by Dovid Landesman
My mother-in-law is an avid reader of The Jerusalem Post and awaits its daily delivery with great anticipation. As she peruses it, however, she becomes increasingly angry at the consistent chareidi bashing. I often wonder why she doesn’t simply cancel her subscription but suppose that she uses it as an outlet so that none of her minimal bad temper is ever directed at those she loves. I choose not to disagree with her as regards the issues she raises; however, I do feel that we – i.e., the chareidi community – have a marked tendency to mask many of the deficiencies that exist within our community by claiming that they are no more than the frightened ramblings of the leftist/secular world who live in trepidation of the demographics that might soon create a chareidi majority in Eretz Yisrael. I am also deeply concerned by the chareidi triumphalism often voiced on this blog as well as other chareidi media outlets which loudly proclaim how “goodly are our tents” – a statement that I am not certain is consistent with the facts on the ground. Can we be certain that if the media were absolutely unbiased public perception of the chareidi world would improve dramatically?
Take the following development as a case in point. The Israeli Supreme Court has found the Bais Yaakov in Emmanuel to be in contempt of court for continuing to segregate Ashkenazi and Sefaradi girls in the school. Reportedly [and I use the word with forethought], Rav Elyashiv ruled that the court decision was “dreadful and should provoke a public outcry.” Neither you nor I know what Rav Elyashiv actually said, nor am I certain how the facts of the case were presented to him. I will therefore refrain from commenting as to what I think the reply should be to the ruling of the bagatz. Rather, I want to focus on what our reaction should be to the situation itself. What will we do when the secular media takes this statement and uses it to stir up animosity against the chareidi world? Will it be sufficient to simply dismiss it as another example of their anti-religious agenda?
I find it extremely disconcerting that no one is denying that the story itself is true – which is a scandal in and of itself! Please, spare me the specious arguments that the Ashkenazi parents are simply reluctant to have their children be confused by different pronunciations of Hebrew, varied nuschaot hatefillah or unfamiliar minhagim and halachot. There is very real prejudice in the chareidi world and I have not heard about anyone trying to root it out.
Another example? When a widely respected posek recently declared that there is no halachic problem in cheating the government if there is no chance of getting caught, one would have expected a response on the part of his colleagues at least on the level of those who pilloried R. Slifkin. We got deafening silence instead!
Our community has numerous apologists who continue to portray our world as a bed of roses, reinforcing their views with statistically unproven assertions of how much better we are than “them.” According to this view, we have no real problems; simply a media that is biased against us and outsiders who, as a means of justifying their refusal to recognize and accept the truths of our lifestyle, resort to hatred and bashing. I hate to spoil the image, but the rose garden is full of thorns!
Has the time not arrived to climb down from our ivory towers of self-deception and take an honest look at what is transpiring? We live in a generation where we have created yeshivot that are in danger of becoming bastions of beinoniut because we compel every male interested in a decent shidduch to commit himself to a program that is clearly not responsive to his needs or interests. Our daughters are often instructed that aspirations of anything other than kollel life are illegitimate; other ideas are to be quashed as being indicative of CBW [chronic bitachon weakness]. We have a problem with sexual abuse that has been festering for years and which many of our leaders still refuse to face. We have a yeshiva system that is bleeding children who are leaving the derech; both from the MOs and the UOs! We have rabbinical leadership that is imprisoned by askanim who filter information and are suspect of being loyal to personal agendas of self-advancement.
Years ago a leading rosh yeshiva said publicly that he shudders to think that the major accomplishment of the American yeshivot might be the production of a generation of talmidim who are functionally illiterate in three languages. I would expand that and claim that today many yeshivot can take credit for hastening the ultimate redemption in fulfillment of the dictum that b’ikvasa demeshichah chutzpah yasgeh.
I contend to you that one child forced off the derech might well negate all of the accomplishments of the teshuvah movement; that’s not my analysis, it was said by the Steipler!
Is there no bigotry in our communities? Try enrolling your daughter into a Bais Yaakov in EY if your name is Buzaglo rather than Berkowitz! Are the befringed nutcakes only a tiny and insignificant minority? Tell that to a resident of Meah Shearim choking on the stench of burning garbage!
I am scared not of the media and not by the hostility of chilonim. I am frightened by unzere who are perverting Torah haskafah to create a box with dimensions that are continuously shrinking, wherein eilu v’eilu has become an obscene phrase, and where a reign of terror prevents leaders from speaking the truth. I say drop the yehora of deluded shalom yiyeh lebaisai and let’s start getting our house in order.
[Rabbi Dovid Landesman, a veteran mechanech, resides in Ramat Beit Shemesh and looks at the world outside his windows with increasing trepidation. He recently published There Are No Basketball Courts in Heaven.]