Sunday, November 6, 2011

Interview with a Post-Charedi Jew

My article on Post-Haredim was picked up by several media outlets and caused quite a stir. I received some interesting complimentary feedback from some very well-known figures in the Charedi world, but unfortunately I cannot reveal their names. In preparing the article, I interviewed several people whom I identified as post-Chareidi in order to clarify the reasons for their change. One of them, a very serious Ben Torah who spent many years in kollel and still comes across as Chareidi in many ways, sent me his answers by e-mail:

I decided to become Post-Chareidi due to:

(A) My disillusionment with the Chareidi leadership. In particular:
(1) Their disconnectedness from the economic situation, or more accurately - fate of Chareidi society and instead of providing solutions, blasting people and organizations who are, and persisting forcefully in their agenda of keeping everyone in learning/ begging at all costs
(2) Their intolerance, and worse: their breeding of intolerance, for any school of thought deviating even in the slightest from their own; each leader creating thereby several elitist and bigoted societies
(3) Their narrow viewpoint regarding Chazal-and-science, and social issues
(4) Their handling of their reaction to Rabbi Slifkin's books.

(B) My growing distance from the lifestyle, habits and attitudes of the classic Chareidi society members. In particular:
(1) Their contempt for Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox people
(2) Their looking down upon working men as a lower class member of society - unless he donates sufficient money to Chareidi causes, in which case he actually becomes a member of the highest class of Chareidi society (after the Gedolim)
(3) Contempt for general knowledge
(4) Demand of a learning-only lifestyle as an ideal even in the case of economic lack, to the point of lacking fulfillment of familial, moral and social obligations
(5) Their, up until recently, indifference to environmental issues and issues that pertain to the health and stability of society outside of moral issues
(6) Their attitude towards national responsibility outside of the spreading of Jewish practice and belief.

(C) My exposure to, and adoption of objective analysis of alternative schools of thought and lifestyles to Chareidi thought and lifestyle.

This response was fairly typical of what others told me.

In other news, I was pleased to read this article in Ha-aretz, of all places, about post-post-Zionism.

And in yet other news, I still have some openings in my February lecture tour in New York - please email me if you would like to arrange something.

17 comments:

  1. Rav Natan,

    Thanks for opening the debate and drawing attention to this concept of "Post Charedi" ideology, I find it very refreshing.

    Although personally I have always regarded myself as "Religious Zionist", until about 10 years ago I didn't really see a big difference between the RZ and Charedi community except for a small number of less-important issues (mode of dress, approach to Zionism, possibly approach to Women learning Torah).

    However, since the opposition to your books, and other similar events that happened around the same time, I have (slowly) come to the conclusion that Religious Zionism and Charedi Judaism are completely differents sets of belief and practice.

    This realization hurts me greatly, and I'm encouraged by your concept of Post Charedism. I hope that this movement/ideology continues to grow and build bridges between segments of the Torah-true community.

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  2. There are two further factors that have contributed to the problems in the Chareidi community I might add that are not mentioned in your historical review:
    1) The creation of the State of Israel was a huge boon to the Chareidi community. While publicly displaying negative attitudes ranging from apathy to hostile antipathy towards the State, the Chareidim have benefitted from the security it provides and, more importantly, its tax revenues to build their "learn, don't earn" system.
    2) At the same time the American and Western European Jewish communities also achieved levels of wealth hitherto undreamt of by our people. As a result they were also able to fund this type of society.

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  3. Did you see this article/opinion piece?

    Is the timing coincidence? http://yubeacon.com/2011/10/opinions/chassidism-the-truth/?fb_comment_id=fbc_5006894756033_842618_5006895313033

    Thoughts on the article in relation to yours and your interviews?

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  4. My response relates both to what's here and to the previous posting, "The Making of Post-Haredim".

    Some 17 years ago I was in America to visit my father who was sick, and on one Shabbat I was in NYC with a friend. Because he'd had a longstanding invitation for one meal, he set me up with friends of his. It turned out that at this meal there was an eclectic group of Manhattan Jews, all of us single (my wife was at home in Israel) and between 40-50 years of age. For me it was a great time, because I finally got to talk about many things that are impossible to talk about here, especially in the communities I live in.

    At some point in the conversation, one of the women attacked me over haredi ‘chinyuchiness’ - you know, the seemingly petty obsession with frumkite. Why she was so aggressive I don’t know, but in that I was wearing a gray suit, white shirt, black kippah, and my tzitzit were hanging out (I was the only one in drag) I understood why I was targeted. Without any reaction to her attitude I immediately replied, “Anyone who’s ever been in an earthquake knows that the thing that you most want to do is to find something that will give you stability. It can be the smallest, slightest handhold so long as it will give you support.”

