Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Who Represents Ner Israel?

Way back during the Great Torah-Science Controversy of 2004-5, one of the strangest aspects of that entire distressing episode (which a certain rabbi recently likened to "a hundred-car pile-up in the fog") was the role of Rav Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Israel in Baltimore. I had known Rav Feldman for many years. When the troubles began, he somehow found out right away, even before any pashkevillim were posted, and called me to offer encouragement. He told me that "Anyone who reads your books properly knows that you are acting lesheym Shamayim and that you are being mezakeh the public." He also recommended that I move to the US, where I would not encounter opposition to my writings. In the ensuing months, he made extensive efforts to prevent the ban from snowballing, including unsuccessful meetings with Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, and flying to Israel for a day in order to personally meet with Rav Elyashiv about it.

However, six months later, Rav Feldman made a complete about-turn. He wrote an extensive and rather bizarre essay in which he attempted to entirely justify the ban.

Immediately preceding the release of this essay, Rav Feldman called me for a long meeting. He told me that he had spent the last few weeks in Israel and that he had come under fire for supposedly supporting me. He wasn't happy with that and wanted to make it clear otherwise. And he was upset that the Gedolim had been painted as fools.

Still, even with his explanation, it was a rather strange reversal. Some people told me that Rav Feldman has two conflicting aspects to him: the Baltimore side, and the Bnei Brak side. It was the Bnei Brak side that had prevailed.

But did Rav Feldman's final stance - that it is heresy to say that the universe is billions of years old, that evolution occurred, and that the Sages were fallible in science - reflect the attitude of Ner Israel?

Many people assured me that it didn't. A number of rabbis who are alumni of Ner Israel told me about conversations that they had had with the legendary late Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Israel, Rav Yaakov Weinberg. He had told them that the world was obviously much more than a few thousand years old. He had also told them that there was no problem in saying that man evolved from animals, as long as one accepts that man is on a higher spiritual plane. A number of people told me that although Rav Feldman had been brought in to Ner Israel as Rosh Yeshivah, he wasn't really representative of Ner Israel.

The reason why I mention all this today is that a firestorm has erupted over MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who is a member of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, the nemesis of the charedim in Israel (although, in truth, probably the best thing that ever happened to them). Rabbi Lipman is a graduate of Ner Israel, from the era when Rav Yaakov Weinberg was Rosh Yeshivah. The Hebrew Mishpachah magazine printed a letter from Rav Aharon Feldman insisting that MK Lipman's positions do not at all reflect the approach of either Ner Israel or Rav Yaakov Weinberg.

Personally, I have absolutely no idea if Rabbi Lipman's positions reflect the approach of Ner Israel or Rav Yaakov Weinberg.

But I know that Rav Feldman's positions don't.

38 comments:

  1. Do you know Rabbi Lipman? Could you perhaps explain why he joined up with Yesh Atid?

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  2. Here's an interview with him: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/the-haredi-mk-fighting-religious-separatism-an-interview-with-rabbi-dov-lipman/2013/04/10/

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  3. R Feldman also calls R Lipman a rasha in a recording available on Matzav.

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  4. Ner Israel has changed and continues to change.
    Rav Nahum Rabinovich, Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder yeshiva in Maale Adumim, is a musmakh of NIRC, and he definitely represents a lot of what NIRC was about it its early days. My grandfather was very close with R. Ruderman, and I can offer stories that paint him as something very different from today's Haredi gedolim. But today's Haredi gedolim are today's Haredi gedolim, and to claim that they don't represent the "real" Haredi/NIRC hashkafa is akin to those Catholics who don't accept Vatican II. The train has left the station.

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  5. As a long time student of NIRC - and a student at the same time as Lipman - while the Yeshiva has changed with the times to say that Lipman represents Rabbi Weinberg's position would be false. Rabbi Weinberg would be standing up and using stronger language (his style was more forceful). Although I venture to say that Lipman would not be saying all that he has if his Rebbi was still alive.
    In this case I believe Rabbi Feldman represents the entire hanhalah.

