Monday, July 25, 2022

Belz - A Bright Light in Israel

Yissachar Dov Rokeach - The Belzer Rebbe (Wiki)
The fact that I descend from prestigious Chasidic stock may be of interest to those who know of my criticism of that world. The fact is that I have very little to do with the world of Chasidus. Even though my father was raised in it, and was nostalgic for that lifestyle – eventually returning to it after his retirement by moving to Bnei Brak - he did not raise me in any way shape or form as a Chasid of any kind. 

His actual Hashkafa was more along the lines of Hirschean TIDE (Torah Im Derech Eretz). This is why he sent me to Lithuanian type Yeshivos that offered a decent secular curriculum. And insisted that I attend college after high school for purposes of eventually securing a decent job.  

Add the fact that I attended Telshe for the first 2 years of high school (whose educational policies included a decent secular studies curriculum) ...and then the more Centrist HTC for the next 10 years where Rav Ahron Soloveichik was the major Hashkafic influence in my life - and that in the aggregate is the story of how I became the Centrist I am. 

The point of all this being that I am about as far from Chasidus as the Vilna Goan was – despite my Chasidic heritage. 

One of my biggest criticisms of the Chasidic world is their antipathy to a secular studies curriculum for boys. That controversy still rages on in New York. It has  yet to be resolved. Albeit not for all the protagonists and antagonist trying. I am not going to repeat why I believe a decent secular studies curriculum is vital. Suffice it to say that I am troubled more by those that defend their so-called ‘right’ to be ignorant than I am of their actual ignorance. 

That is in America. Particularly in the East Coast. With the Lithuanian world running hard to catch up with them so that their students can become ignorant, too. 

To be clear – by ignorance, I am talking only about the following: 

1) Ignorance of the typical studies that are offered in all public schools including the ability to communicate (speak and write) in the English language without gross errors in grammar, syntax, and the spelling of simple English words.   

2) Ignorance of the people and the culture in which they live – about which they are often badly misinformed. 

In Israel, the anti secular studies Hashkafa is not limited to Chasidim. The Lithuanian/Yeshiva world doesn’t need to ‘catch up’ to Chasidic ignorance. They are already there.  In fact they are more opposed to a secular curriculum than are Israeli Chasidim! 

The evidence for that is in the current dispute within UTJ (United Torah Judaism) between the Degel HaTorah faction that represents the Lithuanian/Yeshiva world and the Agudat Yisrael faction that represents the Chasidic world. Degel HaTorah is reportedly breaking their partnership with Agudat Yisral threatening to run independently as a stand alone political party in the upcoming election. (Which may actually cause them both to not reach the 3.25% electoral threshold required in order to have seats in the Keneset.) 

The quarrel is reportedly in part a dispute about who will head UTJ. But more importantly it  is also about what Belz, one of the leading Chasidic groups in Israel, has done. From the Times of Israel: 

The faction is also said to be irate at an agreement by the Belz Hasidim, part of Agudat Yisrael, to allow the study of some secular subjects in their schools in exchange for increased state funding.

 The spiritual leader of Degel HaTorah, the 99-year-old Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, is fervently against any state involvement in Haredi schooling or the introduction of any secular subjects into boys’ classrooms.

 While the UTJ factions have threatened several times in the past to split, they have always managed to overcome their disagreements since reuniting in 2004.

However, several analysts have suggested in recent weeks that the contentious issue of Haredi education could be the final straw in driving the two parties apart.

I recall when the announcement was made in the media about the Belzer Rebbe agreeing to a secular curriculum in Belzer schools. I praised him for his wisdom and courage at the time. I also recall the media later reporting denials by Belz. 

Apparently the announcement about the ‘death of a Belzer secular curriculum was premature’. It is apparently happening.

It has also been reported that the Belzer Rebbe vociferously condemned the damage done to the ‘Light Rail’ by Charedi extremists who protested its planed passage through their neighborhoods. The Belzer Rebbe is reported to have said that he sides with Mizrachi (Religious Zionists) on the issue of physically building up the land of Israel as a requirement for the coming of Moshiach. 

I have heard a lot of good things about this particular group of Chasidim and their Rebbe. And I applaud it all.  Most of all I applaud his courage to install a core seucular curriculum into his schools - knowing full well the resistance he was going to get - with the possibility of the Charedi parties losing all their political clout!

Opposing the Hashkafos of 99 year old R’ Gershon Edlestein – whose views were standard Charedi policy in both the Lithuanian/Yeshiva world and Chasidic world is no small thing.  It takes a lot of courage to do buck a system in ways that he must have known would cause outrage among his religious peers. 

I have a lot of respect for R’ Edlestein. But I obviously disagree with him about this. I agree with the Belzer Rebbe. So, even though I am not a Chasid, I salute this great Chasidic leader. He is a hero in my eyes. 

Hat Tip: WG