Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Be Transformed

The issue of army and working for yeshiva students in Israel is on the minds of many and I have received many emails both today and yesterday about it. A few salient points.

1] The charedim believe that the purpose of the creation of the world is the study and complete fulfillment of the Torah with study being the highest level of fulfillment [תלמיד תורה כנגד כולם]. Someone who doesn't share this belief, and many Orthodox Jews do not [as evidenced by their very loose commitment to study and practice], will of course be infuriated by their "draft dodging". But according to their belief system, Torah study is the highest value and trumps anything and everything else. גדולה תלמוד תורה יותר מהצלת נפשות is how the gemara has it in one place. There are many sources that make it clear that tremendous benefit comes to the world as a result of Talmud Torah. Sick people heal, poor people find sustenance, childless women conceive etc. etc. [see the fourth chapter of Nefesh Hachaim]. The enemies of Torah study simply do not believe this. If you accept this premise then it makes a lot more sense that so many thousands cast aside the pleasures of this world in favor of immersion in the refreshing waters of Torah. Learning, if done right, also makes one a better person. The secular schools in Israel are filled with violence, drugs etc. Does anyone ever see a group of yeshiva buchrim and fear for their safety?! The argument that charedim don't contribute to the world is simply heresy [see Sanhedrin 100]. אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי - If not for the Torah there is no world [Yimiyahu 33/25].

2] The complaints people have should be directed not at the thousands and thousands of students but at the handful of Rabbonim to whom they listen. The Rabbonim tell them to learn and they were [well] trained to respect and obey authority. Does the more "modern" camp expect anarchy in the charedi ranks? That students should tell their rabbeim that they don't know what they are talking about and disobey them?? [One friend told me that he believes that his Rebbi is one of the Gedolei Hador and promotes army service and integration into general society - I replied that if that is what his Rebbi says and his Rebbi is a worthy bar plugta [interlocutor] of the other Gedolim then he should follow him].

3] Once the argument against extended Torah study is directed at the Torah giants who guide the masses, the question is  - What is the basis for people's certainty that the Gedolei Torah were wrong. As someone who has spent years delving deeply into the thought and writings of the Chazon Ish, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Shach, Rav Yitzchak Zeev Soloveitchik, Rav Ovadiah Yosef etc. etc. I can testify to the fact that their genius, depth and breadth of Torah knowledge was breathtaking - not to mention their complete unswerving devotion to the keeping and spreading of dvar Hashem. Do people really believe that bloggers, community rabbis and the average housewife is more aligned with the Divine will than these aforementioned titans?? Do they really think that they were blind to the fact that Israel is constantly in mortal danger and needs an army to protect her? Were they insensitive to the inequality between those who serve and those who don't? Did they not know the Rambams and other sources people quote?? They knew everything very well and still forcefully asserted that the ideal is to learn in yeshiva for many years. When you have such a consensus among great people it behooves one to stand with respect and to try to understand where they were coming from and not to dismiss them as close minded fanatics.

4] The charedi system is flawed. It sets up their children for a lifetime of poverty [among many other problems]. But the dati leumi [Modern Orthodox in the US] system is also flawed [for many other reasons]. NO SYSTEM IS PERFECT. The shidduch systyem is flawed. Chemotherapy is a very flawed way of healing someone. It sometimes kills the person more than the cancer. We live in an imperfect world. The charedim feel that despite its flaws it is the best we have. We can criticize all day but if there is no better alternative [and they don't believe that there is] then we make do with what is.

5] One common criticism of the charedim is that they are separatist and don't want to integrate into the general population. This is 100 percent true. The value system of the outside world is inimical to Torah ideals. Why would they want to be part of a world that they believe to be contaminating? One example: The Chief Rabbi of the IDF ruled that religious soldiers must remain present when immodestly dressed women sing in their presence [as reported on Arutz Sheva]. For a charedi Jew - it borders on the yehareig vi-al yaavor to participate in such an event [see the gemara in Sanhedrin at the end of perek ben sorrer umoreh]. The Rambam says that in a generation where the standards of religiosity and purity are not up to par one must run away to the desert. Todays "deserts" are Bnei Brak and Kiryat Sefer.

One need not agree with the charedim - but before criticizing one must try to understood where they are coming from. Opening ones mind to a different viewpoint can be a transformative experience [try it with your spouse and children too]:-).

Love and blessings.