Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Where Are We Going?

There is something going on in the Charedi world that is very disturbing. Why does what happens in the Charedi world concern me? I’ve said it many times. I believe it is the wave of the future.

Rabbi Berel Wein has shown that the right wing of modern Orthodoxy is already merging and melding into the moderate world of Chareidm - who have themselves, adopted some modern Orthodox modalities. The combined ‘product’ will however remain basically Charedi in Hashkafa. I firmly believe this group will be the largest and most dominant one of the future. Why? The answer to that question has been discussed before. Many times. And is beyond the scope of this essay.

It is more than just a move to the right. There is progression into a world that is separate and apart from anything we have known in mainstream Charedi Orthodoxy in my lifetime. I am talking about the increasing influence of the most extreme elements of a certain type of Chasidic Hashkafa.

This is best demonstrated in a letter sent out last Thursday night. It was in the form of a mother’s plea for her about to be sentenced son – for smuggling drugs into Japan. I was forwarded this letter which was sent out to the public.

First let me express my sincere sympathies to her. How can any decent human being not feel for a parent suffering ‘the mental anguish, emotional agony’ - to use her own words - as she pleaded her case to the world and asked that we take action to help her son.

But it is not the plea that bothers me. That is heart rending. It the actual steps she took to try and accomplish it.

I don’t blame her. She is a victim of circumstance. She was born into this community and lifestyle. But it is a very large and growing community and it definitely impacts moderate non Chasidic Charedim too.

How So? Let us look at how Chasidic behavior has influenced it so far.

Innovations include separate seating at weddings, Peyos on young people (many of whom are now adults); waiting three years before ceremoniously cutting the hair of a baby boy; not eating Gebrochts on Pesach; Wearing the uniform ‘black hat look’ more closely resembling the dress of Chasidim; and a new focus on Segulos – just to mention a few.

This has all happened over the last 40 years or so. These Chumros and customs did not exist in the pre-Holocaust world of Yeshivos. But they have been adopted by virtually all of the Yeshiva world now. Because of the homogeneous nature of western democracies – especially in America they have been quickly assimilated into the mainstream non Chasidic Charedi world.

The latest push along these lines is the matter of Tznius. The non Chasidic world is now pushing Chumros of this type on their own.

This brings me back to the mother of that convicted teen. She went to a Rav - Rabbi Yakov Meir Shechter - before the sentencing of her son to see how we could improve ourselves as a community.

She obviously felt that this would be a Segula that would provide a Yeshua (salvation) for her son and the other two adolescent’s still awaiting trial. He gave her a list of what the community needs to do. It was mostly directed at women.

♦ Sheitel is refined [within parameters of halacha] and does not attract attention.
♦ Refrain from wearing excessive make-up and perfume in any public areas.
♦ Refrain from wearing attractive or excessive jewelry in any public areas
♦ Refrain from brisk-walking as a form of exercise.
♦ Refrain from eating/drinking in public areas, especially where men are present.
♦ Skirt is at least four inches past the knee.
♦ Neckline properly adjusted in all clothing.
♦ Turban/tichel covering all hair at all times during the day.
♦ Secular newspapers and all fashion magazines kept out ofthe house.
♦ When in public, [street, stores, buses, waiting rooms,] Cell phones vibrate silently and phone conversations are kept short andquiet [out of earshot of bystanders]
♦ Shoes/heels/ fitted with a rubber sole.
♦ Exercising discreet and low-key behavior in a shared sitting area.
[apartment building lobby, doctor’s office, chasuna hall, shul mechitzah, bus stops, standing in line at checkout counters etc.
♦ Learning Hilchos Tznius daily. [Inspire by Wire – 718-906-6451, or ' עוז והדר לבושה ' according to the daily calendar provided free of charge by: Bnos Melochim 845-425-9222]
♦ Refrain from brisk-walking in a public area.

Now I have no problem with those who want to live their lives this way. But I do have a problem with this becoming the standard for all. Unfortunately there are non Chasidic rabbinic leaders who will see this as a challenge. And they will try to encourage all Jewish women to have this standard.

Is this the direction we want to go? How far off is this from wearing Burkhas?

What bothers me even more is that this is that this Rav considers this to be the most important ‘Tikun’ in the eyes of God.

Child molestations, poverty, Meshichsim in Lubavitch, the massive Chilul HaShem that is caused by people who think it is OK to cheat non Jews and the myriad other serious issues often discussed here – all play second fiddle to a woman who wears a dress that is only 3 inches below the knee instead of four inches.

Lest anyone think that mainstream Charedim are not likely to adopt these Chumros – recent history proves you wrong. How many CharediYeshiva Bachurim have Payos now? How many Charedi Yeshiveshe parents wait three years before ceremoniously giving their sons a haircut?

The move to the right is very strong. And the desire to adopt Chumros is a part of that. And although these Chumros will never be adopted all at once en masse - a gradual adoption will happen if past is prologue.

And that is sad. A world has been lost because of the desire to keep up with the ‘Jonses’ of the Charedi world. Will the progression be linear? Will we end up with a truly Taliban like lifestyle? Or will there be a backlash back to normalcy? I hope it’s the latter. But - who knows?