Something For Everyone

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The ongoing debate on Cross-Currents is such a collection of apples and oranges, that we could start a whole blessed fruit store. Everyone is talking right past everyone else. [Disclaimer: I am personally friendly with each and every one of the antagonists in this debate. At least I was, till I published this.]

Rabbi Landesman stands criticized for accepting the media version of the Emanuel story. Maybe he did. Maybe. But the thrust of his essay did not stand or fall on what actually happened in Emanuel. It was that racism is rampant in the Torah community. I find it hard to believe that anyone could deny that.

(I am appalled that some have taken to argue that this is not so terrible, because we are no worse than others. I cannot find the composure to even address so shallow a defense. If something is wrong, we have to ferret it out of our lives no matter who else is guilty of the same. To me, this is elementary. I am likewise appalled by the argument that rejecting Sephardim is about maintaining standards, not about racism. Do people not recognize that racism, fundamentally, is about treating people not as individuals, but according to presupposed characteristics of their group, class or ethnicity? Sometimes, those characteristics do show up in the larger group. That is irrelevant. Treating the individual in front of you on the basis of those characteristics, rather than treating him as an individual, is exactly what racism is about. How many racists can you point to who say, “I have no reason to hate Blafoojas. I just enjoy hating them.” Inevitably, the argument is, “We have to keep those Blafoojas away, because they: will dilute American culture; contribute disproportionate numbers of gang members; are lazy ingrates; are too rich; are too poor; are all Commies; are all Fascists; have bad breath, etc.” I have heard too many stories, from people whose trustworthiness is certain to me, of children denied admission to frum schools in Israel because they were from families of Ba’alei teshuvah, suffered from various disabilities, had parents who were American, etc. In none of these cases did the school determine the particulars of the home. The argument for rejection was that the other parents assume that if the child came from a particular group, then he or she will likely convey dreaded deficiencies to the other children. I call that racism. For the record, I believe that the attitudes perpetuated by such prejudicial treatment are far worse than the subtle deficiencies that the schools are trying to avoid.)

Rabbi Menken stands accused of denying real cracks in the edifice of haredi Judaism. This is patently not true. He may at times try to explain them away (in manners that I sometimes agree with and sometimes do not), but he does not deny them. In this latest exchange, he rightly takes people to task for assuming the worst – without being in possession of the facts. Neither is he – which he readily admits, but that does not dilute his point. Too many of us instantly believe the worst, even when the news comes from the most suspect of sources and perspectives. The fact that he can construct a different way of understanding the events in Emanuel is a telling point, even if it will turn out not to be accurate. The point is that we should not be so quick to accept explanations when alternatives are available. We should defer conclusions until we can sort out the evidence. His more important charge – that there is real bias against haredim in the Israeli press and in the actions of the Supreme Court – is entirely valid and valuable.

So far, the way I see it, both Rabbis Landesman and Menken are correct, despite the mounting irritation in some of the exchange.

A few lines in the various attacks and counterattacks demand comment, however.

“We are not viewed with antipathy because of our failures; we are viewed with antipathy because of our successes.” Rabbi Menken is undoubtedly correct. (It might be a good time to reread Noah Efron’s Real Jews, published about eight years ago. It catalogued all the reasons that secular Israeli hated haredim. Nonetheless, the author – who did not let on that he was Orthodox himself – concluded that it all didn’t add up. The antipathy towards haredim was out of proportion to the evils imputed to them.)

I think that Rabbi Landesman’s point, however, deals not with antipathy, but deep-seated malaise in other circles, completely within the Torah camp. His essay resonated not only with the usual haredi-haters, but with many card-carrying haredim, who are disappointed, deflated or worse over problems that don’t go away. It would be a major mistake to write off the cynical critics as haters of authentic Torah. To the contrary, I continuously meet up with people living haredi lives (American style), sending their kids to haredi institutions, and having benefited from the best haredi chinuch themselves, who nonetheless are bitter and crushed. Their love for Torah continues unabated. They are disappointed because of that love, not despite it. Knowing what Torah is supposed to do for people and communities, having spent time in the presence of gadlus when they were younger, they resent more than anything else the blemishes and stains on the reputation of HKBH and His Torah. Every chilul Hashem is a blemish; recurring ones are larger blemishes. The largest are the ones that are not accidental, but foreseeable and institutionalized in The System. If anyone will deny such institutionalized failures, including here and there the cover-up of abuse and a tolerance for some kinds of enonomic crimes, I will declare myself on Rabbi Landesman’s side.
Regarding abuse, Rabbi Menken writes: “Well, you’d have to ask a therapist, but the empirical evidence is that it remains blessedly rare.” I would love to see the empirical evidence. I do not believe it exists. As far as therapists, I actually did ask a number of frum therapists who deal with abuse, and their response was that they believe the incidence to be roughly equivalent to the general community.

