Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The dais at the Agudah convention

A guest post by @azigra

The dais at the Agudah convention this year was so paltry. There are maybe two or three recognizable faces but these aren't individuals with a global following, we've just seen them on a weekly basis in the Hamodia centerfold because they have annoying PR people. The Charedi community, for example, may have respect for R. Shmuel Kaminetzky but nobody from Chaim Berlin is running to Pennsylvania to seek out his advice.

In the 70+ years of kollel in this country, with more people studying Torah full time than perhaps any other time in history, not one universally recognized "Gadol" has emerged in the United States. By 'Gadol' I refer to people universally recognized for their greatness in Torah knowledge, with a keen understanding of the non rabbinic class' necessary interactions with the greater world. Someone who is above group affiliation and is appreciated and/or sought after by many parties. I'm certain the reader can add some more qualifications which I've missed.

Even Aron Kotler's first generation of students haven't achieved this for themselves.

So I wonder how and why Rabbis Aron Kotler, Yosep Dov Solovetchik, Yaacov Kaminetzky, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and others of that generation were different?

I think the answer is simple. These men weren't controlled by a system, stripped of their personality, violently shoved through the cookie cutter of Charedi image, forbidden from perusing their interests, or prevented from studying non Torah literature. R Aron read Russian novels, wrote love letters, the latter fact showing how different his mentality was at age 21 from today's 21 year old kids in the Mir or Brisk or Chaim Berlin.

The Rav never had any formal yeshiva education, he attended University, and (at least) in later life enjoyed old Western movies. He dressed as he pleased and only first grew a beard before his tryout for position of Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv.

The Chabad Rebbe audited classes in Berlin, he may have had a degree in engineering. As evidenced in pictures he didn't dress like a Hassid even when with his father in law. MM Schneersohn perhaps had the most encyclopedic mind in Torah in this country. Circumstantial evidence and numerous 2nd hand stories have led me to believe he'd easily put his biggest detractor Eliezer Shach to shame.

These little life story tidbits are of course really unimportant, but as a whole they draw a picture of who these men were.

The greatest of the past generation were individuals, people who developed at a time people could still legitimately not learn Torah and still be considered a good Jew. They were allowed to be themselves and retain their own essence. This doesn't exist in todays yeshiva world which is not much more than a boot camp or a scared straight program.

Kollel and the Hashkafa of Charedism is truly one of the worst things to befall the Jewish people in a long time.

The only anomaly is R Moshe Feinstein who lived in a forest clearing deep in the Russian forests and so he did not have the option of going to college or perhaps a Gymnasium. Still though I think my theory holds true and there was certainly an interdependent streak in the man, he studied in a shul, a totally different system than exists today.

I'm certain a sociologist would be able to explain comprehensively how this works on the community side of things. What has changed in the Charedi world and how has that led to this situation.

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