Monday, February 15, 2016

What I Took Away from the Speech

What I Took Away from the Speech  JMR
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Mishpacha Magazine

Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz's speech in Lakewood last week was probably the most talked about speech in the Torah world since Rav Schach's famous address at Yad Eliyahu stadium in 1990.

I have no independent knowledge of the magnitude of the problem in Lakewood of those without schools, either at the elementary or high school level. I doubt that it is worse than in Jerusalem where I live, though here the problem is almost exclusively confined to Bais Yaakov high schools. One close friend in Lakewood did tell me: Even for those whose children fit the Lakewood norms in every respect, but who have no yichus, no grandfather capable of writing a check to an institution, and no one to advocate for them, the process of finding a place in school can still be a nightmare.

Similarly, I do not know the causes. Is the problem stubborn parents who set their hearts on one particular institution and refuse to think about others? As Rav Elyashiv, zt'l, once said apropos of Jerusalem: Every girl has a right to a place in a Bais Yaakov; she doesn't have the right to the Bais Yaakov of her choice.

Is it parents who move to Lakewood because housing is cheaper, but who do not wish to abide by the standards of a community of kolleleit and former kolleleit?

Is it menahalim who want to turn their institutions into "elite" institutions, and find the fastest way to do so is being very selective and announcing one's elite status? I can still remember when the first such self-proclaimed elite yeshiva ketana was set up in Jerusalem, and the impact that it had on the entire yeshiva ketana system.

Or is it rather menahalim afraid that if they are too big-hearted in their acceptances, their institution will become known as place for "problematic" children and no one else will send their children? That has happened to friends of mine.

For the last situation, at least, a partial solution was found in Jerusalem. Rav Elyashiv, set up a rabbinical vaad to apportion girls who did not find a place among the various institutions. When those decision are made by a rabbinical vaad whose authority is accepted by the various menahalim -- admittedly not a given -- whatever complaints other parents have they cannot be directed against a particular institution and lower its reputation.

The answer is probably all of the above to some extent.

HOW THE LEADERS OF AMERICAN TORAH JEWRY would have laughed two generations ago if they could have foreseen that there would one day be more Jewish children clamoring to get into chadorim and Bais Yaakovs than there are places for them. When Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz created Torah Umesorah in the 1940s, there were few Torah schools outside the New York area and far fewer that were not coed.

In Detroit, Rabbi Avrohom Abba Freedman used to go to hospitals in search of patients with Jewish sounding names (something that would not be possible today) and try to persuade them to send their children to Bais Yehudah in Detroit. In those days, every new child enrolled in a Torah school was viewed as a precious prize – regardless of how religious his or her parents were. (Yes, I know that those were far more innocent times, and the moral standards of even non-observant Jewish children were far higher than today.)

Another difference between then and now: Yeshivos were viewed as public institutions serving the local population, not as private businesses. At some point, Reb Shraga Feivel announced that Torah Vodaath would no longer take boys from Brownsville because that was Chaim Berlin territory. He even sent away one of his biggest supporters and told him that Chaim Berlin should now be the recipient of his beneficence because he lived closer to Chaim Berlin.

What has changed? The Torah community has grown so large that our problem is no longer enrolling enough students to keep one local institution viable, but building new institutions rapidly enough to keep up with the population growth.

Another consequence of the rapid population growth is the ability to make ever finer distinctions. A talmid chacham not yet sixty remembers that in the Chicago of his youth there were shomrei Shabbos and non-shomrei Shabbos. Sure there were differences in levels of religious observance between families, but for purposes of whom one associated with Shabbos observance was the only relevant dividing line.

WHAT HAS BEEN LOST WITH THE BLESSING of our rapid population explosion is the sense of community. The most basic political function of any municipality in America is the provision of free public education to every child through high school.

But the idea of universal public education did not start in the 1840s in the United States. It began, as Reb Shlomo Yehudah noted, with Yehoshua ben Gamla over two millennia ago. "No child left behind" is a Jewish ideal.

