Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Way Things Were

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Yesterday I posted a link on my Facebook page and I realized that it should be shared here as well.

A local Baltimore website interviewed a Rebbe and role model of mine and did a great write up. You can find he article here: A Conversation With Rabbi Yosef Tendler

The article is significant because it is a first hand account from a charedi rabbi (gadol?) about the lifestyle of orthodox Jews just a few decades ago. Perhaps, to the surprise of many, the orthodox Judaism he speaks of is virtually non-existent and almost unrecognizable as orthodox Judaism today.


This means a few things. It means that orthodox Judaism changes. It also means that we are moving in a specific direction as a group. Reading the article it is clear that what that direction is.

I do not wish to travel back in time. But I do believe we can learn a lot about successful systems of Jewish life by looking to our history. Even our relatively recent history.

Here are some choice quotes: (It is worthwhile reading the whole thing, but I know some people are too lazy to click) I believe there are good and important take-away points from each of these quotes.
RJJ was a major institution in Jewish life. It also had a summer camp, Camp Deal. I remember that the fee was $12.50 a week and boys came for two-week sessions. There were no shiurim at Camp Deal. In those days, summer was for fun and the parents were just happy that their children identified themselves as Jews.
There was no chinuch for girls in those years. My sisters all attended Seward Park High School, as did the other girls from orthodox families.
In 1950, Lakewood had approximately 40 bochurim, single students, and 20 yungeleit, married students. Many of the married ones were Europeans from Kletz. When I left Lakewood, eleven years later, there were approximately 60 bochurim and 40 yungeleit, many of whom were American born.
When I was in Lakewood, I would go back once a year to New York, to hear the shiur of Rabbi J.B.Soloveitchik, which he gave on the yahrtzeit of his father. These lectures lasted for four hours and were masterful.
After my second year in Lakewood, I went to the Rosh Yeshiva to discuss leaving the yeshiva. I wanted to return to Yeshiva University to get a secular degree. It was simply unheard of in those days not to get a college degree for reasons of parnassa – earning a living.
There were two boys there in my time who some would label “bums.” There were other students who felt these two didn’t belong in Lakewood and they went to Rav Aharon to ask him to send them away. The Rosh Yeshiva replied that anybody who wants to be in a yeshiva such as Lakewood in that generation must have something in him or he wouldn’t stay. Therefore, we have no right to expel them unless they are harming other students. One of these two eventually became a Rosh Yeshiva.
When I was in Lakewood, the yeshiva served regular milk and Breakstone sour cream. There was no cholov Yisroel. Recently, one of my grandsons was sitting in class in a school in Lakewood and the teacher was talking about Rav Aharon. My grandson raised his hand and said, “My grandfather says that Rav Aharon allowed non cholov Yisroel to be served in the yeshiva dining room.” The rebbe said, “Rav Aharon would never allow such a thing”. Evidently, that rebbe looks at Lakewood then as it is now.
At that time it was not that typical to spend many years in Kollel. I left Kollel after less than four years because I ran out of money.
In my youth, aspiring to know Shas was as strange and unimaginable as wanting to speak Chinese. Rav Aharon and the other European rabbis who came over changed the aspirations of their talmidim.


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