Sounds of Silence

letter-447577_1280

I’ve been following with interest the back-and-forth between two veteran Torah activists who both have done so much for other Jews over their careers, R. Yaakov Menken and R. Dovid Landesman, and I’m amazed at a couple things: 1) To date, neither the latter writer nor any commenter has put forward a refutation of what the resident of Emanuel has written, nor have they even claimed to know the situation as first-hand as she does. She may not be ultimately shown to be correct, but, in the interim, can they not bring themselves to offer even a provisional retraction and utter the words:”I’m sorry, I may have mistakenly besmirched an entire community of fellow Jews”?

Instead, I’m sorry to say, the response is vaguely reminiscent of Joe McCarthy back in the days of HUAAC, when upon being conclusively refuted regarding one purported Commie, the senator moved on without missing a beat to the next name on his blacklist of hundreds. A little intellectual honesty here would go some ways toward making this a more productive discussion.

2) Echoing R. Menken, I marvel at how the hours tick away and the days pass since R. Menken first challenged R. Landesman to substantiate his rather broad charges 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” and that “[o]ur 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” – and the response by R. Landesman has been complete silence.

Now, surely, with so many apologists out there in various charedi media outlets, including, apparently this blog, and elsewhere, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to marshal much, OK some, OK a bit of, OK one datum of, substantiation for his charges. I’m trying to lower the bar and make this easier – so how about this: Instead of having to buttress the broad brush claim about “the charedi community,” which is, after all, quite large and diverse in its various sectors and sub-sectors, how about presenting that one datum evidencing the “marked tendency” to assert “we have no real problems” and that these are but the imaginings of a “media that is biased against us and outsiders who . . . resort to hatred and bashing” with regard to any one sector of our community – pick your favorite insular and atavistic camp within our larger community if you’d like. Once we’ve seen one datum, we’ll at least know the claim isn’t complete dreamstuff, rooted in subtle animus or abject ignorance, and the discussion can progress from there.

I must add here an important caveat. I have insufficient knowledge of the inner workings and going-on of the charedi community in Eretz Yisrael, and none of it is first-hand. I do know that the charedi community there and ours in America are quite different in many respects, including some that are relevant to this discussion. Thus, to the extent R. Landesman was addressing only his community there, I have no basis of knowledge and experience to agree or disagree with his assertions, as I do regarding my American charedi community. He certainly, however, did not make clear that his focus was limited in that way; if anything, his references to various publications indicate the opposite intention.

I should mention as well that in order to provide some actual empirical evidence on the issue at hand, I began drawing up a list of the large number of books, articles, public lectures, publicized and unpublicized organizational initiatives, and new institutions and programs that have in recent years addressed a whole gamut of problems within the charedi community. I abandoned the effort, however, once commenter Nosson Slifkin apprised us all that most of the items on my list do “not really count.” For him, apparently, only uniquely charedi problems, whatever those are, qualify as examples of “the charedi world discussing its shortcomings.”

Indeed, not even the manifold problems that “seep in” from the outside world – a phenomenon he seems to regard as yet one more fantasy that charedim conveniently employ to avoid self-scrutiny – make the grade. The list of problems being aired and addressed, however, is real and those efforts have already and will continue to produce real benefits for our community.

Moreover, he is greatly disturbed that Mishpacha magazine’s exposure of communal problems is “far from perfect” and, he claims, upsets many people. Welcome, then, to the world of flawed and very human beings, which flaws and humanness made them, and not Hashem’s ministering angels, the most fitting recipients of His Torah.

To the indictment of gross imperfection and chronic humanness, I hereby plead, for myself and on behalf of my charedi community, guilty as charged.

In sum:

• Were R. Landesman to make a case that not all of our problems are being addressed, or that some are not being addressed with sufficient alacrity or intelligence, instead of making sweeping, wildly inaccurate statements that anyone familiar with the American charedi community will write off as emanating from bias and/or misinformation;

• Were R. Landesman to treat the topic with balance and depth by acknowledging, for example, the complexity of tackling of certain issues because, by their nature and by virtue of the Torah’s guidelines, they require, for example: less or no publicity, or a balancing of the impact upon the respective parties involved and the affected families and communities, or extreme caution in discerning the facts, along with a mature recognition that some problems are more intractable than others and can take very long to fully resolve, if ever, rather than seeming to demand that all problems be aired and resolved to his satisfaction, in the most public way, right here, right now, without regard to the needs of the real people involved and the dictates of the Torah, and fairly demonizing anyone of any stature who doesn’t accede to such demand;

