Saturday, December 7, 2013

Vintage Wein

A number of people sent me this superb article by Rabbi Berel Wein. It seems as though pretty much everyone has seen it already, but in case you haven't, here it is.


There is a wickedly funny and enormously sad piece of satire making the rounds about a “Lithuanian” charedi father attempting to explain to his inquisitive child the story of the Hasmoneans and their triumph over the Greeks. On the one hand the Hasmoneans were staunch “Lithuanian “charedim who learned all day, while on the other hand they apparently had weapons, organized an army that they themselves led in actual warfare against the Greeks.

They also engaged in commerce and agriculture, albeit always wearing only white shirts. And, apparently, they wanted to establish an independent Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The child realizes the enormous disconnect between the traditional story of Chanuka and the Hasmoneans and what he has been taught at home, in school and amongst his peers about the country and society he currently lives in.

The father admits to himself the existence of this savage disconnect with reality and the Chanuka story, but says one may not state so publicly lest one be accused of being a Zionist.

Here, as in all good satire, there exists more than a bit of exaggeration.  But, there is no doubt that more than a kernel of truth also exists in this fictitious conversation. The charedi world in the main, especially the “Lithuanian” branch (with whom I identify myself as belonging to) has yet to come to grips with the realities of today. It is still fighting the battle of the nineteenth century against secular Zionism, a battle long ago ended and not relevant any longer in today’s Jewish world.

Part of the problem is changing this mindset of complete disconnect with reality. We have grown so comfortable over the past centuries of Jewish life as being the persecuted victim, that we are frightened to shuck off that protective mantle. We see the world in black and white colors only – the good guys and the villains. There is no room for nuance or moderation in such a worldview.

If we are involved in rabbinic scandal, financial misdeeds, abusive physical and sexual behavior, violence against police, corrupt elections (and those elected thereby) and are caught by the authorities for so doing, the immediate knee-jerk reaction is that we are being persecuted because of our religious practices, different dress, traditional lifestyle and distinct societal mores.

Somehow we have forgotten that idleness, poverty and a persecution complex all are, in the long run, self-destructive conditions. These were the conditions that secularized much of Ashkenazic Jewry over the past three centuries. Eventually a system built on declining governmental welfare allotments and unending charity from others - a system decried by Maimonides and other great rabbinic sages and religious leaders throughout the ages – is a Ponzi scheme that inexorably will collapse of its own weight.

And we are ill served by religious political leaders and the handlers of old and revered great Torah scholars who, for purposes I have never really understood, oppose any change of the current miserable status quo. And, there is never any plan advanced to help rescue their adherents from the deepening abyss of poverty and personal despair.

So, a little clever satire can be a good thing for us. A good look at the absurdity of some of our societal practices, at the disconnect with reality, at an educational system that impoverishes its students for life and stifles creativity and different opinions can only help us in the long run to advance the cause of Torah in Israel and in the Diaspora!

A middle-aged person recently came to see me before embarking on a trip to the United States to raise money to pay for his crushing debts accumulated over the years that he has not worked. The irony is that he graduated university and is  a qualified engineer and is easily employable. So when I asked him why he doesn’t go to work instead of undergoing the humiliation of canvassing door to door in the American winter for a month to receive charity, much of it given begrudgingly, I sighed deeply at his answer: “I have daughters to marry off and the husbands they want to marry will not accept daughters of someone who is working!”

I wanted to answer him harshly: “But they will accept daughters of someone who begs others for charity!” However, I bit my tongue and wished him success (?) on his journey. I was impotently outraged all day at how this type of mindset has corrupted such a wonderful people. Perhaps we need more satire to have the truth of the situation sink into our society.

Shabat shalom

Berel Wein


  1. The sad thing about this article is that we find ourselves impressed by it. We've reached the point where if a respected Torah figure says something so obvious as we have to prepare our children to be able to support their families, it is impressive and worthy of sending out to all our friends. Very, very sad.

  2. @ Pashuta Yid. No, the sad thing about it is that whenever somebody who identifies with charedim makes a statement similar to Rabbi Wein's, people like you belittle it instead of commending it. Why should charedim who believe in what Rabbi Wein has written state it publicly? What do we stand to gain? Besides for being shunned by our close-minded brothers, we also get ridiculed by people like you. By belittling Rabbi Wein's statement you only contribute to the silence from the Charedi camp on issues such as these. Perhaps if you would embrace these types of statements with open arms, more Charedim would be willing to open their mouths, and maybe we could help make the world a better place.

  3. Have his books been removed from the Yeshiva shelves yet?

  4. @Yeshivaguy

    I think you read that post incorrectly. He doesn't find anything wring with Rabbi Wein's position. He simply bemoans the fact that it needs to be said at all.

    Frankly, if Charedim actually cared about the Torah they supposedly learn, this discussion wouldn't be taking place.

  5. Yeshivaguy - as another commenter pointed out, you misunderstood my point (which I confess may be my fault for not being clearer). I think it's great Rabbi Wein wrote what he did, and I would love to see more respected figures do the same. I was just bemoaning the fact that something so obvious has become a great chiddush.

  6. To give credit where credit is due: The original satire includes a parallel conversation in a secular Israeli family. It was published by Asaf Wohl on Ynet:,7340,L-3480761,00.html‎

  7. does any one know where wein stands on rationalist judaism.

    he was caught jogging in shorts by rav s.z aurbach. who said something like nu nu. health.

    does that mean he is haredi lite ?

    he was friendly with moshe dayan and heard his reaction on the death of nasse does that push him over the edge.

  8. @Zeisa - Unfortunately the ynet article returns "You do not have permission to view this article." What is the gist?

  9. There's another link at the beginning of the post.

  10. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzDecember 8, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    I don't understand the idea that the potential chatanim won't accept the daughters of someone who is working. This makes no sense to me. everyone knows that the best bochurim want someone who can give siddur maleh - and that means someone who is working for a living or otherwise has money. where did the father get this idea that the bochurim for his daughters only want a father in law who is also an avreich?

  11. And we are ill served by religious political leaders and the handlers of old and revered great Torah scholars who, for purposes I have never really understood, oppose any change of the current miserable status quo. And, there is never any plan advanced to help rescue their adherents from the deepening abyss of poverty and personal despair.

    Here Rabbi Wein is pulling his punches. If we take his comment at face value, the implication is that the blame lies solely with the "political leaders and the handlers".

    Where is the evidence that the "old and revered great Torah scholars" want to make ANY changes that will protect their adherents from the "Ponzi scheme that inexorably will collapse of its own weight."

  12. The thing I love about Rabbi Wein is that while some of the kiddies in yeshiva have the usual irrational venomous hatred for him as they do for anyone who thinks differently or isn't part of the "yeshiva world" - nonetheless, none of the major charedi figures or roshei yeshiva ever speak against Rabbi Wein publicly. He commands respect and they wouldn't dare.. Or is it something else? I'm not sure what it is but I really enjoy him.

  13. Rabbi Wein is an interesting mix of two worlds. I wonder if he is the last generation that will be so. (I hope not.) Will there be black-hatters like him in the next generation?

  14. In what other culture in the world is a person considered to have made it if they don't work, don't have money, live on handouts, and read books all day (the same books over and over again if one is really successful)?

    What a religion! And I am not being sarcastic. It's actually a good thing, since anyone who really wants it can do this, so anyone has a chance to be successful in Judaism, according to this definition of success.


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