Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Not all Charedim are Alike

Masked Chreadim in Jerusalem's old city  last summer (TOI)
There is nothing like a rational mind to come to a rational conclusion. Which is why Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s blog is appropriately titled: Rationalist Judaism. He is indeed a rational thinker

His recent post is a good example of that. I pretty much agree with his analysis. But as always things are not as black and white as they might seem. They are grey, the way I usually see things.

I am talking about the way the Charedi world in Israel has handled the pandemic. As I have suggested in the past, there is a lot to be desired in how some segments of the Charedi world are behaving. 

The more extreme segments of Chasidic world seem to be the most egregious violators of the COVID prevention measures. That has been made painfully obvious by the huge weddings their leadership has had for their children - where thousands Chasidim are packed into a huge wedding hall. With few if any of them wearing masks. 

Not that they are alone. Unfortunately the non Chasidic Yeshiva world has been having similar issues. To the best of my knowledge the non Chasidic Yeshiva world has not had huge weddings of that nature. However, when it comes to the death of a rabbinic leader thousands of people will show up the funeral. With few if any of them wearing masks. 

The net result of this is that the proportional share of COVID hospitalizations and deaths far exceeds that of the general population. That contributes to the spread both inside and outside of their community. Charedi leaders realize there is this. But they try and explain it away as the result of large families living in crowded densely populated cities and towns.  

They are right. But while that is certainly a contributing factor, it is not the only one. Surely a lot of them are getting infected at those massive weddings and funerals. 

All of this results in secular hatred of Charedim in Israel. 

One may ask, what about secular people that are just as bad or worse about flouting COVID rules? Isn’t that selective hatred? Why do Charedim get blamed more than large gatherings of secular people in places like bars and concerts? 

There is a pre-existing reason for that.  Rabbi Slifkin spells it out quite nicely: 

Resentment towards the charedi community has long been a feature of society in Israel. Sometimes, it's through no fault of the charedim themselves; it's simply because they represent religious piety, which makes many feel insecure. But there have also been valid reasons for the antipathy. Most significant of these, of course, is the charedi policy of not sharing the national responsibility of serving in the IDF, and not even showing gratitude and respect for those who do. Then there's the economic aspect of their being a drain on society. For these reasons and more, charedim have been broadly resented, which has often been a dynamic in elections.

But never in the history of Israel has the charedi community been resented as much as it is now.

I think he hit the nail on the head. But it would be wrong to characterize all Charedim this way. There are a plenty of Charedi leaders who are as upset by the rule breakers as I am. Ha’aretz reports that this is causing a rift in the Charedi world. Which could effect the upcoming elections and diminish Charedi power in the Keneset. 

This rift should not go unnoticed. It is a rift that is long overdue. Here is what Ha’aretz says: 

Members of Israel's more moderate ultra-Orthodox community have been forced to reconcile with the harsh widespread accusations against the entire ultra-Orthodox community without differentiation between different streams. 

According to them, it’s the members of extreme ultra-Orthodox streams and the Jerusalem faction that are leading the callous violations of the coronavirus lockdown rules. There are grave concerns about how the actions of these extreme factions may impact the wider ultra-Orthodox community at a political level, starting with budget cuts and a change in the status quo, members of the moderate ultra-Orthodox community tell Haaretz.   

I said ‘overdue’. But that should not be taken as approval. I hate the divisiveness. That is the last thing I want for my people. No one wants to see unity more than I do. But as I repeatedly say, you can’t have unity with groups of people whose behavior leads to sickness and death. For themselves and for others.

Moderate Charedim do exist. Even in Israel. But to be a moderate Charedi in Israel still means adherence to all their usual norms. Such as opposing the draft and full time Torah study without the benefit of a formal secular education. 

But that they are now more vocal than ever about the ‘hardliners’ is a good thing. They need to spell out who they consider extreme ultra-Orthodox. If they do that, they might actually be able to help change the monolithic view secular Jews have of Charedim to a more nuanced view of that considers who is a responsible human being and who is not. 

It might take more people like R’ Asher Weiss who is on record condemning COVD rule violations. The more rabbinic leaders speak out like that, the better off all of us will be. The secular Israeli public will stop hating all Charedim… and instead direct that anger to those that deserve it.