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Strive for What Binds Us

Yonoson Rosenblum

The chareidi community represents something of an oasis

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

I

 recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at Congregation Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion in Baltimore on the subject of “The Complementary and Conflicting Flavors of Torat Eretz Yisrael.”

The first speaker addressed himself to the positive characteristics of the chareidi community, and focused on six. He began with the obvious: the unprecedented, massive commitment to talmud Torah that has produced a “staggering” outpouring of Torah learning. “It’s 10:35, and a new sefer has just been published in Bnei Brak. In another ten seconds, there will be another sefer published,” he offered.

Though Torah learning is not limited to the chareidi community, he suggested, at the same time, it cannot be denied that much of the Torah learning, even outside the chareidi community, is being driven by the absolute devotion of the chareidi community — men, women and children — to the central value of talmud Torah.

That commitment is reflected in the second attribute of the chareidi community: its mesirus nefesh for its values. Chareidim willingly subject themselves to what most people would consider a life of deprivation in order to pursue Torah learning. They thereby demonstrate to the larger society that life is not about having a slightly nicer car or even a roomier apartment.

That mesirus nefesh, however, would be inadequate were it not for the day-to-day chesed that is part of the woof and weave of chareidi society (Point 3). There are a plethora of organizations in every chareidi neighborhood devoted to supplying food, medicines, and other necessities to those who would otherwise do without, and communal phone books are filled with dozens of pages of different types of gemachim.

The model of self-sufficiency to which other communities in Israel strive can easily degenerate into a satisfied self-absorption: Sheli sheli v’shelcha shelcha. The chesed of the chareidi world rather stresses the mutual interdependency of Hashem’s nation.

There is another aspect of mesirus nefesh of the chareidi community: the stubborn refusal of the chareidim to play the role of the organ-grinder’s monkey dancing to the music (Point 4). The members of this community would be perfectly entitled to feel perpetually under siege — certainly as the objects of ridicule and vitriol. Yet the mockery does nothing to diminish the community’s insistence that words of Torah are its very lifeblood — heim chayeinu — without which it is impossible to live.

Along with the devotion to talmud Torah and willingness to sacrifice both materially and bear a hefty dose of outside criticism, the chareidi community is distinguished even from other religious communities by the honor given to Torah scholars and the deference given to their leadership (Point 5). The assumption is that gedolei Torah have special insight into every aspect of life, and should therefore be consulted frequently and on a broad range of issues.

Finally, he described the central value of family in chareidi society. The family is ground zero, the fundamental social unit around which everything revolves. The trust, emotional connection, and concern of family members for one another goes a long way toward explaining the success of the chareidi world.

In a world of increasingly dysfunctional families, he opined, the chareidi community represents something of an oasis. (Not by accident, he suggested, is the publication with the largest circulation in the chareidi community called Mishpacha. )

He mentioned that his wife works at Meshi, a special facility for children with disabilities, founded by Rebbetzin Lifsha Feldman, and described how after her untimely passing, the entire family — her mother, brothers, sisters, and daughters — pitched in to make sure Meshi could go on serving its client population.

Had I been the one who delivered this encomium to a visiting Federation group, for instance, it would have been a predictable and workmanlike effort, not so different from many such speeches I’ve given over the years. But the speaker was Rabbi Moshe Taragin, a ram in Yeshivat Hesder Har Etzion.

He was given no more than five minutes to prepare a talk on the contributions of the Israeli chareidi community. Yet he had no trouble speaking eloquently about the subject, to the degree that I began my own talk by thanking him for having reinforced my pride in being part of it. There was nothing forced or grudging about his words, even as he noted that he is dati leumi. His sons serve in the army, and he does not subscribe to the chareidi world’s view of daas Torah.

Rabbi Taragin’s ability to acknowledge and even celebrate the virtues of a religious community other than his own reflects a mindset that the Israeli religious world should embrace. (At some point, I’ll share my response from the chareidi side.) And I cannot stress enough how uplifted the audience felt by watching representatives of different communities relate to one another with respect.

 

Looking out for Reb Yisroel

After arriving early in the morning in Newark on a recent trip to the States, I had plenty of time to make it to Flatbush for Shacharis. There I found myself next to a distinguished looking gentleman, whom I could not place. He turned out to be Rabbi Dovid Nojowitz, executive director of Torah Umesorah.

After we had been introduced, Rabbi Nojowitz invited me to join a meeting of the Torah Umesorah executive at noon. I took him up on the invitation. We sat around a large conference table, as senior staff members reported on various projects. Among the reports was one by a chassidic yungerman, Rabbi Mordechai Reichberg, who has a degree in social work. He described at length his successful efforts to find a school for a high school-age girl.

I do not recall the particular circumstances, but what struck me was the time devoted to Rabbi Reichberg’s report amidst a welter of reports on matters of general concern — a recent educators’ conference in Europe, upcoming regional conventions — and a discussion of the looming crisis in the chinuch of the coming generations of bnos Yisrael due to the difficulty in attracting top-level women teachers to a field characterized by low pay and little prestige (in the eyes of most). Yet no one appeared to find it the slightest bit strange to devote equal time to the plight of a single high school girl.

Later, as I stopped by Rabbi Nojowitz’s office, he received another full report on efforts to find a school for a fifth grader who, for whatever reason, had not fit in at the school of her particular chassidus. It was evident from Rabbi Nojowitz’s response that he was completely familiar with the case. With overall responsibility for a system of 300,000 students, he still had time to worry about a single girl.

Rabbi Moshe Sherer used to emphasize that even organizations like Agudath Israel of America, which deal with the most crucial issues facing the community, must never lose sight of Reb Yisrael, even as they devote their energies to Klal Yisrael.

I saw that quality exemplified at Torah Umesorah. That is no doubt one reason that the organization is zocheh to be celebrating its upcoming 75th anniversary this coming week.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 764. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com

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