Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Modern Orthodox or Chareidi: Are those the only choices?

Modern Orthodox or Chareidi:
Are those the only choices?
Yehuda L. Oppenheimer

Summer 2012.  Once again, Israel is in convulsions over the Chareidim.   Due to maximalist positions staked out by both sides, no compromise is in sight.  The secularists will accept nothing less than a total draft of all Chareidim.  The Chareidim are determined to fight any change in the status quo[2].  And many of us – who want the Chareidim to contribute their fair share to the national burden, while simultaneously honoring the mission and heroism of those who devote their lives to Torah study and teaching – we strain our ears for that nuanced voice from the Chareidi leadership that will bring unity and sanity to this crisis . . . and are once again disappointed.

The first draft of this article was written in December 2011, after grown men – in supposed religious zeal – spat at and taunted 8 yr. old schoolgirls who were not dressed “modestly” enough. When 1,500 or more Chareidim then demonstrated (some dressed in yellow stars and concentration camp uniforms) to depict how the Nazis, i.e. the government of Israel was victimizing them, shock and condemnation followed throughout the world.  The truth was that the revolting behavior was only engaged in by a relatively small group of “Chareidi Extremists”.  These cretins engaged in many other incidents such as rock-throwing and calling police officers Nazis; vandalizing stores that dared to carry such heresy as the writings of Rav Kook, and beating people who refused to accede to the demands of the self-appointed “Vaad HaTznius”.  But the word that went out to the world that this behavior was engaged in by "Chareidim", or (the pejorative term) "Ultra-Orthodox".

The resultant Chilul Hashem – that humiliates all decent Orthodox Jews – was absolutely terrible.  That, of course, is the worst result of such behavior.

However, in addition, I and many others are deeply troubled about being associated in the eyes of the world with this behavior.  Somehow, the entire large social group that we have always been part of has come to be identified as “Chareidi”, based on the Yeshivos that we went to, the type of hat that we wear, the Rabbonim  & institutions we are identified with, and so on.  In and of itself, the label would not matter much.  But the fact that we are constantly being told that we are “Chareidim”, while those who would speak for Chareidim do not stand up and unequivocally state that we have nothing in common with the more extreme elements, is too troubling to tolerate. 

Granted, it is true that, here or there, this Rav or that Rosh Yeshiva will say something to a limited audience in protest.[3]   When the press reacts particularly strongly there will be posters around asking people to avoid violence, while at the same time supporting the underlying goals of the extreme elements.  But a large, joint public statement  – the kind that seems to be easy to arrange for the purpose of banning the internet or books or concerts – never happens.   Something that appears in my dreams – where some leading Chareidi Rabbonim would come to Bet Shemesh and walk with the little girls to their school in the face of the contemptible thugs – is unfortunately unthinkable.

Instead, articles in Chareidi papers consistently attack all the bad [press about Chareidim as purely the fault of the cynical secular media and politicians, as if there are only a few rogues that are causing trouble [4].  This is clearly a huge problem, but one that is unlikely to be solved, as the knee-jerk defensiveness and tendency to say that others ae not better than us, etc. is too strong.

However, it is clear to me that there is another basic issue that CAN and MUST be addressed: the confused self-identity inherent in much of the Chareidi world, (and for that matter, in the Modern Orthodox community as well[5] ).

An Identity Problem

My basic contention is that the majority of those who are now called Chareidim would be better served if they were not identified as being one and the same with groups with whom they hold such profound disagreements.

It is beyond intolerable that we continue to be confused with those whose views too often result in behavior that is anathema to us.

