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The Top Secret Parnasa Plan
Apparently the Gedolim have a Plan. But it's a secret.
You don’t need to be a genius to realize that when you have a sector of the population that is (A) massively underemployed (both in terms of the number of people employed, and the types of jobs held by those who are employed), (B) receiving enormous amounts in welfare, and (C) rapidly growing in size, then this spells disaster not only for that sector, but for the entire country. The problem is so blindingly obvious that even Jonathan Rosenblum dedicated a column to it in Mishpacha magazine several years ago, endorsing then-President Rivlin’s asking who will fund the IDF if Israeli society becomes poor because of the charedi community.
(Note that while there are some wonderful new initiatives to create charedi schools and yeshivos with secular studies, as well as professional training programs for adults, these are (A) serving only a very tiny fringe fraction of charedi society, and (B) staunchly opposed by the charedi leadership.)
So considering that it’s such an obvious problem, what do the spokesmen and leaders of the charedi community present as being the solution?
Unfortunately, as we all know, they don’t actually ever discuss it. There’s nobody of stature in the charedi world discussing long-term planning, no think-tanks dedicated to it, no interest in surveys and statistics and economic models. They’re just not interested in discussing it or even thinking about it.
Sometimes you will hear serious people claim that the Gedolim secretly accept that charedi men need to go out and work, but that they don’t dare say this openly out of a fear of being labelled “fake Gedolim.” Of course, the truth is that any rabbinic leader who is aware of this necessity and doesn’t say it is by definition a “fake Gadol.” If you’re aware of a serious problem, and you know the solution, and you don’t say it out of fear of what people will say, then you’re no kind of rabbinic leader (and arguably not even a good person).
But I just came across something interesting and disturbing, which I think may well represent the mindset of many people. Back when Rosenblum’s article was published, it was criticized by a rabbi in my neighborhood who, although teaching in a yeshiva for non-charedi students, is himself charedi (and this is exactly why it’s a problem when non-charedi institutions have charedi teachers). He wrote as follows:
There is no doubt that HaGaon Rav Shteinman is smart enough to have thought of the issues raised by President Rivlin and Jonathan Rosenblum. What is the point in writing an article about how we should have a discussion amongst ourselves and other Israeli’s regarding the “application of Torah values to the running of a modern state, and with what Torah Jews have to contribute to the building of a Jewish society in Israel” and “what the chareidi community’s solution to the fact that we see many righteous people whose offspring go hungry.” What you should be doing if you really want to accomplish something is go and meet with Rav Shteinman and ask him these questions. If you get a meeting then maybe you would be able to publish his plan for the future of Chareidi society. Maybe you won’t be able to publish it because he will tell you that you shouldn’t (for probably very good reasons). If you can’t get a meeting at all with Rav Shteinman (to ask him these questions) there is still no need to write such articles. All it does is be mechazek those who are already questioning Gedolei Yisrael and are turned off from the Chareidi world.
I’m not sure which is worse - the naivete, or the passing off of responsibility.
Contrary to the claim that “there is no doubt that HaGaon Rav Shteinman is smart enough to have thought of the issues,” I think that it is overwhelmingly likely that Rav Steinman, who spent his life in the ivory tower of the yeshiva world, never thought of these issues in any kind of serious way. And it’s nothing to do with being smart or not. It’s just that certain types of questions and issues and analyses are completely beyond certain people’s sphere of thought. And even if someone else raises the issue with them, they may have a completely different worldview such that their answer is useless to the questioner.
When Rav Steinman once came to speak in my neighborhood, he presented the idea of working for a living as being in complete contradiction to Torah values; claimed (incorrectly, of course) that there is no correlation between general education and parnasah; and quoted the Chayey Adam about how his parents only cared about his growth in Torah, without revealing (and perhaps not even knowing) that the Chayey Adam refused employment as a rabbi and instead worked for a living! Those were not the words of someone who has thought about the economic problem presented by the mass kollel lifestyle.
But even if you believed, as this yeshiva rebbe does, that Rav Steinman did think of these issues, and that he did have an economic plan for the future of charedi society, that makes it even worse. Because why on earth would he keep it top secret?! Why wouldn’t he tell anyone what it was? Did he take it to the grave with him when he died?
This yeshivah rebbe is criticizing Jonathan Rosenblum because he is deeply disturbed that Rosenblum is validating those who are questioning Gedolim. Yet he is apparently not at all disturbed by the issues that Rosenblum raises, due to his blind faith that Rav Steinman must have had a perfect but secret plan. It reflects a common attitude here. People entirely abscond the normal responsibilities of a parent to raise their child to be independent, and if you ask them about it, they say “Well, we’re following the Gedolim, and they must know what they’re doing, because they’re the Gedolim.”
An example of this occurred last week, after Rav Dovid Leibel’s speech about how it’s perfectly legitimate to work for a living and to give your child a rudimentary secular education. Rav Elimelech Kornfeld - a local Anglo-charedi rav who abandoned his Sha’alvim background - wrote an article denouncing charedi schools that provide secular education. His reason? “The Gedolim are against them.” And what about the endless yeshiva high schools in the US which do provide secular education? “The Gedolim are for them.” Rav Kornfeld, a brilliant talmid chacham, leader of a large congregation and official rabbinic representative of Degel Yisrael, cannot even articulate the reasons for his policies, and just defers to the Secret Reasons of the Gedolim.
Every community has its problems. But when a community that purports to present the only authentic Torah wisdom is incapable of addressing or even acknowledging the glaring, enormous problem that it is creating for itself and for the entire country, this is a fundamental failure.
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