At the Watershed between Charedi and Post-Charedi
There is a fascinating article in the online modern-charedi Tzarich Iyun magazine by Rabbi Yehuda Greenwald of Neve Shlomo congregation in Haifa. It's about the failure of leadership in charedi society regarding Covid, Meron, and the Walder horror. Rabbi Greenwald spells out many of the ways in which charedi society failed prominently and miserably in each of these three cases. He also recognizes the cause of these failures - the isolationism, the distrust of science and professionalism and government, the haphazard nature by which charedi society governs itself, the vagueness of leadership, the focus on the needs of the smaller community rather than the larger one. Yet, as a committed member of the charedi community, Rabbi Greenwald writes that the solution lies with... the Gedolim.
"The proper leadership of the Jewish People is, indeed, “The heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, every man of Israel” (Devarim 29:15)... Even today, we certainly believe that it is good that the Gedolim lead our community with a strong hand... We need to demand answers, to find those suited to answer them (Gedolim of our generation) and ensure they speak a loud and forceful voice of Torah and reason."
Alas, Rabbi Greenwald is so very close to the watershed moment, but has not yet reached the other side.
The problems that Rabbi Greenwald correctly recognized in charedi society will never be solved by the charedi Gedolim. Because, from the charedi perspective, they are not problems of rabbinic leadership - they are features of it. More precisely, they are inherent aspects of the fundamental nature of that society.
As I explained in my monograph The Making Of Charedim, charedi society is all about isolationism. Distrust of science and professionalism and government is inevitable and even valuable for reinforcing cultural identity. And the related issue of anti-rationalism means that rabbinic authority is vested in precisely those who are least suited to wield it - the Talmudists who are isolated from science and society but who, precisely for this reason, are believed to possess authentic, supernatural Daas Torah.
One can only hope that Rabbi Greenwald and the many others like him will soon take the next step, as emotionally difficult as it may be. Once out of the charedi mindset, one can fully recognize the importance of being part of the nation of Israel. One can acknowledge that rabbinic leadership is not to be found in ivory-tower Talmudists, but rather with those described by Rav Eliezer Melamed as true Gedolim:
"They definitely are important talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) whose fear of sin precedes their wisdom, educate many disciples, and it is a mitzvah to respect them. But they are not Gedolei haTorah. Gadlut beTorah necessitates an all-embracing, fully accountable handling of serious issues facing the generation, including: the attitude towards Am Yisrael in all its diversity and various levels – both religious, and non-religious; the attitude towards mitzvot of yishuv haaretz (settling the Land) and the on-going war which has surrounded it for over a century; the attitude towards science and work, and the contemporary social and economic questions."
Let's hope that the tragic trio of Covid, Meron and Walder will bring people to cross the watershed.
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