Spring Cleaning

by Dovid Landesman

My mother-in-law is an avid reader of The Jerusalem Post and awaits its daily delivery with great anticipation. As she peruses it, however, she becomes increasingly angry at the consistent chareidi bashing. I often wonder why she doesn’t simply cancel her subscription but suppose that she uses it as an outlet so that none of her minimal bad temper is ever directed at those she loves. I choose not to disagree with her as regards the issues she raises; however, I do feel that we – i.e., the chareidi community – have a marked tendency to mask many of the deficiencies that exist within our community by claiming that they are no more than the frightened ramblings of the leftist/secular world who live in trepidation of the demographics that might soon create a chareidi majority in Eretz Yisrael. I am also deeply concerned by the chareidi triumphalism often voiced on this blog as well as other chareidi media outlets which loudly proclaim how “goodly are our tents” – a statement that I am not certain is consistent with the facts on the ground. Can we be certain that if the media were absolutely unbiased public perception of the chareidi world would improve dramatically?

Take the following development as a case in point. The Israeli Supreme Court has found the Bais Yaakov in Emmanuel to be in contempt of court for continuing to segregate Ashkenazi and Sefaradi girls in the school. Reportedly [and I use the word with forethought], Rav Elyashiv ruled that the court decision was “dreadful and should provoke a public outcry.” Neither you nor I know what Rav Elyashiv actually said, nor am I certain how the facts of the case were presented to him. I will therefore refrain from commenting as to what I think the reply should be to the ruling of the bagatz. Rather, I want to focus on what our reaction should be to the situation itself. What will we do when the secular media takes this statement and uses it to stir up animosity against the chareidi world? Will it be sufficient to simply dismiss it as another example of their anti-religious agenda?

I find it extremely disconcerting that no one is denying that the story itself is true – which is a scandal in and of itself! Please, spare me the specious arguments that the Ashkenazi parents are simply reluctant to have their children be confused by different pronunciations of Hebrew, varied nuschaot hatefillah or unfamiliar minhagim and halachot. There is very real prejudice in the chareidi world and I have not heard about anyone trying to root it out.

Another example? When a widely respected posek recently declared that there is no halachic problem in cheating the government if there is no chance of getting caught, one would have expected a response on the part of his colleagues at least on the level of those who pilloried R. Slifkin. We got deafening silence instead!

Our community has numerous apologists who continue to portray our world as a bed of roses, reinforcing their views with statistically unproven assertions of how much better we are than “them.” According to this view, we have no real problems; simply a media that is biased against us and outsiders who, as a means of justifying their refusal to recognize and accept the truths of our lifestyle, resort to hatred and bashing. I hate to spoil the image, but the rose garden is full of thorns!

Has the time not arrived to climb down from our ivory towers of self-deception and take an honest look at what is transpiring? We live in a generation where we have created yeshivot that are in danger of becoming bastions of beinoniut because we compel every male interested in a decent shidduch to commit himself to a program that is clearly not responsive to his needs or interests. Our daughters are often instructed that aspirations of anything other than kollel life are illegitimate; other ideas are to be quashed as being indicative of CBW [chronic bitachon weakness]. We have a problem with sexual abuse that has been festering for years and which many of our leaders still refuse to face. We have a yeshiva system that is bleeding children who are leaving the derech; both from the MOs and the UOs! We have rabbinical leadership that is imprisoned by askanim who filter information and are suspect of being loyal to personal agendas of self-advancement.

Years ago a leading rosh yeshiva said publicly that he shudders to think that the major accomplishment of the American yeshivot might be the production of a generation of talmidim who are functionally illiterate in three languages. I would expand that and claim that today many yeshivot can take credit for hastening the ultimate redemption in fulfillment of the dictum that b’ikvasa demeshichah chutzpah yasgeh.

I contend to you that one child forced off the derech might well negate all of the accomplishments of the teshuvah movement; that’s not my analysis, it was said by the Steipler!

