Monday, April 14, 2014

Why Are Women Required to Recite the Haggadah?*

In the list of 613 Mitzvos of the Torah, the Sefer HaChinuch lists Mitzvah 21 as Sipur Yitziyas Mitzrayim – the retelling of the exodus story – which we do via the Haggadah,  But then the Chinuch makes an astonishing assertion: This Mitzvah is a biblical level requirement for women. The Minchas Chinuch asks the obvious question. Is this not a Mitzvas Aseh SheHaZ’am Grama – a positive commandment that is time bound? …from which women are exempt?

The typical answer one might offer for this would be ‘SheAf Hein Hayah  B’Oso HaNes…. They too were included in the the miracle of the exodus. But that principle applies only to rabbinic enactments like hearing Megilas Esther on Purim or the drinking the Daled Kosos (the 4 cups of wine) at the Seder. It is never used to require women to observe a biblical level time bound positive commandment like Sipur Yitzias Miztrayim. Why should women then be required to do that?

The Sefer Kehilas Yaalov gives us an interesting answer. Women are required to eat Matzah on Pesach too – even though that too is a time bound positive commandment. The reason for that is as follows: Kol SheYeshna B’ Bal Tochel Chametz, Yash Na B’Kum Ochel Matzos (Pesachim - 43b). Any time a positive time bound commandment is connected to a Lav (a negative commandment – in this case ‘Do not eat Chametz) …its counterpart (in this case eating Matzah) applies. Even though a woman would ordinarily not be required to do a time bound positive commandment… when it is tied to a negative commandment she is required to observe that Mitzvah.

The Gemarah (Pesachim – 115b) tells us that Matzah is Lechem Oni. One of the definitions of Lechem Oni is something upon which many things are answered – which is in essence what Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim is. Meaning that in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Matzah properly, it must be eaten as part of Sipur Yitzias Mitzrayim – that is, saying the Haggadah. And that makes it a biblical level requirement.

*Taken from Torah L’Daas

A Happy and Kosher Pesach unto all.

The following is a list of Dvrei Torah related to Pesach featured here in the past.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Root of Our Exile – Baseless Hatred*

Pesach is the Yom Tov of Emunah. The Nesivos Shalom calls Peasch ‘The New Year of Faith’. This is why we are commanded to retell the story of our ancestors exodus from bondage in Egypt (Sipur Yitziyas Mitzrayim). It is the retelling of this story whereby Emunah instilled in the heart. On that night, the retelling of the exodus story is the foundation of belief and it the key to all miracles throughout the generations.

One of the things we say on this night is ‘Today we are here - next year we will be in the land of Israel’. And we end the Seder with the words  ‘Next year in Jerusalem’. This is an expression of our belief in the coming of the Messiah - an expression of faith about our final redemption.

The Chafetz Chaim notes in in the name of Rishonim in his famous work on Lashon Hara (gossip; evil speech) that in order to be worthy of the final redemption and the building of the 3rd Beis HaMikdash, we have to do Teshuva for the very thing that destroyed the last one – Lashon Hara and Sinas Chinam (baseless hatred).

Dealing with baseless hatred is actually a part of the Seder. R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld tells us (in the name of the Ben Ish Chai) that the 2 Tevilos (dippings) we do at the Seder (Karpas and Maror)  are a reference to the two dippings in the Torah.

The first dipping is when Yosef’s brothers sold him; took his Kesones Passim (cloak of stripes)  and dipped it in blood in order to fool their father into thinking he was attacked by wild animals and killed. They did this because of jealousy and baseless hatred.

This incident precipitated our ancestors descent into slavery in Egypt. Even though the slavery of our forefathers was foretold to our patriarch Avrahom Avinu at the Bris Bein HaBesorim, the fact that it took place in Egypt was a direct result of the sale of Yosef by his brothers. So in essence this ‘dipping’ was the beginning of our slavery.

The second dipping in the Torah is that of dipping the Ezov – bound branches of hyssop - into the blood of the sacrifice offered by a person who was cured of his Tzora’as affliction (sometimes translated as leprosy). The lowly hyssop – which grows as a low bush is used to show the lowliness of the sin a Metzora is being punished for - Lashon Hara

It is then sprinkled on to the Metzorah as part of the ‘spiritual cleansing’ he goes through after he is cured. We learn Tzora'as is the punishment for Lashon Hara - from what happened to Miriam when she spoke Lashon Hara about her brother Moshe. She was immediately afflicted with Tzora’as.  The bound hyssop is a simile for all of Klal Yisroel to be bound up together feeling extremely small and humbled about Lashon Hara and to therefore avoid falling into that trap and the trap of Sinas Chinam.

R’ Elchanan Wasserman, HY’D makes an interesting observation. Throughout Jewish history, Jews were constantly accused of blood libels. And that usually occurred around Pesach where Jews were accused of killing Christian children and using their blood for making Matzos! Something that of course had absolutely no basis in fact.  It never happened. And yet generation after generation these accusations are made. R’ Wasserman believes that this is no accident. That God in his infinite wisdom wants to repay us measure for measure about our ansecstors’ sin of selling Yosef as represented by the dipping of his cloak into blood.  

This indeed was a source of great fear among Jews throughout history who feared being accused of such a heinous crime as kidnapping Christian children for purposes of killing them and using their blood for Matzah -  always occurring around Pesach. It was God’s way of reminding us that the sin of Sinas Chinam still exists and that we should be aware of it – and its consequences. And that it is a huge impediment to our final redemption. And that we should do what we can to rid ourselves of it.

Let us once and for all rid ourselves of the baseless hatred we may have for a fellow Jew - no matter how different they are from us! 

With this Zechus may we merit the coming of the Messiah speedily and in our day. L'Shana HaBa B'Yerushalyim.

* Adapted from Ateres Dudaim by Rabbi Dovid Zucker, Rosh Kollel of the Chicago Community Kollel 

Belatedly - A Wrong Has Been Righted

R' Aharon Kotler,ZTL - founder and RY of BMG
A source close to Rabbi S has informed me that he has been restored to his former position in Lakewood Yeshiva (Beth Medrash Govoha - BMG).

For those who don’t recall, Rabbi S was a Rosh Chabura (senior Talmud lecturer) and Bochein  (admissions - test administrator) in Lakewood.  His son was sexually molested by his Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Kolko, at the school he attended. Rabbi S followed the Charedi protocol of reporting the abuse to the rabbis in his community who deal with these things. He did not go to the police first. Those rabbis examined the case and determined that there was enough evidence (I believe he admitted it) to require Kolko to get counseling. Rabbi S was assured that this would continue and that the Rebbe would no longer be allowed to teach children.

Kolko went to a couple of sessions, and then reneged on his promise and quit. If I recall correctly he also continued teaching young students apparently without any rabbinic objection. When Rabbi S found out that Kolko quit his therapy - he went immediately to the police and reported the molestation.

