. Kobre himself makes no attempt to live by that standard. Perhaps he can be forgiven since he was raised in the US and was forced to learn by the 'lesser' American standards. That of course does not mean that he should have gone to law school. He could have found other ways to make a living that would have enabled him to spend more time in the Beis HaMedrash.

More importantly  I have to ask if Mr. Kobre raised his own children that way. There are schools right here in America that do not offer any secular subjects in high school. They are considered top Yeshivos in Limudei Kodesh. Do his children attend schools like that? If not, why not?! If Mr. Kobre sends his children to a school that offers Limudei Chol then by his own definition, he is raising them to be second class citizens. As are those who study Torah in Lakewood.

Lakewood Yeshiva take note: Your  students, most of whom have had a secular education in high school are second class citizens. Their level of Torah knowledge simply does not measure up to Israeli Charedim who did not spend time studying Limudei Chol.

I am amazed that such arguments are made, let alone believed. It casts aspersions on and the great number of Bnei Torah in American Yeshivos. And it casts aspersions on some of the biggest Charedi Gedolim of the early 20th century. Like R’ Yosef Leib Bloch , the Telshe Rosh HaYeshiva who in 1920 instituted Limudei Chol in the high school (Mechina) program. Telshe was the first Yeshiva to do so.  Even the head of the Yishuiv HaYashan in Eretz Yisroel R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, certainly no Zionist, did not object to instituting Limudei Chol into the Charedi Yeshivos of the Yishuv.  And what about R’ Samsom Raphael Hirsch? Was he a second class citizen too?

I find it beyond insulting for Mr. Kobre to impute motives to people who have made impertinent statements in a moment of heated anger. ‘Hitting back’ in an argument when they are called all kinds of names they might say things they would never act upon in their more sober moments of composing legislation.  How many times has someone said something like , “If he ever does that again, I’ll kill him.”  Do we now say that such a person should be suspected of being a murderer? And yet that is the ‘evidence’ Mr. Kobre uses to justify his claim that all the talk about respecting the Charedi needs is just a sugar coated lie to disguise their anti Torah agenda.

Even as he concedes that the motives of his opponents may be sincere... that concession drips with sarcasm and disbelief. References to them are filled with unflattering condescending language and near perjoratives. For example he calls them a gang. And he uses the Russian  word ‘sektzia’ implying that Rabbi Lipman is some sort of token Charedi ‘court Jew’ put in charge of ‘the Jews’ by Czarist like Russian despots as a fig leaf for their real agenda.

He implies that Dov Lipman is some sort of unscrupulous dupe who was enticed into their service by giving him a high profile position as a member of the Keneset – blinding him to the truth of their real agenda. He demeans him by taking his quotes out of context and then skewering him with them. All that… and the false impression that quantity equals quality.

With the existential threat hanging over Israel, now is not the time to be pulling Bnei Torah out of Yeshivos, he claims. As if the less than 600 Yeshiva students whose Torah study contributed to Israel’s miraculous victory during its war of independence is now not enough. We need the over 60,000 people who are learning now for protection.

Mr. Kobre says that we should be following the example of our ancestors who were slaves in Egypt. Shevet Levi  (the tribe of Levi) did not work as slaves despite the fact Egypt did not give food to slaves that did not work. They dedicated their lives to full time Torah study - as is the purview of that tribe. The rest of Bnei Yisroel helped support them by giving them part of their own meager food rations – thereby both living by mere scraps of food. That is how we should see today’s Charedi yeshiva students in Israel.

Did Mr. Kobre forget yesterday’s Parsha (Torah portion)?  Elef L’Matah Elef L’Mateh  L’Chol Matos Yisroel (Bamidmar 31:4). 1000 Jews were drafted per every tribe to wage war on the Midianites. Rashi explains that the word ‘Kol’ (every) teaches us that this included even Shevet Levi! That is the example we should follow.

More from that Parsha: The Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven requested their portion of land be on the East Bank of the Jordan River. The implication of that request was that they would thereby avoid being put in harm’s way in their task of capturing Eretz Yisroel. Moshe responded with an admonishment in the form of a  rhetorical question: Your brothers go to war and you sit here?!(Bamidbar 32:6) That admonition should be in the mind of every single Yeshiva student in Israel.

The truth is that Mr. Kobre righteous indignation is disingenuous. He would have us all believe that he knows what in the hearts of people he has never met. He insists that that this is the truth. But his views are based completely on preconceived realities of the past and not the present. I also do not believe for a moment that he has given his own children the kind of education he so fawns over.  Nonetheless he paints as evil the mere suggestion that the education his own children probably get should be tried in Israel.

Unless Mr. Kobre wants to engage in a serious and respectful debate with his opponents on the merits of their proposals, his one-sided rant should be completely ignored as pure unadulterated propaganda with absolutely no value. As should any future rants!