Monday, July 28, 2008

Off Center: Say it ain't so - Jo (Updated 7-30-2008)

I am a close friend, a neighbor, and great admirer of Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum. I am on his Jewish Media Resources e-mail list and so, I consistently receive and follow his writings. Undoubtedly, we are on the same team and share the fundamental anglo-Chareidi haskafa, but it is inevitable that no two thinkers -especially idealistic analytical ones -will always do the same thinking.

Harry Maryles's Emes Ve-Emunah blog is currently discussing one of Rabbi Rosenblum's latest write-ups which I have not yet had the privilege to see. It seems like this write-up appears in the current issue of the Jewish Observer. My issue of JO is sent from America with snail-mail and generally arrives one issue late. Thus, I can only see the points that Harry Maryles paraphrases and comments on. Based on what Harry wrote, my question to my like-thinking colleague, Rabbi Rosenblum, is: "What on earth were you thinking?"

IOW, since I am only seeing this piece second-hand I must clairvoyantly conclude that either R. Rosenblum wasn't trying to say what Harry said he is, and if he was, it shouldn't have been said.

The fluff about not having a leader like RSRH I can ignore. This is, after all, ikvesa d'meshicha. Whether or not the leadership of the Chareidi world measures up to the outstanding leaders of previous generations is not relevant. At least the Chareidi world - Chassidic, Misnagdic, and Sefardic - has leaders. I wish I could say that for all Orthodox Jews.

Thus, I will concentrate my comments on the second half of the post. Maryles writes (per Rosenblum):

The Charedi world isn’t totally isolationist. There are areas of positive Charedi contributions to the secular world. There are cable TV programs that offer Shiurim, outreach organizations, and service organizations, such as Yad Sarah that are widely used by secular Israelis.

This is the understatement of the year. In a comment post to Emes Ve-Emuna I expanded this with a partial list:

The Chareidi world has come up with Ohr Samayach, Aish HaTorah, Discovery, Shofar (R. Amnon Yitzchak), Neve Yerushalayim, Ner Yaakov, Orchos Yerushalayim, Lev L'Achim (P'eylim), Torah U'Mesorah (including Mendel the Mouse), Yad Sarah, Yad Eliezer, JEP, Project SEED, Shaar Yashuv, Ner L'Elef, Ohr LaGolah, Marvelous Midos Machine, Uncle Moishie, Community Kollels, Chofetz Chaim Foundation, Am Echad, EFRAT (for before one is even born), ZAKA (for after one is already dead),and HATZALA (for those great moments in-between) to name just a few.

Note that EFRAT is on this list. Do you know what that is? It is an Israeli organization founded to talk Jewish secular women out of having abortions and to assist them. Who are we talking out of having abortions - chareidim? I don't think so. No, it is secular women. We are helping them bring more secular Jews into the world. (Ohr Samayach and Shofar will get them later!)

And all these are just the Agudah/ Litvish chevra. Do you think that Belz (think Ezra L'Marpeh), Ger, Vizhnitz and Chabad are sitting with their hands folded? Okay, so Toldos Aharon does not do aggressive outreach because they honestly do not expect many customers - but walk into their Bais Midrash on Shabbos and you get the inverse-Yarmulka rule: The smaller the Yarmulka the faster one is invited to a meal.

When I take my kids to Avos and Banim (did I leave out Avos and Banim from my previous list? Forgive me! How could I!), there is always a GSS man standing there to keep tabs on Eli Yishai. It's an Ashkenazi shul. Take my word for it, the GSS guy is always invited to come back - [even if] Eli Yishai isn't!

But on the whole there is no sense of personal responsibility to their fellow secular Jews.

Huh??? Did Jonathan Rosenblum write this?????

Update - No. Jonathan Rosenblum did not write this. Harry Maryles did. RJR wrote: But neither the impulse to reach out nor the sense of responsibility for fellow Jews is universal in the chareidi community. IOW, some are and some aren't. Decidedly more accurate, IMO.
I see in Mr. Maryles' paraphrase a highly misleading distortion of of Rabbi Rosenblum's statement and intent.