All hell then broke loose. Rabbi S was vilified by many of the Charedi Askanim (community activists) in Lakewood. Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah VoDaath got involved in an ongoing smear campaign implying (in writing) that it was Rabbi S, not Kolko, that molested his own son! The constant harassment caused him to leave Lakewood. He relocated to Midwestern city where he continued disseminating Torah to great acclaim.

Meanwhile Rabbi Kolko faced trial, was convicted and sentenced to 15 years behind bars.  There were mea culpas by some of those Askanim who then realized they were wrong; that Rabbi S was right all along. I remember one particularly poignant letter that was made public. An activist made a profound apology - begging Rabbi S for forgiveness. I should note that Rabbi Belsky was not among those expressing any regret. He maintained Kolko’s innocence even after his conviction.

At about that time I made a public plea to the Roshei Yeshiva of Lakewood to give Rabbi S his old job back… that justice demanded that. I was told at the time that Lakewood Mashgiach, Rav Matisyahu Salomon was extremely upset and regretted  his own part in what happened to Rabbi S. Nonetheless nothing happened.

I should add that to his credit and despite his pain, Rabbi S did not want to hurt Lakewood Yeshiva by making noises about returning. He believed it was still a great Makom Torah and the last thing he wanted to do was to hurt it. When I inquired if I should proceed with a campaign to get him his job back, I was told that Rabbi S appreciated my concern but that he did not want to do that.

That was in October of last year. Now, 6 months later it happened. Better late than never, I suppose. I don’t know if any apologies were made – privately or publicly, but that too would have been the right thing to do. I can’t imagine the pain and embarrassment he and his family must have felt going through such an ordeal. To say nothing of what his son’s molestation has done to the family.

Why did it take so long? My source speculated that based on his knowledge about how the Lakewood community operates - that there were two competing forces pressuring the Roshei Yeshiva there.

On the one hand were the extremists on the right (who felt that Rabbi S was a Moser). On the other hand there were those (like me) who felt a great injustice was done that needed to be corrected.  The leadership at Lakewood were themselves divided on this issue. I’m glad to see that the right side of this issue has prevailed.

But I have to ask, how can anyone who is considered a rabbinic leader today, (and I would think the Roshei Yeshiva of Lakewood would be considered rabbinic leaders) look over their shoulders to see which way the wind is blowing?! How can they not make a decision based on what’s right without thinking about what the Askanim or the public would say? If you are going to look over your shoulder to see what others might say then you are not a leader. You are a follower. And who are you following anyway?

The model of leadership in the Charedi world should be Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. Even though I have disagreed with him on occasion (most recently about the Charedi draft issue) – he is a man that does not care what others think. He tells it like it is to whomever asks. No matter how unpopular his decision may be. That’s the mark of leadership. Looking over your shoulder? Not so much.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Are Orthodox Bloggers Modern Day Korachs?

Collage taken from Tablet. Note whose blog is on the laptop screen
My hat is off to Shulem Deen. His overview in Tablet Magazine of the world of Orthodox Jewish bloggers is quite thorough. I have dealt with the issue of Orthodox Jewish blogs in the past. Several times.  As Shulem points out the Orthodox blogging world is as broad based as Orthodoxy itself. Well almost as broad. The extreme right still eschews any connection to it. There is for example no such thing as a blog or website that represents the Satmar point of view. I’m sure that’s true for just about all Chasidim with the very notable exception of Chabad. 

But even the Agudah point of view is represented in the blog world. They in effect eat their cake – and have it too. While officially staying off the internet in any form (they do not even have a website) - their spokesmen have their own websites and post regularly on Cross Currents. In Fact their official spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran posts there regularly. Apparently with the tacit approval of the Agudah.

What I did not know is that Cross Currents has the blessing of my 12th grade Rebbe,  Rabbi Yaakov Perlow  (also known as the Novominsker Rebbe). Rabbi Perlow also has the distinction of being the head of the Agudah Moetzes. According to the Tablet article, Rabbi Perlow not only gave his blessing to Cross Currents, he actually permitted critical comments to be posted on it – as long as they were responded to.

Now I am not for a moment claiming that Cross Currents is open to all commentary no matter how critical. They are a fully moderated site and many comments that are submitted are not posted. Nevertheless – from a Charedi point of view, this is quite daring.

I can’t say I am really all that surprised by Rabbi Perlow’s attitude here. Having attended Yeshivas Chaim Berlin under Rav Yitzchak Hutner; and having had my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik as a Rebbe there; and having attended college - receiving a degree, he is no stranger to the outside world. Additionally, his relatively long tenure at my Alma Mater, HTC exposed him to a variety of students from different backgrounds. Very few of them Charedi. So he knows what is on the mind of young people that were raised in a secular culture even as their families remained Orthodox. And in some cases those students did not even come from Orthodox backgrounds.

Now it’s true, that the issues were different then. And the differences between the right and the left – although very real, were not as wide. Or at least not as contentious. Not here in Chicago, anyway. But there were clear differences even then. Rabbi Perlow understood and respected them. (I should add that he was a great Rebbe, too!)

But contrast Rabbi Perlow’s personal approval of a blog that allows critical comments with the kind of anti blog rhetoric one hears at a typical Agudah convention. Shulem points out some of the more egregious comments.  From Tablet
According to a report inYated Ne’eman, one of the speakers, Rabbi Efraim Wachsman, declared bloggers to be “actors in the tradition of Korach, the Tziddukim, and the Maskilim,” traditional archetypes for rebellion against Torah authority. Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, a leading rabbi at Lakewood’s Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva, reportedly called blogs “a plague” and an “insidious … poison.” 
I recall my reaction to that. Let’s just say that it wasn’t pleasant. But Gil Student did a marvelous job refuting that as well: 
Rabbi Gil Student, author of the blog Hirhurim, attended the session and was disturbed by what he heard. “They were using all this over-the-top language,” he told me, “declaring blogs to be a churban hadas [the destruction of the faith], and preventing the coming of the Messiah—or something of that nature.” Student disagrees: He believes that blogs serve an important purpose in analyzing Torah topics and the spectrum of Orthodox worldviews. “If you want to get people’s attention, you have to be where they are. If we’re not there, we lose the battle.” Student says that he sees the effects of blogs in the real world. Rabbinic figures with whom he is in touch will often mention things he wrote on his blog, even when they disagree. “There’s cross-pollination,” he said. “Ideas are moving.” 
I am not a modern day Korach (the rebel Levite of the Torah who defied Moshe’s authority and was summarily swallowed up into the earth - losing his portion in the world to come). Despite Rabbi Wachsman’s insinuation that this is what Orthodox Jewish bloggers are. Nor am I any of the other pejoratives used by Rabbi Wachsman and other rabbinic figures. 

