Sunday, May 22, 2022

Tolerance and Moderation is Key to the Charedi Future

Tolerance? Or an 'either/or'? (Mishpacha)
I was a bit taken aback by Gedalia Guttentag’s article in Mishpacha Magazine last week. Using the same data I used recently to make a similar point about the wave of the future (where in a few short years one of every 4 Jews in the world will be Charedi) he took the occasion to signal a sort of triumphalist attitude.

Not that I disagree with that prediction. I do. I have been predicting this phenomenon for a long time. The difference between his take and mine is that I see the future Charedi world mellowing – meaning that the majority of that world will consist of people like Guttentag himself  - a moderate Charedi.  I have no idea what kind of education Guttentag had. But I would be willing to bet that he had a decent secular education to go along with his religious education. That enables him to construct a well written column in Mishpacha on a regular basis. Nonetheless he took the occasion to not only predict the demise of heterodox movements – which I too have predicted - but added the following:

It’s an astonishing turnaround — one that  (Agudah founder) Rav Yaakov Rosenheim could scarcely have imagined — and it means that once again leadership at a national level is heading our way. In the near future, the Torah world will be a major part of the national conversation about Klal Yisrael — this time from a position of strength.

Although he did not say it in so many words, it seems to me that this is an invitation to establish a far more right wing way of life than a moderate Charedi would be comfortable with. To cite one very important aspect of that - it is how the current leadership sees Limudei Chol (secular studies). Meaning that beyond 8th grade it is wholly unnecessary. Or worse an impediment to our spirituality. 

Leaving out those Chasidic schools that have had a no Limudei Chol policy from their inception - more than a few Charedi high schools have now adopted that paradigm too. It is my understanding that those high schools are considered among the more elite and more sought after by Charedi parents.

I do not see that paradigm to be the wave of the future. But not for a lack of the Charedi leadership  trying to make it so. The days of Telshe Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Avorhom Chaim Levine, ZTL, who valued Limudei Chol seems to be increasingly becoming a thing of the past. 

The moderate Charedi world I am predicting is not one that will be bereft of any Limudei Chol. The vast majority of that world as it exists now is one that had those benefits. A future Charedi world will require it in order to thrive, in my view. The vast majority of Charedim today are of this moderate variety.  Which I believe typically follows the following model: 

After learning in a Kollel for few years an Avreich will go on to a successful career in business, the professions, or even in academia. That would hardly be the case without having received a decent secular education in high school. The world that I predict will consist mostly of moderate Charedim whose lifestyles will hardly be any different than those of Centrists like myself.

But Guttentag, it seems,  makes no such prediction. He ignores the sociological aspect and seems to focus more on the spiritual aspect – ignoring the practical ramifications of a world without Limudei Chol if the current trajectory away from it persists. 

Asking the Charedi leadership  to step up to the plate seems to suggest that their current anti Limudei Chol direction become the standard that all Jews should live by as the only authentic one. As if to say that Centrism will barely be tolerated (if at all) as a proper way to see Judaism. Seeing the Centrist  Hashkafa at best as Krum (a crooked rather than the straight and more correct Charedi Hashkafa). And that those of us that have this crooked Hashkfa should be disabused of it.

If that is what he was implying, I could not disagree more. My future is one that sees similar lifestyles where Hashkafic differences will not matter – rarely if ever discussed. Not a future that is monolithically pursuing the most right wing track. Because that is a prescription for disaster. 

I do agree with the following, however: 

And that requires a major shift in thinking, in terms of achrayus (responsibility) for the Jewish People as a whole — a sense that what happens outside our ghetto gates matters.

Blue-sky thinking of this kind already exists in the kiruv world. But that conversation about the Jewish future needs to go mainstream. It’s no longer good enough to bemoan the “Holocaust of intermarriage” — we have to tackle it at a national level...

Phoenix-like, the Torah world has risen from the ashes, as these new numbers show. The aberration of the last two centuries when secularism took the reins is over, and the chareidi world needs to step up to the plate. 

I agree in theory that we need to deal with the current majority of Jews that are leaving Judaism in droves. My only quibble is that I don’t see any real success along those lines. Not that we shouldn’t try. But the task is too big. The barn door has been open too long and the horses have gone too far afield to get them back. It is a sad commentary on how Jews have fared in this wonderful country where we can live as free as we want without any repercussions. But it is that very freedom that has done most of us in. 

Those of us that were not raised in observant families that included a religious education to match are the ones leaving in droves. I am therefore not optimistic – to say the least. But as noted, that does not free us from trying. 

A lot of time has been wasted focusing only inwardly over the decades while all this was happening. If there is anything the Charedi leadership can do now to deal with that more effectively, I am all for it. Better late than never. 

That being said, I am nevertheless disappointed at Guttentag’s apparent lack of accepting an Elu V’Elu approach to the future. Instead seeming to double down on a future where only a more right wing Charedi Hashkafa will matter. 

Not that I think that the Charedi world should accept a Centrist Hashkafa for themselves. Not at all. I actually believe in Elu V’Elu. Only that they respect it as a legitimate form of Judaism even though it is not their own.  And that no one be judged by their Hashkafa. Only their level of observance matters. And even that should not be judged. That is God’s department. 

I believe that an Elu V’Elu tolerance is required in order to assure a healthy survival of Orthodoxy. That will allow us to thrive and  eventually become the new Jewish majority. A majority that will truly represent what the Torah is all about.