Is there no bigotry in our communities? Try enrolling your daughter into a Bais Yaakov in EY if your name is Buzaglo rather than Berkowitz! Are the befringed nutcakes only a tiny and insignificant minority? Tell that to a resident of Meah Shearim choking on the stench of burning garbage!

I am scared not of the media and not by the hostility of chilonim. I am frightened by unzere who are perverting Torah haskafah to create a box with dimensions that are continuously shrinking, wherein eilu v’eilu has become an obscene phrase, and where a reign of terror prevents leaders from speaking the truth. I say drop the yehora of deluded shalom yiyeh lebaisai and let’s start getting our house in order.

[Rabbi Dovid Landesman, a veteran mechanech, resides in Ramat Beit Shemesh and looks at the world outside his windows with increasing trepidation. He recently published There Are No Basketball Courts in Heaven.]

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25 Responses

  1. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >Reportedly [and I use the word with forethought], Rav Elyashiv ruled that the court decision was “dreadful and should provoke a public outcry.”

    Assuming that he did not say the attributed statement, is the existing situation still acceptable? Can we really accept as leaders people who are unaware of what is said in their name or of the consequences of such statements? If someone is so disconnected, can they ever be an effective leader? The Maharal in Derech HaChaim says regarding R’ Yohanan b’ Zakai’s statement “צאו וראו איזו היא דרך טובה שידבק בה האדם” that the implication is that certain things (not just practical knowledge but even ethical truth) can only be learned by leaving the walls of the beis midrash. How can we look to people who willingly isolate themselves from the entire outside world for leadership?

  2. RG says:

    I live in Emanuel. You can visit the place for yourself and see girls from Sepharadi and Ashkenazi and blended families in the Beis Yaakov Chasidi.

    I cannot believe how far these lies have gone.

    The girls who attend the Beis Yacov Chasidi in Emanuel have their roots in the following countries: Iraq, Persia, Morocco, Kurdistan, Yemen, India, Egypt, The Old Yishuv here in Israel, Tunisia, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Germany. What makes this school different is its standards, in particular standards concerning tznius (length and tightness of dress), no makeup, no MP3s, exposure to media, etc. The parents who objected to the current standards of the city Beis Yakov either bussed their girls to Bnei Brak or tried to start another school.

    I have lived in Emanuel for eleven years, have six kids who have been and are still attending schools here. When we first came, there were three schools for boys and one for girls – the only school for girls was the Beis Yacov, which already had within in a split off Chabad School, which soon after moved to its own building. The original Beis Yacov was largely comprised of Chassidic families. The three boy’s schools were then and continue to be Chabad, Chassidic, and Sephardic. “Chassidic” does not mean “Ashkenazic”. Members of both communities marry each other.

    The demographics here changed. Chassidim were moving out, and the flavor the original Beis Yacov was becoming more modern. Outreach programs began in order to encourage people to move the original Beis Yacov back towards its original narrower interpretation of the Israeli Haredi lifestyle. This did not succeed on a wide level. The formation of the Beis Yacov Chasidi was an effort by members of the original Chassidic population here to re-create the kind of Beis Yacov that they had a decade ago. It was a stricter school – in terms of dress, exposure to media, even to some aspects of Haredi culture that they feel is not for them as in Haredi “rock music”, choice of careers, etc – and certainly NOT of an “Ashkenazic” school.

    One of the original founders of the Beis Yacov Chasidi, in 2007, was Rav Ba’adani, a gadol (very well respected Rabbinical authority) who happens to be Sephardic. Additionally, there were two families who had daughters in both the original Beis Yacov and the Beis Yacov Chasidi at the very same time, proving yet again that this was not an ethnic division. This is a dynamic, fluid society. There were girls who switched back to the original school and those who switched to the Chasidi school the following year. There is an excellent Chabad school, the original Beis Yaakov, plus dati leumi and charedi dati leumi (chardal) schools in other towns in the Shomron that offer excellent alternatives, and the new Beis Rachel and Leah, openedm under the auspices of the local boy’s Sephardic school, and run by a wonderful principal and staff, offer yet another alternative for students here.