To explain, permit me to draw on my personal experience.  I grew up in the USA and then moved to Yerushalayim at a young age.   My family, like most that we associated with, did not consider ourselves “Chareidi”.  In fact, we had never heard the term.   Rather, we were aware that there were three major groups within the Orthodox world, each of which contained various factions.   The three groups were (a) Modern Orthodox, (b) the so-called Ultra-Orthodox, and (c) a large group in the middle. Roughly speaking:

·         Modern Orthodox tended to be Religious Zionist, identified with Mizrachi & Yeshiva University, appreciative of the fine aspects of secular culture; saw great value in secular education; were interested in basic observance but not perceived “chumros”, except for more serious individuals. Relatively few adults engaged in serious Torah study, which was usually limited to attending a weekly class.
·         Ultra-Orthodox tended to be mostly Chassidic (Satmar), very opposed to Zionism, not identified with Agudah, closed to secular culture; had little or no secular education, honored Torah learning, and placed a high value on rigorous observance.
·        The largest group, who constituted the "silent majority" were in the middle.   On the one hand they did not see themselves as Zionist and were often critical of the secular government of Israel, while simultaneously (whether or not expressed overtly) they were deeply concerned about the welfare of the State of Israel and quietly proud of many of her accomplishments.  They generally identified with Agudah, were open to some aspects of secular culture, and were interested in having sufficient secular education to qualify for a well-paying job.  Many did not seek a university education, while some did only after years of Yeshiva study.  They were careful about observance and placed a high value on Torah learning.

Obviously, these are simplistic descriptions.  Nevertheless, they are descriptive of life as I knew it.

These descriptions were only partially useful when our family moved to Israel, as the divisions differed somewhat.  Here the groups could be roughly defined as:

·         Dati Leumi (DL) identified with Mizrachi and Yeshivot Bnai Akiva, open to secular culture (but less than American Modern Orthodox), ascribed great value to secular education, served with pride in the IDF/Hesder; most were interested in only basic observance, while producing significant numbers of serious Bnai Torah (often not recognized by the other groups).
·         Chareidi (UO) tended mainly to live in Meah Shearim/Geulah, including groups such as Satmar, Neturei Karta, and the Eidah Chareidis; virulently opposed to Zionism; not identified with Agudah; closed to secular culture and education; punctilious about observance.
·         Middle group (MG) people were non-Zionist but cognizant of the accomplishments of Medinat Yisrael, interested in its welfare, and appreciative of government provided services such as the Army, police and National Insurance.  Generally identified with Agudah, open to very limited aspects of secular culture; most young men learned full time until a few years after marriage, after which many would briefly serve in the army 1and then begin working.  There was little interest in secular education beyond elementary school; were careful about observance including chumros.

Interestingly, the middle group did NOT “self-identify” as Chareidi.   They saw major differences between themselves and the Eidah Chareidis.  Table 1 shows examples of differences that everyone was aware of, either implicitly or explicitly, that governed life to a great degree.  MG would usually call itself “Yeshivati” (Yeshivish) or “Litai” (Lithuanian) or “Chasidi” (Chasidic, including Vishnitz, Belz and Ger as the largest groups), “Sefardi” (Sephardic), or just “a frummer Yid” or “Black Hat”.

In addition, there was a fairly clear division as to which Gedolim belonged to which camp. The Chareidim were led by the Satmar Rav and the Eidah HaChareidis.  MG looked to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael.  The Dati Leumi Group looked mainly to several Roshei Yeshiva, notably Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, Rav Shaul Yisraeli as well as the Chief Rabbinate.  

In America, as well, different Gedolim were looked to by the streams, with the Satmar Rav on one end, Rav Yosef B. Soloveichik on the other, and many in the middle, particularly Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky as the leading lights of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah.   One could never imagine, for example, that Rav Moshe would be considered authoritative in Satmar, or that the Satmar Rav would be the guide for MG; it was clear that these were different streams with different shitos and hashkafos.[6]

Chareidi Middle Group
Anti-Zionist Non-Zionist
Speaks only Yiddish Speaks mostly Ivrit (Modern Hebrew)
Does not recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel Recognizes, de-facto, the existence of Medinat Yisrael
Publicly shows contempt for Yom HaAtzma’ut & Yom Hazikaron leTzahal Privately ignores Yom HaAtzma’ut & Yom Hazikaron leTzahal
Does not participate in Elections or the political process; strongly criticizes anyone who does. Strongly supports using political power to influence community needs;
Political parties include Agudah, Poalei Agudah, Degel HaTorah, Shas, Yahadut Hatorah
Refuses to pay any taxes Pays taxes
Absolutely refuses Army service Defers Army Service until after years in Yeshiva and marriage
Refuse Government Benefits Receives Government Benefits
Acceptable standards for women: Acceptable standards for women:
Education Nothing beyond the most rudimentary Education Young women are schooled in a serious study of Hashkafa, Halacha, Tanach & other subjects, and given a basic secular education
Dress Shaved head Dress Covered hair
Simple sheitel covered by hat Nice Sheitel or Tichel
No fashionable clothing Modest fashionable clothing
Black Stockings Other colors as well
Public Behavior Never speak to a woman in public Public Behavior Avoid speaking to a woman in public
Never walk with wife in street or sit with her on bus May walk with wife in street/bus
May not work in an office with men May, with caution, work in an office with men.

