Are They All Really Resha’im?

Do you know about the CD that is causing much grief to yeshiva-trained Americans? There is no mp3 version. It is not a message from Lipa, or Mattisyahu, or a Modern Orthodox subversive. CD here does not stand for compact disk, but for cognitive dissonance. The difference between reality the way we have been taught to accept it, and the way we personally encounter it. Cognitive dissonance is driving more and more of us to an uncomfortable psychic place. We dwell firmly in the charedi world in which we grew up, and in which we raised our children. We fully live the charedi life style, but our hearts are sometimes not so enthusiastic about it, and our minds are increasingly alienated from it. We are victims of repeating memes with which we were bombarded, and then discovering that they are not true.

Some of these memes have come into sharper focus with the legislation of the current Israeli government. One of those, repeated again and again in the charedi press both in Israel and the US, is that the government is composed of rasha’im who are intent on fighting a war to the finish to obliterate Torah.

I have no doubt that there are people in the government, both elected and appointed, who will do all in their power to try to stamp out Torah, c”v. I also have no doubt that they are a minority element. I find it difficult – impossible, really – to square the slogans I read about in the charedi press with recent experiences. Here is a report about a few of them. It will be spread out over multiple postings.

A call from the Israeli Consulate asked that I attend a small breakfast get-together with the Consul General and some visitors from Israel. The phone connection was poor; I did not fully understand who the visitors were or the purpose of the meeting. I knew it had something to do with government plans about charedi inclusion. I make it a practice to be as helpful as humanly possible to any request from an Israeli governmental official, so I readily accepted.

Two things bring Los Angeles traffic to its knees: Precipitation is one. (We are not used to weather. Any weather.) A Presidential visit is the other. President Obama’s presence in the city caused a massive disruption of traffic right during rush hour, so I arrived 40 minutes late at Eilat Café, to find a group patiently waiting for me. David Siegel, the Consul General, has been a national trend-setter in reaching out to different groups within the Jewish community, including charedim. We had discussed and debated government policy towards charedim in Israel several times before, including at a small meeting of charedim at my home. He wanted me to hear about one aspect of the draft plan straight from the source. Moreover, he wanted them to hear from me what American charedim thought about their efforts.

Both of the visitors work for the Ministry of Science and Technology. Both were kippah-wearing dati’im. Sar-Shalom Jerbi did almost all the talking. He is the General Director of Sherut Leumi/National Service, the alternative to army service that has been the favored option for Dati Leumi girls.

Mr. Jerbi was enthusiastic as he explained his background and the evolution of his thinking. Typical DL trajectory: Bnei Akiva leadership; years in a hesder yeshiva. He was a tad more acquainted with charedim than others, however. His grandfather was Rav Getz z”l, the former Rav HaKotel. He came into his current position, therefore, with more of an appreciation than others for positive aspects of the charedi community. This led him to battle – successfully – against some original conceptions about the place of charedim within Sherut Leumi. (Readers will recall that the new policy calls for charedim to declare after their 21st birthday whether they will report for army service, for national service, or ignore both and continue learning. The first two options will be incentivized; the third will not carry the threat of jail time, but will forfeit the incentives.)

Mr. Jerbi’s task was to imagine forms and conditions for charedi male participation in Sherut Leumi, a program in which participants spend time in organizations that enhance the quality of life in the State. He has succeeded to date in drawing some 3000 Arabs into the program, all of them working in agencies serving the Arab community. (Traditionally, Arabs do not serve in the IDF. Druse have been an exception. More recently, Arab Christians have enlisted in larger numbers.) He founded programs to take kids at risk and turn them around through programs of productive service combined with individual counseling. He currently has 700 such kids serving. He set up a similar program for “special needs” youth, providing them with an opportunity to see themselves as productive members of society.

He applied himself to finding suitable areas for charedi service. He immediately identified three areas: classroom education, gemachs, and working with kids at risk within the charedi community. The last two sound like shoe-ins, and sometimes can be uncomplicated. This is not so when it comes to larger, national efforts. Jerbi had candidates interested in working with Magen David Adom – but the work environment was mixed. He asked for a separate work space for male charedim, and was successful in getting it. In these and similar applications, Jerbi asked for – and got – the ability to limit the commitment to four hours a day, over two years. This way, charedi males can fulfill their service requirement while preserving the bulk of the day to learn, if they wish, or to seek other employment.

