Shlomo Yehudah Rechnitz’s Powerful Jeremiad

It’s gone viral. We’re calling attention to it because it is so important that we would like to do our share of publicizing what should be read by everyone. Let no one say that the Orthodox community is not self-critical. While it takes someone of SYR’s wealth and power to get away with saying what he did where he said it, the eagerness with which his mussar has been received is significant. We should be pained by the problems that he takes note of, and realize that no one city has a monopoly on them. But we should also take pride in the responsiveness of the Torah world to the excellently crafted action points that SYR offers all of us.

Read (or watch) this remarkable address here.

A response to the speech has emerged. We present it here in the interests of fairness and balance.

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11 Responses

  1. Josh K says:

    We can take pride when the problems are solved.  But thank you for sharing.

  2. Sam says:

    With your permission, I’m posting my response to a post on that article on YWN. I think #87 Other side explains their position with respect and sincerity, and I think it’s important to read the small exchange.

    #87 Other side says: I would like to explain the other side. Although there is always room for improvement and no child or family deserves to go through the pain, I would like to explain where the attitude comes from.

    If a litvish/yeshivish family would apply to a chasidesha Cheder/Bais Yaakov in Lakewood and would not get accepted would you have the same complaints? No. Because you understand that there is a specific standard that the chasidesha Cheder/Bais Yaakov may expect from their parent body and students that the litvish family may do or not do. Does it have to do with an ani mamin? Does it mean that they are better? No. It means that they want a certain standard and ruach in their Cheder/Bais Yaakov that the litvish family does not keep. Whether it means the boys payos, size of yarmulke what he brings in for snack or the girls tights.

    In Lakewood there are many families that chose a certain lifestyle. It’s based on chazal that the more shaychus one has to olam hazeh the less he can have to Olam Haba and vice versa. These are families consciously decided that they want to live a simple lifestyle. This can include living in a simple home, dressing in a true tznius fashion, not driving a new car not going out to eat and not taking you children out to eat. It includes the types of trips a family goes on chol hamoed or the summer, and the list goes on. These ideals they are trying so hard to instill in their children.

    (please don’t start pointing at the large houses built by many but look at the ones I am talking about). These parents chose a neighborhood in Lakewood that fits with their standards and ideals as they don’t want their children getting “musagim” that does not fit with their desired lifestyle. And yes you may say that they are living in the “Lakewood Box” to that I answer yes and they are doing it with pride. Choosing a school for their children is no different. They want to keep their children sheltered from lifestyles that they are trying so hard to keep away from. They don’t want their children coming home from school and asking for example, Why is our house so small? Why don’t you/we ever go to Florida in the winter? What are the yankees? Kids in my class have been in every eatery in Lakewood and we never go. And the list goes on.

    I am not saying that choosing this lifestyle is an excuse to hurt fellow yidden. I am just saying that the attitude does not come from that I am better than you but the attitude is that even though in shamayim you may be better then me, I am trying to live a sheltered lifestyle and would like to send my children to a school that only accepts families with the same ideals.

    I heard a story from a respected woman from Brooklyn that most of you know and is known for her love for yidden and not considered a “right winger”. She sent her boys to a Yeshiva in Brooklyn that is considered very yeshivish and hard to get into. She related that once at a school function she met another mother that was not dressed what she considered appropriate. She confronted her and asked, Why do you send to this Yeshiva? We all chose this Yeshiva to keep away from thing we don’t consider appropriate. If you dress like this you could have gone elsewhere. The same goes for Lakewood. Many (not all) of the parents that are not getting their children into a school is because they want a school that does not fit with the lifestyle they are living. They may be wonderful people and ehrliche yidden but they live a different lifestyle. If a school has a rule that they don’t accept families that have a television and a family with a television applies and is not willing to give up their television and does not get accepted would you have the same complaints? The same is here just on a more delicate level.

    Think twice the attitude may not come from such a bad place.

    To #87 Other side – I really do understand where you’re coming from. I also want to protect my children from the dangers you mentioned. At the same time, it’s an ideal which has repercussions that we can’t afford.

    I don’t live in Lakewood. I live in Baltimore. We face the same sheltering challenges you mentioned, but we don’t have the luxury of choosing a school that perfectly fits our lifestyle. Instead, our kids come home with the expectations they gleaned from their friends at school, and we have to parent them in a way that they’ll feel special about our own lifestyle and not desire as much to live like others. It’s a challenge, but that’s parenting. We also don’t have a choice.

    What SYR is explaining to people is that the luxury of having the choice to shelter yourselves and take that parenting shortcut has expired. People are suffering at the hands of your luxury. That’s the writing on the wall, as it were.

    This is all Ratzon H’, so perhaps H’ is saying it’s time to face new challenges, you have the Kochos to meet them, and to come out even better than you were before. Teaching your children to appreciate and be proud of the lifestyle you’ve chosen, to respect the choices of others, and to love every Jew for who they are and for the challenges THEY have overcome, is an amazing lesson who’s time has come.

    It’s a call for Achdus and Ahavas Yisrael, and it comes with Mesiras Nefesh.

    You can do it Lakewood!

