Monday, September 04, 2006

I Have a Dream

No, not the one of Martin Luther King, Jr. But I can dream, too, as did anyone who created effective social change--Jew or non-Jew!

Harry Maryles
discusses a mindset that my rebbeim(teachers) abhor and consider hashkafically repugnant, as do at least the chaverim(friends) I know in the charedie world. True, I do not know everyone!

I can quote stories from such diverse gedolim(Torah leaders) as Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Mendel Kaplan, Rav Avroham Pam and others, who had the correct hashkafah(outlook) in these matters, and whose actions caused Jew and gentile alike to say "how fortunate is the one who studied Torah !"

Or I can quote Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, writing in the Jewish Observer("With Kindness and Respect", March, 2004) that:

" Havdala(separation, or Jewish uniqueness--B.H.) means to recognize our status as G-d's Chosen People and maintain a higher standard in all areas of life, a standard that unequivocally identifies us as a nation of Torah. It means to insulate ourselves, our families and our homes from the decadent culture of secular society. Havdala does not mean to view people of other faiths as non-entities, to be insensitive to their feelings and needs. This sort of attitude can only lead to chillul Hashem. "

There are some pretty amazing stories in Rabbi Finkelman's article about contemporary Gedolei Torah as well as ordinary people who respected non-Jews in ways that the non-Jews themselves never dreamed of.

But all of this is not the subject of this post. I wish to move beyond that issue, and discuss the concept of a "discussion forum" in the chardei world in general.

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I believe that there needs to be a forum created in the charedie community for internal discussion of many issues. In my opinion, the fact that we do not have such a forum is the reason why many of these issues--not just the one referred to above-- are discussed publicly, and in the media, and do not always lead to an increase in k'vod shomayim.

People need to have a healthy outlet in which they can express themselves, even if they are not actually effecting change, and not just say, "let daas torah, or the established organizations handle the issues of our day." I think that this is the reality of our times(see below for more on the interface between gedolim and laypeople).

I realize that each blogger has a different standard as to what he or she feels fit to raise--I am not telling anyone what to do. There is always a question of "airing dirty laundry", versus "hiding one's head in the sand".

In any event, public discussion has lead to chilul Hashem even without the blogosphere. This is not a mere "PR issue", and it should bother each person. As the Mesilas Yesharim writes regarding tikkun chatzos, a person should not feel that he or she is not great enough to be concerned about a lack of k'vod shomayim.

Some might say that the internet already satsifies this need for self-expression. I say, not necessarily.

I agree that the internet allows people of different hashkafos to benefit from each other's ideas. Even if no one's mind is changed, the Internet forces one to try to think clearly and be more precise in expressing one's own ideas. But in my opinion, it is not a substitute for internal discussion.

Some things do not belong in public view, although one can certainly present, at times, an honest public self-critique. We do not need to pretend that the Chareide community is perfect. It is not.

But public discussion can many times be inappropriate, just as it may be for discussion of private matters relating to many other communities and religions, as well as the U.S. Government. There should, therefore, still be a concept of public versus internal discussion, in my opinion.

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There do already exist forums for laymen to express opinions in the charedie world. There are Letter to the Editor sections in the Jewish Observer, Yated and Hamodia. The Agudah Convention has roundtable sessions that have served as catalysts for chessed and other projects that have brought important improvement in different areas.

However, notwithstanding the fact that these forums are well-intended, and that they try to include the broadest opinions possible within their own purview, they are limited, because they need to satisfy people on the far Right as well. How can people in the broader charedie world and beyond get their message across, if their hashkafos, opinions and comments, although no less sincere, appear to some to be unconventional, or slightly so?

I think the hypothetical forum should be open to both charedim, centrists and modern orthodox, even if it focuses mainly on the chareide world. Baruch Hashem, Orthodoxy in general, and the Charedie world in particular have grown, and it has therefore come to include people of diverse opinions and needs.

Moshe Rabbeinu spoke of Hashem appointing a leader (Bamidbar 27:15), and said "Elokei haruchos", G-d of the spirit of all flesh. Rashi comments from the Midrash(Artscroll Rashi translation):

The personality of each individual is revealed before You; they do not resemble each other. Appoint a leader who can put up with each individual according to his personality.

A community consists of many diverse individuals, each with different physical, intellectual and emotional makeups, and therefore different needs.

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I do not have exact ideas, and the specifics will need to be worked out. I.e., an actual, live, support group or hashkafa club like "Alcoholics Anonymous", or a virtual, closed-e-mail group, like Areivim.


Some questions:

Should there be a rabbinic moderator or adviser? Perhaps there should be three representing a spectrum of different viewpoints. How can the group be kept positive and solution-oriented? How can different ideas be encouraged, if a purview and a scope is stated and defined?


Also, what is the purpose of the group? Is it merely for catharsis, or to stimulate social change? If it is the latter, the question becomes how the group interacts with established organizations(Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel), as well as with rabbonim and gedolie yisrael.

There may indeed be a benefit of gedolim knowing what the tzibbur is thinking; there is a concept of not decreeing a gezirah which the tzibbur can’t follow. It is therefore important for Gedolim to be in touch with members of the klal. Interaction between the hypothetical group, and leaders may not be absolutely necessary for this knowledge, but it would certainly be a helpful way in gauging public opinion.

Of course, if gedolie torah would actually make their decisions predominantly based on what laymen say, that would indeed be an unhealthy situation! One explanation of the negative phenomenon of the “face of the generation is like that of a dog”, is that leaders look to followers for what they decide.


I think that both the Charedie and Modern Orthodox worlds have nothing to lose by considering this suggestion. After all, the MO/Centrists as well, theoretically gain if the Charedie world functions at its optimum. We are all in this together!

......And when this happens(with apologies to Dr. King), we will be able to speed up that day when all of Jews--no matter what political organization they affiliate with-- will be able to join hands and sing, "v'yeiasu chulam agudah achas l'aasos retzoncha b'levav shaleim"!

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