There was intense opposition to allowing classroom teaching to meet the requirements of National Service. Jerbi could not overcome resistance to the feeling of many that allowing this would simply pay for rabbeim to continue as before educating their students to stay away from any kind of association or cooperation with the government. (Those who serve are not unpaid volunteers. They are compensated.) Jerbi succeeded in convincing highers-up that primary education is different. Thus, one option within National Service will be serving as rabbeim in the classrooms of grades 1-6, at least in areas that the government sees as needing more teachers in front of the room.

Jerbi realized that creating a cadre of charedi police could go a long way in better servicing the community. He fought for a commitment by the National Police that charedi inductees would not have to share a squad car with a female colleague, and that they would be able to return home every night during the months of their training. He argued that there were special security considerations in having such police, and got the government to increase the monthly stipend from 2500 NIS to 4000 NIS.

(My response to the two officials is not as important. For the curious, however, I conveyed that I understood and appreciated what they were doing, and offered berachos that they have the siyata de-Shmaya to make the proper decisions. But I stressed in the strongest terms how counterproductive Yair Lapid’s actions had been after unveiling his program for charedi participation in army and other service. Like others here in the US who have been in contact with the government, I underscored the damage that had been done to existing programs by a diabolic pincers movement: strengthening the position of the most extreme rejectionists in the charedi world by giving the impression of a holy war being waged against them; shooting charedim who wanted to enter the workforce in the kneecaps by drastic cuts in the stipends for children, curtailing the possibility of parents taking advantage of training programs and opportunities. The cutbacks were the equivalent of California trying to get citizens to be energy- and environment-conscious by giving up incandescent bulbs for fluorescents, and then tripling the price of fluorescent bulbs the next day.)

Is Jerbi trying to obliterate Torah? What about those in the government who had to authorize the special consideration (including the Prime Minister himself) and the little tweaks to make the positions charedi-friendly? Are they all part of a diabolical plot to gradually wean charedim away from Torah and deliver them to the flesh-pots of Tel Aviv? Or are they acting on what they see as legitimate concerns for the financial viability and social cohesiveness of the Jewish State?

You decide.

Decades ago, I had occasion to visit a brilliant young Leningrad refusenik in his apartment. He told me that the authorities in the former Soviet Union asked you to look in the mirror and tell yourself each day that you were sane. But when you looked there, you did not see sanity. I’ve tried repeating many of the lines that come from Eretz Yisrael. But when I look in the mirror, I can tell that I don’t believe them anymore.

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55 comments to Are They All Really Resha’im?

  • Joseph

    Moshe

    I did not “pepper MY ideology with some quotes.” The simple meanings of those quotes are not debated. They speak the ideology of the Torah. I never said Reb Moshe’s p’sakim are no longer legitimate; all I did say and mean is that the responsible thing to do is to evaluate whether the current situation warrants that those p’sakim, that YOU hold are so clearly relevant and applicable to the current situation, actually do apply. Throwing Reb Moshe’s sons into the mix does not address this issue; it merely masks YOUR ideology with a superficially superior air of legitimacy. There are many Talmidim of Rav Moshe who are willing to look at the reality of a situation and address whether a p’sak of Reb Moshe applies to it or not.

  • Moshe

    Joseph,

    The “simple” meaning of many quotes in Chazal is debated. (Do you think “Talmud Torah keneged kulam” is unanimously understood kipshuto? Or do you think “Gadol Haneheneh Miyigieo yoser miyerei Shamayim” is unanimously understood kipshuto? Or do you think “Gadol Talmud Torah yoser mehatzalas nefashos” is unanimously taken kipshuto? etc. etc.). The Chazon Ish writes in a letter to R’ Elchonon Wasserman that isolating a quote or two or three from Chazal and forging an outlook based on it is a very unreliable way to develop a Torah outlook. The question is when and whether they apply, how they correspond and interplay with other quotes, how the calculus applies to a given situation, and what does it mean lema’aseh.

    Ask Reb Moshe’s sons if HE meant his ideology as presented in those Teshuvos to be applied to the current Charedi world in EY and you’ll have your answer. If you feel there are other, more reliable interpreters of Reb Moshe’s outlook, by all means. (If you mean whether R’ Ploni feels that RMF’s outlook ought to be applied to the current situation, perhaps he ought first be asked if he thought it ever to be true, especially considering that one of the primary teshuvos was addressed to the principal of Ner Israel High School in 1982!)

    Alternatively, feel free to point out – with quotes – where you think Reb Moshe’s analysis of the sources might be taken merely as his approach to a specific situation as opposed to an overarching distillation of timeless Hashkafas HaTorah, and why you think that specific situation is not comparable to that which exists in EY today.

  • Joseph

    Moshe

    This will be my last response because this discussion would be better conducted in a private forum for multiple reasons.

