Monday, November 11, 2013

Gedolim Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope

Over a year ago, in a post entitled Yated Wars: Reactions to the New Charedim, I described the emerging battle between two factions in the Israeli Litvishe Charedi world. One faction is of extreme charedim, who believe that one should not support hospitals, only yeshivos, and that one should not educate one's children towards earning a living. And that's the more moderate group! The other faction is even more zealous in its opposition towards any sort of accommodation with wider Israeli society. The first group is under the banner of Rav Aharon Leib Steinman and Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and runs the Yated newspaper; the second group rallies behind Rav Shmuel Auerbach, and runs the HaPeles newspaper.

For those who are unaware, in the last few weeks the hostility between the two factions has reached epic proportions. This was related to the municipal elections, in which the two groups fielded different political parties, Degel haTorah and Bnei Torah (a.k.a. Etz). It made the Bet Shemesh electoral unpleasantness look like child's play by comparison.

People in many kollels were instructed to sign a loyalty oath (!), stating that they will follow Rav Steinman and Rav Kanievsky, and will not read HaPeles, or else they will be expelled. The invective from Rav Shmuel Auerbach's side was equally incendiary, to the point that a somewhat deranged young man physically assaulted Rav Steinman. And in the latest episode, Rav Chaim Kanievsky described the people in Rav Shmuel Auerbach's camp as "animals," and said that Rav Shmuel is a zaken mamre who is chayyav skilah (liable for death by stoning)!

To say that all this is causing a crisis in rabbinic authority is putting it mildly. While Rav Aharon Feldman considered the ban on my books to have caused the greatest crisis in rabbinic authority in recent memory, this may well supersede it, at least for some people. After all, the Torah-science ban just pitted Gedolim against Rishonim; this fight pits Gedolim against Gedolim.

Just think about the questions that have been raised. Someone asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky if a lifetime disciple of Rav Shmuel Auerbach is allowed to follow his direction, and Rav Chaim answered in the negative. What on earth does this mean? I'm certainly no fan of Rav Shmuel's approach, but I don't understand the conceptual model of rabbinic authority in which his followers are told by others that they are forbidden to listen to him.

Over at Cross-Currents, Rabbi Adlerstein presented a lecture by Rav Rubin, which attempts to provide an explanation of why it is forbidden for people to follow Rav Shmuel Auerbach, but it raises more problems than it solves. Why is unthinkable for there to be two different groups? After all, we already have Sefardim and Ashkenazim, Litvaks and Chassidim, Charedim and Dati-Leumi. Why is it forbidden for Litvishe Charedim to further sub-divide?

One person argued to me that for strategic political reasons, it's important for the Litvishe Charedim to be united around one voice. Well, obviously Rav Shmuel Auerbach has a different idea about strategies! Why is his view automatically disqualified?

And who says that Rav Steinman takes precedence over Rav Shmuel Auerbach? Some might say that the idea being presented here is that there is a Gadol HaDor, a single greatest Torah authority that everyone is deemed to follow, and that person is Rav Steinman. But this lacks any basis in halachah or tradition. Furthermore, it would mean that if Rav Steinman and Rav Kanievsky passed away, which would (in the charedi Litvishe mindset) leave Rav Shmuel as the greatest Torah authority, then everyone would have to follow him!

Another claim is that Rav Shmuel Auerbach is a zaken mamre (rebellious elder), because he is going against the majority. But last I checked, it takes a Sanhedrin to have a zaken mamre. Did Rav Ovadiah Yosef have to follow the Ashkenazi Gedolim, if they were in the majority?

Rav Rubin also claims that the level of aggression coming from the Rav Shmuel Auerbach camp demonstrates their illegitimacy. But no less aggression has come from Rav Steinman's camp, especially in light of Rav Chaim Kanievsky's recent statements.

Is there any good that can come out of all this? I believe so.

Consider the ban on my books. Contrary to Rav Feldman, I don't think that the ban on the rationalist Torah-science approach was a disaster for rabbinic authority. It was only a disaster for novel Charedi concepts of rabbinic authority, relating to "Gedolim" and Daas Torah. People gave up on following the Gedolim, and instead turned to their local rabbanim. The traditional type of rabbinic authority - a person's own community rabbi, who is of a similar background and understands him - was strengthened.

