Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Going OTD in Israel

Haim Rubenstein, at 13 and today (Tablet)
What a startling statistic! There are about 17,000 Israelis between the ages of 20 and 40 that have left the ultra-Orthodox world. This figure is from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics – reported in Tablet Magazine.

That many Orthodox Jews have gone OTD is not news. But if that number is anywhere near accurate - that so many left the Charedi world surprises even me.

I said OTD. Which means they are no longer observant. But perhaps that statistic only indicates that they left the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world. This is how Tablet phrases it. Perhaps they otherwise remain observant. I hope that’s the case. But I tend to doubt that it is in most cases. Because there is ample evidence that once they leave the Charedi world, they leave it all.

That statistic was recorded in what seems like an endless stream of stories about formerly Charedi Jews that have gone OTD. Why they go OTD is a subject that I have discussed many times – as recently as last week. But as I said - the number cited here really surprised me. The question is, why are there so many at this point in time? 

True there are more Charedim today than in the past. Exponentially so. I have no  idea what the percentages of Charedi Jews going OTD in the past was. But even if they percentages remain the same - if the population grows exponentially (as it has) - the numbers increase to an epidemically proportional number of 17,000 Jewish souls! I can’t believe that the Charedi world in Israel is not up in arms about this! If they are, they are keeping it secret.

Although I have read few articles about this phenomenon in Israel - and realize that there are now Charedi organizations that deal with it, I have to wonder if there are anywhere near enough. In any case it hardly ever merits public discussion by the Charedi leadership or their politicians. The areas that seem to concern them the most is the perpetuation of their way of life and assuring the government not only – NOT - interfere, but support them financially.

If I were a Charedi leader and someone told me there were 17,000 of our young people that have gone OTD, I would be declaring a crisis of international proportion! It would become my highest priority. I would be having mass gatherings about this instead of protesting the draft, Tznius, the internet, and smart phones.

Their response might be that protesting those things is the way they actually deal with the problem. But I have to question the effectiveness of that if it has produced 17,000 people that have gone OTD.

The Tablet article goes on to describe Haim Rubenstein, a once Charedi fellow that went OTD. (Ironically with respect to yesterday’s post -  via his discovery of biblical criticism!) He filed a class action type suit against the State of Israel for neglecting to enforce its core curriculum mandate in Charedi schools. Which denied him and the 52 plaintiffs a useful education - hindering them in their pursuit of decent jobs. Israel countered that they could have chosen one of the many schools that do provide a good education.

I don’t see how that is a defense – since these young people had no control over where their parents sent them. Interestingly – in that vein the government filed a 3rd party lawsuit against the plaintiff’s parents and the schools with the claim that they bear the responsibility of that. We’ll see how that goes.

The rest of the article is just more of the same thing I have discussed many times about this situation: The many attempts by the government to enforce those requirements; and their ultimate failure to do so.  The difficulty and the expense of trying to catch up via tutoring... and more. It’s all there. I need not rehash it again.

Back to the problem and how the Charedi world could perhaps better deal with it. I don’t believe that increasing strictures and haranguing their public is the answer to this problem. Not if that number is anywhere near accurate. It’s kind of like disciplining a child by beating him. And if he doesn’t comply, beating him harder.

Wouldn’t it be wise to try another way? Perhaps they should stop ‘beating the child’ altogether and instead try to learn and understand what bothers them. And see if the many and varied problems they learn about can somehow be corrected without them going OTD. ‘Beat’ them with acceptance, kindness, tolerance, and love instead. Sometimes honey actually does work better than vinegar. You don’t have to give up Halachic observance to do that. A little understanding and empathy can go a long way.