Monday, April 15, 2013

The Tragedy of Segregation

As I noted in my monograph The Novelty of Orthodoxy, prior to the eighteenth century, a Jew was simply a Jew, with no qualifying description (except for those that adhered to alternate traditions). To be sure, there were Jews that were more committed to Judaism and Jews that were less committed, but all were on a spectrum that was included in the general Jewish community.

Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, identify themselves, and organize themselves, as a community distinct from the general Jewish population which includes non-religious Jews. This was the inevitable result of the transition to a world in which religious commitment was no longer taken for granted and walls had to be built against assimilation. 

(A striking example of this change emerges from considering a responsum of a leading pre-Orthodox halachic authority, R. Yaakov Reischer (1661-1733). He was asked about a move to reject the kosher status of meat that was slaughtered in outlying villages by Jews that were insufficiently learned or pious. R. Reischer strongly condemned this approach. Drawing upon the Talmud, he argued that one must not cause resentment, that one must also be considerate of the needs of travelers, and most of all that the Jewish community must be united and not splinter into groups with different halachic standards. Needless to say, such splintering became not only acceptable to Orthodoxy, but even a hallmark of it, exercised to a great degree. For the Orthodox, halachic rulings are based on the needs of the immediate community, not the larger Jewish community. It would be inconceivable to many Orthodox Jews that compromising on kashrus standards is viewed by some as a lechatchilah, while insisting on better hechsherim can be viewed as the wrong choice!)

Yet this approach can have tragic consequences, especially when taken too far. For similar reasons to why Orthodoxy became a distinct sub-community, ultra-Orthodoxy became an even more distinct sub-sub-community, especially in Israel. Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron are prime examples of this.

I completely understand the charedi opposition to observing Yom HaShoah on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. They see it as implicitly making a statement that those who did not fight back were less worthy or somehow failed - which is indeed how many Jews mistakenly perceive the Holocaust.

But what about the prohibition of Lo Sisgodedu, which Chazal defined as referring to making splinter groups? What about the dictum of "Al tifrosh min hatzibbur - Do not separate from the community"? Let me stress that I am not saying that these should be determinative in this case - but how is it that they are not even considered as a factor at all?

With Yom HaZikaron, it's even more stark. At least with Yom HaShoah, perhaps charedim can say that it's during Nissan, or that they have their own way of commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, etc. But Yom HaZikaron is not during Nissan. And, having learned in charedi yeshivos and lived in charedi communities for many years, I can attest that charedim do not "have their own way" of commemorating the soldiers. Nothing, nada - there is never any mention of the IDF. Furthermore, unlike the Holocaust, where it is only a matter of commemoration, with Yom HaZikaron there is also a very strong aspect of hakaras hatov - expressing gratitude to those who sacrificed themselves, and continue to sacrifice themselves, so that we can have Eretz Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu even had hakaras hatov to sand and water! Where is the hakaras hatov for the sacrifices of soldiers? Where are the prayers for the wellbeing of those currently serving? (And yet they wonder why there is ill-will towards them, and ascribe it to evil anti-Torah motives!)

Why is there no hakaras hatov? The reason is that charedim simply do not see the soldiers and themselves as being part of the same community. That's why they not only do not observe Yom HaZikaron along with the rest of Israel, but do not acknowledge the sacrifices of the IDF at all. The IDF is part of a different community. That's why whereas endless attention and prayer was given to charedi yeshivah bochrim in prison in Japan, and to Shalom Rubashkin, virtually no attention and prayer was given to Gilad Shalit. The bochrim are "us," Rubashkin is "us." Shalit is not.

Again, I want to stress that the factors that led to this situation are understandable. Segregation was the inevitable result of the transition to a world in which religious commitment was no longer taken for granted and walls had to be built against assimilation. But when this leads to a situation whereby Torah-observant Jews don't show any hakaras hatov to people who gave their lives for them, it's a tragedy.

I want to end on a positive note, so here is a video showing how certain charedim took it upon themselves to show hakaras hatov to the IDF in a creative and much-appreciated way. It's no surprise that they are mostly Anglos - Jews from the diaspora are inevitably more conscious that what unites us as Jews is more important than what divides us. May they be an inspiration for others.