    And continuing, “If this is true in a physical upheaval, then how much more so is it true when society is going through tremendous upheaval. It takes tremendous, tremendous strength and belief to proceed when all is unknown and all systems of navigation are inoperable. When you don’t have this strength and belief, then you’re going to latch onto any niggling thing that will give a sense of security, stability, and place.”

    The reaction to my remarks was silence, and, to my astonishment, the conversation turned to social chit-chat. On the surface, it doesn’t make a difference who we are. Few are those who are exempt from the arrogance of ______….and we each can fill in our own favorite moral/character defect in others - and I do not exclude myself.

    In terms of deeper understanding, Rav Kook, zt”l addresses most thoroughly the dilemma of what we are going through from both sides of the equation...and he does so by looking at the entirety (and not merely of Am Yisrael but the entire world). Of importance, he writes of the need for there to be a collapse within society before we can begin to rebuild constructively. Since he wrote before the Shoah, I have long wrestled with understanding what societal/time frame he envisioned, but given the state of things today I most often relate it to our current time. However, I remain uncertain if we are collapsing or if we have already begun rebuilding.

    For my own part, I have long been aware of and continually speak about the psychological damage that the [insular] Torah world does - first and foremost to themselves as a society and, in turn, to Am Yisrael - in rejecting participation in the totality of Am Yisrael. My absorption with this has given birth to this prayer.

    “My heart aches for the day when the Torah observant community will say, “Our Holy brothers, we so much want to learn Torah with you”, and the non-observant community will say, “Our Holy brothers, we so much want you to help us build Eretz Yisrael”. And simultaneously both will say, “We’ve been waiting so long for you ask us!”

    B'Shalom,
    Daniel Eliezer ben Eitan
    Beit El

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  5. Dear Rabbi Nathan,

    I thought you might be interested by a point of view from France. Here too, the "haredisation" of jewish communities is well underway.

    But most of the criticism of Haredi Judaism do not apply :
    - Haredi rabbis do care about economic difficulties and although always favor torah study, they dont ask us to do it full time ;
    - our rabbi regurarly comment on what is happening in Israel (and is surprisingly zionist, having his own daughter married to an israeli)
    - on Halakha he follows Rav Obadia Yosef, who is not the most "radical" rabbis in the orthodox world
    - he never criticize other orthodox rabbis
    - on science, I simply dont know, I never heard him talking about a scientific issue. But there is no doubt in my mind that he is a creationist. However, I do remember a shiur where he said something like "Always follow a doctor's advice. It is separated from tefilah. If he gave a medicine that saved you, its because God decided that you had to be saved at this moment by this doctor"
    - Overall, we sefardim are much more nationalist and simply dont care what other nations think of us

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  6. "I received some interesting complimentary feedback from some very well-known figures in the Charedi world, but unfortunately I cannot reveal their names."

    How post-charedi. (Ok, better than nothing.)

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  7. R. Daniel Eidensohn argued(see below) that a generation has been harmed due to the ban.

    On a personal note, after the ban, I had an hour-long conversation with a senior, well-known Charedi rav and educator, who is a household name in the frum world but who is also a "moderate"(an admittedly, subjective term, but I would not speak to anyone I considered "extreme")who, I remember, said that there were two issues:

    1) A genuine disagreement with sources such as R. Avroham ben Harambam(and with the Rambam himself). However, he had no problem with me--and I assume anyone else-- "holding" like these sources.

    2) The ban, according to him, was a quasi-psak by the Rabbonim who signed, to the effect that one has no right to harm some people(insular people with a lot of emunah peshutah), even at the expense of not helping others. This seems to agree with how R. Eidensohn is interpreting it--from the comments on R. Eidensohn blog this week:

    "I was told by one of Rav Moshe Shapiro's talmidim that while the views expressed by Rabbi Slifkin were once used for kiruv they had started to infiltrate mainstream yeshivos and beis Yaakov's. Therefore he was prepared to destroy a generation in order to uproot these views from the mainstream.

    What has happened is there there is a lot less thinking in general and a tremendous increase in cynicism and loss of emunas chachomim. The generation in a sense has been destroyed.

    So you are right that his books are less read - but was the the price worth it?"

    B) Similarly, R. Eidensohn mentioned this in December, 2005 on Avodah:

    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol16/v16n047.shtml

    "Another group argued that while the views of R' Slikfin were o.k. for kiruv - they were out of place in the yeshiva world. Problem was that kiruv hashkofa has become accepted in the yeshivos and therefore it is necessary to uproot it - even at the expense of destroying a generation - in order to return the next generation to the correct faith."

    In the recently published "Sliding to the Left", Yehuda Turetsky and Chaim Waxman quote an anonymous academic that that "there is a backlash in the haredi community to what is perceived as an over-zealous antagonism to modernity:
    The ban issued in the Slifkin affair troubled even Boro Parkers."

