The Bais Yaakov Edicts – Are We Next?

Asked about just how stringent one should be in certain areas, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l would often apply the same formula. “Men darf zein normahl (One has to be….normal!)” I imagine that his conception of normality was deeply influenced by the Slobodka mussar school’s conception of gadlus ha-adam – the greatness of Man. Man’s instincts are not all dark urges. Some are tools for the celebration of a wonderful life Hashem mapped out for us; the Torah Jew can rely on those instincts to keep in check the otherwise limitless demands of greater precision in the performance of mitzvos.

One hopes that the recent Bais Yaakov edicts will not have a spillover effect upon American shores, further eroding the legacy of Rav Yaakov that has come under increased attack. It is not a good bet, however. Like fashion trends moving from Paris to New York, there is a tendency in Torah matters (lehavdil) for Bene Brak to call the shots even when they do not intend to.

This is not the way it always was. Some people think that it is one of the most unhealthy developments in Torah life in our times. While Rav Moshe and Rav Yaakov were both alive, American haredim turned primarily to them for leadership. People did not regard this as a slight to Torah luminaries in Israel. Rather, they recognized that not only did Torah leaders in America have a better grasp of local realities, but that HKBH Himself had different plans for, and different expectations of, communities in Israel and America. Forcing square pegs into round spiritual holes was not going to get people very far.

The existence of different Torah communities, each different and each legitimate, is perhaps adumbrated by the Gemara Sanhedrin 97A. Speaking of the prelude to the messianic age, the Gemara invokes Yeshaya: “The truth will be absent (nederes).” The Gemara proceeds to explain that truth will form different groups, or flocks (adarim), and go off on their own.

Rav Aryeh Kaplan told me a number of times that he didn’t think that the Gemara meant that truth would simply disappear. Alternatively, it meant that truth would no longer be available on a one-stop shopping basis. Different groups would each specialize in different aspects of the truth.

Similarly, perhaps, different groups would each have their own legitimate approaches and reactions, each generated by the Divine Providence that led to their formation.

A close friend related an anecdote about Lakewood, a quarter century ago. A youngish talmid chacham was looked up to by many as a source of guidance in a particular area. Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, zt”l, the mashgiach, took strong issue with some of that guidance. The two agreed to go to Rav Yaakov to adjudicate their dispute.

The younger man presented his case. The mashgiach reacted in righteous indignation. Rav Yaakov turned to him with his classic smile and said, “You and I are from Europe. These yidden are Americans. We don’t understand their ways. But for them, the advice is appropriate.”

Gedolim in Israel used to – and still do – demur when asked about policy for America. They would instruct the questioner to ask the question of Torah personalities closer to home. After the passing of Rav Moshe and Rav Yaakov, however, some groups decided that there was no one in America worthwhile consulting, and from then on, all questions would be brought to Gedolim in Israel. This meant that the unique demands and requirements of the tzibbur in Israel – often including insularity, rejection of all parts of the outside world, and a scaling down of individual options and choices – would be exported to the very different communities of America. This may have been a fatal error.

As some communities in America now looked exclusively eastward, they found themselves playing catch-up baseball with the rarefied ruchniyus of Israel. To some people, the kind of Yiddishkeit that had been presided over by Rav Yaakov (by no means alone) was suspect and compromised. Some people tried, and continue to try, to purge America of its effects and its memory. Many of us just as fervently pray that they will not be successful.

Living in America, I cannot really understand what went into the Bais Yaakov edicts. Try as I may, I simply cannot be expected to comprehend the nuances of a life-style that is not my own. My own (Hirschian) nature draws back from much of what was said, and even more of how it was said. I am therefore thankful that I don’t have the nisayon of having to deal with it directly. At the same time, I can appreciate from the distance some of the incredible beauty and strong points of a vast community completely devoted to the Dvar Hashem. Far be it for me to criticize, or to tell them how best to preserve those strong points. It is the flip side of insisting that we in America have our own hashkafa and our own ways. If we are entitled, so are they.

I do know that those methods don’t really work for most people on this side of the Atlantic. So I will continue to daven that Hashem will provide us with the right traffic cops to keep people going through those twelve Heavenly gates they tell us about, rather than all line up in front of one of them.