  1. If your brother comes into your house with a jerrycan full of gasoline, splashes it about the house and sets it on fire and then rescues you and your family with great self sacrifice and risk to his life then you do not owe him any gratitude. The godless, pig-eating, Sabbath desecrating, fornicating Zionists came to the holy land of Israel and caused all the Arab nations of the world to try and kill us by making their state. They killed Da-Haan when he tried to make peace with the Arabs. They State of Israel is the root of all the mortal danger to Jewish people today. Now they have to deal with the mess that they made.

    That is why the chareidim do not feel or show any gratitude to the IDF. You may not agree with them, but now you can understand them.

  2. @Moshe Laymore:

    You nicely enunciate the shallow and totally ignorant attempt at historical revisionism by some Haredim today, who try to justify their behavior and hashkafa with shameless distortions of history. It's too bitter a pill for many Haredim to swallow that they are indebted to the "godless, pig-eating, Sabbath desecrating, fornicating Zionists".

    Without the fornicating Zionists where would the masses of European Jews be after the Holocaust? Forcibly assimilated under atheist communist regimes? Where would the Sfardi and Mizrachi Jews be today, if not under fanatical Islamist regimes or fascist Arab nationalist ones? They could go to America you say? Nice try, but the fact is America didn't want to be inundated with refugees.

    To blame Israel for the emergence of Islamism and Arab nationalism is to totally ignore reality and rewrite history. To ignore the importance of Israel as a safe haven for much of world Jewry (and it was relatively safe compared to the alternatives, even considering the wars). This is part of the Haredi fantasy land that too many people live in. Its a cheap way for some people to garb themselves in self-righteousness and to sanctify a flawed hashkafa.

  3. So, from the posts on this blog it appears that the hareidim/hassidim are minority communities that disassociate themselves from the larger Jewish community, do not share in its defense, joys and sorrows, and ,arguably, hold certain deviant theological positions.

    Which leads to the following painful, if only academic, questions: At what point is a community “cut-off”, or no longer part of the Jewish people? Is it simply a matter of power? Do the hareidim/hasidim qualify? If not, what would they have to do to qualify?

  4. With apologies to Brecht: "The people have lost the confidence of the Rabbis; the Rabbis have decided to dissolve the people, and to appoint another one."

  5. @Moshe Laymore:

    Even if there was merit to the argument (which there is not) - for how many generations must the pyromaniac brother's descendents pay restitution for his brother's lost house?

    Even if you buy into such nonsense, surely any rational person should realize that if the Zionists packed their bags, shutdown the IDF, and went to Cyprus, that the Jews than remained would be slaughtered by their peace loving, god fearing, Arab neighbors. (Neturei Karta is not rational.)

    So what do you do today? You can't roll back time to a point where the state did not exist and press a reset button. Sixty five years and 3 generations later it's time to stop kvetching about what was and take responsibility for what is. There's no sympathy for the old, tired, and pathetic excuses that they've been trotting out for years now. For the rest of the Jewish world's perspective, it's time for them to step up to to the plate.

    If they don't feel that 3 generations of support and protection from the state for their lifestyle is sufficient reparations, then what else do they need so that there is final closure?

  6. The four "Yom's" cannot be lumped together, and should be not be viewed the same, in my opinion.

    Yom Hashoah - unnecessary. We already have a Tisha B'av, and that was sufficient. But understandable why the first few post WWII generations feel differently. In 50 years will pass into dessitude, or whatever the word is.

    Yom Haatzmaut - in theory, should be celebrated. Founding of the state unquestionably of monumental significance. But we have so many holidays already, not too many people in the mood to adopt new ones. First get rid of yom tov sheni, then we'll talk about Yom Haatzmaut.

    Yom Yerushalim - pretty much see above.

    Yom Hazikaron - a beautiful idea. Chayallim are heroes. Every shul should say the weekly misheberach, without question, and the av harachamim on yizkor. But do we need a day dedicated to it? Smacks both of arrogance and of secularism. Can see why there is opposition to the formal institution of a specifc Yom Hazikaron day. In no way by itself means there is no hakaras hatov, and charedim should emphasize that point by showing hakaras hatov in other ways. (can begin simply by saying mi sheberach, etc. If they dont like the rabbanut version, get someone acceptable to them to make their own.)