  3. Dr. E says:

    While I read the text of the speech and felt his passion and sensitivity, I am not sure what his point is other than the obvious.  Was it simply that people in the Yeshivish community should be less judgmental of others?  That sounds more like a “Mussar shmues” for Elul, not something which is going to be a potential policy changer.  He specifically went out of his way NOT to blame the Roshei Mosdos.  To me, they are the core of the problem of fostering the elitist mentality which he decries.  Furthermore, the Yeshivos are not “community schools” but family enterprises (just look at a list of the last names for the administration of most Mosdos and you will feel that you are holding in Maseches Yevamos).  And that phenomenon is happening everywhere, not just Lakewood.  The Roshei Mosdos vie for the haskamos of Torah luminaries for validation.  As such, reputation and “brand” are paramount for any school.  So, it’s no wonder that they can and have set the rules for admission. Perhaps, I am merely pessimistic,  But all that they will need to do now is frame the problem in a certain way.  And then they will get the immunity from criticism and support they need in order to proceed with business as usual.

    At the end of the day, people have choices of where they live and raise their families.  If Lakewood is not the utopian community that people make it out to be, there are certainly other choices.

    That said, let’s be real.  Reb SY Rechnitz does seem to have credibility and “ear” within the Yeshivish world because of his philanthropic allocations.  And if he has somehow (through backhanded culpability) put the Roshei Mosdos “‘on notice’–or else”, then this might ultimately have teeth.  I have no doubt that his intentions are l’shem Shamayim.  And he has uncovered and spoken out on important community issues (e.g., Shidduchim) in the past.  I am just not in agreement with his conclusions or solutions.

    • Sam says:

      He absolutely is stating the obvious, and that’s why it’s striking such a cord. The obvious often needs to be stated, in no uncertain terms, because personal and communal inertia ignores the obvious.

      Who is to really to blame? You feel it’s the Mosdos themselves, but you don’t address the pressure from the parent body. Every School Mosad can testify to the immense pressure from parents that stifles their ability to be Mechanech appropriately. The concept of the Mosad being the judge and jury is a popular scapegoating myth.

      SYR brought the issue to the forefront. What will happen beyond that Hishtadlus, G-d knows – literally. Every little bit of Hishtadlus helps. Let’s not forget that Tefila is also Hishtadlus, and I believe it’s the most fundamental.

    • Bob Miller says:

      Without a formal kehillah organization, or even an organized looser association of community members or groups, overall responsibility to mandate and fund inclusive Jewish education belongs to no one and the private institutions are basically on their own.

      The US has has a long record of failure to organize kehillot following the European model or a new model better suited to the US, with very few exceptions.   Communities that manage to exist are often atomized into “boutique” mini-communities set apart by distinguishing features that an outsider who values unity and inclusion might regard as trivial.  This makes concerted action to solve basic community problems hard to achieve.  Consensus-busting factions abound.


      • tzippi says:

        I’ve only lived in communities that had community schools. The schools have boards and Federation funding. Lakewood schools don’t work the same way.

        That said, it’s not axiomatic that all Lakewood schools violate the “ani maamins”. AIUI, Rabbi Kanerek clearly doesn’t operate that way and that’s why R’ SYR probably felt comfortable using that forum to say what he did. Even so, a lot of people found the timing and forum not the most appropriate. And I thought that was the crux of the “back pedaling.”

  4. dr. bill says:

    What does it say about a society where Rechnitz has to recant?  Frankly, I think it might be time to understand the root causes not just its (multiple) manifestations.  IMHO,  the longer that modern trends are treated as “traditions,” the harder gradual change will become.

  5. “Let no one say that the Orthodox community is not self-critical. While it takes someone of SYR’s wealth and power to get away with saying what he did where he said it, the eagerness with which his mussar has been received is significant.”

    The Orthodox community is not self-critical. It takes someone of SYR’s wealth and power to get away with saying what he did where he said it. The eagerness with which his mussar has been received demonstrates how desperate people were for somebody to be able to air such criticisms, which nobody except SYR was able to do.

    • Bob Miller says:

      “The Orthodox community is not self-critical”

      Not in public settings.  However, if the rank and file didn’t harbor private reservations about the current operation of the system, so many wouldn’t have welcomed SYR’s public statement.

  6. Monty says:

    Whether or not what was said was valid–and not having watched/read it in full, I can’t comment–what I don’t understand is why it’s okay for the online community to post a speech that was directed at one community about a problem they need to fix?

    I don’t think I’m living in a vacuum, but I didn’t read/watch the thing in full because not living in Lakewood (although I used to), I can’t see how it would not be lashon hara for me to do so. As a layperson, I can’t do anything with this information other than vilify others. Yet this speech went viral. Help me out here.

    [YA – 1) Actually, it was a Lakewood website that first posted it! It went viral from there 2) There were many different reactions to the speech. Some of them had nothing to do with Lakewood per se. People far removed from Lakewood found that SYR’s definition of elitism resonated with them, and took his message to heart. They realized that there is a very thin line that separates between legitimately protecting the school environment of one’s children with an intolerable holier-than-thou attitude that quickly leads to strife and balkanization of the community. Even after SYR was forced to back down and apologize, he (rightfuly so) held on to this part of his message.]

  7. Wolfman says:

    I agree with most of SYR’s points. What concerns me, however, is an attitude among SYR’s followers that precludes debate. On the blogosphere, either you agree with SYR 100% or you are part of the problem. For open debate to take place all sides need to be open minded.

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