Monday, January 19, 2015

Lethal Woman

The previous post discussed Jonathan Rosenblum's call for charedim to think about the need for secular studies and professional employment. In the comments to Rosenblum's article on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Barak Saffer raises an interesting point:
Who is this article being addressed to? Anglo-Israeli Chareidim? It seems that most Anglo-Israeli Chareidim have these same questions but those that choose to stay within institutionalized chareidi society realize that being part of Chareidi society in Israel means relying on the Gedolim. There is no doubt that HaGaon Rav Shteinman is smart enough to have thought of the issues raised by President Rivlin and Jonathan Rosenblum... What you should be doing if you really want to accomplish something is go and meet with Rav Shteinman and ask him these questions. If you get a meeting then maybe you would be able to publish his plan for the future of Chareidi society... Bottom line, what is your goal in writing such articles, over and over again. Who are you addressing? 
Rabbi Saffer is, of course, entirely correct, within the framework of modern chareidi society. The modern chareidi concept of Daas Torah and the Gedolim is that they are certainly wise enough to understand all the issues facing us. If they decide that the economic collapse of the charedi world, and its increasing effect on the entire country, is a problem to be solved via secular education and professional employment, then they will say so; if not, then obviously they do not feel it should be addressed in this way. From the perspective of contemporary charedi values - which one would reasonably assume is the framework within which Jonathan Rosenblum and Mishpacha are operating - it is simply inconceivable that there should be a catastrophic situation of which the Gedolim are entirely unaware and are not fixing (and are even making worse!).

However, Rosenblum already preempted this objection a few weeks ago. He subtly pointed out that the notion of the Gedolim as being phenomenally wise leaders who are "doubtless smart enough to have thought of the issues" is neatly contradicted by factual history. There was a woman - a woman! - who perceived the most important issue facing Am Yisrael, and it was something that the Gedolim had not realized. To quote Rosenblum:
Sarah Schenirer. From here
"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.

I wonder how many people realize that Sarah Schenirer is lethal to the contemporary view of Daas Torah and Gedolim?

22 comments:

  1. Yes and no. There are many, many things that take place in the charedi community at the instigation of laymen (askanim, etc.). Charedi leaders, like politicians, often just react to movements and ideas started by others. I understand your larger point, but I think you might be creating a huge distinction between charedi society today and charedi society 100 years ago (in regards to the role of rabbis), which isn't necessarily there.

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  2. In other words, The response, of course, is that Sarah Schenirer didn't write articles in Mishpachah. She went to the Gedolim with her idea!!

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    1. Except that that's not actually how it happened. See "What Do We Know About The Establishment of Beit Ya’akov?" at http://www.atid.org/resources/survey/column5.asp

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    2. To summarize it for you, should you fear to follow the link, Unknown: The blessed Sarah Shenirer, saw a need, correctly and realistically analysed the situation and implemented a plan. She deftly kept under the proverbial radar, went to the people and didn't fret about being without education and qualifications. She politely skirted the rabbinical establishment and the Gedolim, was vague about her plans, even with her own exalted rebbe, and presented a fait accompli on a platter which could not be easily ignored or rejected. There is a lesson in there somewhere. Everyone will have his own opinions about what it is, but Temujin thinks that such things, the kind which involve something that has to be actually done in the Haredi world, are best left to the practical smarts and competence of the ladies.

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    3. Actually, that is exactly how it happened (she certainly didn't publish newspaper articles). She went to several (Chassidish) Torah leaders and was indeed turned down (and in Satmar they reject the Beis Yaakov approach until today). She did not start anything until she had the blessing of the Belzer Rebbe (she was a Belzer Chassid). The citation in the article as to the content of her kvittel is incorrect. It said, "To educate Jewish girls in the spirit of our tradition" (see Carry Me In Your Heart, pg. 28). Her whole Chiddush is that the girls would not simply be educated at home. In the very early stages, the Gerrer Rebbe endorsed it, and that is how it really began to take off.

      The letter of the Chofetz Chaim came in response to a question from a town in Poland about whether they should open up a branch in that particular town. Beis Yaakov already had the open backing (including financial) from Agudas Yisrael in 1923, ten years before that letter.

