Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Perpetuating Classical Judaism (updated)

Rabbi Avi Shafran has a track record for getting things exactly backwards. I'm not just talking about his seeing Bernie Madoff as more worthy of admiration than Captain Sully. In the past, he's claimed that the scientific community has a greater problem than the charedi community with regard to a lack of critical thinking. And he's claimed that abuse is less prevalent in the Orthodox community, citing a Gemara that indicates precisely the opposite. In his latest article on Cross-Currents, he does it again.

His topic is defending the charedi kollel system against the governmental and popular plan to encourage/force people to work. He presents an astonishing parable for people in kollel: a single mother named Cindy, working at a low-income job from home, and receiving government support, so that she can mother her children.

The analogy fails on several grounds. Here's some just off the top of my head:

1. Cindy's situation is unplanned, unwanted, unfortunate, and she hopes to get out of it one day - and there's no reason why she shouldn't. She is not part of a community that plans, desires, and idealizes such a situation for everyone, and makes it very difficult to get out of it.

2. Motherhood is something valued by everyone. Mass kollel is not. (It's not being a religious Jew that we're discussing - plenty of people who work are also religious Jews.)

3. Cindy is presumably appreciative for the aid. She's not part of a movement that disparages the government, refuses to serve in the army even in times of great national danger, and refuses to display any gratitude to those who defend her and those who financially support her.

4. Cindy is raising her children to be productive citizens, not to also require welfare.

But I was most taken aback by a single key sentence in the article, where Rabbi Shafran spells out why the government, and ultimately the other citizens of Israel, should support the charedi mass-kollel lifestyle:
And a country that calls itself the Jewish one, it can well be argued, has a special responsibility to underwrite the portion of its populace that is willfully destitute because of its dedication to perpetuating classical Judaism.
The charedi community is not willfully destitute because of its dedication to perpetuating classical Judaism. In classical Judaism - both in sources in the Gemara and Rishonim, and in actual Jewish history - people worked to support their families. Following the directives of Chazal, people raised their children with the skills, the desire and the motivation to work for a living. There was no system of mass kollel.

The charedi community is not willfully destitute because of its dedication to perpetuating classical Judaism. It is willfully destitute because of its dedication to perverting classical Judaism.

(On a lighter note, check out this video that I took of foxes outside my house!)


  1. That's probably why R' Shafran's posts are always closed to comments :-)
    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,
    Joel Rich

  2. It would be one thing if the people receiving cradle-to-grave financial support and exemption from army/national service showed the least bit of hakarat hatov, would proudly fly the Israeli flag, thanked the government for all services rendered, Israeli citizens for their tax money, and Israeli soldiers for putting their lives on the line. That might well go a long way in garnering the charedi world some chein in the eyes of their supporters, and make it seem like an enterprise worth supporting.

    But when the clear and persistent message coming out of the charedi world is that of utter contempt toward the State of Israel, kafui tova toward the army, apathy or antipathy toward all non-charedim, who function merely as useful stooges - why would any sane Israeli want to support this? Why would anyone think they're getting their money's worth from the hours upon hours of Torah being learned, when rather than create better people it's creating a "magia li" generation?

    And what's the charedi world's argument that this is something in any way worth perpetuating? That it's "Jewish"? It's no wonder some secular Israelis are opting to put "no religion" on their identity cards.

  3. This is what my Rosh Ha Yashiva always used to tell us " A time to act for God, make void your Torah"

  4. Y'know, I wouldn't mind as much if they would admit that this is what they are doing, instead of pretending to be preserving classical Judaism.

  5. But that can't admit anything else. Their entire ideology is based on the fiction that the Judaism they are practising is identical to that practiced by the Rishonim in Spain, the Tannaim in Bavel and our ancestors in the desert. After all, if innovation is forbidden then it must be the same. And if that's so then as far as they are concerned their Judaism isn't just classical but the only legitimate Judaism out there.

  6. They are preserving classical Judaism (i.e. mitzvos etc) by making some changes (I.e. kollel). Es laasos.

  7. What, and communities that don't engage in mass kollel and zero education of kids towards parnasah, such as the dati-leumi community in Israel, and the chareidi community in the US, are not keeping mitzvos?

  8. In the tine of the TABACG, thee was mandatory taxation by way of terumot, ma'aserot and matanot l'kohanim from the sacrifices that were used to support the kohanim and levi'im. However, I believe they were expected to serve the community as teachers or in the Beit HaMikdash. I don't think they barricaded themselves in closed communities I don't knonw if this is a parallel to the Kollel syystem today. I do know that the National Religious kollel in my town requires the avrehim (sudents) to teach in the outside community a certain number of hours per week.