A Little History of the Middle Group in Eretz Yisrael

These divisions inhered in the way 18th Century Gedolim saw the nascent return of Am Yisrael to its homeland[7].  Briefly, most of the original immigrants of the Old Yishuv, the disciples of the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov, saw European Jewry on a spiritual downward spiral, due to the influences of the Enlightenment and Reform, following the Shabbtai Zvi and Chemilniki crises.  They endeavored to build a community that would be unsullied by external influences until the Final Redemption, dedicated only to service of G-d. This ultimately developed into today's Eida HaChareidis.

Those who came later, particularly after WWII, did not share this vision.  While clearly the Holy Land, Eretz Yisrael was a place where self-supporting people were to live and participate in society to whatever degree necessary.   They established non-Zionist, but also not Dati Leumi towns such as Petach Tikvah, Chafetz Chaim, and Zichron Yaakov, and Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Shaarei Chessed, Givat Shaul, etc. 

Before WWII, Agudas Yisroel was anti-Zionist, though not as virulently as Satmar.  It was not so much opposed to forming a State, but rather to the fact that the leading Zionists were too often anti-Religious secularists, who were trying to change the identity of the Jewish people from an Am HaTorah to that of a nation defined in relation to the State of Israel.   Furthermore, power in the hands of the secularists threatened the ability of religious Jews to live and educate their children in the ways of our Mesorah.

After the Holocaust, of course, attitudes changed.   No longer could Zionism be ignored.  The survivors needed a place to go, and quickly.   Most chose to go, if they could, to Eretz Yisroel.  After the State of Israel provided a refuge for several hundred thousand Jews who Hitler had not managed to kill, a different calculus prevailed.   It was patently clear to most that refusal to recognize the State of Israel, and to not help assure protection its citizens, was absurd.   It was possible and positive to live in the State of Israel as a non-Zionist citizen, and as a matter of simple gratitude, recognize those who, secular or not, had built the place of refuge. 

Furthermore, they recognized that Orthodox Jews could wield political power to great advantage in procuring financial and governmental benefits, given the form of government in Israel.  Through Agudas Yisroel and several other parties,  non-Zionist Orthodoxy served in the Knesset, and benefited enormously.  Although it would be anathema for many Chareidim to agree with this statement, it is self-evident that due to the influence of Orthodox parties (including Mafdal), the State of Israel, through its contribution of untold millions of dollars and benefits has been the greatest builder of Torah in 2,000 years, often despite itself.
What Happened to the Middle Group?

In any case, there developed a very clear demarcation between those who accepted the new reality (MG), and those who insisted on a total rejection of the State of Israel (UO).  That difference was evident until, approximately, the mid 1970's.  At that point things began to change.   For some reason, a monolithic group called “The Chareidim” appeared on the scene that is really comprised of two very distinct groups that have become intermingled and confused.    How did these groups became so intertwined?  Why has the great middle group virtually disappeared? Why did I awake one morning and find that my family and I were now considered “Chareidim”?  In truth, I don't know.  Nevertheless, here are a few possible factors:

