Agudath Israel of America’s Misguided Sense of Right and Wrong: Part I
by LostMessiah.com, March 7, 2016
There is no doubt that Agudath Israel of America, the American branch of the worldwide arm of much of the Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox community in Israel and around the world, undertakes numerous charitable endeavors. The organization participated in helping Hurricane Sandy victims. It has sent aid to the victims in Haiti and other countries’ natural disasters. It has offered money and personnel to assist in Hurricane Katrina. The organization gives money to hospitals and foundations. In short, they do some good. Our question is, does the good outweigh the bad?
One Thursday, November 14, 2013, the Agudat Israel America Convention was held at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton in New Jersey. It was attended by at least 1000 males “Gedolim and askanim, businessmen and rebbeim“ from within the greater Hassidic community (except perhaps the Satmars who have a fundamental disagreement with the Agudath movement when it comes to Israel). The theme of the yearly Agudath Israel of America Convention was “Chanoch La’Naar: Nurturing Our Children, Ensuring Our Future,” . In an article found in Hamodia, by Yosef Gessner and Yochanan Donn, the authors relate some of the major objectives of the organization, its goals, aims, etc for 2013 as follows:
“Citing the passuk considered a benchmark of chinuch, “Chanoch l’naar al pi darko,” Harav Brudny said that there are a plethora of methods to fulfill the second part of the passuk. Psychologists and rebbeim,menahelim and education experts have reams of advice on how to speak to a child or to understand the mind of a child.
However, Harav Brudny said, the first part, that of “chanoch l’naar,” is missing.
The only way a parent can ensure their future is by following Dovid Hamelech’s direction: “b’mitzvosov chafetz mo’ed — he has a passion for mitzvos.” It is only when a child has a love for mitzvos — not merely performing them out of duty or habit, but out of ahavah — that a parent can be assured that he or she will remain a yerei Shamayim, Harav Brudny declared.”
However, in the context of the article, educating children, the “passion for mizvos” includes reporting to parents, Rabbis, teachers, trusting them, listening to them, accepting the word of the Rabbis as doctrine. The article talked about asserting shlita (translated from Hebrew to control). This includes, according to the article, control over education, control over thought, control over approaches to greater Torah learning, control largely over all aspects of the life of each Hasidic child. Most importantly was to prevent any intrusion of the outside world.
There is a reference to children who can “move mountains” with the proper education, which statement we believe to be true, but perhaps here misguided. According to the article, the greatest obstacle in educating children to always do better, is the “heavy weight” of outside influences. There is no mention of the evil from within.
Nowhere in the objective for the 2013 Agudath Israel convention was there a reference to looking inward at a community and protecting its children from violence within the community, abuse within the community. Lacking from the objectives of “nurturing the children” was being kind to them, loving them, listening to them when they claim abuse and then doing something to end that abuse.
The only truly critical speech within the context of that convention came from Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein who claimed that the challenges of todays youth is that they are far from being able to say, “The Torah is beautiful.” In an article entitled:
Vosizneias.com, quoting from Rabbi Wallerstein, ”
“I deal with regular kids and I ask them. ‘So, translate, tell me, what is yiddishkeit?’
I have never, in thousands of kids, been answered ‘yiddishkeit is beautiful,’ not once. It’s rules, it’s a way to connect to Hashem a lot of different answers. Not one kid has ever answered me ‘yiddishkeit is beautiful.’”
Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein at 91st Agudath convention 2013
In his speech, Rabbi Wallerstein is critical of Torah as “study” a subject to be learned and taught and tested, rather than loved. He goes on to say,
““Apple comes out with a new iPhone every single six months: fresh, new, shiny, exciting. They are throwing at our children fresh, new, shiny, exciting. The yetzer hara doesn’t put avak on that, so our kids are getting hit with all this new stuff, new technology. We have to fight it with a Torah that is shining…a Torah that is exciting, not something that is just a subject.””
For the reader, the term yetzer hara refers to the “bad inclination” as opposed to yetzer hatov which is the good inclination.
Nowhere in any of the criticism of education, nurturing, love of Torah, does any single person, from the upwards of 1000 in attendance, discuss the claims of rape, sexual abuse, and intimidation within the greater Hasidic community. In fact, if we are to read the objectives of the entire conference, they is to teach children to be obedient, demand silence and avoid outside influences, which might otherwise encourage those children to have a voice.
A Torah that is shining, Rabbi Wallerstein, is not a Torah that allows a chilul Hashem (curse of G-d) to continue. In our view, the abuse, the rape, the sexual violence and the ensuing intimidation, does not spark a love of Torah in those of us who once held such a love. To the contrary, they make us question: “What kind of G-d would allow his adult children to be abusers and his youth, the voiceless victims.”
We have an idea for the organizers of the 2016’s November conference of Agudath Israel of America. Perhaps you should focus on how to stop the violence against children within the community. Perhaps you should allow those children to be heard and the abusers to be prosecuted by the courts (not Beit Din but US courts) and then sent to jail. For, even with the Torah, a love of Torah, its teachings with or without testing; any belief in Torah is doomed if such belief perpetuates an endless cycle of violence against our youngest and most innocent victims, the children.
For the entire video of Rabbi Wallerstein’s speech click here.