I have also been told by people who are close to the Agudah Moetzes, that they did not mean me, when they excoriated Orthodox bloggers. I am grateful for that. But I am still upset by the kind of rhetoric used by Rabbi Wachmasn who indiscriminately blasted all Orthodox bloggers - labeling them all ‘Korachs’.  And he is not alone. There are many other Orthodox personalities of similar and lesser stature that have the same derogatory attitudes towards Orthodox bloggers.

I am however grateful that Rabbi Perlow is not one of them. Although I realize that he does oppose the ones that insult rabbinc leaders. Can't really blame him for that. I always greet him when he comes to Chicago and he is glad to see me… remembering me from my student days at HTC.

The bottom line here is that communicating via the internet is no longer just a fun way to pass time. It has become so huge, that all other forms of communication have been negatively affected by it. Increasingly the internet is becoming the primary source for information of all kinds. And the fastest. 

It has via blogs like mine brought up important issues of the day – and exposes the thoughts of readers via the commenting system in unprecedented ways. There has never been  a way to take the pulse of the people – especially Orthodox Jews – the way the internet does. It is instant. And it is raw. Blogs let you know what the people are really thinking. Before blogs, all dissent was kept to oneself for fear of being ostracized. 

Now dissent is heard all day long on blogs like mine. What better way to take the pulse of the people. Until blogs, communications were done one way. Agudah had speakers that spoke the party line, the audience applauded, and everybody went home. Their conventions still do this. But now the internet is allowing their audience to respond and to say what they really think. This is one of the purposes of my blog. Which is why I allow comments that are critical of me. Sometimes very strongly.

Rabbi Adlerstein is right. He was interviewed in that article and said that the so called Slifkin affair was a watershed moment in modern day Jewish history. A critical turning point in how Orthodoxy functions. It is no longer the case that Orthodox Jewish leadership can assume to just speak and people will listen without question. People now have the opportunity to question. And to be heard. If I had to pick the one benefit of Orthodox blogs that is the most important, it is that nothing gets by without scrutiny anymore. Whether it’s covering up sex abuse, or questioning the literal interpretation of the Torah about the origins of the universe.

We can thank Rabbi Natan Slifkin for that. Although he paid a heavy price for it by having his books banned, that opened up the Torah world to the light of day. A light that can examine every doctrinal detail and pass judgment on whether these doctrines are still valid to the modern educated mind. A world that can offer alternatives to those doctrines that are just as valid Halachicly and Hashkaificly.

I think Rabbi Perlow understands this and it is why he supports a blog like Cross Currents. And why he does not consider my blog to be the work of a Korach.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

We Are Healthy Men!

Typical street scene in Ramat Bet Shemesh B
I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt. The residents Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet (RBS B) are probably just as appalled as I am – or as any decent human being would be - at  what happened a couple of weeks ago to a woman waiting for a bus in  that suburb. As an observant Jew - she was dressed modestly by Halachic standards. But probably not by that community’s extreme standards. A male resident of that suburb approached that woman  put his face right in front of hers and shouted “Slut! You weaken men!”

This frightened her and she screamed. Here is what happened next. From the Forward
She called the police for assistance on her cellphone, as he turned away and crossed the street. But when he saw she was calling for help, it infuriated him anew. “As I was talking to the police, he saw what I was doing and he turned around and crossed the street back to me, running towards me at a crazy pace right in the middle of the traffic - he didn’t care about the cars on the street. He pulled my hair, knocked me to the ground, pulled off my head covering, and kept shouting “Get out of here!” with horrific screams. My daughter saw the whole thing and was crying as I yelling “Leave me alone, help me, call the police!” 
This man is obviously very sick. He is no doubt obsessed with sex and the slightest provocation along these lines sets him off. His reaction to his own sexual  stirrings caused him to lose his temper. And he uncontrollably beat up the source of those stirrings. In fact saying he is sick is an understatement.

There are two things to be said here. The first one is mentioned by the victim herself. As she was being pummeled - people who saw it – did nothing. A woman was being mercilessly beaten by a man, screaming for help or to call the police - and no one did anything. I don’t know how anyone with any sense of compassion could watch something like this happen right in front of them without acting immediately to help her in some way… or at least to call the police.

Unfortunately this problem does not only exist in this community. It happens all over the world. I’ve heard it all before. People see something like this and freeze. I don’t understand it. Is it fear? Even if so, why not at least call the police?

On the other hand - was there an extra factor in this case? I wonder if it were one of their own female residents being attacked by a secular Jew, would they have just stood by, too? But… I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they are no different than the average man in the street anywhere in the world. Many people - Jews and gentiles alike - just freeze when they see violence being done by one person against another.

But as God’s chosen people - shouldn’t a Jew be better than anyone else? These fine religious Jews who observe the most minute details of Halacha have apparently not inherited the Jewish trait of compassion from their ancestor Abraham. Nor do they understand the Torah’s admonition of Lo Sa’amod Al Dam Re’eacha  (Vayikra 19:16). Do not stand idly by while your friend’s blood is being spilled.

There is another thing in my view that is even more problematic. It is the way this community is educated in matters of sex. The extremes they go to in order to avoid being sexually aroused (and thus sinning) has caused them to put up many fences. The result of that is that even the most normal interaction between a man and a woman causes sexual stirrings in the minds of their men. When one is used to seeing only women that are fully covered from the neck down with loose fitting clothing, and their hair fully covered as well, then the sight of a woman who might ordinarily be quite modestly dressed according to Halacha might cause people who are not used to that - to see it as provocative.

I don’t think this is an anomaly among the residents of RBS B. I think this is their norm. The vast majority of them are transplantees from Meah Shearim. This is the place that is famous for occasionally throwing rocks (or worse) at women who do not dress in accordance with their modesty standards. 

I recall the reaction a few years ago of the community to the harassment (by extremist RBS B zealots) of Na’amah  Margolese, a 7 year old girl on her way to a Religious Zionist school bordering their neighborhood. Though generally expressing mild disapproval of what happened - they were nevertheless sympathetic to the motives behind the harassment. ‘We are healthy men’ said one of them in an interview. We do not want to be subjected to such immodesty in our community.

Healthy men?  They are aroused by a six year old girl? If that’s the case, then the ‘healthy’ men of RBS B are pedophiles! At least that would be the logical conclusion here.

Now I’m sure the vast majority of that community are not pedophiles – including the fellow in the interview. But it should not escape anyone what they consider titillating. I think the expression ‘You weaken men’ explains a lot. What this depraved man uttered is actually their Hashkafa.

In their desire to be holy people, this community is taught to avoid all matters even slightly sexual. If you are raised to completely avoid any contact with the opposite sex, nature has a way of compensating for this. The Libido – or sex drive - is a natural part of every human being. It is as essential to life as eating and sleeping.  If one is deprived of normal interaction with the opposite sex and avoid all matters sexual, the libido will unconsciously be ‘starved’ and will be stimulated at the slightest provocation. It’s like fasting when you’re thirsty. After a while, your thirst will overwhelm you. The longer you fast, the more you will crave water.