• Were R. Landesman to approach the topic in a constructive tone, with a nuanced and discerning scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, looking at the disparities between how diverse segments of the charedi community acknowledge and deal with problems, looking to “control” for elements that may impact on a particular community’s success or failure in this area, e.g., urban vs. out-of-town, Chassidic vs. non-Chassidic, etc, rather than imputing all such failures to a nefarious charedi mindset, tarring thereby thousands upon thousands of individuals who vary widely in outlook, background, temperament – who are, in short, individuals, not an undifferentiated mass;

• And, finally, were R. Landesman to not give the impression, which I trust is mistaken, that he isn’t much proud of what he calls “his” community, its members and their exemplary – and, yes, often unique — qualities and achievements, and, concomitantly, that he isn’t deeply chagrined when that community is regularly subjected to all manner of demonstrable calumny –

Were he to do all of the above, he’d be doing something very valuable for all of us by opening an important and potentially productive conversation.

You may also like...

14 Responses

  1. Micha Berger says:

    From the post: “[W]e – 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” and that “[o]ur 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…”

    While I agree there is a hostile media, or at least one that has a need to feel better about themselves by tearing us down, the number of issues within our community is great. (I should also point out that one can view this as “the observant community” more than being specifcally this flavor of Orthodoxy or that. Nothing I’m about to write is more or less true about one subset of us than another.) Whether we look to illegally funded schools, sex scandals involving famous rabbis from across the Orthodox spectrum, sexual abuse of children being routinely hidden, someone selling shaatnez talisos (like we didn’t learn from the chicken guy?), blackmailing people for their organs, … 2009 CE was not a year whose headlines make us proud.

    That’s not because of media hostility (even granted that the hostility is real) — it’s because we are flawed.

    With that many people being bad enough to get into the news, what does that say about the rest of the bell curve? Closer to home — does your state require paying sales tax on your lulav and esrog? In general, have you ever been approached by a businessman within the community who offers a discount if you pay in cash?

    Is this what one expects from the community that follows the Truth? Or does it demonstrate a gap between Orthodox Judaism as it’s practiced by the majority of us today and Hashem’s Torah? I would suggest that enough of us are living examples of what the Gra warned us of (Even Sheleimah 1:11) that as a whole, we aren’t reflecting a possession of the Truth:

    The topic of Torah to the soul: A comparison to rain for the ground; it causes what was planted there to grow, a cure or a poison. Similarly Torah, causes what is in his heart to grow. If what is in his heart is good, his yir’ah will grow; if what’s in his heart is a “root sprouting poison weed and wormwood” then the bitterness that’s in his head will grow.

    As they wrote “the righteous will walk in it, and sinners will stumble in it” [Hoshea 14:10, as explained by Chazal], and as they wrote “To those on the right the medicine of life is in it, and to those on the left, the poison of death.” [Shabbos 88b]

    Therefore one must cleanse one’s heart every day before study and after it of impure attitudes and middos with a fear of sin and good deeds.

    This [process] is euphemistically called “going to the bathroom”. They were was about this they hinted when they said “Going to the bathroom is greater than all of it.” (Berakhos 8a) And when they said “Whomever spends a long time in the bathroom, it is lofty.” (Ibid 55a) Also when they said, “Get up early and go, in the evening go” (Ibid 62a) they intend to say that in his youth and in his old age he shouldn’t distance himself a great distance from his Creator so that he couldn’t be helped.

    One must inspect which evil middah is strong within him, and after that clean it out. Not like those men of desire who wallow in what they want, and the desire grows greater. It requires a lot of slyness, to be “sly in yir’ah” (Abayei, Ibid 17a) in opposition to the “snake was sly”.

    One who is lazy in weeding out an evil middah, isn’t helped by all the legal fences and protections that he does. For any disease which isn’t cured from within… even the fence of the Torah which protects and saves will be useless because of his laziness. (c.f. Rava, Sotah 21a; Bei’ur haGra Mishlei 24:31, 25:5)

    Isn’t this what Rav Wolbe is speaking of in Alei Shur vol 2 ch 2, when he writes about how frumkeit, “an illusion of religiosity, a culture, a thoughtless instinct”, gets in the way of developing a thoughtful relationship with the Creator? And he obviously thought it was a common problem, as RSW repeats the warning numerous times throughout the work.

    I know this isn’t a popular message, but I think that until we start by consciously working on middos as the foundation of our Torah study, we will never be a problem-free society, or even one less plagued with social ills than other religious groups of similar economic standing.

    The Torah can’t be written on unprepared parchment.