  7. Rabbi, I think you will enjoy this post from a self-described ultra-orthodox democrat living in Israel

  8. Rabbi Slifkin: At whom do you point? As an American Oleh raised in a Chareidi environment, I must say that there is simply no education about the modern state of Israel. For better or worse, Israel; Ahavas Eretz Yisrael, was hijacked by Zionism. At its inception, Zionism represented very dangerous movements and on the wholesale scheme (is there any other for good Jews?) the decision was to avoid its blessings in favor of protection from its dangers.

    I think it is safe to say that times have changed and that children are more aware. Social Media, broader education in Chareid and Modern Orthodox circles, triples to Israel are making more and more Jews interested in our national stake.

    Just like Zionism, however, the Chareidi system avoids specific markings that do not hold special significance outside of their somewhat skewed beginnings. If one were to ask the Roshei Yeshiva of Mir Yeshiva, Kol Torah, and Ponovezh whether or not it approriate to appreciate the sacrifice of the soldiers, they would of course answer in the affirmative. Pray for their current welfare? Without a doubt. "So why do they have to be asked?" Unfortunately, the system has created such shallow-mindedness that a Rebbe must first apologize for what may sound like Zionist dogma as the powers of association have been so ingrained in our unthinking youth, that they may write off the whole lesson as herecy. Sad. But true. Train children to think. Train parents to allow them to think for themselves. Complain about the sad state of global affairs. Don't blame Chareidim for everything.

  9. R' Natan -- perhaps the explanation is best found in some of your previous posts. If the Haredi community believes that their men learning full-time sacrifice just as much, and provide just as much (if not more) physical protection as IDF soldiers, and that this sacrifice goes unappreciated by secular or non-Haredi society, then it only stands to reason that they would be reluctant to express gratitude to the IDF!

  10. KAJ in Washington Heights says a Kel Maleh for the IDF as part of Yizkor. I don't who started this or when, but I thought it should be noted.

  11. >>>
    Again, I want to stress that the factors that led to this situation are understandable. Segregation was the inevitable result of the transition to a world in which religious commitment was no longer taken for granted and walls had to be built against assimilation. But when this leads to a situation whereby Torah-observant Jews don't show any hakaras hatov to people who gave their lives for them, it's a tragedy.

    My off-hand thoughts, for what they're worth:

    Segregation wasn't _inevitable_. It was _chosen_ by a group who believed that the things which separate us (as Jews, against the nations) are more important than things which unite us (as Jews, with the nations).

    I don't think you would say that Modern Orthodox Jews aren't "Torah-observant". But they have taken a very different path than the haredim.

    Which brings up another question:

    . . . Should we refer to the haredim as "Torah-observant Jews" ? You (among others) have pointed out that they observe what they think is important, and ignore what they think is unimportant.

    "Unimportant" includes things like educating their children, working for a living, serving in the IDF, and so on. [I think your piece about praying on the front lines was wonderful!]

    And, as you write here, "unimportant" includes keeping the whole Jewish community integrated.

    So I'd be inclined to strip the haredim of their self-claimed "Torah-observant" status. They are trying to recover a world _that never existed_. A friend once called that "the good old days that never were".

    They have a powerful dream of how the world ought to be. But that's not "Torah observance".

  12. Throughout this entire controversy, I have been shocked that none of the religious people in favor of the Haredi draft (particularly you, Rabbi Slifkin) have brought the story at the end of Sefer Shoftim where the People of Israel kill the entire town of Jabesh-Gilad for dodging the draft.

  13. @ Moshe Laymore

    Oh for the Halcyon days before the State of Israel when Jews were respected by all and no Jew had to fear for his or her safety.

    Aryeh Baer

  14. @ DF,

    If Yom HaZikaron is arrogant, how qouls you justify Tzom Gedaliah?

  15. ahg has hit the nail on the head but I don't know when the chareidim will be ready to move on to a new era.
    Aryeh Baer, I think the chareidim in England and America do feel gratitude to the police for keeping them safe from dangerous people and to Hashem for making the free world a safe place to live for everyone.

  16. issacson - i dont know whether you meant that post from Rabbi Horowitz as favorable or not. Unfortunately I read it this morning before shul and it bothered me throughout Yom Hatzmaut davening. Here is the comment I posted (dont know if it will be published):

    So you lived here for 17 years enjoying the protection and benefits of the state without becoming a citizen, and you want credit for going to har herzl to say kaddish for "Jews" and cant even refer to them as soldiers of this state? You call New York your "home" and spend more time on nostalgia about the alterheim and only have words of disdain for the culture you have come to mooch from? Who is your audience for this piece? I say either grow up or go back home. Happy April 16th to you!

