Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Rabbi Aaron Twerski’s Agudah Address

Professor Aaron Twerski (Matzav)
There has been a lot of talk about the address given by Rabbi Aaron Twerski at the Agudah convention last week. Most of it has been about his complaint that there is no Chasidic representation on the Agudah Moetzes. I will address this myself shortly. 

Of greater significance to me is his harsh criticism of the New York Times - accusing them hating the Chasidic world as the real motive behind their now infamous investigative report. I don’t think there has ever been any harsher criticism of the Times than what Rabbi Twerski said. 

He basically accused them of selective reporting in order to advance their hateful agenda. Reporting only their negative findings without so much as a whiff of anything positive about them. Which he said they were fully aware of. 

Essentially Rabbi Twerski repeated the same charges made many times by the Chasidim themselves and their many defenders. That the purpose of their report was to support their negative preconceived and biased notions about that community. He then proceeded to list many of those positive things. Thus, exposing the Times innate bias in omitting them.

As I keep saying (and will continue to say) Rabbi Twerski and other defenders of these particular  Chasidic communities, the charge made against the Times  – whether true or not - is beside the point. They may deserve all that harsh criticism. But does not change any of  the facts uncovered by that investigation. Nor do all the positive things Rabbi Twerski said about them. 

The point (which I have made more times that I can count) is that they are depriving their youth of even the most basic education in Limudei Chol. Something that Rabbi Twerski was not deprived of. In fact his own education in Limdei Chol is what enabled him to have become dean of Hofstra University School of Law and to be a current professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School.

Rabbi Twerski is a member of a Chasidic family that  has valued Limudei Chol greatly. The Twerski family boasts PhDs, MDs and JDs. All while adhering strictly to their Chasidic heritage. I am a huge fan! But they are unique within the world of Chasidus. While they are not the only highly educated devout Chasidim - they nonetheless live in a very rarified atmosphere of such people. My guess is that the vast majority of Chasidim are nowhere near as educated as they are. Probably less than one tenth of one percent. 

Most Chasidim educated in schools where there is no Limudei Chol come out of those schools barely speaking English and knowing next  to nothing about basic subjects like math, science, civics, and history. The irony of which is that – with an education ethic being so high with respect to Limudei Kodesh - their lack of English language skills rivals that of the many inner city youth that do not value education at all.

Rabbi Twerski ignores that entirely. Focusing instead on the anti Charedi attitude of the Times and proving how wrong they are by demonstrating the financial successes of those Chasidic communities despite their lack of any formal Limudei Chol curriculum and poor English language skills. As a self identifying Chasid, Rabbi Twerski does his community no favors by attacking the messenger – even if they are as anti Chasidic as he says they are.

But… as I said - nobody is paying much attention to that part of his address. Maybe because he was just repeating the same things other defenders of those Chasidic schools have already said. Many times. The focus instead is therefore on his astonishing critique of  Agudah itself – for not inviting any Chasidic leaders on to their Moetzes. He said he once felt welcomed as a Chasid to Agudah events at a time where a lot of Chasidim had attended. But lately very few Chasidim attend. If any. He concluded with a very dire prediction. Which was that if they don’t remedy this situation, Agudah will become irrelevant in very short order.

Agudah executive Vice President, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel,  responded by saying that Agudah was well aware of the situation and that it is being addressed.

The truth is that Rabbi Twerski’s lament mirrors my own. Only mine is about my community. I have made virtually the same criticism of Agudah about why they do not include any rabbinic leaders of Centrist Modern Orthodoxy. Not that he cares but why hasn’t a Gadol like Rav Hershel Shachter been invited to join the Moetzes? There is no question about his qualifications. Not in Torah knowledge, Not in Psak Halacha. And not in his religious standards. And yet he hasn’t even been invited to so much as address the Siyum HaShas they host every 7 and a half years. Let alone to join the Moetzes. Is Rabbi Zweibel and company addressing this too? 

I think there are 2 chances of that happening: Slim and None. With the latter being far more likely than the former.

Why do I care? There are many that feel the Agudah has already lost their relevance. Even among their own Charedi community. That is probably true. But I part company with them. Agudah is one of the most effective advocacy groups in all of Orthodoxy. They know how to do it and have been doing it for decades – ever since the era of Rabbi Moshe Sherer. I am not one to so easily dismiss them as irrelevant. Even as I occasionally strongly with them – as I do in case certain Chasidic schools.

I wish Rabbi Twerski had included the fact that Centrist MO communities like mine have also been ignored by Agudah. I would have been far more supportive of him if he had.