Sunday, December 21, 2014

Rosenblum Calls For Reform

Chanukah is a time to talk about our salvation from the Big Fat Greeks who wanted to reform our way of life. They wanted to change us from our traditional ways, but we remained true to the mesorah. It's a victory for timeless, Torah-true tradition.

Of course, resistance to those who are trying to change our way of life is certainly a good thing. But some of us feel that certain groups take this too far. This is especially with regard to the situation with charedi society in Israel, which ferociously rejects any attempt to change the system of long-term kollel for the masses and virtually zero secular education.

With that in mind, I was pleasantly astounded to see Jonathan/Yonason Rosenblum's latest column in Mishpacha magazine. He calls for wholesale reform in the charedi way of life vis-a-vis Torah study! Of course, he does not say anything about what kind of reform is actually needed - if he did so, then he would simply cease to be able to have any future impact in the charedi world. But his message comes through loud and clear:

Change in order to Preserve

"Shev v'al ta'aseh adif -- [In a case of doubt] remaining stationary is preferable," is a familiar Talmudic principle. But we learn in this week's parashah Vayeishev that there are times in life where the inertia principle does not apply.

After all the travails of Lavan and Esav and Dina, Yaakov Avinu sought nothing more than a little peace and quiet, But, as Rashi, explains peace and quiet are not the natural state of a tzaddik in this world. And so Hashem immediately brought Yaakov's most difficult test – the disappearance of his beloved son Yosef for 22 years. For the tzaddik, the natural state is one of continual striving. There is no possibility of remaining stationary. If one is not ascending on the spiritual ladder, one is descending – just like the angels in Yaakov's dream. In the tzaddik's world – the world of ruchnios – there is no standing still.

At the communal level too, it is often impossible to remain standing or to continue to operate according to old battle plans. Often times, just to preserve what has been gained, it is necessary to change the course of action that made possible those gains in the first place.

Not long ago, the Belzer Rebbe observed the remarkable growth of Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael over the last six decades and commented, "It will take no less siyata d'Shmaya to preserve what was built than it took for the building itself." I understood him to mean, inter alia, that building and preservation are separate stages, and the hanhaga of building may not be the hanhaga of preservation. After all, in the process of building a great deal changed from when the process began.

Today, the Bais Yaakov system is so embedded at the heart of the Torah community that it is hard for the current generation to begin to appreciate the revolutionary nature of Sarah Schenirer's movement.

Yet Rabbi Chaskel Sarna, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, once said to an audience of gedolei Torah and roshei yeshiva that the person who had done more for Am Yisrael than anyone else is the preceding hundred years was none of their ancestors, and had never even learned a single blatt Gemara. Everyone present laughed until he revealed the name of the person about whom he was speaking: Sarah Schenirer. At which point, all agreed.

True, she convinced the Chofetz Chaim and the Imrei Emes of Gerrer to join her revolution, but she was the one who saw the need that had escaped others: For the young women of her native Cracow, Yiddishkeit had become an empty shell that they were eager to abandon. Had matters been left to head in the same direction there would soon have been no Jewish women left eager, or even willing, to marry a Torah scholar. A radical change in women's learning was needed to preserve Torah itself.

And similarly when the Chazon Ish declared that Hebrew would henceforth be the language of instruction in Chinuch Atzmai. He knew very well that blood had been spilt in Jerusalem over the issue of Yiddish vs. Hebrew as the language of instruction in the chadorim.

Yet he also decided that those holding up the banner of Yiddish instruction were like the generals who are always said to be preparing for the last war. "Yiddish is not the battle front today," the Chazon Ish said to those who came to question his decision. The battle of the hour, in his eyes, was the preservation of the ancient religious culture of Jews from Arab lands. Had Chinuch Atzmai remained Yiddish-speaking it could not have absorbed that population and they too would have been largely lost.

In business today, we see countless examples of the impossibility of just "playing it safe" and trying to protect one's market share. Witness what happened to companies that once dominated their respective markets right up until the time those markets simply ceased to exist – Olivetti (typewriters); Eastman Kodak and Polaroid (film).

Just carrying on with what we have been doing until now is often not the best way to protect once past achievements. Standing pat is never a response with respect to preserving one's level of ruchnios and often not in hanhagas of the Klal either.
On previous occasions, Rosenblum has likened the kollel system to toxic chemotherapy. It's amazing that he is able to get away with this!

