Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rosenblum: We All Need Charedim To Get Academic Education And Professional Employment

Recently, I highlighted Jonathan Rosenblum's article in Mishpacha magazine calling for wholesale reform in the Israeli charedi way of life vis-a-vis Torah study. However, in that article he did not detail the reason for such a reform, nor what kind of reform he had in mind. In his latest extraordinary column, he spells it out.

Endorsing a speech by President Rivlin, Rosenblum noted that "20% of the school children in Israel between first and sixth grade are now in chareidi educational frameworks" (if you just consider first grade, it's over 30%). Leaving aside the question of who will serve in the IDF, the pressing question that he asks is: “who will fund the maintenance of this army if Israeli society is poor?” He also notes that “the modern economy puts a high premium on education, and ever more jobs require academic or vocational training of some kind.” How will the national economy survive, with such a huge proportion of society being uneducated and unemployed?

The dissonance here is staggering. Jonathan Rosenblum is one of the premier spokesmen for the charedi world. He has written countless columns for both Yated and HaModia. Mishpacha magazine is likewise a publication that claims to be staunchly charedi. It would never run anything explicitly critical of the Gedolim, or even challenging the directive to vote for chareidi political parties.

Yet here we have a column by Jonathan Rosenblum in Mishpacha magazine that pretty much explicitly says that the Gedolim are wrong and one should not vote for chareidi political parties. After all, Rav Steinman, the leader of the Litvishe charedi world, came to Ramat Beit Shemesh and spoke out strongly against getting even a basic secular education, let along a university education. And it's not as though the charedi political parties are fighting for more secular studies in the charedi school system - they do precisely the opposite.

Putting this together with the feature article in Mishpachah magazine about the financial collapse of charedi society, we have Mishpacha pointing out the following obvious truths:
  1. Charedi society is in economic ruin;
  2. This is a result of the leadership of the Gedolim and charedi politicians and communal leaders;
  3. As charedim grow in number, this catastrophe will spread to the entire State of Israel;
  4. The solution is for them to start having proper secular studies and professional careers, which the Gedolim and charedi politicians fight against.

They are observing that the emperor has no clothes, but they are simultaneously desperately trying to avoid being seen as saying that! I am not judging them - they are in an extremely difficult position. It's easy for me to publicly point out the problems with charedi society, since I have little to lose. People who live in that world have much more at stake. Furthermore, perhaps this is the best way to get the message across. But personally, I suspect that it would be more effective if they would come out and say it more explicitly.


  1. A couple of points: As erudite as he is, Rav Rosenblum is used by the Chareidi establishment as a fig leaf. We're all ready to criticize them for not understanding the predicament they're in so they trot him out to write something reasonable. Then we are expected to say "Oh, they do get it!" But the same establishment doesn't want to do what he recommended, just to buy time through distraction.
    Secondly, change does come to the Chareidi community but it does so through stealth. Yes, one day it's possible that Chareidim will see working for a living as a real first tier option in life but if we ever point that out they'll slide right back to where they are no. They will change, we're not allowed to mention it because change is forbidden.

  2. But personally, I suspect that it would be more effective if they would come out and say it more explicitly.


    really. you want them put in 'cherem' ?

  3. I think you mis-place where RJR's conflict lies.

    RJR, like many yeshivish anglo olim, got to Israel where one is socially compelled to join one of the existing camps, and identified with Israeli Chareidim. The problem is, American Yeshivish isn't the same as Israeli Chareidi; Lakewood is far to the left of Bnei Braq. And so Jonathan Rosenblum is one of many left with cognitive dissonance.

    He therefore think's he is an insider, a spokesman for the community. But his beliefs do not match the community he is trying to represent. This problem exists for much of his audience, since he is writing in English, so that the real Israeli Chareidim aren't reading him and haven't drummed him out for statements like this one.

    RJR therefore doesn't get the fact that he is attacking something that is part of Israeli Chareidi self-definition, because it isn't part of American Yeshivish philosophy -- and he can't let himself see that the two differ so fundamentally.

