Monday, January 05, 2009

The End of Charedi Judaism

Could it be that the collapse of the Charedism in Israel is nearer than I thought? Is it now at hand? Is this the end of Charedi Judaism in Israel as we know it?

I don’t know the answer to these questions but if one reads Jonathan Rosenblum's column in no less a Charedi newspaper that the Yated Ne’eman (republished at Cross-Currents) one might conclude that this is indeed - it!

That Yated Ne’eman - the great ‘defender of the Charedi faith’ published it- shows me that they are really concerned about it. This world that has always relied so heavily on heavenly help – Siata D’Shmaya - is plenty worried that they won’t be getting any.

And if that’s the case, shouldn’t their leaders be doing some introspection about why that is? We know they never see things in earthly terms. It isn’t man who provides them with their sustenance.

This is true. While it is also true that sustenance requires Hishtadlus - perseverance - it is God who ultimately provides it - currently through His conduits. Those are the wealthy Askanim to whom He has entrusted wealth and distribute it to worthy religious causes. Causes like the poor, Yeshivos, and Kollelim - the life blood of Charedi society.

But recent fundraising trips to the United States have proven for the most part fruitless. This turn of events requires them to be doing some serious introspection and heavy soul searching about how they have been doing things over the past 30 years or so.

Here is what Jonathan had to say (emphasis mine):

THE DISUNITY AND DISARRAY in the world of chareidi politics might be of little concern if things were swell, and we had nothing to fear. That, however, is hardly the case. It is a bit hysterical to say that Klal Yisrael has never been in greater danger than today. Such statements betray a rather short historical memory. But it is true that the social structure of the Israeli chareidi community that has been in place for at least thirty years – a social structure based on long-term kollel learning for all men – has never seemed so fragile as it does at present. And if that whole structure were to collapse, it would do so with dizzying rapidity leaving no time for preparation or gradual readjustments. The social dislocations would be enormous.

Jews in Eretz Yisrael have not yet fully grasped the nature of the situation that we are facing, unless they are among those who travel frequently to the United States collecting for their mosdos. The head of one of the largest kiruv organizations told me upon his recent return from the United States that in a week he barely covered his plane fare. Another rosh yeshiva said that everywhere he went he met only depressed and broken Jews. The only thing that kept him going was the thought that every closed door was undoubtedly lessening his Gehinnom. “Al pi derech hateva,” he told me, there is no way to open the doors next month.

There is a widespread feeling that large institutions and organizations cannot possibly just close their doors. We assume that the future cannot be that different than the past. Yet all around us we see clearly that is not so. What baby-boomer, who grew up hearing about the Big Three automakers, can imagine a world without them? But such a world is today more than just a remote possibility. Hundred year-old firms with billions of dollars in assets – Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch – suddenly disappeared or exist in a completely different form.

Can we say with confidence that the same fate cannot possibly befall one of the large mosdos haTorah? And if it could happen to the very largest mosdos, with huge pools of alumni, how much more so hundreds of small kollelim, who are no donor’s top priority. Maybe the promise that Torah Yidden exist above nature will somehow keep all these institutions afloat, but, in the meantime, the responsibility of providing food and paying staff is draining the lifeblood of those who bear it.

Jonathan's article suggests that the cause of the problem is the disunity of the Charedi community as reflected in their political structures. He goes on to suggest some possible solutions such as a the creation of new non political communal structures. But I think he would be the first to say (although not in this very Charedi medium) that the system is broken and that the kind of change he suggests - while helpful - is far from enough to save it. The only thing that can is something I’ve been saying for years:

Charedi Judaism in Israel requires a complete restructuring of the their philosophy that will include in their agenda preparing for Parnasos. It will need to include educational curricula toward that goal. It will need to implement a positive attitude among all the Roshei Yeshiva who will impart it to their students from the earliest ages. They will have to encourage the majority of them to prepare for - and get jobs after a short stint in a Kollel.

As for their philosophy of staying in Kollel for as long as possible for all – that should be abandoned as a proven untenable situation and reserved only for the best and brightest among them - maybe ten percent of the 60,000 Avreichim that are doing it there now.

If they do that, I think they have chance of surviving. If not than as Jonathan suggests: The ‘whole structure (will) collapse … with dizzying rapidity’.

American Charedim do not quite have this strident anti secular studies, anti Parnassa 'Kollel or bust' attitude. But evidence has shown that their is a trend towards it in some circles. Hopefully a good hard look at what's going on in Israel will sober them up.