ñ     The influence of certain Gedolim, who leaned towards more UO views.  In particular, Rav Shach was most influential in Eretz Yisrael, while Rav Elya Svei championed Rav Shach’s agenda in the USA. .[8] 
ñ       -  The development of the idea of דעת תורה to heretofore unimaginable levels.  I cannot address this important topic here properly.[9]
ñ     The passion and commitment to serious Avodas Hashem of the UO world.  The levels of mitzvah observance, Torah study, Chessed activities, etc.  are compelling.  It is hard to adopt these values while rejecting those aspects of Chareidi ideology that are unnecessary for Avodas Hashem, given that they seem so intertwined in what one hears from its leading expositors.
ñ      The difficulty of being secure in a centrist position, when people of great passion are promoting a more intense point of view.  Rav Joseph B. Soloveichik put it wonderfully. “All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.” [10] 
ñ     An unchecked fear of the extremists.   It is unfortunate that the creep towards extremism continues primarily because of fear. I have heard first hand from highly respected people about encounters with Gedolim who admitted to them that they cannot take certain positions, or felt compelled to go along with various statements, because of pressure from extremists.  It is, or should be, a source of great embarrassment to us that we are often left wondering whether a statement was in fact authored by Gadol X, or whether it was the product of a cloistered elderly man to whom direct access is highly restricted, and whose every pronouncement is filtered through “spokesmen” who may not be accurately reflecting an unbiased analysis based on access to a fair representation of all sides of an important issue.  I know that many people will take exception to the previous sentence, but it is, most unfortunately, the unvarnished truth.[11]

Whether it is these or other factors that caused the demise of the middle group does not really matter.  The point is that it is now hurting Klal Yisroel greatly.   Something must be done so that those in the middle could have a principled disagreement with the Chareidim, for the reasons listed below.

 A Compelling Problem

Even if within the Chareidi world there is a sense that the two broad groupings have been somewhat preserved, that is not how the outside world sees it.  I could bring innumerable proofs for this, but an interesting article entitled Where Do Israeli Haredim Stand on Hareidi Violence by Uriel Heller [12] will suffice.  He notes that there are differences within the Chareidi world about the appropriateness of using violent methods, as well as much condemnation of recent events in Bet Shemesh, but nevertheless “there appeared to be just one segment of the Jewish community that was staying silent about the violence: Israeli haredim. That’s because there is some ambivalence among haredi Israelis when it comes to religious zealotry. ” 

“The question isn’t how many Haredim support Haredi violence and how many do not,” said Menachem Friedman, an expert on Haredi life at Bar-Ilan University. . “The problem is that most Haredim allow the extremists to act and do not stop them. Some, perhaps a small segment, really do support the violence; some, perhaps a larger segment, do not support the violence but understand the extremists, believing that actions like these, even if they are not pretty, at the end of the day are a true expression of religious sentiments.  And the majority perhaps opposes the violence and knows that ultimately it’s bad for Judaism but doesn’t have the courage to go out and oppose it publicly."

Furthermore,  “While to an outsider all Haredim may look alike -- with their black coats, hats, and beards -- the Haredi community is as fractured as the Jewish community as a whole. In Israel, the Haredi community is divided between Ashkenazi and Sephardic, Chasidic and non-Chasidic . . . “But in a world seen by outsiders as monolithic, all Haredim inevitably are associated with the extremism of a few, and haredi silence is seen as affirmation of haredi bad behavior.“It’s something that may irk haredim who are engaged with the outside world, but it doesn’t seem to matter much to haredim who aren’t.” 

Indeed, one can open any newspaper and understand that outsiders make few distinctions between Chareidi Jews; they see one monolithic, negative group. 

I do not wish to be misunderstood.  The majority of both groups are good, fine, peace-loving people, who want only to be left alone to serve the Almighty.  If each were left to follow their own way; if the extremists of the Chareidi group were clearly לא משלנו  “not from our group”, (as is often said in Israeli circles about perceived outsiders), less confusion would reign, both internally and externally.  As it is now when both groups are considered – by themselves and all others – as “The Chareidim”, several very negative consequences result: 

ñ                 Attitudes Towards Extremism – Given that much of today’s Chareidi ideology is based on rejection of the State of Israel and repulsion of Western values and the modern world, and given that the dominant culture loudly exudes a very different message, extremist rhetoric is common amongst the UO as a means of keeping people in line.   The following comments and opinions are not unusual in the Chareidi world today: 
      The Medina is evil.
      Saying a prayer for the Medina, or even the IDF, is a religious travesty
      Secular knowledge is foolish, corrupt, useless and unholy.  
      Secularists and non-Jews have nothing of value to say – any attempt to engage them is fraught with spiritual danger – and are less intelligent and less moral and ethical than “us”.

