Monday, December 14, 2009

Are The Inmates Running The Asylum?

R. Jonathan Rosenblum has a column on Cross Currents dealing with the issue of whether or not the current kollel situation is sustainable in light of the crushing poverty that it brings to the chareidi Israeli community. In it, he argues that the "everyone in kollel" was meant to rebuild the Jewish community that was destroyed by the Holocaust and that, at this point, that task is complete. Perhaps the time has come, he argues, to tell people to go to work and that only the best and the brightest, the ones who are willing to dedicate themselves to serving the community and who have the potential to be the next generation of leaders be allowed to continue in kollel indefinitely.

One reader took him to task on this asking if his position is backed up by any of the current gedolim. R. Rosenblum noted that there was no such proclamation from the gedolim and he provided two reasons for that. The second reason is as follows:

There is another reason that there will be no such public statements. Any such statement would be met with vicious attacks by the “kenaim,” who would say about the gadol in question precisely what KollelGuy asks me: Who are you? The Chazon Ish did not say what you are saying; Rav Shach did not say it.” Perhaps KollelGuy remembers the attacks on one of the Sages he mentions for his tacit support of Nahal Chareidi. (Even Rav Shach used to say that he was afraid of the stone-throwers.) One of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the United States told me recently that the gedolim cannot even discuss questions surrounding poverty because if they did the “street” would just label them fake gedolim.

I find this rather frightening. I thought central idea of chareidi life was that they are supposed to listen to the words of the gedolim. If the gedolim are afraid to express their opinions about the right and wrong derech, then of what value are they? We might as well just have mob rule (or is that, in effect, what we have already?).

Now, this may sound a bit strange coming from me. After all, a while ago, I suggested that the gedolim need to be accountable to their constituents. But I think that there is a qualitative difference between what I called for and what is going on (according to R. Rosenblum) in chareidi society.

I don't necessarily have a problem with a gadol saying that X is forbidden or that Y is bad -- provided that he can explain to us why it is so. In short, the days of a gadol saying "X is assur" and leaving it at that are done and gone. Today's public needs to be informed as to the reasons behind the decrees of the gedolim if they are going to listen to them. But in the end, I expect a gadol to speak up if he feels something needs to be said for the good of the community -- whether popular or unpopular. If he feels that everyone needs to be in kollel, then he has to say so -- and articulate why. If he feels that the kollel system we have now is crushing the populace and unsustainable, then he needs to say so -- regardless of the consequences -- and, again, articulate why that's the case. But a gadol who is afraid to speak for fear of losing his position and is willing to allow countless people to continue suffering from crushing poverty for the sake of not being labeled a "fake gadol" is already a fake gadol.

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

IMHO, it's just a bad response on the part of Rosenblum. To effect a change of this magnitude would require a major effort on the part of jewish leaders. For one to simply get up an announce "it's over" would be a huge mistake.

If they seriously wanted to enact change, the way to do it is to form a 'coalition' of Rabbis and present a united statement to that effect, and to do so very very publicly (i.e. not some kol korei). Rent a ballroom, make a big deal, and take questions - make it into a shareholders meeting. After all, aren't we all shareholders in the nation, even if they are the executives?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

As I said, you can make Frankenstein's monster but good luck controlling him once he comes to life.

Remember the Hadassah riots and how both Rav Sternbuch and Rav Eliashiv called for an end to the violence, only to be ignored by the people who supposedly swear allegiance to them?

G*3 said...

It’s unlikely that kollel society can be changed with a proclamation. People who were taguth their entire lives that the kollel lifestyle is the ideal and have sacrificed to live that life aren’t going to respond well to the gedolim getting up and saying, “That was good for rebuilding after the Holocaust, but we let it run on a bit too long. Oops. Sorry everyone, but unless you’re a genius, go get a job.” Like all big social changes, it will take a generation or two.

If the current generation of kids are taught about the greatness of their parents and grandparents who lived the kollel life to successfully rebuild torah Judaism, and how because of their parents success that life is no longer necessary, the kollel community may change over the next twenty years or so. But most of those who are entrenched in the lifestyle aren’t going to give it up on orders from above.

Michael Sedley said...

Over the past several months I have come to the conclusion that the concept of "Da'as Torah" is a myth, even in the community that claims to accept it.

If people really accepted Da'as Torah, than someone like Rav Elyashiv would have to mention in a shiur or published Pask Halacha that he is against the Kollel Lifestyle, or it is Assur to throw stones on Shabbat (or break into Batei Knesset on Shabbat and damage Sifrei Kodesh), or that everyone should tie a pink ribbon in their hair, or anything else, and within a short space of time the word would get out and everyone would do it.

In reality, a few Konaim decide what they think should be done and (best case scenario) strong-arm the "Gedolim" into signing a ruling, or if that fails put up a ruling in the name of some Gadol without consulting him, and then use that as a justification for the next chumra or Chilul.

It sounds like the whole system is run like the Mafia. I would be very happy if someone could prove me wrong and restore my faith in Haredi Judaism.

Unknown said...

If we want the Gedolim to be forthright, standing up to entrenched loonies with money, we'd better support the Gedolim appropriately and directly, including physical protection.

These elderly Gedolim put up with a lot for our sake. We can do better than to call them names.

Jewish Atheist said...

But a gadol who is afraid to speak for fear of losing his position and is willing to allow countless people to continue suffering from crushing poverty for the sake of not being labeled a "fake gadol" is already a fake gadol.

It's entirely possible that no "true gadol," whatever that might be, would be recognized by the people as a gadol.

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Ookamikun said...

So the people who are telling everyone to put their trust in Hashem and that he will take care of and provide, are afraid of losing their own funding?