Monday, August 8, 2016

Does Rosenblum Come To Praise The Gedolim, Or To Bury Them?

Jonathan Rosenblum is one of the most important writers in the Anglo-charedi world. He is a former staunch charedi apologist, who thereby gained great legitimacy and authority in the charedi world, being a star writer in establishment publications such as Yated Ne'eman and The Jewish Observer. But over the last few years, he has steadily moved in the post-charedi direction.

Rosenblum has written columns in the quasi- rebellious magazine Mishpachah in which he described the charedi community as having a "diminished Klal Yisrael consciousness." He once famously likened the kollel system to toxic chemotherapy. In another column, he called for wholesale reform in the charedi way of life vis-a-vis Torah study. And in yet another column, he declared that we all need charedim to get academic education and professional employment.

In his latest column for Mishpacha, he returns to these themes. After writing about great changes taking place in the world and the disastrous leadership options facing the United States, he segues into how all this relates to charedi society:
...AS WE SURVEY the fast-changing world around us we should not imagine that societal change has somehow bypassed the chareidi world, or that our status as the eternal people exempts us from the need to deal with and respond to changing circumstances.
The Israeli chareidi world of today, for instance, bears no resemblance to that of the Chazon Ish's day. Every Yovel (fifty-year period) represents a new historical epoch, and the Torah leadership of each generation must respond to changing circumstances. Today's Torah leaders cannot just seek to imitate those of the past, for we are living in a different time, with different challenges. That is why Chazal tell us, "Yiftach b'doro k'Shmuel b'doro." Every generation needs its own leaders. (Note: That is not what Chazal's statement means, and I'm pretty sure that Rosenblum knows that! - N.S.)
Outside of the Old Yishuv of Jerusalem, the Lithuanian chareidi world of the Chazon Ish's day consisted of a few hundred families. As a tiny minority amidst a highly ideological secular majority bent on creating a "new Jew," who would be everything that the traditional European Jew was not, chareidi society adopted a policy of cultural isolation and separation to preserve its identity and flourish.
And that cultural isolation could be tolerated by the larger secular society because the small chareidi world was perceived to be almost irrelevant. David Ben Gurion granted the draft deferral for yeshivah students because, in his eyes, it did not matter that much. Within a generation the chareidi community would disappear, or so he thought.
Much has changed since then. Far from being a tiny minority, chareidim constitute at least 10 percent of the Israeli population, and, given the much higher chareidi birthrates, could reach 25 percent within a generation. The community is far too large to be ignored. Nor is it clear that the community could sustain itself in splendid isolation, even if it were permitted to do so (and the government were to continue building all-chareidi enclaves). That isolation is, in any event, ever harder to maintain, as modern technology renders the highest ghetto walls permeable.
The great task with which the Chazon Ish charged the post-Holocaust generation – rebuilding the citadels of Torah learning destroyed by the Holocaust – has been achieved many times over, at least from a quantitative standpoint. The chareidi community cannot be destroyed, at least not from the outside. There is no ideological enemy seeking to free itself from the shackles of Jewish tradition, as there once was (though there are still plenty of non-observant Jews to mekarev).
Nor has the internal chareidi community remained static. The community of nearly a million souls today is not just that of the 1950s writ large, but something quite different. Those who rallied to the banner of the Chazon Ish were a self-selected, highly idealistic group of individuals of a very high spiritual level and intense dedication. Today's community is of necessity a much more heterogeneous group. Its members were in most cases born into the community; they did not enlist in a great cause. The present-day chareidi community encompasses individuals of widely variegated spiritual and intellectual levels.
In his penultimate paragraph, Rosenblum drives his points home, beginning and concluding them with suitably frum terminology:
Among the many contemporary challenges facing the great Torah leaders are: responding to the needs of a diverse community; articulating new approaches to our non-observant brethren with whom we are coming into contact in a rapidly increasing number of venues and for longer periods of time; securing the basic level of economic well-being necessary to flourish; and above-all upholding the core values of the community upon which there can be no compromise and determining how they can be sustained in ever-changing circumstances.
But in the final paragraph, the frumspeak really rings hollow:
A tall order no doubt. But at least the chareidi community has one resource, which the United States can no longer claim: leaders who command reverence and awe (though internal machlokes has taken its toll on this precious quality).
If you were to accept his column at face value, you'd read him as declaring that the charedi community possesses great and wise Torah leaders, who command obedience and respect, and are going to successfully lead their community through the great transitions that are required. But, of course, if there were to indeed be leaders who can do that, Rosenblum wouldn't need to talk about it!