    I live in Emanuel. I love the variety here, some of which must be preserved in diverse educational institutions. Variety has been instrumental in the survival of the Jewish people, both nationally and individually.

    Because of its small size, Emanuel has been a nice place for people to get to know members of different kinds of communities more easily than in a large city perhaps. That makes this horrendous media fabrication all that more ironic – and painful.

    Next time you hear a news story that touches you, please contact people who live locally to get a sense of what is happening.

    What this story really is about is media provocation and misinformation, a public who does not scrutinize its journalists enough, and inappropriate judiciary activism.

    Stop the cycle of lies. Question the media. Question the court system.

    You might believe that being the victim of media slander and lies cannot happen to you. But as long as it is happening to anybody, it is affecting you too. The media is sneering at the Chassidic Jews of Emanuel — and if you believe the media, they have duped you too.

    What do you think of the following interaction I had with a so-called journalist two years ago?

    Me: How can you say this is an ethnic division when you see for yourself Sephardi girls here? The difference is that of hashkafa!
    Reporter: I know it is racist because the Chassidi school opened in the same building! (Triumphant sneer)
    Me: But the Chabad school also opened up in this building before they got their own building!
    Reporter: (blushed, blinked rapidly, eyes darted from side to side), “I have work to do!” and she walked away quickly.

    The original Beis Yaakov building, since its inception, has always has two gate entrances and two front doors. One entrance is down the hill, the other is on the higher part of the hill in this hilly town. Many schools have several entrances. The high school was inside this building, in the top floor, along with the elementary school until 2004, whereupon the high school got its own building. The entrance normally used for the high school was the uphill entrance, which was nearer to the top floor, where the high school was. When the high school moved, the top floor was left totally empty. It was a reasonable idea to use this empty, unused space for the new Chassidi school and its different philosophy and community of girls whose roots are from Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Persia, Tunisia, Egypt, India, Hungary, Poland, Germany, etc. So they use the old high school entrance. So what?

    Please use your energy to question the media and judicial activism. Do not let them dupe you. I live in Emanuel. Come visit.

  3. joel rich says:

    In the land of the blind the one eyed man is
    b.in jail

    In the spirit of chochmah bagoyim taamin, may I suggest consideration of Robert Burns poem (“to a louse”):
    O would some Power the gift to give us
    To see ourselves as others see us!
    It would from many a blunder free us,
    And foolish notion:
    What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
    And even devotion!


  4. Elana says:

    Excellent article!
    We need more haredim like you who are willing to look inward rather than complain about haredi-bashing. Perhaps average Israeli perceptions about haredi culture being “too good” for natural morality are warranted.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    The problem has been restated in many ways at many times, and is still growing. So, Rabbi Dovid Landesman—as bosses like to ask the complaining employee, what’s your plan to fix it? Or, at least, what’s your plan to find a way to fix it?

  6. Shlomo Schrader says:

    Well written. I fear that the lack of introspection is a typical nonreaction of the successful. Major brokerage houses, global banks, automobile manufacturers, the Catholic Church, all prime examples of large institutions who felt that their astounding success elevated them to the status where they were not beholden to any higher authority. The almost incredible flowering of the yeshiva world has put them in the same category. Don’t expect any “cheshbon nefesh” in the chareidi world anytime soon, things are still too good.

  7. Evan Steele says:

    Taken together with the piece on the Tea Party movement, these articles point to the disturbing trend for religious Jews to embrace a victimization mentality. Our tradition is one that embraces inward looking self-criticism, not complaining about “media bias.” Certainly we should defend ourselves against unreasonable criticisms, but I believe that the bulk of our intellectual engery should be inward looking and self-critical. I applaud Cross Currents for publishing courageous articles such as this.

  8. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Fantastic article Rabbi Landesman! I truly appreciate your candor. As someone who lives just a bit to your North (on the other side of RBS B) I have experienced first hand many of the issues that some would so quickly dismiss as “media bias”.

