The same tradition that preserved Jewish existence in the diaspora for so many generations and which continues to thrive among multiple communities has also become a significant challenge.
I refer to the complex mechanism that prevents Jews from assimilating into their foreign environment. The secret of Jewish existence over their two-thousand-year exile was the ability to exist in a state of detachment – detachment from citizenship, detachment from history, detachment from sovereignty over space and time. This mechanism maintained the Jewish people’s greatness, mission, and vision. It kept us small, small in mission and small in vision, but this smallness allowed us to survive.
Our survival mechanism involved splitting Jewish existence into two: a Worldly Jew and a Sabbath Jew (the terminology is borrowed from Marx). The Worldly Jew lived his life like any other person, including the needs, desires, and passions common to all human beings. He had to support his family, wed his children, experience relative safety, and be respected by his peers. And there was the Sabbath Jew – the Jew of the synagogue, with his kapota and shtreimel, with his “Gut Shabbos” blessing, with two myrtle branches corresponding to zachor and shamor, and with his well-groomed children sitting around the Shabbos table like olive branches and devoutly singing “rest and joy, a light unto the Jews”
Halacha creates a space and time parallel to the regular system – a space and time of the sacred
The split between the Worldly Jew and the Sabbath Jew was made possible thanks to the separation between the holy and the profane created by Halacha. Halacha creates a space and time parallel to the regular system – a space and time of the sacred. There are times of the day that are determined by the actual constraints of life: children who wake up and demand their needs, mealtimes, the time you have to report to work, and when you can leave for home. Beside them are the Halachic times of the day: Shacharis, Mincham, and Arvis; the times that a person sets aside for Torah study; the distinction between the mitzvos of the day and those of the night.
Just as the day is divided into the holy and the profane, so is the entirety of time. The six days of work and a holy Shabbos; regular days and festivals. This division of time takes place alongside the calendar in the physical space where Jews lived: civil holidays, the times the stock exchange is open or closed, market or fair days, and the dates when taxes must be submitted.
As time, so space. The saeculum has its territory, which includes more or less the entire world, but so does the holy, whose gateways are the synagogue and the study hall. These are ex-territory that are removed from the regular space of the world and create another sphere of existence.
But with the return of the Jews to their land, the miraculous power that preserved the exiled Jew now becomes a threat. It is prone to lead us to material decay and, much worse than that, to spiritual degeneration
This division was the hidden strength of the Jews during our long and dark exile. It connected them to their glorious past and allowed them to look towards a bright future, though the present was lived in small communities and sheltered under foreign rule. But with the return of the Jews to their land, the miraculous power that preserved the exiled Jew now becomes a threat. It is prone to lead us to material decay and, much worse than that, to spiritual degeneration.
Shabbos and Worldly Jews
Let’s consider a Jew named Yitzchak who lived in Butchasht or Minsk, Djerba, Paris, Baghdad, Barcelona, or Frankfurt. In the realm of the profane, Yitzchak can be a coachman, a wine merchant, a financial advisor to the king, a silversmith, a moneylender, a public businessman, or a teacher. These are all his roles as a Worldly Jew. Even as a town rabbi or schoolteacher, there is an element of the Worldly Jew.
Given the hardships of the Jewish exilic condition, even if he is very successful in his field, Yitzchak is likely to remain poor and small compared to a local citizen. Even as a wealthy merchant or the king’s personal advisor, he still belongs to a modest community whose wealth and honor depend on the goodwill of the host country. He will be the “exceptional Jew” who succeeded despite his precarious situation. Since the Worldly Jew is not a free man, his honor and wealth are conditional. In the end, the Worldly Jew remains a humble Jew.
The Jews of the Golden Age in Spain present a helpful illustration. Who can be greater than the Abarbanel family, with its wealth and proximity to royalty and with its rabbinic crown and leadership of the congregation? But what happened to the Abarbanel clan? They were subject to the same deportations, forced conversions, and inquisitorial persecutions as everybody else. The expulsion from Spain was not a wheel that turned on the Jews of Spain but a testimony to the fragile situation that always characterized them. When they lost the favor of the Spanish rulers, the latter deprived them of all their properties and positions without any ability to resist.