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35 Responses

  1. Moshe Schorr says:

    This is a very important article on a very important topic. As an ex-pat American living in Israel, I have my feet in both camps. I was “bothered” by the Beis Yaakov edicts but could not put my finger on the problem. This article does it very well.

    It might also explain the furor that went on in Israel over the book “Making of a Gadol”. It was written by an _American_ gadol. That writing “style” is not appreciated in Israel.

    I am also not sanguine that the two communities will grow _independently_ and each find it’s niche. But if they don’t, it will be a calamity.

  2. Shlomo says:

    Who would the leaders in America be these days?

  3. DMZ says:

    “American haredim turned primarily to them for leadership”

    Americans aren’t haredim, at least not in the sense that the term is used in Israel.

  4. Michoel says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,
    I like what you said and I like the way you said it. Ironically, it seems that some of the increasing isolationism and favoring of chumros in EY is actually a reaction to US frum culture emigrating there. Our conservative and reform movements, scientifically aware people, “frum feminists”, worldly baalei t’shuvah, college eduacted Orthodox professionals invade EY and effect the culture there in increasing numbers. They react by pulling the blanket of frumkeit around themselves tighter and tighter and this in turn comes back to us through Lakewood, Brooklyn to and to reat of the US. I am not so sure that it is within our ability to change given the nature of the “World community” we now live in.

  5. Yaakov K. says:

    Would someone please elaborate on the “Bais Yaakov Edicts?”
    Specifically, what do they enforce and what do they ban?

    Yaakov K., Yerushalayim

  6. Yisrael Moshe says:

    R’ Yitzchak,

    You mention that there are those who believe that R’ Ya’akov Kaminetzki’s approach to Yiddishkeit was compromised, and therefore are trying to purge it from American Torah communities.

    Whom are these people? And why are they doing this?

  7. S. says:

    >You and I are from Europe. These yidden are Americans. We don’t understand their ways. But for them, the advice is appropriate.”

    The irony, of course, that one who said this shows that he did understand their ways.

    Very nice post.

  8. WolfishMusings says:

    For those of us not in the know… what are the BY edicts?

    The Wolf

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    WADR, the same objections were raised when Touro College proposed and then opened its college degree granting programs for young women in Flatbush. Some members of the Moetzes voiced very strong objections. You can search the online Yated for the very strongly dismissive comments of one member of the Moetzes if one’s interest is sociology and history.

    Yet, the proof on the ground is that Touro-Brooklyn attracts and is filled with many young women from Flatbush, Monsey, Lakewood and Queens who know that a degree that will get them into a graduate school for speech, occupational or physical therapy or a degree in special ed is very helpful, especially if their goal is to help support a Kollelnik.

  10. Dati Leumi says:

    “I am therefore thankful that I don’t have the nisayon of having to deal with it directly.”

    You don’t really mean that you’re thankful that you don’t have the z’chus to live in Eretz Yisroel do you?

    The truth is we desperately need more reasoned voices here like yours.

    I think that a big component of the more restrictive nature of chareidim in Israel simply stems from the fact that it’s more doable here. As chareidi communities in the US grow larger, more insular, and more self-confident you’ll see much of the same there.

  11. Menachem says:


    I hope you are referring to the recent influx of “modern” chareidim and not olim in general.

    The truth is that while some Chareidi communities are hunkering down to fend off this onslaught. There are some cracks appearing in the monolithic facade. In some communities we are beginning to see the emergance of American-style right wing yeshivas, with secular studies and all.

    So while there is a good dose of Chareidi fundamentalism being exported to the US a small amount of moderation is coming the other way. Unfortunately, I think this is causing the more “zealous” among the Israeli Chareidim to become desperate, as some recent violence has shown.`

  12. Lumpy Rutherford says:

    Man darf zein normahl

    Men (מען) not “Man”.