    If the media reports more about these issues it’s partly because the of irony inherent in reporting the sins of a community that publicly holds itself to a higher standard. Unfortunately, stories about Gemachim don’t sell papers.

    I will add one point which has become clear to me of late. As much as some people profess to hate the labels we give ourselves, the label “Chareidi” is ridiculously broad. How can one apply the same label to a well-educated, working, yeshiva guy as to a member of Neturei Karta? It just doesn’t work. Should someone like you, and so many others like you in RBS A, really be painted with the same brush as some of the fanatic sects in RBS B that are ripping apart our city?

    Further, it causes many people under the umbrella of the label, especially those in the states who can’t really get their heads around what goes on here, to be reflexively defensive of other members. This in turn helps create a real smokescreen to some of the most serious problems.

  9. Micha Berger says:

    I think this post, though, can too easily be part of the problem rather than the solution. Much like the many blogs I would deem “moshavei leitzim” (dwelling-places of scoffers) and thus ban references to on the email lists AishDas hosts.

    I think there is sufficient awareness of the problems for a critical mass of people to want to solve them. Perhaps not a majority, although I think there is a silent majority. But enough to actually effect change. What we need is a concrete path to that change.

    Criticism, without being constructive, evokes defensiveness. If we don’t know how to make better communities, our egos require that we convince ourselves we don’t have to.

    What R’ Landesman’s article points to is a downward spiral — we don’t take care of our problems, so they get outraged and feel a need to step in (which is also an ego issue — “see, the ‘Torah-true’ are no holier than we are!”). Of course, this means criticism we can’t address, so we instead demonize them (“it’s all about their hatred/assuaging feelings of guilt/whatever…”) and refuse to acknowledge the reality of the problem. And so it continues.

    So, given that there is an ehrlachkeit shortage (at least with regard to those we see as “outsiders”), and given that there are many middos programs already in our schools (just look at any day school’s bulletin boards), what is it we’re not doing that we could do tomorrow? And preferably, that “we” means those of us who are reading this post.


  10. One can see that your words, Rabbi Landesman, are Devorim SheYotzim Min HaLev. You have just articlated many of the same thiongs I have been saying on my blog over the years. I think we see the same thing. But I concede that these words have a lot more force coming from a member of the Charedi sector – like yourself.

    I truly think the problems are real and ought to be paid a lot more attention than they are.

  11. Joe says:

    Thank you for writing this and publishing this. As the days go on I see myself and so many other yeshiva educated like me more and more alienated from the society that we used to believe represented Torah. These things are entirely out of control and not likely to end soon. I wish there were some hope, but unfortunately it seems that the hope does not stem from a belief that reason will somehow prevail, but only from massive scandals and wholesale financial collapse which will force a reorientation. May Hashem protect us.

  12. Bob Miller says:

    Micha Berger asked, “So, given that there is an ehrlachkeit shortage (at least with regard to those we see as “outsiders”), and given that there are many middos programs already in our schools (just look at any day school’s bulletin boards), what is it we’re not doing that we could do tomorrow?”

    Programs to foster better behavior are everywhere, not only in schools, and not only among Jews. What distinguishes the successful ones from the others? I’d say the key is for the instructors and higher-ups and parents to be vivid living examples of the virtues they formally promote.

    Also, everyone who has the urge to tell others how great we are should check his/her surroundings to see if there are some non-great situations to correct.

  13. […] Denial that problems are being addressed, and exaggerating and falsifying the problems, are no less wrong that ignoring the problems. […]

  14. Micha Berger says:

    Bob Miller responds to me: “Programs to foster better behavior are everywhere, not only in schools, and not only among Jews. What distinguishes the successful ones from the others? I’d say the key is for the instructors and higher-ups and parents to be vivid living examples of the virtues they formally promote.

    But that’s just restating the problem. How to be “vivid living examples of the virtues [we] formally promote”.

    We at AishDas are running ve’adim in which people incrementally work on their own middos. Other organizations are as well, although if we limit the discussion to people aiming at the Orthodox world (rather than kiruv), I only know of R’ Leibel Kelemen’s ve’adim.