Then there is that unfortunate choice of words in Rabbi Landesman’s essay about “numerous apologists.” It was unfortunate, because it left room for people to think they were directed against two of the most prolific professional apologists for haredim, both of whom are senior contributors to Cross-Currents, and both of whom are frequently and sometimes courageously critical of our community. I confirmed with Rabbi Landesman that he did not have Rabbis Rosenblum and Shafran in mind. I had no doubt about whom he meant. Nor do I have any doubt that there are indeed numerous apologists who refuse to admit to serious deficiencies in the community – at least not when the charge is made by people outside of it. If I had a dollar for everyone like that within ten blocks of my house, I would give up my job and go back to kollel.

One statement of Rabbi Menken’s I find unnecessarily pessimistic. “If we actually imagine that the antipathy of the secular media is genuinely our fault, then hopelessness is the result. We will only work to dismantle Judaism.” Au contraire. Torah is emes; it will survive our ponderings. Many people, however, will not survive triumphalism and denial. The press’ rejection of anything to do with Torah Judaism is contemptible. But sheker ein lah raglayim/ falsehood has no leg to stand on. If something is not shown up to be false, it must have a bit of truth to sustain it. There is often what to complain about, if not to the point of antipathy. I am tired of listening to the despair of people hurt by entrenched problems in the way we treat parnassah, shidduchim, chinuch. I am tired of listening to the pain of parents whose kids went off because the life style was unnecessarily restrictive or narrow. I am tired of hearing from ba’alei teshuvah who feel betrayed, and in some cases have walked out. They were “sold” on Yiddishkeit with descriptions of a community of personal happiness, marital bliss, and intellectual openness – only to discover that some exaggeration had been involved. I am tired of hearing from young marrieds at the end of their kollel careers who now realize that they have no skills and no reasonable chance bederech hateva to support their families.

If we discuss these things, we will be working b’ezras Hashem, to secure Torah for the future, not to dismantle it. And despite the edge in some of the voices on this blog in the past week, I am proud to be part of a forum that does allow for the airing of divergent views, within a Torah framework, and even criticism from the outside.

I personally believe that showing such diversity is the beginning of any solution, rather than part of the problem.

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29 Responses

  1. Zadok says:

    He told them that as far as he knew, no one in the last 1500 years left the derech because he read Homer! I daresay that no one stopped fulfilling mitzvot because of R. Slifkin’s books!

    That is incorrect.I can think of a very well known blog [Removed by editor. We’re not going to advertise that site. But you happen to be wrong. The blogger in question did not find his emunah compromised by the approach of Rabbi Slifkin. To the contrary, the reaction to the books caused in him – and in hundreds of other people – a crisis in belief in rabbinic authority. We call that a ra’aya listor.] that the blogger by his own admission went from defending Slifkin to a public fighter against belief in Hashem/Torah M’Sinai.

    I’m not sure if I understand how the story about Rav Breuer addresses the issues I brought up.In any case note that the Yershalmi about (Sefroim Chitzonim)explicitly refers to Homer as a book that may only be read on a temporary basis (b’akraoy) and the Bavli seems even more Machmir.So I find Rav Breuer’s position of studying it formally as being the one needing explanation.Plus how many people read Homer over the past 1500 years?How did Rav Breuer know that no one went off off the Derech doing so?

    The issues of rabbah & maharat are public, uncontested issues therefore they get public comments.The issue in Teaneck was not, therefore it doesn’t.

