Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Inconsistent Mind of a Moderate Charedi

Jonathan Rosenblum
Jonathan Rosenblum has written an article that proclaims Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt as one of his ‘can’t miss’ writers. As many of my readers know, I am a fan of Jonathan’s and generally agree with him on many issues. He often takes the same position that I do. But every so often he goes in an entirely different direction. And that frustrates me.

Rabbi Rosenblatt is a Charedi Rabbi who is now in the Kosher meat business. Living in Dallas he has become what I refer to as a moderate Charedi.  And in virtually every column that I’ve read of his, I have agreed with him… I have written about him before. More than once.

But it pleases me greatly that someone with the intellect and talent of a Jonathan Rosenblum likes him as much as I do.  Jonathan speaks admiringly of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s values:
(Rosenblatt’s) greatest contribution lies in his discussion of a topic not sufficiently talked about in our media — the “manly” (his word) pleasure to be found in supporting and protecting one’s family.
Dov Lipman
And yet Jonathan vilifies people like Dov Lipman who actually wants to implement the kind of education in Charedi  schools that would teach these values. Can one person be so schizophrenic* as to believe one thing and advocate for a status quo that is anathema to it?

The answer unfortunately is yes, they can. When one abdicates his own logical mind to others they believe are greater than themselves - one can unfortunately easily do that. This is what thinking Charedim do when they encounter what they call ‘Daas Torah’. They say that their rabbinic leaders’ Torah knowledge entitles them to have the final word on public policy. How dare they (they think) contradict them with their own puny (by comparison) level of Torah knowledge?! Thus any and all logic goes out the window and they simply walk in lockstep with what their rabbinic leaders tell them to think. I believe this is particularly true among Charedim who live in Israel. The fact that their rabbinic leaders might be wrong is irrelevant to them. Because their Torah knowledge is so superior that they consider it anti Torah to disagree with them.

Daas Torah - R' A. L. Shteinman
Jonathan may argue (and I think he actually has made this argument – as have other moderates like him) that his opposition Rabbi Lipman is not in his Hashkafos, but in his methods. Forcing change will only beget resistance. The change Rabbi Lipman is looking for would have taken place anyway – only a bit more slowly making it more acceptable. Rabbi Lipman’s approach, he says, is actually counterproductive in that it creates a harder line of resistance to any change even at a moderate pace.

I hear that argument. But I don’t agree with it. The pace of change is too slow and may never pick up beyond the few that are actually taking advantage of it. And it does not address the issue in ways that will help the immediate needs of the masses.  All while the poverty keeps increasing and the pressure to stay in Kollel remains.

The poverty rate is so great now that the Charedi rabbinic leaders are desperate. They are begging for more financial aid from Americans than at any other time in history. Even if American philanthropists respond, it cannot possibly replace what was lost in the budget cuts via the government’s austerity measures. Wealthy American Charedim are not money machines. The pressures on them to keep increasing financial aid eventually will reach is limit.

Daas Torah - R' Shmuel Auerbach
And let’s not forget the terrible state of finance that the Jewish educational model here in America faces. I don’t see how any of these wealthy philanthropists can justify sending money out of the country while the financial state of Jewish education is crumbling. If they have extra money to donate, it ought to go to the religious schools here. But with all the pressure they must be getting from Israel the opposite might be happening where their donations here will be reduced!

I don’t think that Jonathan’s attitude is based so much on the illogic of saying that Rabbi Lipman is undermining the progress that has already been made. I believe it is more directly related to his view that ‘The Gedolim have spoken!’

This is a schizophrenia that the world of Torah can no longer afford. While I agree that we should always get input from rabbinic leaders; listen to what they have to say; and always factor it in to public policy decisions - their views should not be the only thing to consider. The idea that rabbis can err should not just be theory but it should factor into our decision making process. It would in my view be prudent for Jonathan to be more proactive in placing Rabbi Rosenblatt’s ideas on the Charedi table instead of bashing Rabbi Lipman.  

Yaakov Rosenblatt
Jonathan is a fan of Yaakov Rosenblatt. So am I. It might also interest Jonathan to know that I met Rabbi Rosenblatt at a wedding here in Chicago and he told me that he’s a fan of my blog. He may not agree with everything I say, but we are kindred spirits on many issues. Perhaps Jonathon should start reading my blog too – if he doesn’t already.

*I use the term Schizophrenic in the colloquial sense and not the clinical sense. Schizophrenics are psychotic individuals that have broken from reality… of which there are several types - paranoid type being the most common. In the colloquial use of the term, it is refers to what is clinically called a multiple personality where an individual may unwittingly contain two or more distinct personalities that are radically different from each other.