    [Corrected! – YA]

  13. dovid landesman says:

    Nearly two decades ago, I had the opportunity to be part of the creation of a new post high school seminary in Israel. I was working in a Bais Yaakov style school and found that many of our graduates were frustrated by a system that gave no option other than a career in education and instead of continuing on in Bais Yaakov style seminaries were enrolling in either the Michlalah or universities. Our plan was to offer the talmidot an alternative to teaching as a career and thanks to the assistance of a number of askanim in the USA, we were able to develop a program whereby the students would receive training and degrees in the paramedical fields including physical, speech and occupational therapies. The entire program was to be under the supervision of Tel Aviv University who agreed that all teachers would be shomrei shabbat professionals and that all clinics would be held at Laniado Hospital. This was truly a groundbreaking effort and we thought that we had all of the pieces necessary to make it work.
    As educational head of the project I realized that we needed to attract Bais Yaakov graduates as well, if only to insure that we had the numbers to make the project viable. It was obvious, however, that as much as the girls might have wanted to enroll, their families would never allow them to do so unless we could prove that we had the acquiescence – or at least a promise of silence – from Rav Shach and from Rav Chaim Grainerman. Rav Shach opposed the program and told me that I could not train the girls in any profession if they could use that training to work in a irreligious environment. The only possibility of giving the girls this proposed opportunity was to a]open a facility in which they could work and b]not give them sufficient training to allow them to be licensed.
    Rav Chaim gave me a very long audience – close to 90 minutes which those who have been in his house will tell you is a significant period of time. He heard my arguments, what I proposed, why I felt it critical that the project be started and then said to me: “Landesman, you’re an American and you will never understand.”
    I had been in Israel for seventeen years at that point, had learned in Israeli yeshivot and lived in an Israeli community in the North rather than in a Yerushalmi equivalent of Boro Park and Rav Chaim was 100%. Twenty years later I can say that I still don’t understand.

  14. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Yaakov K.; The Wolf –

    The Bais Yaakov Edicts are a reference to the topic of the previous posts by Shira Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenblum. They were first described in the Hebrew Yated on Dec. 8 and 15, and in the English language press in an article that appeared in Ha’aretz about a week ago. I cannot bring myself to provide the link to the latter, which can always be relied upon to distort just enough to put religious commitment in a bad light. Briefly, the edicts eliminate some of the educational advancement options from within the Bais Yaakov system, pointing to their leading to careerism among the women, problems of shalom bayis, and an inadequate supply of instructors within the charedi world.

    Dati Leumi –

    You don’t really mean that you’re thankful that you don’t have the z’chus to live in Eretz Yisroel do you?

    Chas v’shalom. See my earlier piece in which I called myself a failure in the LA Times for not having made aliyah yet. All I meant is that a small nechamah in living in Chu”l is that I have one less nisayon to worry about. This does not detract from viewing living in Israel is an absolute zechus.

    Yisroel Moshe –
    Who are these people? And why are they doing this?

    You don’t really expect me to answer that without upping my life insurance, do you?

    Whoever chided me for breaking my own rules about providing translations –

    Maybe some of our posts are intended exclusively for the insider community?

  15. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “..Some are tools for the celebration of a wonderful life Hashem mapped out for us; the Torah Jew can rely on those instincts to keep in check the otherwise limitless demands of greater precision in the performance of mitzvos”

    Balance is a good thing in personal and communal life. For the most part, people trust that rabbinic and lay leaders will make sure that the drive for conformity in thought, dress, and action, will not take on a life of its own. They also trust that the leaders and organizations will be in touch with the needs of all parts of the klal. The trust part is important, because unlike a secular democratic society-—imperfect as it may be– people are expected to be submissive to Torah authority. However, since people are indeed asking if the balance needs to be reevaluated, their concerns should be addressed.

    “At the same time, I can appreciate from the distance some of the incredible beauty and strong points of a vast community completely devoted to the Dvar Hashem.”

    The Eretz Yisrael charedi community is a unique one that benefits the entire Jewish people. Nevertheless, human needs are universal. Personally, I would therefore want the American charedi model to be exported to Israel, so that people can have a choice within the Yeshiva world there, just as they do elsewhere.

    On the other hand, history has shown that change from outside will be rejected. Rav Hirsch did not want from afar to apply TIDE to Eretz Yisrael, because he felt an outsider did not know what was best for the community. Rav Ezriel Hildesheimer, I believe, had to back down from endorsing certain programs.

    In his speech at YU, Rav Nosson Kaminetesky has conjectured that his father would have been able to create a more balanced charedi community, had he settled in 1956 in Israel. Rabbi Kaminetsky believes that it’s possible for such a community to be eventually created today as well.