  2. dovid landesman says:

    In response to the comment by Reb Zadok –
    Let me tell you a short story. Many years ago a number of rabbeim in YSRH in Washington Heights came to Rav Breuer zt”l to complain that the school taught Greek mythology as part of the high school curriculum. His response? He told them that as far as he knew, no one in the last 1500 years left the derech because he read Homer! I daresay that no one stopped fulfilling mitzvot because of R. Slifkin’s books!
    Don’t you find it just a wee bit strange that the Agudah Moetzet finds it necessary to publicly condemn the coronation of the first “rabba” or “maharat” but completely ignores [at least publicly] the incident in Teaneck? The hundreds of people who heard the speech would seem to be a fairly objective reason to at least publicly clear the air. I guess, however, that there are those among us – and I stress the us because I consider myself a bonafide chareidi – who feel that any sort of self-criticism and examination would be an admission that we aren’t really that great afterall.

  3. Zadok says:

    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!

    This point which appeared in Rabbi Landesmen’s original article is symptomatic of the differences in opinion here.Aside from the obvious difference between (1)a mass produced book and a speech given to at most 300 people and (2)the difference between something which touches on the foundations of our Mesorah and general wrong behavior,(and other reason why the examples are not comparable,)there is one issue I would like to focus on:The expectation that someone could be roundly condemned on the basis of hearsay.I am not saying that Rov in question didn’t say that what was attributed to him, but one can hardly expect a mass condemnation of someone based on what the blogs say he said.(he later claimed to have been taken out of context)Aside from the laws of LH (which require one speaking LH L’Toelas to add all mitigating factors and either be CERTAIN that they have the correct information or stress that they do not) and Sinas Chinom, there is Chiyuv M’Dorays to be dan lkaf zchus in most cases according to all the Rishonim (except for the Rambam whose view is a Machlokes in Achronim)What do all those social critics do with this Chiyuv?What effort is ever made by social critics to understand the situation before self righteous mass condemnation of other people?Did Rav Moshe, Rav Yaakov or RYBS ever engage in such behavior?Etc.

  4. Baruch Pelta says:

    R’ Rosenblum asks if “several columns attacking Derfner and Enderlin make me an Israeli apologist” but then says that to be called a haredi apologist, he would properly require “concrete examples.” I wonder how many columns or citations from his treatments of the gedolim could, in R’ Rosenblum’s opinion, be considered sufficient to place him in that category? More broadly, I am curious as to how R’ Rosenblum defines the word apologist.

  5. DovInBeitShemesh says:

    Reb Yonasan, the problem here is that R’ Landsman gave a number of examples of a general point of needing to address issues and not sweep them under the rug (which in fact is a general point that you’ve made in your own articles), and a huge discussion of one of his examples has drowned out any discussion of the general point he was trying to make.

  6. dr. bill says:

    I suggest that there is something afoot in now two cross-curent rabbis using analogies from Gaza – Goldstone and Al-Dura. Has anyone demonstrated that all is as innocent in Emmanuel as the IDF is of these various false charges? Do ashkenazi/sephardi relations have the same track record of kiddush hashem as the IDF?

    I know that was not said (or even meant) and it is only an analogy.

    HOWEVER, is the innocence of the IDF even remotely as debatable as the truth about Emmanuel?

    Analogies can be 1) wonderful tools used to enlighten/educate or 2)they can also be used for less noble objectives, what some might label sophistry or 3) they can be something pareve. Perhaps I am a biased reader and it is only in the eye of this beholder. But on a day where at the very least we ought to celebrate the kiddush hashem that is the IDF, i find this distressing.

  7. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    I for one never dreamed that Rabbi Landesman had me in mind. But what do I know, I wasn’t even aware that I was an apologist, until my friend Rabbi Adlerstein clued me in.

    I’m appalled by the suggestion that the actual facts in Emmanuel are beside the point because prejudice exists elsewhere. In the notorious Al-Dura hoax, reporter Charles Enderlin was eventually left justifying his actions on the grounds that even if Israeli soldiers had not killed this particular little boy (or even if he was not dead) they had killed others. It could have happened was sufficient to offer it to the world as truth. Larry Derfner, in the Jerusalem Post, subsequently attacked Phillippe Karsenty for exposing Enderlin on the same grounds: Israel has killed others.

    False accusations — if, in fact, they are false — cannot be used as the basis for a general critique.

    Does pointing this out make a chareidi apologist any more than several columns attacking Derfner and Enderlin make me an Israeli apologist?