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  6. NIRC has certainly changed its tone from when we moved to Baltimore 25 years ago, but so has Baltimore's Jewish community in general as it continues its move to the "right." Twenty years ago, the bochrim were a mix of kippa types and shirt types. Now there is no such visible diversity. Personally I don't think there is anything "Baltimore" about the RY; he is all "Bnei Brak;" and I think he would believe my comment is a compliment!

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  7. I don't know anything about the former Roshei Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael but what I can say is that even 20 years ago they regarded participation in their university program a type of B'dieved compromise. It successfully attracted many MO families to send their boys. However, learning exclusively, as opposed to learning a parnasah, was still the L'hatchila path.

    I'm not sure what precipitated RAFs response. But, I did see a recent story that R. Lipman pointed to some pre-state pictures of the Kotel to demonstrate that there was mixed prayer at the Kotel in the past and therefore separation is not required today too. As a politician that may be an acceptable tactic to demonstrate that there is no long standing "local custom" for The Wall. However, as a Rabbi, I'm sure he would have to agree that the pre-state situation where Jews did not have sovereign authority of the Kotel and prayer was irregular, is not at all comparable to the situation today.

    Lesson: Mixing Politics and Rabbinics is a BAD IDEA. (And not just for Chareidi gedolim)

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  8. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I greatly admire & support R. Lipman. I hope he is successful.

    But surely you know that he is out of step with the current Yeshivah world, including Ner Israel.
    Why pretend otherwise?

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  9. "But did Rav Feldman's final stance - that it is heresy to say that the universe is billions of years old, that evolution occurred, and that the Sages were fallible in science - reflect the attitude of Ner Israel? Many people assured me that it didn't...

    Personally, I have absolutely no idea if Rabbi Lipman's positions reflect the approach of Ner Israel or Rav Yaakov Weinberg. But I know that Rav Feldman's positions don't."


    Like it or not, Rav Feldman IS Ner Yisroel. And Rav Feldman's positions ARE the positions of Ner Yisroel.

    You can have an academic discussion whether RYY had different positions. But even if you think he did, RAF is, by definition, the standard bearer of what is Ner Yisroel right now.

    "A number of rabbis who are alumni of Ner Israel told me about conversations that they had had with the legendary late Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Israel, Rav Yaakov Weinberg. He had told them that the world was obviously much more than a few thousand years old. He had also told them that there was no problem in saying that man evolved from animals, as long as one accepts that man is on a higher spiritual plane. A number of people told me that although Rav Feldman had been brought in to Ner Israel as Rosh Yeshivah, he wasn't really representative of Ner Israel."

    Anonymous hearsay with these so-called alumni and their alleged conversations, have no meaning, credibility or value.

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  10. Adam from ManchesterMay 8, 2013 at 3:09 AM

    Does it really matter, I wonder?
    Has he said, "my view is the view of Ner Yisrael"?
    If he merely states that he approves of certain aspects of his alma mater then he is not claiming to represent it.

    Rabbi Asher's rant in the knesset surely displays why anybody with integrity would want to be described as anything BUT chareidi.

    Surely the whole point is that we need to free ourselves from having to curtail our independence of thought and from behaving like some kind of automaton.

    (I must say that R. Lipman's use of "chared b'dvar hashem" is a bit disingenuous as it doesn't really cover what is meant by 'chareidism' in current usage!)

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  11. Will Hill,

    R' Aharon Feldman may be the rosh now but certainly does not represent Ner Israel historically.

    I spent many wonderful years in the yeshiva before Rabbi Feldman arrived.

    His views do not even represent the views of the majority of the hanhala.

    Sadly, Ner Israel suffers from an inferiority complex and is trying to bolster its "standing" in the more Charedi yeshiva world.

    What a shame.

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  12. Why does anyone actually care what any of these people say? It doesn't really seem that honesty (or common sense) is much of a factor in many (or most) rabbinical pronouncements these days.

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  13. I have a clarifying question - when you make the statement 'that evolution occurred', I would like to know what you mean by evolution.

    Do you mean that there is common descent - that somehow or other life transformed from an early ancestor into the various life-forms that we know today - although how that happened we do not know.