(On another note: If anyone is coming to Israel from the US or UK in the next week or so and can bring some items from a pet store for The Biblical Museum of Natural History, please be in touch!)


  1. How much juice does an American BT (yes, that is part of the relevant background) have with the Israeli Chareidi community or even with the American Chareidi community living in Israel?

  2. He can get away with anything because it's only printed in English in the Mishpacha so it may as well not exist for most Chareidim in Eretz Yisroel.

  3. No it's not so amazing. He is a BT who is considered a nobody in the Chareidi world. At best he may have influence on young American moderate yeshivish families, if they read Mishpacha Magazine. But their Rebbeim all fall back on the Daas Torah nonsense that they were raised on so unless we can expect a wholesale revolution in the more modern Yeshivish world (i.e. the balabatim of the next generation) then Rosenblum can keep saying whatever he wants, it has not and will not make a difference.

  4. Natan, shalom. We are talking them on language they will not want to understand. Chareidi world speaks on own something most wanted. But there is one moment that Charedi can not ignore, it's a money. And You'r Rationalist Judaism is coming to Monetary Judaism, I think. "Vodka is everything kosher", what they say. My method, non- orthodox, based on common principles of economy that we can see in jewish history.
    My site is Jacobscommunity on blogger too. But it is on russian.
    How the Yoseph is going to such wealth in his life? It's an interesting question, and has an answer - Yoseph is moving the Mitzvah. ... If we will be review the problems of Judaism on this monetary view, the Chareidi can take it easy and can to listen our arguments to them.

    1. Mr Sergey Zharkov, there is no reason why economic theory should be incompatible with Orthodox Judaism. Economics is about Natural Laws...think First Law of Thermodynamics (pervy zakon termodynamiki). One's Russian is very, very poor and rusty (and hopelessly mixed-in with two other Slavic languages) but let's see:

      S ekonomika mozhno da se podoyt po nautchno. Nauka pytaietsia poniat na zakony prirody i zakony prirody bili dany ot Bogom. (I.e., Economics can be approached scientifically. Science tries to understand natural laws and natural laws were given by God.)

      Sorry for this mess; hopefully you will understand the gist...pity language divides us so!

    2. Yikes. Temujin just looked at Mr Rosenblum's chemotherapy analogy. The fellow appears to be convinced of three things. One, that the yeshiva-based scholar class model was doing just fine until the Nazis destroyed it. Two, that the post-War Hareidi scholars pulled a rescue mission on Judaism comparable to the one by the Rabbis of Yavneh (current blight of catastrophic mass assimilation and religious polarization notwithstanding) . And three, that the Hareidi revolution brought "more learning" than ever...without bothering to qualify or quantifying this assumption and without assessing the impact on Jewry at large.

      Of course, another way to look at it is that the yeshiva-based leadership class with its institutionalized life-long or mass learning for males model was already collapsing financially and rending Jewish communities in the pre-War period. (Ding-dong, the kahal self-government and its authority is dead.) That the phenomenal post-War and world-wide economic upsurge with its unprecedented surplus capital merely brought a dramatic (but relatively brief) remission. That the decline of the Hareidi innovation (which began before the War) is caused by its integral economic unsustainability and is now returning with full force. The problem then and now can be demonstrated with a pencil and a paper napkin: A population line of full-time learners soaring up and up, crossed by a financial status line diving down. And on the "street level," the problem is just as simple: A shortage of monied and generously minded fathers-in-law. No, super-wife tycoons running amazing businesses whilst looking after seven kids, or super-husband professionals in well-paid careers devoting their spare time and income to rosh yeshivas (with their own growing families and needs) won't work in the long run either.

  5. How much juice does an American BT (yes, that is part of the relevant background) have with the Israeli Chareidi community or even with the American Chareidi community living in Israel?

    There is no standard for measuring influence. Safe to say the answer is "some influence". His voice is heard to some degree even among hard line English speak Haredim of distinguished lineage. And everything effects everything, we just don't know how much. You can't discount anything completely.

    Haredim, despite all efforts of propaganda, are not immune and not completely insensitive to the reality of the house of cards that they are standing on.

  6. הרבה מהומה ואין מאומה--or, as they say in the old country, much ado about nothing. I don't doubt that Rosenblum understands the need for reform, only that he has the courage to recognize the implications of this belief with regard to the Haredi leadership systems, or to actually stand up for it. This mealy-mouthed tiptoe through the tulips does nothing to convince me otherwise.

