Thursday, November 03, 2011

Are We in the Era of Post Charedism?

There is an informative article in the Jerusalem Post by Rabbi Natan Slifkin that deals with the concept of ‘Post Charedism’... claiming in the very title that we are in the midst of making it or that it already exists.

I find the idea of ‘post anything’ a curious topic. There is post denominational; post modern; post Zionist and post religious among many other ‘posts’. My perception of people that are ‘post something’ is that they place themsleves outside or ahead of the mainstream who they feel are still lagging behind the new reality, will soon realize it, and change accordingly.

As I understand it the idea of ‘post something’ means that the era of the thing we are ‘post’ has come and gone - and that we are now in a new era. The previous one has come to an end, is now irrelevant, or perhaps even harmful.

If that’s the case then I’m not sure I agree with Rabbi Slifkin about post Charedism. He considers himself to be in this category. And that is quite understandable.

You may recall that Rabbi Slifkin’s books were banned as heretical a few years ago by a group of Charedi Rabbis. Rabbi Slifkin was then a member of the Charedi community and this came as a shock him as it did to many Orthodox Jews - including me - who shared ideas like his about reconciling science and Torah.

As a result Rabbi Slifkin felt that he could no longer be a part of the Charedi world. But as he says in the article, he never really turned to Modern Orthodoxy for refuge. He apparently still in many ways identifies with the Charedi world of which he was a part. So now he calls himself post Charedi. The article then goes on to explain his evolution from Charedi to post Charedi.

He begins by describing the history of Charedi Judaism, which in my view is a fairly decent presentation of it. He then explains many of the problems associated with Charedism – things which are often discussed here. The result he says is that many Charedim have become disillusioned with the intellectually stifling Charedi way of thinking and have adopted a new approach he calls post Charedi.

But is that actually the case? I’m sure that Rabbi Slifkin sees it that way. He is an intellectual – someone who has analyzed what Charedism is all about and now rejects it. He rejects ‘the narrow boundaries’ of Charedi thought and adopts the broader perspectives of Jewish thought that have always been available to us. There was never any limitation on using classical sources in Hashkafa until recently. That these sources have been rejected by the Charedi world forced him to leave. But… where does he go? Is there really something called post Charedi?

I believe that Rabbi Slifkin is relatively unique. Although I am sure there are many others like him, I suspect that they are only a small minority of Charedim – probably not enough to define them as a new movement. The vast majority of Charedim who have become moderate are doing so for practical reasons, not intellectual ones.

It takes a certain degree of intellectualism to reject lifelong indoctrination by a Hashkafa that itself rejects intellectualism. I believe that the vast majority of Charedim simply do not think along these lines. I suspect that most of those that do tend to go completely ‘Off the Derech’.

These people are raised in Charedi culture. But they no longer buy into the extremes of it. They are still Charedim albeit moderate Charedim. I do not see an intellectual revolution here. I see a practical one. Hashkafos are not driving the revolution. Most Charedim are just increasingly not buying into extremes anymore. They are therefore becoming moderate and mainstream.

In pursuit of that they do some of the same things that many Modern Orthodox Jews do, such as going to professional schools and finding good jobs. They are also more participatory of the general culture – much like their Modern Orthodox counterparts. The only difference being that they may feel a bit guilty about it. In sprit most of these newly moderate Charedim would still identify as Charedi and would probably reject the idea that they are post Charedi.

This does not mean that Rabbi Slifkin is wrong. I just don’t see this as a movement. Instead I see it as something I have been saying for quite some time now – as recently as yesterday. The New Charedi is the moderate Charedi - not the post Charedi. There is (or will be) a new social order as I have said many times. I call it the New Centrism. But it is a social rather than intellectual revolution. And until I can be shown that there is a critical mass of Charedim that question the very Hashkafos that make them Charedim they will remain Charedi and not post Charedi.