Sunday, February 15, 2009

Soft Landing? Or Hard Crash?

I cannot emphasize enough my deep appreciation for Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz. He truly gets it. If all Charedi leaders were like him we’d be living in another world.

Unfortunately not enough Charedi leaders are like him. At least not the ones in control. And as a result – the Charedi world as we know it will collapse. This is not my wish. Just my prediction. There is going to be a major course correction. It’s going to happen. It just a question of - how.

Will it be a soft landing or a hard crash? There is no joy in my heart at the prospect of a hard crash. One of the goals of this blog is to try and make the coming change a softer one. I try to agitate for change that will benefit the community without tearing it apart.

As it stands now this community is in great peril. There are many issues – too many to list which are often discussed here. Denying or ignoring them will not make them go away. They will just get worse. And many of these problems are being accelerated by the world-wide economic crisis.

The rabbinic leadership - although very great in Torah knowledge - is weak. The zealots and hardliners seem to be calling the shots. Those who should be calling the shots are mild mannered and either unwilling or unable to deal with the zealots.

This was not the case with the previous generation of rabbinic leaders. Mostly they were mild mannered but still - they called the shots. And the ‘shots’ were of a different sort. They reflected Darkei Noam – the ways of pleasantness that is Torah. Not the Calvinistic type fire and brimstone delivered by zealots followed up by zealous acts to match the rhetoric. This does not mean that the previous generation of Gedolim compromised Halacha or their Hashkafa. They just new what was real and what wasn’t - and knew how to deliver it.

This is wholly unlike the extremism delivered in a fire and brimstone way that characterizes much of what passes for Torah Hashkafa today. And we see the results. I am not judging today’s mild mannered leaders. Just making an observation based on the increasing frequency of stories dealing with these issues that are reported by both the secular and the Charedi press.

One issue which demonstrates this phenomenon is the increasing numbers of adult Jews who were raised completely religious and suddenly - drop observance - the so called ‘Off the Derech’ (OTD) phenomenon. In no other situation is this worse than when it happens during a marriage and children are involved. I personally know families where this has happened. It tears my heart out when I think about it.

It is in a case like this that once again Rabbi Horowitz has put himself out on a limb. He has been asked to be the arbitrator in a child custody case involving parents one of whom is no longer observant. He accepted. The details are in a post at his website.

The non Frum parent responded to that post. His response was not what some might expect from such an individual. Here in part is how Rabbi Horowitz puts it:

The commonly accepted notion is that many or most formerly frum adults who go off the derech are all drug addicts, losers, religion-bashers and (this drives me nuts) “only doing it [leaving frumkeit] so they can indulge themselves in promiscuous behavior.” This is simply false and silly.

People leave yiddishkeit for many reasons. And while some do fit the description(s) above, I have found many formerly frum people who have come to me for guidance (especially with this issue – how to stay involved in the lives of their children) to be soft-spoken, thoughtful people with a healthy moral compass albeit not a religious one. They are often creative, right-brain people – which is why so many of them are writers (and started blogs) who found today’s frum society too rigid. (I firmly believe that some or many of them would still be frum if they grew up in my parents’ more tolerant generation or in today’s day and age in out-of-town communities.)

Parenthetically; it always boggles my mind that many people in our community rally around and protect monsters who ravage and abuse our kids while shutting out and demonizing decent people who abandon yiddishkeit.

One can see the rest of his comment at his website along with all the others. As with other issues plaguing the Torah world this one is not getting better. It seems to be getting worse. And it isn’t all about drugs and dysfunction either – although one could as well ask why drugs and dysfunction is on the increase in the Charedi world.

The bottom line is that a Cheshbon HaNefesh - more than a little soul searching is in order. Better attention needs to be paid to what is really going on and the direction in which this community is going. And greater effort need to be made to realize and deal with the discontent underlying the apparent clam that is on the surface. More of the same isn’t going to work. The mild mannered Charedi rabbinic leaders need to somehow be petitioned to the greatest extent possible to do what’s necessary to change the direction the Torah world is going because if things continue as they are – to put it the way Rabbi Horowitz often does - we are all going to be driven right off a cliff.