It doesn’t matter how wretched Yitzchak will be as a Worldly Jew, how poor and uncivilized he is, lacking in economic education and familiarity with the world; as a Sabbath Jew, he is connected with the chosen people and part of a great national story around which the entire human history revolves
Yitzchak, however, is not just a Worldly Jew. He is also a Sabbath Jew. And the Sabbath Jew grants him greatness, vision, and vocation. It doesn’t matter how wretched Yitzchak will be as a Worldly Jew, how poor and uncivilized he is, lacking in economic education and familiarity with the world; as a Sabbath Jew, he is connected with the chosen people and part of a great national story around which the entire human history revolves.
The real-life Jew, the Worldly Jew, is not a free man. He depends on his Jewish community, which depends, in turn, on the local authority and the capacity for vigorous lobbying in the court.
The Sabbath Jew, on the other hand, is a person for whom God created the entire world and with whose ancestors God spoke, revealed Himself, promised them the land, and struck an eternal covenant with them. The Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed the Jewish People from Egypt, chose them from all the nations, and gave them the Torah and the Shabbos. And these continue to be the prized possessions of the Sabbath Jew. They are his entire world.
This is no psychological illusion, the cognitive dissonance of a person who convinces himself that the man of yesterday is not himself but someone else. The space and time of the Holy are like a parallel world in which Jews have their own lives, distinct and separate from the time and space of the profane. The space-time of Shabbos has its special times – three daily times for prayers, times for Torah study, for children’s education, for laws and devotion and communion. It is a dramatically different order from the transience of the secular sphere, a space in which you just need to get by. It’s not the same world.
This is the effect of the split between the Worldly Jew and the Sabbath Jew. It cuts the Worldly Jew off from regular citizenship and plants the Sabbath Jew in the ex-territory of the synagogue and the study hall. While the Worldly Jew was enslaved in slavery after slavery, the Sabbath Jew was free. Nobody could be freer. The heavens, the earth, the seas, the skies, and all its hosts – all of them are open before him and stand to serve him.
Torah Study: The Jewish Life of Shabbos
In light of the above, we can understand the central place of Torah learning in the Jewish world.
Torah study brings the same realities that exist in the regular world into the time and space of the holy. There are pitchers and barrels and oxen and donkeys; there are people, women, and children, who do business, get married, give birth to children, build houses, buy, sell, and engage in every human activity under the sun. Even technological innovations find their way into the space and time of the holy sanctuary: it includes Shabbos panels, generators, cinematography, and everything besides. But this glorious world exists only in the space and time of the holy.
Here and there, there might even be a random intersection between the space and time of the worldly and that of Shabbos. On a Shabbos visit, a Jew may encounter an electronic door in the hospital, making it hard to manage. He may be required to travel on business to remote places, making it difficult for him to maintain the kosher norms of the Sabbath Jew. These are the intersections where the Sabbath Jew and the Worldly Jew collide. At those intersections sit the arbiters of Halacha. They direct the traffic and ensure that the Holy’s time and space do not overly suppress the normal flow of the secular. They ensure that the division between the Sabbath Jew and the Worldly Jew should not overly disrupt the routine of everyday life.
Torah study, however, knows no such intersection. It is a closed system. In the realm of Torah study, the business partners who wished to separate and the ox that gored the next-door-neighbor’s son do not meet business people or actual oxen.