These comments and values might seem harmless from the inside, but can only be looked at with shock and dismay by those outside the group.  Whether political pronouncements, comments about other Rabbis or on a whole litany of issues, extremist rhetoric is pervasive.  
Unfortunately, but predictably, extremist rhetoric on the part of the leadership will encourage the fringe elements to engage in outrageous behavior.  The Sikrikim[13] that caused so much trouble in Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem are a good example of this.   They always cite “Rabbinic support” for their actions, with few serious Chareidi leaders daring to speak out against them in a public and unambiguous way.[14]

But it is not just the hooligans that are disturbing.   There is increasing extremism evident throughout Chareidi society, including those who would never dream of physically assaulting anyone.  A prime example was Shlomo Fuchs, the avreich indicted for hurling sexually abusive insults at a female soldier who did not move to the back of the bus.  Several articles in his defense claimed he is a respectable scholar, with purportedly mainstream Chareidi views, who believes it acceptable to call a woman an abusive name for refusing to move.   His example is not atypical; I hate to say it, but I believe that thousands of Chareidim, including many who might have earlier been considered MG, agree with what Fuchs said and did.

This is clearly not the way that the middle group used to be educated or conducted themselves.   But it is a result, at least in part, of the confusion between the camps, where the values of the more extreme are now considered normal in the other.

ñ                 Children - As should be fairly obvious, the ones most likely to adopt extreme behavior and values are youngsters.  They are the most impressionable; they tend to see things in black and white without shades of nuance, and are easily swayed by passion.   Clearly, a confused message sent to children, e.g. that the opinions expressed by co-Chareidim Neturei Karta are acceptable, may lead to most unfortunate behaviors. It is not uncommon for young people from homes that once would have been considered MG to act in ways that would have abhorred their grandparents.   For example:

·         Disrespect for anyone that is not learning full time or otherwise engaged in Avodas HaKodesh.  Simple, pious people are looked down at as lower class, and not treated with common courtesy.
·         Ridicule of anything to do with the State of Israel or its institutions, e.g. not standing silent during the siren on Yom Hazikaron L’Challelei Tzahal.
·         For young boys, an air of superiority over women, exemplified by telling them to move to the back of the bus or out of their way with a dismissive, entitled tone.  My sister, a grandmother,  was seated near the front of a non-Mehadrin bus with several packages, when several boys came over and shouted at her נשים אחורה!, apparently unaware that it was not a Mehadrin bus (would it have been proper even on a Mehadrin bus?).  My mother, a great-grandmother, was asked by a Sherut taxi driver to exit his vehicle when he found, after repeated attempts, that no male passengers would ride in the taxi if she sat in the front seat, which was necessary due to her medical condition. This is not unusual behavior.
·         A deep sense of entitlement when it comes to Shidduchim.  This is not the place to describe all the problems of the shidduch “system”, but clearly one of them the change in the expectation that a young man would ultimately be willing to assume responsibility for supporting his wife and family.  The demands on potential in-laws, the assumption that it is the bachurim who must be sought after and that families of young women must offer large sums for the privilege of being considered as a potential zivug  has caused untold sorrow and difficulty, and is partly a result of changing values in this community.
·         Most tragically, incidents when Bachurim join in demonstrations in which they shout “Nazi” or other terrible epithets at other Jews who are trying to do their work as police officers.

Clearly, if children from a young age see negative attitudes and stereotypes all around them regarding anyone who does not hold exactly the same beliefs, values, and modes of dress as they, let alone if they see the others vilified as enemies and destroyers of Torah (i.e. anyone associated with the State of Israel or Zionism), they will perpetuate and deepen this acrimony and שנאת אחים as they mature.   This is not the way that we used to be taught in the “middle group”.

ñ                 Confusion regarding Hashkafic & Halachic Pronouncements  – When large public positions are taken in the name of “all Chareidim” (the usual case), it brings a great deal of unease to those who do not identify with these statements, and thus a denigration in respect for Rabbinic guidance.

