Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Cooler Heads will Never Prevail

Charedi students reading posters in Jerusalem
In a dispute between Eytan Kobre and Rabbi Natan Slifkin, the clear winner is… (wait for it…) Eytan Kobre. At least that would be the obvious conclusion of the extreme right wing. Why… one might ask?

Isn’t it obvious? It’s because Charedi Daas Torah has spoken. The Daas Torah that is apoplectic at the possibility that the current paradigm of tens of thousands of people learning full time in Yeshivos and Kollelim may change. The targets of their apoplexy are not the usual suspects - the secular Israeli government. But sincere religious Jews who have another  viewpoint and do not subscribe to Eytan Kobre’s Daas Torah.

Once again Mr. Kobre has decided to bash in a most condescending way a fellow religious Jew, Israeli MK, Rabbi Dov Lipman.  What did Rabbi Lipman do this time to raise his ire? In defense of his opposition to supporting full time Torah study for all Charedim indefinitely, Rabbi Lipman cited a Rambam which says, ‘A person who decides to study Torah and not work and force other people to support him, that person disgraces Torah, disgraces G-d’s name and has no portion in the world to come’ .

Mr. Kobre then smugly asserts that Rabbi Lipman is apparently ignorant of several sources (Rishonim and Achronim - including Rav Moshe Feinstein) that clearly permit and even encourage supporting full time Torah study.  On the surface it seems like a slam dunk.  For Mr. Kobre - Rabbi Lipman is either a hostile liar or an ignoramus.

But is this the final word on the subject? Is there no other interpretation of these views? Rabbi Slifkin does a masterful job in a parody of Mr. Kobre that does just that. He shows us that upon a more complete examination of those sources the position Mr. Kobre takes is far from a slam dunk. In fact after reading Rabbi Silfkin’s parody, one is hard pressed to apply those sources the way Mr. Kobre and his fellow travelers do in order to justify the current Charedi paradigm.

But in the Charedi world Rabbi Slifkin not only doesn’t count - it’s almost a Mitzvah to be in opposition to anything he says. He is an outcast in that world. It is the insolent Slifkin against the Gedolim. It doesn’t matter what he says. Why? Because the Gedolim surely know everything Rabbi Slifkin knows and they still fully support the system as is. No contest.

Normally I might just say that this is an irresolvable dispute between the right and the left. And the left is completely discounted since all the Gedolim are on the right (according to them). But I’m not so sure that this is true. I have spoken to Charedi Avreichim in Israel about this subject and they privately admit to me that there are many people in Yeshivos and Kollelim that should not be there.

Some do not learn at all but are just registered. Some learn a little. Some learn more than a little - but are not successful and are frustrated having reached a ‘learning plateau’.  And some are not happy because of the financial situation they are in by not earning enough money for their very large families. Which causes Shalom Bayis issues and OTD issues.

Why do they all remain? Mostly because of rabbinic and peer pressure. To leave a Kollel would mean going to the army and an admission of defeat. They would be looked down upon by their communities. This was true even before the controversy about drafting Chardim began where disapproval was quiet and subtle as opposed to now where it is overt and downright violent in some cases.

Here is a description in his own words of what one Avreich that I know experienced.
* My Rosh Kollel gave me a very hard time leaving the Kollel. Eventually, after many attempts, the Rosh Kollel finally gave in and gave his ok for the Avreich to leave E"Y to get a job in Chinuch.
His final words to that Avreich were harsh, telling him the next time they would meet, he would not be the same person he is now. The Avreich felt quite alienated by those words, and while they did minimally keep in touch, (the Rosh Kollel even made a helpful phone call a few years later when that Avreich was considering a new chinuch position) the relationship petered out.
The Avreich came to the realization that in the eyes of the Rosh Kollel, he was now living a b'dieved lifestyle and could no longer feel the connection he once did to him. 
There is no way anyone will convince me that every single Charedi male should be learning full time. There are about 60,000 such Charedim right now if I recall correctly.

I can’t prove it but I suspect that if Rav Moshe were still alive and saw the truth about the numbers of people in Yeshivos and Kollelim who are there only because of peer or rabbinic pressure, that he might just have a different approach than Rabbi Kobre thinks he would.

Not that he would agree with Rabbi Lipman. I don’t think he would want to institute a quota figure limiting who should be exempt from army service or be fully supported. But I do think he might just be stricter about who qualifies for such exemptions and support. Rav Moshe might still be opposed to army service for other reasons (although I wonder how he would have felt about Nachal Charedi type programs). But I don’t think he would agree with the financially supporting every Charedi  Jew who registers in a Yeshiva or Kollel.

I don’t think even the current Charedi rabbinic leaders think so in their hearts. But one will rarely if ever hear that from them.  Instead you only hear rhetoric that labels those who advocate reducing any financial support for Charedim as enemies of God.

The truth is that if cooler heads would prevail, everyone would recognize that not all Charedim are cut out for staying in Yeshivos or Kollelim full time. The only question would be how to decide who stays and gets supported and who doesn’t. The government proposal is for 1800 exemptions (out of about 6000 eligible Charedi recruits every year) - which would then be fully supported. The rest would in some way serve their country in either a Charedi version of the  military or in some sort of community service program for a period of 2 years. They would then be eligible to either go to work or go back to Kollel at their own discretion.

If the Charedi world would just take a deep breath and step back from the brink for a minute, they might see that it is not the end of the world – not even the Charedi world - for that kind of change. The only real dispute might be in the actual numbers. 1800 hundred may be too low for them. Perhaps there shouldn’t even be a quota but a test designed to find out who qualifies in terms of intelligence, knowledge, desire, and diligence. It should be written by Charedi and Religious Zionist Roshei Yeshiva  and administered by a panel consisting of both factions. Those who make the grade will continue to be supported, the rest will not.

If not for the current climate of blind rage among Charedim, I think a compromise of some sort could have been worked out.

But as long as Charedi rabbinic leaders like Rav Dovid Soloveitchik keep calling this Shas HaShmad, or leaders like the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe comparing the Israeli media to Nazis,  or Sephardi religious leaders like Rav Shlomo Cohen calling Religious Zionist supporters of the draft law - Amalek, or Charedi politicians like MKs Rabbis Yisrael Eichler and Moshe Gafni tearing Kriah upon a reading of a proposed draft law, or Charedi media sympathizers like Eytan Kobre who continually bashes and disparages Rabbi Lipman for not walking in lockstep with his Charedi rabbinic leaders - this will never happen.  Which is too bad.

I received a communication from that Avreich and he corrected me. I replaced my description of events with his words to describe what really happened. I apologize for the error. Sometimes my memory of events is not as accurate as I'd like it to be.