The barrel and the pitcher, the woman who needed to undergo a chalitza ceremony, the person who slipped off a rung and accidentally killed his friend – all these entities exist only within the space and time of the Holy
This is a very important point to emphasize. Learning Torah sometimes seems, especially to those looking in from the outside, like a ritualistic occupation rather than an act of learning. Like Indians endlessly repeating religious mantras, Jews study Torah. But this is mistaken. Occupation with Torah is not a ritual but an actual study in which Torah students seek to understand the Torah. Yet, it seems ritualistic because of the space and time in which Torah study takes place. The barrel and the pitcher, the woman who needed to undergo a chalitza ceremony, the person who slipped off a rung and accidentally killed his friend – all these entities exist only within the space and time of the Holy. They are present only in the relationship of the Sabbath Jew with his study partner, his chavruta.
Studying the Torah is the gateway to the space and time of the holy, and Jews, indeed, attempt to study the Torah day and night, to make their Torah permanent and their work ephemeral. In this respect, the Torah is the life of the Sabbath Jew. “They [words of Torah] are our life and the length of our days,” and only thanks to the Torah was the Jew able to maintain his greatness throughout the long years of exile.
However, the split between the Jew of the world and the Sabbath Jew has a negative side effect. It results in the fact that the life of the Jew in the realm of the profane is fundamentally different from that of others. The Jew is not a regular man of the world whose life includes a “second floor,” a higher realm that exists alongside his regular life. Not at all. The Jew cannot become a citizen abroad. He is only a temporary resident, while his true place is the Beis Midrash, and the time in which he flourishes is Shabbos. His impermanence makes the Worldly Jew completely different from the regular citizen.
The Worldly Jew is the merchant, the peddler, and the broker; he is the diamond dealer, the coachman, and the marketing manager. He is also the groundbreaking artist, the director who breaks all conventions, the scientist who redefines the boundaries of science, and the entrepreneur who thinks of an idea no one else has thought of. He’s the one who comes in from the outside. Here and there, he might even dabble in politics if necessary. But he is always in the balance, neither here nor there. The Worldly Jew is a wandering Jew.
The Worldly Jew is a Jew of the antisemite. He is incessantly criticized for not fully belonging. There were, indeed, those who tried to overcome antisemitism in an effort to prove that Jews could be more German than the Germans, more French than the French, more English than the English, and more American than the Americans. Jews became – Germany is the best example of this – not 100% citizens but 120%. However, these pitiful efforts, which make up the most arduous story of the Jews in modernity, implicitly cut off Jews from their Judaism, that is, from their Shabbos Judaism. Moreover, they did not succeed in appeasing the antisemites.
The German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) expressed this well when he said, “‘I would see no other way to give the Jews civil rights than to cut off their heads in one night and put others on them in which there would not be a single Jewish idea.” In order to overcome his fragmentation and become a full citizen, the Jew is required to cleanse himself of every vestige of Shabbos Judaism. Not an easy job, as it turns out.
In my opinion, the main characteristic of Charedi Judaism is the insistence on maintaining the division between Sabbath Jew and Worldly Jew despite the guarantee of equal rights for Jews. Even after emancipation, the Charedim refused to pretend they were citizens with equal rights. They voluntarily refused to become citizens, fighting attempts to give them a civic education that would enable them to work in government jobs and the like. They did not try to demonstrate their citizenship to prove to antisemites that they were more citizens than they were, but continued to behave like Jews, to the dismay of the emancipation Jews.
Europe persecuted all its Jews, emancipated Jews who did everything to be good German citizens alongside Jews of Poland and Galicia who refused to participate in citizenship. Worldly Jews were killed without exception. But for us, for Charedi Jews, at least the Sabbath Jew remained
To this day, the scorn and hatred directed at Charedim stem from the fact that they behave like “Worldly Jews” just passing through. They are not full citizens. In this context, it is important to note the role of the Holocaust in the insistence of Charedim to refrain from participation in citizenship. Charedi Judaism does not experience the Holocaust as a failure of the Charedi way of life but as proof of the righteousness of their way. Europe persecuted all its Jews, emancipated Jews who did everything to be good German citizens alongside Jews of Poland and Galicia who refused to participate in citizenship. Worldly Jews were killed without exception. But for us, for Charedi Jews, at least the Sabbath Jew remained.