    Mr. Shain is entitled to his opinions, but there is something deeply offensive in my mind about characterizing others without at least providing concrete examples supporting the charge.

  8. Eli says:

    To Raymond:

    He (G-d) probably is more impressed with you.

    Good point.

  9. Meir says:

    I hope they were blond kids, not blonde kids. That might be a first in any Orthodox shul.

  10. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >I have cousins in the Dati Leumi crowd and there is quite a bit of intermarriage between Askenazim and Sefardim in this crowd

    I always have a laugh when I daven at the local yemenite shul (Dati Leumi). It is the only time in history where little blonde kids have read the targum during the Torah reading with a perfect yemeite havara.

  11. Peri Garfinkel says:

    I agree with Dovid. I have cousins in the Dati Leumi crowd and there is quite a bit of intermarriage between Askenazim and Sefardim in this crowd. Ashkenazi/Sefardi intermarriage in the Chareidi world is much rarer.

    I heard another reason the Ashkenazi/Charaidim give for rejecting Sephardim in their schools. The Ashkenazi Chareidim hardly have any contact with their less religious relatives while the Sephardim keep in contact with their less religious cousins. We see this here in Brooklyn with the Syrians where Bnei Torah daven in the same shul as Mechalelei Shabbos. These Charaidi schools feel that since these frum Sephardim are more exposed to the outside world through their relatives they will negatively influence the insular Ashkenazi Charaidim.

  12. Raymond says:

    Although I plan to do so, I have not yet read any of the above responses to this article, plus I have little idea what the central, specific controversy is all about. Yet from what I think I could ascertain by what the article said, I would like to make a few comments here in response that I hope people will find to be thought provoking.

    While I personally have a kind of love-hate, watch-from-the-sidelines relationship with my local Ultra-Orthodox community, one thing that I do like about them, is that I do think that they more than any other group, most closely represents authentic Jewish tradition of the last several thousand years. That is saying a lot, for it means that they are the standard by which I measure all other approaches to Judaism, even though my particular personality resonates far more with the Modern Orthodox and/or Religious Zionist communities, with a touch of Chassidut thrown in on occasion.

    Having said that, I must say that over the years, I have come to expect less and less from that same community which I just said I hold up as my standard for Judaism. I have had too many negative encounters with them, yet this has served as a kind of maturation process for me: it has helped me realize that people are just people, no matter what labels they try to hide behind. I have come to realize that while Ultra-Orthodox Jews are, in general, a cut above the general population as a whole, that the difference that separates them from everybody else, is really not all that great.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it means that I can feel more relaxed around such people, that I can, so to speak, let my hair down and just be myself, and let the chips fall where they may. If they do not like my lack of religiosity, if they think I am the most shocking heretic they ever met, I simply remind myself that they themselves are not necessarily all that more advanced spiritually than I am. And who really knows who is holy in G-d’s Eyes anyway? Maybe G-d is more impressed when a rebel like me bothers to show up to shul at all, than He is with somebody who has all the outer trappings of a super religious Jew, yet in his daily interactions with people is not all that different from me or anybody else.

    I am not trying to make anybody feel bad here, as much as I am simply trying to give a voice to semi-outcasts like me.

  13. Joe Hill says:

    “It was that racism is rampant in the Torah community. I find it hard to believe that anyone could deny that.”

    I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe that.

  14. dr. bill says:

    Tal Benschar, a school that accepts governement funding, is subject to the governments secular rules – including results. but halevi it was only results, not intent. i for one know nothing of the facts, except as they have been stated by both sides. as my old boss would say – “in God we trust, everyone else bring facts!”

    Frankly, this is not the core issue, although it is certainly the most visceral one. I am more concerned with the regrettable neglect that sephardi chachamim receive in chareidi circles; little is learned of alternative approaches to many halakhic and hashkafic/religious issues from sephardi poskim who lived in communities more relevant to today than eastern europe.

    in areas where i have some expertise (zemanim and shiurim) the differences are often fundamental; anyone remotely familiar with the psakim of certain sefardi luminaries will quickly realize the value of understanding their approach. However, in the more important areas of dealing with various levels of observance while maintaining a community structure, we have yet more to learn.

    it is not sufficient to just address discrimination; we ashkenazim may have a thing or two to learn, as well.

