Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

What Happened To The Family Minhag

The recent passing of Rav Nosson Tzi Finkel, z"l, has left a large hole in the heart of the Torah world.  A genuine gadol and a wonderful teacher, his ascent to Gan Eden will be felt by many.
However, there is one aspect of the ongoing tributes across the Torah observant community that is troubling me.  It is no secret that Rav Finkel came from a Modern Orthodox background but wound up the Rosh Yeshivah of the very Chareidi Mir Yeshivah system.  The MO blogs seem to be emphasizing his origins, many of them posting his graduating yearbook picture in which he appears as a clean-cut, all-American young man.  They emphasize the "one of us done good!" angle and "See?  A guy from a Modern Orthodox background can become a great Jewish leader".
On the other hand, the Chareidi websites seem to be ignoring or erasing his "humble beginnings".  One does not find statements like "Rav Finkel came from a family dedicated to Torah and determined to provide him with a good education in it" but rather something along the lines of "And isn't it amazing that a guy who came from nothing rose so far?".  It seems that for them one can be raised in a strictly observant home but if that home wasn't one of "ours" it might as well have been Reformative. 
But in both these approaches there is something missing: the role of family and community minhag.
Minhag is something that gets mentioned a lot but its true ramifications are never really explored.  Joe waits three hours between meat and milk because that's what his father does.  Sheldon won't eat cabbage on Pesach because his family comes from that village in eastern Europe where the local rebbe outlawed it. 
People make a big deal of how long they wait after meat to have milk, or whether or not they eat gebrokhts. Family minhag isn't just limited to small issues like this but also reaches areas of hashkafah. A person who grows up in a specific type of home and then goes and chooses another hashkafah and set of minhagim is stating that his family origins are not good enough for him, that he feels no allegiance to him, that he's evolved beyond them, else why would he have changed?
Imagine a boy who comes home to his 3 hour father and announces that he now waits 6 hours like his rosh yeshivah. Is that respectful? Heck, is it even permitted? How about the boy who comes from a Modern Orthodox home and announces that YU's leading authorities aren't anything compared to "the gedolim"?  Or one who announces he's no longer a Zionist to his Dati Leumi family? 
Here's the rub:  We're not talking about a case where the boy comes from a non-religious home and has to acquire some standard but one who comes from a standard and then discards it.  Imagine a Lubavitcher coming home and announcing that he doesn't see the Rebbe, a"h, as the Moshiach or that the Tanya isn't the most important book ever written. 
Is Modern Orthodoxy a standard or just a place marker? Is the boy who grows up in the home where the MO father does X and Y free to change his minhag because they're not real minhagim like a Chosid or Litvak father might have?  Is it not okay for a Chareidi to discover the works of the Rav and choose to learn under his talmidim at YU but it's fine for a MO high school graduate to accept Mir's hashkafah despite its conflict with his familiy's ideology?  And if this is the case, is this not a tacit admission by Modern Orthodoxy that they aren't a different ideology than Chareidism but rather that they're simply religiously inferior?
By becoming Chareidi, was Rav Finkel rejecting his family origins and announcing that they're not frum enough?
One might answer this in the negative.  Rav Finkel had a burning desire to learn and disseminate as much Torah as he could.  He therefore wound up at Mir where those goals could be achieved.
And the next question right back would be: couldn't he have found something like this in a hashkafah closer to "home"?  Are there no giants at YU to learn under?  Is the Dati Leumi  world bereft of high level rabbonim and yeshivos?
Thus the two approaches to eulogizing Rav Finkel dovetail nicely.  From the MO perspective he is seen with the same pride as a junior team watching its star player get promoted to the big leagues.  From the Chareidi perspective they are the big leagues and the existence of any junior team is inconsequential and irrelevant.
Modern Orthodoxy might be asking itself a question: why did Rav Finkel have to go to Mir to get what he wanted?  And when the next future gadol graduates from a MO high school somewhere, will he also see going Chareidi as the only way to reach the top of the Torah world?

11 comments:

Adam Zur said...

It seems to me that despite the fact that he probably knew the Talmud pretty well but the fact is that in the world or charadi yeshivot all that really matters is family connections. If the person happens to be a scholar then all the better. The real reason that the Mir in Brooklyn had real scholars in it--because they were simply the bachurim who learned in Europe and had no particular family connections. It is the strangest fact that in Israel where family connection determines who is called a gadol and a scholar that i never met a real scholar who could pass a simple "farher". Almost every rosh yeshiva i met in Israel revealed his complete incompetence in Talmud after a ten minute conversation. the exception is Rabi Silverman who heads the yeshiva of the Gra in th old city of Jerusalem. In these conversations i discovered their trick how they could be considered talmidei chachmim without really having the minimal competence--they learned how to cover their ignorance with fancy wordplay double talk.

MO Pride said...

There is an even stronger question...why do the gedolim of the DL/MO world not believe in their own hashkafa?

Look at kids of Rav Schachter, Rav Willig, etc. who have morphed into the charedi world.

They had amazing role models who chose to send them to more charedi institutions.

If the gedolim themselves won't set an example how can we expect the average guy to?

shaya g said...

When I was in Telshe Chicago many moons ago, it was a regular occurence that boys gave up their family minhagim. I had friends who went to other yeshivas and did the same. The reasons given were almost always the same, this is the more "correct" minhag. this is the frum way.
I myself was pressured many times to give up certain minhagim, like waiting 6 hours, certain tefillot that I say or don't, standing vs sitting for kiddush, etc...

