Sunday, May 24, 2009

Centrism, Charedism, and Emes

If I believe that the wave of the future is with moderate Charedim how can I believe that my own Centrist Hashkafa which includes Torah U’Mada (TuM) is the Emes of the Torah? How can God direct the world away form His own Emes?

This is a difficult question with which I am constantly grappling. I believe both statements are true: Centrism is the closest thing to Emes and yet we are moving toward becoming a moderate Charedi Torah world.

In order to answer this question one must first understand the issues. I base my belief in Centrism in part on the Rambam’s ‘Golden Mean’ – the Shvil HaZahav. Extremes on both ends of the theological spectrum of Judaism are rejected.

It is true that the Rambam’s ‘Golden Mean’ refers to character traits. When it comes to Mitzvah observance it behooves us to be as careful as humanly possible to make sure we observe those Mitzvos as correctly as possible. Centrists obviously agree with that proposition. Extremes in pursuit of those goals are anathema to Centrists - as I beleive they are to moderate Charedim. To play on the immortal words of Conservative Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964 – Extremism in the pursuit of religiosity IS a vice!

The real question is Hashkafa. That’s where the dichotomy between Centrists and moderate Charedim lies.

I think this dichotomy can be summed up in the differences in approach to secular studies and participation in secular culture. Centrism - both Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) and TuM versions - has a positive attitude about secular studies and secular culture.

Personally I believe Torah U’Mada is the most correct approach. I arrived at that conclusion after much thought and analysis of that Hashkafa. Am I absolutely certain beyond any doubt about that? No. I can be bought. TIDE - in theory - can win me over. The one thing I am relatively convinced of though is that Charedism is not necessarily the primary way in which God wants His people to serve Him.

The reason that I think moderate Charedim will win the day is not based on my belief that it is the preferred approach by God. I can never be absolutely what God's preferred approach is. I can only believe that it is the Centrist one. The basis of my prediction is based on my being a realist. I observe and I conclude. I recognize the direction that Orthodoxy is going.

Why is it going that way? Many reasons. Here are some of them.

It is in the nature of Charedism that it is more likely to self perpetuate than Centrism. They have a preponderance of Mechanchim in the world. Charedim also tend to have larger families than Centrists. Charedim are also much more reliant on other people’s thinking than their own. They subjugate themselves to what their Gedolim think and negate their own thinking on matters of Hashkafa. They deem themselves unworthy of challenging the Hashkafos of people greater than themselves.

This attitude tends to produce a more monolithic and narrower Hashkafa than that of Centrists who while honoring those same Gedolim also include a much wider range of Hashkafic thought by a greater universe of Gedolim. Centrists combine that with the use of logic and reason to arrive at their Hashkafos.

Centrists now tend to gravitate to a moderate Charedi lifestyle – one which is not significantly different than what they are used to. They tend to send their children to a moderate Charedi school given the choice between that and a left wing modern Orthodox school. Even schools that are not really Charedi often hire Charedi Mechanchim because the pool of potential Mechanchim is mostly comprised of Charedim.

That’s why a wonderful school like Arie Crown Hebrew Day School that is decidedly not Charedi has drawn a majority of its Mechanchim from Charedi circles. Yes they are mandated not to promote their own Hashkafos. But it comes through. They are all wonderful people and great role models for the kids. That inevitably influences many of the children toward a Charedi point of view.

There are many other reasons – all discussed here in the past. The point is that all indicators seem to point toward a growing moderate Charedi Judaism and diminishing Centrist one. My belief that they are the future is therefore not based on what I ideologically believe. It is based on an honest evaluation of the factors in play.

How is it possible that God allows what I believe to be the Emes - to fall by the wayside? Does He really want the Jewish people to abandon a primary Centrist approach in favor of what I consider the secondary Charedi approach that negates or minimizes secular studies and secular culture?

One can always ask that question. But why start with me? How can Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s TIDE have been abandoned by God? Certainly Rav Hirsch was just as certain about TIDE as I am of Torah U’Mada! To claim that he meant TIDE as only a B’dieved is clearly not true. Anyone who truly studied Rav Hirsch and his Hashkafa of TIDE will tell you this.

And yet TIDE as envisoned by Rav Hirsch is decidedly not the wave of the future

I can’t know why God chooses to lead the world in this way. Why is my Hashkafa not the one God is allowing to prevail? I don’t know but I am not prepared to say that it is not the correct one any more that Rav Hirsch would say that his was not the correct one.

Who know what the future ultimately holds. It may very well be that in the future Centrist Hashkfos will somehow prevail. Maybe new light will be shed on Charedi thinking that will push it in a different direction that it is being pushed now.

In the meantime I still believe that a Centrist Hashkafa is the correct one. And I advocate it for all of Jewry. I strongly believe that ultimately God does not want His people to live in the world of 'Torah Only'. So I promote Centrist Hashkafos as much as I can and urge those who agree with me to do the same.

We are now witnessing the successful melding of Centrists into moderate Charedi society. Part of the reason for this Charedi success story is that our lifestyles are virtually identical. Hashkafos are not really debated and discussed. But those differences are real. They exist – for now.

It is my hope is that in any dialogue that may take place between Centrists and Charedim that that we can sway them a bit in toward our way of thinking – be it classic TIDE (not the new revisionist version) or TuM. The more we can influence them the truer we will be to what I believe God wants of the Jewish people. Because if we don’t at least try, powerful influences form the extreme right will find their way into our lives and take us even further away from that Golden Mean.