The Jewish division between worldly and Shabbos, which tore the Jew from his time and place and placed him in a Shabbos existence – a “world that is fully good” – preserved Jewish existence Jewish greatness. The tragedy, however, is that the very same division mechanism serves today as a prevention mechanism from fully realizing Jewish living, both spiritually and physically.
The physical element is the more obvious one. Charedi Jews, who most effectively preserve the division between the profane and the holy, withdraw from participating in national citizenship, even in Israel. The reason for this is that the Worldly Jew cannot participate in citizenship, even if he wants to. In his divided state, the Worldly Jew steps out into the world only in a temporary manner. Claiming citizenship would require revoking his Shabbos, the shtreimel and kapota, the inner language of the Beis Midrash, and the dual life of “inside” and “outside.” This is why many Charedi men continue to study in Kollel, especially those who possess the skills to participate in Israeli citizenship successfully. Their choice does not derive from a simple impulse to abstain from the secular, as some believe. It derives from a desire to guard the integrity of the Sabbath Jew.
In his divided state, the Worldly Jew steps out into the world only in a temporary manner. Claiming citizenship would require revoking his Shabbos, the shtreimel and kapota, the inner language of the Beis Midrash, and the dual life of “inside” and “outside.”
Many criticize the Charedi custom of remaining in Kollel – this is the norm in Israel, certainly among Charedim of the Litvish variety – the accusation that they are “inventing a new Judaism.” When, historically, has there been a social situation in which the norm for men is to refrain from gainful employment? But while new, the deeper reason for this change in employment norms is to preserve the ancient division between the Shabbos and Worldly Jew. In the new conditions of today, in which Jews receive equal rights and, in Israel, majority status, it is almost impossible to preserve the separation of Worldly from Shabbos. The danger arose that the Worldly Jew would become a standard citizen, causing the Sabbath Jew to disappear like a puff of smoke.
This fear is not unfounded. As Jews gradually acquired citizenship in countries that offered them equal rights, the Sabbath Jew gradually disappeared. This danger has further intensified in Israel, where citizenship is pronouncedly Jewish. The temptation of the Charedi Jew to become a citizen of the secular state is stronger in Israel, and the push to become religious-Israeli is ever-present. The Kollels were the only solution of the Lithuanian Yeshiva world for maintaining the traditional Shabbos. Different Hasidic communities employed other methods: preserving Yiddish, instituting a rigid communal regime, or extreme withdrawal from modernity. All of these are different strategies with a similar purpose: to protect the Sabbath Jew from being exposed to Israeli citizenship.
The trouble, of course, is that the Jewish refusal to claim citizenship in Israel, the State of the Jews, threatens the material future of the state. Traditional Jews, in all their forms – Charedi, religious, and those associated with them – are the future of Israel. From an economic, security, and political point of view, the State of Israel will not be able to last much longer if Charedi Jews do not rise to the citizenship challenge and continue to maintain the division between the Sabbath Jew and the Worldly Jew.
To some degree, the statement is valid even for religious Zionism, which also preserves the division between Worldly and Shabbos Judaism, though in a slightly different way. The “glass ceiling” of graduates of the religious Zionist system is not imposed by the secular elite derives from the Sabbath Jew in them. Their citizenship, though far more developed than their Charedi counterparts, is not complete.
However, the physical issue is the more minor problem. It does threaten the future of the State of Israel, but the Jews managed for two thousand years without a state. Charedim believe that the loss of the state is not the most serious danger to Jewish existence, and in this, they are right. The spiritual danger is far more grave. However, the division of the Jew into Worldly and Shabbos no longer protects the Jew, but rather the opposite – today, it denies Judaism its spiritual power. And this is a serious problem indeed.