The facts are that it's perfectly clear to everyone, including (especially) Jonathan Rosenblum, that no such leadership exists. Rav Steinman came to my neighborhood and declared that secular education is entirely unnecessary, and that boys should be raised to go to kollel, not to work. As for girls, he once said that "it is better to steal money than for a women to attend college." And remember that Rav Steinman is the leader of the relatively moderate faction in the litvishe charedi world - Rav Shmuel Auerbach is even more extreme. Furthermore, it's not even clear that they are even leaders at all; as with Rav Elyashiv, much of the power seems to be wielded by shadowy figures behind the scenes.

In the past, Rosenblum has suggested (albeit not very convincingly) that [some] Gedolim do indeed want to change "the system", but are too weak to do so. Even if that is the case - and I'm fairly certain that Rosenblum knows it not to be the case in Israel - it would again refute his claim in this article that the charedi community has strong leadership that commands respect.

Jonathan Rosenblum and Mishpachah magazine are well aware that the Gedolim are not interested or not able to lead the charedi community through a transition - that's why, in Mishpacha's symposium on the topic of chareidim in the Israeli workforce, they did not interview any of the Gedolim or their spokesmen. So why does he declare otherwise? Presumably it's because in order to attempt to defray opposition to the societal reform that he is urging, he has to dress it up in Daas Torah clothing. But his columns have reached a point where you'd have to be very naive not to see what he really thinks about the leadership. His problem is that, unlike the situation with the US electorate, nobody in the charedi world dares say so explicitly. Hence his not-so-convincing subterfuge. Let's hope that he is successful!

28 comments:

  1. Ha! Wishful thinking. Mishpacha's underground campaign? You sir are delusional.

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  2. Chasing a chareidi high school out of Bayit Vegan isn't a good start.

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  3. Yes, let's hope so.

    I read "Leaders who command reverence and awe" as a challenge, not a statement of fact. Whatever leaders there are, people are still willing to listen to them. They have real potential to influence the community.

    I wonder if they read English, or his articles.

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    1. Well, there's the rub. Rosenblum's audience is not the important one here.

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    2. Even if Rav Shteinman read this, and even if he raised the magazine high above his head and declared it to be the direct and unadulterated word of God, still, nothing would change

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  4. This post is one of the 18 chosen for The Best 18 for Havel Havelim! Blog Roundup, Av 5776.
    Yes, only 18 חי Chai= Life!

    You're in good company; take a look!

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  5. I read the Yated (US) every week (it's entertaining - where else can you get "Purim Torah 52 weeks a year!). I often wonder how they tolerate what Jonathan writes. Considering the whole rest of the paper is straight in line with their concept of "daas torah", it's astounding that Jonathan gets away with what he writes. Maybe their readership deludes themselves into thinking that he can't really be saying what he appears to be saying since it would run counter to the gedolim. Cognitive dissonance at it's best!

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  6. "Leaders who command reverence and awe" -

    This is EXACTLY the problem. They (and their supporters) COMMAND us to revere and stand in awe of them, rather that causing us to reverence and awe them due to their great deeds.

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    1. An English teacherAugust 9, 2016 at 9:58 AM

      Um, "command" in this usage means "to deserve or receive."

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    2. I think you, dear sir, have taken too seriously that which was meant somewhat facetiously. A pun if you may.

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  7. > given the much higher chareidi birthrates, could reach 25 percent within a generation. The community is far too large to be ignored.

    I recall reading a statement just like that a generation ago and yet here we are and they're still just 10%. That should cause him some worry.

    Nor is it clear that the community could sustain itself in splendid isolation, even if it were permitted to do so (and the government were to continue building all-chareidi enclaves).

    And without even realizing it he hit upon the ultimate weakness of the "learn, don't earn" culture. It's only maintained because someone else is paying for it. Pull out the money and it collapses tomorrow. Perhaps that's why some forward thinking Chareidim are becoming worried.

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    1. And without even realizing it he hit upon the ultimate weakness of the "learn, don't earn" culture. It's only maintained because someone else is paying for it. Pull out the money and it collapses tomorrow. Perhaps that's why some forward thinking Chareidim are becoming worried.

      Since Israel is a multi-party proportional-representation democracy, why should they worry? You're going to pass a budget without 25% of the population going along with it? No way.

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  8. Hence his not-so-convincing subterfuge.