  9. It's hard to know how this fits in Avi Shafran's worldview. He severed a portion of his relationship with the Aguda a few years back, though he still works there I think. At that time he began a left wing slant, most noticeably in repeated attempts to defend Obama. Could be he indeed is a left wing democrat, and believes everyone is entitled to sponge off people working. If so, then he's entirely consistent in thinking the poor sucker balle battim should support the charedim also. If you believe in the welfare state, why indeed should the charedim be any different? They deserve to stand in line and get what's coming to them, just like every other special interest.


  10. Shafran's piece is a real doozy.

    He compares the Israeli government cutting funding to kollel to the US cutting services for a single-mother who does not wish to work full-time so she can be with her children.

    The more proper analogy would be an American community who devoted their entire life to studying Roman law. This community derided American society and values, mocked American patriotism and refused to serve in the army at a time of crisis when all were drafted.

    Then this community had the chutzpah to complain that the American government did not wish to financially support them.

    Shafran's piece lacks basic decency and is a slap in the face to anyone who cares the slightest for Israel.

  11. On the other hand, we have an entire province of people in Canada whose government continually announces it wants to leave Canada and that the people outside the provinces are occupiers trying to destroy its language and culture. But we give them plenty of money!
    So maybe the Chareidim are just thinking that if it works for Quebec...

  12. I'm making a list of reasons as to why Rabbi Shafran's "Cindy" analogy is not valid. Here's what I came up with so far:

    1. Cindy is raising her children to be productive citizens, not to also require welfare.

    2. Motherhood is something valued by everyone. Being charedi is not. (It's not being a religious Jew that we're discussing - plenty of people who work are also religious Jews.)

    3. Cindy is presumably appreciative for the aid. She's not part of a movement that disparages the government, refuses to serve in the army even in times of great national danger, and refuses to display any gratitude to those who defend her and those who financially support her.

    4. Cindy's situation is unplanned, unwanted, and she hopes to get out of it one day.

    Does anyone have any others?

  13. Besides the above, 'Cindy' will send her children to school (or provide home schooling) where her children will get an education qualifying them for a working life. The current Israeli Hareidi system disdains qualifying students for a working life, i.e., it strives to perpetuate dependence on the largesse of others. Such dependence is no longer supportable. Their numbers are too large and will only get larger.

  14. Does the core curriculum have a values component?
    Joel Rich

  15. A variation of your #4... being on welfare is not a situation that most people are proud of. It's embarrassing (admittedly there are groups of people in the States who take welfare and aren't embarrassed; but by and large, I believe most people on welfare are somewhat embarrassed). The kollel folk see this lifestyle as a l'chatchila, something to be proud of. This makes the two situations not at all comparable.

  16. This piece is even worse than the Madoff piece. It certainly seems like Shafran has lost it. I actually feel bad for him. To be that clueless, he must have some kind of mental issue.

    Keep up the good fight Rabbi Slifkin. It is important to call out the Charedei ideology for what it is - a complete perversion of Yiddishkeit similar to conservative/reform except that the latter had the guts to,admit that they were changing from traditional ways.

  17. To : Dynamic

    That's not your RY...it's Psalms 119:126

  18. Although I strongly agree with your main point, I wish you'd leave that Sully-Madoff thing alone. He was taking a shot at making a point, it came out badly, but it has nothing to do with the issue raised here. I'm only writing this because I think your point about distoring classical Judaism is a vital point, and you're doing the public a huge service when you to continue to raise it, backed with knowledge, sources, and common sense. (I mean really, should it be that hard to grasp the concept that the kollel world has chosen its life in poverty, and that they should be the ones to deal with the consequences of this choice, not the Israeli taxpayer? But I guess for some people, it is.)

    But side attacks on Rabbi Shafran don't contribute to the important message you are conveying, and just tend to make this issue seem personal, rather than the important argument of hashkafa that it is. Just ask old friend Jonathan Rosenblum what gratuitous personal attacks do to a person's credibility!

  19. Eruvin 22a re r Ada bar Massna? Or were Talmudic sages also charedim who didn't represent an authentic mesorah?

  20. looking on the bright side:

    his call that the chareidi world acknowledge the benefits that they receive from the state of israel is, in the current hyper-screaming environment, a breath of fresh air.

  21. The comparison between a single mother and the Charedim is simply ridiculous. The most obvious difference is that Charedi society is the only society I know of that raises their children to be poor and depend on government assistance. I guarantee that someone like Cindy's biggest dream is to have their children get out of the cycle of poverty, have them get a good education and be able to support themselves.

