Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When Charedim Sideline Gedolim

There was a fascinatingly revealing symposium on the topic of chareidim in the Israeli workforce in Mishpacha magazine of Iyar 17/ May 6. The introductory article pointed out that "while no one factor is exclusively to blame for poverty, the linkage between poverty to single-income families and low workforce participation - mainly due to cultural norms and personal choices - is too strong to be ignored. While nearly 70 percent of chareidi women work, only 45 percent of charedi men have jobs."

Now, the linkage between not working and poverty may seem blindingly obvious. Yet many charedim will simply blame their poverty on the government or the stinginess of benefactors. So it is indeed significant that this article pointedly attributes the problem of charedi poverty to low workforce participation.

But things get much, much more interesting.

Following the introduction is a selection of interviews with "expert observers." First is Dr. Chaim Zicherman, a graduate of Chevron yeshivah who became a lawyer and is a spokesman for the "new charedim." He speaks about how there needs to be many role models of charedim who work in professional jobs, and about how charedim should enter the workforce early in order to have a chance of getting a job.

Then they interview Dr. Shlomo Swirski, a sociologist. He talks about the importance of all schools offering a curriculum that will give students the key to higher education. And he states that "charedim have to learn math and English because those are the tools that will enable them to enter the job market."

Next is Prof. Zvi Eckstein, former deputy governor of the Bank of Israel. He stresses the severity of the problem of poverty amongst charedim, he talks about how in the 1960s more than 70 percent of charedim were working, and he too stresses the importance of learning math and English.

Then comes Doron Cohen, who heads a project on "integrating charedim into society and the workforce" - a maskilic job description if there ever was one! He points out that "the government is not against the charedim" and that they simply want "to improve the standard of living and productivity of all the people in Israel." And he notes that even charedim who do work often do not earn much money, due to their lacking experience, qualifications, and social skills.

Finally, Mishpacha interviews Manuel Trajtenberg, a prominent Israeli economist who ran on the Zionist Camp list. He speaks about how "the minimum requirement is for charedim to gain proficiency in math, English, computers, and some of the sciences." He adds that he doesn't think "that has to contradict the credo of what it means to be charedi."

And that ends the symposium.

Wow!

Did you notice what did not appear in the symposium?!

This is a charedi magazine, written by charedim, for charedim. Its official credo is all about Gedolim and Daas Torah. But where was the Daas Torah for this important symposium? Where were the interviews with Gedolim?! Or at least with other people representing the Gedolim, such as charedi MKs?

There weren't any, because all the Gedolim in Israel are vehemently against every one of the policies stated above. Rav Steinman - one of the more "moderate" of the charedi Gedolim - has repeatedly spoken out strongly against secular education and has denied any connection between secular education and parnassah. United Torah Judaism described Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Shai Piron as “the most dangerous man in Israel for the haredim” because of his intention to introduce math and English into charedi schools.

So what is going on? Jonathan Rosenblum often claims that the Gedolim secretly agree with the importance of integrating charedim into the workforce, but are unable or afraid to say so (and direct MKs in the opposite direction). As I've written in the past, I disagree; I think that Rosenblum is trying to rewrite the Gedolim in his image, due to his discomfort with their views.

Rather, I think that the Gedolim mean what they say. But what they say is utterly unreasonable from any kind of rational perspective, entirely incompatible with any kind of strategy for ending poverty, and impossible to incorporate into a symposium on this issue. And so Mishpacha magazine had no choice but to leave them out. Incredible!

35 comments:

  1. More and more young charedim are undertaking vocational training as a gateway to earning a parnosoh bekovod.
    Rabbis in the charedi camp can protest as much as they like but they will be heard by less and less people.
    Kollel is an excellent and necessary part of Torah life however not everyone is suited to it and not everyone can afford it.
    The idea that a mother of a large family should be pressured to work to support her husband, is questionable phenomena.
    A person can learn Torah before work and after work as was the case in Europe before the Holocaust.
    We must allow a young couple the opportunity to learn in a couple after marriage but except for a an elite the rest should go to work to support their families.

