Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Great Orthodox Divide

Sometimes I just want to give up. No matter how much I want to see Achdus, it seems more elusive than ever. Rabbi Yosef Reinman wrote a book a few years ago called One People – Two Worlds. He had become friends with a Reform rabbi and they wrote a book together. It was of course banned by the right and he ended up apologizing for it. He thereby retained his standing.

I think we are witnessing the same thing happening in Orthodoxy itself. We are one Orthodox people but we are definitely becoming two Orthodox worlds. Maybe even three worlds: one on the right, one in the middle, and one on the left. I have recently written about just how far out of the mainstream the left seems to be going. If they keep going in this direction there may ultimately not be any compatibility between us.

But the right is no better. I’m not talking about the Meah Shearim/Eida HaCharedis types in Israel. They seem to have already become a people unto themselves virtually cut off from the civilized world. I’m talking about American Charedim who are not seen as such extremists - but are nonetheless on the far right of Orthodoxy

I have often stated the differences between moderate mainstream Charedim and the hard right Charedim. I predicted that the hard right will eventually fall off the edge of the earth. I hope that’s still true but I’m not so sure any more. They are not going to go away without a fight. And they are fighting pretty hard for the hearts and minds of the entire Charedi world - moderates included.

An intimidating letter sent out by a couple Lakewood Beis Yaakovs to a potential parent - to be signed and returned - demonstrates this. They are in effect using a ‘status hammer’ to force their ways upon their people.

Here are their demands. They forbid any kind of dissent among the ranks. No public expression of any kind about any dissatisfaction they might have about any facet of life in Lakewood. No blogging. No websites. No involvement of any kind in Lakewood politics. And permission must be granted by the Lakewood’s Roshei Yeshiva for any kind of involvement in public affairs affecting their community.

He are basically being required to give up his sense of reason and sense of right and wrong… leaving it to others to decide. In other words he is being asked to give up his humanity and become a robot.

According to the website the parent who received this letter and forwarded it to them did not sign it and instead sent his daughters to an ‘out of town’ Beis Yaakov. (I have to wonder - are there no other Beis Yaakovs in Lakewood?)

I don’t question the right of any school to set up any conditions they want for their schools. They can demand that their students come to school wearing underwear in their heads if they want. It isn’t about rights. It is about the unbelievable level of control they are asking for in exchange for being considered a member in good standing in their community. I assume that a daughter being rejected from these schools carries with it a great stigma.

A good number of the people receiving these letters are probably moderate Charedim. They tend to do the kinds of things outlawed in this letter matter of factly. And yet they are being forced via social acceptance factors into rejecting them. My guess is that many moderate Charedim will just capitulate and sign the letter to avoid being seen as outcasts or even rebels.

This will contribute to the divide within Orthodoxy. It is a gap that is so wide that it will soon be unbridgeable – if it isn’t yet. There will be two incompatible worlds in Orthodoxy - one resembling the Essenes who were the religious right during the days of Chazal; and one mainstream that will include the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry – including most moderate Charedim.

The difference is that the Essenes died out because they practiced celibacy. The Charedi right of today does not have that problem. They will continue to grow at a rapid pace – albeit with plenty of dropouts. I was just told of another one today by his uncle who lives in Chicago.

How will this play out? Some of these parents will toe the line and be exemplars of the Charedi right. Others (my guess is the greater half) will cheat and be involved in these ‘forbidden things’ clandestinely. It seems that most people in Lakewood not only have the internet, they are Wi-Fied. And as can be seen there are plenty of Charedi websites and blogs. Not to mention Charedim who participate in them.Thus they will be setting themselves up as hypocrites and even liars to their children.

This cannot ultimately be good for Chinuch. You can’t say you adhere to a Hashkafa that you do not practice in the home. Trying to hide it from your children will not work. They are going to find out. The lesson learned will be that rules are meant to be broken. It would not surprise me that the next step for a child being raised that way will be texting on Shabbos. It would not even surprise me if that is already a problem even in Lakewood.

Whether they realize it or not the kinds of extremes these rabbis are forcing upon their people are in many ways ‘contributing to the delinquency of minors’. Their ‘solutions’ are more of a cause than a cure to the problems they see. But it seems that nothing will stop them from becoming the Essenes of our time separate and apart from the rest of Klal Yisroel. This is quite a sobering thought 2 days before Rosh Hashanah.

Updated: 6:30 PM EDT