The way sexuality is treated in these communities is by forcing everyone to fast. And to avoid the sight or thought of ‘water’ as much as possible. Not seeing it or interacting with it in any way will hopefully keep your mind off of your ‘thirst’. But nature will nevertheless take its course. One cannot fast forever. And the sight of plain water will make you want it badly.

Now I’m not telling anyone how to lead their lives. But when the extremes of one group start impacting negatively on another, my tolerance ends. The fellow who beat up that woman is a victim of such starvation. Even though his violent reaction was abhorrent and criminal by any standard, it should not be lost on anyone that what precipitated his behavior was a reaction to his own sexuality. A sexuality that is ingrained in them via a faulty approach to the opposite sex.  

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

But It Makes Me Feel More Spiritual?

Tzitzis - Photo Credit: Forward
Is there anyone that thinks that a woman that wears Tzitzis (the fringes that must be attached to all 4 corners of a piece of clothing that has four corners) is in any way normative Judaism? Well… this seems to be the next step in breaking the chain of tradition that the extreme left wing of modern Orthodoxy is going. From the Forward: 
(A) group of young women are — quite literally — taking this fiddly law into their own hands.Maya Rosen, 19, has been wearing tzitzit for three years, making her own for two, and last week launched Netztitzot, a not-for-profit organization that will sew and sell tzitzit for women.

The Mitzvah of Tzitizs is one of those from which women are exempt. It is a positive commandment that is time bound since it can only be fulfilled during the day time. So only men are required to do this and may only wear a 4 cornered piece of clothing if those fringes are attached.

So here is what the extreme left has wrought. Women can now be ordained, they can be cantors in a Shul (in certain portions of the service) even when men are present . They wear Teffilin and now even wear Tziztis. I am trying to picture this sight. And it is baffling to me why any woman would choose to so clearly look like a man in religious terms.

Now in the strictest of terms, I do not believe they are in technical violation of Halacha. Women are indeed permitted to honor and observe those Mitzvos from which they are exempt. And in that sense many of time bound Mitzvos are obsevered by woman. And they are even encouraged to do so. Like taking the Daled Minim (a Lulav and Esrog, etc.) on Sukkos. Over the centuries this has become the norm.

So why is this odd looking woman standing  behind the Mechtitza wearing a Talis and Teffilin and wearing Tzitzis as part of her everyday apparel the way men do so bad? Is it any worse than doing any other voluntary Mitzva from which they are exempt?

The answer is yes. There is a reason some voluntary Mitzvos are both acceptable and encouraged and some are not. When Mitzvios are done against the accepted grain, one has to ask why any given woman has chosen that particular Mitzva to perfom. Why choose somenthing that was never accepted in the past? Why break with tradition? What is to be gained by bucking the system?  

I know all the arguments.  If someone feels more spiritual by doing something out of the mainstream, why protest? If it enhances their spirituality, what’s wrong with it? And what gives me the right to judge them or question their motives?

The answer is as follows. Although there is no outright ban on the aforementioned innovations, there is discouragement of it in the Halachic literature. Sources for that can be found at the Lincoln Square Synagogue (LSS) website. One needs to take that into consideration before bucking the trends we in Orthodoxy follow.

Why are these women breaking with tradition – even as they do so sincerely? As I’ve said in the past there is not a scintilla of doubt in my mind that the feminist zeitgeist is what’s driving it. One may say, “So what?” “What’s the harm?” “If there is no technical problem with it and someone feels more spiritual by doing something non traditional - why hinder them just because it isn’t the norm?” “If feminism is the means by which a woman becomes aware of her spirituality, of what consequence is it to me or to Judaism in general?”

I’ve made this comparison in the past but it bears repeating. Using the argument that external influences that are not counter Halacha should be embraced by those who feel more spiritual doing them - should support a woman’s choice to wear a Burka. There too there is technically nothing in Halacha that forbids women to do that. It is – one can argue – a more modest form of dress for a woman to cover up as much of the female form in public as one can. Burkas certainly do that. Why hinder a woman from expressing her spirituality through this form of modesty? So what if Islam does it too?  Tznius is Tznius!

Do we really want to encourage such breaks from the norm…  especially when such acts are discouraged in the Halachic sources - even if not outright banned? There is something to be said for being normal. If being abnormal makes you more spiritual, well… there is just something wrong with that.

Now there is an argument to be made about allowing such innovations because of the failings of Modern Orthodoxy wherein these innovations lie. The sad fact is that there are a great number of people form MO backgrounds that go OTD. From the LSS website
As uncomfortable as it is to say this or hear it, I feel that we in Modern Orthodoxy have to look at ourselves as badly needing Kiruv. Despite our exorbitantly expensive day school education, the results are mixed, at the very best.  In many ways, all of our teenagers are religiously ‘at risk’. 
This is followed by the argument that with so many kids at risk of going OTD, one should be happy that a child is taking upon themselves a religious stringency even if it isn’t mainstream. Doing something religious is far better than violating Halacha. Furthermore - forbidding it may cause these teenagers to rebel in the opposite direction. I can certainly hear that argument. But I have to wonder if such  behavior – religious though it may seem – is not in itself a rebellion.  Which can become a slippery slope in the opposite direction too. 

How will this looking the other way impact the rest of the student body? What conclusions will be drawn from this?

In my view all these innovations ought to be completely discouraged. If someone wants to be more spiritual by finding additional ways to express it, they should start with self improvement in areas required of them. Or at least in areas that are accepted norms for women even if not required of them. Is self fulfillment really about fulfilling the word of God even if it makes you feel more spiritual?

The extreme left wing of Orthodoxy is pushing the envelope by allowing or even encouraging these innovations. Innovations that are discouraged in Halacha. And if that is not bad enough - what does that say about a woman’s traditional role in Judaism? And where will the slippery slope lead them next?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Adopt a Kollel?

Torah study is a vital part of our existence as Jews. It is one of the most important of our 613 Mitzvos. And it ought to be supported. The only questions are how and who? More about that later.

Bearing the importance of Torah study in mind - one of the most upsetting responses to the dire financial situation of Charedim in Israel is the Adopt-a-Kollel project. It is upsetting despite the noble purpose of  a Kollel - full time Torah study. The recent budget cuts in Israel that include drastic cuts in welfare programs where large families are disproportionately impacted  - is affecting the Charedi community more than just about any other community. They are the ones with the large families. And they are the ones getting less money. If one includes the government goal of funding (at current levels) only those schools that offer a core curriculum… that exacerbates the problem immensely.  More mouths to feed and educate via an exponential growth rate and a lot less money to do so.

One can debate whether these government cuts were specifically meant to target Charedim. There is no question, however, that it does hurt them the most. They were in a state of poverty until now. Studies have shown that Charedim are the poorest demographic in Israel. When all these cuts are added –  well it isn’t too difficult to do the math.