    There is a discussion by Rabbi Rosenblum regarding why social change must be gradual, in the Jewish Action, Summer, 2004(Israel’s New Economic Reality):

  16. Baruch Horowitz says:

    The charedi social dynamics are incredibly complicated, because the RW world consist of many groups with different needs—-tzorchei amcha merubim. Therefore, even when instituting necessary change, such as single weekends, people need to proceed slowly, and do things underneath the radar screen, so as not to be sabotaged by others who view this as unacceptable.

    Agudah is an important focal point of change because it bridges groups on it’s right and left, even if doesn’t represent them. I believe its rabbinic leaders are very careful not alienate, as much as is possible, the LW of the Yeshiva world or the RW of MO. They also need to walk a tightrope between protecting those who need insularity, versus those who are very sophisticated intellectually.

    The more insular charedi world has it’s own needs, and these factors complicate fulfilling the needs of the less insular yeshivish. A few points:

    (1) There are groups to the Right in the charedi world that think that Agudah’s approach is not kannoish enough, or who feel that Agudah doesn’t represent the mature charedi world. Agudah needs to maintain its coalition and satisfy these groups.

    (2) Efforts to ban books or control Bais Yaakov degrees are more to protect the insularity of these communities, then to “start up” and impose their will on more open communities. The problems are, of course, when the needs of both communities conflict.

    (3) Some communities in America indeed have matured, and need aspects of the Eretz Yisrael model, such as Yeshivos without high school.

  17. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Some people think that it is one of the most unhealthy developments in Torah life in our times… Some people tried, and continue to try, to purge America of its effects and its memory. Many of us just as fervently pray that they will not be successful”

    I think that this is an important and legitimate thing to daven for, even if it is not the most serious problem facing the Klal or individuals. The question is what can people do besides hoping and praying?

    (1) Open communication with leadership or their representatives is an important and healthy thing.

    (2) Trying to change anything too quickly can backfire, because it will attract the attention of more zealous elements.

    (3) It may be counterproductive to present to the press that there is a split in the charedi world on certain issues, because it could force the more open American part to align with the Israeli part– no group likes to be split(it is possible that this was part of what happened about a year ago in the Slifkin issue).

    (4) We should realize that the charedi system and its leaders are not perfect. Following the disengagement, some RZ youth were disillusioned with charedi leadership because of it’s role in the government. I remember reading that one anonymous Rav, described as having ties to both communities, told Arutz Sheva that it would help for these youth to understand that no one is perfect. This thinking, which is not emphasized in the charedi world, at least publicly, can paradoxically strengthen one’s emunas chachamim.

    (5) Be satisfied with small change. This past week’s American Yated, for example, included a very careful critique of the phenomenon of photo-ops of Gedolim on posters, which some charities use for marketing. This is a positive step for the Yated, and since such criticism does not contradict any core charedi principle, there can be more of such articles. People should give the Yated credit when it is due.

    (6)Change must come from within. People from without the charedi world can only help indirectly by being supportive. Someone mentioned at a symposium I attended last Motzoie Shabbos on an important social issue, that Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski’s book on Domestic Abuse was not carried by some bookstores. Although many within the charedi community would actually want to discuss such issues(Dr. Twerski addressed 600 people on the topic), some zealous elements will sabotage such efforts. In such cases, non-charedim can help by asking the bookstores to carry the book, and thereby providing a balancing force of encouragement.

  18. Dr. E. says:

    (1) Unfortunately, things have evolved into “Mi Lashem Alai”, whereby practice has become top-down and “you’re either with us or not”. It’s all or nothing; no picking and choosing. You can’t follow Kol Koreh 1, 2, and 5 and ignore 2 and 4. This is “Daas Torah” taken to an extreme that even those who buy into it, have never gone before. So, “inferior” Poskim, be they in the US or in Israel who don’t think that Kol Koreh 3 and 4 don’t make sense or apply are afraid to speak out or disagree (for fear that their house may be firebombed, they be deemed irrelevant or worse, or their kids may not get shidduchim).

    (2) Growing up while Rav Moshe and Rav Yaakov were alive and being taught by a mentor who was a talmid, I sometimes wonder what has happened. Just because they are not with us any longer, has their Mesorah disappeared. Are we forced to forget everything that was good about Orthodox Jewish life under their stewardship while they were alive, and adopt the Psak and edicts of whomever is left, be they in America or the US? Aside from times early in our Halachic history, I think this approach is unprecedented. Now, I’m not naive to think that Orthodoxy in America and its challenges is the same today as it was in the 60’s 70’s or 80’s. But, such a drastic change in approach to a more “normal” legacy?! Even in Israel, is all that is left of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s legacy (what he stood for, how he lived is life in a way that was apolitical and shaveh l’chal nefesh) merely reduced to the Shu”T Minchas Shlomo on the bookshelf (with Rav Kook’s haskama censored out)?

