Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Zealots' Perspective

The following extremely informative video includes an interview (in Hebrew) with the leader of the thugs in Bet Shemesh, as well as some important footage of events (please note that the video includes random advertisements, some of which, according to reader reports, include immodest scenes):

It shows how far apart their worldview is from normal society. I can't think of any short-term solution for this problem. In the long run, however, I think that their society is doomed, due to the freedom of speech and infiltration of ideas that the internet brings. I think that they know it, too, which is why they are getting so worked up lately.

It's good to see a sharp condemnation of their actions, in this report of a lecture by Rav Edelstein of Ponovezh.

(Hat-tip: Rafi G. at Life In Israel, the best news source)


  1. Rabbi,
    You wrote:
    "I think that their society is doomed, due to the freedom of speech and infiltration of ideas that the internet brings. I think that they know it, too, which is why they are getting so worked up lately."

    This is EXACTLY the point that David P. Goldman makes in his book "How Civilizations Die" and also in "It's not the End of the World. It's Just the End of You." He brings statistics to support this point as well. Those books are consciously, a rationalist defense of orthodox Judaism and christianity. You would probably love them.

  2. I see the irrationality and thuggery as symptoms of the decline. Information which challenges their views and puts the lie to many of the communities' stories is everywhere. An earlier generation of Orthodox Jews did what the observant have always done. They figured out how to adapt to meet religious needs in the world in which they found themselves.

    Today's shrill, reactionary fringe shuts itself in and lashes out violently because it knows at some level that it cannot succeed. Science, communication, information, contact with outsiders and challenges to the doctrine of ethnic superiority are existential threats. Therefore, irrationality, insularity, normal social relations, ever-increasing restrictions and even the inability to speak the same language as outsiders are enforced with ever increasing violence. And it still doesn't work. The outside world continues to exist and exert its attractions on the Tremblers.

    Further, the lifestyle is not economically sustainable. The large families which maintain Charedi political influence are paid for by others through taxes or charity. The low male workforce participation ensures poverty and dependency.

    The system has limped along for sixty years, but is failing. Charity is drying up, and even the most generous Jews are beginning to change their priorities in giving. Government assistance is drying up. Without these the lifestyle of large families, enforced idleness, full-time life-long indoctrination cannot and will not survive.

    The only question is whether its collapse destroy Israel and Orthodox Judaism.

  3. I just saw this today:

    Apparently, it's still possible to close yourself off from the internet :)

    Warning, that link has some non-tzenuah pictures.

    Perhaps in the future there will still be 15,000 charedim with this way of life.

  4. "I think that their society is doomed, due to the freedom of speech and infiltration of ideas that the internet brings."

    Pretty surprised to see you make such a statement. You're into science, I know, not history, but a good rationalist should know a heap of the latter too. And there are countless examples in history of men assuming orthodox Jews were finished, only to be proven wrong.

  5. One minor point that I found interesting....Friedman spoke fluent modern Hebrew with a modern Israeli accent. Many people living in Israel who came out of the "old Yishuv" and other closed Haredi groups speak Hebrew with what we may call a "yeshivishe" or "yiddishe" accent, but apparently Friedman himself was exposed to modern influences which affected the way he speaks.

  6. Can anyone verify that this guy is the real deal? Seems to me that there's an issue with trusting that the guy is actually a "zealot" if he's willing to do an interview for Israeli tv.

  7. DF, previous generations of Orthodox Jews rose to the challenges of a changing world and adapted. They learned skills, moved their families thousands of miles, adapted religious practice to new conditions. They learned how to remain Jews in worlds they could not control.

    The current crop of extremists turns this on its head. They reject adaptation choosing to just shut out everything with which they are not comfortable. Rather than becoming professionals and entrepreneurs a huge percentage survives on government benefits and private charity. They don't even want their children to be fluent in languages - English and Modern Hebrew - which would allow them access to wider opportunities.

    Orthodox Jews can certainly adapt. Reality-denying reactionaries seldom prosper. If they are allowed to become the only form of Orthodox Jewry the movement may be fatally vulnerable.

  8. 1) I wish you were right, but I'm not so sure. Fifty years ago, people said chassidim would never survive and they actually have flourished. This Friedman fellow is young.