The reasons for their poverty are well known. It is self inflicted. The Charedi world in Israel does not enter the workforce (or prepare themselves for any such eventuality) by choice. They are urged to stay in the Beis HaMedrash for as long as possible and to only enter the workforce when the proverbial knife is at their throats. Add to that the former provision that one must serve in the military before being legally allowed to work, and it is easy to see why this community is so poor. If I recall correctly less than half of the entire Charedi world in Israel works. Most of the rest study in Yeshivos or Kollelim. And some of those only pretend to.

Unfortunately Charedim are crying bloody murder that the government is trying to starve them to death. Using expressions about them that are reminiscent of those used to describe anti Semitic Czarist Russia. Where pogroms were once the order of the day.

I do not buy any of that. Although I’m sure that there are more than a few government officials that would like to destroy the Charedi world, I don’t think that this is what’s going on here. The goal of the government is to get Charedim to support themselves. Not to change their lifestyles. The truth is that the truly dedicated Lomdei Torah who are Masmidim are probably not the majority. Although I’m sure that many of those that are not the elite are nevertheless sincere and diligent in their Torah study, that should not take away from their obligation to support their families first. They should instead be working and setting aside some of their non working time for Torah study.

The one thing they should not be doing is depending on others to support them. Not unless they are truly elite Talmidei Chachamim - with the potential to be the leading Poskim, Rabbonim, Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbeim of our day. They should be supported. But certainly not all of the tens of thousands learning in Yeshiovs and Kollelim qualify for that.

The Charedi world does not see it that way. They encourage every soul to try to stay in the Beis HaMedrash. That is what their Chinuch is geared to do. That should be the ultimate goal for every male Jew. Every single male should aspire to that.

They are of course entitled to see things their own way. What they are not entitled to do is complain about not being paid for it by the government.

Which is what the Israeli rabbinic leadership, their politicians, and their media outlets have been doing since the last election – and before. And they aren’t just complaining. They are vilifying. They use catch phrases like ‘taking food out of the mouths of babies’ to describe government budget cuts. As though they were entitled to the welfare from the start. Which of course they aren’t. Welfare is designed for people who can’t work or can’t find work. Not for able bodied  people who choose not to.

Their American counterparts as always are in lockstep with this mentality. They buy right into the narrative about starving Israel’s Charedi children. With a goal of ultimately destroying the entire Yeshiva and Kollel system as they know it.

One of the ways they are doing this (besides vilifying the government) is by asking people to ‘Adopt-a-Kollel’. The slogan that accompanies their ad campaign for this comes straight out of the Haggadah: SheB’Chol Dor VaDor Omdim Alenu L’Chalosenu. In every generation (our enemies) stand up against us to destroy us. Here is what Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein says about that. From CrossCurrents
One of the worst examples was the marketing slogan of Adopt-A-Kollel: “Shebechol dor vodor omdim aleinu lechaloseinu.” I do not have the words or the stomach to flesh out how terribly wrong this is – and no amount of reassurance will convince me otherwise.  
This illustrate the kind of divisiveness I have been talking about in previous posts. It is the Charedi world at its worst. I cannot protest it enough. Is there even the slightest doubt that the Charedi world even in America sees the slightest attempt at change as evil incarnate coming for the devil? What’s worse is the attitude that – ‘If you’re not with us, you’re agin us!’ ...even if you are devoutly observant! If in any way you do not see what the government is doing as Shmad  - out to destroy us  then you are part of the problem… you are part of those out to destroy us!

What ever happened to respectful disagreement? I guess they never heard if it! No such thing as disagreeing with them without being kicked out of Judaism! Of course I don’t really think they actually believe that. But that is the message they are projecting with slogans like that.

What about the actual Adopt-a-Kollel project. Is it a worthy program? Rabbi Adlerstein thinks it is. But I don’t. He only hates the slogan - not the project. In my view it is not a worthy one. What about all the increased poverty that these new government cuts will cause? That should not be ignored. No one should starve while trying to improve the financial situation of Charedim in Israel. It is not their fault that they have been indoctrinated to eschew working in favor of learning… and thereby completely avoiding any preparation for the work force.

Until an American style Charedi system is installed in their educational system (which is what I am hoping will happen despite the fierce attempts to prevent it) these people have to eat. They still have to feed their families. The vast majority of them are good people who have just been misguided through no fault of their own. But adopting a Kollel is not the way to do that. That will only perpetuate the problem.

In my view we need to help them out financially while they go through this transition (hopefully). I’m not sure what the mechanism for that would be.  But I would urge that a mechanism be found to give these families financial support. Any money that someone might want to give to a Kollel should instead be given to an organization designed to help these families directly.

Not every Kollel in existence deserves to be in existence. Some do and some don’t. If a Kollel can’t survive without this program, it probably shouldn’t survive at all. Kollelim are a dime a dozen in  Israel. Most of them serve no purpose other than to have a few Avrecihim sitting and learning who would better serve Klal Yisroel by supporting their families. There is no accounting for the quality or the quantity of such Kollelim. They exist only to support their Rosh Kollel and the Avreichim he has chosen for his Kollel.

There are of course Kollelim that should be supported. But my guess is that the truly great ones are not the ones the Adopt-a-Kollel are supporting. The truly great ones are probably well funded already. And for those that aren’t, exceptions can be made. For the majority of them - the best thing that can happen to the Avreichim currentkly populating them is to go to work… first getting the training they need for good jobs. Training that is now being made available by the government.

How to determine which is worthy and which is not, is beyond the scope of this post. But suffice it to say that it can and should be done. The bottom line is that the increased poverty that the Charedi world is now experiencing needs to be dealt with. But the Adopt-a-Kollel program is the absolute wrong way to go about it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

No Child Left Behind - A Jewish Value

Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark
Last year, Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark (Dean of Beth Jacob Seminary of Montreal)  wrote an article in Mishpacha Magazine (which I commented on) about drawing lines. In it he made the point that even though there ought to be unconditional love for an OTD (Off the Derech) child… even that had limits. If the doors to Teshuva are so locked that a parent feels that child will never come back, then you can basically show them the door. As I said at the time, that is not unconditional love. That is conditional love.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a master Mechanech himself - responded to this at the time as follows:
Having dealt firsthand with similar situations for over sixteen years, it is our very strong recommendation to parents that their message to their OTD child and his/her siblings be one of unconditional love with no exceptions. Love does not mean acceptance. It means that the place our children hold in our hearts is not diminished regardless of how much they disappoint or even hurt us.
I agree with him and disagree with Rabbi Aisenstrark… and at the time I questioned his value as a Mechanech.  I was assured by a Mechanech of note who knows him well that he was a master Mechanech. And he was indeed perplexed by his approach.

But in last week’s Mishpacha column (unavailable online), I have come to understand why Rabbi Aisenstrak is so well regarded. He has advocated an approach to Chinuch that I fully support, and one that is woefully under represented in the world of Orthodox Jewish education. I believe this is in large part responsible for much of the OTD phenomenon. What I am talking about is teaching to the brighter or more motivated students.