    Rabbi Adlerstein brings up a critical issue in how we proceed as a serious Torah observing community, whether Chareidi or Centrist, either in the US and in Israel.

  19. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Landesman, you’re an American and you will never understand…Twenty years later I can say that I still don’t understand.”

    Differences may be the following, but correct me if I’m wrong, because I’m an American, also living in America: 🙂

    (1) Everything is seen in the backdrop of wars between Zionists and Yishuv Hayashan, which in turn, partially relates to the battles of the European Haskala versus the yeshivos and chasidic communities.

    (2) Based on above, the Charedi world never developed the tools to slowly adopt to some secular studies, and/or integration with the secular world and workplace. In a different issue, this may also be perhaps why the Charedi world in EY is more at risk and vulnerable from the organization which sends materials challenging beliefs of religious Jews.

    (3) Also based on #1, there were never Gedolim who guided a community in dealing with the secular world. The Gedolim instead transported the Vilna and Hungarian mesorah. There are therefore no leaders with such a Mesorah of TIDE(relatively speaking), to create a community which would rally around them.

    (4) EY is the spiritual center of the Jewish people. Even non-Orthodox go there for Birthright and Jewish continuity, and it produces roshei Yeshiva for some American Yeshivos. If the charedi community gives an inch there towards modernity or whatever other word one wants to use, that’s a mile of change in actual Mesorah of Yahadus. “Chadash assur min haTorah” is much more relevant, since any change is like changing the Mesorah itself, as opposed to a “horaas shaah” for exigent American circumstances brought on by a non-Jewish government or society.

    (5) The RZ are more polarized from the RW than in America; there are bridges between the OU and/or RIETS and Agudah, but if I understand correctly, Bar Ilan and other RZ institutions are more polarized from the charedi world in Israel. I know I didn’t account for the Chardal community, so perhaps this point is not totally accurate.

    (6) The non-religious are more polarized from charedim. Because they live in one country issues like Army service and Kollel become more emotional. Bad feelings lead to more divisions.

    (7) The army issue is a gap in society which doesn’t exist in America. It is easier to be a charedi doctor or laywer in America, while still attending RW yeshivos.

    (8) Klal Yisrael must live on a higher level of spirituality in Eretz Yisrael to deserve it, and to be have a zechus to survive among Arab nations. The counter argument would be that one can still have a normal exsitence and have necessary merits as well by living a Torah life.

  20. Jewish Observer says:

    “Man darf zein normahl”

    This is not unanimous among gedolim. Rav Shach did and said stuff* that we urbane Westerners would not describe as “normal”, all in support of his uncompromising value of emes.

    * see Rabbi Lorencz’s latest biography of documented stories including that of RS, still in Europe, screaminmg “sheigetz” at a modern-leaning darshan who got up in shul to speak.

  21. L.Oberstein says:

    Asked about just how stringent one should be in certain areas, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l would often apply the same formula. “Men darf zein normahl (One has to be….normal!)” I once was discussing Medinat Yisrael with Harav YY Ruderman,zatzal. His exact words , in English translation,were “The medina is not a bad thing, although there are some bad people there. The medina saved thousands of Jews’ lives, where would Jews have gone had there not been a medina.”
    This does not translate into Religious Zionism, but it does describe “normal”.

    There are different ways of measuring success. I know one present day Rosh Hayeshiva who does not approve of high school, much less college. He thinks that because his grandson knows more tractates of the Talmud than the average American yeshiva student, this means Israeli chareidism is superior and should be copied in America.He thinks baseball teams are wrong because they cause competition. His own brother told me to remind him that he too was once a good baseball player in his youth.

    RavYaakov Kamenetzky had several sons and a daughter, the ones I have met define “normal”. Their goodness overflows. If only the zealots would respect them, the atmosphere would be much healthier.