A recent case is illustrative.  Much has been written about the “Ichud Hakehillos” Asifa at Citi Field in May 2012.  I attended a meeting of Rabbonim a few days later, most of whom, in earlier times, would have been considered MG.  Almost none of them had anything positive to say about the Asifa.  Rather, they were deeply offended by statements there such as “All of Klal Yisroel, and all of its Gedolim, are represented at the Asifa, and therefore our decrees are binding on every Jew; thus if the proposed recommendations are not followed by an individual, that person will lose their share in the World to Come”.  Those recommendations included a total ban on the internet except for business use; yeshivos are not to accept children from a home with internet access, even if filtered, etc.

This is not the place to discuss whether those decrees are wise or necessary.  However, it is clear from the reaction of so many, including Rabbonim, that attempts to enforce draconian solutions acceptable in the UO world will not succeed amongst many who consider themselves Chareidim.  This is a textbook example of where two disparate groups, with markedly different hashkafot and values are being asked to pretend that they are of like mind when reality is quite different.  How much better would it have been had there been a true “Unity of Kehillos”, in which separate but equal groups would come together, with each group finding its own way to deal with what all would agree is the serious problem of unfettered internet use.

ñ                 Media and Secular Jews  – The problems in this area can hardly be overstated.  As noted above, whatever distinctions people make for themselves internally are not recognized by the outside world. Invariably, they write about “the Chareidim” en masse, ascribing the attitudes and values of the UO to everyone include the MG.

Consequently, one often hears in the press and from secular Israelis statements such as:

ñ     The Chareidim are leeches on society – they refuse to pay taxes or serve in the Army, while at the same time demanding money for Yeshivos, health insurance and all other social benefits.
ñ     The Chareidim engage in political blackmail – they hold coalition politics hostage to their parochial concerns while not recognizing the legitimacy of the State of Israel, and mock it on its  most sacred Days.
ñ     The Chareidim are out of touch primitives who insist on living in the past  and refuse to contend with the modern world, and yet they want the best cars, the finest medical care, and refuse to compromise.

Obviously, these are malicious claims.   But it must be understood that there is little that angers Israelis more than feeling like a frier.[15]    (A frier in Israel is what in America would be called a “sucker”, a naive dupe who is taken advantage of by others.)    They feel that they are being taken advantage of by the Chareidim – that they have done so much to provide for the Chareidim financially, militarily, building the infrastructure that they use, etc. and receive no gratitude in return, but instead constant ridicule – they are sick and tired and want to stop being frier-im.

Several years ago the Shinui party led by Yosef (Tommy) Lapid achieved instant popularity.  The Chareidi press portrayed him as being anti-religious, and hateful of Chareidim.  While that may have been true, it is clear to me that his appeal was not so much that he was anti-religious, but rather that he represented the point I am raising, i.e. that the secularists have been friers for too long and his party was going to see to it that they would stop being taken advantage of by the Chareidim.

It will be interesting to see what develops as his son Yair Lapid has decided to enter politics with a similar agenda.   In a recent article he wrote that his goal was to represent the middle-class and prevent their money from being taken by the Chareidim.  “Israel has been enslaved for many years by members of a shameless, extortionist, special interest group - some of whom aren’t even Zionist - who take advantage of our twisted political system to steal the money of the working class”.  Furthermore, “I have no interest in hating Jews, just in dividing the resources betterI think Chareidi children must learn the core curriculum and their parents should work. I believe that there are many Chareidim who agree and would be happy to find out that there is someone who will struggle against the extremist rabbis and hacks who embitter their lives.”[16]  The Chareidi parties are, I am sure, gravely concerned at this development, as they well ought to be.