Many Rebbeim in the day schools and Yeshivos are frustrated by students who don’t listen, whose minds wander, or who simply don’t want to learn.  They feel like these students are a drag on the rest of the class. Almost every  class has one or more students like that. I know of one 8th grade Rebbe that actually tells the class at the beginning of the school year that those who don’t want to learn, that’s fine, just don’t disturb the class. And he teaches to the brighter or more motivated students.

I don’t know how many teachers there are that actually make that speech to their class. But I’m sure that this is in fact how many of the practice.

This is not Chinuch. It is instead a gross failure to execute his teaching duties properly. He is instead shirking his duty. Teachers like this are irresponsible and in my view they will have to shoulder the burden of responsibility (at least in part) for any child in their class who ‘falls through the cracks’ and goes OTD. In my view this is grounds for dismissal.

Rabbi Aisenstark admonishes Mechanchim who do not to teach to the entire class. They should not ignore anyone. And he goes a step further. He believes that it is the weaker children that deserve the real attention. Given a choice between teaching the bright more motivated children or the weaker ones, he should focus on the weaker ones. The more motivated students will do quite well without being the center of attention that they usually are.

If children don’t do well in school, if they are bored or think school is just too hard… they are going to end up hating it. They need to be engaged at whatever level they are capable of. Get the unmotivated ones motivated.

The students who need the attention the most are the ones whose egos have been destroyed by a lack of success in the schools. If you ignore those kids, the chances of them going OTD are exponentially increased. An informal survey conducted by one of his seminary classes found that  almost half (41%) of those who had negative feelings about the school ended up going OTD to one degree or another..

I unfortunately know students like that. They are from fine religious homes with good parents and exemplary siblings.  Yet they have gone OTD. And if you examine their scholastic history – you will find that they did not do well in school. They thus were ignored. And ended up hating the school… and the religiosity it represents to them. That is criminal.

Rabbi Aisenstark tells us that at a wedding not long ago, he saw an 18 year old pour himself an 8 ounce glass of alcohol and drink it as if it were water. And after a coke chaser, he filled up his 8 ounce glass with alcohol again.

This doesn’t man that every student that doesn’t succeed in school will become an alcoholic. But the image should be a wakeup call for that a kind of potential. Or worse.

What to do? In the short term he suggests that the parent body of any religious school system such as Torah U’Mesorah offer courses in how to teach to everyone. In the long term he says that the entire structure of Chinuch ought to be restructured. He suggest a think tank of senior Mechanchim sit down for whatever time it takes (day; weeks; years…)  to come up with ideas for change. Because the alternative – as is becoming evident – is dire.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Charedim and the Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl

Ceremony at Mt. Herzl military cemetery, 2010 (Wikipedia)
As I write these words, the comment thread to A Charedi Perspective lists 421 comments. I’m sure that number will be exceeded in very short order. Judging by the number of comments and the amount of ink (both virtual and real) spilled on this issue by the media - it would seem obvious that the issues discussed by Menachem  Mordechai Frank* are among the biggest and most hot button issues of the day.

Here are the questions. Should Charedim should serve in the Israeli army? What is their justification for avoiding it?  …even boycotting it to the extent of serving time in jail for that cause? 

Menachem’s explanation centers on two points.

One is the Desslerian requirement of rebuilding the Torah world and producing Gedloim even at the expense of 999 out of 1000 going OTD. But he personally rejects it as a legitimate reason and explains why.  If one is going to use Rav Dessler to make his case. Then one should read what Rabbi Shalom Gold said in a ‘letter to the editor’ that Hamodia refused to publish: 
Three months after the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, Rav Dessler wrote that he who does not see the dramatic change and the complete reversal of the fate of the Jewish people, "min hakatzeh al Hakatzeh, "from one extreme of six million slaughtered to the other extreme end "the settling of our people in their own medina in our Holy Land" is blind. "Woe to one who will come to the Day of Judgment still blind and not having been able to see something so real." (Michtav M'Eliyahu, Volume 3, page 352) 
The other point Menachem s makes is regarding the Tznius issue.

To a Charedi who has been infused with a sense of heightened sensitivity to violations Tznius (as it relates to the sexes) - any situation that compromises it even in the slightest is - is to be avoided at all costs. The army, he notes, under the best of conditions (e.g Nachal Charedi) will perforce be a compromise.  And that is why Charedim reject the army. He says this in the form of an explanation, not an excuse - and asks us to understand the issue in that context.

For me an obvious response to can best be summed up in an old Yiddish phrase, ‘A Tzadik in Peltz’. Which means  ‘A holy man in a fur coat’. This term was coined by the Kotzker Rebbe and it refers to keeping warm in ones own coat and not worrying about anyone else warmth.  Being a Tzadik without caring about your brother is what Charedim are asking for.

This represents a profound lack of Arvus… and sense of priorities.  Using Tznius as an excuse for avoiding service to one’s fellow Jew in the act of protecting them from harm via the army is kind of like being a Chosid Shoteh.  A Chasid Shoteh (foolishly religious)  is described as who sees a naked woman drowning and refuses to save her for Tznius reasons.

If a man sees a naked woman drowning, Tznius issues are to be completely ignored. There is a life to be saved. Even if there are other Jews standing around that could do the job, you are obligated to save that life. That is what the army is asking of you.  If you do not want to sacrifice your high standards even in Nachal Charedi for that purpose because of a slight possibility of lowering that standard, there is something terribly wrong with the Chinuch you received.

How valuable is the army to the Charedi mindset? The continuous vilification of it as a den of iniquity calling the draft ‘Shmad’ …tells you what one segment of the Charedi world thinks.  But not all Charedim view the army that way. There are some that actually believe the army does have value.  Nonetheless that idea that it is Shmad is reinforced by their silence. They have been focusing only on their own special needs… and joined forces with the extremists on the right who have been yelling ‘Shmad’ every chance they get.