A similar phenomenon could occur here. As the charedi world, to put it in the words of Rabbi Eidensohn, "self-destructs," many people may realize how seriously problematic it is, especially with regard to its notions of charedi superiority, rabbinic authority, and Gedolim. Hopefully, they will return to a more traditional and healthier form of Judaism.

50 comments:

  1. Once again you are unaware of the underlying issues at the heart of the dispute and in the same way that you learn every Sugya, you present only the superficial positions as characterized in the popular media.

    Please, it would be most honest to let Charedim speak for themselves, and drop your never-ending quest for personal revenge.

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  2. That R' Adlerstein could post a piece as extreme and senseless as that should forever put to the lie that he's not as much in lockstep with the charedi world as his colleagues.

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  3. By the way, R Slifkin, on an unrelated, but more significant topic, I was wondering how you understand why Chazal instituted the blessing for Asher Yotzar upon utilizing the bathroom facilities. It seems to me (and to others) that the words "ASHER YOTZAR ES HA'ADAM B'CHACHMA" specifically in this instance - where man's kidneys performed their primary function of waste disposal - is indicative of the wisdom and cognitive faculties they attributed to the kidneys. Just wondering how you understand that! (Can you keep your answer to the point, and refrain from personal comments or implied insults? Thanks.

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  4. It goes without saying there are no answers to the questions you [and many commenters at Cross Currents] point out. The Charedi community is a perversion of authentic Judaism. Like the Midrash says, sometimes the yetzer hora disguises itself to dress like a talmid chacham. That world, and especially Americans here who support it, have to do a big cheshbon ha-nefesh, take a deep breath, and admit, if only to themselves, that they've made a huge mistake.

    Shimon Ha-Missuni did it, retracting his entire life's methodology. Those enmeshed in the charedi avoda zara have to do the same.

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  5. > Why is it forbidden for Litvishe Charedim to further sub-divide?

    One God = One Daas Torah = One opinion on any subject. Rav Auerbach's position proves that Daas Torah isn't divinely inspired but merely a political position taken by the person espousing it.

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  6. "Hopefully, they will return to a more traditional and healthier form of Judaism"

    There's a long tradition of this stuff in Judaism. I'd even venture to say Jews have been hating other Jews from the very beginning.

    For me, this is just another reminder than the whole Am Yisroel thing is an illusion.

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  7. observer said...
    Once again you are unaware of the underlying issues at the heart of the dispute and in the same way that you learn every Sugya, you present only the superficial positions as characterized in the popular media.


    Observer, feel free to enlighten us and actually impart information, rather than merely coming here to offer insults as usual.

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  8. Nachum said...
    That R' Adlerstein could post a piece as extreme and senseless as that should forever put to the lie that he's not as much in lockstep with the charedi world as his colleagues.


    He did say that he did not (entirely?) agree with the piece.

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  9. observer said...

    By the way, R Slifkin, on an unrelated, but more significant topic, I was wondering how you understand why Chazal instituted the blessing for Asher Yotzar upon utilizing the bathroom facilities.


    I don't let comment threads go off-topic. Feel free to email me with your question.

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  10. One God = One Daas Torah = One opinion on any subject.

    Yet they accept that Sefardim and Chasidim have different Daas Torah.

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  11. You may disagree with R. Adlerstein(and I sometimes do), but he has tremendous personal integrity, is willing to look at both sides(even if he doesnt agree)and does not makes things up. While he may frequently wind up on the rightward side of things, it is almost always a thought out and considered position. This is in contradistinction to others who do not seem to be able to recognize any position that isn't their own(R. Shafran, Menken, Rosenblum, Mrs. Katz, etc.).