I personally believe that one of the negatives about the popularity of the Yeshiva system is the death of the family minhag. It has a great deal tie in to the "chumra-ization" of society as well.

Mirrer on the wall said...

You seem to be forgetting, or ignoring the fact that Rabbi Nosson Finkel had an illustrious grandfather and was merely returning to his roots.

S. said...

I agree with you that the MO shouldn't be celebrating the idea that he "came from nothing" and that becoming the rosh yeshiva of Mir, with 6000 talmidim, isn't the pinacle of MO ambitions, nor should it be. (It's not nice to discuss what's wrong with a yeshiva with 6000 talmidim during the shloshim anyway.)

However, I disagree about hashkafah. Would you really be so upset if the situation had been reversed, and a guy from a very European, very "Chareidi" rabbinic family had gone MO native and become, say, a R Aharon Lichtenstein? I doubt it.

Hashkafah is not minhag. And even if it is, minhag fetishization should not be MO. I really, really do appreciate the importance of minhagim. I do. But I don't think predestination plays any role in Judaism. Nor do I think that a person's personal hashkafic journey is anything less than a sign of growth and ferment in the mind, even if we do not think that the final destination is better than where he or she started out. I would agree that we can make a distinction between spiritual journeys that are the result of an attraction to cholent or community or different kind of clothes, but surely we can all agree that R. NZ Finkel did not go Mir native because of, or only because of, those things.

Anonymous said...

R' Nosson Tzvi's great grandfather was the alter of Slabodka- a founder and developer of yeshivos, so I would say he kept the family minhag even better than his own father did.

If one insisted on keeping family minhag no one would be modern orthodox, since 200 years ago there was no modern orthodoxy.

Dr Mike said...

Yes, but 200 years ago there were no chareidim either.

Let's Stand Up for MO Pride! said...

There is another basic issue here.

MO pride brings up about believing in ourselves and our own hashkafot.

And yet how many DL/MO prefer a "badatz" hechsher...since when do more chumros (or a higher price) mean higher level or quality?

How many DL/MO call the charedi rabbonim "gedolim" and yet won't do the same for the gedolim in the DL/MO world?

Why do many DL/MO think that charedim do tzedaka, chesed, bikur cholim,etc. "better" than anyone else?


How many DL/MO choose charedi mohelim, etc. when there are fine mohelim in the DL world?

There are many wonderful DL organizations who do a great job in tzedaka, chesed and Torah.

If we don't support our own..no one else will.

For some reason no matter what the charedim say or do everyone else seems to consider them to be better and more true to mesorah.

we in the DL world are our own worse enemy.

Anonymous said...

1000 years ago, the chaza"l were experts in all fields of knowledge. This makes for some excellent speeches and stories, but it's just not possible anymore to take the best of all worlds, and still be a Gadol who's accepted by everyone. People judge you by your upbringing, and your current environment. There are people out there, MO, who are great, but they are not accepted by everyone. And if R' Finkel was to stay in YU, as much as I hate to say it, I don't think he would be the universal Gadol that he is, either. True that affiliating yourself with any religious movement leads to stereotypes and branding, and every religious group has their failings. But religiously speaking, and NOT politically, Charedi is, and will always be considered the big leagues, the Everest of Judaism. (And I emphasize, NOT politically)
So, if you want to keep going higher than ever, and you're willing to ignore the stereotypes of affiliating with a certain religious group, Charedi is it. You don't have to feel the need to throw rocks at people, or get fazed by those who do, making you think, "I'm disgusted with Charedim, so I don't want to be one"

Just because people, who may incidentally be affiliated with a certain group, do bad things, it doesn't mean they represent that community that they're from in those things

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Anonymous, I agree with one of points but disagree with another.
Your final point about being incidentally affiliated with idiots from the same community is valid. (One could make the counter-argument that those idiots believe they are the cream of that community and the standards others within it should aspire to but that's another discussion.

However, I disagree with this statement:
And if R' Finkel was to stay in YU, as much as I hate to say it, I don't think he would be the universal Gadol that he is, either

I would argue that this would only be true for political reasons.
Look at the Rav, zt"l, one of the greatest rabbonim of the 20th (and several before) century. Not a gadol because the Chareidi community refuses to present him as such (recall the JO eulogy, for example).
Look at Rav Kook, ztk"l, one of the greatest rabbonim of the last millenium and someone with a philosophy with the potential to restore Judaism's nationalist greatness. Not a gadol, again because the Chareidi community refuses to present him as such.
Had Rav Finkel, z"l, become a leader at YU he could have accomplished just as much, influence just as many people, learned just as much Torah and Matzav et al would publish only a passing eulogy, perhaps calling him an important teacher but nothing more. All political.

micha said...

If RNTF had stayed in YU, would it have grown 6-fold? What he accomplished couldn't happen within YU.

More to the point, is a derekh the same thing as a set of minhagim? Is the choice of whether or not to pursue secular studies similar to the choice of whether or not to wear tefillin on ch"m?

It seems to me that Shelomo haMelekh lauded mobility between derakhim when he recommended "chanokh lenaar al pi darko". RNTF belonged in the environment in which he thrived. If we don't allow our children to do the same, we will have many more cynical children of MO parents who are incapable of embracing what looks to them like compromise and products of chareidi homes who need a greater range of options for their career and their free time. The pace at which our community bleeds children will increase -- likely to pre-1965 levels. As it is, this message that "we alone are right" is a big part of why kids abandon O rather than finding an O that works for them.