Monday, August 30, 2021

Looking Down at Each Other

Charedi Gadol, R' Chaim Kanievsky
One of the more troubling issues for me these days is how Charedim and modern Orthodox Jews look at each other. Which is (to say the least) not in very flattering ways. For obviously different reasons based on perceptions by each of the other that are inaccurate. And I’m not sure that can be fixed. The prejudice on both sides runs deep. 

That is just plain wrong and is responsible for a lot of enmity between us. I will nevertheless try and dispel some of those prejudicial notions. 

The  perception on the Charedi side is seeing the very idea of modernity as anathema to Orthodoxy. Leaving a modern way of life to be an illegitimate form of observance They believe that MO Jews are lax in their Halachic observance for purposes of enjoying the culture. A culture they see as a frivolous waste of time at best and Halachicly forbidden at worst. 

They do not see MO Jews taking Halachic observance seriously - basing it more on the social norms of their peers.  They thus see MO skating close to violations of Halacha and sometimes even crossing the line. Many Charedim believe there is no rabbinic guidance to MO lives. Questions in Halacha are never asked. They just plunge right in without thinking about it  too much (if at all). 

YU's R' Hershel Schachter
It never occurs to them that modern Orthodoxy is a legitimate Hashkafa. One that has legitimate sources  and rabbinic leaders. They just see modern Orthodoxy as a bunch of Jews that are lax in their observance for purposes of personal indulgences. 

Adding to this perception is what the extreme left of Orthodoxy is doing. By bowing to the cultural milieu of our time and thereby ignoring centuries of tradition they are seen as completely outside the pale of Orthodoxy.

This is why Charedim look down upon modern Orthodoxy. They consider it a Jewishly illegitimate way of life. Even though MO Jews are Shomer Shabbos, observe the laws of Kashrus and the laws of family purity (Mikva use). 

The truth is that there are indeed MO Jews that fit that description. But they are not the sum and substance of modern Orthodoxy. There are MO Jews that are as sincere in their observances as are Charedim and respect tradition enough not to seek change. They just see the world differently than Charedim. And they have their own sources for that. Just to cite one example: the Torah Im Derech Eretz Hashkafa of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. Charedim dismiss that as B’Dieved at best and reject it entirely as a way of life. 

Charedim see themselves as forever striving to improve their observance and reject entirely the values of the general culture. 

Which they see as “Treif’ and to be avoided. They take the higher road in all ritual observances always striving to improve. If there is a more enhanced way of performing  a  Mitzvah, they heartily embrace it. Rarely relying on Halachic leniencies. This does not mean they don’t participate in the culture at all. But when they do, they might see it as a weakness which they strive to get rid of. They rely heavily on rabbinic advice for how to live their lives. Advice  they have received in a variety of ways (e.g. their parents, teachers and rabbis) beginning from when they were old enough to understand it 

For their part, Many MO Jews see this lifestyle as aberrant. That the world was not meant to be avoided the way Charedi world does. That not every Halachic stringency need be adopted. Many MO Jews  also tend to see fault in how Charedim relate to the non Jewish world. Being far more lax in how they treat non Jews. That is seen as breeding a culture of white collar crime - if they can get away with it. There is also the perception that the Charedi Hashkafa encourages reliance on government programs designed for the poor - in order to support a lifestyle of pure Torah study. Although qualifying for it legally, MO Jews nevertheless look down upon it as a means of income based purely on a lifestyle choice. 

While there are surely Charedi Jews like that, most  are not. It’s true they strive to ever increasing levels of ritual observance. But the vast majority do not rely on government programs and do support their families that way. They are ethical enough to leave Kollel and find a job - in many cases even seeking a higher education in order to do that. 

These descriptions are a bit oversimplified. There are many other issues upon which we do not see eye to eye. But I think it paints a picture that is not that far off. The prejudice that exists is based on real issues. But in both cases the belief is that the few represent the many. Although there are a lot people in both communities that are pretty much the way each are seen by the other, the fact is that it does not define their group. Both Charedim and modern Orthodox Jews have the right to define themselves as they see fit. As long as a large enough segment of them live up to those standards. 

It would be nice if both communities stepped back from their preconceived notions of the other, see the reality, and realize that we both have committed Jewish lifestyles that are authentic. Even though we might differ in how we live them. And therefore respect each other in the spirit of Elu V'Elu rather than looking down at each other.

Wouldn't that be nice?