    1. Micha Berger, very well put. I felt that way for yrs about his writing....and many Anglo Charedim also are in same situation of being stuck between 2 worlds. Whether FFB, Mischazek, or BT. They weren't raised this way to throw caution to the winds. Yet we must listen the Gedolim or be chutz min haMachaneh.
      On the other hand, many frum do work in some capacity and these blogs paint a bleaker picture than it really is for most. In one of these threads about collapse of chareidi society it said people make just a 1000 shekels in Kollel? Don't know what Kollel that is, but he should shop around. And if he can't get into a better one, and neither family can help out big time, and his wife doesn't have a well-paying he must sit down with his personal Rov and ask a shailoh what to do in terms of training for a Parnossah. Yes preferably in Kodesh. But if he couldn't get into a normal Kollel perhaps being a Ra'm or Toen Rabbani, etc isn't for him. He can learn to be a Shochet, Mashgiach Kashrus (at least on basic level), Mohel, Sofer, Magiah, etc. And if those don't work out so let him go to a frum Michlalah for men and learn one of the professions or trades. I believe some of these have haskama from Rav Aharon Leib.
      As to those Rabbonim who are against, hand them your bills and ask if they are willing pay your way.
      I know Avrechim who became lawyers, marriage counselors, medical technicians, electricians, dude-shemesh etc repairmen, plumbers, interior designers, etc etc studying night seder or one day seder. Or started a small business which they run together with wife from home. And yes they have a tik with the tax authorities in case somebody was going to criticize for not having.
      Another big issue is most of us were raised on higher gashmius standards and aren't really living as simply as we should be. Look at the apts, furnishings, clothing, nosh, etc etc and that is a big part of the problem. We want to be Shevet HaLevi yet eat on Shulchan Shlomo...why did this Erusin party start which costs thousands of shekels? Well I hope the caterer it supports is a former Avrech....
      ...ok this got longer than expected. Eikm'l.

  4. I don't see any possible change by the recognized leadership in their attitudes towards secular education and leaving kollel no matter what happens to their community, even if there is a massive drop-out of people from within their system, as happened before in the decades before the Holocaust.
    Recall, for instance, a statement mentioned here by a prominent Rosh Yeshiva who said that he can not justify saying the Misheberach for the IDF soldiers because it could lead to a chain of events culminating in bachurim leaving the yeshiva, and he couldn't live with himself should that happen.
    It has been stated that the yeshiva exists for the "one who is destined to be gadol hador". The kollel world is designed for a scholarly elite and so those who don't measure up are not part of the calculation, and should they drop out, even for religious observance entirely (as indeed happened in the past in large numbers, if not so today), that is simply the price that has to be paid in order to maintain this elite.
    I am surprised that Rav Rosenbloom is either unaware of this attitude and or is ignoring it. He himself wrote a piece either during the recent Tzuk Eitan war or just before it in which he admitted that the Haredi world often has felt disconnected from the rest of the Jewish people, so if he is correct about this why should he expect the kollel-yeshiva world to worry about the kollel drop-outs if it means upsetting their whole value system?

    1. However, one could argue that by setting up a system where only the best get to skip work and the rest have to go, there will be more competition and you will get a better elite. Imagine if you had only the top 1-2% concentrated in a few elite institutions...

  5. It is true that Rosenblum is neither part of the core Haredi community, nor speaking to that community, and that therefore the messages he can be permitted to convey and the risks he runs are different than if he were native to the Israeli Haredi world and writing in Hebrew to the core contituency. It is also true that he sometimes serves as the pretty face of Haredism, like Avi Shafran in the US. Still, he swears fealty to the ruling clique, and I don't believe he is so ignorant or so naive that he does not understand the implications. Having seen the depth of sycophancy that he is capable of, I doubt very much that he has experienced a sudden epiphany, or that he has equally suddenly developed courage. If he--and Mishpacha, with him--are swimming against the tide, then the tide must have weakened in some significant way. Is there perhaps a fissure in a scond or third tier of Haredi leadership, not the "Gedoilim" or the hangers-on and sycophants who modulate and manipulate them, but those closer to the ground, who see first hand how untenable the economic situation is, and how criminally irresponsible the leadership has been? Does the change of tune at Mishpacha reflect such a fissure?