    Is it really certain that the Internet will change anything? Has the Internet made the Orthodox world deal with biblical criticism? I wish it had since I'd love to read what intelligent rabbis have to say on the topic. Unfortunately I'm left to fend for myself.

    2) I, too, love the fact that he speaks fluent Hebrew. Just goes to show you that at least in one respect the Zionists were extremely successful. Activists really can change the world. They can even change the way people who hate them live their lives.

  9. Rabbi,

    This is my problem with some of the criticism that American Modern Orthodoxy levels at the Charedi world in Israel:

    Why isn't the condemnation filling up my newsfeed on Facebook? Why, when one of the "Gdolim" does finally get up and issue a sharp condemnation, nobody cares? Seems to me that a lot of the criticism isn't so leshem shamayim either.

    disclaimer: I find the Charedi behavior abhorrent, and I agree with everything written previously about the situation on this blog. I'm simply frustrated that people in America complain that no condemnation is issued, and then ignore it when it finally is issued.

  10. We need more rabbis such as Rav David Bar-Hayim and Rabbi Yehoshua Buch who advocate a Judaism which is relevant and intellectually honest. And I pray that some of those zealots look at their Torah.

  11. Todd -

    These distinctions are meaningless. Orthodoxy has always been stuboorn and unyielding, its just a question of degree. You underestimate the club appeal of belonging to a distinct minority. Chareidim aint going anywhere soon.

  12. Since this blog is primarily in English and some of us struggle to read hebrew why not post this link instead for Rav Edelstein -

  13. R. Slifkin,
    While I feel that the things you write are important and should be discussed, I am sad that these posts have become the main topic for the Rationalist Judaism website. Yes, these are related to rationalist judaism (by discussing the extremes of a non-rationalist perspective). Yes, they are important. Yes, you are in a strong position to discuss these things, as both a personal victim and a resident of Bet Shemesh. Yes, you should continue your quest.

    However, in the past I felt that reading this blog was, in and of itself, talmud Torah. I have learned a great deal of Torah from it, mostly the opinions of rishonim that one doesn't get to hear elsewhere. E.g. Rishonic statements to which I can relate, that speak to me volumes more than midrashim presented as historical facts that I hear everywhere else. Also, you dealt with questions that rationalist-leaning Jews face (such as your recent parenting dilemmas post). I greatly enjoyed those posts.
    While I feel that your current posts are important, I don't get the same sense of Torah. I miss those non-political posts. They have been of great benefit to me (and yes, I have bought books and e-manuscripts as a result).

    I'm not sure what you should do (and who am I to tell you, anyway). Perhaps, if it wouldn't make too big a statement, you should create yet a third blog, which you can devote to dealing with the problems/threats of chareidism to Judaism, and perhaps building up the alternative (but please don't then neglect this blog!). I don't know. But I really miss the old Torah-centric Rationalist Judaism posts.

  14. Hillel- Definitely. I am familiar with Moreinu V Rabeinu Rav Bar Hayim Shlitta, but where can the teachings of Rabbi Yehoshua Buch be found? (I know their are a few things from Machonshilo) but are their more things like shiurim (preferably English) and essays of his?


  15. Et hata'ai ani mazkir hayom. Earlier today, my anger at intemperate and inappropriate comments made many years ago caused me to post an intemperate and inappropriate comment on this blog. Rav Slifkin wisely chose not to publish it. Rav Slifkin, I ask your forgiveness.
    Following is what I *should* have written:
    I am heartened by the ahavat Yisrael and wisdom in the words of Rosh Yeshivat Ponivezh. Ken yirbu.

  16. Jon asks: "Can anyone verify that this guy is the real deal? "

    I am curious if there are true stories in Jewish history about infiltrators, provocateurs, who have gone through extreme lengths to bring down a belief system or lifestyle.

  17. Someone already commented on this, but this video is machshil the rabim as it has totally asur images on it. This is not against you, but would be interesting to hear justification for it. Thanks

  18. The young man who was interviewed is shockingly ignorant of Jewish history and I would say, of Jewish law. It is clear that he is no talmid chacham -- but an am ha'aretz. He is as unrepresentative of chareidim in general as the Unabomber was of the environmentalist movement.

