Friday, January 04, 2013

‘Inside the Box’ Charedism

Typical Charedi classroom
photo credit - Ynet
Among the many comments made (153 thus far) on the wonderful post by Sam Love yesterday there was one comment that stood out… at least for me. I have touched upon this subject before and I thank my good friend Mitch (last name removed at author’s request) for bringing it up. Because there were so many comments, it would be easy to miss this one. But it is important. Five points were made. I am re-posting them here:
1) I would like you to do a blog about people like me, who have a large family and a number of kids who are no longer orthodox or indifferent towards religion.  I think this is a widespread problem, but am not sure.
 2) I have a Telz neighbor and a nephew who are raising their kids Charedi.  I think that their kids will not go off the Derech.  So who is correct? 
 3) The entire Cheridei community is close minded.  For me it was an e-mail debate about Herzl on
 Despite Aish being a more open minded organization, the Rov e-mailing me could have nothing good to say about Herzl, despite my explaining to him the dynamics, what Herzl was about,  that Herzl was almost solely motivated to save Jews. 
He ultimately said that our heroes are our Gedolim and we do not need other heroes.  What bothered me was that he could not recognize any good in Herzl.

4) I have become a huge admirer of YU.  Their level of learning is on par with Lakewood, maybe not the numbers.  People coming out of YU are Talmidii Chachomin.
 5) Success is always respected in every community, no matter what anyone tells you. 
Mitch is a great guy. He is smart, a Yoreh Shomayim, is Kovieh Itim, and also happens to be a senior vice president at MB. If I recall correctly he was once the president of Yeshivas Tifferes Tzvi, a local Charedi elementary school.

I bring all this up because he is a victim of the system too. Some of his children went OTD. He now blames the system that he once enthusiastically supported.

I am not here to lay blame. I’m sure there is more to the story. There are far too many students that have gone through the Charedi system and are doing just fine. They have incorporated the values of the system and live exemplary lives. Many have even done well financially in business or the professions.  Most of them I would call moderate Charedim - or at least mainstream Charedim. But there are some who have fallen through the cracks including a number of Mitch's kids.

The points he made are somewhat eclectic on the surface and may seem unrelated. But I think if one examines the attitudes by some of the more right wing elements among even mainstream Charedim, I think one will find that there is a connection between what happened to Mitch’s kids and the attitudes expressed by the right. 

The example he gives about Herzl is right on the money. This is an issue I have written about before. The more right wing one is, it seems - the less they can accept anything at all good to say about him. That is the ‘black and white’ nature of the Chredi world.

Not every Charedi feels this way. But in Mitch’s experience, and in mine that kind of thinking is fairly common as you move further down the right.

When young people who have been allowed by their parents to think for themselves come in contact with an all or nothing mentality… bad things can easily happen.

Of course Mitch is not alone. The OTD phenomenon hits a great number of good and decent families – even the best among us. Even those way to the Charedi right. And yet with all the talk about ‘Kids at Risk’ and the huge numbers of people going OTD, I don’t see the ‘black and white’ paradigm changing. The rigidity of such a Hashkafa is toxic to an open mind. If one has open minded parents – it is an invitation to disaster to try and force their children into a box.

I was reluctant to post this as it occasionally brings out the worst in some people. I therefore urge anyone who comments about it to refrain from bashing any particular institution. I only bring it up as an important issue that I think needs airing. But please let us not lower ourselves to insulting rhetoric and try to state any criticism we might have about extant issues in respectful tones.