    1. Then again, for the past 20 years, there have been several institutions offering courses and job placement for the Charedi community, that offer night courses, so that the men can learn in kollel during the day, and take courses at night in bookeeping, computer programming, computer repair and the like.The list of courses available has expanded as the demand for different technical fields has developed.
      That's a far cry from instituting changes and introducing secular subjects in the yeshiva ketanah/yeshiva gedolah system, though.

    2. All jobs that require little or no professional training, pay little, will be obsolete soon and will leave people still in poverty.
      you can't prepare an entire population for the workforce by putting on a band-aid.
      That solution is entirely not appropriate.
      It only helps a few and doens't help very much.

      You can't avoid the reality that being prepared for the work place requires a lot more - and it almost certainly requires university education.

      what's needed is proper general education in schools from an early age and it has to start as soon as possible.

  6. I read his column, and thought that he may have backed away a bit at the end. But all in all, he did explain how untenable the charedi stand is. The money is long gone, and you can`t keep telling people that we need your cash , but we really would rather have nothing to do with you.'just leave it in a brown envelope, under the door, I`ll get it later.'
    \we`re still trying to strike a balance. I believe that we need a hard core of full time learners, who give their lives for learning. But we also need a functioning society, and we must avoid the deep cynicism for Torah learning that the constant ` gey`n noch gelt` breeds.

  7. "Yet here we have a column by Jonathan Rosenblum in Mishpacha magazine that pretty much explicitly says that the Gedolim are wrong and one should not vote for chareidi political parties."

    I read the article, and although that may be the obvious conclusion to some, I don't think that's what Rosenblum was trying to imply. He wants the change to come from within the chareidi community, not from the outside.

  8. I understand that the chareidim are afraid to get involved with the secular culture around them. I can relate to this sentiment; and expect those who can't relate to at least respect them for their holy perspective. However, they have reached a point where they must give in. The question remaining is: Which institutions have been put in place to educate and train chareidim in professions that contain minimal exposure to the surrounding culture? If I was a communal leader in Israel, I would do my best to create those mediums of education as a fair compromise to get the chareidim to start working and contributing to the economy. Is anybody aware of what is available in Israel today?

    1. That's exactly the argument! Is it more "holy" to learn Torah as a proffesion and distance oneself from secular society? The Rationalist Judaism position is NO, IT IS NOT. In order to believe that it IS, you have to believe in spiritualism, magic and kabbalistic doctrines. You have to believe that "holiness" is an actual metaphysical manifistation and not just a halachic distinction. You have to believe in forces of evil and that learning Torah somehow combats them. The Rambam didn't beleive in any of those things and called people who did fools. So, according to reasonable, rationalist Jews, not only is it pragmatically impossible to keep the current Kollel system alive, but it is immoral, anti-Torah, and a chillul Hashem.

    2. there are many institutions, just go to Straus street to LOMDA any night of the week and take a look inside.

    3. I think you are taking this to the extreme. People don't want to see immodestly dressed women, learn about ideas which are immoral or dangerous to our faith, be in a work environment with vulgar speech, and so on. The society can have a very powerful effect on one's mind and emotions and leads to sin. This is obvious and the Rambam definitely agrees with that REAL phenomenon.

    4. Elijah-
      The points you made regarding the challenges of an observant Jew today interacting in the outside world are significant. However, do you believe that is practical to create a totally isolated community, even if it includes people working, that is cut off from the rest of the world? If it is completely economically self-sufficient, then it might be possible to go to some desert isle like Easter Island was before the Europeans came and live completely by themselves, but no one today, including the Haredim are totally self-sufficient. Government aid coming from the outside is going to predicated on some sort of pay-back to the larger society. In Israel that includes things like national service or military service. In Europe or the US it involves governental control over the educational curriculum and vocational training which I heard that Belgium is now demanding, and multi-cultural exposure as the British are now requiring.