Living conditions have changed dramatically. Jews are no longer a foreign and disenfranchised minority. They have equal rights in all democratic countries; in Israel, they are also completely at home. In this new situation, the Sabbath Jew does not bestow greatness, vision, and purpose to the Jew, but on the contrary, he renders the Jew provincial and marginal, diminishing his Shabbos grandeur and turning it into a trivial tribal practice. This dramatic change, which seems to have gone unrecognized, deserves close attention.
Today, splitting the personality of the Jew separates him from the splendor of the Jewish People. Yitzchak, who lives today in Bnei Brak or Beitar Illit, remains both a Worldly Jew and a Sabbath Jew. The Worldly Jew of Charedi Israel is not very different from that Minsk or Djerba. He needs to somehow get by in life and does what needs to be done, whether this involves being a shuttle driver or mortgaging his apartment, buying two small apartments in Haifa, illegally subdividing them, and renting them to non-Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. The Worldly Jew always knew how to manage.
Instead of infusing him with Jewish breadth and greatness, the Sabbath Jew of Bnei Brak is cut off from the remarkable story of the contemporary Jewish renaissance and confined to the smallness of local community life.
The difference between Yitzchak of Minsk and Yitzchak from Bnei Brak is in the respective versions of the Sabbath Jew. In exile, the Sabbath Jew took Yitzchak out of his miserable situation and transported him to the eternity of Israel, the chain of generations, and a vision and destiny that had no concrete presence on the horizon of Jewish existence. In Bnei Brak, on the other hand, the Sabbath Jew is disconnected from the Jewish people, who returned in masse to the Holy Land and established cities and towns, planted vineyards and fields, paved roads, and built settlements that guard our borders.
Instead of infusing him with Jewish breadth and greatness, the Sabbath Jew of Bnei Brak is cut off from the remarkable story of the contemporary Jewish renaissance and confined to the smallness of local community life.
Charedi Jews consistently refuse to take responsibility for the great Jewish story. They insist on preserving their status as a small minority community closed within itself, excusing this attitude by claiming that we remain in spiritual exile – an exile among Jews. We should recognize that there is truth to this claim. The state of the secular world today is worse than ever, and Charedi society is still a protected island of healthy family and community life, largely due to the split between the Worldly and Shabbos.
However, with each passing day, the pretext of withdrawal in order to escape secularism loses its persuasive power. Quantitatively, religious Jews in Israel do not need to fear the secular world. They are more numerous. In our current situation, it seems that the Charedim prefer to be a small and distinct community lacking responsibility for the entire Jewish people. They have gotten used to the split personality of Worldly and Shabbos, and they do not want to abandon it.
The result of the Charedi insistence on maintaining a distinct communal existence even when the environmental conditions do not require it is that Torah and mitzvos are reduced to something that turns the Jew from a member of the great story of the Jewish People to a Charedi – a member of a small and distinct community whose defining characteristics are ritual piety, “Kupat Ha’Ir” (the Bnei Brak charity organization), and Reb Shaya ben Reb Moishe.
In our current situation, it seems that the Charedim prefer to be a small and distinct community lacking responsibility for the entire Jewish people. They have gotten used to the split personality of Worldly and Shabbos, and they do not want to abandon it
This is the lot of the younger generation, one that does not know the horrors of the Holocaust and the transcendence of the Sabbath Jew. For the young, Judaism begins and ends with being Charedi: at a Friday night yeshiva vigil, at the Itzkovitz minyan factory, on a kosher cell phone, voting for Charedi parties, and in loyally following the tribal norms of Charedi society. Splitting the young Charedi Jew between the “Sabbath Jew” and the “Worldly Jew” serves to cultivate a narrow communalism at the expense of the great connection to the Jewish story.
This process has numerous manifestations, but perhaps the most dramatic of them is the enormous spread of vulgar religiosity fueled by ignorance, a vague fear of personal calamity, and a belief that sacrifice to the tribal idol will afford protection. There is a direct connection between the rise of tribal communalism and the strengthening of vulgar religiosity, which I have expanded on in the discussion of the Meron disaster. [Hebrew]. This religiosity has moved from being a fringe phenomenon to the face of Charedi-Torah society. Rashei Yeshiva and Torah luminaries have become the iconic celebrities of an unprecedentedly popular religious movement.