  22. While the comparison with this hypothetical Cindy might not be correct, it seems perfectly fair to compare Haredim to other welfare dependent communities in the U.S. and throughout the western world. Google 'Obamaphone'

    Taken in this context Haredim look pretty darn good. They don't sit around smoking pot and organising flashmobs, to my knowledge. Israeli Arabs are also big net welfare recipients and in return provide the bulk of Israel's crime, but Yesh Atid think they're the bestest.

    Nevertheless, with all that said, the Haredi lifestyle is based on systemic theft and is unjustifiable by the standards of the Torah and this should stop effective tomorrow.

  23. sciienceart:

    "Eruvin 22a re r Ada bar Massna?"

    you are referring to this:
    במי שמשים עצמו אכזרי על בניו ועל בני ביתו כעורב, כי הא: דרב אדא בר מתנא הוה קאזיל לבי רב; אמרה ליה דביתהו ינוקי דידך מאי אעביד להו?
    אמר לה: מי שלימו קורמי באגמא

    did he say to his wife to go to the local community and demand that they support you?

    (besides, this was exceptional enough that it deserves mention. despite that it is held up as an example, it is held up as an extreme to illustrate this point. most amoraim did not have cruelty to their families to such an extreme. which is why rabbi yochanan on Kiddushin 29b said about marriage before learning, ר' יוחנן אמר: ריחיים בצוארו ויעסוק בתורה? if every Amora indeed abandoned their family to the swamp or the charity dole, what in the world would the objection be?

  24. That the comparison with Cindy is imprecise is crucial.

    Had Shafran compared Haredim to able-bodied people on the dole who smoke pot and organize flash mob, his piece would not have generated much sympathy. The reaction would have been-- both don't deserve government assistance.

    There is another reason why the analogy with Cindy does not work. Cindy is getting money because she is poor and raising her daughter. Haredim are getting money for studying *for their entire lifetimes* a subject that most Israelis deem useless.

  25. Another difference:

    Cindy works part-time. Avreichim in kollel don't work at all.

  26. A more accurate comparison would be to compare Cindi to the hundreds of thousands of Cindi's in Israel - the families who work hard to support their families but can't make it because of low salaries, steadily rising costs of living, and very high taxes. They are the ones who need to be helped.

  27. @Josh, I was indeed referring to the passage you quoted. See also Rabbi Akiva in Kesubos 62b / 63a who left his wife for 24 years to study Torah (although as the daughter of a wealthy man she probably didn't struggle financially). There is also a famous quote from somewhere in Yevamos - "ein divrei torah mekaymim eloh b'mi shemeimis atzmo alehem" - the word of Torah only exist in one who kills himself overs them.

    I don't agree with your point "did he say to his wife to go to the local community and demand that they support you?" Surely making no useful provision for your children at all is surely more individually culpable than relying on the community to make that provision (although from a Malthusian viewpoint I can see how it would be less antisocial).

    There are many Talmudic verses which contradict, including Pirkei Avos, end of Kiddushin, and many more which wiser and greater scholars than I can pick out.

    One resolution of this contradiction, which Rabbi Lipman and Josh appear to favour, is that only a tiny cadre of elite Torah scholars should live this way. I think I agree with this.

    One thing is clear. The destructive aspects of Torah learning, with the associated problems of astonishing poverty and ugly neglect of family, have an unbroken, glorious and complicated mesorah which cannot be casually wished away.

  28. He actually tried to answer your questions here:

  29. Moshe Dick says:
    scienceart: Your second post is much more in line with the vast majority of Taludic sayings (see Kiddushin 29A, Berachos 35B and others)that the quote of Eiruvin that you mentined and which, by the way, was never imitated by other Amoroim. I think you said it correctly: no one bjetcs to a small cade of people being in kollelIt is the making of this as a way of life that brings out the ire in many of us.

  30. Shorter addendum:

    Israel has a special responsibility to underwrite chareidim, since they are following the Gedolim, and following the Gedolim no matter what they say is the only way to perpetuate classical Judaism. In fact, I disagree with the Gedolim on a personal level, but we must follow the Gedolim, even if we disagree.

    Now there's a conversation stopper if I've ever seen one.

  31. I read R. Shafran's addendum and I must say that I am mystified as to why he says that R. Hirsch's model of Torah Im Derech Eretz can not be applied in Eretz Israel. Half of world Jewry lives in EY, it is no longer a small hallukah community....it is a whole nation. One size does not fit all!

  32. Shafran wrote;

    "In the end, whatever my natural personal view, my emunas chachamim [trust in the judgment of the wise] trumps it."

