The Haredi Takeover and YU’s Cowardice

The Canadian Jewish News has published the first of a two part series on inter-Orthodox tension in Toronto. The article is stunning, both for its clarity and for the candidness of the interviewed subjects.

First, we have Rabbi Shlomo Miller, Toronto’s rosh kollel and a major opponent of Rabbi Natan Slifkin. He refuses to be interviewed because, he tells the CJN, the media misrepresents his views. Instead, Miller appoints a spokesman, Jonathan Ostroff (who’s brother, I believe, is Rabbi David Ostroff, a significant haredi figure in Israel). Here is what Ostroff has to say:

Rabbi Slifkin’s “misrepresentation” of the six days of creation, as described in the book of Genesis, compromises the core beliefs of Judaism, Ostroff said. Rabbi Miller, therefore, objects particularly to his work in kiruv (outreach). “Would you want your children to be taught by someone who misrepresents a core belief of Torah?” Ostroff asked.

Rabbi Miller, Ostroff said, is a follower of the Vilna Gaon, the 18th-century Talmudist, and thus is not opposed to science, as some have said, but is very interested in it. Ostroff said the rabbi, however, distinguishes between “operational science” and “origin science.” Operational science, which Rabbi Miller accepts, examines how things work in the universe, while origin science looks at what caused things to begin. “It’s the difference between building a bridge, and who came up with the original idea of a bridge,” Ostroff said, adding that Rabbi Miller “objects to origin science, because it can’t be studied empirically.”

He said that in the rabbi’s, and the Torah’s, view, the world was created by supernatural means, by God, in six days. By the seventh day, when He rested, everything, from light and darkness to land and the seas to plants and animals to man, was in place. That, Ostroff said, is when operational science came into play.

And all the empirical evidence pointing to a world far older than 6000 years? “Operational science” itself must be thrown out in order to believe this haredi line.

But Ostroff is not finished yet:

On the general subject of stringencies, Ostroff said that 80 years ago, Orthodoxy was moving to the left. Today, it’s moving to the right. As an example, he noted that religious Zionists, including some in the Modern Orthodox camp, are questioning whether they should say Hallel, the psalms of praise said on Jewish holy days, on Yom Ha’atzmaut. “They are moving closer to the opinion of the haredim. It’s all part of God’s plan.”

Stricter kashrut guidelines are part of this trend. Kashrut standards in the wider Orthodox community are moving closer to haredi views on questions such as the dangers of insect infestation in fruits and vegetables, Ostroff said. “This may appear to some to being a stringency. In fact, it is exactly what the Shulchan Aruch demands.”

Before light boxes, magnification and pesticides, Jews ate vegetables, including broccoli and brussels sprouts. How did they do this? How, when the average person had eyesight that was closer to 20/60 than 20/20, and when reading glasses did not exist, were vegetables checked for bugs? Does the Shulchan Aruch demand only those with good eyesight check for bugs? Does it even mention this as an opinion? No, it does not. But haredim do not care about this fact, any more than they care to note that before pesticide use, far more insects were on vegetables than are found today. Bugs must be identifiable as bugs using the human eye in order for them to be forbidden. That means bugs too small to be seen by less-than-perfect human eyes do not count. Magnification, light boxes, prescribed acts of soaking and the like are all stringencies added by haredim.

More Rabbi Miller-inspired foolishness is kindly noted by the CJN:

In Toronto, the controversial trend toward more stringent interpretations of halachah has been ongoing, with a decision this summer by the Toronto Vaad Hatzdokah, an independent board that certifies Jewish charity collectors, not to endorse any future female applicants, despite having done so before. The Vaad said the collection of tzadakah by women is halachically problematic for reasons having to do with modesty. In addition, moves by the Vaad Harabonim, Toronto’s Orthodox rabbinic umbrella organization – such as challenging the city’s longstanding eruv, a physically demarcated boundary around the city that allows Jews to carry things in public on Shabbat and Yom Tov – are being seen as an attempt to bring the community more in line with haredi ideals.

Rabbi Shlomo Miller is a coward and a thug, representing a community of thugs. (Don’t be a poor woman in Toronto!) But he is not the only rabbinic coward in Toronto:

Making the situation more volatile, many people in the Orthodox community are troubled by what appears to be a refusal of non-haredi rabbis and other Orthodox leaders to speak out against the situation.