It would seem obvious that the best way to counter these claims is to differentiate between groups who have become conflated and confused in the public mind.  At a minimum, it would be important for the Chareidi parties to state clearly and loudly,   

“We decry the terrible violence that has gone on for too long in the name of Chareidi Judaism. We wish to make it clear that we, the great majority of those who are called Chareidim, have deep fundamental disagreements with the hooligan extremists. While we are not Zionists, we recognize that the State of Israel is the homeland of the largest community of Jews in the world and we pray and hope for its continued success in providing peace, security and basic services for its citizens.
   "As citizens of Israel, we pay taxes, engage in business, and are grateful for the protection of the IDF and the police and recognize that with all its faults, the state has made it possible for a tremendous renaissance of Torah learning and observance. For this we are grateful.
  "Please know the hooligans represent only themselves and are a source of painful embarrassment and anguish to us, and that we pledge to do all we can to ensure they are ostracized in our communities. For us, authentic Judaism means living in a way that sanctifies Hashem at all times, and that is what we seek to achieve, above all else."
The larger solution would be to publicly and clearly redefine and contrast the two broad groups as being of a different mind and world view.   It is patently ridiculous and unfair that the great majority of the “middle group”, abhorred by what transpired in Bet Shemesh, felt a need to defend themselves from the charge that this represents them, after having been hurt so many times by that association.  It is time that the secular media and public understand that one cannot tar both groups with the same brush. Let those who espouse certain views and condone associated actions live with the results of their choices, while allowing the rest to follow a different path, unencumbered by that association.

But what about Jewish Unity?

In the inaugural issue of the late Jewish Observer, Rav Nachman Bulman זצ"ל penned an important article “What Price Unity”, regarding relations between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox.  In it he spoke of the tension between the need for peace and unity among Jews, and the need for clear distinctions when great matters of principle were concerned,  citing Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, who championed Austritt, the absolute right and requirement of religious Jews to not be represented by those whose views were antithetical to them.  Similarly, Rav Joseph B. Soloveichik in a famous article described the distinction between כלפי פנים and כלפי חוץ , our internal vs. external disagreements.  It is important to stand together against external threats.   But we must not be cowed into accepting what we perceive as a distortion to our banner of Torah.  While in general Jewish unity is vital, our tradition teaches us that it is not always so.  We need Achdus, but we also need havdalah, when unity comes at too great a cost.  


A public identity is needed for what is left of the middle group called something other than “Chareidi”, for those who no longer wish to be painted with the same brush as are people with whom they share so few Hashkafic, ethical, political, and even religious values.  Until such time, at least for present, I will have to self-identify as a non-Chareidi. [17]

If only there was a way to move things back to the way they were; where the Chareidim were the Chareidim, and the others were comfortable defining themselves as something other than that, many of the religious tensions might be resolved.  It would restore the self-respect of many of us who are ashamed of being associated with a group that defends, or is afraid to effectively protest, the acts of hooligans who seek to define us.  It would deprive the secular media a great deal of the heft of their favorite punching bag.   This article, of course, can accomplish very little, other than hopefully raising an aspiration for like-minded individuals to reclaim a sensible middle ground, for the sake of Heaven and the ultimate goal of true Jewish Unity.