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    1. > Kollel is an excellent and necessary part of Torah life however not everyone is suited to it

      This is the moderate position, but I din't think it's correct. It's the point between the two extremes, but the point in the middle is not always the reasonable one. If one person says the moon is made of cheese and another that it's made of rock, the reasonable position is not to compromise and conclude that the moon is made of exceptionally hard cheese, but to dismiss the first position as wrong.

      Kollel is a new thing. "Torah life" got along quite well for thousands of years before it existed, and it is not necessary. It may not even be excellent. And it's certainly not true that "We must allow a young couple the opportunity to learn in a couple after marriage."

      If someone is wealthy and wants to sit and learn instead of indulging in some other hobby, by all means. But if he's not, what right does he have to impose on anyone else - his parents, his wife, the government, etc. - to support him?

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    2. That you would contrast learning Torah with "indulging in some other hobby" displays a complete lack of understanding of what Torah study is.

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    3. > That you would contrast learning Torah with "indulging in some other hobby" displays a complete lack of understanding of what Torah study is.

      Not at all. I understand what it is. I even understand what it is you think I don't understand. I just disagree.

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  2. The article also repeats the tired, old idea that Charedim are all smart and would easily master any course of study. I think a bit more honesty about the difficulty of achieving a university degree would be in order. Last I checked, the curse of בזעת אפיך applies to Charedim too.

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  3. Does Mishpacha represent views of Gedolim in the first place? It is highly possible that Mishpacha's whole agenda is to push the working-chareidi agenda under the guise of a chareidi style magazine.

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    1. Avraham is right. Gedolim ban Mishpacha magazine because it's pork cooked to look like cholent.

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    2. Do "Gedolim" say it's OK to libel a publication they and you may not like?

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  4. I would love to know what "Charedi" means. Labels contribute very little to understanding in general and practically nothing at all when there is no coherent agreed upon definition.

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  5. Jonathan Rosenblum is unfortunately a prime case of what we might call "The Gadol Delusion" (I'm just further an allusion that you already started making, R' Slifkin), which causes many fairly moderate people with nuanced views of Judaism to assume that those who are lauded as being the greatest paragons of Jewish excellence must hold of their own views. The fallacy lies in the lack of understanding that these Gedolim actually reflect the values of those doing the lauding, and that they have far more extreme views than those holding this delusion. I have been deluded this way for most of my life, and it is at least one of the primary obstacles to progress in the Israeli Charedi community.

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  6. "And so Mishpacha magazine had no choice but to leave them out."

    You can be darned sure that this won't happen again! Independent thought??!! Scandalous! What a bunch of apikorsim!! You can bet your tzimmes that heads are rolling at Mishpacha even as we speak!

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    1. Correct! Bans are already being discussed in hareidi communities.

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  7. Rabbi, I am a school psychologist at two Orthodox schools in Toronto. As with the general community schools (both Jewish and public schools), frum children have a high incidence of learning disorders (Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit/Hyperactiviity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorders). Estimates of learning challenges can go as high as 10-15%. The two schools are open to these diagnoses and accommodating the needs of their students and do so to the best of their abilities. Other schools who are Haredi in nature are less likely to do so. Rabbis and teachers are less prepared to help these children too (for a variety of reasons). Not taking these learning conditions into consideration is a further impediment (a stumbling block) to their education and subsequent employment.

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  8. I have no doubt that there are charedi "gedolim" who favor more and better secular education and other policies to increase work force participation and earning. But for the moment, the price of being open about the issue is losing status within the charedi hierarchy. The real scandal of charedi rabbinical leadership is not delusion but cowardice.

    In my work on sex abuse I have some charedi personalities who privately encourage me, bless my work, and share information with me to facilitate my efforts. Yet they will not go public with their views about individual offenders or the need to rely much more on the secular criminal justice system.

    We may be entering a new era where the cowardly will tacitly sanction lay leaders who are willing to state the truth; the system is in trouble.

