Actions, Values, and Education


by Rabbi Doron Beckerman

Much virtual ink has been spilled in recent months over the acts of vandalism, hooliganism, and general bad Middos of various sub-sectors of Charedi society. One of the themes which one gleans from many of the comments decrying these actions, when coming from quarters other than internal, is that these actions show that the values of Charedi society are essentially rotten, and that a total reevaluation of the underlying messages given by the Rabbanim and Mechanchim of the Charedi world is in order.

Following this logic – of extrapolation from the actions of some members of a group to the nixing of its essential values – leads one to wonder how to relate to the values of the Torah itself, in light of Moshe Rabbeinu’s tongue lashing of the Jewish Nation. Moshe Rabbeinu, according to Rashi in last week’s Torah portion, tells his brethren that they are cumbersome, brazen people who have no respect for their leaders, as well as insufferable complainers. At one point Moshe felt that he was at risk of being pelted with rocks. Does this reflect poorly on the values that the Nation had received at Har Sinai? Was Moshe’s knee-jerk attitude to question of what value was all the Torah he had taught the Nation, when they could not behave properly?

Clearly, the answer lies not in the values themselves, but in proper internalization of those values. Moshe Rabbeinu did not for a moment doubt that the Torah was the guide which would lead to creation of a holy people. What he did realize was that there was not, as yet, a full commitment on the part of some of the members of the nation to compliance with the instructions laid forth in the guidebook. “Don’t judge Judaism by the Jews” was certainly part of Moshe’s thought process, or else he would have had to question his entire mission of Matan Torah – which he never did.

How does one go about evaluating values of a religion/society if not by its adherents? After all, one might use the same line of argument for Islamo-fascism – perhaps we should not judge Hamas by its suicide bombers, but by its charity organizations?

I believe the answer is that a society should be judged by its heroes. Islamic terrorists look to people who are evil incarnate as their “Gedolim”. The names of the Mufti Al-Husseini, Yasser Arafat, Sheikh Yassin, etc., all people who have encouraged and participated in murder of innocents, are borne on the lips of the Islamo-fascists as role models of exemplary commitment to the ideals that their society espouses.

The essential values of Charedi society cannot, and should not, be judged by the actions of some rabble in their midst. They must be judged by those whom they revere, who are held up as the true epitome of the values they seek to inculcate in their children – the Brisker Rav and the Chazon Ish and the Satmar Rebbe; Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Tuvia Weiss. The personal failings of a limited number of hotheads notwithstanding, the overarching message of Charedi society is to strive to be like these men who were, and are, outstanding Torah scholars of the generation, and to emulate their unmitigated passion for a life brimming with Torah and Yiras Shamayim, to the exclusion of all other transient pursuits.

[Rabbi Beckerman is a Rebbe and a Mashgiach at Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim and a very recent oleh from Los Angeles to Ramat Beit Shemesh. His work is familiar to many readers from his blogging days when he contributed prodigiously to a blog of his own under a screen name.]

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Chaim Wolfson
8 years 1 month ago

Shlomo, not only do I find your comparison (OK, because of your “lehavdil” I’ll call it juxtaposition) of Nasrallah to R’ Elyashiv offensive, but more to the point, the analogy is false. Nasrallah may not push the buttons that launch the rockets, but he does give the orders. Hitler never killed a Jew in his life either. R’ Elyashiv, on the other hand, never ordered anyone to throw rocks or burn tires, nor did he ever give any indication that he sanctions or condones such behavior. And to Shaulking, who wonders who the Mentors and Role Models of the stone throwers are, the answer is, no one I know of (and trust me, I know all the Chareidi mentors and role models). Not the figures the vast majority of the Chareidi world looks up to, and ceratinly not R’ Elyashiv! Interestingly, R’ Elyashiv himself was once the victim of an overzelous Yeshiva bochur who, using a warped thought process, deduced from his Rosh Yeshiva’s criticism of R’ Elyashiv (yes, R’ Elyashiv does have his critics on the right) that he was fulfilling a great mitzvah by throwing stones at him. The Rosh Yeshiva promptly expelled the boy from his Yeshiva. If you ask, why can’t all stone throwers be dealt with in a similar manner, the answer is that they feel beholden to nobody but themselves.