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    4. Barak Saffer: The article says she did start on her own, but got the Gerer Rebbe's backing after she realized it wouldn't go anywhere without rabbinic backing.

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    5. As I stated, the facts as I know it, is that Sarah Shenirer did not start anything without the blessing of the Belzer Rebbe. I stated as well that "the Gerrer Rebbe endorsed it in the early stages". If the speculation that she "needed the backing of the Gerer Rebbe after she realized it would not go anywhere without Rabbinic backing" is indeed true, then that was exactly the point I have been making. For changes to the overall approach of mainstream Israeli Chareidi Society the address is Rav Steinman, Rav Kanievsky (or any other Gadol b'Yisroel that you think might be listened to). I want to clarify that I never said that a person could not have an idea and a solution that the Gedolim didn't think of. What I did say is that "there is no doubt that HaGaon Rav Shteinman is smart enough to have thought of the issues raised by President Rivlin and Jonathan Rosenblum...". Therefore, any solution or changes in approach on a societel level would need to be coming from their Daas Torah. Maybe you could convince them of a plan that they didn't think of like Sarah Shenirer. That is why I stated that "what you should be doing if you really want to accomplish something is go and meet with Rav Steinman and ask him these questions. If you get a meeting then maybe you would be able to publish his plan for the future of Chareidi society.. I will now add that maybe you will be able to publish it as "your plan that has his endorsement." I hope this puts closure to this thread.

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    6. Barak –  Of course Rav Steinman realises that forbidding limmudei chol and not actively encouraging work leads to material deprivation – he just believes that it’s worth it and/or that material deprivation is actually spiritually beneficial. Besides the fact that 100 year old men rarely lead revolutions, there’s not all that much he can realistically do to challenge the vested interests which benefit from the status quo and will do all they can to keep it in place.

      Change will come when the individuals who comprise the Charedi community stop looking to him and his colleagues for guidance. That won’t happen because 40 year olds change their minds, it will most likely be the result of a mass youth exodus, akin to what occurred in late nineteenth/early twentieth century eastern Europe. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that what happened then will not be repeated. If anything the Charedi rabbinate is even more intransigent and out-of-touch now than it was then.

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  3. Although it may seem odd to some people that "someone who never learned a blatt gemara" could have made such a tremendous contribution to Am Israel as did Sarah Schenirer, it is important to point out that hundreds of millions of other Jews "who never learned a blatt germara" also made vital contributions to Am Israel.....all the Jews, women and men, , some quite learned, most not, who preceded us and held on fanatically to their Jewish identity and loyalty to Torah, sometimes at the cost of their lives because they believed it was important.
    The Jews are a NATION and the Torah is its CONSTITUTION. Every nation needs a scholarly elite but it also needs a mass of ordinary people going about their lives, farming, working, serving in the military, studying Torah and other vital subjects. The scholarly elite CAN NOT surivive without the rest of the nation, and the people of the nation need the scholarly elite as well. One can not exist without the other. The scholarly elite must be in contact with the entire nation and not lock itself away in isolation, otherwise their scholarship with whither away. The non-scholars need to support and respect the scholarly elite who provide law and inspirition. I guess we could say that this is a holistic way of looking at the Jewish people,...it is certainly the way the Torah guides us.

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    1. You wouldn't know that from many of the statements in the Gemara. Which were made by...never mind.

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    2. Y. Ben David, I'll think about the scholarly elite and how much we need them after my son is inducted into the IDF this coming August. I'll also think about it after he finishes basic training and is posted to some combat unit and my wife and I will have to live with the awful dread that the next knock on the door might be two officers from the Adjutancy Corps. For my wife this will be reliving the dread she had to live with back when I was doing miluim. Sure "The scholarly elite CAN NOT survive without the rest of the nation"; they need someone, say, my son, to hew their wood and draw their water and risk their lives while they risk...what exactly?

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    3. However, the scholarly elite can not be defined by an institutionalized system in which everyone can opt in and proclaim themselves as such. Elite must mean elite. Elite can not be everyone.