  7. the younger generation of Charedim, will shift from full time learning to working and learning, the percentage is small but growing and will increase.
    The "Gedolim" is an industry which will weaken; yes of course some fanatics will continue to support these self appointed men.

  8. There will eventually be change. Then there will be endless propaganda and revisionist essays claiming that the new way is the way it's always been.

    1. The rabbi gave a sermon one Shabbos morning. It was about Devorah and he spent some time trying, rather unsuccessfully he even admitted, to understand and justify a female who spoke in front of men and, worse yet, was a leader of men when these actions are so in conflict with tzneius. He left the matter largely unresolved. After davening, I spoke to him and offered that Occam's Razor suggests that the answer is simply that our notion of tzneius has changed over the several thousand years since Devorah. Well!!! It was as if I dumped a bucket of cold water over his head. It rocked him back on his heals. I didn't understand it at the time, but I now realize that what I did was threaten his tidy little world and his education didn't equip him to examine the axioms of his world-view and beliefs and walk away whole from the conversation. Indeed it seems to expressly have avoided any such original critical thinking. He just couldn't wrap his mind around this charedi idea that frumkeit is exactly what it has always been, going back even to Moses. The silliness of this idea is easy to prove. I really doubt Moses lit Chanukah candles or dressed up on Purim. Did King David demand glatt? Did the Sanhedrin dress for work in fedoras and black suits and ties because that's how you'd present yourself to a king? You can probably think of a slew of your own. The matter is not trivial; besides being intellectually dishonest, basing so much of your life and attitudes on a lie is ultimately destructive.

    2. there is another answer that would allow him to keep his worldview: the rules are different for prophets, male or female. this is how the yerushalmi answers the question and is brought by the beit yosef.

    3. I heard a good drasha along this line. Why did Yaakov Avinu weep after he kissed Rahel when they first met? Because he felt guilty about violating the laws of negia!

    4. I may be oversimplifying or missing a major point, but doesn't it matter just a little that Devorah was a prophetess? If a woman had nevuah today I don't think there would be much protest about her being a shofet.

    5. Peleg, the modern Hareidi notion or doctrine of tzniut is the device one suspects the Hareidi world hopes will allow women to take on dominant bread-winner roles, while preventing them from acquiring the social status and power which inevitably follow. Parts of the Hareidi world are engineering their own dissolution with the fanciful idea that decrees or inspiring seminars by charismatic speakers and rebbetzins will keep marriages happy and families intact while women heroically and cheerfully handle family income, child rearing and housework all at once. Temujin's sage advice: Guys, learn a trade, get a job, get to know the kitchen, master the technology of the vacuum cleaner and put in serious (not just "quality") time in looking after your kids!

    6. Very interesting. But wouldn't a woman leader have been considered even MORE immodest in those days, considering the general attitudes towards women?

    7. In Mas. Sanhedrin the tale is told of how the Chazal wanted to include Shlomo HaMelech on the list of kings who wouldn't get Olam Haba because of his late-life indiscretions. After several hints from Heaven that they were on the wrong track a bas kol finally came down and announced "Do you mind? I decide who gets in, not you guys!"
      If the Ribono shel Olam wanted a leader like Devora at that time then we got a leader like Devora and that's it!

  9. Im sorry but i have a hard time respecting a leader who won't or can't come out and say what needs to be said or do what needs to be done.

    Rabbis Dov Lipman and Shai Piron don't just hint. They say clearly what needs to be done to bring Haredim back to reintegrate with the Jewish People and to live a life of financial responsibility.

    They created a network of haredi mamlachti schools so that Haredim can learn secular subjects and Torah together. They did it on the quiet so as to be respectful and effective
    Over 40 such schools now exist.

    Im voting for him and Yes Atid because yhey show real leadership.

  10. By the way, there are multiple sites carrying an announcement for the Har Nof 4's Shloshim asking men to put on tefillin on the day. However, at the bottom only 3 families are listed. The Twerskies are missing. Has anyone a reason for this?

    1. Not knowing the answer is not a problem per se, but if you don't know it you should not comment on Charedi issues. Every Charedi child in Israel and most in the US know the answer.
      Some internal issues in Charedism stay internal.


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