Which brings me to an editorial by Rabbi Moshe Grylak in this week’s Mishpacha Magazine. He says that had the government not imposed the ‘jail’ penalty and instead had a financial penalty, they would have accepted the new legislation. That’s because Charedim could have ‘bought’ their way out of service by paying  the fine. The problem with that is that no one else can buy their way out of the army. Jail is the ‘across the board’ penalty for all Jewish citizens in Israel who defy the draft. If a financial penalty was extended to all draft resisters, then everyone would be able to buy their way out. Of course that would unfairly favor the rich, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

That said, Rabbi Grylak has taken a truly courageous stand against those who vilify the army. And the utter failure of the recent prayer rallies to convey a message that it was not about the rejecting army.  That in fact the army is a vital part of Israel’s existence. And one that outght to be  praised, not condemned. He uses words from previous Gedloim to make those points. Points conspicuously absent from even the moderate members of the current Charedi leadership. From Mishpacha:
(T)here is one attitude that we absolutely must preserve, and no one described that feeling better than Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz ztz”l, the rosh yeshivah of Mir. The following passage is from a sefer published in his memory: “Regarding Chazal’s statement in Bava Basra 10 that no one could come close to the level of the Eser Harugei Malchus [the Ten Martyrs put to death al kiddush Hashem by the Roman rulers] because they died for the Jewish People: I say the same of the soldiers who give their lives to save us. No one else can come close to their spiritual reward. Our obligation to thank them is boundless.”… 
“I must tell you about a talk I heard from the mashgiach of a large Sephardic yeshivah in Jerusalem, just before the talmidim went out to take part in the rally. This mashgiach is a personal of extraordinary refinement. He began by speaking of the constant, dreadful angst felt by the parents of soldiers in combat units. Then the mashgiach burst into tears as he described the feelings of a mother whose son is returned home in a coffin — how the pain of bereavement will be lodged in her heart forever.
‘There’s no doubt,’ the mashgiach cried, ‘that this rally, important as it is, will cause further pain to the crushed hearts of bereaved parents, especially if there will be placards with anti-army slogans [which there were]. Still, we are faithful to the order of our rabbis to take part in the rally. This, however, I ask of you, my dear talmidim. On your way to the rally, pass through the military cemetery on Har Herzl.
See the thousands of gravestones. Look at the gravestones, and then look at yourselves, and ask yourselves if you really feel you are learning Torah at such a level that you could look those parents in the eyes and say to them with a clear conscience, “Yes, I learn Torah. I, too, sacrifice myself day and night for the holy Torah, just as your son sacrificed himself.”
Then go to the rally, and shout with a clear conscience that the Torah is what upholds the Jewish nation, and bnei Torah engaged in its study must not be drafted. But if you feel yourselves lax in Torah learning — then, if you are men of integrity, go back to the yeshivah, for you have no right to cause pain to those bereaved parents.’”
I was studying in Ponevezh during the Sinai Campaign in 1956. I remember how the whole yeshivah, shtenders and all, moved down to the bomb shelter when war broke out. I’ll never forget the words of the Ponevezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who — after describing Chazal’s picture of a truly Jewish army, divided into fighters and lomdei Torah — cried out, “Dear ones! The whole nation is now enlisting for battle. We must also enlist; we must devote all our strength to Torah learning as our task at this time. Anyone who can’t be more of a masmid than usual should know that he is endangering my yeshivah, and I ask any such person to leave the yeshivah immediately.”
Why wasn’t this attitude expressed at either prayer rally? Where are the  R’ Shumlevitzes and R’ Kahanemans of today? He may deny it publicly, but I think that in his heart of hearts, Rabbi Grylak realizes that they do not exist. And indeed those prayer rallies have done more harm than good.

*Not his real name

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Charedi Perspective

Guest Post by Menachem Mordechai Frank*

Typical look of Charedi Yeshiva students 
The following was submitted to me in the form of an e-mail by a American Charedi who describes himself as a ‘moderate’. Although I do not like publishing anonymous posts, I have once again made an exception here. I believe the perspective Menachem writes about does in fact represent the Charedi mindset of a great many Charedim. Probably the lion’s share of their American mainstream

As has been noted in the past, Charedim are not monolithic. There are extremists and moderates. And even within those two groupings, there is variance of opinion. As the old saying goes, two Jews three opinions. 

I have mentioned some of his points about the Charedi mindset in the past. But since I am not Charedi, many people simply feel that I do not know what I’m talking about. I of course reject that out of hand. But It is much better to hear it directly from someone whose feet are firmly planted in that world and who has been immersed in that Hashkafa all of his life. He went to mainstream Charedi Yeshivos both in Israel and the US (Mir, BMG). And he works in an administrative position in a business office. 

His letter was addressed to me and he makes assumptions about my knowledge of the Charedi world; or what my motives are (in most cases) that are either, incomplete, misunderstood, or in error. What is important here is to know what much of the mainstream Charedi world thinks. With that in mind, his words follow.

I am chareidi (probably what you would term “moderate chareidi”), and am dismayed by what I consider the high jacking of the charedi world by extremists. The yeshiva world that I grew up in and that I am so proud to be a member of seems to be quite different than what is the public image of the yeshiva world today. Today’s image is not something that I am proud of. Much of your criticism of the present day chareidi world is warranted. Having said that, there are times that, in my opinion, you are totally off the mark. However, to give you the benefit of the doubt, I think that you may be unaware of some of the philosophic basics of today’s yeshiva world. 

My assumption is that you are a good person and do not write your blog just to vent and create further division amongst klal yisroel. The purpose of your criticisms, I suspect, is to hopefully effect a change in the mindset of charedim. Therefore, it is imperative to be aware of these hashkafos, so that we know how to effectively argue against them. As they say, if you want to beat your enemy you need to know your enemy. 

Hopefully, no one here can be classified as an “enemy”, but you do need to understand the perspective of your interlocutor if you have any aspirations of possibly influencing his positions. Your seeming lack of familiarity with certain charedi hashkafos has resulted in a number of recurring criticisms which cause you to lose credibility with charedi readers that you may otherwise have success in influencing. 

I would like to make you aware of two points of charedi hashkafa that you seem to be ignoring in your posts. One, I more or less agree with, and the other I take strong issue with. However, as I mentioned, it’s important to understand their hashkafa, and their sources, if you ever hope of influencing their decision making.

A frequent criticism of yours is that the charedim’s decision to push a Torah only agenda to the exclusion of all else, has created a tremendous amount of problems for the majority of charedim who are not cut out for full time learning. While I completely agree with this fact, you need to be aware of the correct way to convince people that something needs to change. Hard core charedim are not fazed by the tremendous problems created by this hashkafa. 

Rav Dessler in Michtov M’Eliyahu (Chelek Gimmel page 355 ‐360) , argues that the hashkafa of the yeshiva world, as opposed to R’ Shamshom Refoel Hirsch, was to focus on creating Gedolim even at the expense of many individuals. He claims that Gedolim are only created with a pure Torah‐only approach. He acknowledges that there are many korbonos in this system. He validates this approach by quoting Chazal that “elef nichnasim l’mikrah v’echad yotzai l’horoah”. R’ Dessler takes this to mean that even if 999 “go off the derech”, it is still worth it to produce the “eched yotzai l’horoah”. 

Personally, I don’t see any reason why R’ Dessler understood the Gemara to mean that 999 would go “off the derech”. I don’t see any indication of that in the Gemara. In my opinion the Gemara is saying that not all 999 will become a Godol, but nowhere is there any indication, that they would not be solid productive members of klal yisroel and full shomrei Torah u’mitzvos. 

