Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Beauty of Charedi Judaism

Wow! That is about the only word I can think of in reaction to an essay written by the brilliant Chana on her blog, The Curious Jew. For those who do not recognize the name, she is the same Chana about whom I wrote a few months ago.

She has written an essay describing not only the beauty of the Charedi philosophy but also decribes very nicely some of the key tenets of Torah U’Mada as defined by the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. I strongly recommend this article as it gives keen insight into both worlds.

I would like to point out that there is nothing in this essay that I do not already know. But it does point out facts about Charedim that I have never really focused on here.

I tend to focus on serious - sometimes even existential - problems in an effort to seek correction. And when Chilul HaShem occurs - to decry it. But today, I am going to rectify that sin of ommission. And what better way to do so than from the perpsective of a modern Orthodox young woman like Chana. She can certainly not be accused of being a home-team cheerleader.

She does an excellent job at describing the two worlds of Charedi Judaism and Modern Orthodoxy. What follows are some key excerpts. But these words alone do not do her essay justice. It must be read in its entirety. I urge everyone to do so. It is well worth the time.

Perhaps the greatest distinction between the Haredi and Modern Orthodox philosophy appears with the idea of Torah u'Mada. Torah u'Mada suggests an equation, Torah and Science, by which we mean everything secular- secular studies and the like. We use the phrase without thinking about it; it has become a catchphrase, something easy, but what does it really mean?

Does it mean to equate Torah and secular studies, and suggest that the same amount of value is to be found in both of them? Does it mean to suggest that secular studies are a form of Torah? Does it simply refer to the fact that one ought to be allowed to study secular studies alongside Torah? What in the world does the phrase mean?

It seems logical to begin at the beginning, in which case one refers to the Rav, the alleged founder of Modern Orthodoxy, for clarification. He states very clearly:

I have heard criticisms against the Yeshiva that we have not yet achieved the proper synthesis between Torah study and secular endeavor; between fear of God and worldliness. We have not achieved what the German Orthodox Jews called "Torah with derekh eretz [worldly occupation"] [Avot2:2]. I claim that the true greatness of the Yeshiva is that it does not have this synthesis. The truth is that there is no real synthesis in the world. If there is a contradiction between Torah and secular endeavor, then synthesis is not possible.

If there is a thesis and an anti-thesis, then no synthesis is possible. In general, a synthesis is very superficial. It is apologetic, it imitates others and the individual loses his uniqueness. In synthesis, no one succeeds. Even our great teacher Rabbi Moses ben Maimon [Maimonides] did not succeed in his attempts at synthesis. The greatness of the Yeshiva is that it is a real Yeshiva and on thesecond level a proper academic institution. Both divisions function without synthesis and compromise. (The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 2, page 229.)

About Charedim she writes in part the following:

This is a community which desires to live Torah, which has no tolerance for apologetics, for dancing around the truth of an issue. Something is wrong or right, muttar or assur, in accordance to the noted opinions of the scholars. Doing things in order to keep friends and avoid enemies is frowned upon, making certain claims because they are easier or we want them to be true is also frowned upon.

So why do we have so much trouble submitting to halakha? It is that many of us lie to ourselves and refuse to see halakha as codified, preferring to see it as fluid, something still malleable, able to be created and changed. Or it is that we truly have had no role models who live their Judaism truly and genuinely, with respect for halakha in their every act, who are truly passionate about desiring to be pure, desiring to be bothered by things they see which are inappropriate or against God's law.

But most of all it is that we want what we want- we want God to be compassionate on our terms; I want God's law to make sense to me- for it to make sense for me to kill an Amalekite, for him to have actually harmed me before I do so- and this is not a luxury I am granted. And for that, for that, I struggle so, and I cannot surrender- unless I change something in myself, unless I humble myself abjectly and utterly, which is something I must strive to reach, and have not yet reached.

Every community has its problems, and it is certain that one could point out problems in the Haredi sector just as one could point them out in the Modern Orthodox sector, the Centrist sector, the Reform or Conservative sectors, and so on and so forth. But it is necessary to understand the beauty in such a lifestyle, genuinely and authentically lived, to realize what passion fires the veins of its constituents, to see the grandeur of such an approach to one's God and one's religion, the respect with which its members hold its Rabbis and scholars.

There is something so beautiful in this. God, it is so beautiful! I am envious, yes, very envious, of the ability they have to integrate Judaism and halakha, to see those two things as one and the same rather than seeing one as a part of the other. God grant that I should see it, too, and be able to humble myself before You as I would like! God grant me strength.