Monday, November 27, 2006

Cancer drug, side effects and the antidote.

Bari at Mishmar has an interesting post
quoting the Seridei Eish about maintaining the balance between critical analysis and the consequent Hidushim that come from it and respect for the great Acharonim and Chachamim in general. (I could not find the reference in the Seridei Eish but the statement is true). This balance unfortunately is hard to find nowadays.

It reminded me of a conversation I was a participant in with Rav Simcha Wasserman Z”L and Yibodel Lechaym my Father La’arichut Yamim about a year or so before R. Simcha’s petirah. I do not remember how the conversation ended up on the subject of the strong separation in Klal Yisrael between the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements and R. Simcha commented that it is a great pity. He said that this is comparable to a cancer patient who is treated with strong chemotherapy to arrest the disease. The medicine causes side effects which need to be addressed as soon as the cancer is arrested or in remission. The Chatam Sofer in Hungary and others in other countries when confronted with the reform and Haskallah movements and their attraction on the religious community, reacted by creating a separation between the groups. In Hungary especially new Kehilot were formed that kept the Reformers outside the more orthodox communities. (An excellent book on the episode and its aftermath is “Hakera shelo Nita’acha” by Professor Jacob Katz in Hebrew). The medicine worked and as we can see these movements no longer have any appeal to the genuinely religious Jew. It is time to start prescribing the antidote. Unfortunately we have forgotten to do that.

As with many of Reb Simcha’s comments they are deep and have an impact on a broader area than their original application. It helps me understand many phenomena we see in our communities. For example the sitting and learning culture expected from every newly married whether he is up to it or not and the lack of secular education in Yeshivot both here and in Eretz Yisrael. The great builders of torah, Rav Aharon Kotler in the US and the Chazon Ish in EY, instituted them both after the holocaust. That was an Eit La’asot because there was a dire need to create Chachamim and leaders fast. It was not an ideal situation but there was no choice. The medicine worked and the Torah is again learned and growing within Klal Yisrael. The time has come where these practices have to be retuned and addressed. If we want to have leaders of the caliber of earlier times, we cannot have these restrictions imposed on them. The breadth of thinking and knowledge needed to lead us in our times cannot be developed under these circumstances. Nor can we continue having thousands of young men depending on handouts indefinitely. Worse they are wasting time and unproductive to society and themselves. But there is no one of stature with the vision or courage to do address the problem.


  1. Oh, please.

    Referring to the Jewish enlightment as a cancer is quite an overstatement, a premonition of the blinders with which the UO face modernity now.

    And many 'genuinely religious' Jews find their spirituality in Reform, Renewal and Reconstructionist synagogues. I would argue that there is a lot more of the Baal Shem Tov's spirituality with the neo-hasidic/Shalomi-Schacter crowd than in many ultra-orthodox shuls.

  2. Who has stature of any kind anymore? Are there any leaders at all? The Roshei Yeshiva, while admired by many, are generally happy for their influence to extend no further than the walls of their own school, and, in any case, they themselves have had very minimal exposure to secular learning. I think this is very evident in the kinds of works that they publish (or don't). Since we don't have "chief rabbis" in the States, there is really no-one of comparable stature to push any kind of agenda.

  3. I have a post on a related issue but it appears that Chofetz Chaim and R. Boruch Ber disagreed regarding this point, see

  4. Ahem' but R. Simcha’s father HY"D would not hve agreed with R. Simcha

  5. Anonymous, At the time enlghtenment was a real threat. The fact that today not only it no longer is but is an important support for yiddishkeit, is the point that Rav Simcha was making.

    Big S - well put.

    Avakesh - I will have a look.

    Amshi - Who knows how the father would have felt 50 years later? It is an insult to our great leaders seeing them as inflexible and unchanging. They were great enough to acknowledge their errors. See the gemara in the introduction to Kamtza bar Kamtza.

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  7. sorry david but i can only judge R'Elchonon by his last entries.and the man was not a lover.50 years later joel tietelbaum was still lost.

  8. Amshi see Yechezkel 18. R. Yoelish had no kids! :-)