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    4. Northward Bound-
      I am not sure exactly what it is that you are disagreeing with me over,but I think you would agree that our soldiers have to know exactly what it is they are fighting for and that we need people who can articulate effectively the values our nation embodies, i.e. the Torah. In the "nation-constitution" paradigm that I enjoy quoting, no one would doubt that a country needs a group of scholars who know how to interpret and implement the ideas that are contained in that constitution. If you are saying that a large part of the scholarly elite Israel has today (i.e. the Kollel/yeshivah people) does not relate in an effective way with the majority of the population due their essential delegimization of the state and those who support it, I can not disagree with you, but there are other scholars who devote themselves full-time to Torah who also have served or will serve in the IDF, even in combat roles and yetwho engage themselves fully with the society around them, so it is possible to reach the proper balance between the scholarly elite and the mass of the public supporting them.

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  4. The thing is that Rav Shteinman is clearly nit smart enough to think these issues out, to see the social impact of his policies or to keep his flock out of poverty.

    You have to ask the question... if the gedolims effect is so detrimental to society's well-being then why do we need it?
    I dont think the nation needs this scholarly elite at all.
    Less rashei yeshivot and more town rabbis pls.

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  5. I wonder why someone can't have a frank discussion with Rabbi Steinman or a similar sage. Start like this "Rabbi Steinman, I have 75 grandchildren bh all learning in talmud torah and beit yaakov. What should I do today so that they can take care of themselves 50 years from now?"

    Is his answer really daven, learn more torah, and strenghen your emunah?

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  6. "I wonder how many people realize that Sarah Schenirer is lethal to the contemporary view of Daas Torah and Gedolim?"

    The Gedolim do. So did the Minchas Elazar, the Munkascer Rebbe. He cursed her and her students in Krakow.

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  7. I wonder if it's respectful for people to continue posting this picture of Sara Schneirer. I'm not saying she was pretty, but I'm sure she looked better when she was smiling or active. This is a lady who was apparently magnetic, and this picture doesn't reflect that part of her in the slightest.

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    1. In those days, photographs were taken with pinhole cameras (camera obscura) which required the subject to be absolutely still for quite a long time. Hence, you will rarely (if at all) see someone smiling in old pictures.

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    2. In addition to what SZ said, it looks like she may have needed a full set of dentures but did not wear them for the photograph. Anyway, i fail to find what is wrong with this photograph, and doubt any other exists.

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    3. Yes, but this picture makes her look like a grumpy cook or cleaning lady. It hardly conveys the amazing personality she apparently was.

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  8. The concept of gedolim as being infallible is very popular in the charadi world. But is this really true or just a case of good hopes?

    Very few 'gedolim' saw the deadly dangers of WWII and the destruction of the holocaust. Very few 'gedolim' from the Litvish camp saw the dangers of Rav Shach and his use of hatred against a certain sector of religious Jews that he despised; yet his heritage has brought us more and more inter frum hatred than all of that of Shulamit Aloni and her ilk.

    Gedolim are fallible. They may know Torah better than you and me, but they are not infallible. Ibn Ezra brings this down in the parsha of when Moshe took Tzipora with him and but did not circumcise his son. How could Moshe make such a mistake? Ibn Ezra brings proof from Natan HaNovi who when asked by Dovid HaMelech if he could build HaShem a dwelling place answered him in the possitive. Then that night Natan HaNovi had nevuah; HaShem told him to tell Dovid not to build him the dwelling.
    (look it up)

    If prophets can make mistakes, for certain those who are not prophets can also make mistakes. If our 'gedolim' can err; how much more so us!

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  9. Speaking of infallibility, I had an interesting experience recently when at a chasunah, a certain Gadol was the Mesader Kiddushin, and when filling in the Ksubah made a slight error. When we were later discussing the shailoh it caused, we were censured for discussing it, because it was a pegiah in his kavod/lashon harah etc etc. And I was like, what he can't make a slip of his pen? He didn't do anything evil or stupid, so why pretend he's a malach?

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