    Or do you (also) mean that we know how that happened - with the twin mechanism of genetic mutations plus natural selection being the main driving force behind evolutionary change.

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  14. I'm primarily referring to common descent. The mechanism appears to be genetic mutations plus natural selection, but it doesn't really make a difference what the mechanism is, as I explain in my book.

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  15. As for you acting leshem shomayim, my question is: do you mind if people don't buy into evolution theory or contemporary cosmogony? I attended a class with you once where it appeared that you were on a mission to convince frum people that evolution is a fact. That to me would not be acting leshem shomayim but leshem something else. It you need the material to help someone overcome obstacles to being observant, that's another matter.

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  16. Whether or not his Hashkafos are the same as his predecessors', Rav Feldman is the Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Yisroel. So of course he speaks for the yeshivah. What Rav Ruderman or Rav Weinberg would say about Rav Lipman's politics we cannot know for certain, and, in any case, isn't really relevant. When it comes to matters of hadracha of this sort, one has to know the situation so political pronouncements made in different circumstances even by the greatest of Rabbonim are of limited relevance. We can learn something from how they approached the problems of their day, but applying their pronouncements directly to different circumstances is just foolish.

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  17. do you mind if people don't buy into evolution theory or contemporary cosmogony?

    Not really, as long as they tolerate others who do. However, if I was more passionate about truth, then I would probably be more passionate about convincing frum people that evolution is true - leshem Shamayim. Chosmo shel HKBH emes and all that.

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  18. "What Rav Ruderman or Rav Weinberg would say about Rav Lipman's politics we cannot know for certain, and, in any case, isn't really relevant. "

    Rav Feldman seems to think that it is relevant.

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  19. AHG-
    The reason there was no mechitzah (separation between men and women) at the Kotel before 1948 was because the British authorities, knuckling under to Arab threats as usual, would not allow one. It was not because the people praying didn't want it.
    The TARPAT riots of 1929 that lead to the infamous massacre in Hevron was due to an attempt to place a mechitzah at the Kotel, which the Mufti used to claim that the Jews were "trying to take over the mosques on the Temple Mount"! Quite a stretch from putting a small partition to conquest of the Har HaBayit.

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  20. I'm not sure I agree with you that there is no problem with the mechanism. I started to write a response here why I think so, but as it become rather long I published it instead on my site.

    If you are interested in reading it, you can find it here:

    http://morethinking.com/2013/theological-problem-theory-evolution/

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  21. Y. Ben David, the Jewish presence in Palestine did not begin with the British. Is there any record of the Jews trying to place a mechitzah during the period of Ottoman rule? Why not? In hachi nami, things get frummer all the time. When I was at the Rambam's kever in 1996 there was no mechitzah bissecting the monument. When I returned in 2004 there was. All this proves is that at some point some people decided a mechitzah belongs where there hadn't been one, and they succeeded in putting one there.

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  22. I was in NIRC for seven years, beginning when R. Weinberg was still giving the shiur klalli, and ended when R. Feldman was. NIRC has always been very diverse, regardless of what the guys are wearing. To say R. Feldman is or representative of NIRC is like saying he's represntative of orthodox Jews generally. Meaningless.

    There has always been two factions in NIRC: The Ruderman/Weinberg/Weisbord faction (a chain of son in laws); and the Nueberger faction. The two factions have different approaches and hashkofos. Scuttlebutt holds that when R. Weinberg died in 1999,there was mutual agreement that no one was ready to become the next rosh yeshivah, for several different reasons. Thus, R. Feldman was brought by the late R. Neuberger under explict terms that he was a placeholder with no yerusha rights to the office. So goes the scuttlebutt. Point is, R. Feldman came to NIRC after 40-50 years away from it. It's not in his blood.