    5. Y. Ben-David:
      It may not be that practical to isolate chareidim, but it can be done to an extent. The ideals of democracy and multi-cultural exposure/acceptance do not have to be applied with a complete disregard to modesty and spirituality. Furthermore, from a religious perspective, being that Israel is the land of Hashem's holy people, the religious in Israel must fight to keep Israel as holy and pure as possible. The dynamics in Israel are totally different than the diaspora from a cultural, spiritual, and halachik perspective. Either the secular/left wing has to respect that and contribute toward that (to the best of their liberal capabilities) or expect an eternal struggle in Israel.

  9. What does all.of this say about the long term effects of Yorah study? That it makes one blind to obvious truths that the common folk can see (and state) years before the Torah scholars can?

    Rav Kook was right it seems about the ivory tower effect.
    Perhaps instead of praising RJR for his late arrival to the 'financial responsibility' party we should be asking what took him so long and perhaps look for leadership from others who saw this coming years ago.

    1. Or people for whom it was never an issue.

  10. A further factor at play in the modern world mitigating against the Kollel/Yeshivah world leadership every agreeing to anything that would sanction men leaving full-time kollel study, even at the expense of having a large drop-out rate (i.e. people who become embittered and disillusioned with the system and possibly abandoning Torah obserance entirely as happened frequently before the Holocaust) is the fact that in Europe and the Jewish communities in the Middle East, the Jewish community was recognized by the state at least to some degree and thus the Rabbinic leadership had responsibility for the ENTIRE Jewish community which consisted of people with a wide range of levels of religious observance. Thus, the Rabbinical leadership had to concern itself not only with the scholarly elite, which was a small group, but also with the broader community.
    In the modern world, this type of community has completely ceased to exist. In the US, Haredi Jews have practically no contact with non-religious Jews and ambivalent relations with non-Haredi Orthodox Jews. ON an official level, there is absolutely no contact whatsoever. Thus, the Kollel/Yeshivah community can completely wall-off their followers from the rest of the world, and so those who drop out of the kollel system against the will of the leadership can essentiall be written off and ignorned.
    In Israel, the situation is somewhat more complicated because Haredi Jews do have contact with non-religious Jews and with non-Haredi religious Jews, but since the official Haredi ideology delegitimizes the State, viewing it as basically a hostile regime we see again that those who drop out of the kollel/yeshivay systen and go to work or the army are again perceived as simply disappearing and can be ignored.
    Thus, we see the creation of a situation of complete disconnect between the Kollel/Yeshivah world and the formation of a new society cut-off from all other Jews, including those who had originally been inside that system, so there is no need for its leadership to worry about those outside of it and no need to take cognizance of problems within that society.

    1. The Editor's ChoiceMarch 6, 2015 at 6:03 PM

      FYI, you don't "mitigate against." You militate against, or simply mitigate. Just saying.

  11. ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM NOT TALKED ABOUT ENOUGH: Even the learning is pretty lousy.

    Meaning, grant for the sake of argument only the Charedi/Lakewood official justification of "Talmud Torah K'negged Kulam." Still their world fails, because the majority of the men aren't really learning anyway. They're busy helping their wives who are working, they're taking their kids to school, they're going shopping, etc. They come to the Beis Ha-Medrash late, and spent a good part of their time batteling. What little "learning" they actually do is the same old regurgitation of bits and pieces of bavli, the same thing they've been doing their entire life, over and over. Even the better ones, a small percentage, are just doing the same yoreh deah stuff as everyone else, maybe some Choshen Mishpat of questionable value. Few great landmark Torah projects are emerging from any of these places.

    Again, I personally don't buy the "Learning uber alles" claim for a moment. I'm just saying Le-Shitasam, that learning overrides everything - face facts. Most of these guys aren't really learning. As the Gemara says, most people who try that type of lifestyle, aren't successful even in learning.

    1. Hmmm. Have you done a serious study, from which you are bringing these conclusions? If so, I'd like some statistics, please. How are you measuring hasmodah? Who is learning what? For how many hours? What percentage come late in the morning? In the afternoon? How late?

      Empirical observation has a funny way of leading to confirmation bias.

