I am finding harder than ever to believe there is only one Torah for all Jews. It may seem like a shock to many that an Orthodox Rabbi would ever think such a thing, let alone say it out loud. But it’s true. I am finding it very hard to believe that. There is apparently one Torah for Jews in America, and one for Jews in Israel. This is not the first time I’ve said this. But it seems to be more the case now than ever.
Last night I had the privilege of attending the annual banquet of my Alma mater, the Hebrew Theological College (HTC). In attendance were Roshei Yeshiva and Roshei Kollel from Charedi institutions like Chicago’s Lakewood Kollel (CCK) and Telshe Yeshiva. The dais included rabbinic luminaries like Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Av Beis din of the RCA Beis Din and Rav Yonah Reiss, Av Beis Din of the CRC. One of the honorees was Rabbi Yechiel Kalish who for many years was Agudath Israel’s point man in public affairs.
Also on the dais was Touro President Dr. Alan Kadish. He delivered a speech touting the advantages of the recent merger of HTC with Touro. HTC is now a branch of that august institution. An Institution that has 18,000 students world-wide.
Dr. Kadish’s message was that this new amalgam of HTC and Touro would enhance HTC’s prominence in the Academic world, would produce future leaders in Klal Yisroel in both HTC and its female division the Blitsein Institute for women. Not only by enhancing the already fine curriculum at HTC but by eventually offering advanced degrees.
They have also arranged preferential treatment for its students from several prominent universities for their students applying for professional or advanced degrees. And all of this would take place without disturbing the religious curriculum at all which would continue to have complete autonomy.
He characterized the Yeshiva of Shem V’Ever as isolationist hinting that many of the Yeshivos today are the same way – seeking to remove themselves as much as possible from the public square. He then compared HTC to Abraham whose mission was the opposite. He engaged with the outside world – spreading his monotheistic message to a great many people. This, he said, was HTC’s mission.
No one walked out upon hearing that speech. All of the Charedi Rabbonim that were there sat quietly and respectfully without a word of protest. The Yeshiva Rebbeim who are themselves mostly Charedi were sitting on the dais and obviously agree with this new policy. One of them was an honoree himself last night, speaking with lavish praise about his colleagues and about the institution that hired him.
Let us now contrast that with what happened in Bnei Brak last night where Israeli rabbinic leaders like Rav Chaim Kanievsky and the Vizhnitzer Rebbe were in attendance. From Yeshiva World News (YWN):
The gathering was organized by the Education Committee of the joint Torah Councils of both Agudas Yisrael and Degel Hatorah to emphasize the dangers posed to the children by introducing “foreign education into the camp”.
· Gedolei Yisrael are responsible for the education of Jewish girls from the youngest age until completion.
· There is a real danger in all institutions that teach secular subjects from both the subject matter and lecturers. Therefore, Jewish girls and women should not study in academic institutions including those which are extensions of this institutions, even if they calls themselves ‘seminaries’ but give an academic diploma.
· Bnos Yisrael should not get a matriculation diploma (bagrut) or engage in studies preparing them for higher learning without exception and one must not take the tests independently. This must be stringently enforced by principals.
· All studies and continuing education seminars attended by the girls and teachers in Beis Yaakov must be exclusively in the framework of Beis Yaakov and no other institution and it goes without saying a woman should not seek an academic diploma.
· We call on school principals and administrators not to recognize any degree from any institution not under the guidance of the Vaad Chinuch (Education Committee).
The contrast between the American attitude with respect to secular education and Israel’s could not be more stark! I can only conclude that there are 2 Torahs. One for Israel and one for America.
While I only say this tongue in cheek, it is really hard to see it any other way. The irony is that if any society needs the kind of help that secular studies can provide, it is the Charedim in Israel. The vast majority of men in that society do not work. Those that do eventually decide to work, start out with no prior preparation of any kind and no marketable skills. While many are able to overcome that disadvantage, many can’t. They end up with menial low paying jobs and an inability to support their typically large families. Forcing many of them to borrow money without an ability to pay any of it back. Or they seek outright charity.
The one saving grace (if you want to call it that) is that at least the women have had secular studies and have thereby been able to seek the kind of higher education that would bring substantially more income into the family. But now, that too will end, if these rabbinic leaders get their way. Which they probably will. It is the nature of Charedim to listen to their leaders unquestioningly. So they will now apparently go from being very poor, to being even poorer.
Sure, I know what they fear. They explained it in the above excerpt from YWN. But I have to ask, are the American Charedi rabbinic leaders not afraid of it? Are American universities less problematic along the lines feared by the Israeli rabbinic leaders? My guess is that there is no real difference between American universities and Israeli ones on these issues.
And what about the school created by people like Adina Bar-Shalom? Her Haredi College of Jerusalem was approved by her father Rav Ovadia Yosef, ZTL. Are she and her father now being accused of corrupting young minds?
I simply cannot understand it.The more I see coming out of the Charedi world in Israel, the more depressed I get. Two worlds. Two Torahs. That’s how it looks. I know that my rant will not change the minds of the Israeli rabbinic leaders. Obviously they do not read my words. But at least I can disseminate the facts to American Charedim here that are thinking about moving to Israel. They have to know what they are getting into.