[1]              This article does not purport to be academic; it is impressionistic in nature.  I cannot claim that I have researched the topic thoroughly, although it is the product of much thought, reading, and conversation over many years.  But I believe that it raises a very important, and not much discussed, aspect of religious tensions in the Orthodox world.
[2]               Cf. For example http://matzav.com/yaalon-draft-bill-for-chareidim-will-start-a-civil-war and hundreds of others.
[3]               The Belzer Rebbe said in what might seem a tepid response, but considered bold in Chareidi circles, that “If there are those in our generation who believe that warfare is the way to spread the light of Judaism, they are mistaken.”  Rav Ovadia Yosef, published a scathing critique of the behavior.   However his influence is minimal in the non-Sephardic Chareidi community.  However, a most encouraging statement was subsequently made by Rav Gershon Edelstein, Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovez, encouraging a stand against the extremists  and appreciating the IDF.  http://tinyurl.com/845l7vx  
[5]               Many writers have discussed the angst going on within Modern Orthodoxy, where there are some who claim that it is moving to the left, and some that it has moved to the right.   Both are true of course. There is a movement towards the far left, primarily associated with Rabbi Avi Weiss,Yeshiva Chovevei Torah, and their supporters.   Concurrently, it is undeniable that Yeshiva University has moved somewhat to the right, and many of its Roshei Yeshiva and graduates espouse positions  closer to the Chareidi world than in the past. The RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) has recently experienced much tension within its ranks over divisions that have sharpened within Modern Orthodoxy, with some moving further left, and others more comfortably within the “Middle Group” described herein.  I am limiting myself here to a discussion of  Chareidim.
[6]           Of course, nothing is simple in Jewish life.  Some defied categorization such as Lubavitch, although they tend to the MG.  Moreover, several leading Gedolim were somewhere between the Chareidi and middle camps, notably Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveichik, who was anti-Zionist and against participating in the government while having great influence on Agudah, and the Chazon Ish, also anti-Zionist, who met with Ben-Gurion and was extremely interested in the religious pioneers developing the land, authoring many landmark halachic decisions to help them. It is probably also true that Rav Shach was the most influential Gadol  in moving  MG to positions formerly held only by the Chareidi group. 
[7]               Much of this material can be seen at length in חברה ודת "Society and Religion;The Non-Zionist Orthodox in Eretz-Israel – 1918-1936” Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Publications, Jerusalem 1977
[8]               I have it on good authority that in early times the Ponovezh Yeshiva would refrain from saying tachanun on Yom HaAtzma’ut, unthinkable under Rav Shach. In a famous story regarding the Ponovezher Rav, who when soliciting a contribution from a Dati-Leumi oriented group of donors, was asked “Do you say Hallel on Yom HaAtzma'ut?”  He replied with his immediate wit, “I hold like Ben-Gurion; I do not say Hallel, nor do I say Tachanun”. I believe this was not merely a witticism, but rather a statement of principle.  To say Hallel – that we have arrived at the Geulah and it is time to rejoice, given all that is painful to a religious Jew in the State of Israel – is premature.  But to say Tachanun – that nothing of religious significance occurred on Yom HaAtzma'ut, that it is not even as important as the days after Succos – is simply demonstrating ingratitude for the great gift that the Almighty has given us in our time.
[9]               Much has been written in scholarly journals about Daas Torah.  Of particular interest is
                בנימין בראון, לקראת דמוקרטיזציה במנהיגות החרדית, המכון הישראלי לדמוקרטיה,2011  in which he traces five stages in the development of Daas Torah in the Chareidi community, and what the future portends.  He underscores my thesis that the Chareidi world has expanded and asserted its authority over the former MG, largely by demanding that positions formerly held only by the UO, be adopted by the heretofore MG.
[10]             I saw this quote in a fascinating essay  http://www.beyondbt.com/2006/12/04/its-lonely-in-the-middle/ .  
[13]             Sikrikim is the name that the hooligans in Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem are being referred to. 
[14]             In this regard I, and many other RCA Rabbonim with whom I had communications, found the statement by Agudath Israel of America in regard to the events in Bet Shemesh most disheartening.   The statement started very well: “Such conduct is beyond the bounds of decent, moral - Jewish! - behavior.  We condemn these acts unconditionally”.  If the statement had ended there, it would have been perfect.   However, most unfortunately, the statement went on to describe in several paragraphs the need for upholding standards of Tznius, (of course, without violence).  This was neither the time nor the place to do so, unfortunately watering down a strong statement against the hooligans to a “No, but” response, resulting in a change from a total disassociation to sounding like “we support the end but not the means”.   That was totally and terribly inappropriate for this situation, in which little girls who were completely within any reasonable standards of Tznius were victimized.  This, from the erstwhile standard bearer of MG .
[15]             Cf. an entertaining treatment of this phenomenon at http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Opinion/Article.aspx?id=254301
[17]             There are a number of people in Israel who refer to themselves as חרד"ל or Chareidi Leumi, who are probably the closest to the position described herein.  Unfortunately, without going into the pros and cons of Chardalism (a new term), חרד"ל are viewed by most others as a small group of those who fall “between the cracks”, and are not players in the larger politic of Jewish life in Israel or the Diaspora.  Furthermore, the חרד"ל-niks in general have more pro-Zionist views than most people in the former middle group are willing to adopt, certainly those associated with Agudas Yisroel.  This is not where the center of gravity of the middle group that I am missing belongs.

1 comment:

Mr. Cohen said...

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