A couple of memories stick out for me when I think about the relationship between the leadership of the Chareidi community (the Gedolim) and the rest of the Torah observant world.
One is a story I heard years ago of a certain rabbinic leader who was visiting New York from Europe in the 1920's. On his way to shul on Shabbos morning, he heard two Jews speaking Yiddish on the street. He looked over to see two tradesmen discussing their work plans for that day and fell over in shock. Jews, speaking Yiddish, working on Shabbos? He had never heard of such a thing and had trouble dealing with this realization.
Another comes from a Rav Pesach Krohn video I watched on Tisha B'Av years ago. He mentioned a story about a great Rav who used to walk aorund in public without wearing his glasses so that he wouldn't see the world around him. "After all," said Rav Krohn, "there are certain things a tzadik shouldn't see!"
Finally, a recall reading in Eim HaBanim Semeicha of how Rav Issachar Teichtel tried to understand the virulent anti-Zionist attitudes of the Munkatcher Rav despite the abundant sources supporting a Jewish return to Israel. His conclusion was that the Munkatcher was surrounded by people who always agreed with his views and as a result never heard a different opinion or had to consider another point of view. Had he been, he might have seen things differently.
I wondered about these thigns in the wake of the big concert cancellation recently. Now, we're not talking about a Metallica concert or a Pink Floyd reunion (halevai) at which all sorts of very frowned-upon activities might be taking place. This, like a similar one in Israel which was also cancelled, was set up to be as observant as possible. Separate seating, strictly kosher food, the works. So what bothered someone so much that 33 influential rabbonim felt the need to annonce its cancellation?
Apparently going out on the town for a concert is forbidden by Jewish law. That, or having any pleasure is.
Back in medical school I had a teacher in Internal Medicine who felt very strongly about the importance of a doctor making his medical studies the priority in his life. Now, he was a great teacher and extremely knowledgeable but his lifestyle was quite limited. Essentially he practised medicine. In his spare time, to relax, he read the latest medical literature. And he had no compunctions about giving us all very large amounts of reading and work to do. If we grumbled, his response was "Well, do you want to be a good doctor or go out on Saturday night? Because you can't have both."
Now, for all that non-Chareidim criticize them, one must acknowledge that the Gedolim are the world experts in pure Torah knowledge. These are men who have spent decades immersed in Torah study, have worked their way from one end of the bais medrash book collection to the other. They spend their days doing little else other than learning Torah and answering people's questions in a Torah fashion. Because of this, when it comes to Torah knowledge they are truly a cut above others who think that doing Daf Yomi or owning a number of Artscroll books qualifies one to pasken for oneself.
Having said that, one must also consider that this lifestyle is very limiting. Because of their love for Torah and its study, this is all the Gedolim do. Furthermore, they are surrounded by other schoalrs who aspire to their level and therefore learn Torah all the time. Leisure for them is an easy Gemara with a juicy Maharsha to get through. I wonder, however, if this immersion has caused them to forget that others are on a different level? After all, the pure Torah lifestyle is not for everyone, nor can it be. Each person is gifted by God in his own special way and it is through the optimizing of these gifts that we flourish as a people.
But if the Gedolim only see Torah wherever they look, and if all those around them also only see that, then the idea of going out to a concert for an evening's enjoyment would surely seem extremely foreign and wrong. After all, time spent at the concert is bitul Torah and this is a sin that cannot be countenanced. Furthermore, the halachah forbids conerts and public happy gatherings as a memorial to our destroyed Temples. Yes, for a very, very long time this law was observed principally in the breach without anyone saying too much about it. But for those for whom any law, however obscure or unobserved by the rest of the Torah observant world, is an important rule that cannot be questioned, surely Lipa Schmeltzer's concert should not have been allowed in the first place.
I wonder, however, how disconnected the Gedolim have become from the laity because of their dedication to Torah and exclusive focus on it. This consideration is not without reason. Many Chareidim children go "off the derech" due to an inability to keep up with the latest standards. Others become tired of the never ending stringencies and fail to see a point to them. Some genuinely need "down time" to relax and unwind without thinking that they are sinning for it. When everything becomes forbidden, then everything inevitably becomes permitted.
On one hand, the Shulchan Aruch and the other major codes do specify that music and celebration are forbidden as a remembrance of the destruction of the Temples, unless they are connected in some way with a mitzvah (eg. wedding). That's what the books say.
On the other hand, in the last few centuries these laws have been observed more in the breech than anything else. Imagine someone puts up a stop sign on a deserted road and at first everyone stops even though there's never any traffic coming the other way. After a few years people start ignoring the stop sign. No one is delegitimizing it but somehow because of circumstance this particular stop sign is ignored. Even the sheriff doesn't have a problem with the situation. One day a new cop comes to town and, to make his mark, he starts waiting by the stop sign and nabbing all the residents who drive through it.
Technically, the new cop is 100% right. There's a stop sign and people driving through it are breaking the law. On the other hand, there was a reaonsable excuse for why it was being ignored.
Similarly here, it is undeniable and much to our discredit that due to our many sins and our spiritual dullness, we simply do not feel the loss of our Temples like we used to and like we STILL should, may Heaven preserve our damaged souls. But as a result, not listening to music or attending concerts does not make a difference to our observance of that particular mitzvah. Again, techincally speaking, the rabbonim were 100% right in banning it if they were going to go by the books.
But maybe that's one reason God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us an Oral Law. Because sometimes you need to go by more than just the book.
Have they forgotten that not everyone can have a lifestyle like theirs? In their zeal to perfect the Jewish people, have they decided that what has been the norm until now - different Jews observing the mitzvos in different styles, each to the best of their ability - must be changed into a uniform approach that brooks no dissent? A tzadik should know that non-religious Jews can speak Yiddish, light Chanukah licht and still not observe Shabbos, chas v'shalom. He should wear his glasses in public so that he can see what his people are doing and understand how to best approach them.
And if this is so, might it be possible that someone outside the fold with a love of God, His People and His Torah might be able to tell them this? That through their desire to banish any potential peritzus from the Jewish people, they are driving many away who cannot keep all the stringencies they have decreed?