  22. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Jewish Observer,

    It may very well be that Rav Shaach zt’l had elements from Rav Yaakov’s zt’l personality and vice versa. I agree a Gadol may have a dominant personality like Beis Hillel vs. Beis Shammai, but a person is complex. I recall a gadol stating at the shloshim for Rav Pam zt’l, that Rav Pam could be both firm and lenient as necessary.

    You can not know for certain the personality of a Gadol from reading a biography, because the author and publisher make decisions what to include and what to leave out.

    At the beginning of Rav Yaakov’s biography, the author states to the effect that Rav Yaakov was not a stereotypical gadol, and no efforts were made to fit him into a particular mold. Rav Shlomo Zalman’s zt’l biography includes “non-conventional” elements because the author and RSZA’s family had no problem with such portrayal. Other authors may not have followed that route.

    While it applies in a greater way to frum biographies, the author’s judgment calls apply to all types of books as well. The author of an “academic” style biography on Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg Zt’l has written in connection with a review of another book, regarding judgment calls that are subject to dispute:

    “Since my own work has been the subject of a major dispute in this regard, I have given these issues a good deal of thought. Every biography involves choosing from a mass of information in order to portray various characters. When dealing with potentially controversial matters, my own yardstick has always been whether the information will help in one’s assessment of the individuals concerned, or if is it simply voyeuristic gossip…”

  23. Jewish Observer says:

    “The medina is not a bad thing, although there are some bad people there”

    – A former talmid of R’ Ruderman – and current day rabbinic leader – told me that when (more than 40 years ago) he tried to make the case for religious zionism to Rav Ruderman, Rav Ruderman told him, “don’t bother with me, Reb Plony (not his real name) I am like Neturei Karta’nik”

  24. Jewish Observer says:

    “I know one present day Rosh Hayeshiva who does not approve of high school”

    A couple of years ago I ment a geshmakeh teenage great grandson of R’ Yakov who was enrolled in a Mesivta (in Lakewood) with no limudei chol. This kid was very balanced and as “normal” as anyone can tell without a complete psychiatric examination.

  25. Jewish Observer says:

    “You can not know for certain the personality of a Gadol from reading a biography, because the author and publisher make decisions what to include and what to leave out.”

    Agree. But after all the terutzim, “normal” is not the dominant trait to davka apply to Rav Shach. I am not talking about strict / lenient; I am talking about over the top ma’asim that Reb Yakov never could have done. My point is that you can’t prove that being “normal” is the right derech, no matter how much it appeals to our western-influenced sensibilities, as it isn’t a value pushed by all gedolim.

    Also FYI, from multiple other ma’asim, it is corroborated that Rav Shach davka valued “frumkeit” as in conspicuous piety. Though I agree that you can’t base an entire view on one author’s reptreswentation, I also don’t believe that the books are worth nothing in forming a sense of the subject. To the degree that we accept the ma’asim demonstrating Reb Yakov’s belief in “normal” we should accept those about others demonstrating their non support. Otherwise, these and all biographies are worthless.

  26. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “My point is that you can’t prove that being “normal” is the right derech, no matter how much it appeals to our western-influenced sensibilities, as it isn’t a value pushed by all gedolim.”

    I can’t, but I can say that there are serious problems facing Orthodoxy in general, and the charedi world in particular. Perhaps “out of the box thinking” should include an emphasis on “normalcy”.

    I recall reading some time ago in Rabbi Grylack’s Hamishpocha column, that Rav Shteinman told a Yeshiva principal to accept a certain student. After the principle hesitated, Rav Shteinman told him, “if it were up to you, you wouldn’t allow Avroham Avinu into your school”. When I read such stories or similar one’s, my reaction is always “wow!”, as they go aginst what is considered the “frum” approach. I think that these stories are more useful than that the type of a Gadol who didn’t know what a coin looked like, although there is also value in the latter genre.

    In “and from Jerusalem His Word”, Rav Shlom Zalman Auerbach stopped to watch a construction site, not because of nifloas Haborei, but because “…he was fascinated by the operation, as any normal human being might be”(pg. 120). He also expected his grandson to be able to repair a broken tape recorder(pg. 119). Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau relates that RSZA “had a great interest in the world at large aside from Torah learning”(pg 332), and craned his neck on a bus to hear what college students were discussing in studying for their physic exams. According to the author, RSZA’s family was happy with the book. If these stories and those regarding Rav Kook remain in next edition, it will be a sign that there is indeed an acceptance of “normalcy” on the communal level.