  17. "...prior to the eighteenth century, a Jew was simply a Jew, with no qualifying description (except for those that adhered to alternate traditions)."

    That's like saying that all food was kosher, except for the treif.

    There have always been break off groups from masoretic shmirat hamitzvot.

    From Korach to Karaite, from Tzidukim to Sabbatean, from Cutim to (early) Christian - there have always been groups of Jews who decide to break away from masoretic shmirat hamitzvot, and follow some other code of law instead.

    Today, it's the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, etc.

    However much I disagree with the decisions of some groups who identify as "Charedi", I am not ready to count them as a breakaway group. Yet.

    The fact is, they still observe the mitzvot. They still follow the mesorah.

    They are blinded by fear; fear of losing their Torah study centered world, to the siren song of modernity.

    This fear causes some Charedi groups to eschew everything "new".

    They will quote the witticism of the Chasam Sofer,

    "חדש אסור מין התורה"

    and I respond with Ecclesiastes 1:9,

    "ואין כל חדש תחת השמש..."

    I said Hallel with a bracha this morning, (Yom Haatzmaut) for the same reason that I do so during the days of Chanukah - it fits the criteria laid out in the gemara.

    If my Charedi friends were not so blinded by fear, perhaps we could have a honest discussion about this - and many many other - "new" observances, and decide which ones are in line with halacha.

  18. I also question the blind aceptance of Hareidim as Torah observant. Perhaps they started that way, just as the secular zionists started out as anti-religious. But times have changed, and the hareidi community as a whole (obviously, individuals are to be judged only by Gd) goes against Torah in throwing stones on Shabbat, not serving in the army, not workign for a living / not declaring income for tax purposes, etc etc. This "yerida" parallels the secular Israelic community's search for meaning which has brought about the creation of organizations concerned with Torah and the Environemnt, Torah and Work Ethics etc.
    In short, the perhaps-once-secular state is becoming a גוי קדוש.
    And the Hareidi community, as it says in the Haggada
    אף הוא הוציא את עצמו מן הכלל
    BEH, they too will do Teshuva and Return to the Torah Nation.

  19. Were you kidding by writing this post?
    When 2 million charedim do not observe yom hazikaron you opine it may be "poiresh min hatzibbur"
    Yet when one ashkenazi rabbi Slifkin eats locusts against the 2 millenia strong ashkenazi norm thats not poiresh min hatzibbur????
    And all this on a rationalist website!
    Rabbi, have you ever thought of stand up comedy in your spare time?

    1. Ah yes, the Ad Hominem. Helping people make fools of themselves for all eternity.

  20. It's a factor to be considered in both cases.

  21. Hi Rabbi

    You wrote: "This was the inevitable result of the transition to a world in which religious commitment was no longer taken for granted and walls had to be built against assimilation."

    When do you speak of? If you mean immediately following the French Revolution, then your statement is not quite correct. Prior to the FR, people in Europe were identified by their religion because it was tied directly to the state. A person was not a member of a religious community and also a "citizen" of the state - they were a member of the religious community under a government that was also tied to a religious body. There was no existence beyond that, no notion of a "secular" person living outside of a religious community (until Spinoza, who was expelled from one, but did not join another). Remember, religion and government were essentially inextricable, at least in Europe and throughout the Muslim world.

    Thus, post-FR, it was not so much that religious commitment needed to be taken for granted, but that people had to choose to identify with a religious body and choose to behave religiously, which was now a notion independent from the government. The state could no longer tell you what to do or punish you for failing to uphold this or that religious tenet (at least in theory). Thus, Jewish individuals needed to decide how "Jewish" they would choose to be. Jews who chose to remain more religiously conservative were labeled "Orthodox" by those Jews who sought to adapt Jewish practice to what they perceived as the "progressive" nature of the times. It was no longer up to the state to essentially force Jews together into a community; they could "assimilate" (this notion now becomes accurate) or not. The point is that the FR left religious beliefs and practices up to the individual, not the state.

    What is better - choice or no choice? That question has basically determined Jewish history for the past two centuries.

    M. Singer

  22. Adam,

    You are definitely correct in that nearly every generation for the past 3000 years there have been at least two major Jewish groups, claiming authentic Judaism.