    To some extent this explains Shafran's tortured logic (or better illogic). He is not free to exercise his own judgment and must defend at all costs what Gedolim hold whether or not it is rationally defensible.

    The results are an intellectual train-wreck that do his cause more harm than good as they make the Haredi position seem illogical and idiotic not to mention immoral.

  33. Unfortunately, I think you may be wrong about Cindy being appreciative. One of the problems with the welfare state is that the recipients start off feeling grateful and soon begin to feel entitled.

    Of course this isn't true of everyone, but the feeling of entitlement on the part of people who benefit from government programs is, I'm afraid, quite widespread. The problems extends way beyond the charedi population.

    (Which is why private tzedaka/charity is so much better. The people who give are appreciated and those who receive feel grateful.)

  34. "Y'know, I wouldn't mind as much if they would admit that this is what they are doing, instead of pretending to be preserving classical Judaism"

    Rav Dessler admits it pretty much(MME III, translation R D Eidensohn):

    “Don’t think that they didn’t realize from the beginning that this approach would ruin some who would not be able to deal with this extreme lifestyle and would consequently leave religious observance. But this is the price that they paid for the sake of producing in their schools great Torah scholars who were G d fearing.

    Obviously they tried their best to deal with those who could not remain full time yeshiva students – but not in a way which would encourage others to follow in their path of leaving yeshiva. For example, those who had to leave the yeshiva were advised to become storekeepers or other low-status jobs which were not professions. These were jobs which didn’t require training or studying and would not be attractive or interesting to the students. However those who had a strong desire to learn a profession and surely those were interested in become academics were completely abandoned and not dealt with at all.

    This rejection was done so that the actions of these students wouldn’t harm others by giving them any legitimacy by trying to help them in any way. I heard that they found support for such an approach by the statement found in Vayikra Rabba (2:10), One thousand students enter to study Bible and only one comes out as a posek and G-d says “that is the one I desire.” They also mentioned the words of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, “It is better that 1000 fools die in order to obtain one Torah scholar.”

    (I don't have the quotes now, but both R. Shimon Schwab and RSRH wrote(in their days) that they were not imposing TIDE on EY.)

  35. Moshe Dick says:
    Shafran continues to parrot the mantra of 'emunas chachomim' always, everywhere ,even when it may obvisouly be against reason. This view started after WWII when the chareidi world tried to justify their oppostion to alyah and other matters that might have saved jews. SO, they invented a new concept, nver found before: ":eave your brain at the door and always follow blidly the gedolim" . This is the new mantra: we must follow the gedolim because they are so much wiser than us. but are they? I would submit that in "milei d'alma" (matters of daily concern) they are no more and no less wise that the average jew. In halacha, we must obviously follow the chachomim but in other matters, I have a brain too and will not leave it at the door.

  36. While I agree that approximately 95% of those "in learning" aren't learning, based on the provocative and disturbing quote from Eruvin, I don't see how you criticise those who do on the basis of any of the following: -

    -the undeniable poverty and the degradation of dependence this lifestyle brings.
    -the cost to the rest of society.
    -the lack of a tradition for this lifestyle.

    While on a practical level reform of the dysfunctional Charedi sector is an urgent and pressing need, I disagree with the entire hashkafic thrust of this article. To my reading, becoming a prosperous, well rounded, well educated professional is not a universal ideal in the view of Chazal.

  37. Incredibly sad that Rav Shafran wouldn't write the words "Rav Slifkin" in his response. While his call for showing gratitude to the state was a good one, he could have shown a similar type of respect to someone with whom he disagrees top to bottom.

    Rav Shafran, it is very easy to tell others to behave respectfully, a bit harder to do it yourself.

  38. Here's something interesting:


  39. So according to Rabbi Shafran's rejoinder, that invokes daas torah in the face of rational and ethical considerations, Cindy's story has to change yet again. In fact she is part of a large cult in the midwest where the last couple of generations of leaders have told the members not to work, or risk losing eternal bliss. Cindy may want to work and may be very capable of working to support her family but she lives in the cult community where nobody else works and the leaders demand strict obedience or be driven from the community. Perhaps some of the leaders see the error in their philosophy - after all, money is drying up for the cult and the no-work philosophy has caused serious hardship for the members - but no one has the courage to change course. The leaders believe that change might happen for the better but it should be slow so as not to rock the boat and risk people leaving the cult ... All very sad and may evoke sympathy for Cindy but maybe not in the same way originally intended...

  40. Science art:
    "Surely making no useful provision for your children at all is surely more individually culpable than relying on the community to make that provision "

    Why do you think this is no useful provision? They would not starve because there were plants in the swamp. Not nice, but he didn't leave them to starve and didn't violate the Rambam that one should not throw ones needs upon the community. Had there been no food in the swamp, he would have worked!