    -micha

  2. simairkodesh says:

    Mr. Ekstein,
    Have you ever gone through the registration process for a child in an Israeli Charedei school?
    Have you ever had a child go through even one grade level in a Beis Yakov or Cheder in Israel?
    I am doubtful that you have, please confirm, with a simple yes or no.

    [YA – I know who he is. He most definitely has!]

  3. Miriam says:

    “…I believe that the majority of Chareidim, even here in Israel, are fine people. However, the Chareidi agenda is being driven by the extremeists.”

    There’s a different distinction to make – ideological Charedim vs. political Charedim. Some are both, but most are only ideological, the fine people you speak about. It’s the political Charedim that are giving the system a bad name. And the ideological ones can’t possibly keep up with them in the political arena.

    Everyone makes the mistake when they think that political Charedim represent the ideological ones.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    Binyomin Eckstein April 17th, 2010 at 3:45 pm wrote:
    “Bob, You can’t be serious. You expect a lumped-together mass of hundreds of thousands of Jews, aka “Charedim”, to be immune to false accusations? Moshe Rabbeinu was not immune to false accusations!”

    1. I say again that sterling behavior on our part would show false accusations (which I guess are inevitable) for what they are.

    2. I did not limit “we” to Chareidim, whatever that category means lately. The “we” means Klal Yisrael.

  5. dr. bill says:

    I strongly agree with r. oberstein. If one is serious about this issue, one must address its root cause. It is not about a kollel or chumrot or conformity; they are all consequences. in the ancient world, your child apprenticed to your or some other profession; in the modern world, many a child needs a secular education. the stories about where and how this is denied are widespread and the consequences, specified in the gemara about one who does not train his child, are stark and sadly at play in today’s israeli society. i suggest reading the essays of r. dovid (friedman) karliner ztl on this issue addressed to the early yishuv growing in eretz yisroel in the late 19th century; he BTW, was not some moderne but an opponent of secular education in eastern europe. his essays read like they were written yesterday.

  6. L. Oberstein says:

    “It will take nothing short of a virtual, if not actual, civil war for Chareidiism to be wrested from its fundamentalists. But as long as well-meaning, yet naive, American Chareidim are willing to provide cover for even the most anti-social behavior the advent of such a revolution gets pushed further into the distance.”

    The above comment is mind boggling. If he is right ,we are in big trouble. The answer most often given to me is that as American yeshiva educated people move to Israel , there will be more schools and neighborhoods where American chareidi values are the norm. Instead of trying to become accepted by the “circle the wagons” Israeli chareidim, Americans will create an alternative stream. The supposed plan to start a “Torah Umesorah” Bais Yaakov in sanhedria ather than futilly fight to get their girls into the Israeli school is an example. If there are enough students in American style yeshiva high schools in Israel, then maybe American olim won’t have to choose Charedi schools lacking secular studies.
    “We” won’t change ‘them”. As long as the price of aliyah is trying to become an Israeli chareidi, then Israel is headed for a crisis.
    Unfortunately, for most, the Dati leumi system still is not seen as an alternative. I wish the day would come when one could choose a school in Israel that is right for his child without the fear- real and palpable- that if you don’t choose the right school for your son, your daughter will never get into a good high school,etc.The social control is beyond belief,except that it is true.

  7. dovid says:

    “the response is vaguely reminiscent of Joe McCarthy back in the days of HUAAC, when upon being conclusively refuted regarding one purported Commie, the senator moved on without missing a beat to the next name on his blacklist of hundreds.”

    Rabbi Landesman made an allegation. Sefardim experience discrimination at the hands of the charedi community in Eretz Israel. He illustrated his point with the case in Emmanuel. A local resident and Rabbi Menken’s preliminary investigation indicated what? That the charedi world doesn’t discriminate against sefardim and that Rabbi Landesman is guilty of motze shaim rah? Or, that the particular Beis Yaakov in Emmanuel does not discriminate? R. Kobre, do you call Rabbi Landesman’s poor choice at illustrating his point that (1) he was conclusively refuted that (2) there is no discriminating against sefardim by our community in Eretz Israel? Is L. Oberstein in his April 14th, 2010 at 8:13 am post also lying? There are thousands of charedi sefardim who will testify that they and their children have been discriminated against. Get in touch with Ari Deri. He knows the system first hand. And what he has to say is both true and even less flattering than what Rabbi Landesman wrote.

  8. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Given that you “have insufficient knowledge of the inner workings and going-on of the charedi community in Eretz Yisrael, and none of it is first-hand”, or in more colloquial terms, you have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m quite surprised at the venom with which you are attacking R. Landesman.