    But you have it wrong, the Pharisees were the breakaway/reformers from the then normative/majority Sadducees , the descendants of temple centric Judaism.

    The belief that our (rabbinic) Judaism goes back to Sinai, without having undergone major changes is a fiction. I believe that the Gemorrah hints at least truth with the story of Moishe visiting a shiur being given by R. Akiva.

  23. elemir,

    There are thousands of years and millions of pages of Jewish scholarship, from Talmud to Zoo Torah, that disagree with that assertion.

    The Oral Law was given with the Written Law at Mount Sinai. That is an essential tenet of Judaism.

    Anyone who denies this basic truth, is not practicing Judaism.

  24. R' Wein and R' Goldstein's new book, The Legacy, makes this point as well. Creating sub-communities out of frumkeit is against the Torah, as far as Lituanian rabbanim were concerned.

  25. >>>>> millions of pages of Jewish scholarship, from Talmud to Zoo Torah, that disagree with that assertion.

    So what, since when do large numbers necessarily prove anything…..there are tens of millions of pages that claim there once was this dude, named Jesus, that was the son of God. And we both know that’s nonsense.

    Besides, every single one of these pages that you refer to were written after the Talmud, and mostly based on the Talmud. Show me one document that supports, even slightly, that the Oral Torah as presented in the Talmud goes back to Sinai days.

    While, I on the other hand can offer dozens of arguments that show that many aspects of the current Oral Torah were introduced much later than Sinai, and in addition and more importantly, that Chazal were not all that infallible in describing our history.

    >>>> tenet of Judaism.

    I think that’s a typo. You probably meant “tenet of Rabbinic Judaism”.
    That’s another mistaken belief we take for granted. That Judaism has pretty much remained the same throughout our history. But I highly doubt that Moishe, Dovid, Ezra etc. kept the same Yiddishkeit that we do.

    I mean, look, in our very own time, there is now a group that has created a society claiming authentic Judaism yet its version of Judaism has NEVER existed before.

  26. I don't know how things spiraled off topic, but please remember that the comments policy requires comments to be on the topic of the post!

  27. And yet the community that arrogates to itself the mantle of 'defenders of pure Judaism' conveniently ignore the endless ways in which they themselves distort our religion.

    Creation of new aveiros, new mitzvos, davening to people alive and dead, practicing superstition, dancing round pagan bonfires, inventing miracles (and profiting from them!), nichush, pursuing miraculous shortcuts rather than expending effort, downplaying choshen mishpat issues, kafuy tovah on the historically unparalleled comfort of the times in which we live today, honoring wealthy reprobates, all of these and more are the real departures from "authentic" Jewish practice.

  28. elemir,

    I did respond to you, but the blog author did not post my response.

    Oh well.

  29. R. Slifkin,
    The Jewish people/nation/religion is not one community. A community is a "social unit larger than a small village that shares common values."

    Lamenting the fact that Charedim don't treat IDF soldiers like part of their community is, frankly silly.

  30. About 40 years ago, a guy I used to know, Sam Howoritz from Silver Springs, MD, was explaining the many different strains of Yiddishkeit to someone on the road to becoming frum. He said something like, "Frumkeit is like a cube. You can be in the upper-left corner or the lower-right corner and yet you are still inside the cube and so it is OK. There are edges that are questionable and so you should avoid them and there are definitely places outside the cube where you don't want to be." I think there is much wisdom in his words. I would add that we are not all the same. What moves one person, what appeals to one person, may be uninspiring or uncomfortable to another. Thus, there are all these different strains of Frumkeit. A person has the task of finding where they best fit but there should be a place for everyone. We may have some real and significant problems with a particular derech, but that other person still has who to rely on for that derech. Finally, it is not my job to tell someone else how they must live their lives, what life choices they must make; I even apply this to my children who are both on a different derech than I am. I think we need to first accept each other much more than we do as a first step for resolving the issues that divide us. We have to accept that there isn't just one right way and accept the other's choice.

    With respect to showing gratitude for the IDF. Even if someone cannot accept the very existence of a secular, Zionist, State, the fact remains that there are men and women who put their lives on the line, get maimed and killed, to protect every person in the country. How can you call yourself a good person, much less a good Jew, and not show appreciation for someone who is willing to get killed to protect you and your family? For me, it is as simple as that.


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