Tuesday, April 8, 2014
The Angst of Anglo Charedi Converts
With the term "Anglo charedi converts," also known as "Anglo charedi wannabees," I am not talking about people who converted to Judaism. Instead, I am referring to people who grew up Orthodox but not charedi. These people tend to be idealistic, sincere, and passionate. They want to be moser nefesh for higher goals. At some point, they wanted to become more serious about Judaism, and they received the impression that this meant becoming charedi. This often happens during the post-high-school year in Israel, especially if they attended one of those yeshivos that is supposedly for centrist/ modern Orthodox students but which has charedi rebbeim (such as Ohr Yerushalayim, Toras Shraga, etc.).
The Anglo charedi convert has changed his course in life as a result. He has eschewed the high-powered careers chosen by his classmates (unless he became charedi at a later stage in life). The Anglo charedi convert typically attended kollel, being reluctantly supported by his non-charedi father or father-in-law. He has lots of pictures of (charedi) Gedolim on his wall. His children are in charedi schools. He is very happy with his new social affiliation.
At least, until recently.
You see, most Anglo charedi converts can never truly become full-blooded charedim. They have been brought up with solid values about how to be a good citizen. They have an innate respect for government, and a special place in their hearts for the State of Israel. They read the non-Jewish press more than the charedi press, and thus identify with Israel against the rest of the world. They feel a swell of pride whenever they see an Israeli soldier. They think that some secular studies are beneficial. They are acutely conscious of how non-charedim view charedim.
How do Anglo charedi converts feel when they see everything that Israeli charedim do? It's very uncomfortable for them to see the utter contempt of Israeli charedim for the State of Israel, their lack of appreciation for the IDF, and their refusal to acknowledge the value of work. They are dumbfounded by the fighting between different Gedolim. The Anglo charedi convert may even feel, deep down, that there is something to this "share the burden" concept.
There are some Anglo charedi converts who realize that the charedi world is not the One True Way that it claims to be. These people disassociate from the charedi world, to a lesser or greater degree (see my article The Making Of Post-Haredim). But for most people that is too difficult a step. They have embedded themselves in charedi society, and it's too difficult socially, emotionally and psychologically to change path in life.
Some frankly admit to their discomfort with charedi society, especially with regard to recent events. (Several such people are readers of this blog.) But many do not want to admit to such problems with their chosen path. As a result, many Anglo charedi converts engage in denial.
These people refuse to discuss the statements made by Gedolim and rabbonim of the Rav Steinman/ Rav Auerbach camps about each other. They'll claim that the rallies in Jerusalem and Manhattan, staged as protest against the government, and designed with political goals (as evidenced by the location), were simply innocent prayer gatherings. They'll claim that Tehillim 69, calling for God to pour His wrath upon the evil heathens, was not recited at the rally as a reference to the Israeli government, even though this was quite obviously why it was being recited, and it was consistent with statements uttered by Rav Ovadiah Yosef and, yibadel lechaim, Rav Steinman. They'll claim that the Nachal Charedi unit in the IDF is a good thing and is evidence of charedi participation in the IDF, even though there are barely any charedim in it and the Gedolim at the rally forbade further participation in it. They'll claim that the Gedolim really support career-training programs for charedim, even though all evidence is against this. As a defense against criticisms of charedi society, they'll point to Anglo-charedim who have professional careers and who davven for the IDF, even though these are precisely the Anglo exceptions that prove the rule.
In addition, these Anglo charedi converts will try to shut down any critique of charedi society. (This is in contrast to Israeli charedim, who relish the argument.) They'll describe it as "bashing" or "hate-mongering" and they'll call for achdus, as we have seen on Cross-Currents. But really, they want to silence the criticism because it makes them uncomfortable and insecure about their path in life.
If the Anglo charedi converts are not able to change direction in life, one can only hope that they will positively influence the full-blooded charedim around them. Unfortunately, this is unlikely, since true charedim don't really respect Anglo charedim as charedim, just as sources of money. Still, one can hope!
Posted by Natan Slifkin