When our children were young, we would buy their Shabbos clothes in Willamsburg. As we entered the neighborhood, I was amazed at the number of chesed activities that were being conducted by the children and the posters for shiurim, drashos and commuity events of interest. For many years, we have also attended simchos in Williamsburg. Once, we left around 10:00 P.M. We started driving home and I noticed a tremendous number of Chassidishe Yidden on their way to shul for Maariv. Likewise, the renaissance of the observance of Shatnez began in Williamsburg after WW2. In a similar vein, anyone who has had a relative hospitalized in a hospital in New York City will always see a Satmar Bikur Cholim bus parked nearby. Likewise, Hatzalah’s members are always at any hospital’s emergency room. There is no doubt that all of these wonderful acts of chesed began in the heartland of the Charedi world and have spread to other Orthodox communities.
Now, let’s look at some other Charedi/yeshivishe communities. My favorite is an “out of town” community-the Park Heights section of Baltimore. One finds a community devoted to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim on a 24/7 basis. It is also a community that interacts with the secular Jewish establishment in a very positive manner. Yet, as in any major frum community, the issues of chinuch, kids at risk, shidduchim and the next generation’s economic wherewithal are present.
Switch to any major MO community. You will see many Bnei Torah of a different levush who learn on a regular basis, attend minyanim and give much tzedaka to many yeshivos and tzedakos that afffect their community. There is also a focus on Israel not just in the sense of “Eretz Yisrael” but as expressing some spector of the beginning of the fullfillment of a long cherished dream as defined by Chazal. The yeshivos in these communities range from completely co-ed to completely separate. They tend to offer a state of the art secular program. These schools and the parent body view a year or two in Israel as a means for a child to grow spiritually. This community views secular education and material success as important and many of its next generation do not feel an impetus to marry at a young age. Many of the members of its next generation return from EY ready to move to a more spiritually coherent existence, whether in EY or in the US. Others are at risk of losing their connection to Torah either on the college campus or in extended singlehood.
The overwhelming majority of the Charedi and yeshiva worlds look askance at certain individuals and groups who demonstrate against Israel at venues such as anti-Israel rallies, etc. While the former groups may not say a formal prayer for the IDF or the State of Israel, they pray and learn for its welfare at least in the same way as any MO Jew who recites a formal tefillah for the State or the IDF. The latest outbreak of an external threat to EY has created a sense of achdus via Torah,Tefillah, Teshuvah and Chesed. Each of the various groups is doing its share via the means that its members can best accomplish on a group or individual level.
The Teshuvah movement is a great engine for religious change that transcends all communal boundaries. While there are differences in emphasis, etc, kiruv is viewed as an important objective in the Charedi, yeshivish and MO worlds.
It goes without saying that Talmud Torah is a key in all of these communities. The quantity and quality of Torah literature in almost every niche of Torah has mushroomed. Many of the great works of the Rishonim and Acharonim have been republished in accordance with the most accurate manuscripts. Seforim ranging from the Talmud to the Mishnah Brurah have been vowelized or translated into English. Except for a few who refuse to utilize a sefer that has been published by a source that may receive some funds from the State of Israel, these seforim are used in almost every Beis Medrash across the religious spectrum. Daf Yomi, and especially the ArtScroll Shas, has reopened the Talmud to many who last learned on a serious level when they were in yeshiva-across the hashkafic spectrums.
So much for the good news. We also know that there are hashkafic differences. I will not revisit these, but they do exist and have been analyzed, IMO, almost to the point of overkill. I think that there are some legitimate hashkafic issues, but there are some simple ground rules that IMO would create some sense of achdus and hakaras hatov. Here are a few:
1) We all adhere to the same Torah and mitzvos, with some hashkafic and a few halachic differences. OTOH, we all have to realize that not every young man or woman is either cut out to be a kollelnik, support a kollelnik or enter a profession, etc or support a professional. The notion that either of these choices is the only authentic way of being a Shomer Torah Umitzvos cannot be squared with many views in Chazal, Rishonim, etc.
2) Gdolim exist in each of these sectors.Last year, R N Scherman gave a mussar shmuess in the main Beis Medrash of RIETS. I have been told that he was so impressed with the quantity of serious talmidim in the Beis Medrash. Last fall, R A Z Weiss spent Shabbos as a Scholar in Residence in a major MO community. Last spring, R M Salomon, R A Schechter and R A Feldman spoke in a major MO community to a capacity crowd. Gdolim such as RHS and RM Willig should also be invited to major Charedi communities. Simply stated, we need more halachic and hashkafic interaction.
3) We need to recognize that there are many ways of kiruv. No one path has been 100% successful, despite its many success stories.
4) We all need to realize that one cannot judge a yeshiva until one has at least walked in and spent some time learning there. Having spent an afternoon and part of an evening inside Mir Yerushalayim, I was bowled over by the quantity and mesiras nefesh for Torah Lishmah exhibited by the young and not so young men there. I am positive that I would have had the same reaction if I had visited Ner Yisrael or Lakewood.
OTOH, when I see a packed RIETS Beis Medrash and its RY and RK being in constant demand for shiurim, psak, etc, I rejoice as well. Likewise, the demand for the Torah of RYBS is incessant .So many of these young men structure their secular classes around their sedarim and not vice versa. The Kolleleit here have especially given up on any chance for a megabucks secular career to become Talmidei Chachamim. In all of RIETS, there is no such thing as a country club shiur. The time has come for those of us who resort to old myths, urban stereotypes, etc , about either top flight Litvishe or chasidishe yeshivos or RIETS to mentally and emotionally discard the same as mental refuse unworthy of a Ben or Bas Torah.
5) One has to be literate in all legitimate Torah hashkafa within the Mesorah. IMO, it is a sign of breadth that one has Gdolim of all streams in one’s library and that they have had a positive impact on your Avodas HaShem. IOW, one should be familiar with Musar, Chasidus, Machshavah and their exponents -regardless of one’s own personal orientation and favorites. Similarly, while one must respect the madregah of the Avos, Imahos , Moshe Rabbeinu and Dovid Hamelech, it can be argued based upon many sources within Chazal and Rishonim, that Chazal and Rishonim never failed to analyze their behavior and subject them to very strong critiques.
6) In the present matzav, one sees Chesed from both sectors that goes beyond the purely spriritual and that identifies with the residents of EY who are in the hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, bomb shelters, IDF units or the soldiers as a whole. One need not say a formal tefillah for the IDF or the State to see that all of Torah Jewry has recognized the potentially existential threat to EY posed by Hezbollah and its backers.
7) The experience of the Baltimore community is that one can live in a yeshivishe community, participate in secular Jewish affairs and enhance Kavod Shamayim. Although the MO world has participated in the secular Jewish world as well, perhaps the Chareidi world as a whole could gain far more respect for its views by working from the inside position, as opposed to the
These are a few simple ways that IMO can only enhance unity and reduce disunity within our respective hashkafic environments.
Originally Published Oct 19, 2006