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  12. Years ago, I wrote about how seeing disputing gedolim really makes things hard for a da'as torah believing person:
    http://daashedyot.blogspot.com/2005/04/black-white.html

    "If a Gadol's thinking always reflects the truth, then how can there ever be any disagreement amongst the Gedolim? There aren't multiple truths! The Gedolim must agree, at the very least on the fundamental issues. This is absolutely crucial. "

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  13. There is a difference - R' Chaim, et. al., obviously views R'Shmuel's camp as completely indefensible and beyond the pale.
    Normally, there is a mesora/cultural defense (chassidim and sefardim) for those who differ.
    For others (Neturei Karta, Modern Orthodoxy/Mizrachi come to mind), I assume R' Chaim would also tell an adherent of those groups not to follow their own leadership if asked.

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  14. There is an underlying reason for the dispute that actually makes sense once you figure it out, which is not too hard. Any thinking person can recognize that the ostensible reasons proposed in the media do not seem too significant too warrant such a deep split, and it is hard to see why they couldn't just work it out quietly. Yet, they did not, which means that the proposed reasons are not the true basis for this split. It has nothing to do with 'different paths'- that is just the surface, but doesn't explain the reason for the split.

    However, if R Steinman has chosen not to publicize his reasons, then I certainly will not do so.

    Actually, the situation is a tragedy, and one that will have unfortunate circumstances. There are many Charedi people who are distraught over what has happened and concerned for the future. Biut, in your case, I think it is wrong for you to bring it up the way you do, and especially in this forum. It is akin to laughing at others' tragedies. Would it be right for some to laugh and cluck publicly at your own family because both your father and mother-in-law died tragically at a relatively young age?

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    Replies
    1. Observer, I am totally appalled at you bringing R' Natans personal tragedies into this. He's not laughing at anyone, he is analysing the charedi condition as usual and making points that only someone in his position can. That is valuable to some of us, whereas your volatile invective is worthless at best.

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    2. "However if rav steinman has chosen not to publicize his reasons, then I certainly will not do so."

      Wow, what a cop out. The translation of your statement is "I don't know the reasons beyond what was said in the media. But I take others to task for not divining these mysterious other reasons which I insist exist even though I don't know what they are."

      Nice try, though.

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  15. if an implosion such as you expect does in fact take place who is to say that you will prefer the system which arises in its place? Merely letting a system collapse is no substitute for crafting a good substitute!

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  16. > However, if R Steinman has chosen not to publicize his reasons, then I certainly will not do so

    I recently learned that a Beit Din can make a decision and not disclose its protocols for a full 12 months.

    So let's wait and see.

    R' Gamliel had his reasons for forcing R' Yehoshua to accept his calendar, and the Chachamim excommunicated R' Eliezer and hastened his death

    Is R' Steinman right? Is this the correct way to handle whatever power struggle they are involed in? Only time will tell.

    I hope, without too many casualties along the way.

    But for those who think that the current system was an ideal, it's yet another reminder that Moshiach has not yet arrived.

    Oh, and Observer? A Ben Torah would not write what you wrote about R' Slifkin's family. Not only is it a terrible thing to say, it is also faulty logic.

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  17. Observer - I am moche at your disgusting comments above. Get out of here.

    RNS - you should delete his comments and block him permanently, and then delete this paragraph. I am sorry you had to see such lowliness.

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  18. Hedyot:
    Why do you assume that Daas Torah has to represent THE right answer to any questions? How is Daas Torah different from a psak halacha, where there can be variant valid decisions?

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  19. I think we have to be careful to let it self destruct. Attacks from the outside can cause more harm by forcing a rally around the leader effect.
    I actually think that the current makeup of the ruling coalition in Israel will cause the Haredi society to last a bit longer than it would have had they been included. Then again, never underestimate the Haredi ability to destroy each other.
    And to answer your question, yes in the 90s they attacked ROY for not listening to Rav Schach. And it's an issue of rov rather that all must listen to rov of Litvish Gedoilim because Moshe kibbel Toirah miSinia umesoroh leRav Schach... Rav Elyashiv.... to whoever wins this fight.

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  20. I agree wholeheartedly - it's low and disgusting. That was precisely my point.