    But as a side point, I couldn't help but notice the ugly and distasteful Israeli commercials that accompanied this clip: an embarrassing ad for feminine hygience products, hawked by a woman dressed in an extremely immodest fashion, and then an ad for a brand of razor, showing men shaving with razors -- which is forbidden by Jewish law.

    I know it's a coincidence, but these ads are provocative and offensive -- almost as if someone WANTED to deliberately offend Orthodox Jews, tit for tat. If that young man in the interview is clueless as to how incredibly offensive he is, the secular broadcasters in Israel are equally clueless.

  19. I don't think they are doomed at all. Not by a long shot. They are feeling threatened. But they are far from doomed. They know how to keep insular and sustain themselves. The Chassidish in the USA have done just fine monetarily and socially (it helps their finances that they do not believe that stealing from non-Jews, cheating non-Jews or breaking the law are assur, but that is another topic altogether).

    The fallout rate is not that bad, and even with 20-30% going off the derech, when families have on average 10-15 kids each, that's a HUGE population that is remaining in the system. It is also a huge amount of growth.

    Unfortunately, the Charedim and even the most extreme of the Charedim, even with a 25% fallout rate, are outnumbering the more moderate and modern Orthodox. And I fear that Charedism will become the future of Orthodoxy.

    I wish it weren't true, but even the most extreme, while possibly feeling more threatened, are not at all doomed in my opinion. Far from it.

    And I agree with DF - there is a very strong pull to stay "in the club". They're not going anywhere.

    (I suppose in 200 years from now we'll see who won this bet.)

  20. DF, without money or the means of making it, without education, without technical skills, without basic rationality and connection to empirical reality it is going into the dustbin.

    Orthodoxy may be stubborn. Orthodoxy as a movement isn't that old. And in the past there were strains within it that could deal with the real world. Today's Charedism does not seem to have that capability.

    Or think of it this way. A healthy organism can maintain a certain parasite load. Some parasites are actually in a mutualistic relationship with the host at some levels.

    But if the load gets too high the host is damaged and may even die. Charedism absolutely and unequivocally imposes a significant drain on Israeli society's resources and the chesed of Jews worldwide.

    It also causes changes in the nature of Israel and Judaism. Where it is strong the potential of half the human race - women - is horribly diminished. And the potential of the other half is muted as, channeled into just a few areas. The Sciences are destroyed. The Arts suffer and become derivative. Politics is distorted. Civic society is crippled. The ability to process and react productively to new circumstances is curtailed.

    The Universe does not owe us anything. We have no guarantees of survival let alone success. The current state of affairs is not sustainable. We already see where the lines are coming together on that graph. It's somewhere in the territory between "collapse" and "civil war". This is unprecedented on this scale in the last several hundred years of our history.

    These are all, as we say, Bad for the Jews.

  21. It is true that conservatives and radicals will continue to exist. But, that doesn't mean that haredi life as we know it now will continue to thrive. It seems that at the minimum there will be a growing willingness among the haredi majority to work and serve in the army.

  22. " but where can the teachings of Rabbi Yehoshua Buch be found? (I know their are a few things from Machonshilo) but are their more things like shiurim (preferably English) and essays of his?


    Other than his writings on Machon Shilo, or his involvement in the siddur Eretz Yisroel, I have not found anything by him.

  23. Todd - I'm not disagreeing with anything you say. I'm just observing that orthodoxy has been written off many times before, and it's always stuck around. And the same ills you describe in charedim have also been used to describe orthodoxy in general.

    Michapeset - That 25% figure you just throw out there as the "fallout" rate is way, way off. You honestly think 1 out of every 4 kids is becoming irreligious? Now, if you define "fallout" to include minor adjustments, such as shaving or smaller beards, or wearing a hat instead of a shtreimel, then you're getting closer. Still off, but closer.

    Likewise, the "10-15 average" childbirth rate you claims is vastly overstated. The LARGE families have such numbers. You are not taking into account the many who are unfortunately childless, the ones who marry late, and the relatively modern chassidim - of them there are many - who have only 5 or 6 kids. Taken together the average family size is closer to 6 point something.

