Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Alive and Well …and Kicking!

Although I have had profound differences with Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, (as in his decision to excise the Bracha of Shelo Asani Isha from the standard liturgy) I must admit his recent essay on the subject of Charedism resonates with me. But I neither agree with his conclusion nor even wish for it.

In an essay entitled, ‘The Tragic Unraveling of Haredi Judaism’ he seems to feel with some degree of confidence that the Charedi world is in a state of decline. He blames it on many of the things I often write about right here.

While justifiably praising all the many contributions made by the Charedi world to Judaism he nonetheless says the images coming out from those quarters of late are so negative that no non Charedi adolescent could ever be inspired to follow in that path. He thus sees ‘the end of days’ for this community. He ends his essay with the following challenge:

Whether we are prepared for it or not, the modern Orthodox community (in all its many shades and forms), bears the obligation to step up and fill this void. We can no longer be content to carve out our own religious lives, and bear responsibility only for our own families and communities. We need to pick up the fallen torch, and be the models of piety, Torah study, and self-sacrifice that Jews everywhere need to see, admire, and be inspired by. This shouldn’t be a stretch for us.

As Orthodox Jews, we are already committed to all of these values. And we have the additional strengths of also being committed to the ways of peace and mutual-respect, to positive engagement with the world around us, and to seeing the good in modern society. Now more than ever, we need to be true to our Modern orthodox values, as the mantle of broader Jewish inspiration is falling to us.

I can’t really disagree with his description of Modern Orthodxy’s strengths. Nor do I disagree with his idea that we ought to be engaged in promoting those values and incorporating the many positive values of the Charedi world. But I question his prediction of demise. In fact I completely reject it. It is not going to happen. Charedi Hashkafos will survive the current crisis – if there even is one.

Yes, all the things Rabbi Kanefsky says about those negative events are true. And the images of late are indeed unattractive to say the least. But when one looks at the total picture of the literally hundreds of thousands of Charedim in the world who are committed to this lifestyle… and the fact that the vast majority of Mechanchim in the world are Charedi – even in many non Charedi schools, you would have to be blind, deaf, and dumb to believe they are going to go away anytime soon. Or ever for that matter. They are the wave of the future – as I have said here many times.

The average non Charedi may not be attracted to this Hashkafa as much as they used to be because of all the negativity. But Charedim don’t need non Charedim to grow. They are growing exponentially just fine without them. This is true both in America and in Israel. The images that he legitimately says are a turn off to the rest of the world are unfortunately not interpreted all that negatively ‘in house’.

Many if not most Charedim have put a positive spin on all these negative things - rationalizing them away as not so bad …or even Mutar …or saying they are anomalies and not indicative of the true ways of the Charedi world …or marginalizing the extremists – defining them out of Charedism …or refusing to read or believe any negative reporting by the ‘Frum hating’ secular media. Once you have put the negativity in its ‘proper’ perspective, then you are left with quite a few pluses like the ones Rabbi Kanefsky concedes are real. That is what they focus on and with legitimate pride.

The only real danger is internal. In the unlikely event that they would fail it would be because they will self destruct via the heavy financial burden placed upon them by their lifestyles of Torah only. And even then it would be more likely to occur in Israel. In America, there are enough Charedim that do eventually prepare for making a decent living – those I call moderate Charedim, which I believe comprises a majority of them. Perhaps even the vast majority.

But even that scenario is unlikely. What may instead happen is a reassessment of their priorities. Or there just may be more ‘defections’ into moderate Charedism – even by Israelis as more and more of them are forced by poverty to seek a way to make a decent living. But they will all retain the Charedi values of Torah only as opposed to Torah U’mada or Torah Im Derech Eretz. At least in theory if not in practice.

To paraphrase Mark Twain - reports about the death of Charedism are entirely premature. It is alive and well. Nor do I even wish it would die. As does Rabbi Kanefsky - I respect and admire what they have accomplished and wish them continued success in those areas.

As I said the wave of the future is Charedism. But a moderate version of it. One that already exists and is combining socially with the right wing of Modern Orthodoxy. That is the true wave of the future.

My only hope is that Modern Orthodoxy will not be swallowed up by the much larger Charedi segment who for the most part controls the religious education of their own children and in many cases the education of right wing Modern Orthodox children.

I hope that the best of modern Orthodox values will not only be retained by that community but that they will be able to pass it on to the next generation and even influence Charedim currently to incorporate some of those values into their own world.