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  21. The Hedyot says:
    -------------------------------
    "If a Gadol's thinking always reflects the truth, then how can there ever be any disagreement amongst the Gedolim? There aren't multiple truths! The Gedolim must agree, at the very least on the fundamental issues. This is absolutely crucial. "
    --------------------------------

    I must strongly disagree with this. In Yoram Hazony's wonderful new book about the philosophy of the Hebrew Scriptures he discusses why the different prophets have differing views and his answer is that any human being is inherently limited in his perception of G-d's will, even through prophecy. Thus, the ABSOLUTE truth is with G-d, but any human can only attempt to approach the truth of G-d. Thus, it is inevitable that even great scholars are going to have disagreements and it should not be viewed as some sort of "weakness" in the system that these disagreements exist.

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  22. Jesus Christ was also a gadol at the time. Would you have a problem if the rabanim of the time got together and ousted his students from their kollels? This is much deeper than a split between gedolim. This is virtually all gedolim joining together to oust a cult and it's deranged leader. They are trying to prevent him from attracting more followers to his destructive cult. The gedolim should be commended.

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  23. To "Observer" - for someone who claims Talmudic expertise, you show an astonishing shallowness of thought. There is absolutely no comparison between gloating over tragic deaths that were caused by accident and disease, and discussing the effects and causes of aberrant behavior.

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  24. There is no aberrant behavior being discussed here by R Slifkin - it's just a tragedy, plain and simple. Just leave it be and worry about the health and happiness of your own families.

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  25. What do you mean? Car accidents and illnesses are tragedies that are inflicted by God. The incidents described in this post are the willful actions of people.

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  26. I would find this battle of the white beards more interesting if they could shoot lightening out of their fingertips or at least were the wielder of the flame of Anor. Isn't it just boring otherwise? Do they have any special powers at all?

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  27. Natan Slifkin said...
    One God = One Daas Torah = One opinion on any subject.

    RESPONSE:

    One God = Truth

    One Daas Torah = Avodah zara

    The point is that if we worship something man-made, as we are doing if we only allow one man's view to prevail, we are turning to idolatry (Gadolatry in this case.)

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  28. I never said that. Please read the comments carefully, and do not confuse comments made by other people with comments made by me.

    (And by the way, the person who made that comment was being critical/sarcastic, not espousing his own beliefs.)

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  29. In the comment section, Rabbi Adlerstein wrote:
    I was reporting, not endorsing. Do I believe those arguments? Some I do; some I don't. You'll have to guess :-)

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  30. There is also a nasty fight fermenting amongst the Satmar / eida-hareidi camp (the camp that the fellows that scream and spit at little girls associate with). It apparently has something to do with Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch being accused of being too lenient about an issue with construction at a grave site. Rav Moshe's son Asher was accosted and beaten in Meah Shearim around this issue.

    My theory is that zealotry inevitable caves in on itself.

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  31. R' Slifkin and YEA: Yes, R' Adlerstein is very good at being "cute" in that way. The whole tone of the post shows that he thinks it was a great speech.

    Observer: Re: Asher Yatzar. Can you not understand Hebrew? It's *God* who used *his* chachma to create our amazing bodies.

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  32. imo this episode or split is a sign of the incredible success of the litvish, yeshiva world. they went from a post holocaust existence in which the number of full time learners numbered a few hundred (?) to a world in which tens of thousands learn full time. put aside all questions of the army and work and whatever, even according to THEIR standards, the yeshivot have succeeded. did the chazon ish forsee such a success?

    just like when a chassidut gets too large (eg satmar, vizhnitz) the group splits. this isn't failure or a reason for mourning. yes the two groups will quarrel but trying to maintain such a huge edifice under one small limited leadership is simply impossible.

    anyway, my two cents.

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  33. When Observer says "Please, it would be most honest to let Charedim speak for themselves", I envision him sitting near Moshe Rabbeinu when Yisro comes and gives his advice about how to judge the people. Observer pipes up and says to Yisro, "now you stay out of this."

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  34. Actually, the situation is a tragedy, and one that will have unfortunate circumstances. There are many Charedi people who are distraught over what has happened and concerned for the future. Biut, in your case, I think it is wrong for you to bring it up the way you do, and especially in this forum. It is akin to laughing at others' tragedies. Would it be right for some to laugh and cluck publicly at your own family because both your father and mother-in-law died tragically at a relatively young age?