  15. Bob Miller says:

    Schools whose restrictive standards reflect the Torah approach of some Orthodox Jews in a given place become problematical if:

    1. The restrictions include written or unwritten barriers to entry based on “ethnicity” or origin (such as Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Baalei Teshuva…) and not on pertinent facts specific to the families seeking admission for their children.

    and 2. Those Jews living in that place who have a different Torah approach, “ethnicity”, or origin are prevented from operating schools based on their own principles. Prevention can include denial of public funding of the type the other school gets.

    We should be seeing some real illustrations of such cases if they exist, and some effective actions to correct the problem.

  16. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >In this instance, however, I could not disagree with you more. I think that Tal’s appeal to Daas Torah is right on the mark.Do any DL schools have standards? For example, does one have to be Shomer Shabbos to be accepted in a DL school? Does that vary in terms of geography?<

    Some do and some don't. There are DL schools where the majority of kids are from non-Shomer Shabbos families. and there are some DL schools which have no-TV requirements or internet filtration requirements (I have yet to see a DL school with a no internet requirement).

    The schools generally try to best accomodate the needs of their population centers and are generaly pragmatic in their thinking. In general (with some exceptions – especially from the Shas school system), the DL community is much more open and tolerant than the Isareli Chareidi community. They are willing to tollerate a very wide degree of observance in their schools and communities. Many also see an educational value in not rejecting children because their parents are not observant.

    In many ways, the Mamlachti-Dati system can be called the single largest kiruv organization in the world. Many of the products of this system come from traditional families but end up building fully observant families.

  17. lacosta says:

    even if the most extreme haredi version of life is correct [ separate sidewalks, no contact with any zionist institutions even if it would decrease haredi suffering, apparant ‘discrimination’ etc]
    it’s depressing that that adherence to emes to such a degree will cause a lot of collateral damage. i know emes trumps everything — but they did bring the metzora -who says he pursues emes and must repeat all- to the kohen the ish shalom… if so many facets of life look bizarre, repulsive etc to enemies, within and without, it’s a depressing ground to have to play in…

    you know, i was raised that if a person did a shameful act , they covered it up , left the mizrach vant , skulked to the background.
    i know that now, it’s acceptable that no matter what the busha–economic, sexual etc— one can go to jail and come out a hero, get ones place of kavod–or ribitzieye– like nothing happened…

    it’s not the 50’s world anymore, i dont think it’s the world of r steinman and elyahsiv either; and anyway there will be those who would happily stone them too…

    i despair that we could get clean enough for mashiach to just think of why he shouldnt come— we are too far below that level i’m afraid……

  18. dovid says:

    E. Fink: “We don’t need Cross-Currents to tell us how great we are…”

    We keep forgetting (myself included) that Cross Currents’ primary mandate is to enlighten the unaffiliated Jews about Judaism and not to debate the successes and failures of our communities.

  19. dovid says:

    “if the same, and worse [Ashkenazi prejudice against Sephardim], is found in the rest of Israel’s population, is it fair or appropriate for the secular media to portray it as a Charedi problem?”

    Ashkenazi prejudice against Sephardim peaks in two sectors of the Israeli society: the Israeli left-wing elite and the Charedi community. If we use marriage between Ashkenazi and Sephardim as an indicator, such marriages are extremely rare in these two sectors, while fairly common for the rest of the country.

  20. Yaakov Menken says:

    Harry’s comment leaves me, honestly, dumbfounded. By the time I wrote my posts on Emanuel, both Rabbi Landesman here, and Harry on his own blog, had snatched up the bait and accused the residents of Emanuel of racism, hook, line and sinker. I wrote that there’s another side to the story, and Harry now accuses me of a one-sided presentation and attempting to draw conclusions. And on the very next line, he returns to referring to their story as “indicative” of the much larger problem of Ashkenazi prejudice against Sephardim, whereas, if the accounts from those involved are true, it may have nothing to do with prejudice at all. The only word I can use is “hypocritical,” and I expected better.

    Back on his own blog, Harry also claims that I’ve closed off comments about the issue, when, again, that is untrue. Had he read more carefully he would have noticed that I invited comments, via email, from people who actually know something about the situation. So I don’t think it is me that is in denial about his biases, and if the coverage were more accurate, there would be far less to be “defensive” about.