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  9. I don't know if you're right or wrong about Jonathan Rosenblum, but it sounds plausible. Which would be very interesting, because it is exactly opposite of what many writers (correctly) say about Arab leaders. To wit, that no one should attempt to divine what Arab leaders "really" want, by looking at their formal statements to the press. That no one should attempt to dismiss what these leaders actually say to their followers as "mere rhetoric", because that is in fact what they truly believe, and the rest just designed to placate their naïve enablers in the press. I don't know if JR himself has ever written something like this, but many of his colleagues have, and it would 100% be in keeping with his political views. (Which I agree with.) If your belief is correct, Rosenblum would be applying the exact opposite approach to the Charedi leaders.

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  10. I don't know if Rosenblum is wrong. Even Rav Elaishiv was physically attacked by extremists after he reached an agreement regarding alleged Jewish graves in Pisgat Ze'ev. Moroever, Chareidi gedolim are surrounded by askanim who tell them what is necessary to achieve the desired "pesak". Rav Simcha Kook said explicitly that MK Gafni deceived Rav Elaishiv in order to join the Rabin government (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/75042#.VWR3s9Kqqko).

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  11. Rabbi Slifkin,
    While I agree with your most of your analysis, I think you may be missing a the chance to stress the elephant in the room, and in this case it's one which is good news. That is, that the fact that mishpacha chose to publish this is a sign of something brewing in the chareidi world, the stirring of a movement to have laymen and the masses reclaim control of the agenda and steer it towards common sense. It's also a statement that the masses are willing to tell the G'dolim that they've had enough and are ready to take things into their own hands. It's not just that mishpacha's editors are part of this, they must feel that their readership is part of this. If this article was jusged likely to offend a large portion of their readers (and I am certain that it has offended SOME of them) than they would not publish it. Mishpacha needs readership to stay in business and remain relevant. They have their ears to the ground so to speak, and they know that the average Charedi reading their magazine has had enough of the mishegas and is ready to listen to common sense --- and wants that common sense to be 'out there', with or without the haskama of a member of the Moetzes. By no means do I think that most of the Chareidi world is about to embrace the dati leumi worldview. But a substantial portion is looking for a middle ground, and is even willing to listen to proud dati leumi for advice about integrating into society without compromising..... (Even if they may think that by definition the d"l community has made too many compromises --- nonetheless, within Israeli society they know that the D"L are the most likely to understand their religious needs and give them heartfelt advice).
    To me, that is the big story here: not the by now painfully obvious point that their G'dolim are out of touch with modern reality, but that they are out of touch with the views of their own laity.
    Does this result in split? breakaway? change? in the charedidi community, or all three? Time will tell, but there may be cause for some optimism.

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  12. I've often marveled at the delicate balance charedim often play with their gedolim. I think many of them often intentionally fool themselves because they want to be normal/moderate (relatively speaking) but they also want to believe that their gedolim are all-knowing. They therefore selectively hear what they want to hear from their gedolim (and kana'aim selectively publicize what gedolim say) and make excuses for them left and right when they don't want to believe they said something.

    Just one example among many (and a minor one at that): Rav Elyashiv said wearing crocs on Yom Kippur is assur. How many charedim in America know this? How many follow his ruling?

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    1. Rav Elyashiv also said that the berachah on chocolate is "ha'eitz." There are other Gedolei Poskim who say otherwise.

      The Crocs shailah is really an extension of the Sneaker shailah. Those that assur Crocs assur most running shoes because they are just as comfortable as leather shoes, if not more so. But most people only know about the Crocs because it's a "name brand" shailah.

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  13. While the cited article is a refreshing change from the usual Hareidi point of view, excitement should be tempered with the consideration that this magazine (as far as I can see) is in English and intended for an English speaking audience - albeit Yeshivish or Hareidi. I await the day when such an editorial in a Hareidi paper appears in Israel and in Hebrew. In any case, it may well represent a crack in the hitherto solid front promoting the 'torah only' approach, and may have a direct effect on Hareidi life in the US. I can just picture some overworked kollel wives reading the article and starting a campaign to get their husbands to start supporting the family.