    No sir, it is not akin to laughing at other people's tragedies. Degel and B'nei Torah are political parties. Call the split tragic if you like, but political activity must be open to public scrutiny and discussion.

    Don't conflate this with family deaths. That's really sick.

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  35. My theory is that zealotry inevitable caves in on itself.

    the problem is that they often take everyone with them.

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  36. I find it disingenuous that you state that there is a group of Chareidim who as a "shita" are against supporting hospitals, only Yeshivos based on an interview with a third party. Do the laws of Lashon Hara and Rechilos not apply to your posts?

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  37. He was interviewed as an official representative of Rav Steinman's camp, presenting Rav Steinman's views. It's not lashon hara/ rechilus to present a Rav's views.

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  38. No, he was not interviewed as an official representative of anything. He was interviewed as one of the founders and original editors of Yated. He was reminiscing.

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  39. Moshe,
    Do you hold the same standerd to chariedim.
    The lashin horah card is getting stale. Any time a chareidi or a chareidi sympathizer doesn't like the argument of people who differ. All of a sudden the lashin harah card is pulled. Why isnt that card pulled for the infighting amongst the "Litvish Gedolim"? Why is it tolerated???

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  40. Oh dear, Temujin's forever unhappy forum pet, Observer, once again strays from mere observation into the heady heights of commentary, but this time the blighter might have bumbled onto something interesting:

    There is an underlying reason for the dispute that actually makes sense once you figure it out, which is not too hard. Any thinking person can recognize that the ostensible reasons proposed in the media do not seem too significant too warrant such a deep split, and it is hard to see why they couldn't just work it out quietly. Yet, they did not, which means that the proposed reasons are not the true basis for this split. It has nothing to do with 'different paths'- that is just the surface, but doesn't explain the reason for the split.

    Hmm, perhaps so. Evidently Observer is a "thinking person" and by this man's reckoning well on his way to discovering the cultural materialistic model. One sees that he wisely dismisses the gobbledygook emitted by the warring factions as insignificant twaddle, proposing instead actual "underlying reasons" entirely unrelated to the manifested claims of the battling Titans. Not very flattering to his idols...and Observer needs to take care not to be spotted and hauled back by the ear... but overall, very methodologically adventurous. A thinking man he is indeed and Temujin is proud of Observer's apparent efforts to curb most of his hisses and grunts and to switch his cognitive functions from the reptilian core of his brain to the more versatile, nuance-capables neocortex.

    But, it will be a rough going indeed, as our chappie hasn't worked those underlying reasons out yet, and defaults to pretensions of special access to hidden truths in order to mask his total confusion and deep anxieties. But if he stays the course, soon enough he will begin looking at the ongoing events as garden-variety jockeying for power and money, a not-so-special, universal, cross-cultural human condition which afflicts all those who manage to scramble to the top of their local heap. Yes, Observer, thou naughty pet thou, it all may be as simple and inglorious as that: Big Men snarling over who gets most of the plump kneidlach and who gets stuck with sucking on the thin, parve broth.

    One further notes that Observer has already been told by others what a wicked, potty-mouthed rascal he is for confounding observations and discussions on important gadolic melt-downs with imagined (suggested? wished for?) expressions of glee over family misfortunes. No need to lecture him further, as attention and a bad rep as the hood's rabble-rouser is what he seeks, but Temujin feels he should warn others about what a nasty little asp his pet is turning out to be. Keep the fellow in a well-built and secured sand and driftwood-decorated terrarium, and no tapping on the glass, please!

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    Replies
    1. Another great comment from Temujin! Its worth trawling the comments just for your tasty morsels, but these longer blog length offerings are nothing short of cathartic, in much the same way a good Monty Python sketch is.

      Delete
  41. @Markk

    "Do you hold the same standerd to chariedim.
    The lashin horah card is getting stale. Any time a chareidi or a chareidi sympathizer doesn't like the argument of people who differ. All of a sudden the lashin harah card is pulled."

