Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Cheshvan 5764 - October 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Old-New Campaign

by Rabbi N. Z. Grossman

Part I

A New Round in an Old Game

Vocational training for avreichim is once again under discussion. Certain parties are again seeking to push their plans forward, this time by exploiting the economic squeeze that the government has engineered, which is intended to foster an atmosphere of hardship and distress among Torah true families.

In an article published in Ha'aretz, entitled, "Needed: A Chareidi University," the "Chairman of the Society for Encouraging the Establishment of a Chareidi Academia" explains his ideology and the practical steps that he feels should be taken towards its fulfillment. He argues that the government has not made a good enough job of tearing avreichim away from their gemoras and channeling their talents in other directions, acknowledging that, "while the economic measures encourage chareidim to work, they do not provide high level vocational training." He calls upon the Council for Higher Education, "to present the Treasury with a plan for placing chareidim into special academic frameworks and for setting up chareidi academic schools for high level vocational training."

A response published in our Hebrew edition noted that this unworthy initiative was in fact launched four years ago by the then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his cronies. Then, at the behest of the Torah authorities, our paper warned against getting involved in public debate over "drawing avreichim into the workforce." We pointed out that this was just one more measure in a consistent and drawn out campaign that had already then been waged for several years, to try to instigate revolutionary changes within the Torah community. It aimed to uproot Torah scholars from their studies, to incite avreichim to change their lifestyles, to sanctify the "cult of work" and to cast the glow of enlightenment upon the benighted chareidim.

Their True Goal

Our leaders, ztvk'l and ylct'a, who have been steering the ship of Torah Jewry in the past decades, have repeatedly warned about the trials of the new generation. Periodically, attempts are made at introducing novel approaches to which our elders take exception. In particular, they have warned against getting swept away by the glittering allure -- and ultimate emptiness -- of "higher education" and "professional academic training" in various forms and guises.

Such initiatives come up for discussion from time to time, depending on the ebb and flow of several factors. Among these are damaging ideas which instill the wish to join the "modern" and "enlightened" world, feelings of inferiority and inappropriate justification based on "the need to earn a livelihood" and the like.

From time immemorial, the goal of every chareidi family has been that its sons should grow up to become Torah scholars. Even those who were compelled by circumstances to leave the beis hamedrash in order to earn a livelihood, never viewed what they had to do as the fulfillment of an ideal or considered it progress.

The opposite is the case. They honored, respected and admired those who remained wholly within the daled amos of halochoh. They regarded them as the leaders and as the elite of the community. In recent years however, in the guise of concern for having a means of support, proposals to arrange professional training and chareidi academia have been surfacing, whose true goal is to idealize leaving the beis hamedrash and involvement in external studies.

HaRav Dessler and the Chazon Ish

In a letter on this subject, HaRav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler zt'l, described how gedolei Yisroel stood guard to ensure that even though there might be cases where it was necessary to leave the beis hamedrash, the step would never become a desirable one. They worked to contain any tendency to be attracted by the lure of "a prestigious profession" and they staunchly opposed the almost inevitable shift in priorities and values that results from an avreich's leaving the beis hamedrash, to follow the path of "professional training for avreichim."

HaRav Dessler writes, "Of course, they remained on watch to see whatever could be done for those who could not remain bnei Torah but [they did] not [do so] in a way that would draw others after them. For example, in the cases of some of those whom they were forced to allow to leave, they ensured that they would become shopkeepers or follow other pursuits that are not professions, which do not require training and do not attract the hearts of the talmidim. As for those whose hearts' desire was to go and learn a profession and certainly those who chose an academic profession -- they had nothing whatsoever to do with them . . ." (Michtov MeEliyohu vol. III, pg. 357)

Rav Dessler writes that this was also the view of the Chazon Ish zt'l, who was most emphatic about it, even with regard to the specific proposal about which Rav Dessler consulted him, which was the subject that he discussed in his letter, namely, opening a seminary to train chareidi teachers that would give its graduates a B.A. degree. The letter is well worth reading in its entirety, for its clear and thorough treatment of the present topic.

Nothing to be Proud Of

We are in effect witnessing another attempt to effect a sweeping change in values of chareidi society and to introduce goals that daas Torah opposes, against which Torah leaders have fought with all their strength. The true aims of the proponents of chareidi academia are obvious from the terms which they employ, such as, "drawing out into the workforce."

Whom do they want to draw out and where do they want to draw them out from? Clearly, from the beis hamedrash!

These efforts to sully the integrity of Torah's transmission are being leveled at all ages. They include the opening of institutions for talmud Torah graduates where Torah study is combined with tuition in secular disciplines.

Thirty-six years ago, a Chinuch Atzmai-run talmud Torah named Yesodei Hatorah, in Tel Aviv, published a booklet entitled "Nitzanim," which contains remarks made on this very subject by HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman and HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz. In those days, yeshivot tichoniyot (yeshiva high schools) held a great attraction for many parents whose sons were graduating from talmud Torah. Every year saw protracted and heated discussions with both pupils and parents, who were gravitating towards yeshivot tichoniyot, thereby endangering their own or their sons' spiritual futures.

The talks published in the booklet were delivered to parents and students of the upper grades. In them, the distinguished speakers express the unequivocal Torah view that rules out any framework or institution that combines holy studies with secular ones. The purpose of this opposition is to negate any diminution of [people's understanding of] Torah's value and of its necessity to Klal Yisroel. The struggle not to lose a single ben Torah who has the potential to develop and devote his life to Torah, is waged on all fronts and at all ages, from the classroom until the kollel.

Although much has already been written on this subject, it is one that requires constant reinforcing. Part of the training that we all received in the holy yeshivos that we attended is that even when circumstances force someone to interrupt his sojourn within the daled amos of halochoh and devote time to earning a livelihood, it ought not to be viewed as something desirable but as the opposite.

Everyone who has to do this, the present writer included, feels that it involves spiritual decline not ascent, and envies those who have the good fortune to occupy themselves with Torah at all hours. We have been trained to see life's main purpose as the learning and teaching of Torah -- in the words of Dovid Hamelech, "that I dwell in Hashem's house all the days of my life" (Tehillim 27:4).

It would certainly never occur to anyone who had been personally unsuccessful in devoting all his time to life's main purpose, to turn his back on the Torah world and the education that it gave him and go "to benefit society" by supporting "going out to join the workforce" and "entering the labor market."

We must never institutionalize departure from the beis hamedrash. Woe to anyone who encourages such a step through the opening of programs that offer training for "prestigious" careers and the like.

End of Part I

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