Mass and vulgar religiosity did not find its way into the intellectual history of the Jewish people. It did not enter the Beis Midrash
I realize, of course, that phenomena of mass, vulgar, and tribal religiosity are not new. The same Yitzchak of Butshasht or Minsk or Djerba or Paris might also have donated a hundred times eighteen Rubles so that a hundred rabbis would recite one hundred chapters of Tehillim on one hundred consecutive days at the tomb of the holy Shela. Given sufficient resources, he might even have bought the pants of the relevant Gedol Hador to hang them up in his living room.
However, the critical point is that these phenomena belonged to the Worldly Jew rather than the Sabbath Jew. Mass and vulgar religiosity did not find its way into the intellectual history of the Jewish people. It did not enter the Beis Midrash. To find its traces, we must conduct a comprehensive study of records and documents of everyday life alongside rabbinic responsa that mention such matters. It is not part of the central rabbinical literature passed down from generation to generation that makes up the curriculum of the Beis Midrash. If anything, references to such phenomena are mainly in the way of rabbinic criticism.
Vulgar religiosity has always been present on the Jewish street because the Worldly Jew has the same drives, passions, and weaknesses as every other human being. Being fragile and insecure, humans are fertile ground for the manipulations of sorcerers and magicians of all kinds. They are inclined to worship the dead, venerate saints, and believe that submission to them in the form of a sacrifice will grant them protection and salvation. We find this throughout human history, not excluding Jewish history.
However, this vulgarity was never the visible, central face of Judaism, which reflected the Sabbath Jew – a member of the people chosen by G-d to receive the Torah and not of a small and pious community with extraordinary mystical abilities. Today, the greatness of the Sabbath Jew is disappearing with alarming speed as his horizons become ever narrower. Judaism loses its spiritual and moral power and becomes identified with a tribalism of ignorance and superstitions.
The focal point of the change in the status of the Sabbath Jew is Torah study, the ultimate activity that always provided us with elevation, grandeur, and transcendence of the lowly condition of our worldly living.
What happens when the split between the Sabbath Jew and the Worldly Jew no longer gives the Jew greatness, vision, and purpose but deprives him of them? What happens when the broad horizon of the Sabbath Jew is constricted, and instead of beholding the sublimity of Jewish history, he sees only the Charedi community and its elders? Torah study, respectively, loses its altitude and depth and becomes all too similar to the ritualism mentioned above. It becomes an act of righteousness and devotion (“shteigen“) that elevates the learner no higher than his shtender.
Thank G-d, this is not yet the situation of the Torah world of today – but we are too close for comfort. The narrowing of the horizons of the Sabbath Jew is an alarmingly fast process. Many Yeshiva students today barely remember what the Jewish people are. Their connection to the Torah runs through tribal communalism not radically different from a contribution to Kupat Ha’Ir so that a great rabbi will petition on their behalf for a Shidduch. The Torah is losing its splendor. The Sabbath Jew is fading.
We continue to struggle with all our might to preserve the division between the Sabbath Jew and the Worldly Jew, because our most primal instincts tell us that this is the only way to preserve our Judaism in the world. Today, however, this fragmentation is our greatest enemy.
The Sabbath Jew must return from his exile in the ex-territory of the Beis Midrash to the Land, the actual time and space in which he lives. It’s time for the Sabbath Jew to cross boundaries into the worldly
The solution, I should add, is not simply “Charedi integration” into Israel via studying math and English, working in white-collar jobs, and respecting the political authority of the state. The Sabbath Jew, as noted above, does not allow the Worldly Jew to become a regular citizen, which would reduce Shabbos to the community boundaries that citizens return to on weekends. Judaism cannot be privatized; Charedim cannot become citizens in public and Jews in private, for this would undermine the very nature of being Jewish. We did not fight and sacrifice over tens of generations just to render the Torah a small and personal matter.