    I posted my comment to fish for more ideas.


  15. Evan Steele says:

    To those who criticize the author for not offering concrete solutions, I would suggest that the diyukkim of the article are fairly clear. Offer young people more alternatives than kollel, seriously address sexual abuse, offer young people a more compelling, less rigid view of Torah to keep them in the fold.

    In essence, the criticism itself misses the point. I read the article as a call to look at ourselves more, and look at the ways others mistread us less. This is itself an enormous problem, and there is no “plan” other than for us to be more honest with ourselves.

  16. Bob Miller says:

    Evan, your point is well taken, except that there appear to be institutional roadblocks to correction that need to be addressed and eliminated on a communal level.

  17. Gil says:

    A am a MO who sees much beauty in Charedi yiddishkeit. However, the instances of chillul H’ you point out negate the beauty and emes of all of Torah Jewry. Can anyone imagine R’ Aharon Kotler or R’ Moshe Feinstein sanctioning such behavior?

    Your article, coming from the charedi world, is a breath of fresh air. It’s so sad to see anyone finding any excuse to criticize what you have written.

    Some of these people are in E’Y’ only because they can get away with this behavior there and because they can take money from the government about which they take every chance to decry. Why don’t the Gedolim send them to chutz l’aretx, where they won’t attract such negative attention, and the government would leave them alone?

  18. Mike S. says:

    1) 200 years ago the desire of Chassidim to form separate communities adhering to their customs rather than joining with everyone else was considered a reason to put them in cherem, at least by the beit din of Vilna. It is disturbing to see that it has become a reason for praise or a justification for violating issurim. frum jews need to stick together and help each other out, not splinter into dozens of small sects constantly fighting.

    2) Chassidish standards are not “higher,” and it is both incorrect and insulting to say so. The standards Jews are to adhere to are those of the halacha, not those of any particular Chassidic Court. Deviating to the “right” is not “higher” than deviating to the “left;” They are both examples of substituting our standards for those of the Torah. Ostracizing a girl for wearing a (sufficiently loose and long) denim skirt is a violation of multiple d’oraitas and is certainly a more serious violation than wearing a shirt whose sleeves are only slightly below the elbow.

    3) While it often infuriates me when outsiders insist on holding frum Jews (or the State of Israel) to higher standards than others meet, it equally infuriates me when frum Jews compare their behavior to that of others rather than to the Torah’s standards. While it may be infuriating to have others hold us to a double standard, the Torah certainly demands that each of us hold himself or herself to the highest standard. This should be particularly true in mitzvot bein Adam l’chaveiro, where any shortcoming has the added element of Chillul Hashem. Did not Rav (IIRC) say that it would be a chillul Hashem if he did not pay is butcher’s bill immediately?

  19. dovid says:

    Reb Dovid, your fault is that you are not politically correct. That’s why we like you.

    In a different context, I would like to amplify the gist of at least two comments above. I had a boss who kept telling us: Don’t tell me about problems, tell me how you are going to address them. We, charedim, have our shiur of problems. Exposing them is a necessary first step, and you are doing a stellar job at it. But we thirst for Steps #2, #3, and so on. Take any of the issues you have addressed and tell us what we should do about it.

  20. dovid says:

    “.. we compel every male interested in a decent shidduch to commit himself to a program that is clearly not responsive to his needs or interests.”

    Reb Dovid, you again touched lots of raw nerves. Your line above reminded me of a story Rabbi Efraim Wachsman shilta shared with his kehila of an influential charedi family whose older sons all learned at a top-of-the-line yeshiva, cut for the brightest of the bright. They pushed their younger son into that yeshiva as well, even though he didn’t belong to that world, obviously through no fault of his. The bachur suffered immensely. The hanhala of the yeshiva kept suggesting the parents to transfer him to a yeshiva where he could strive, but to no avail. The parents said he must stay in this yeshiva until they marry off all their daughters. We are murderers of our own children.

