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"The Mesorah" is Reformed Again
Do we ever interfere with the sacred mission of learning Torah?
The following letter was circulated last week by Rav Yaakov Bender, Rosh Yeshiva of Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway. I have put some key sections in bold.
As you are no doubt aware, a massive rally in support of our brethren in Eretz Yisroel is planned for next week in Washington,D.C.
Many parents have reached out to us, asking what our position is on attending the rally. After extensive and careful consultation with several distinguished roshei yeshiva and gedolei Yisrael, we have decided:
It is unwise for us to send our elementary school boys on buses to and from our nation's capital-for many reasons. (Including.but not limited to safety concerns and the adverse effects on many hours of traveling may have on the remainder of their week of learning). The question is therefore limited to our Mesivta and Beis Medrash talmidim
We cannot ask our bachurim - who are engaged day and night in learning, davening, and developing as talmidei chachomim - to close their Gemaros and Siddurim and travel to the capital. As ma'aminim bnei ma'aminim, we take it as a given that our lomdei Torah are holding up the world. We dare not interfere with their sacred mission - especially in a time of war. This is the bedrock of our mesorah.
We have and will continue to encourage our talmidim - of all ages - to actively do their part to help our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel at this terrible time. This includes everything from our extra Tehillim B'tzibbur thrice daily, to taking on specific, personal kabbalos to increase z'chusim and deepen our nesius ol, to writing personal letters of encouragement to IDF soldiers (we have already gotten appreciative feed back from soldiers who received these messages; we are now on our second round of correspondence) to penning letters of gratitude to President Biden for his support of Eretz Yisroel.
All of the above notwithstanding, any parent who wishes to travel to the rally that day and take their children along with them may do so.
Let us all continue to daven, to learn, and, most of all, to truly care about our fellow Jews who are suffering or in harm's way.
May we hear besuros tovos for all of Klal Yisroel
Rabbi Yaakov Bender
Now, there are some statements here to compliment. Writing letters to Biden is an excellent idea. So is writing letters of encouragement to soldiers, which is a great help to morale (and thus also to efficacy); Rav Bender’s recommendation stands in sharp contrast to Rav Aharon Feldman of Ner Israel, who discourages children writing to soldiers as being “not chinnuch,” not of any help to soldiers, and creating a risk of them “glorifying” the soldiers of the IDF.
But the main point of Rav Bender’s letter - his justification for not sending the yeshivah students to the March, based on extensive and careful consultation with several distinguished roshei yeshiva and Gedolei Yisrael - is incomprehensible.
“We cannot ask our bachurim to close their Gemaros… We dare not interfere with their sacred mission…” Why on earth not? Charedim do that all the time, when it’s for a political cause that they truly care about. They interfere with their “sacred mission of holding up the world” in order to rally!
When it’s to protest the overreach of the Supreme Court, they ask their bachurim to close their Gemaros and rally. When it’s to protest yeshivah students being drafted, they ask their bachurim to close their Gemaros and rally. When it’s to protest secular studies, they ask their bachurim to close their Gemaros and rally. When it’s to campaign for political power for United Torah Judaism, they ask their bachurim to close their Gemaros - in Elul zman! - and rally.
The inescapable conclusion is that they are perfectly well aware of the value of rallies, they consider them to be more important than a few hours of learning, and it is dishonest to say that they “dare not interfere with their sacred mission of upholding the world.” Rather, it’s that supporting Israel at its hour of need is just not something that they sufficiently care about. It doesn’t supersede the importance of keeping maximum distance from Jews outside of their community.
Then Rav Bender claims that “this at the bedrock of our mesorah.” Um, no it isn’t. It’s actually the exact opposite of the mesorah. And I’m not just talking about the mesorah from Tanach, from Chazal, from the Rishonim, from the Acharonim - I’m talking about the mesorah from the American charedi yeshiva world of less than sixty years ago.
To quote Rav Moshe Brown, Rosh Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, from an audio recording:
In 1967, when I was in Baltimore, I saw my rosh yeshiva, Rav Ruderman ztz"l, how he dealt with an eis tzara, with the war of ‘67. And I can tell you that it was not possible to talk to him that week. There was no eating, there was no sleeping... And then, of course, they had a rally in Washington, and I don't know the exact number, but it was well into six figures, the number of people that participated, including ALL the yeshivos, all with their Roshei Yeshiva. Including, I remember, Philadelphia went, led by Rav Elya Svei himself. Telz came with its Roshei Yeshiva. There was no chiluk (divisions) - right, left, center, it didn't make any difference. EVERYBODY went.
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