Look. It is undisputed that certain factions in the Chareiedi world are not interested in interacting with the non-Chareidi world. What is equally true is that what is probably a bigger segment is indeed interested, and is doing it quite well, I must say. What we see here is the non-Chareidi world ignoring the extroverted faction and kvetching about the introverted faction. It's like crossing the street in London. If you don't look both ways, at least you better look the right way.

There is one very large obstacle to influencing secular society that he mentions -the perception of Charedim as beggars.


Update - Rabbi Rosenblum did not employ the term beggar. The terminology he used was "secular Israelis view the larger chareidi population as perpetual supplicants." I question the purposefulness of Mr. Maryles to modify this terminology.

In a great analogy, Jonathan points to the fact that no one would ever take advice from a Meshulach. People who knock on your door asking for handouts - no matter how wise they might appear - are not going to be asked for advice for anything. The Charedi world is now looked upon that way.

The secular Israeli sees the Charedi world with their hands constantly stretched out begging for charity. This is not a group whose wisdom will be sought. Or that can give them a national identity.

Update - RJR did not write "sees the Charedi world with their hands constantly stretched out begging for charity." He wrote that they "view us dependent upon them". This is in relation to child support allowances. Child support allowance is not charity. It is the right of every Israeli, rich or poor, as part of Bituach LeUmi that every Israeli - even chareidim - pay in to. Most non-Israelis do not understand that we do not get $2400 ($200/ month) per year tax deductions for dependents until age 23 like in the US. In its place is national child support allowance until 18 (5 yrs less) of 145-250 NIS/ month (now $42-$73/ month per dependent). The secular believe that (a) they pay into BL and chareidim do not (b) this pittance is enough to live off of and (c) if we did not recieve this lucrative bounty - which they receive as well - we would cease to exist as if $50/month makes or breaks our budget.
These are all fallacies.
Again I question the purposefulness of Mr. Maryles's misrepresentation.
I wonder what is the point here. The secular world will see us this way because they want to see us this way. There will always be beggars - this is G-d's decree - "Ki lo yechdal evyon m'kerev ha'aretz". There are plenty of non-Chareidi beggars -but because they are so disheveled they all get lumped together. The secular world is like Sodom - no beggars allowed. So they creep into the woodwork. Moreover, many non-chareidi beggars actually want to appear like chareidim because the take is bigger. So you won't see many non-chareidi looking beggars, even when they're there. Another reason - do you know how many non-chareidim with small families do not need to beg because they get packages from Yad Eliezer and Chazon Yeshaya and Meir Panim - but chareidi families with 6 to 16 children still have to beg because they cannot subsist on what the organizations can give them?

Many of us need to take - but more of us love to give. Giving and taking holds us together. We need to have beggars as much as they need us. It is part of our culture and we are not ashamed of it. If the secular world wants to see us as if we are all nothing but beggars - there is nothing we can do to change it. I honestly don't know what Rabbi Rosenblum's point is.

Update - In context, I can appreciate RJR's point. Nevertheless, I still feel that there is no hope to rectify this as long as the secular are going to look at us through a glass coated with a veneer of silver.

At an institutional level there is an ironic twist. We have more institutions than anybody, many for ourselves, but many as well such as Ohr Samayach, Aish, Discovery, Shofar, ZAKA, EFRAT, Hatzala, Ezer Metzion, reaching out to our secular brethren. And they all flood our mailboxes with solicitations. Get that, seculars? Ohr Somayach is for you, Aish is for you, Shofar is for you, ZAKA is for you - but when we ask for the money to sustain these programs, we are broadcasting that we are a society of beggars!!

As they say - win or lose, you lose!

Now is the time for the Charedi world to do some soul searching.

As I wrote in the post comment, we have more institutions than anybody that are searching for Jewish souls.

And come up with leadership – and a plan to be more involved in influencing
their secular brethren.

If RSRH were around today, we would take him for a leader. But he was yesterday's leader. Today's leaders are other folks. But they are here. We have leaders and we have plans - all we need are customers!

It would also help a lot if Charedi leadership...

I thought we had to come up with leadership?

...would call off the war it has declared on Religious Zionists

One poster in his comment took the words right out of my keyboard: "The war is in your mind only."