    Without discounting either the positive elements of chareidi society or Jonathan Rosenblum's presumed sincerity, their world is built on an enormous amount of שקר.

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  9. Not just the Haredim, also the US Modern Orthodox are following an economically unsustainable model: The Yeshiva day school system.

    Two-part article by Yigal M. Gross. Part I -- The problem:

    http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-yeshiva-day-school-system-costs-and-considerations/

    Part II -- Gross's proposed solution:

    http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/yeshiva-day-schools-give-parents-a-choice/

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  10. I haven't read anything from Rosenblum for a long time. What you see as subterfuge, I saw as an honesty problem, and defense of the indefensible. Maybe he is turning, who knows.

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  11. There is no more revolting cliche and trope in contemporary charedi society than the notion of "on a different spiritual level." (As in, "Those who rallied to the banner of the Chazon Ish were...of a very high spiritual level.") You hear it mindlessly blabbed everywhere, and always in exactly the same words, a sure sign of groupthink. A different level, a different level. Different level, different level, different level. What does that even mean? Where are these "levels"? Are you automatically elevated to one of these alleged levels if you make a living off of Torah? (Or, if you follow the Rambam, are you automatically lowered?)

    It's a trope and a cliché with no meaning whatsoever.

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  12. Nostalgia for a mythical time that never existed.

    The current era is an aberration. Most of the Charedim worked (some 80% in the late 1970s) in the previous generation. Many served in the army. And many were either outright Zionists, or sympathetic.
    Rosenblum attempts to portray 1950s Charedim as a smaller version of contemporary Charedim. This is nonsense.

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  13. I don't see the system changing anytime soon. I wish we can combine learning with great professional secular education like Yeshiva University

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    1. Who says "we" can't? (I mean, Yeshiva University already exists, but let's assume you mean Israel.) Machon Lev exists- it's more a professional school than YU, which is more liberal arts oriented, but it's there. So do other places.

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  14. Perhaps one might think about this as a way to build an off ramp from the current derech which allows the society (and its leaders) to chabge course while maintaining their dignity?
    She-nir'eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,
    Joel Rich

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    1. Would an honest appraisal (rather than a convoluted charade) damage anyone's dignity?

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    2. I believe that the answer, lshitatam, is yes.
      She-nir'eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,
      Joel Rich

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  15. Did you read my post on this column? I think Jonathan practically admitted that today's Charedi leaders have tremendous shortcomings. He basically called them Yiftachs. For a self identified Charedi who espouses fealty to the Gedolim, that is a remarkably frank thing to say. I think he deserves a lot of credit for it, Natan. We ought to support him on this. Not criticize him.

    http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2016/08/another-home-run-for-jonathan-rosenblum.html

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  16. The Rosenblum article on chemotherapy you linked to is worth a re-read. He describes the "unintended consequences" of kollel being supported by working wives, like shalom bayis problems and others. On the surface he says these "unintended consequences" was a necessary bad side effect of koillelim swooping in to rescue tradition [which, presumably, would have become extinct if not for koillelim.] That's Rosenblum minding his p's and q's, like anyone who knows where his bread is buttered would do. In reality, what he's really saying is the great big elephant in the room: That the "achievement" of the GEDOILIM in promoting koillelim was a massive failure of איזהו חכם הרואה את הנולד.

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    1. When I learned in Kollel, the Rosh Kollel (who was a Litvak) argued with me (a Lubavitcher) that, admittedly not everyone should or can devote all their lives to Torah study. But there should still be a good 10% that does devote their lives to learning.[Chabad doesn't really have institutions for that--if someone is exceptional, he finds some other framework to continue learning.]
      I once heard a statistic that Israel doesn't need (and really can't support) a standing army of more than 100,000 soldiers. Maybe it's the same with full-time Torah learners--it all should go according to how many עם ישראל requires, to maintain a certain level of scholarship.

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  17. Then again, Mishpacha also published an oped about how women working is causing the disintegration of the Jewish family, and that all women should cut their hours and refuse to work Fridays to prevent their kids from becoming ruined and going OTD- but then they said that of course, kollel wives who are only working to support their husbands are part of Shevet Levi and of course can suffer no adverse effects.
    Then again that article was in the same issue as a fulsome commemorative appreciation of R Eitam Henkin HYD so I don't really know what to think about Mishpacha anymore.

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  18. ful·some
    ˈfo͝olsəm/Submit
    adjective
    1.
    complimentary or flattering to an excessive degree.

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