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Guest Post: The Charedi Spring?
Here is part one of a series from Avishai Ben-Chaim, entitled "The Charedim: Disintegration," translated by Marty Bluke.
According to estimates, one out of ten charedim have become non-religious - and Charedi society is in a crisis that it has never experienced before. Some become part of the romanticized group, those that represent freedom, but also many of the sons and daughters of baalei teshuva are leaving the path in great numbers. "This is like the Arab Spring, the same influences," says Yehuda Moses, the son of MK Rabbi Eliezer Moses. "In the past what blocked Charedim from the world was the failure to bring in the outside media. Today anyone who wants has it in his pocket."
Is it possible that for the first time since the masses left the yeshivas on the winds of the haskala and and later with the charm of Zionism that we are looking at a revolution? Is it possible that today there are more people leaving Charedi Judaism then joining?
"Today Charedi society is facing its biggest challenge in its history" says Avishalom Shiloach a former Charedi. "Thousands of young people are leaving. This is no longer just teens in trouble, or families in distress, this is from the cream of Charedi society. There is no house that doesn't have someone leaving."
Moshe Shenfeld, a former Charedi from the organization "Making a Change," says, "In the past few years, about 1/10 of the Charedi population leaves every year. The Central Bureau of Statistics has a poll about society. Among other things that it asks, it asks about the persons level of religiosity now and asks what was your level of religiosity when you were 15. 10% have become non-Charedim."
These astounding numbers are backed up by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Out of 157,000 people polled who said that they grew up in a Charedi household at the age of 15, more then 12,000 defined themselves as no longer Charedim. "Given a few more years and the Charedi mother will be giving birth to more Chiloni children then the Chiloni mother", says Shenfeld.
Since the poll a few years has passed and the phenomenon of "yotzim bisheila", becoming non-religious, in the Charedi world is only growing and getting bigger and bigger, the estimate is that 1 in 10 Charedim are leaving. To these, one must add the even larger number leaving the National Religious world, according to some estimates 25%.
For many years there has been talk in Israel about successful Charedi demographics, but it seems that the Chilonim may be able to ultimately win in this historic battle, and the number of Charedim leaving today is more then the number of Chilonim joining the Charedi world. Rabbi Yossi Mizrachi, an important kiruv Rabbi, states: " The number of religious people in the world is not growing. Many Charedim are leaving the fold. Someone told me that there are more people leaving religion then joining".
Uri Zohar, in a publicity video for the organisation "Maaneh", adds, "We are in a very unique generation. There is a phenomenon that has never happened is such numbers, there were many people who left the Torah world at the time of Haskala and reform ... but that was due to ideological reasons."
Avi TapilinksyAvi Tapilinsky, once Rabbi Avraham Tapilinsky, lives in an old building in Nachlaot and was joined by a group of people who left the Charedi world. "The Charedi world does not understand the depth of the crisis that it is in", he says. Shiloach adds "They say that we have [lives with] no meaning, a soul, spirituality. [However,] we have God and also the Sabbath and also girls. We have both this world and the next world". Others add "We are like a big population of immigrants. In our view, the Charedi world has lost the war. Charedim is a new phenomenon, 60, 70 years old - they keep everything in the Torah except in reverse."
This is the spring for former Charedim. Suddenly even those who disappeared years ago are revealing themselves. Yehuda Moses, son of MK Eliezer Moses, left the Charedi world. Why did no one speak of him, only the daughter [of MK Moses]? "Because I am shy" he explains. "I didn't publicize it because I didn't want publicity".
It is hard to describe how bewildered the Charedi leadership is in response to these powerful stories, and how these stories are so painful and dealt with great care. Rabbi Eliezer Moses "Why do you say my children, I have my daughter Chaya Heidi, who I am very close to and she is very close to me, my grandchildren, an accident happened to her in her life as they say. What can I tell you, it really hurts me. It hurts me but I am not sitting shiva. I asked the Gedolei Hador and they told me there is nothing like Kiruv, to have any chance of making things better".
Yehuda Moses: "This is like the Arab Spring. In my opinion it happened for the same reasons. In the past what blocked Charedim from knowledge of the world was the inability to bring in any media. Today, everyone who wants has all the information in their pocket. Someone who is an idiot, better he stays that way, someone who has the ability to understand and the curiosity to want to know, knows. This is the Charedi Spring".
Rabbi Lazer Moses, the father, has a great soul. There is much pain and longing hiding behind the historic drama that the two opposing sectors of society provide, those who leave religion and those who return. "Today I went to a monastery, that is anthropology" says Yehuda. "When you see other religions, you see either how pathetic your religion is or how similar they all are."
The romanticized group of leavers from mainstream Charedi society that have turned into a symbol of freedom are only part of the crisis. Charedi society at its high point produced many returnees, but now their children are leaving the path in great numbers. With them it is not ideological, even if the pain and disappointment sound much the same.
Shiloach: "We are part of a crusade to to kill God, 'the threatening God,' the 'strict God,' the 'God of texts and rituals.' We are looking for a God who is much greater and much more loving. Every day we need to kill the old God so that we can love the new God and ourselves."
Given the large numbers of leavers, it seems that the non-religious and Zionists are going to win this historic battle and even to offer an alternative Sabbath experience. Later, we will see how the non-religious help the extremist Charedim win out over the moderate Charedim and come out on top in the struggle to define the face of Israel and no less important, Judaism.
[A reminder, because, incredibly, there are always people who do not read the title or first paragraph: This is a guest post. That means that I didn't write it. N.S.]