What war? The Chareidim are not at war with any other Orthodox Jews. The Chareidim have standards and we stake our territory with them. You like our standards? Welcome in! You don't like them? Stay away! Our standards are based on Shas and poskim. Come and look! Not interested? Chaval. We will miss you - but we are not at war. You don't bother us - we don't bother you.

Just one thing - we have never compromised our standards and we never will.

and for Religious Zionists to understand today’s reality of Zionism even in its religious form - and adjust their views accordingly. Charedim could use their help. Just think of the possibilities of the Torah world joining forces and working together trying to create a ‘new world order’ in Israel.

It boggles the mind.

A mind is a terrible thing to boggle.


Toby Katz said...

Outstanding, wonderful post! I rarely read Harry's blog but I'm so glad I did read it this time -- because that's how I found this blog of yours!

Anonymous said...

you will find there the original article that appeared in The Jewish Observer and a well written letter there as well.

Kol tov,

Har Nof

Harry Maryles said...

I really must take exception to this piece. It is completely unfair to Jonathan to base your criticism on my reading of it.

I tried to accurately reflect what I believe he said. I also did a fair amount of interpretation of what he either meant - or what one can deduce from his words. There were some underlying assumptions I made about his wors which he may very well dispute.

There is no way for anyone to eliminate their own personal biases when they write about anything. The only fair criticism you can make is of what I wrote, not of what I said he wrote. You are critiquing him through my lens. That's unfair.

As for the substance of your critic all I want to say is that neither I nor Jonathan meant to imply that the list of Charedi Organization listed is an exhaustive one. I listed only one. He listed several.

Harry Maryles said...

Just read your update. I stand by what I wrote.

To make an issue of the word 'universal' is unfair. It does not take away from JR's point that there isn't enough sense of responsibilty. Had I included that word it would not really have detracted from my point. And my ommision of it was inadvertent.

Also, I used euphemisms that have the same meaning to make JR's points stronger. Hence the word 'beggars'. JR would never use a word like that. That should be clear form his many essays on this subject.

I write in an attention getting style. But be fair - I really don't think I misrepresented in any significant way what JR said.

Besdies - as I said before - everyone has a persective through which they filter what they see or read. And I added a lot of my own thoughts in my article as well.

That is the only fair way to judge what I wrote.

Yechezkel said...

First I need to say that this blog is new and experimental. I am still not certain as to what policies I will maintain and what I will change. The initial policies that I am starting with include:
1) I want to leave to comments free and unmoderated.
2) I do not want to get personally involved in the coment discussion.

Both of these policies are trying to say that I do not want to make blogging a f/t career. I am saying all this to emphasize that the fact that I am personally responding is a sign of how strongly I feel about the issue.

In response to your earlier comment, I only want to say that I opened this blog post with a hearty disclaimer that I am looking at second-hand information and I am not assuming that RJR actually conveyed these ideas. I expected it to be understood that I am commenting on what you wrote and not directly on RJR. Still both of us appreciated your elaboration.

We move on to your latter comment. On the "beggar" issue, I can agree that it is semantics more than anything else, but I do not take it lightly. If you are paraphrasing another writer, if the author wouldn't use a certain term, the paraphraser ought not, either. But we can overlook this and move on.

On the other issue, I must adamantly protest. This is no piece of semantics. The term "on the whole" is the equivalent of saying "in the main" or "primarily" which unequivocally says to me "100% of the population or close to it". It says to me that this phenomenon is the rule and not the exception and that the exception is few and far between, at that.

The original phrase that the "impulse to reach out" and "sense of responsibility' are "not universal" says to me that it is the predominate impulse but it's shy of 100% - perhaps 80% or 90%.

The difference between almost 100% (on the whole) having "no sense of personal..." and the concept of most but not all (not universal) is too extreme to overlook. It is min hakatzeh ad hakatzeh and, I hate to say it, but I see it as a blatant reprehensible distortion. I feel it is unjustifiable and inexcusable.

Incidentally, I got a second opinion on this (though my wife almost always agrees with me).

You certainly did not take away from RJR's point. You quadrupled it.

I am sorry to be so candid but I do not consider it to be appropriate. I can only judge what you write by what the words say.

All the best.


Anonymous said...

Why did you not read the comment that was psoted they had a link to Rosenblum's article?