Monday, June 05, 2023

A 100 Year Celebration and the Frumkeit Chase

Rosh HaYeshiva in my era, R' Ahron Soloveichik
Last night, I attended the 100th Anniversary celebration of my alma mater, The Hebrew Theological College (HTC). There was a lot to celebrate there last night, The honorees for that occasion were the recent Rosh HaYeshiva emeritus, Rabbi Avraham (Ritchie) Freidman and his Rebbetzin, Mrs. Tamar Friedman. A well deserved honor for both. 

While I fully appreciate the major contributions Mrs. Friedman has made to Jewish education, I must admit that I am far more familiar with her husband’s contributions. 

Rabbi Friedman and I arrived in Skokie (HTC’s more common nickname named after the Chicago suburb where it is located) in 1962. We were both in the same shiur. Back then everyone knew him as Ritchie. And the name stuck long after he was recognized as a major Talmud Chacham and master Mechanech.  We also both had the Zechus to be in Rabbi Yaakov Perlow’s Shiur a year later. We were his first shiur. Until his passing Rabbi Perlow, - who also called him ‘Ritchie - was a lifelong mentor to Rabbi Friedman.

To say that Rabbi Friedman is a master Mechanech is a understatement. He truly cared and went out of his way for every student under his tutelage.  I can personally testify to that. The care he gave to - and influence he  had over – my son when he  was in high school is incalculable.  My son’s success as a major Talmud Chacham in his own right: a Rosh Chabura in the Mir; the Rav of a Shul; and the Posek for Kehilos (communities) beyond his own – can be directly traced back to Rabbi Friedman.  My gratitude to him has no bounds. 

There is much more to celebrate about last night.  Women’s higher education in Jewish Chicago took a huge leap yesterday with the announcement of the Sarah Hartman College for Woman. Which like HTC is a Touro affiliate. It will be located in a new campus here in the greater Chicago area.

The value of Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol for both men and women at HTC takes a back seat to no one – as they continually strive to improve the quality of both.  

I was, however, disappointed that HTC decided to honor a new phenomenon of which I do not approve. Although I was able to sit with my wife and another couple that are friends of ours at the buffet dinner, the program that followed in HTC’s new Rothner Family Gymnasium was separate seating. I was not happy to be apart from my wife for the duration of the rather lengthy program. But even worse was the fact that unlike past banquets, the dais was all men. Not even Mrs. Freidman, the co-honoree was seated there. 

I do not want not cast any aspersions on the Yeshiva. I’m sure they had their reasons for doing that. But I am disappointed nonetheless. It is step in the wrong direction and sends the wrong message. A message that has unfortunately taken hold in the Charedi world and seems to be spreading ever so subtly into the Centrist world of Yeshivos like HTC. In what I can only describe as a Frumkeit chase.

The Frumkiet chase is an ugly chase. The supposed intention is to raise the Kedusha (holiness) of Am Yisroel - the people of Israel - by avoiding as much as possible any semblance of interaction between the sexes. All of which is deemed conducive to sexual misconduct – the opposite of holiness.  As explained by Rashi in Vayikra (19:2) - Where there is less chance of sexual activity, there is greater chance of holiness. I’m sure that’s he motive behind separating men and women as much as possible and erasing them from the public eye.

But every good idea when taken to extremes usually has the opposite effect. The negative consequences of which are well documented. I am not going to repeat those consequences here. Suffice it to say that erasing women and every reference to anything feminine is an insult – not only to women but to men as well.  

Furthermore it casts aspersions on some of the Gedolei HaDor (non Chasidic) of previous generations who did not live this way. Although some will claim that they would have were they alive today and were then simply a victim of the times, that has yet to be proven

Center image of a candle instead of the female victim is an abomination! (TOI)
In yet another manifestation of this insulting phenomenon the following was reported by the Times of Israel: 

Women’s rights organization Na’amat changed its profile picture on Facebook Sunday to that of a female soldier killed in a shooting attack, after a Haredi news site censored it in its reporting for religious reasons.

The change was part of a social media campaign by Na’amat, one of the country’s oldest women’s rights groups, in response to the reporting by the JDN news site about the slaying of three soldiers — two men and a woman — on Saturday morning near Israel’s border with Egypt.

JDN’s articles about the incident featured a composite picture containing portraits of the male fatalities, Ohad Dahan and Ori Yitzhak Iluz, but only the background from a picture of the third fatality, Lia Ben Nun. 

This phenomenon has a less often discussed consequence. Rav Hershel Shachter was a scholar-in-residence a couple of weeks ago in a Centrist Shul here in Chicago. I was out of town for that weekend. But I was told of an interesting exchange between Rav Shachter and a questioner from the audience during one of his lectures. The question involved the so-called Shidduch crisis.  A crisis that seems to be leaving a lot of young women out in the cold – unable to find a marriage partner.

Solotions to this ‘crisis’ have been discussed ad nauseum. With little in positive results. Rav Shachter responded along the following lines.

When he was a young man, religious young men and women were more engaged with each other. They were not separated at wedding banquets or any other banquets. There was ample opportunity to meet and find one’s partner for life.  He added that a lot of people got married that way back then. 

He is absolutely right about that. Although I am a bit younger than Rav Shachter, that was pretty much the case in my day too. A lot of my friends got married that way. I do not recall there being a lot of Shadchanim then either.

But now – in the spirit of ‘holiness’ - we have a ton of (often well paid) Shadchanim; combined with hardly any possibility for couples to meet on their own. And a crisis! 

Not that I can do anything about any of this except complain. Sad.