    Y. Aharon

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  14. I qualify a comment I made.
    I meant to say it is a good idea for a married man to have the opportunity for say a year after marriage to learn in Kolel.
    Kolel is just a term current today.
    There have always been elite groups of men learning full time in every major Jewish community, I stress elite, both in quality and of limited number.

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  15. Possibly all the gedolim oppose joining the work force. However I've been hearing ads on Kol B'rama for a high school for Chareidi kids in which they do the bagrut tests (of course the school is meant for kids who don't fit into a regular yeshiva ketana). Plus they have endless ads for schools giving some sort of professional training, up to a masters degree.

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  16. The entry of regular haredi youth and young married into vocational training and the workforce will continue to grow.
    Families cannot and do not want to live on government handouts or charity.
    People want a dignified life.
    The resistance of certain rabbis and their inner circle will be accepted by some but by less and less.

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  17. Not your best work. Mishpachah magazine isn't considered authoritative in haredi circles, or even legitimate. As well, most jobs in the next few generations will be replaced by robots (self driving cars, increasingly sophisticated manufacturing robots, even some service industry jobs). The only people working jobs in two generations will be bus boys and robotics line engineers.

    There are many good reasons to include secular studies in a curriculum, but parnossa isn't the best.

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    1. "The only people working jobs in two generations will be bus boys and robotics line engineers."

      Glad to see that the haredi velt is ahead of its time...

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    2. Let me get this straight. Every second house in the parts of Monsey which speak English gets Mishpacha magazine, but it's not legitimate? This makes no sense. Legitimate according to WHO is the issue. If it's legitimate enough to have subscribers, and if 90% of those subscribers are chareidi (and they are), then authoritative/legitimate is an irrelevant issue.
      As for your utopianism, there were many progressives who thought the exact same as you, 100 years ago. They were wrong. Using that as a rson to not study a trade is like using the coming of Moshiach to not study a trade.

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    3. And three out of four homes in monsey have internet access.

      By the way, i thought they get hamodia, a locally published paper.

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  18. R' Shteinman is still being quoted as prohibiting girl from taking the Bagrut, see http://www.kikar.co.il/171775.html

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  19. http://www.kaveshtiebel.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=8971&sid=59c4c5c4d6dadd6dae5bd06a29a71fd1

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  20. And Belz hassidim in London are being told by the Belz leadership that women may no longer drive (http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/UK-condemn-Belz-rabbis-edit-banning-drivers-404534). Saudi Arabia comes to Judaism. Is this not gedolatry? The Torah says that non-Jews are supposed to look at us and say wwhat a wise nation we are not what a bunch of benighted primitives. I love it (not) when the Torah is made into a laughingstock.

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    1. Girls in (at least some) Chareidi schools in Israel are not allowed to take driving lessons. I know of one specifically, Hildesheimer in Petach Tikvah. Pretty sure Wolf in B"B also, kal ve'chomer

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    2. Back in the 80s/90s, the official rule was that single guys in yeshiva weren't allowed to get a driver's license.

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    3. Boys in Charedi schools (Yeshivas) in Israel are not allowed to take driving lessons either.

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  21. During the Gaza war you bemoaned how the world media were being obsessive with every action our boys in the IDF took to defend our country. Are you any better?
    There are 13 million Jews in the world today, by most estimates at least half are non observant. The remaining millions who are shomer torah umitzvot do work for a living. Yes, we have maybe 100,000 able bodied men in Israel that compromise not even 1% of the entire Jewish nation whose only crime is they learn Torah. Yet your obsessive stance against them continues. Before condemning the NY times for its anti Semitism, look at your own writings.

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    1. That you believe exhorting Jews to follow Halachah is anti-Semitism speaks more about you and your warped perspective than anything R. Slifkin has ever written, anywhere.

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