  12. Oh, so in essence Rabbi Rosenblum is saying that the gedolim were WRONG!!! (of course he will say that, they were only talking about fifty years ago..., but Chochmah is supposed to be something that works for the future as well, or they should have said that their policy is only for the time being)

    1. No, he will probably claim that they secretly agree with him but won't tell anyone.

  13. One thing I don't get is this: At the core of this problem, I think, is the implicit infallibility of the Gedolim. Certainly, they are learned, wise, intelligent, and righteous. Still, no matter how fine examples of humanity they are, they are nevertheless still human. This means that they could, like the rest of us, simply make a mistake now and then. But it seems that no one will allow for this possibility even if it is contrary to our beliefs and, in my mind, at least borders on avoda zara, for if we accept as axiomatic that only Hashem is perfect and never makes a mistake, then assigning that same attribute to the Gedolim makes them, at least to some extent, deities. When someone makes a mistake dealing with me and apologizes way too profusely, I say, "You know why people make mistakes? To remind us that we are not Hashem." I am not saying that just anyone can or should point out what they think is a mistake, but I am sure there are men walking around who are learned enough and wise enough, etc. to be qualify to make such judgements. But even those men remain silent and I don't understand why.

  14. Here's my solution. First, we acknowledge that the kollel system was absolutely necessary after the devastation of the Holocaust in order to re-establish frumkeit and Torah knowledge. The Gedolim who figured out the system were correct -- no great surprise there, as they often are -- and now we are again on firm ground. When there were only a handful of us and only a handful of us to support in kollel, it was a viable system. Fortunately, we've hit the jackpot. Because so many of us have very large families and many of them go into full-time learning, there are now just too many of us for the system to viable. We've simply, and thankfully, out-grown the system and the critical absolute need for the system. It is time to adjust the system in order to again return it to viability. The Gedolim weren't wrong but they also weren't prophetic. They obviously couldn't imagine that their solution would be so successful. No shame in that.

    What I propose is to create a truly elite class of scholars, a meritocracy. We no longer need every man to be a learner but every guy should get a chance to prove himself and earn his permanent place in kollel. I think the community should guarantee that any guy who wants to can enter kollel for two years on our tab. At the end of two years, he would have to be tested by a board of chochomim to determine if he should be allowed to continue in kollel on the community's tab (partially or completely, a detail that would depend on the financial wherewithal of the community and his abilities). Anyone else could stay in kollel if he wanted to, but he'd have to pay his own way.

    But even those chosen few would not get a free ride. They would have to somehow take what they have been learning and return that knowledge into the community at large. Sure they get a mitzva just for learning but since the community is supporting them in a tangible way, the community should get some tangible benefit in return. Plus, their knowledge should not just die with them; it should be added to the knowledge of the entire community. Therefore, refereed journals would be established and the permanent kollel members would have to publish their original thoughts and ideas every so often (how often would need to be determined) or they would have to go out and speak, for free except expenses, or they should give free shuirim, again except for expenses. Out of these men and out of these experiences would naturally emerge the poskim and Gedolim that we need.

    No one would be denied the opportunity to learn and the community (and families) would not be impoverished trying to support too many people who, quite frankly, don't merit community support. And since there would be more men working, there would be more ability to support those who are elected into the lifetime kollel meritocracy. We would not have to suddenly stop holding the opinion that learning is a high calling but rather we would also have to adopt the opinion that working full-time is not a busha or a failing either; both careers are honorable and proper for a Jew.

  15. Maybe Rosenbloom has a better smile and picture than me and probably can write better too, but to say his is the last word in what is really happening in the Frum section of Israel is just stupidity.

    Certainly there are some families that are hurting economically but they fixed in their small minds that concept of sitting and learning for the sake of sitting and learning. Few are worthy of doing it. Most should have realized the 'gedolim' are not the 'gedolim'.

    My personal rebbe, a big name litvishe rav from USA, who was friendly to all groups, long ago told me that he believed that the concept of sitting a learning with no parnasa was against the teachings of the Rambam. He urged me to get out and work (which I did) and to learn quality time only. (which I did).

    What needs to be addressed and was not addressed in the article is critical: who chose these to be the 'gedolim'? Can some one else who disagrees with the newspapers that seem to have totted the 'gedolim' line be a gadol?

    Bottom line, something smells in Israel, and the smell is similar to gedolim.


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