What I heard coming from Reb Shlomo Yehudah Rechnitz's overflowing heart was a plea for a revitalized sense of community – and not just a multiplication of ever more precisely defined subgroups. If there is a Jewish child without a place to learn, if there is a Jewish child who is being given the implicit message every day that there is something wrong with him or her, or that his or her parents are not good enough, we should all be kept up crying at night.

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz said numerous times in his Kol Nidre drashah: "If you have not lost a night's sleep any time during the past year in pain over the situation of our lost brothers [i.e., assimilated Jews] what do you think you are doing on Yom Kippur? You are a heartless person." Shlomo Yehudah Rechnitz would have us feel the same about children staying at home waiting for a place in a Torah school in their city.

But crying is not enough. If we really care, we will do something. A lack of space in our mosdos is not like an incurable disease for which we can do little besides offer our tefillos. Here tefillos are not sufficient. We have a humanly created problem that can be discussed, analyzed, and for which solutions can be proposed. If we confine ourselves to prayer or weeping, we show that neither are serious, but only substitutes for acting.

Mr. Rechnitz recognized that. He offered his money to build new mosdos. But he also recognized that others will have to contribute as well.

Charlie Harary once asked Rabbi Noach Weinberg how he managed to accomplish so much. Reb Noach answered: "Cheshbon (making a spiritual accounting). Every night sit on the floor and think about Hashem's tza'ar from the state of the world. And then think what you can do to rectify the situation. If you start doing that, you'll be able to accomplish much more."

That's what I took to be Reb Shlomo Yehudah Rechnitz's message as well: Take seriously the tza'ar of the children and then the tza'ar of Hashem over the pain of His children, and then figure out what you can do to help.

That is a message applicable every place in the Torah world, not just Lakewood, and to a myriad problems, not just the lack of space in educational mosdos. JMR


  1. Take seriously the tza'ar of the children and then the tza'ar of Hashem over the pain of His children, and then figure out what you can do to help.

    Mr. Rechnitz recognized that. He offered his money to build new mosdos. But he also recognized that others will have to contribute as well.

    if it is as you say he should have given the speech at an executive conference where there are many people that have the ability to give money to create bigger community schools. Dont call together 1200 people in lakewood that are mostly struggling and more than half yungerleit that dont have the means to help in a much better way than give tuition. Please dont try to kasher it up. he had no right speaking out and stop constintly bringing up the topic and try to interpret his words in your way to make him look better. JUst know each time you do this he looks worse and worse. he's not a Rishon and hes alive he doesnt need you to explain what he meant. he said it very clear and you can still catch it on you tube.

    1. You are very right. However you should know it was coming from a good place
      Although he has made a mistake he did live up to it (mostly). The more you bash him the more people feel a need to defend him as they feel he is a genuine person and he has a point. So you are being counterproductive if you are trying to let the issue die down. I am assuming this article is in response to somone that R Yonasan felt was bashing.

  2. Dear Mr. Rosenblum,
    Thank you very much for your thoughtful words, FYI most yungerlite in lakewood are not intrested in the "daas torah" of Mr. Rechnitz, Mr. Charlie Harary, or Mr. Rosenblum from Mishpacha Magazine.
    Its similar to the way the above mentioned Balabatim are not interested in the Kollel yungerlites opinion about how to conduct their business affairs.
    Just because a babalbus has a podium it doesn't make him ois babalabus (hepech daas torah).
    Lo Miduvsheich

    1. Most Yungeliet do not have Daas Torah either. The words Daas Torah are thrown around very easily nowadays.

      Additionally, one of the points being made is that the schools are being run as a business. The acceptance policies were not constructed b the Gedolai Hador and Rosh Yeshivos.

      I once heard myself from a Gadol B'torah, from the Gedolai Rosh Yeshiva of the previous Generation, that once in a while you see a Bal Habos, who has Das Torah. What this means, I don't want to give my own interpretation.

      I don't know where you get the azuz to criticise someone who has done so much for Klal Yisroel. If you were someone who is Mamis Atzmo Al Hatorah, I might understand, but I doubt you would be posting things in an online blog if that was the case.