  24. Toby Katz

    "I know it's a coincidence, but these ads are provocative and offensive -- almost as if someone WANTED to deliberately offend Orthodox Jews, tit for tat. If that young man in the interview is clueless as to how incredibly offensive he is, the secular broadcasters in Israel are equally clueless. "

    Thank you. Your comment is the crux of the matter. Chilonim are offensive when they do perfectly normal things like shave. Yes, I know it's an issur de-oraysa. We Orthodox Jews have to understand that if we can be offended because a Chiloni walks and moves, then he can be offended if we stand there in a black hat or sheitel.

    OR - we can all learn to live and let live and not be offended by the mere mundane appearance and existence of each other.

    I repeat - the fact that you find a Chiloni just doing natural and normal things offensive is no different from being offended or embarrassed by a Jew dressed in black. In both scenarios neither can handle the fact of the other.

  25. What does "גאוועלד" mean?

  26. Rav Slifkin,

    Did you read about the new Ramat Bet Shemesh Foundation? It is written about in Chadash and in other press releases.

    It seems that it will be all Charedi run for the benefit of "everyone". The press release picture has only kippot shchorot (even Dr. Reit in the uniform is very Charedi).

    The irony of this is that the foundation head is Shmuel Zalman Eidensohn the same man who supported the extremists to keep RBS from becoming "too modern".

    I see this as another Charedi hijacking.

  27. It seems that many of the commentors here are not aware of 20th century Jewish history. Starting with the Haskalah movement in the 19th century, but accelerating in the 20th, particularly after World War I, there was a MASSIVE falling away from traditional Judaism. In inter-war Poland, between 1919 and 1939 the vote for the Agudat Israel political party that sat in the Polish Sejm (parliament) fell by half. What is worse is the way many yeshiva educated people in Russia ended up joining the "Yevseksia" - The Jewish section of the Communist Party. It was founded by Jews , many from a traditional Orthodox background, one of its leaders that I am aware of had semichah from famous Rabbanim. This organization first started with anti-religious propaganda and then turned to spying on Jews who insisted on maintaining their loyalty to Torah and Mitzvot and having them sent off to Siberia or even worse.
    Isaac Bashevis Singer, whom I am aware was a problematic writer and had given up the religious observance of his childhood, but who had respect for honest, sincere religious Jews including his father, wrote about how, in the coffee houses of Warsaw in the interwar period, young Jewish communists fresh out of the yeshivot and Hassidic courts would sit around and draw up death lists of "reactionary" Jews who would be "liquidated after the revolution". Singer was astounded how peole who had lived in such a passive, bookish environment had become so bloodthirsty.
    Many of the leaders of the anti-religious MAPAM party (forerunner of today's MERETZ) came from Hasidic families, including many from rabbinical and even Admor's families.
    Thus, I wouldn't extrapolate too far in the future predictions about what extremist religious groups will be. Rav Natan Lopes Cardozo, who is in touch with many religious young people insists, against what many people claim to see, that a MAJOR crisis of faith, comparable to the shock of the haskalah is in store for the religious community.

  28. Are there any Chareidi Kibbutzim?

    I personally have never heard of one, but it would seem to give them many of the benefits that they seek without creating the problems they encounter in city life.

    (*) They get to control ingress and egress to their "neighborhood".
    (*) They can control who gets accepted to live there and who does not.
    (*) They can close all streets and shops on Shabbat and no one will object.
    (*) Only shops that are "kosher" by their standard would be allowed to operate.
    (*) They can control all the signage and advertisements placed in the streets.

    Potential problems
    (*) No municipal services.
    (*) No tax base to leech off

    Maybe the Israeli gov't should start granting them kibbutzim for their expanding population and not be building new neighborhoods for them.

    Maybe when they have to figure out for themselves who is going to collect the garbage, pay the communal electrical bill, and have guard duty, etc., they will develop an appreciation for earning a parnasah as well as the IDF.

  29. Phil: "I am curious if there are true stories in Jewish history about infiltrators, provocateurs, who have gone through extreme lengths to bring down a belief system or lifestyle."