    (I think that one would need to take a survey; for the majority of Haredim in Boro Park and elsewhere this may not be an issue--hence, the ban).

    Turetsky and Waxman continue in note 49:

    "It is more than just interesting to note that although the haredi
    community has been characterized by strict obedience to central rabbinic authority, ‘‘Da’as Torah,’’ today that is much less the case. There is now a
    significant number of individuals who are haredi in observance but do not accept the ‘‘Da’as Torah’’ to whom traditional haredim look up. This development is, in large measure, a reaction to bans pronounced by prominent haredi rabbis to books, such as those of the previously mentioned Rabbi Natan Slifkin and Rabbi Nathan Kamenetzky"

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  8. First of all I do not know if the claim is true, but assuming for right now that it is -Maybe the ideas in Rabbi Slifkin's books entered the mainstream yeshivos because they are truthful, and the truth always becomes mainstream eventually?

    Maybe because frum Jews in these mainstream yeshivos with the perfect "emunah peshuta" struggle with these same issues a lot more than the upper eschelon rabbis realize and/or are willing to accept, and among these masses the emunah isn't so peshuta?

    Maybe because differing views of rishonim brought to light in the books, views which were not the "popular approach" for a long time are perfectly acceptable and more people today are exploring unique and under-examined sources due to the nature of Judaism's currently very textual and scholarly culture and the increased availability of such sources and ideas due to modern social media and informational access?

    It would seem to me a combination of these factors could be behind the entry of rarer ideas into the mainstream, if it really was happening. The real striking thing about all this is the dire fear of ideas of rishonim taking hold as "the new popular" in the Jewish world. Why was the current/formerly popular so much superior and inviolable, and who decided that? The xtian printing press? A rabbinic conference at a new Sanhedrin we are all unaware of (they do not decide haskafa anyway)?

    Some are much too kind to Rabbi Slifkin's detractors IMO.

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  9. "Maybe because frum Jews in these mainstream yeshivos with the perfect "emunah peshuta" struggle with these same issues a lot more than the upper eschelon rabbis realize and/or are willing to accept, and among these masses the emunah isn't so peshuta?"

    A major factor, perhaps, is the change in the makeup of the American yeshivish community(the term "Haredi" I don't think was used then). In the Sixties and Seventies many bnei Torah from Brooklyn went to CUNY colleges, and likewise, outside NY. I once heard a student of R. Yaakov Kamentesky saying on a radio interview with R. Nosson Kamentesky how the former asked this student about his college philosphy course, and that R. Yaakov knew Kant "like Ashrei" ! A ban could not take place in such an environment.

    Fast-forward today, when in some ways today, it's "achshera dara". One of the effects of this is that the average yeshiva student knows much less about secular thought than in the Sixties and Seventies. Therefore there was less of a perceived need for R. Slifkin's books, and hence the ban, without creating any crisis for the majority of people.

    A survey would give more information to what extent the minority exists in the Haredi world who were negatively impacted by the ban(such as Baalie Teshuvah, or other college graduates). Jonathan Rosenblum wrote in Mishpacha in 2008(" More Information, Please") regarding the lack of, and the need for statistics in the frum community; similarly, this was discussed in the recent "Klal Perspectives".

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  10. "The ban, according to him, was a quasi-psak by the Rabbonim who signed, to the effect that one has no right to harm some people(insular people with a lot of emunah peshutah), even at the expense of not helping others. "

    Every "moderate" charedi rav has his rationalizations for the ban, all of which are ludicrous if you actually read the words of the ban (unless you consider the gedoylim to be liars too. No doubt that could be rationalized as well.)

    Incidentally, the rambam explicitly disagrees with this rationalization in his introduction to the moreh.

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  11. "I received some interesting complimentary feedback from some very well-known figures in the Charedi world, but unfortunately I cannot reveal their names."

    I don't think it's fair to bolster your position with name-dropping -without-names by forcing your readership to take your word for it. The same point is made without the "unnamed name-dropping" technique.

    "Incidentally, the rambam explicitly disagrees with this rationalization in his introduction to the moreh."

    Incidentally, the Rambam wholeheartedly agrees with this rationalization in Book I chapter 34:

    "For this science is, as you know, different from the science of Medicine and of Geometry, and, from the reason already mentioned, it is not every person who is capable of approaching it. It is impossible for a man to study it successfully without moral preparation; he must acquire the highest degree of uprightness and integrity, "for the froward is an abomination to the Lord, but His secret is with the righteous" (Prov. iii. 32).