    2. You can not expect to allow the town to go without a Kehila whose job it is to make schools ,and then create a system that private people have to make and fund the schools on their own ,and expect that the acceptance policies should be dictated by others . It doesn't work like that . If the Kehila wants acceptance policies to be constructed by its representatives or the Rosh Yeshivas ,then the Kehila has the responsibility to fund and build and own the schools . Just telling other people what to do doesn't work . In eretz Yisroel its different because most of the frum schools ,especially girls schools get most of their funding from the government so they are quasi public schools . But not here .

  3. So let him build Mosdos . The more Mosdos there are ,the less the acceptance problem will be . Less talk and more action . Build ,Build .Build

  4. "As Rav Elyashiv, zt'l, once said apropos of Jerusalem: Every girl has a right to a place in a Bais Yaakov; she doesn't have the right to the Bais Yaakov of her choice."

    If every parent would follow this Psak ,then there wouldnt be more than a handful of kids who really need placement .

  5. Mind boggling how the yesar harah has total control of the fools above ,instead of feeling the tzaar of klal yisroel all they feel is their own kavvod !!

    1. What in the world do these commenters have to do with kovod. Thry are just trying to deal with the issue at hand

    2. Mind boggling how people use feeling the tzaar of klal yisroel as an excuse to look down on other yidden

    3. how do they get kovod by anonymousy writing comments on a blog?

    4. "a message applicable every place in the Torah world, not just Lakewood,"
      No. The tzadik with the big heart said it's only a Lakewood machla.

  6. There are some people who think that if they use certain words like fools,gaava and kovod ,they will always win the argument. Many people feel other peoples tzaar. That does not preclude them from giving their opinion as to what needs to be done. And if following Rav Elyashivs psak will help solve the problem ,then there is nothing wrong in stating that

  7. If a person wants something he is not entitled to and that causes him tzaar, we can certainly feel his pain. But ee dont need to turn over the entire school system to give him what he wants.

  8. feeling tzar of klal yisroel doesnt give the right to bash the other HALF OF KLAL YISROEL. i once heard a cute vort. why is the tzaddy called a tzaddik? because he is carring a yud (yid) on its shoulder. So why is an Alef not called a tzaddik isnt he also carring a yud on its shoulder?! the answer is yes he is carring a yid on his shoulder but he is kicking another yid at the same time.
    keep this in mind the next time you feel the Tzaar so much for some. so that you don't do any action that will end up knocking a few others on the way. money is not the pass to say what you want you gotta be a gadol!! and when your a gadol beleive it or not you wont say alot. syag lchochma shetika.

  9. Is it possible for me to stop crying? can you be manachem me as i watch the tzaros go from tragic to horrific R"L? when you know that a tragedy occurred that could have been totally avoided if we only woke up to reality & accepted Hashems wake-up call for teshuva?

    over 190 Gedolei Hador & Rabbonim in the past 2 years alone R”L
    Are you going to not call this a Magaifa?

    SAME with the mageifa of children & infants being niftar in strange & tragic ways. almost 200 niftar just in the last 3 years alone R"L

    for complete lists contact Hashems Teshuva movement at

    are we ready yet to come together as a nation for a worldwide teshuva movement with Kinnus & fasting like we did in the times of Purim.

    THE CHOICE IS OURS i.e. if the tzaros continues C”V Theres no one to blame but OURSELVES.

  10. He may have had good intentions . But there are many people who do terrible things with good intentions . This speech happened to be goirem a huge long lasting chikuk Hashem ,where tens of thousands of people who hate Bnei Torah and Chareidim in general ,have pointed to the speech as vindication their position of hoe terrible chareidim in Lakewood are . It doesn't matter that we all know that SYR didnt mean that . But the end result of the "good intentions" was a huge chilul Hashem.

  11. Didn't SYR offer an apology ? Why can't we move on and make sure all are in schools . If there still is a problem next year just imagine how much time was wasted talking , blogging , hocking , about a One Hour speech .