    People get frummer in old age, and its quite apparent R. Feldman has too. Possibly he's been affected by society generally. Also, the inferiority complex someone described above is true. It shouldnt be, because NIRC is head and shoulders above every yeshivah in North America, and perhaps worldwide, in terms of the quality of its learning and the numbers of its graduates in various positions around the world. It's forumala of allowing torah and college together [but, unlike YU, under terms of a sort of unofficial bideived truce] has proven an unparalled success. But still, for whatever reason, NIRC leadership is always looking over its shoulder at Lakewood. Very possibly R. Feldman has absorbed this ethos and wants to establish his bona fides with the moetzes crowd. Dont ever think that just because someone is old, he's not susceptible to vainglory. Not saying this is for sure true here, but very possible.

    In any event, its impossib

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  23. Seems like "Orthodox" Judaism praises who can be the most fanatical these days. No brains needed anymore!

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  24. Did Rabbi Feldman ever respond to your letter?

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  25. Even if Rabbi Lipman was 100% right i dont understand something. Does he really think that he represents the charedi community? Did anybody ask him to "fix" them?Even if he REALLY did have their best interest of in mind ,do you think Yair Lapid also does? REALLY? he has NOTHING to do with the community and never did. He is not part of the community and never will be. if he really cared he would speak to someone from the community and figure something out with them. if you really care i have a great way to fix the NFL? anyone??????

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  26. Did anybody ask him to "fix" them?

    Sure. Rav Ovadiah Yosef's daughter, for one.

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  27. "Did anybody ask him to "fix" them?

    Sure. Rav Ovadiah Yosef's daughter, for one"

    I really hope that was a joke. Is she the one i go to when i'm not sure of what to do? Did anybody ask her to represent them? Does her own father even listen to her that all of a sudden she is the one with the secret "FIX'?

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  28. She's the one who runs a charedi college from which 50 percent of the boys drop out due to their lack of math and English. So, yes, I think that her request counts for something.

    But the truth is, there are many, many people who are desperate for someone to fix the problems with charedi society. Including charedim.

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  29. Seriously, "seriously"? Do you not know who you're talking about?

    http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/147000/adina-bar-shalom-courageous-haredi-leader/

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  30. you might be right but seriously why not have someone that is from that world ?even if dov lipman is really "charedi" like he claims does anyone think that Yair lapid is? does anyone expect anyone from that world to trust and listen to that guy? if the answer is NO then he really doesnt have anybody but his own interest in mind.he can claim to have the best interest of the STATE in mind but he cant claim to be the representative of the chareidim
    P.S. nobody elected him either. he is the 19th seat of yair lapids party and i promise you that not 10% of "his voters" even knew his name.

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  31. "Meanwhile, earlier this year, Bar Shalom made headlines in a different realm when she was part of a delegation of Israelis meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the West Bank headquarters of the P.A., in Ramallah. The purpose of the delegation was to advance the peace process by launching an organization called Yisrael Yozemet (Israel Initiates), which calls on Israel to conduct negotiations based on the 2002 Arab League peace proposal. The proposal offered the possibility of full diplomatic ties in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 border

    Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/147000/adina-bar-shalom-courageous-haredi-leader/#ixzz2SpGieR1P"

    oh yes!!!!!!!! she is the one to "FIX" us.
    COME ON MAN!!!!!!
    she is a chareidi ??????? seriously!!!!!!!!!!!

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  32. "seriously", you are quite right. American Chareidim and Israeli Chareidim and very different.

    Israeli Chareidim think that the O-U is only good for nuts and dried fruit, and that having a job, even in Chinuch, is something to keep secret from one's neighbors.

    Is Lipman an Israeli Chareidi? By no means! Is he a rabbi, a Talmid Chacham who has spent years learning in a black hat yeshiva, who cares deeply about the Torah and is "chareid lidvar Hashem" when it comes to Halacha, keeping kala kevechamura? Yes.

    And do you not worry about being over many Lavim d'Oraisa bad-mouthing him, as well as Yair Lapid? Midvar sheker tirchak, for instance.

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  33. seriously "Did anybody ask him to "fix" them?"