    Therefore it was considered inadvisable to teach it to young men; nay, it is impossible for them to comprehend it, on account of the heat of their blood and the flame of youth, which confuses their minds: that heat, which causes all the disorder, must first disappear; they must have become moderate and settled, humble in their hearts, and subdued in their temperament; only then will they be able to arrive at the highest degree of the perception of God, i.e., the study of Metaphysics, which is called Ma‘aseh Mercabah Comp. "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart" (Ps. xxxiv. 18) "I dwell in the high and lofty place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit: to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones" (Isa. lvii. 15).

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  12. I feel badly for people in the Haredi community. It is not a very balanced approach to life or Torah in general, and the consequences of that is the big problems the culture has created for itself.

    I try to have Ahavat Israel for all Jews but many, not all, of their leaders or Gedolim's philosophical approach as led the majority down a terrible path.

    What is the fix, adopting a more open and tolerant Jewish hashkafah. Replacing their Gedolim, meeting and interacting with Jews from all walks of life, learning and working on their Ahavat Israel, get real jobs, joining the army, work on personal humility. All Jews are brothers with holy neshamas and no one is better then anyone else. We all have certain weaknesses and we all have to work hard to improve.


    Shalom,

    Rabbi Simon

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  13. I left the Haredi camp (in my heart) when R. Slifkin's books were banned.

    But there's another major reason for leaving: financial corruption.

    In the last few years, which person was attacked the most by the Haredi leadership?
    Rabbi Slifkin.

    Which person received the most support?
    Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin.

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  14. That's exactly why the rambam explained his reasons for writing the moreh:

    "God knows that 1 hesitated very much before writing
    on the subjects contained in this work, since they are profound
    mysteries: they are topics which, since the time of our captivity
    have not been treated by any of our scholars as far as we possess
    their writings; how then shall I now make a beginning and discuss
    them ? But I rely on two precedents : first, to similar cases our Sages applied the verse," It is time to do something in honour of the Lord: for they have made void thy law" (Ps. cxix. 126). Secondly, they have said," Let all thy acts be guided by pure
    intentions." On these two principles I relied while composing some parts of this work. Lastly, when I have a difficult subject before me-when I find the road narrow, and can see no other way of teaching a well established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools-I prefer to address myself to the one man, and to take no notice whatever of the
    condemnation of the multitude; I prefer to extricate that intelligent man from his embarrassment and show him the cause of his perplexity, so that he may attain perfection and be at peace."

    Certainly one could never claim that the rambam would consider his own book to be muktza on shabbos because it was full of heresy! Or perhaps you could.

    In any case, as you're obviously familiar with Chapter 34, you would know that the rambam considered math, astronomy, physics, and logic to be prerequisites to the study of metaphysics. Perhaps the gedoylim ought to ban themselves from study?

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  15. Rambam Freak said...
    "I received some interesting complimentary feedback from some very well-known figures in the Charedi world, but unfortunately I cannot reveal their names."
    I don't think it's fair to bolster your position with name-dropping -without-names by forcing your readership to take your word for it. The same point is made without the "unnamed name-dropping" technique.

    I disagree. It's important to learn that RNS is confident to say big [unnamed] names are giving RNS positive feedback. No one is being asked to swear that RNS is right.

    But i have a different question: what did they actually say?

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  16. In addition to all the reasons stated here for becoming "post chareidi," here is another: the emphasis on the "yoke" of Torah versus the "joy" of Torah. This may seem like an oversimplification, but it has such important ramifications in day-to-day life.

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  17. PostChareidiGuiltFreeNovember 30, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    For me, becoming post-chareidi was a journey. One of the last straws was seeing the obvious moral and intellectual cowardice of some American chareidi leaders during the Rabbi Slifkin controversy. A much earlier one for me was a two-parter: (1) bumping into one of my Rebbeyim after I started college, and having him barely acknowledge me ---- and (2) seeing him at a wedding about seven years later, afte I had completed dental school. First he asked 'where are you holding'? Then, when he heard that I was a dentist, he pulled the arm around my shoulder shtick, gave me the big smile of approval, and acted like he was so proud that I went to college....

    Another almost-too-amazing-to-be-true story: A friend of mine who considered himself chareidi,and was learning large portions of shas while attending college, was asked to stop frequenting the yeshiva beis hamedrash to learn every night, as he was becoming 'a bad influence'. When he inquired as to what the problem was (this was a guy who wouldn't even listen to non-Jewish music, wouldn't miss minyan, etc), he was informed that bochurim in high school might look at him and conclude that one COULD in fact be a complete ben torah while going to college during the day --- and that was a terrible influence. This IS a true story, and it happened at the same yeshiva where I attended high school....

    Yeshivish-keit was so ingrained in me that it took MULTIPLE instances like the above before I felt confident enough to emove the black hat without feeling that I was compromising my religiosity.... sad...

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