The solution does not lie in Charedi integration into the state but rather in state integration into Judaism. We need to expand the horizons of our Torah study hall to include the state and not the other way around. Our mission is to expand the Beis Midrash, to open its borders. The Sabbath Jew must return from his exile in the ex-territory of the Beis Midrash to the Land, the actual time and space in which he lives. It’s time for the Sabbath Jew to cross boundaries into the worldly.
Expanding Torah Borders
Sometimes it seems impossible. Judaism has come to represent a disconnection from real time and space and an entry into virtual reality. A return to the worldly seems to us like the loss of Judaism. But the route to the worldly is much simpler than it seems, and you don’t even have to leave the Beis Midrash for it. The way to the worldly is Torah study.
There is no reason why the issues studied in the Torah study hall should not involve actual issues of everyday life. Let’s think, for example, what would happen if only 10% of Torah scholars would devote their time to questions of justice in society – Jewish life in the worldly realm. They would closely study the laws of neighbors and develop a systematic halachic method for settling disputes over apartment extensions, payment of the vaad bayit, and so on. They would thoroughly examine the laws of inheritance and a husband’s obligations to his wife in the event of a divorce, alongside the halachic approach to contracts within the framework of contemporary economics. They would carefully discuss how to treat criminal offenders of different types and seek the appropriate balance between fear of “slander” and the commandment to eliminate the evil in our midst. They would investigate the matter of discrimination in school admissions and determine which criteria are legitimate for rejecting a student and which are unjust. They would discuss the distribution of municipal budgets – which needs should be prioritized and by to what degree, and so on.
These scholars will become experts. They will write reasoned books on different subjects and explain their positions. Others will disagree, and somebody will author a book on “Clashing Values: The Distribution of the Municipal Budget from a Halachic Perspective.” A Torah will develop that will direct the Worldly Jew rather than the Sabbath Jew alone. It will be a Torah that fulfills the instruction of Yeshayahu, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (1:17). Rather than our present situation, in which the Torah emanating from elite Yeshiva institutions has precious little influence on the Worldly Jew, it will provide deep guidance and relevant instruction. Some are already developing this model, such as in blending Yeshiva study and the world of Batei Din – Eretz Chemda is one example, and there are others. But if hundreds of Torah scholars would rise to the challenge, our Torah world would look very different from today.
The study of the Torah should deal with every section of how life should be lived, such as children’s education – a topic nobody has written on for decades so that educators tend to integrate the latest academic fads that haven’t been very effective for Israel’s secular education system
We need a theory of justice and fairness, enveloping the kind of issues that Worldly Jews encounter daily. The study of the Torah should deal with every section of how life should be lived, such as children’s education – a topic in which nobody has invested serious Torah thought for decades, such that educators (and multiple authors, even those with rabbinic background) tend to integrate the latest academic fads that haven’t been very effective for Israel’s secular education system. Do we have no sources from which to draw an educational model for school and home? Another topic that requires urgent treatment is the Torah attitude to work. Countless sources deal with this issue, but is there a Beis Midrash in which they are studied? In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars dealt with this exact issue. What do we think about the matter today?
And what about some guidance on the relationship between men and women, perhaps the burning issue of the day? While practically speaking, Charedi society maintains traditional norms of separation between men and women, from a theoretical point of view – the perspective of the Beis Midrash and Torah scholarship – we have precious little to say on the subject. Many, it seems, espouse the liberal principles of our times so that Torah instructions become out of synch with our own morality. This situation will leave us highly vulnerable to the penetration of contemporary Western norms, including those belonging to the ever-developing gender spheres, into our own society.
Our generation is blessed with a huge and thriving Beis Midrash, including tens of thousands of Torah scholars. Now we need to direct our strengths so that the Torah becomes a burning torch of justice and morality, helping all of Jewish society – the millions of Worldly Jews we know – become healthier, more elevated, and more decent.