The Intellectual Implosion in Haredism
I live in a house that was previously owned by a Lubavitch family. They had a lot of kids, and it was pretty clear that they have no intention of those kids ever going to college. This, despite the fact that both parents were college educated, one at an Ivy League institution. And that bothers me.
The Sages say, "If someone tells you there's wisdom among the nations, believe them. If someone tells you there's Torah among the nations, don't believe them." We know there's wisdom in the world that can't be gotten from the Torah alone. The Vilna Gaon was a mathematician. Rambam was a physician, and studied Aristotelian philosophy. Ignorance is not a value in Judaism.
Some of this has come about because of the toxic atmosphere in so many universities. Let me tell you about that. A girl who was a year behind me in high school went to the same college I went to. She was raised frum, and I most emphatically was not. She came out non-religious, at least to some degree, while I came out frum. Go figure. There are always anecdotes, but even if every university were toxic, the solution isn't to remain ignorant. The solution isn't to learn Torah all day, every day, and leave it to wives to bring in the money. That's never been a Jewish ideal. Never.
Here's another college related story. When I was living in New York, I got invited for a Rosh Hashana meal to the home of the daughter of the rabbi of the shul I davened at. It was a Young Israel shul, but it was very much on the Agudah side of Young Israel. Lot's of black hats and long beards. "Not that there's anything wrong with that", as they say, but I'm trying to give you a general impression of the place. Still and all, they weren't really Haredi. The rabbi's daughter had gone to Stern College, just as an example.
Now... Stern is a women's only, religious college. Though the Haredim generally wouldn't waste their spit on it. After all, girls can learn Gemara there.
Anyway, at lunch, she asked me some stuff about what I did. And I mentioned some of my studies in the field of ancient history. She seemed a little taken aback, so I tried to explain to her why it was important for frum Jews to address the issues that come up in the study of the ancient near east. I thought I'd give her a simple example. I told her to consider Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation of the Torah, The Living Torah. In this book, Kaplan includes many notes on history and botany. When plants are mentioned, he tells us what the plant is, giving the Latin name and some stuff about it. When a Pharaoh is mentioned, he tells us which Pharaoh it is. Here's the catch: he's wrong.
Okay, say it's a matter of opinion. The bottom line is, Aryeh Kaplan was not an Egyptologist. He was a talmid chacham with a degree in physics. When he wrote that thus and such a Pharaoh was Amenemhet II, he was simply basing himself on accepted reference books. He didn't use ruach hakodesh to determine that the reference books were correct; he did what any non-specialist does in such a case.
When I said that, my hostess' eyes got wide with shock, and she said, "You can't say that." And trying desperately to figure out what on earth she'd learned at Stern, I tried to explain to her what I explained above. But it didn't work. Her husband chimed in at that point, and tried to explain to her that I was right. That got her to stop arguing (because you don't argue with the husband
I hate this. I hate the way huge sections of the Orthodox Jewish world are devolving into anti-intellectual piety, using one chumra after another to feel safe in a world they're receding from faster and faster.
I know that everyone sees themselves as being centrist, but I watch the Haredi world entering a dark age on one side, while the YCT/Edah/JOFA left left left wing Orthodox is eroding everything Jewish about Judaism. And I think of the famous line from Yeats: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." Is that always how it has to be?