    I will disagree with Rabbi Adlerstein on one point. Humans being human, hopelessness cannot be so easily dismissed. Torah will indeed stand, but people may stop trying when they realize they cannot win. Granted that there is unconscionable prejudice among Charedim which must be blotted out — if the same, and worse, is found in the rest of Israel’s population, is it fair or appropriate for the secular media to portray it as a Charedi problem? I think an objective approach recognizes that bias between Jews is an Israeli problem, limited to no one segment, and must be addressed as such. If there is no racial bias in the Emmanuel case, then using it to trumpet about the problem of bias is likely to be counter-productive.

    It is axiomatic that an objective approach is superior to the subjective — one that neither exaggerates the successes nor inflates the failures. Cross-Currents is not the Yated or HaModia, we are not “preaching to the choir.” We are speaking to an audience that is exposed, on a daily basis, to inflation of our failures and minimization of our successes. Providing balance doesn’t mean a lack of awareness of true failings, it just means focusing upon that which will provide, overall, a more accurate and objective perspective.

  21. E. Fink says:

    RYA:

    Thank you once again for being the voice of reason. That’s twice today that you hit the nail on the head.

    If I may add my $.02…

    It does not help klal yisrael in any way to trumpet our success and sweep our failures under the carpet. Our successes seem trivial in comparison to the litany of serious problem facing klal yisrael that have gone ignored for far too long. Thinking we are “above problems” allows evil to fester in our communities.

    We don’t need Cross-Currents to tell us how great we are…

    It seems that any self criticism should be welcome as simply a change of pace in a world of Yated, HaModia etc where everything always comes up daisies.

  22. Tal Benschar says:

    Charedi Leumi:

    I find your reaction to my post rather strange. We are talking about the policy a communal institution — a school — should adopt in accepting applicants. Who else but the communal leadership is in a position to decide?

    Any standard one adopts by definition will exclude some people and include others. Where to draw the line is a judgment call, and varies on the mission of the individual school, the availability of other religious options in that geographic area, and the religious goals of the school. It is precisely the type of communal question which talmidei chachamim should determine, not just a school principal who happens to have gotten semicha 20 years ago.

    This Charedi school, whether you agree with it or not, determined that to be admitted the child’s home should not have a TV nor have internet access.* That flies in the face of “universal values” but is quite mainstream in Charedi society, at least in EY. (And even in America, TV and internet are frowned upon, although the latter is tolerated for parnassah).

    Should it be illegal for Charedi schools to impose that standard? Does the fact that such a standard is not accepted in either the Chiloni or DL world matter? Does that fact that it disproportionately excludes Sephardi girls as opposed to Ashkenazim matter?

    ___________
    * Do any DL schools have standards? For example, does one have to be Shomer Shabbos to be accepted in a DL school? Does that vary in terms of geography?

    Do you really want a legal regime which says schools are forbidden from imposing any religious standards whatsoever?

  23. Shades of Gray says:

    It is interesting that the title “Something For Everyone” is actually self-plagarized. The previous CC essay with that title, published exactly four years ago, was about the paroches dedicated in memory of Yechiel Dresner hy’d, an executed Irgun fighter. See link to old Cross Current post:

    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2006/05/03/something-for-everyone/

    [YA – I write from Los Angeles, home of the Second Season. But I am touched that people remember more of what I have written than I do.]

  24. cvmay says:

    Was patiently waiting for your pen to hit the paper.
    Thank you, Rabbi Adlerstein.