    Saul Berlin comes to mind.

    DF, while Chareidism is here to stay, its form is changing tremendously. Today's Chareidi is yesterday's MO.

  30. I also saw the article in Chadash about the RBS Foundation.

    First of all anything that Chadash writes about in a positive way can't be good for the Jews.

    I also agree with Robert, this seems to be nothing more than a Charedi attempt at "spinning" rather than spitting.

    Rabbi Eidensohn does some good things be he is also closely aligned with Rabbis Perlstien and Kornfeld, 2 of the most problematic Charedi rabbonim in RBSA.

    It bothered me not to see a bigger representation of people who do tzedaka, chesed and other great things in the community.

  31. Can anyone confirm with Rabbi Kwalwasser who teaches at Lev HaTorah what is going on here? Isn't he dati leumi?

  32. >>>> Rav Natan Lopes Cardozo, who is in touch with many religious young people insists, against what many people claim to see, that a MAJOR crisis of faith, comparable to the shock of the haskalah is in store for the religious community.

    good post, but one doesn't need a scholar to make this observation.

    as people become more informed and educated, any religion that advocates beliefs that can be shown to be false, will certainly go the way of the dodo bird. and unfortunately many aspects of OJ, especially the chareidi version falls into this category.

  33. although you added this: (please note that the video includes random advertisements, some of which, according to reader reports, include immodest scenes):

    I dont see this a heter. why is a disclaimer enough. Please reply thank you.

  34. DF - I should have been more specific. I was talking about Chassidim in the USA in NY - Williamsburg, Boro Park, Monroe, Monsey, Kiryas Joel, Skver, and just recently in Lakewood, NJ. The 25% drop-out rate is based on information from people I know who live in those communities. Additionally, in USA, Chassidish families in the neighborhoods mentioned, 10-15 kids is indeed the norm. You can probably average it out to 10 kids, with the more modern families having 7 kids and the rest having between 13-15, allowing for the childless or those with fertility problems. The average stays at 10. Which means that 2.5 kids per every 10 drop out of the system. But 7.5 kids remain. And yes, 25% seems like a large number - it is - but come the USA and do some research in those communities mentioned, and you will find that in some neighborhoods the dropout rate is even higher (and in others it is lower). But even with that rate of dropping out, when 75% of 10 kids stays in the system, boys are married off by age 19, girls by age 17, the growth continues at a fast pace. And in terms of "older singles" - it's rare in USA Chassidish circles. The only monkey wrench that has been thrown into the system of late is divorce. But even with the divorce rate being higher and more acceptable than in the past, remarriage is frequent, encouraged and produces additional offspring. They're not doomed in my opinion. Not by a longshot. But again, we probably will not be able to know which of our predictions are correct, as it wont happen in our lifetimes. For the non-rationalists - I suppose we can meet up in a different gilgul in a couple hundred years and see how it all played out and whose prediction was correct.

  35. Anyone notice the irony in how he accidentally agrees with the interpretation that the Biblical Flood was only in Israel? He says he davens for the fall of the Israeli government when he says "ki saavir memsheles zadon min haaretz". And then, "which Aretz do you think that's talking about, America?" This is the same argument made by those who want to limit the area of the flood, as has been discussed on this blog.

  36. Ahg suggested a charedi kibbutz but cautioned that there would be "no tax base to leech off of." I don't know how this misconception could possibly exist but then again the israeli media never ceases to amaze. Somehow they have convinced the masses that only charedim leech off the tax payer but arabs and kibbutzim don't (or its forbidden to point out in those other cases). Lol. Just to inform you ahg and whoever else had a similar impression, much like the arabs who are the biggest leeches off the taxpayer of all, the kibbutzim cannot exist without the govt drip line.. so your charedi kibbutz idea would still depend on govt handouts, like all kibbutzim do.

  37. This guy Moshe in the video recognises anyone that keeps Shulchan Aruch as a religious Jew.

    I'm interested to know in which way these girls are not following the SA. If I'm not mistaken the SA demands that non-married women should also cover their hair. Is this what Moshe is referring to? If yes, do the non-married women in Moshe's community cover their hair?


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