    You know nothing about me. You do not know if I'm a chareidi or chareidi sympathizer. Furthermore, I am not an apologist for the "Litvishe Gedolim".

    R. Slifkin wrote that the Rav Shteinman camp teach to support Yeshivas and not hospitals based on an interview with someone who said this in the names of Rav Shteinman and Rav Shach. This person represents no one but himself. We cannot say that this is Rav Shteinman's view based on this interview.

    It's poor investigative journalism and it's assur to boot. Not liking Chareidim is no excuse for it.

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  42. Moshe,
    Since when is R Slifkin an investigative journalist???
    In todays day even though their are so many forms of public lashan harah in the jewish community (especially in chareidi society).that you pick out R Slifkin in this instance would label you at the least a chareidi sympathizer.
    Remember, just because you think in your mind this is black and white other people obviously view this differently.
    And its Makk

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  43. I take issue with your comment about the future "self-destruction" of the chareidi world. Based on all the shtus, it *should* logically self-destruct, and there are plenty of problems within that system/society/culture including drop-outs, unsustainable lifestyle for more than 2 generations, etc etc.... but if you look at Israel today, you cannot deny that the chareidi camp is growing, partly due to large families and partly due to a huge number of Israeli BTs who when they become frum, join the chareidim and not the datim leumim. By sheer numbers alone, they are very far from self-destructing, and their presence in not only chareidi neighborhoods but also secular ones all around Israel is growing and growing and growing.

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  44. @Makk,

    You would have been really good during the McCarthy era.

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  45. Moshe,
    If you want to use the idea of the mcarthy era. It would fit better to compare the mccarthy era with Bnie Brak ChareidiStan(or similar places). Where intimidation is the rule of law. With the intention of protecting thier community from the outside influences whether or not they exist . Without worrying about the consequences!

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  46. No need to lecture him further, as attention and a bad rep as the hood's rabble-rouser is what he seeks, but Temujin feels he should warn others about what a nasty little asp his pet is turning out to be.

    I want to join the masses in admiring Temujin's posts, whose style and content are both very welcome complements to Rabbi Slifkin's writing.

    I also want to tentatively defend Observer, because he's in a position in which I once found myself.

    Once upon a time, I was also supremely confident, both in the assumed unquestionable intelligence and integrity of my indoctrinators, and in my ability to use their arguments to demonstrate the incontestible wrongness against heathen detractors (in this case, religious Zionists).

    It became apparent that, in fact, I was remarkably uninformed and painfully unconvincing, for my ideological opponents were actually quite well-versed in the traditional literature, and actually had reasonable basis on which to rest their arguments and opinions. Of course, the rank immaturity that motivated me in the first place morphed precisely into the sort of rage that Observer displays in the contorted logic underlying his very cleverly introduced attempts to hurt Rabbi Slifkin and his family.

    On the other hand, eventually I grew up (more or less), and I was able to gain some appreciation for truth, at the welcome cost of my ignorant convictions.

    None of this is to suggest that Observer (or anyone else) should be emulating yours truly. But I seem to remember going through the exact same process as he is, so perhaps there's hope.

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  47. Thank you for those good and wise words, Pookie Number 2. A pause in a "battle" to remind one that even with all that's going on, we're still on the same side...more or less. One should mention that one has also been where Pookie has and where Observer is. Long story.

    A bashful Temujin is flattered, delighted and humbled by the praises he has received from Pookie and others. It's funny really, because intimidated by the high calibre of writing and thought here, it took him over a year to gather enough courage to post his first tentative comment and to this day, still shvitzes over every submission. This is because one is always aware of and cowed by the fact that big and important things are happening right here and that in the long scheme of things, words and ideas have...as a current adage goes...consequences.

    Temujin would like to confess that if he has managed to amuse and entertain, it is all, all due to the energy, brilliance, wisdom, humour and Yiddischkeit generated by our incredible host and his inimitable guests. Really and truly; it's an incredible assembly, folks. With a nod of thanks, Temujin raises his tankard and salutes his host and his comrades. And now, group hug, you big lugs you!

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