  25. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >>This relates to the broader question, which can only be decided by Daas Torah, as to what should be the entry criteria for a religious school.&lt<< I am not sure if you are aware, but such an abdigation of personal responsibility is one of the main reasons for the antipathy that has been described in the previous few posts. We live in a world where the vast majority of Jews are capable of forming their own opinions and place a premium not on whether or not communities submit to authority but rather on how they conform to values (and no one outside of the chareidi world sees submission to Daas Torah as a value). As long as the chareidi community continues to hide behind Daas Torah whenever decisions are made that fly in the face of universal values. We live in an age where leadership is expected to have a transparent methodology by which it arrives at decisions. Daas Torah is often the antithesis of such a leadership approach. This is all compounded by the information age in which we live when every decision is made public instantly. What I am trying to say is that such appeals to authority add to the problem and not the solution. Appeals to Daas Torah are simply not tennable except within the walls of the chareidi world. [YA – As you may remember from the old days in shiur, I am with you fully regarding the abdication of personal responsibility. It irks me to no end to see signs around the neighborhood announcing a new Tehilim group at Mrs. Pincus’ home, bearing the legend, “This group is formed with the approval of Gedolei Yisroel.” ‘Nuf said. In this instance, however, I could not disagree with you more. I think that Tal’s appeal to Daas Torah is right on the mark. This is precisely the kind of question that should be put to those whose decisions are the product of decades of immersion in Torah. Think of the parallel in the United States. In the decades after Brown v. Board of Education and right up to the present day, millions of Americans grappled with a similar problem. Subsequent court decisions established the principal that facially neutral practices could be considered discriminatory based on disparate impact. So where do we draw the line? How vigorous should municipalities be in providing ethnic balance in the classroom through bussing, when the hours spent on the bus impact negatively on classroom performance? Should we try to speed up the dismantling of discriminatory policies through the reverse discrimination known as affirmative action? Reasonable people have debated, and continue to debate these and related issues. (Some have pointed out that the election of Barack Obama created a major obstacle to the realization of further progress needed and desired by the Black community. Whites who used to be sympathetic now argue to their Black friends, “You guys arrived. One of yours is in the White House. Don’t bother us with any claims that you are still discriminated against,” – even though many of us believe that there is merit to that argument.) Throughout Jewish history, when groups sought to institute measures that had strong arguments and counterarguments, they made a bee-line to the chief talmid chacham of their locale, and often to the greatest talmidei chachamim of the generation. The Responsa literature is laden with examples; they are, in my mind, the greatest argument for the antiquity of one form of Daas Torah, albeit no one had assigned a name to the practice. IIRC, Prof. Lawrence Kaplan, no fan of the present incarnations of Daas Torah, described (and had no problem with) this practice. A strong makor for this is Bava Basra 9A, IMHO. Members of a trade or craft group can vote upon and enforce regulations of their own making, which have no basis in Torah law. They can enforce them as well. They can regulate hours, wages, etc. If there is an “adam chashuv” in the city, however, the Gemara rules that there regulations are of no effect is he is not consulted and agreeable. Ramban explains that his approval is necessary to insure that their regulations do not have some subtle deleterious effect upon other groups. Essentially, the Gemara thinks it entirely appropriate that the leading talmid chacham weight the issues of impact on competing interest groups – precisely the issue regarding disparate impact upon Sephardim in Tal’s hypothetical. While parts of the Orthodox world have no room at all for the institution of Daas Torah, I have to part ways with them on this. The application of Daas Torah in this case is right on the money. I would rather be asking too many questions of this type than be asking none at all – or not have people worth asking. (I imagine it is a consequence of the way I was brought up that I cannot understand for the life of me why people in the DL community do not bring more and more questions to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlit”a, who seems to stand head and shoulders over everyone else that I am aware of.)]

  26. Harry Maryles says:

    I tend to mostly agree with your take on this. The truth is we don’t really know the facts in Emmanuel. Hearing one side of the issue from a biased perspective – no matter how sincere it sounded – is no basis for any conclusions. This is what Rabbi Menken tried to do – all while admitting he did not have the facts.

    This episode is indicative of the much larger problem of Ashkenazi prejudice against Sephardim. It is – as you point out – very real and ought not to be dismissed just because one perceives the situation in Emmanuel as a manufactured one by an anti Charedi Supreme Court.

    Frankly I also question whether anti Charedi bias is institutionalized in their court system. I’m sure it has happened in individual cases but I doubt one can show any evidence of it being pervasive. There are after all some Frum Justices on the court.

    As for R’ Menken’s realization that there are problems – he may indeed. But his apologetics (what you call ‘explaining them away’) amount to a kind of denial in my view. I would prefer if Rabbi Menken would be less defensive about it.

  27. Daniel Shain says:

    I appreciate Rabbi Adlerstein’s balanced and insightful approach to this discussion. I would have liked Rabbi Landesman to have written a follow-up piece, since his “silence” is being taken by other commentators to be a sign of the weakness of his position.