    As someone who is currently living cheek and jowl with a cross-section of people you would claim as part of your “large and diverse” Chareidi community let me enlighten you a bit. Within my community we have formed committees in order to help us deal constructively with our neighbors. Our Rebbeim have met with theirs. Our representatives have met with theirs. We have a very good handle on who and what we’re dealing with. One thing that has become crystal clear from our many interactions is that, for a number of Chareidi sects, which you claim as part of your own, the concept of “Eilu V’Eilu D’vrei Elokim Chaim” simply does not exists. This problem is not on the fringes. It is systemic. It it as part and parcel of their belief system.

    The manifestations of this are numerous and well publicized. I can’t be drawn, one again in this forum, into an enumeration of actual offenses they we, as a community, have endured, but generally we’re dealing with physical abuse, verbal abuse, vandalism, and outright theft. No to mention a complete and utter disregard for our, quite legitimate, religious practices. And we’re not talking about fringe fanatics or bored yeshiva kids here. We’re talking about the full range, from children to bearded Rabbis.

    So to answer your most fundamental question. No, to my knowledge, none of these problems are being addressed. The items you are addressing as I believe Rav Slifkin pointed out, are typical, run-of-the-mill problems that are facing all societies. Laudable, but beside the point. But what’s glossed over, or worse defended, are problems that, within orthodox Judaism are unique to certain segments of the Chareidi community. Within the community these behaviors are lauded. The perpetrators are heroes. But that’s to be expected. After all they are simply fulfilling the mandates of their “religion”.

    But what is truly galling, and what I believe is the friction point in conversations like this, is when American Chareidim run to the defense of these people. Oh, it’s not overt. No decent person would directly defend the types of behaviors that I’ve enumerated. They will however try to mitigate them by justifying the behaviors based on “provocations”, by blaming the “media”, or blaming the police. Something that is regular fair here on Cross Currents.

    Does an occasional author here or their attempt to decry what’s going on? Sure. Does that constitute “addressing” the issue? It does not. For the people, the sects, who behave this way couldn’t give a rat’s tush what some nice, Yale educated, “Chareidi” has to say about their “religion”. Believe me, these people aren’t fooled by your black and white attire. In their eyes we’re all the same. Yet, somehow in your eyes, mode of dress seems to matter more than ideology.

    Since nobody is really dealing with statistics in these conversations I feel comfortable to say that I believe that the majority of Chareidim, even here in Israel, are fine people. However, the Chareidi agenda is being driven by the extremeists. This is not unique to Chareidiism. Many movements or groups suffer from this malady. It will take nothing short of a virtual, if not actual, civil war for Chareidiism to be wrested from its fundamentalists. But as long as well-meaning, yet naive, American Chareidim are willing to provide cover for even the most anti-social behavior the advent of such a revolution gets pushed further into the distance.

    Maybe Rabbi Landesman’s article was just another shot in the dark. But the subsequent onslaught from writers like you and R. Menken only serve to embolden the the worst elements of Chareidi,no, of all of us. To the extent that you guys tenaciously hold on to the fantasy that you’re all in one big happy Chareidi tent you’ll remain a part of the problem, not the solution.

  9. Miriam says:

    The communal bias against parnossa (in Israel at least) is a longstanding, uniquely Charedi problem that Rabbi Rosenblum has been trying to put on the Charedi agenda for several years.

  10. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    Bob,

    You can’t be serious. You expect a lumped-together mass of hundreds of thousands of Jews, aka “Charedim”, to be immune to false accusations? Moshe Rabbeinu was not immune to false accusations!

    Rabbi Oberstein,

    Yes you need more documentation. Of course feelings are not false, but they are very often based on misunderstanding, lack of communication, and sometimes even outright falsehood.

    What was the end of the story? Was the principal told that there was medical need? What was the response? Was the mefakachat told? What was her response?

    How long ago did this occur? Did she get into a “good high school”? How? Didn’t people snitch that she once wore orthopedic shoes, thereby ruining her chances not only for a “good high school”, but for a good Shidduch, condemning her to spinster status forever? Does this outcome ring true with the people “familiar with (stereotypes of) Charedi schools”? The people who are “familiar with Charedi schools” – how did they get their education on the goings-on in Charedi schools? I am quite “familiar with Charedi schools in Israel” – not all, but several – and it doesn’t ring true to me based on my experiences.

  11. Natan Slifkin says:

    Amazingly, your post managed to confirm what I wrote.

    You admit that your list of problems being publicly addressed in the charedi community does not include any that are uniquely a product of charedi ideology.

    And you attribute any remaining problems to the innate and universal shortcomings of the human condition.