Several people interviewed for this series expressed the view that many Orthodox rabbis and leaders are afraid of being censured by Rabbi Miller and the haredi community, and these sources contend this fear is behind the silence of Orthodox leaders.

As I have written many times, the silence of rabbis Hershal Schachter, Mordechai Willig and the other YU roshei yeshiva – a silence that is borne of both cowardice and a fawning need to have approval from haredi ‘gedolim’ like Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv – is the most destructive force in today’s Orthodox world.

When all this is over, when historians write about this period of Jewish history, the cowardice and abdication of responsibility of Hershal Schachter, Mordechai Willig & Co. will be the focus. Great leaders rise to meet difficult challenges. Great leaders act, often at significant personal risk, to fight for what is right and good. YU’s roshei yeshiva are not great men.



Filed under Bans, Haredim, Jewish Leadership, Modern Orthodoxy, Torah and Science

7 responses to “The Haredi Takeover and YU’s Cowardice

  1. D

    The Vaad said the collection of tzadakah by women is halachically problematic for reasons having to do with modesty.

    Honestly, I would have thought that collection by men is an even bigger problem. When collectors come to a house and only the woman is home there is a serious yichud problem! I am aware of not a few acts of assault by collectors in local communities and, as such, the rabbi in my town no longer writes approbations. This is on top of other abuses like asking for additional causes not on the approbation letter, forging signatures and dates, etc.

  2. DNA

    Chumras and stupid science is one thing, but banning women from collecting tzedakah is quite another. I have to agree, the time has come to fight this.

  3. There is a famous story about the Vilner Gaon’s wife collecting Tzedaka with another woman and that the other woman came to her in a dream (after that other woman had died) and communicated to her. I guess it is time to rewrite history! Naah, read CIS books and you find that that it’s already a done deal. We are too late to change the tide! History is already rewritten.

    And for stupid science, in 1802, there was the famous Drush Ohr Ha-Chaim. I truly believe that he was speaking with Ruach Ha-Kodesh and has been actually sent from G-0d to give the Jewish world a direction to fence off all the Torah vs. Science issues. Instead, the Charedi world chose to dismiss him and go with Fundamental Christian Creationists theories. Oh, well!

    And in practicallity. I will now use the hint from the Rabbi of the community mentioned in the previous comment and ask my wife to refuse all the Meshulachim. I will continue to give only in the shul context. And one more practical decision, I will refuse any donation to any Yeshivah that goes with either CIS books or stupid science.

  4. Anonymous

    Wow! this Ostroff guy is great! Thanks to him, we now know G-d’s master plan!! Alright!

    Can he tells us more of G-d’s master plan? Can I sit in the late night meetings between him and G-d?

  5. Toronto

    I know Ostroff and Miller perosnally. They’re both assholes.

  6. Schneur

    I do not think the lack of any meaningful response is a question of individual personalities.
    The issue is not the personality of rabbi X or rabbi Y. In our case both rabbis criticized are fine people, “lomdim” but modest men who may not be willing to provide leadership.Ater all was rabbi Soloveitchik himself an effective leader ?
    Knowledge and leadership do not always go hand in hand.
    Richard Joel has created the Center for the Jewish future and I think enthusiasts of Modern orthodoxy will see results in the near future.
    Eda and the Chovevei Torah school are also attempting to provide MO leadership.
    In our generation where a great deal of the orthodox community has become obsessed with halacha and its minutia, its impossible for most YU trained rabbis to compete with men like rabbi Miller.
    But generations change and I detect the coming of a time when Rabbi Miller’s lack of secular knowledge will hamper the right wing.
    Modern orthodoxy is hardly dead it is thriving in places such as the Upper west Side, Teaneck, Washington, DC ,Riverdale,Newton,the Upper east Side in NYC, Staten island, etc etc.
    If the CJF is successful things may change indeed.

  7. David

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just follow the line of reasoning proposed by Nachmanidies and the Vilna Goan themselves: that the process of creation is a mystery and that the Torah true answer is “we don’t know how it was done.” Even Rashi says the six days of creation were a different frame of reference from what came after. It would jive much better with the “operational science” line. After all, one could simply say: “I believe God created the universe, but I don’t know how he did it, or how long the process lasted. Science, however, tells me how it works.” When asked: “how old do you believe the universe is?” The honest answer remains: I don’t know, but it appears to be very very old – which is not immediately relevant to my faith or my life.

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