  21. Michael Feldstein says:

    Thank you, Rabbi Landesman, for your excellent article. I wish there were more folks who would publicly say these things…I do feel there is a significant group of folks in the Chareidi community who privately agree with him, but unfortunately the cuture of fear that has enveloped the community prevents motre folks to stand up and show their support for this kind of thinking.

  22. lacosta says:

    with all due respect to r micha berger, he starts with the assumption that the listed described ills are fixable. how?
    1— the silent majority doesnt get to vote on anything

    2— the gdolim are led by their askonim and handlers , and must constantly look over their shoulders to those more machmir and to those bearing Bnai Braq shiur rocks…

    3— the haredi infrastructure expecially in israel is now geared to 168 hr/wk of tora learning as the norm , on the cheshbon of a hiloni society who they at best abhor. consequently any changes to any of this tora apparatus , and its appurtances [ shidduchim, parental indemnature to support it, vilification of secular education, etc] is seen as tampering with Yisroel Saba —and is automatically at least yeihareig v’al yaavor.

    only mashiach can cure any of this . no one else can rule without fear , nor bring in unlimited funding to allow the current immitation of the Dor Hamidbar society
    to function ideally…..

  23. rachel w says:

    1) Just because Chareidi Askanim and Gedolim are dealing with certain issues behind the scenes instead of splattering all the details across the web, does not mean that they are not being dealt with. There are ads in every issue of every publication with organizations that deal with serious problems (Shalom Task Force, Yitty Leibel Help Line, etc. will refer a caller to the correct address if they can’t help them.)

    2) There is a concept of Gedarim (fences) in Halacha. Some are imposed, such as Yayin Nesech. Some were accepted by certain individuals and communities. This is not crazy or fanatic. No one is saying that you are less religious if you don’t accept the self imposed Geder. But, if parents want their children to feel comfortable with the (self imposed) standards that they accepted upon themselves and their families, they often try to surround their children with like-minded friends, classmates, what-have-you.

    It is the right of parents to do this. It is the right of each individual to decide (the guidance of a Rav is probably advisable) which Gedarim/standards to accept upon themselves. There is no call to look down at or make fun of other people’s choices. BUT, choices have consequences. If you give your daughter an MP3 player or make up at the age of 15, go right ahead. But you can not get insulted if she is not accepted in a school that has different standards. You can’t have it both ways. (And why would you want that – why should your child feel the need to defend her choices to people who may not understand?) Why don’t you see that imposing your choices on those who wish to follow a stricter standard is no less wrong than them imposing their choices on you?

  24. dovid says:

    “No one is saying that you are less religious if you don’t accept the self imposed Geder.”

    That’s just ain’t so. I give you the benefit of the doubt and would only say that you’re either naive or blissfully ignorant in this particular matter. An awful number of people who assumed certain minhagim, levush, or chumros not required by the Shulchan Aruch are condescending of or outright hostile towards those who do not follow their minhagim, levush, or chumros. As a case in point, (it’s not the only example), there are communities that teach their children that Jews that do not follow their minhagim, levush, or chumros are not Jews. This is not a myth, but bitter emmes. Don’t ask me to name them. We all know who they are, and I suspect you also do. One of them deigned that we, the non-Jew Jews have the Shulchan Aruch. They, the Jew Jews have the Eibeshter.

  25. Mike S. says:

    Rachel W:

    Yes, every Jew needs to adopt certain Gedarim beyond the halacha when needed to keep him or herself on the correct path. But one must do so, and teach one’s children to do so, without ostracizing or disdaining others. No one is permitted to violate “V’ahavta l’reyacha camocha” (or other d’oraita’s)to strengthen a chumra or geder. Further, one has to be very careful to distinguish between a d’oraita, a d’rabbanan and a minhag, as the rules governing them are different. Indeed, the Gemara in Sanhedrin (29a) says a main cause of the Chet Etz Hada’at Tov v’Ra was Adam making a geder without distinguishing the geder from the tzivui of Hashem Yisborach.

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