Rabbi Maryles, I do not pretend to be a scholar of Modern Orthodoxy (even if I did grow up in Boston), so I cannot really argue points of its hashkafa. But it does seem to me, as an outsider looking in, that while it undoubtedly demands unswerving commitment to halachah, in practice the essence of its ideology lends itself to abuses of halachah by many. If you embrace the positive aspects of secular culture for its own sake, does that not leave you susceptible to the enticements of the baser aspects of that culture? (This I learned from no less a passionate proponent of Modern Orthodoxy than the estimable Dr. William Gewirtz, who commented on another thread in this forum that Modern Orthodoxy is the more dangerous, hence – in his opinion – the more rewarding, ideology.) In other words, the “chareidi rabble” exist despite chareidi ideology, as Rabbi Beckerman argues, not because of it, whereas the problems that confront Modern Orthodoxy, as you describe them, exist as an unintended byproduct of its ideology, which may just not be for the masses. And this is the criticism Chareidi thinkers have with Modern Orthodoxy on a practical level (aside from the problems they have with the theory itself, a topic for a different time).

Mark, of course heroes represent only a tiny proportion of any society, but Rabbi Beckerman’s point is that in this case the heroes are venerated by the society because they represent the ideals of that society. Surely you would agree that a society can be judged by its ideals, even if some members do not always live up to them. Rabbi Beckerman’s post reminds me of a quote I once saw (I forget the exact source): “Ideals are like the stars. We cannot hope to reach them, but we chart our course by them.”

Finally, Hesh, the Charedim in Israel do not insist that “each and every one of its members be exempt from national service”, only those learning in Yeshiva. Once they leave Yeshiva, Chareidim are subject to the draft just like any other segment of Israeli society, and there are many Chareidim in the IDF. Your argument has little relevance when applied to the rock throwers. As anyone who lives in Bet Shemesh can tell you, the rock throwers identify with a group whose members consider themselves exempt from national service not because they fulfill the function of “Spiritual Guardians” of the State, but because they do not even formally recognize the existence of the State (not to be confused with the handful of “useful idiots” who associate with those who wish to destroy the State r”l). They also do not take money from the State. So in their view its mutual: they have no responsibility to a state they don’t recognize, and the state they don’t recognize has no responsibilty to them. I am neither condoning nor condemning that view, I’m just saying it’s a fact.

8 years 1 month ago

Of course i.e. R’ Eliashiv is not running around Ramat Beit Shemesh throwing stones. But then, (lehavdil) Nasrallah is not actually pushing the launch buttons on rockets. Leaders are judged not just by their personal behavior, but by what they allow from their followers. And if the “rabble” think that the gedolim sanction their behavior, then those gedolim must accept some of the blame.

Jak Black
8 years 1 month ago

Well said, Doron.

Harry, you didn’t read the article carefully. If a society cannot be judged by rabble in its midst, then it must surely be judged by its heroes. Who are the heroes of Modern Orthodoxy? Not yours – we can all read the box atop your blog. But who are the REAL heroes of the average Modern Orthodox Jew on the street? Which are the faces on the posters of the average Modern Orthodox teenager? The answer to that question expresses the true difference between Modern Orthodoxy and the Chareidi world.

8 years 1 month ago

I’ve got to get the internet out of my house. What a waste of time.

Mark L. Berch
8 years 1 month ago

Rabbi Doron Beckerman writes, “I believe the answer is that a society should be judged by its heroes.” Why? He gives examples of who these people would be in terms of Charedi society, but gives no reasoning as to why that standard ought be used. Heroes, after all, represent only a tiny proportion of any society. To me, they seem no more appropriate that those considered to be the villians.