Sunday, December 20, 2009

Of the Rav, Rav Schachter and Mishpaha

I was genuinely excited to see that ורבי מורי R. Herschel Schachter שליט"א was featured on the cover of the English edition of Mishpaha magazine (I was a member of Rav Schachter's Kollel from 1979-1982).
Of course, Rav Schachter deserves the recognition, in his own right. More to the point, the extensive interview furthers the process whereby the writings of מו"ר רש"י Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל openly penetrate the Yeshiva and Hassidic communities. [I say 'openly' because everyone knows that אגרות הגרי"ד , שיעורים לזכר אבא מרי ז"ל and the various collections of שיעורים are purchased by 'Black hat' Yeshivah students, teachers and others.] It caps the process that Rav Schachter began with his two anthologies, נפש הרב and פניני הרב.
The interview was, largely, a pleasure to read. I was especially appreciative of the fact that Rav Schachter admitted that he has a very specific 'take' on our Rebbe, which differs from that of others (e.g. Rabbi Professor Haym Soloveitchik, the Rav's son, whom he quotes in the interview, to that effect). His presentation lent an important element of balance to the picture of the Rav as being primarily a philosopher.
There were, albeit, some very jarring moments.
Rav Schachter cites David Holzer's highly problematic collection of the Rav's private table talk, Thinking Aloud, to the effect that Religious Zionism had replaced the Torah with Zionism. This citation was particularly troublesome by the way it was manipulated by the interviewer. Now, I have no doubt that the Rav might have been troubled by the priorities of certain elements within Religious Zionism, especially by the Rav Kook school. He certainly might well have expressed that criticism sharply. However, the way the quote was used left the impression that Rav Soloveitchik distanced himself from Religious Zionism. This is simply not true. I was sorry that this was cited by Rav Schachter, who is himself a devoted Religious Zionist and a very outspoken lover of Eretz Yisrael.
The interview closes with Rav Schachter's observation that the Rav urged people to study for graduate degrees in order to make a living. He suggests that had he been aware of the effloresence of the Kollelim, he would not have been so emphatic about the need for graduate study. Others, myself included, differ with him on this point.
Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל needs no one's validation. He was recognized in his lifetime by the greatest of his colleagues (R. Moshe Feinstein, R. Aaron Kotler, R. Shneur Kotler, R. Shmuel Rozovsky, R. Avraham Cahaneman and others זצ"ל) as 'the greatest Rosh Yeshiva in the world.' However, that message was hidden from the masses, and Rav Schachter has done a tremendous service, a huge Qiddush HaShem, to our rebbe and our Yeshiva by disseminating his Torah near and far.
[UPDATE: ברוך שכיוונתי. Rabbi Harry Maryles comes to similar conclusions, and puts things into perspective, here.]

Hareidi Internet Meltdown

I'm not really sure what to make of the apparent success of Hareidi rabbis and Rashe Yeshiva in closing down a number of prominent websites that catered to their communities. On the one hand, I understand wanting to keep the salacious and undersireable elements of the internet out of the community. On the other hand, doing so is a truly Sisyphean task. Do these rabbis really think that by driving these portals out of business, they will keep people from the net? On the contrary, these 'safe' portals served a valuable function in providing information without blind links to undesireable sites.

I suspect that there is a deeper motive here. These websites provided Haredim with a place to vent; to express themselves on issues of moment, and often in contrast to the official organs of their community. In other words, this is a bald attempt to shut down dissent.

It won't work. It can't work. It might, however, return to haunt and undermine the authority of those who enacted it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Insubordination, the Freeze and Ehud Barak

There is really no limit to the cynicism, the megalomaniacal arrogance, of Ehud Barak. He led the Labor Party to disaster in the last elections. His position as party leader is under constant (justified, IMHO) criticism for incompetence. He was roundly censured by the State Comptroller for spending tens of thousands of dollars for luxury expenses on a trip to Paris. He was recently condemned for employing an illegal foreign worker.
How does Barak fight back? By smashing the Settlers and the Religious Zionist community.
First, he ran roughshod over the government's decision to suspend only new housing starts in Judea and Samaria. Instead, he revoked the right of local councils to issue ANY building permits. He did so to show how tough a Leftist he is, reining in those brutal settlers (present company included). [See Menahem Benn's comments.]

Next, he went looking for a Hesder Yeshivah to beat up on. He found one, Har Berakhah. The Rosh Yeshivah there is a member of the Hardali Right, who has supported army insubordination in the face of orders to evacuate settlements. However, he's a very small fish. The whole yeshivah has thirty or so students. Barak, however, decided to make this a cause celebre, in order to win points with the Leftists. According to today's papers, he's running headlong in to the total disbanding of the Hesder Yeshivot, which supply a high degree of the officer corps, have soldiers who've been decorated for bravery above and beyond their percentage in the population, and whose motivation and devotion to duty far outstrips anything the Labor Party supporters can muster. (After all, a very large percentage of the leaders of the Israeli Left, left [the country, that is]).

Now, I absolutely oppose refusal to obey orders that are not idefensibly illegal or immoral. However, Barak's nefarious, cynical attacks on the religious zionist community will only hurt the army, and the country. OTOH, what does Barak care, as long as he gets to be Defense Minister?

Political Correctness in America....

could be more than deadly.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

American Academics in Israel: Misfits in the Promised Land (Part IV)

Stranger than Fiction: I had Naches from Gideon Levy

I'm sure that he didn't mean to provide anyone of my ilk with pleasure. However, his remarks here prove that my sense is correct. This country is becoming ever more Jewish. (Now, PLEASE, let the official representatives of religion not mess it up).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sex and The Single Orthodox Jew: A MUST READ

In his usual sensitive and learned fashion, QED opens up a much needed discussion on a pressing and tragically avoided subject: the inability of the Modern Orthodox community to address Sex and Sex education.

Rav Soloveitchik on Coeducation

Some issues just won't go away. One of these is whether Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל was in favor of co-education, ab initio, or only ex post facto. A friend recently sent me this discussion of the issue by R. Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi of Safed (and a leader of the Hardali communuty).

Essentially he makes two points. First, the Rav nowhere wrote that co-education was permissible, halakhically. Second, unnamed students of the Rav were interviewed by Shaul Schiff of the late, lamented HaZofeh. His findings were, not surprisingly for a Hareidi publicist, that co-education at Maimonides was a concession to the times.

With all due respect, R. Eliyahu is wrong. First, his argument from the lack written sources discussing the issue is, at best, disingenuous. Anyone who knows anything about Rav Soloveitchik knows that he hardly ever wrote (never mind published) his halakhic decisions. This might be regrettable. It is, however, a fact. Similarly, the Rav never wrote a programmatic essay on the positive need for a broad secular education. Yet can anyone, save the most extreme revisionists, deny that (as Professor Twersky זצ"ל once wrote) that such a need was self-evident?

As far as Shaul Schiff's article (which is no longer on line), since I don't know who he asked, there's no way of knowing how reliable his sources were. I can only repeat what I know from close family members (as reported by Seth Farber here). The Rav and Rebbetzin never considered co-education an halakhic issue. For them it was an educational question. They were convinced that separate classes would deprive the girls of the same level of Torah and academic excellence as the boys. Therefore, co-educational classes, ipse facto, were self-justifying.

Since Rav Shmuel Eliyahu and his followers oppose equal education for girls, obviously such considerations are of no import.

[As for his claim that co-education is in violation of the Shulchan Arukh, hasn't he ever heard of the Levush?]

UPDATE: Check out the comments.