|R' Aharon Leib Shteinman (Kikar HaShabbat)|
A few days ago there was a story on the Hebrew language website Kikar HaShabbat that describes R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman’s latest comment about any formal system of secular studies being set up for Charedim. Someone had approached him with that question adding that these schools would forestall any Charedi students from going to a completely secular school. R’ Shteinman answer said no. That is not surprising since that is the well know position of Charedi leadership in Israel But then he added that if schools like this were established, it would destroy the entirety of the land of Israel.
This is a breathtaking statement. Charedi schools that have secular subjects would destroy the country?
I am a fan of R’ Shteinman for a variety of reasons. His honesty and humility are surpassed by no one. His values are entirely spiritual. He does not want anything in his life that goes beyond the basic necessities of life. A bed and and a table. That is all his very small apartment in Bnei Brak contains. And that is how he wants it. He has no patience for intolerance. And he is uncompromising in his ideals. Nor can he be intimidated. He speaks his mind… a seeker of truth. And he stands by it without any apologetics and without regard to personal consequences.
It’s hard not to admire someone like that no matter how much one disagrees with him. And it is even harder to explain comments like the one he made here. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that he the views he expressed here are the views of a Gadol in Israel that that see the entire world through the prism of Torah. Which makes his comment about schools with secular studies destroying Israel even more perplexing. I am 100% sure he believes it.
That I disagree with him is not news to anyone. My views on this subject are well known. I am in favor of establishing school that offer secular subjects. In my view NOT doing so could end up with the destruction of Israel. Or at least of the very community that Rav Shteinman cares so deeply about, The Charedi community.
One can say that my views are insignificant compared to those of Rav Shteinman. I have no problem with those who think that. But the questions are legitimate and obvious. How can R’ Shteinman say that establishing an educational system in Israel that basically mimics the one in America (one that I am sure he does not oppose) would destroy the land of Israel if it were established there? Why does he not see the starvation of his own people so clearly expressed in the Adopt-a-Kollel ads? that is caused at least in part by the lack of any such studies… the same kind of studies that he endorses for women in Israel? The kind of studies that enable women to get decent jobs?
I don’t know exactly how he would answer these questions. Some might say that R’ Shteiman’s perspective is influenced by his chosen austere lifestyle. His small apartment, his lack of material goods the likes of which most of us take for granted as necessities might cause him to see doing without them as small but doable sacrifice. What many of us consider true poverty is the actual lifestyle of R’ Shteinman. I’m pretty sure he does not see himself as impoverished. And he may not see others requiring anymore than he does.
I suppose that may have something to do with it. Or not. But I think his reasons are of an entirely different nature. They are based on his idealism. He believes in the ideal of Torah Only. All other considerations don't matter. He probably feels that the financial problems that are now being faced by the Olam HaTorah are Nisyonos... tests from Above that a Ben Torah (someone that seriously studies Torah) needs to overcome. It is the price his community must pay for that maintaining that high ideal. The truly dedicated will overcome those Nisyonos. As will their wives and children -with the proper Chinuch. And that's all that matters.
I am sure that he feels the pain of those who suffer the crushing poverty they are in and cannot make the kind of sacrifices R’ Shteinman makes. Compassion is certainly a part of his character. But he nevertheless won't sacrifice the Torah Only ideal - because he feels he would be betraying the Torah itself. And betrayal of God’s Torah by changing the current paradigm in any way would result in the destruction of the land of Israel. A land given by God to us on the condition that we follow His will.
But I still don't get why he feels that what goes on in America is not a betrayal of Torah ideals. And why it is in Israel? What’s the difference? I know he doesn’t believe in 2 Torahs- one for Israel and one for America? So if America and Israel share the same values about Torah study and secular studies, why the difference?
This whole thing doesn't make any sense to me.