Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Reluctant Philanthropist

Image taken from The Jewish Worker
According to a cover story in the Hebrew edition of Mishpacha Magazine, the Charedi world is in crisis. The crisis being that it is in financial collapse At least that is the way Marty Bluke put it on his blog, The Jewish Worker). I do not subscribe to the Hebrew edition of this magazine. But the cover states the following clearly:

Thousands of Avreichim have no way of starting their new Zman (semester). Tens of Kollelim have closed their gates.  Says Mishpacha: Wealthy American Charedi donors have stopped sending them money because of incitement in Israel against the Torah world .

Clearly the Adopt-a-Kollel program is not providing nearly enough money to replace lost government funding. But that is a grass roots project that works much the same way the Kehillah Fund here in Chicago does. (In my view such a fund would be put to better use if it were done for day schools and Yeshivos in their own communities - similar to the communal fund established here in Chicago to support the local yeshivos.  I even wonder if the existence of Adopt-a-Kollel detracts from the ability to establish similar  programs and fund in cities like New York. But I digress.)

The Adopt-a-Kollel program, however, has nothing to do with the wealthy Amercian donors withholding their support.  One has to wonder why. Why aren’t these wealthy Charedi philanthropists responding by sending Israeli Kollelim the funds to counteract their perception that this is all based on anti Torah incitement? If they believe that - and believe in the system - they should do everything they can to support it. Wealthy Charedi donors should be rising to the occasion.

In his short post on the matter Marty makes the following observation:
What they mean by this is that many American Charedim don't understand why everyone should sit and learn and no one should work. They don't understand why secular studies are prohibited in high schools when all of the (American) Charedi high schools teach secular studies. They don't understand on the insistence that no one should be drafted. The fact is that American Charedim are a different breed then Israeli Charedim and given the financial problems in the US are no longer willing to provide unlimited funds to bankroll a system that they don't really believe in.
I don’t know how accurate that analysis is – although I think it is a reasonable one. But I do believe he is absolutely correct about the two different worlds of Charedim. This is something I have made note of many times. And it is what motivates MK R’ Dov Lipman. He advocates changing the Israeli paradigm to look more like the American paradigm. It is why he supports the government mandate for restoring funding only to those Yeshivas that offer a core secular curriculum. And he is working to toward a goal that will enable Charedim to actually improve their lot in life that way. From the Jerusalem Post:
The first hesder yeshiva for haredi (ultra-Orthodox men) has recently received approval from the Defense Ministry and is now up and running, with 16 students having embarked on a four-year course of Torah study and military service…
The course will be run by the Derech Haim Yeshiva, which is based at the campus of the Jerusalem College of Technology, known as Machon Lev…
The recruits from Israeli ( Charedi) institutions (will be) required (to take) remedial courses in core subjects such as math and English in order to obtain the required level for the academic courses.
Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who has been involved in helping navigate the approval process for the course with the Defense Ministry and the army, praised the program as a model for the haredi community to embrace for enabling ongoing Torah study and the preservation of a haredi lifestyle, while fulfilling the requirements for military service.
“This [program] enables boys to be in yeshiva for four years while also fulfilling their service and learning the skills necessary to enter the work force when they finish their service and yeshiva years,” said Lipman.
I think it is very possible that the wealthy American Charedim actually believe that financially supporting a system that is not working is a waste of money.

The arguments by Charedim against teaching secular studies are as follows. No one – they say – has a right to tell Charedim (or anyone else for that matter) what to teach. Least of all a secular government. They say it is a kind of reverse religious coercion. The problem with that argument is that no one is telling them what to teach or not to teach. They are simply saying that if they want government funding, they have to abide by minimal government standards. They can otherwise teach or not teach whatever they like.

Another argument we hear is that we cannot compare the American system to the Israeli system. Two different worlds . This is true.  But I have yet to hear why it shouldn’t be compared. Just because a system has been around a long time does not mean it shouldn’t change. If it isn’t working is should change.

Yet another argument one hears is that the Gedolim have spoken. Who are we (or anyone else) to have an opinion? How dare we oppose the Gedolim! They are all one on this issue! Those of us that disagree do not have a single Gadol to hang our hats on.

I have no refutation for that. If one subscribes to the principle that what they say is Daas Torah, then indeed any opinion to their contrary is not valued. But in point of fact, I wonder how many Charedim actually do pay anything but lip service to that? Is not the American system supported by Daas Torah? I have asked this question before: Can there be two Torahs? One for Israel and one for the United States?

Many Charedi Klei Kodesh (holy vessels – meaning people whose lives have been immersed in Torah study and now dedicate their lives to it in one way or another) I meet have privately told me that they agree with me about this.  They have given me examples of Gedolim of the previous generation who were very much in favor of secular education for their students.

I was told by one former Avreich of a Lakewood Kollel who attended Yeshivas Chaim Berlin that when Rav Yitzchok Hutner was there, he used to actively guide individual students into what subjects to take in college based on their personalities and particular needs.

So here is what we are left with. Tens of Kollelim are closing their doors. That leaves probably hundreds if not thousands that are still open. Is this a bad thing? Not as far as I am concerned. As I have said many times, not every Jew should be sitting in Kollel 24/7/365. Some of us should go out and work and be Koveih Itim – regular times for Torah study. And all of us should have some basic tools taught in order to do that. At least through high school.

In this way, the thousands of Avreichim affected by these closures would be able to learn a trade or profession, support their families, serve Klal Yisroel and even help support the remaining Kollelim. I think it is quite possible that this is indeed what is on the mind of the reluctant Charedi philanthropist in America.