Friday, January 29, 2016

Taken to the Woodshed

Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz
A few days ago, the Orthodox Jewish websites were abuzz with what some might have called groundbreaking news. I was one of those who expressed effusive praise of a hard hitting speech given by Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz. 

He expressed the empathetic pain he experienced from parents in Lakewood who could not get their children registered in one of that town’s Charedi schools. And R’ Shlomo excoriated the town’s educational system which was exclusionary based on what can only be labeled ‘Frumkeit’.  Which is practiced in Lakewood by far too many of its citizens in the form of a ‘holier then thou’ attitude.

He was not gentle in his words. He said what had to be said. This seemed to be the view of most  people who heard him say it, ether live or in an online video, or who  - like me – read a lengthy description of it. This was about as hard hitting a rebuke as I have ever heard from someone that  is
otherwise an ardent supporter of Lakewood type institutions.

The bottom line was that the town’s Frumkeit was an ugly character trait that was hurting a tremendous Makom Torah. As I said in post, had I written those words, I would have been accused of overly harsh Charedi bashing.

Interestingly there was a  rebuttal to his speech published on The Lakewood Scoop website. But it was removed very quickly because that rebuttal was apparently bombarded with a lot of Lakewood bashing. That’s too bad. The debate should be out in the open. 

I should add that I was contacted by a lay leader here in Chicago that told me that the problem of kids being ‘left out’ existed across all Hashkafic lines. And that in some cases the lack of acceptance by a school is for legitimate reasons.  But I don’t think that detracts from R’ Shlomo’s rebuke and his explanation as to why this is the case in Lakewood.

It turns out that R’ Shlomo was apparently ‘taken to he woodshed’* He very quickly came out with an apology. Which he distributed to Charedi websites. He wanted to make sure that people understood that in no way was he bashing Lakewood or their Roshei Yeshiva; that he considered it to be a beacon of Torah shining forth upon Klal Yisroel and that he would continue supporting Lakewood and like minded Torah institutions at the current levels if not more. He added that if anything, the Roshei Yeshiva actually tried to fix the problems he spoke about.

A lot of people were disappointed by his apology. But I was not one of them. Because he did not retract one word of criticism about the ‘Frumkeit’ problem there. He just wanted to make sure the blame lay where it belonged: on the people who believed themselves to be holier than thou and wanted to make sure that the schools that they sent their children too had those same standards.

This has not changed. And I hope that does not get lost in his apology. 

Why these people are that way…and what percentage of them are like that? That is a question I can’t really answer. But I have my suspicions. Which has to do with the Chinuch the parents themselves got.  A Chinuch that constantly bombarded them with lavish praise about how wonderful it is to always be Choshesh for the Daas HaMachir. That was after all what Chareid L’Dvar Hahem means. You fear that the strictest  rabbinic opinon is the one that God actually requires. So that when you adopt those strictures you feel superior to those that are Mekil – relying on more lenient opinions.  That gives you an ego boost. The hardships caused  by being strict on just about everything makes them feel superior in their Avodas HaShem - serving God. 

There are other factors that play into this too, but that are beyond the scope of this post.

Be that as it may, I felt that there was some clarity missing from R’ Shlomo’s apology. He didn’t say it. But I will. There was absolutely no retraction of what he sees as the cause of the problem. And I still think he’s right.

* ( I use that expression in the broadest sense of the term. I only mean that someone from that community may have spoken to him about it and asked him to correct the impression that he was bashing BMG and its Roshei Yeshiva.)