Monday, November 28, 2016

The Disconnect

By Rabbi Dov Beryl Wein 

Dedicated to the memory of Simcha bat Chana

I think that one of the more difficult situations that exists in the Jewish world of today, especially in my humble opinion in the Diaspora, is the widening disconnect between the vast bulk of the population in the Jewish world and the rabbinic leadership of Jewish society. While there are many rabbinic pronouncements on the minutiae of Jewish law, customs and observance there is very little that is said and heard about the major problems that face the Jewish world – the security of the Jewish state, the dire financial situation that threatens the entire system of the support of Jewish education, the astounding rate of poverty and unemployment (voluntary and involuntary) in religious Jewish society, children at risk because of one size fits all educational institutions, growing rates of divorce and family dysfunction, an unhealthy and misogynic system of dating and marriage, growing anti-Semitism and a seemingly unstoppable rate of assimilation, secularization and intermarriage that guarantees a shrinking Jewish population in a few generations. Rather than address these terribly difficult issues Jewish leadership is engaged in fighting over and over again the battles that destroyed the Jewish world of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Whether we like it or not, whether it is theologically acceptable to us or not, the State of Israel is a reality where six million Jews live. The predictions by many Jewish leaders made in the 1950 are that the state would not survive for twenty, thirty or fifty years have all been proven to have been incorrect. We have no choice but to support the state with all of our might, prayers, talents and resources. So why don’t we hear that call from our leadership, whether it be from any grouping of the Jewish people? The disconnect from reality is truly astounding!

The tuition rates for attending Jewish schools are rapidly reaching the breaking point. A small percentage of parents – those who pay full or almost full tuition at schools – are subsidizing the rest of the parent body who cannot afford the astronomical amounts that are called full tuition. But that group of people – those who can and do pay full tuition – is a rapidly diminishing breed. Instead of addressing this problem – the true time bomb that threatens the future of Torah education – we spread our wealth so thin that we are unable to help the situation. It may be important to help a father of a daughter to raise many thousands of dollars to buy an apartment for her and her prospective husband in Israel but it certainly is more important to provide for Jewish education to one’s own children and for one’s own community. This is part of the current disconnect – the inability to view the forest and remain fixated on the trees or even the bushes. The fact that there is an enormous proliferation of small yeshivot, all of which are basically similar in curriculum, method and purpose is not only very inefficient and enormously costly but it has yet to prove that its educational accomplishments and scholarship are in any way superior to a large institution that would prove much less costly per student to maintain. Part of the problem is that there is such a surplus of kollel "graduates" who have no other employment potential except for yeshiva teaching so that somehow there have to be many such institutions simply to absorb some of this surplus of talent and scholarship. This is also part of the disconnect that exists in our world.

Having just recently completed the production of a documentary film about the Jewish world of the 1930’s, I am very concerned about the similarities of the anti-Semitic mood of the present decade to that past decade. It is much more insidious today because this anti-Semitism is encased in the pious cloak of anti-Israel rhetoric and policy. And unfortunately there are many Jews who are themselves entrapped in this self-destructive dance. And many of these Jews live here in Israel! But again all voices against this threat are muted and very little leadership is exhibited to address the problem. This is not merely a matter for the Anti-Defamation League to fight. We are all in a precarious and vulnerable position. Our leadership should warn us about this situation. Again, silence is a great example of the disconnect that afflicts us. We should demand more from those that claim the ability and knowledge to lead us. Connection to the true large problems that face us is and should be a basic requirement of leadership and serious opinion.

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