    The problems in Israeli Chareidi society cost the rest of Israeli society; not only in money, although it does cost them money, but it also spills over in all sorts of ways, the same way any larger society is impacted by a 20% minority with many social problems. The society has an obligation to relieve these social problems. First, because it is the right thing to do. Secondly, purely out of self-interest it makes sense to do so. Since the Chareidim don't have legal autonomy, since they are not economically self-sufficient, since their problems impact the rest of society, and since they are not doing much or making any progress in solving these problems by themselves - they really don't have a choice and that's why outside intervention is happening. Even now, the Chareidi gedolim have no vision or plan for how to alleviate poverty in Chareidi families. They never did, and evidently never will. So it isn't really about being asked to be fixed, is it?

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  34. "The problems in Israeli Chareidi society cost the rest of Israeli society; not only in money, although it does cost them money, but it also spills over in all sorts of ways, the same way any larger society is impacted by a 20% minority with many social problems. The society has an obligation to relieve these social problems. First, because it is the right thing to do. Secondly, purely out of self-interest it makes sense to do so. Since the Chareidim don't have legal autonomy, since they are not economically self-sufficient, since their problems impact the rest of society, and since they are not doing much or making any progress in solving these problems by themselves - they really don't have a choice and that's why outside intervention is happening. Even now, the Chareidi gedolim have no vision or plan for how to alleviate poverty in Chareidi families. They never did, and evidently never will. So it isn't really about being asked to be fixed, is it?"

    i totally agree (maybe)just STOP saying you are trying to help THEM like dov Lipman does.you are only out for the interest of yourself and dont give a DAMN about charedim . as long as you admit it we are all toghether.its when the animal shows off its split hooves and says "Look ,Im Kosher" that we have a problem.

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  35. "i totally agree (maybe)just STOP saying you are trying to help THEM like dov Lipman does.you are only out for the interest of yourself and dont give a DAMN about charedim . as long as you admit it we are all toghether.its when the animal shows off its split hooves and says "Look ,Im Kosher" that we have a problem."

    Really? Why can't it both? You think my heart doesn't ache every time a nervous man with a broken spirit rings my doorbell because he's trying to marry off the 2nd of 6 girls? I've tasted poverty, and believe me - it does. Why on earth- no, what gives you the right, to accuse everyone else of not caring?

    I merely pointed out that even apart from this being the right thing to do - intervening in a failing society that is unwilling and unable to help itself - even apart for that - Israeli society has a self-interest in stepping in, the same way American society also needs to manage its crime and poverty in the inner cities, and provide education for all its citizens.

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  36. Lipman's problem is not his or his party's platform, its his personality. It was clear as day that he deliberately provoked the charedim in Beit Shemesh - not the other way around - and I, for one, said so at the time. At the time I didnt know he had poltical aspirations, but it was clear from the videos of himself - that he posted - that he was the one stirring things up.

    He later went on to write a very weird article, trying to encourage women to " RISE UP!" and "overthrow" the status quo at the Kotel. Again, all as part of his leadup to politics.

    There's quite a bit more, but I dont feel like getting into his whole history here. The point is, he rubs people the wrong way, and people are right to be put off by him. Folsk who otherwise completely agree with the need to reform charedi society will oppose it because of this Lipman. Lapid thought he was giving himself a fig leaf for his platofrm by including what, to his outsider mind, was a "media-savvy charedi rabbi." I doubt Lipman alone is enough to affect the party, but he is for sure not helping it.

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  37. Anonymous This One TimeMay 13, 2013 at 6:07 AM

    I have been donating about $250 per year to Ner Israel for about a decade. For me, that's a large amount to give. I did it because they were a place that encouraged their students to take classes at Johns Hopkins and to get a real college degree. Their m'shulach once said to me "Somebody has to make a living." So now I feel like I'm donating to a place that is OPPOSED to the cause I was trying to promote. It's very discouraging. I will have to reevaluate.

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  38. I don't know much about R Lipman, but I can say that I read an article he wrote in the JP (IIRC) about geirus and, having learned hichos geirus extensively, I felt he came off as a real am haaretz. Maybe he is not one, but he obviously lacks the credentials to talk about hilchos geirus, and to validate the completely fictitious geirus that some rabbonim in EY try to pull off, like converting Russian goyim who are not and never will be frum.
    When considering his positions you should remember that he is first and foremost a POLITICIAN.

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