    You are presenting an approach that rejects the plain and simple understanding of multiple ma’amarei Chazal, as understood by countless halachic authorities, throughout the ages, in exchange for mystical understandings, that albeit they are emes, nonetheless, they do not take the place of the understanding of the Rishonim.

    The Rishonim had a broad and complete grasp of all the divrei Chazal necessary to reach their conclusions regarding the practical applications of these ma’amarim. It is upon them that I, and other like-minded bnei Torah, rely.

    The Chazon Ish’s letter is but one more example of needing to know the background of the responsa and who and what he was referring to.

    The fact that one of the letters of Reb Moshe ZT”L was addressed to the principal of Ner Yisrael, in 1982, when Ner Yisrael is a very different place in a very different world more than thirty years later truly makes my point.

    There are Talmidim of Reb Moshe ZT”L who are just as much an authority of what Reb Moshe would have held today, who are not his sons. A Gadol’s sons do not have a monopoly on his Torah. Among those Talmidim, there are those who would be the first to protest directly using their Rav’s teshuvos to decide such time-sensitive she’eilos as the ones under discussion. I have had the first-hand zechus (too many times) of being given mussar by talmidim of Reb Moshe ZT”L, for quoting Igros Moshe directly in response to or in my presentation of she’eilos.

    I don’t deem it appropriate to point out where I think Reb Moshe’s analysis may be taken as his approach to a specific situation as opposed to an overarching distillation of timeless Torah Hashkafa, nor why I think that specific situation is not comparable to that which exists in Eretz Yisrael today. The comment forum is not one conducive to true respectful communication, especially between people who, we both can admit, have very differing philosophies regarding the very meaning of certain words and phrases.

    Finally, to paraphrase your quote from the Chazon Ish ZT”L: Isolating a quote or two or three from an Acharon and forging an outlook based on it is a very unreliable way to develop a Torah outlook. The question is when and whether they apply, etc.

  • Moshe

    Fair enough. I would just add two points:

    1) There is nothing at all mystical about RMF’s Teshuvos. I, too, have had significant exposure to some of his Talmidim. I actually chuckled when I saw the word “mystical” attached to Reb Moshe.

    2) I respectfully venture (with a strong degree of confidence) that you find it difficult to square Reb Moshe’s outlook with your own, period. Your raising of the time and place aspect, which, in all honesty, is simply non-existent in any of these teshuvos (actually that’s not quite correct; he makes it clear when he is deviating from his ultimate model when making reluctant *concessions* to American zeitgeist), just make the inevitable dissonance easier.

    All the best.

  • Joseph

    For those who saw the above response to my last one, let me clarify that I was in no way characterizing Reb Moshe ZT”L’s outlook as mystical. I was referring to those who would deem to freeze his p’sakim and not recognize the very different overall reality that we live in today. Many halachic decisions in the first fifty years after the holocaust were made with regard to rebuilding the Torah world that had been almost completely decimated. Even when that has not been an explicitly stated factor in the policy behind the p’sakim, there is enough evidence from the conversations amongst the members of the Moetzes, of which reb moshe was the head,as well as interviews with them, that suggests that rebuilding the Yeshiva world was very much a central and fundamental factor in many of their policy decisions with regard to the development of the yeshiva world.

    What has changed is very clear:
    When my father went away to yeshiva in 1949, there were less than 1000 yeshiva bochurim and kollel yungerleit in the entire world! Even in the 80’s it would be hard to say that the numbers had yet surpassed what they were in pre-war Europe. However, today there are more yeshivalite and kollel yungerleit learning full time, at one time, than there ever were in the history of the world since ma’amad har Sinai! Today, every male with yir’as shomayim tries to learn in yeshiva.

    To suggest that Rav Moshe held of a system that produces many people proficient with limud Torah, but most of them unable to support their families and honor their Halachic matrimonial obligations (unless living off the dole of the government)is a great big question mark. To say that Rav Moshe was dealing with the issues within the reality and urgencies of the time when he answered those questions is plausible and rational. Yeshivos are no longer only for the elite who will most likely be our Rabbanim, Roshei Yeshivos, Dayanim, Morei Hora’a, etc. The word “yeshiva” today has taken on a different meaning. It would be ludicrous to draw a direct and broad-stroked conclusion for the yeshiva world today from a p’sak given in a time when yeshivos were serving a different purpose and therefore meant something different. A p’sak for yeshivos back then was a p’sak for a certain class of the population of the chareidi world. Today, all the chareidi world goes to yeshiva, so it would mean stretching that p’sak to be about all the chareidi world.