Friday, January 16, 2015

A Call for Change that will Not be Heard

Israeli President Ruven Rivlin
(There is a) necessity for the chareidi community to begin to think not just about its own parochial interests but also to concern itself as well with its responsibility for the general society… 
The world of Torah is strong enough and firmly enough established today…  to concern itself with the image of the Torah in the broader Israeli Jewish world, with the application of Torah values to the running of a modern state, and with what Torah Jews have to contribute to the building of a Jewish society in Israel.
This may sound like yet another attempt by yours truly to get the Charedi world in Israel to change its paradigm of isolationism and rejectionism. Well, it is true that is one of my deeply sought after goals. I would love to see the Charedi world integrating itself more into Israel society. Not by giving up its values. But as stated above ‘by contributing more to the the building of a Jewish society in Israel’.

But these were not my words. They are the words of Jonathan Rosenblum in a piece he wrote in the Charedi Magazine Mishpacha (republished on Cross Currents).

We are both in agreement on this issue. There are many Charedim that would say that Jonathan does not speak for them. Or that he is not really Charedi. Or that he a Baal Teshuva – what does he know?!

Well Jonathan knows plenty. He is immersed in their culture. Furthermore, I think he speaks for many frustrated Charedim who feel they live straight-jacketed lives – unable to feed their families and resent not have been given the education and training that would have enabled them to do that and thereby contribute to building that Jewish society.

Jonathan was responding to an address Israeli President Ruven Rivlin gave at a conference on Chareidi employment sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee. President Rivlin made the same point that many Charedim like Jonathan have made in the past. That there is no way to force change upon the Charedi world. That will only increase resistance to it. Change can only be successful if it is internal. The Charedi world has to change itself.  

I would agree that this would be the best scenario. And I concede that forcing change upon them caused resistance. And that so far it has been counterproductive to the very goals that Jonathan and many thoughtful and concerned Charedim seek.

The government’s implementation of a core curriculum requirement has caused Charedi leaders to compare this policy to what the Czar in Russia tried to do. And they have vilified legislators who have done that by calling them Amalek whose aims are to destroy the Jewish people.

And now that new elections are at hand where Charedi parties will no doubt be given renewed power they will probably succeed in repealing the core curriculum requirement. The anger and resentment left over from this episode will still linger in their minds.  One can argue that President Rivlin along with Jonathan and other like-minded Charedim were right. Forcing Charedim to be educated has set back the goal of integrating them into society at large and contributing to it. Which of course would seem to validate their objections to government involvement.

In the short term I suppose one cannot argue that point. The problem is that there is no internal effort to change that paradigm. Outside of Charedi columnists and pundits like Jonathan, the call for change is nonexistent. No Charedi leader has stepped outside the box to suggest a change that would make a difference. Allowing Charedim to get jobs through back-door post Kollel workshops and training centers is a not going to work for the masses that need it the most. And it will hardly motive them to contribute to society at large.

The vast majority are still encouraged to stay in Kollel for as long as possible without any distractions from their Torah study. The idea of a dual educational track of Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol that for decades was the hallmark of Charedi Yeshiva high schools in America is anathema to Israeli leaders – even now when poverty is greater than it has ever been since the founding of the State.

With no prospects change  the problems will only grow exponentially with each generation. Large families can barely make ends meet now - barely able to purchase basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter without the help of free loan societies.

Putting food on the table requires a lot more money than they make – even with working wives. And let’s not even talk about buying apartments for all of their many children as they get married. Added to this burden is the fact that Charedi parents of today cannot do for their children what their parents did for them. Their parents worked and had the abilty to help their children financially. Today’s parents are all in Kollel and borrowing money just to put food on the table.

So even though government insistence on a core curriculum seems to have been successfully resisted, this in my view is not something to celebrate.  Because if things stay as they are, I cannot see the Charedi world surviving in its present form. And who knows what form it will take in the future.