    As I wrote, “frumkeit” (including kindness) rather than “normalcy” may have indeed been the dominant trait of Rav Shach zt’l and many other gedolim. However, Rav Shach learned in Slabodka. I remember reading in Ohr Tzafun(Alter of Slabodka) a shmeuz which emphasizes normalcy as a part of derech eretz, to the point of saying that the reason why we cover our eyes when saying Shema is because even during kabbolas ol malchus shomayim, one shouldn’t t show an unpleasant face due to concentration. Here, we see that “normalcy” overrides “frumkeit”. This is why I am sure that Rav Shach, a Slabodka talmid, also has stories of normalcy told about him; we just haven’t heard them.

  27. Baruch Horowitz says:

    I mentioned my concern that certain stories remain in the biography of RSZA. I assume my concern is based on reality, and is not paranoia, as I have heard in the past of changes made in even non-controversial books on hashkafa or biographies due to pressure, or fear of such pressure. I think that this may be more damaging to emunas Chachamim than the actual situation which activists are trying to prevent, and I believe that this situation is unhealthy for the Torah community.

    It creates an element of fear and suspicion, which adds difficulty to trusting leadership and the “system”, if one has to be constantly concerned that there are secret forces operating in the system, which exert their influneces to go against what should be acceptable by Torah standards. The perception also can become that the “system” is not concerned “with my needs, doesn’t understand me, and is uninterested in hearing about my conmcerns”. According to the Chovos HaLevavos, we trust Hashem out of an understanding that he is acting in our best interests; similarly, trust in a system or in it’s leaders needs to have this component as well.

    If one has an understanding of the complex sociological dynamics of one’s community, then one can accept this imperfection, and it need not destroy one’s emunas chchamim. Nevertheless, those who exert this pressure, directly or indirectly by related actions, should be aware of the possible negative results which can outweigh their parochial concerns and ironically, even cause the opposite of their goals, however well-intended. I think this would be example of “yatza sechoro b’hefseido”.

  28. L Oberstein says:

    A former talmid of R’ Ruderman – and current day rabbinic leader – told me that when (more than 40 years ago) he tried to make the case for religious zionism to Rav Ruderman, Rav Ruderman told him, “don’t bother with me, Reb Plony (not his real name) I am like Neturei Karta’nik”

    Comment by Jewish Observer — January 14, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

    Both statements are true. Rav Ruderman zatzal did not have political considerations. He was kulo(totally) Torah. Because he was great, he could be flexible ,depending on the circumstances and could see that changing times required realistic approaches.
    Anyone who knows the history of Zionism will know that the founders of the Mizrachi did not have the “reishit tzmichat geulateinu” philosophy.That came later and is more wishful thinking than reality. Halevai, it were true, but no novi has told us that it is true.]

    Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Ruderman were “pulpit rabbis” before they became Roshei Yeshiva. They understood things in a diferent way than Rav Aharon Kutler, for example.Everyone knows that Rav Aharon had a sister who tried to get him to go to college and he was saved. Rav Aharon’s approach is responsible for the great growth of Torah in America. He was literally the savior of our dor. However, not all who clame to be his followers are on that madreiga.
    The current Lakewood approach ( part of Lakewood, not all of them)is certainly on the ascendancy as it tries to make America into Bnei Brak. However, their’s is not the only legitimate Torah view.
    The tragic reality is that often in life, the fanatics make the most noise and are the most inflexible . Normal people let them get away with it to avoid the trouble it would involve to come out against them.

  29. berel says:

    How do we explain that when Touro college first wanted to start in EY in1979 it wasn’t just Rav Shach and the Steipler who signed against it?Rav M Feinstein and Rav Y Kamenetsky signed also (see krayan digrasah IIRC 1:110 for the fulL text)And please none of this business how they didn’t want to sign but the knaoim forced them to.
    For the record I am pro girls getting a higher education (though not all girls and not under all circumstances)I’m just questioning the axiom that RMF and RYK differed so radiclly from Isreali gedolim in this (and other)issues.

  30. Bob Miller says:

    Another aspect of normality is to not push all students into a tiny group of career paths.


  31. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “I’m just questioning the axiom that RMF and RYK differed so radiclly from Isreali gedolim in this (and other)issues.”

