Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Them And Only Them

You have to feel sorry for the Chareidi community some days.  Wave after wave of assaults against them are leaving them publicly frustrated and annoyed.  Whether it's yet another outrage from the Morethodox against their mesorah or the Israeli government's recent chutzpah to think it can govern the State without their Daas Torah, Chareidism has not been taken very seriously by outsiders recently and this has them mad.
Part of it, to be fair, is their fault.  One problem Chareidism has always had is its assumption that the rest of the world sees them they way they seem themselves.  They see themselves as the superior and only really authentic form of Torah observance and assume the rest of the world thinks that as well.  It's like a person who insists there are four lights instead of the three that he's supposed to say.  Why, oh why, don't people see it their way?
The other difficulty is an assumption, based on a little bit too much literalism when learning Talmud, that the outside world also knows everything the Chareidi world does including those values that are "right" and "wrong" and agrees with their basic validity.  This is often why Chareidim in Israel go apopleptic over immodestly dressed secular women on the street.  In their minds it's not that this woman is just dressed inappropriately but that she knows she's dressed wrong and insists on doing it anyway.  The idea that it's hot and she's dressing for comfort and doesn't know or care about the laws of modest clothing simply isn't in their paradigm.
That's why every government move that isn't pro-Chareidi is automatically an assault on the Torah and an attempt to destroy Torah observance in Israel.  From the secular side it may be a budget consideration or something with a broader social necessity but in the mind of Chareidism the government is only thinking "How can we oppress the Chareidim and attack the Torah?"  Chareidi leaders don't see politicians concerned with a global picture.  There is them and only them.
But perhaps they are most frustrated when it comes to a perceived lack of appreciation for their claim that the only real learning occurs in the Chareidi world and that which occurs elsewhere is at best second rate.  This belief fits into the general package, of course, alongside the "All real 'Gedolim' are Chareidi because any non-Chareidi 'gadol' isn't a real 'gadol'".
What's more, some Chareidi PR flacks aren't content to allow a mistaken belief like "There's real learning outside the Chareidi world" to go without contesting.  Thus we have Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein's latest piece in Cross Currents where he takes a comment allowed through the censors to task for daring to suggest that not only is there real learning in the non-Chareidi observant community but that Chareidi learning, for all its perceived self-importance, isn't as amazing as its propagandists would like us to believe.
The interesting thing to note in Rav Adlerstein's response is how he subtly revises history while using insincere flattery to deflect the objection.  Consider this little statement halfway through:

With all the considerable learning outside of haredi circles, they have not produced a critical mass of depth learners adequate to address complex new questions. In contradistinction to the term “morei hora’ah” that I used above, those who can creatively address new questions are true “poskim.”

Really?  Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, was only a real posek because he was part of the larger "team"?  Paskening is now a group activity?  What's more, the next statement that Rav J. David Bleich, a major halachic authority and extremely intelligent man, is more authoritative than the contributors to Tradition journal en masse is ridiculous in its oozing of contempt.  Rav Bleich is an important figure but he is hardly the only one in the YU ecosystem.
Then there is this gem:
Incisive depth learning is the common thread you will see in the Rashba, the Terumas HaDeshen, the Maharik, the Nodah BeYehudah, Rav Akiva Eiger, R Yitzchok Elchonon, R Moshe Feinstein and the Chazon Ish
The implication is clear: these are all Chareidi authorities throughout the ages thus proving that it's Chareidi learning that is the most important and influential around.  Never mind that the first half of that list predated the invention - yes, the invention, of Chareidism as a Jewish religious philosophy.  Just like Muslims claim that Avraham Avinu, a"h, and David HaMelech, a"h, were Muslim prophet so too the Chareidim now assume that any important religious figure predated the Chasam Sofer's innovation of forbidding innovation was also Chareidi.  Are we really supposed to take that seriously?
Finally there is the aspect of self-promotion.  When any well-known Charedi authority dies nowadays we are treated, usually within weeks, to a shining hagiography that tells us that he was the greatest thing since sliced bread (an innovation! Ban it!) and that the entire Torah world basked in his glow.  Without meaning any disrespect, how many "gedolim" who have recently passed away truly fit that bill?  How many were simply major political figures in that community who were granted an eternal bill of importance based on that standing?
As Rav Natan Slifkin himself noted in the comments section (note how, after calling Adlerstein "rabbi" he is referred to by his first name):

