Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Knowing What’s Important

I am often asked: How does one define Charedi? Does it mean being more religious? Shouldn’t we all be striving for that? Does not the Torah demand from all of us the same level of behavior? Is someone who places the highest value on learning Torah; who is careful about his Mitzvah observance; loves God and has Him is great awe - by definition Charedi? Do not all these things indicate the highest level of observance?

One might think so. I hope that I qualify for all of the above and yet I am decidedly not Charedi.

Marty Bluke has written a post which is illustrative of what one difference might be. A Kol Korei was posted in Israel about the severity of the sin of sitting on a bus that has mixed seating.

To a Charedi these types of issues consume their thinking. They literally tremble at the thought of sitting mixed on a bus. They consider mixed seating on buses to be one the causes of our troubled times. Never mind that one of the greatest poskim of the 2oth century, Rav Moshe, permits traveling on mixed public transportation even during densly populated rush hour times! Yet something like child molestation is practically off the radar. I don’t think there has ever been a Kol Korei calling for justice in that area.

Another area that defines Charedism is apologetics. They see violence as merely an over-reaction in a justifiable cause. They will excoriate the victim more than the perpetrators of the violence – often claiming that the victims brought it upon themselves. And they condemn those don’t ‘understand’ that point as a mitigating factor.

Mesirah - informing on a Jew to secular authorities - is a far worse crime to a Charedi than just about any criminal act. Charedim are far angrier at someone who reports a Jewish criminal than they are at the criminal – no matter what the crime. They will cite chapter and verse about the severity of the prohibition against Mesirah. At best they will pay lip-service to the crime and criminal – sometimes even trying to justify it on Halachic grounds!

Charedim tend to be over-protective about their reputation and deny as false any negative reports coming from the secular media which – they say - is never to be trusted no matter how well documented.

Yet another trait of the Charedi mindset is their attitude about non Jews. Citing chapter and verse they justify an unbelievable condescending attitude. Never mind clear examples dating back from Mishnaic times all the way to our own - about how to treat one’s fellow human being. They give little consideration at all to the dignity of man - as being created in the image of God and the fallout of their negative attitudes.

Ritual performance is the emphasis of the Charedi. The stricter the better. This is where they believe their greatest salvation lies. They place extremely high value on obtaining ritual perfection whereas think little about – say - appropriate business practices. The perfect Esrog; the strictest Hechsher; Davening a 20 minute Shemonah Esreh; wearing the most Tznius clothing… everything is Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin.

For Charedim image is all important. Charedim seem to place far more value on externals. The black hat; the dark pants; the white shirt – all required apparel. This attitude is prevalent in all Charedi Yeshivos. They are the ones who for example make an issue about the style of one’s Kipa.. Try going to a Telshe or a Philly in a Kipa Seruga. ‘Not gonna happen!’ (By contrast - a Charedi style black velvet Kipa in YU is quite common and generally goes unnoticed.)

Then there is DaasTorah. They consider gospel every word uttered by those people they define as Gedolim - somtimes even in areas that these Gedolim themselves wouldn't require of them.

Last but not least is the way they deal with general society and secular education. They shun both. They see the former as an evil influence to be protected from at all cost - and see the latter as - at best - a necessary evil for Parnassa.

I know that I might be missing a few things. This was not meant to be an all inclusive list. I just wanted to paint a picture.

Now it’s true that not every Charedi thinks in all of the above terms. But there are sizable numbers that think in terms of most of them.

It is equally true that every community has its own set of problems unique to it. Certainly Modern Orthodoxy has theirs – located mostly on the other side of the religious spectrum. Ritual observance is not up to par in some of its circles. Behavior toward God sometimes gets short shrift. And those Halachos are more commonly violated by the masses. And in the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy - there are a great many Hashkafic challenges that have yet to be fully resolved.

If we ever want to see unity in Klal Yisroel we need not sacrifice our Hashkafos - just rethink our attitudes. We need to improve our behavior in areas where we are weakest - both individually and communally. We ought to rid ourselves of what is unimportant and focus on what is truly important. Our goal should be to act in ways which we think God wants us to act - with Him - and between ourselves.

Most of all it means respecting our Hashkafic differences. This means jettisoning excessive ritual Chumros of the type imposed in the above Kol Korei that can lead to violent reactions in some people. No segment of Orthodoxy whether on the right or left should try to institute behavior that is a radical departure from the mainstream– even if it is technically within Halacha.

The very first question we ask before doing anything in life – no matter how big or small should be: Is this how God wants me to act? Every act we ever do both privately and publicly should be done with Kiddush HaShem in mind. Or as my father use to put it in Yiddish: Tzu Got… und Tzu Lot - for the sake of God… and the sake of man.

If we can do that – it will be a first step towards a unified and respectful relationship. And then maybe we will actually begin to merit God’s salvation.