    I don’t understand Rabbi Adlerstein’s concern about the phrase “numerous apologists”. I DID assume that Rabbi Landesman was referring to Rabbi Rosenblum and Rabbi Shafran. Rabbi Landesman’s description of the apologists fits the bulk of their writings, and Rabbi Adlerstein himself calls them “prolific professional apologists”. What makes “Cross-currents” so valuable (at least to me) is that it often presents a more insightful and constructive view of orthodox life than what Rabbi Rosenblum and Rabbi Shafran have been writing about for years.

    [YA – Had I even suspected that R Landesman meant Rabbis Rosenblum and Shafran, I would never have posted his piece. Even if I would have agreed, I wouldn’t have done so, simply because of my close friendship with both of them. When others thought that R Landesman had them in mind, I checked back at the source. He did not mean them. While I know that substantial numbers of readers disagree with every one of our writers, it is easy to demonstrate that both R Rosenblum and R Shafran have spoken openly and critically about problems in the haredi world. R Rosenblum in particular is always under fire for pointing out problems – and suggesting solutions – probably with greater frequency than anyone in the haredi world.

    That said, I appreciate the fact that readers do find both diversity and stimulation on the pages of CC]

  28. Tal Benschar says:

    I am likewise appalled by the argument that rejecting Sephardim is about maintaining standards, not about racism. Do people not recognize that racism, fundamentally, is about treating people not as individuals, but according to presupposed characteristics of their group, class or ethnicity?

    While I don’t disagree with what you are saying, there is a touch of naivete and oversimplification here. Since the Emmanuel case was dealt with by the secular Israeli Supreme Court, a short excursion into secular discrmination law might be illumniating. In American secular law (and perhaps also Israeli secular law?) there are two ways to prove discrimination: disparate intent and disparate impact. Disparate intent means when one intentionally picks one group over another: e.g., one let’s in whites but not blacks into the school, to use the classic example. I think R. Adler means to say that disparate intent discrimination is anathema to any Torah Jew, and that far I agree.

    Disparate impact means that a plaintiff can prove discrimination by showing that a facially neutral policy that statistically disrminates. To use one real life example (in which Sonia Sotamayor, then a Judge on the Court of Appeals and now a Supreme Court Justice, sat on the case), suppose a fire department designs a written entrance test about fire safety and theory of combatting fires. Prima facie that is not discrminatory. But, it turns out that few minorities can pass the test; the passing group is overwhelmingly (although not exclusively) white. In such a case, once the plaintiff shows the “disparate [racial] impact” of the test, it is up to the employer (here the fire department) to prove that the test has a legitimate purpose related to qualifying firefighters to do their job. The Court ultimately evaluates whether the facially neutral test is in fact a legitimate job qualification or not. Needless to say, this theory is highly controversial — why should a Court be in a better position than a fire department to know what is a legitimate qualification for firefighters?

    From what I have read here, it sounds like Emmanuel is a disparate impact, not disparate intent, situation. The school adopted certain charedi standards. Some Sephardi girls and their families did qualify, but many more did not. This now leads to charges of discrimination.

    This is where the danger lies: you now have a secular Supreme Court deciding what is or is not a legitimate criterion for admission to a charedi school. Given the Supreme Court’s track record, I have little confidence this will be done with anything like the appropriate respect for religion and Charedi educational sensibilities.

    I think some of those who have stated that rejecting Sephardim is justifiable on the grounds of maintaining standards meant to argue in this vein: not that standards should not be applied individually, but that in fact if you apply the strict standards of the Beis Yaakov Chasidi you will end up rejecting most Sephardi applications.

    The question is whether there is anything wrong with adopting religious standards which, though applied individually, will nevertheless result in “disparate impact.” This relates to the broader question, which can only be decided by Daas Torah, as to what should be the entry criteria for a religious school. IMHO, this can only be decided with an understanding of the local situation. Clearly, a town with only one religious option is very different from a town with five options.

  29. Bob Miller says:

    Putting aside all issues of bias, propaganda, defensiveness, you name it, are we all not pained to see instances where we are not a light to the nations, and don’t we all want deep-seated communal and institutional problems to be solved in such a way that the good results are visible?. This doesn’t happen overnight and totally in the open, but it would help if we could detect a positive trend.