  41. @Josh The Soncino translation of the text in question: -

    "Raba explained: With him who can bring himself to be cruel to his children and household like a raven, as was the case with
    R. Adda b. Mattenah. He was about to go away to a schoolhouse when his wife said to him, ‘What shall I do with your children?’ —
    ‘Are there’, he retorted: ‘no more herbs in the marsh?’

    The context implies that R' Adda's response was astonishingly "cruel". Certainly the herbs in the swamp were a poor and degraded substitute for a normal subsistence. It's quite possible to sustain a reading in which R' Adda is fobbing off his wife with what he knows is an unsatisfactory answer - the gist of his point is that it will work out somehow.

    What is not in doubt is R' Adda is relying on his wife to raise his children. What is the moral difference between relying on his wife or on his neighbour?

    I am not suggesting you live like that. I am suggesting that supercilious scorn at those who do is misplaced, and that historical revisionism to deny that there is a mesorah for this lifestyle is simply wrong.

    WM Thackeray "Most of the Jews lived in filth". Karl Marx "None equals the misery and suffering of the Jews."

  42. The leaders may realise the error in their philosophy and have even given their blessing to those few thousand individuals who want to break from the mainstream. As long as it happens slowly, quietly and from within, whilst the rest continue to live in their little fantasy world without them realising the system collapsed long ago. Its like a person who needs drastic and painful surgery but there is a slight chance the desease will clear by itself. The haredi leadership seem to be taking their chances and not have the surgery!

  43. Science art:
    This is then you subjective interp of the Gemara rather than the Gemara itself.

    Degraded substitute, sure. He is not being nice to them. Moral diff, I won't take a position. Halachic diff, yes. He has ensured they are provided for, so his technical obligations are fulfilled, within his own family unit. This is not the same as casting your needs on the community. I think the Rambam would agree.

  44. "Cindy" would not qualify for public assistance in most of the US unless she sold her home and depleted her assets. As an advocate for poor Jews, Rabbi Shafran would know that.

  45. @Josh - I'll leave it to the judgement of the reader whether your interpretation or mine fits the description of "cruel" better.

  46. To be clear:

    When Rabbi Shafran refers to "Classical Judaism" he is not refering to the words of Torah Sh'Bichsav, nor to the words of Torah Sh'bal Peh, nor to the words of the Prophets, nor to the words of the Tannaim, nor to the words of the Amoraim, Geonim, Rishonim or pre-war Acharonim.

    Likewise, by "Classical Judaism" Rabbi Shafran is not refering to Judaism as it has been practiced throughought all of history until WWII.

    Rather, by "Classical Judaism" Rabbi Shafran is refering exclusively to that aspect of Judaism that the followers of the Gedolim believe imposes a requirement to follow the words of The Gedolim.

    So his argument is circular: The people of the Jewish State who are NOT followers of the Gedolim (for whatever reason) but instead work for a living, have a special obligation to financialy support all followers of the Gedolim who don't work for a living. Why? Because the people who follow the Gedolim follow the Gedolim.

    Those who are not followers of the Gedolim should care that people should follow the Gedolim because . . . why again?

  47. R' Slifkin - seen this?

    It seems to be filled with 'you may be right, but what difference does it make' type arguments.
    Scrtaching my head here wondering how this is a 'response'. Sounds to me like your points are rather strong and can't really be refuted. R' Shafran's basic theme seems to be 'yes you make sense, but emunas chachomim trumps all'. I translate to mean 'I agree with you, but my paycheck demands I say otherwise'.

  48. I was so embarrassed to read Rabbi Shafran's post. For all the reasons you've noted (and all the reasons noted in the comments on this post), the Cindy article was an awful, unfair, disgusting analogy.

    Over a year ago, when the Chareidi draft issue was starting to heat up, I predicted to myself that I would become embarrassed to associate with this community.
    I've been outdone by my prediction. Even the most "open-minded" Chareidi magazines and blogs and newspapers are spewing such absolute nonsense. And fear mongering. And hate mongering.
    And this is all besides for the cartoons and verbal sewage that I get to see plastered on the streets of Yerushalayim.
    As a woman who considers/ed herself Chareidi, I'm having a serious identity crisis.
    I'm commenting here because comments are closed at CrossCurrents and because I'm glad someone is trying to stem the hysteria.

    Rabbi Shafran and co. should note. There are Chareidi people (perhaps in the minority) out there who are seeing through their embarrassing lies. And it doesn't make us feel any better.

  49. I passed your comment on to him, but in future it would be most effective if you would email him yourself.


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