Additionally, I believe that R’ Dessler’s pshat in the Gemara is problematic with other Gemoros. (Particularly Brachos - 35b which seems to indicate that the Torah only approach is for individuals only and not for the tzibbur at large‐based on the understanding of the Chofetz Chaim in Biur Halacha). Furthermore, I would very much like to believe that R’ Dessler only wrote what he did as a form of hora’as sha’ah, and that were he alive today to witness the vast amount of korbonos that this system has created, he would say differently. 

However, I’m not aware of anyone of R’ Dessler’s caliber who wrote a refutation to R’ Dessler, or anyone who has proof that R’ Dessler would in fact say otherwise were he alive today. In fact, unlike the famous horaas shoah of the Chazon Ish that instructed everyone to remain in full time learning after the Holocaust, until the Torah world could be rebuilt,  there is no indication of any horaas shoah in R’ Dessler’s piece. 

He actually argues that it is an old machlokes going back at least 150 years. As much as I’d like to believe that it was a horaas shoah, it would not be intellectually honest of me to claim with any degree of certainty that it in fact was. While I personally choose to follow R’ Shamshon Refoel Hirsch’s philosophy, I cannot fault someone who chooses to follow R’ Dessler’s. 

Until we come up with a rock solid argument as to why R’ Dessler’s hashkafa doesn’t apply today, it is unhelpful to continue pointing out all the problems created by the Torah only approach. R’ Dessler has given blanket coverage to all arguments about the problems the system has created. I am hoping that someone does in fact come up with an irrefutable argument why R’ Dessler’s approach is no longer applicable, but I have yet to see one. 

Another frequent criticism of yours concerns many chareidim’s “obsession” with tznius and other matters. You have repeatedly asserted that it is possible to go to the IDF and come out a full shomer Torah umitzvos as thousands of Dati Leumi soldiers do. What you seemingly fail to understand is, that for chareidim, any slight drop in their level of ruchniyos is considered a catastrophe. 

An often quoted Gemara in charedi yeshovos is Chagiga 9A which expounds on the posuk “vshavtem u’rieesem…bein oved Elokim l’asher lo ovdo”, by saying that the difference between an oved Elokim to a lo oved Elokim is the difference between one who reviews his learning 101 times as opposed to just 100. The person who only reviewed 100 times is considered a “lo oved Elokim” in contrast to the one who reviewed 101 times.  The Gemara clearly states that the 2 people  are both considered  tzadikim. Yet it describes one  as an "oved Elokim" and the second as a "lo oved Elokim". 

Similarly, many chareidim may take the same view on others who may be categorized as tzadikim (ie.  a DL soldier who completes IDF service and remains a shomer torah u'mitzvos), yet in comparison to a higher level of ruchniyos which they may have given up on, can still fall under the category of "lo oved Elokim". This doesn't c"v mean that they look condescendingly on these other "tzadikim", but rather choose a different path for themselves. 

When people really live with this ideal then every slight level in ruchniyos really is a big deal, and not one they're willing to forgo. Of course there are people who aren't living this ideal and just pay lip service to it-but there are many who are authentic.True charedim really do live with this idea, and often go to great personal sacrifice to maintain a certain level of ruchniyos. They avoid going places where they might encounter women who are immodestly dressed, and are willing to part with the little money they have to try and ensure that they are fulfilling every mitzvah in the best possible way. Asking them to stop obsessing is like asking them to stop serving Hashem, to become a “lo oved Elokim”. 

While I believe, that sometimes the “obsessing” goes too far and can be counter‐productive, in many cases, it is legitimate. Someone whose fear of sin is as great as his fear of eating lethal poison will construct tremendous barriers around the sin. 

I think that there is precedent for this in many of the Gezeiros of Chazal and of the Rishonim (think‐the issur of tekius shofar on Shabbos because of a pretty far out concern that an individual might forget that it’s shabbos and carry his shofar outside. For that one individual Chazal uprooted the entire mitzvah of tekias shofar. 

There are countless other examples of really far out concerns which resulted in tremendous chumros –see Rama concerning waiting 5 days before performing a hefsek taharah, while in fact only 3 twenty-four hour periods is really required In fact, an objective analysis of many of Chazal’s gezeiros, will leave one thinking that today’s chareidim not nearly as “obsessive” as the earlier generations were. 

While it is certainly possible to be a shomer torah u’mitzvos in the IDF, I think it is almost certain that one’s level of ruchniyos might be adversely affected, even in the current Nachal Charedi system. The fact that there are elements within the army that like to provoke the religious soldiers (kol isha, females performing physical examinations, forcing soldiers to be mechallel shabbos  etc.) 

However isolated these incidents are, for chareidim, the very fact that the possibility exists already creates an untenable situation. Your seemingly cavalier attitude toward these unfortunate instances doesn’t help you win any arguments in the chareidi world. Your attitude seems to be, so long as the Nachal is 99% kosher that should be good enough for the chareidim. But it isn’t and never will be. 

Your comments on this subject serve to reinforce the chareidi position, that as soon as they’re exposed to the world at large, they’ll see a drop in their level of ruchniyos. While in yeshiva they have a tremendous sensitivity to any exposure whatsoever to immodesty, they see you arguing that so long as overall it’s kosher they should be able to deal with an environment that isn’t 100% safe by their standards. 

This argument can only be made by someone who has left the walls of yeshiva and no longer has the same degree of sensitivity in these matters. (I also have left yeshivah, and certainly do not have the same degree of sensitivity in these matters as I once had. I do not fault you, and I’m only trying to point out that this argument of yours will not resonate with chareidim, and it will also serve to alienate them from all the other valid points that you make). 

It is unfortunate that there doesn’t yet exist an environment within the IDF that any chareidi can be completely comfortable in. There really is no reason for it, other than extremists in the left wing camp who are doing whatever they can to prevent that from ever happening. 

I sometimes think about how much ground the IDF could have gained in each of these isolated incidents by severely reprimanding the instigators. It would’ve sent a clear message to the chareidi world, that their sensitivities will be respected in the IDF and that they have nothing to fear. Instead, there not only wasn’t condemnation of the instigators by the IDF, some of the religious soldiers were actually penalized. That did nothing to help send a message of understanding to the chareidi world. 

I believe that Yair Lapid’s heavy handed tactics (especially with his insistence of criminal sanctions) have done a tremendous amount of damage to any trust that the chareidim will have in the IDF’s willingness to accommodate their lifestyle. While I am in almost completely full agreement with Yair Lapid’s stated goals, I feel he has done a terrible job at implementation.  

In closing, I would like to once again commend you on bringing important issues to the attention of the public. I wish you tremendous hatzlacha in trying to restore the honor of Torah which has been trampled on by extremists. The point of my writing was not to criticize you, but rather to help you to better argue your points. It is only because I agree with so much of what you write that I feel I want your words to be accepted by more people. I hope that my letter will help you sharpen your arguments and be more convincing to chareidim who do not yet agree with your perspective. This is my first time ever writing to a blog, and I am an extremely shy person, so I will not be signing my name.

*Not his real name