Thursday, March 20, 2014

Are Rabbinic Leaders Out of Touch?

R' Aharon Leib Shteinman and R' Shmuel Auerbach
There are many people in the right wing world of Orthodoxy that would take strong exception with the following: 
The Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel (are) two cataclysmic events (that) changed the present Jewish society radically if not even permanently. Yet much of Orthodoxy inexplicably ignores these two events as though they never happened.
They occupy no space or time in many Orthodox schools and days of commemoration of these events are absent on school calendars. Instead there is a mindset that hunkers back to an idyllic Eastern European world of fantasy that is portrayed falsely in fictional stories, hagiographic biographies and omissions of uncomfortable facts and doctored photographs – to a world that never was. 
I’m sure that the right wing rabbinic leadership and their spokesmen in the media will take to task anyone impugning their world in this way.They would respond by touting  the very successful establishment and growth of Orthodox Jewish education.  Which has been the single biggest factor in the growth of Orthodoxy – both in terms of Torah study and Mitzvah observance. But that does not diminish the uncomfortable truth.

These words were not written by me. They were written by a man who identifies as Charedi, Rabbi Berel Wein in yet another exceptional analysis of the flaws in a system that ignores unpleasant truths about itself. These flaws are of such major significance that if they are not corrected, it could spell disaster far greater than the imagined one which their rabbinic leaders feel they are about to embark. As Rabbi Wein says: 
It is again too painful to admit that our past mindset regarding the State of Israel is no longer relevant. As long as large sections of Orthodoxy continue to live in an imaginary past and denies the realities of the present, such issues as army or national service, core curriculum of essential general knowledge for all religious schools, entering the workforce and decreasing the debilitating poverty and dysfunction of so many families, will never be able to be addressed properly. 
These are constant themes here on this blog. I am always accused of not understanding the dedication of Charedim or the Hashkafa that drives them.  But here we have someone who is not only Charedi, but a Talmud Chacham, a founder and former Rosh HaYeshiva of Sharei Torah, a noted Jewish historian, and in my view one of the clearest thinkers in all of Orthodoxy. He is the epitome of a moderate Charedi Rav and Rosh HaYeshiva.  I think that this is his most critical piece yet of the rabbinic leadership in his own community. 

The strident and inflammatory rhetoric against the those responsible for drafting of Charedim in Israel and other changes about to take place in their world is constant and fierce. A rhetoric that practically writes them out of Judaism.

Just today on Rafi’s blog (Rafi is a moderate Charedi)  we see a clear illustration of the illogic to which the more extreme element in Israel go.  A young Charedi student was arrested for not showing up to register for the draft. Something that is the pro-forma  procedure for all Charedim. It  involves showing up at the draft board and after a series of tests and questions they receive their exemptions. This young man decided to listen to his ‘Daas Torah’and not show up at all. He was arrested. And the right screams that he was arrested because he wanted to learn Torah. Every article written by the right about this whole mess is designed to vilify opposition. Which their rabbinic leaders say is anti Daas Torah.

I don’t think all this rhetroic is aimed so much at the secular community. (Although they too are surely vilified.) It is aimed at the religious sector. The Dati community and even some of their own who might be sitting on a fence about some of these issues. It is also aimed at the American community. They want to make sure that everyone sees things the way they do… and that everyone understands that not seeing things that way is practically heresy.

Their willing accomplices in the Charedi media are more than happy to oblige as they too continue to characterize any opposition as anti Torah.

The problem is that it isn’t working. Thinking people with their eyes open can see that the rabbinic position is not only misleading, but counter-productive. And though they are sincere, their thinking is flawed. As Rabbi Wein said, they are living in the past and making judgements based on that. 

And he isn’t the only one. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, a modern Orthodox Rabbi who is usually very sympathetic to the Charedi viewpoint was just as critical in a recent article himself: 
It is unconscionable that there exists in the Chareidi world this idea that work and army service are beneath them, and that the rest of society which they hold in contempt must work and pay higher taxes in order to support them in order that they should sit and learn.  
And although he says he was misunderstood (although his words were pretty clear when he said them), another moderate Charedi, Jonathan Rosenblum was not exactly in concert with the rhetoric coming out of his rabbinic leaders.  Words that freely call religious Jews Amalek. Amalek is a nation that the Jewish people are required to annihilate. 

One rabbinic sage that is considered moderate has condemned religious Jews like Rabbis Dov Lipman and Shai Piron to hell because of his perception that they want to throw students of Torah in jail. And yet it is clear to anyone that is paying even the slightest bit of attention, that even if you disagree with them - this not what they are doing.

That these leaders are not in touch with reality is what I think Rabbi Wein’s point was. And yet the veneration for these elderly sages is so great, that far too many still walk in lockstep with them for fear of going against Daas Torah. Especially Charedi politicians and journalists who are the loudest screamers of them all. But even with all that shouting and screaming - the truth will not be denied. A truth that is becoming increasingly evident to members of their own community.

How much longer are the more right wing members of the Charedi world going to ignore reality and continue to falsely frame this issue as Amalek versus the Torah because ‘the Gedolim said so’?