    In other words, charedi ideology, policy and leadership is perfect and flawless. It’s only ordinary humans that are flawed.

    I don’t know if Rabbi Landesman was claiming that charedi society does not admit to any problems at all. Of course it does! Look at the famous JO “Off the Derech” issue, etc. But what he may have been saying, and what I am saying, is that it is virtually never willing to publicly discuss problems with its own unique ideology, policy and leadership. That is why I wrote that only uniquely charedi problems qualify as examples of the charedi world discussing its shortcomings. It is no big deal to admit shortcomings that everyone has, and if they are shortcomings that occur as a result of the outside world, then they simply confirm the triumphalist position – “our ideology is perfect, it’s just the outside world or the human condition that is causing us problems.” But the claim, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, that charedi ideology, policy and leadership is perfect and flawless is exactly the kind of triumphalism that turns off so many people.

    Please do not think that I am saying that there are other communities which are any better. But the charedi community is particularly reluctant to discuss its unique shortcomings, and for obvious reasons – because doing so itself raises questions on its most fundamental value, the Daas Torah ideology.

    It’s not as though any of this is a chiddush. Of all the official Gedolim biographies, the only one that ever admits to any flaws at all is Reb Yaakov, which cites two mistakes that he himself admitted to. And just look at what happened to “Making Of A Godol”… And while everyone acknowledges that Mishpachah is much more open to discussing shortcomings (although will still stop short of every mentioning problems with ideology, policy and leadership), this simply highlights the fact that Yated and HaModia – which existed for many years before Mishpachah – were not open to it. Even Rav Aharon Feldman, the founder of the English Yated, later publicly criticized it for adopting a “siege mentality.”

    (Furthermore, skimming through all the articles that you have published on Cross-Currents, there are plenty that are critical of Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, non-Jews, etc., and I don’t see any mentioning a single problem in the Charedi community. Although Rabbi Menken, in his latest post, explicitly acknowledges that he started this website with the goal of defending Charedi ideology, so I guess that could say that in principle, this website is opposed to acknowledging shortcomings in the Charedi community.)

  12. L. Oberstein says:

    My son in Israel explained to me that what precipitated the present case before the Supreme Court was the building of a wall in the school and on the play ground to totally seperate the children in the school from another frum school in the same building. Is this factually so?

    “Chareidi bashing” may not always be factually based, but that doesn’t make the feelings false. My good friend Meir Fialkoff told me that his daughter needed orthopedic shoes ,which he imported from America. He told me that his daughter was called into the principal’s office and told that if she continued to wear these unacceptable shoes she would not be able to get into any good high school.The demand for absolute conformity trumps medical need. I checked this with several people familiar with chareidi schools in Israel and they all agreed that this rings true. Is this not factual enough do I need more documentation?

  13. Shades of Gray says:

    Regarding, in general, the question of chardei community’s openness to publicly discussing community problems, I think the crux of the issue is partially, as Etyan Kobre mentions, “the complexity of tackling of certain issues because, by their nature and by virtue of the Torah’s guidelines”. However, I would note that there are differences within the Orthodox community regarding the specifics of such guidelines(e.g., the Jewish Press will cover sexual abuse more openly than Hamodia), as well as differences even within the chareidi community regarding how to discuss topics. Regarding the latter, Jonathan Rosenblum, R. Yaakov Horowitz, and R. A.J. Twerski have all had to defend some of their articles or speeches when discussing problems, apparently indicating a certain defensiveness which some have.

    There would appear to be a benefit in discussing problems openly in some appropriate forum, or at least in communicating to the public that the issues are important, because the public sees such openness as a sign of strength. In the New Jersey “The Jewish State”(1/15/10), R. Yosef Blau made this point: “Ultimately, Blau said, if the frum community takes credit for the growth of Torah and purports itself to be strong, it must stop acting weak by hiding its problems. “Our community is very strong,” Blau said. “I’m saying that because we function often as if we are very weak, threatened, or insecure.” “Strong communities confront their problems and deal with them,” he said. “Only very weak ones try to cover them up.”

    On a related note, the American Hamodia dedicated an entire magazine this Pesach, called “Kids of Hope”, to discussing the difficult topic of youth at risk. The preface noted that on the one hand, discussion was limited to the extent deemed appropriate for the forum, but even so, the editors anticipated that there would be criticism for having the discussion, IIRC. Be that as it may, I think Hamodia deserves credit for publishing the above-mentioned magazine.

  14. Bob Miller says:

    Our job is to present such a shining example that false accusations against us would appear laughable from the start. Isn’t that part of our mission?