“New conditions, new technologies bring a host of questions that must be addressed creatively only after thorough mastery of a sugya, especially after analysis of the impact different shitos in rishonim have on a topic.” However, in the charedi world of today, that is not what takes place. Questions are not addressed “creatively.” Rather, the eventual psak is a foregone conclusion; it’s the one that satisfies the socio-religious mores of charedi society. The only creativity is in getting there. I’m not sure that producing legions of such poskim is such a great achievement. What difference if you have one charedi posek prohibiting organ donation from the brain-dead, or a hundred such poskim? The end result is obvious from the outset, given their socio-religious orientation.
For those who would dispute this – please name a recent psak from a well-known posek that goes against the socio-religious mores of charedi society. The most recent one that I can remember is Rav Shlomo Zalman’s psak regarding electricity on Shabbos, which has been all but buried.

Yes there are more Chareidi sifrei shu"t coming out that non-Chareidi ones but there are good reasons for that.  Rav Alderstein is correct when he notes that the numbers of high level scholars in the Chareidi world vastly exceeds those on the non-Chareidi side.  But then the number of Chareidi shnorrers who show up at my door looking for money for yet another obscure kollel engage in this high-intensity learning vastly exceeds those on the non-Chareidi side.  Actually, I never get non-Chareidi shnorrers but maybe that's because there is a balance in the non-Chareidi community in which both learning and earning are valued.  Non-Chareidi institutions produce dayanim and volumes of responsa.  The folks at Eretz Chemda and the Kollel MiTzion network are an important example.  Is their lack of importance due to Chareidi refusal to stock their books in their yeshivos based on political consideration and snobbery?
One can have high esteem for learning without engaging in it full time despite what you might have heard.  That's why Zevulun was never asked to stop being Zevulun and merge into Issachar.  The former also had his role, God-approved and all.
All Rav Alderstein seems to have done is confirmed that Chareidism is trapped by the "No good Scotsman" agruement.

6 comments:

YS said...

I think you were a little hard on Rabbi Adlerstein. He clearly recognizes the flaws in the Charedi world and is very sympathetic to criticism of it.

He can't quite distance himself from people who are learning Torah and I agree that calling the Rashba a Charedi is odd. But I think his heart is in the right place.

His statement about the inane Divrei Torah you hear from Gedolim is an admission that you don't find often in the Charedi world. It's also very true - Around tw years ago, I heard one of the Roshei Yeshiva at Lakewood give a 20-minute Dvar Torah in a yeshivish shul in Flatbush. It was embarassing. The argument is that they're talking down to the audience, but I don't buy it. The fact is, many of the renowned Dvar Torah sforim are full of such Divrei Torah.

Adam Zur said...

the world renowned "Ayelet Hashar" from the foremost Lithuanian sage in this generation is utter gibberish.
The last great sages were Rav Shach and Shmuel Berenbaum.
The Lithuanian world today has no one that could be called a gadol by any stretch of the imagination.

Bar Ami said...

Unfortunately most Modern-Centrist-Dati-Torani (or to use my preferred term, Torah-true) Jews outside of Israel are unaware of the full breadth and depth of Torah learning and productivity coming out of the non-chareidi Torah community in Israel. This is the result of: a) a failure of chinuch at home and at school, b) a flawed supposition (endorsed by 'our' RIETS camp) that frumkeit and level of learning is correlated to how "chareidi" one looks and acts, and c) a failure of communication between the Israeli and non-Israeli branches of non-chareidi Orthodoxy.

Take a look at the Torah -shu't included - coming from our Torah-true brothers in Israel. Even a cursory view at the websites of yeshivot such as Har Etzion, Birkat Moshe and Beit El tell the story of what is really happening on the ground.

If we kowtow to chareidi triumphalist propaganda and remain ignorant of our Gedolim - think R. Lichtenstein, R. Rabinovich, R. Ariel and others and up 'n' coming talmidei chachamim, then we are simply validating the chareidim and all the nonsense they spout.

Pragmatician said...

Incredibly well written!

RAM said...

Garnel,

It seems that you're far more obsessed with Chareidim than they are with Jews like you.

JT said...

RAM is right. That may be because Garnel continues to consider them Jews, part of the Torah world, while Charedim do not consider MO, DL or anyone else to be relevant to the discussion. Lately, I've heard Charedim try to extend the talmudic expression that Shabbat violators are treated like non-Jews (regarding certain laws), to a ruling that they are, in fact, no longer Jews. I wonder if they stopped to consider that under this logic such mechalelei Shabbos would no be chayav misah?