    I haven’t read the Kol Koreh recently, but I think that there was a concern that Touro would attract Bnei Yeshivah. Rav Yaakov, I am sure, counseled people in Torah Vodaas who went at that time to Brooklyn College, and was therefore no stranger to the American scene.

    I think that there was also opposition when Touro built their Flatbush campus, for the above-mentioned reason. But the reality is that Touro exists now in America, and I doubt that either Rav Yaakov or Rav Moshe would have issued, now, a blanket issue on attending it.

  32. Baruch Horowitz says:


    I read the link, and I agree. “My son the doctor, my son the lawyer”, was a phrase born on the Lower East Side of New York, and understandably, appealed to immigrant parents as a source of nachas. I remember a rebbe of mine, who advises boys who go to college, also saying that plumbing should be considered a highly distinguished occupation.

  33. Gary Shuman says:

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein What’s the problem?
    Rabbi Adlerstein said: “I am therefore thankful that I don’t have the nisayon of having to deal with it directly.” What is the problem?
    If World Class Gadol from Eretz Yisrael Aleph came over to you unprovoked and said ” Yitzchak, I don’t like the way you are leading your life: A) You teach goyim. B) Your kids have gone to college.
    C) You use the internet not only for business, but for Cross-Currents which may sometimes be bitul Torah and sometimes Limud Torah. What do you say to him? You will then have a nisoyan. Will you say I am a talmid chachum. I try to do most everything Lshem Shamoyim. My articles are my way of bringing people closer to emes, Torah and a good normal way of living. Each person I touch through Torah communication on the internet should be inspired in a small way towards derech Hashem. I am helping Yidden in my communication with Goyim. As for my college educated family , yafa talmud Torah em derech eretz. Torah study is good with making a livelihood or a broader interpretation, with worldliness. The synthisis of the two prevent sinfulness.(Pirke Avoth).
    Or do you say, ” Das Torah has told me what to do, so I must do as I am told lest I not be classified Charadei anymore. (You may answer me privately if you think my questions are too personal for this forum. I do respect what you do and look up to you as a mentor.)

  34. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Gary –

    Thanks for the chizuk, but here’s the nisayon. Let’s say it wasn’t one Gadol, but that it was virutally all of those living in Israel, and that I lived there as well. I believe that I would be obligated to follow their instructions, whether I understood or agreed or what have you. At some point, we are expected to follow the lead of Torah leadership, whether we like what we are hearing or not.

    In America, I have never been faced with a continuing stream of imperatives that seemed foreign to the way I have been trained to regard Torah. I’m not so sure that would be true in Israel.

  35. Gary Shuman says:

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein, Kolay alma lo pligi, the whole world does not argue because they are in agreement. Please define the whole world. Most of Torah leadership prior to the establishment of the State of Israel was at best lukewarm about Zionism.

    In Chassidus one is taught that a leaf does not fall from a tree unless the Creator commands the leaf to fall. An exception to this rule seems to many in the Charedi world to be the establishment of the State of Israel. I have read in “Frum” blogs something to the effect of well it wasn’t a good thing but it’s here. It was done against Das Torah which is an avera but bdei eved we have to deal with it. The shoah, the ingathering of the exiles and the establishment of the State of Israel are to me a revelation of G-d’s will in this world, hashgacha pratis.
    What should it matter to me that Kolay Alma, Das Torah lo pligi, most of Torah Leadership was not supportive of Zionism? Why would I look towards G-d’s messengers for their geopolitical analysis rather than to G-d himself. Those who exited the death camps alive sailed to Israel and started their lives anew certainly felt like the Yidden going from shibud Mitrayim through Yitzias Mitrayim to Eretz Yisrael. That is why the one time in history that a michalel Shaboss was put to death by a bais din was in this time period. People saw with their own eyes G-d’s work revealed as bright as the light of day and thus were held to a higher standard than ever if they rebelled. How similar is it if one looks to messengers for guidance in matters that are non halichic as the early people used to worship G-d and then as time went on they started worshiping the sun moon and stars? Worshipping messengers according to the Rambam was what characterized the birth of Avodah Zara. I would like to sip up the life giving water of Torah straight without any additives that are not included in G-d’s plan. The establishment of Medinas Yisrael is G-d’s plan, no matter to me what Kolay Alma say.

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