Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
Not For The Reason You Might Suspect
A lot of people assume that I am critical of the charedi world due to bitterness about the ban on my books. I suppose it's a reasonable hypothesis, and I can't be objective about myself. However, to the best of my self-awareness, it's not the case. I have different reasons.
As I have written on many occasions, most notably in my essay "In Defense Of My Opponents," I am extremely sympathetic to the ban on my books. Of course, I don't think that my books are actually heretical, and the ban was handled extraordinarily badly, causing me a great deal of pain. But I certainly agree that the rationalist approach is harmful for many people, and that the charedi leadership has the right, and perhaps even the duty, to attempt to keep it out of their community.
To my mind, the problems with the charedi community are not its opposition to science and rationalism. Vastly more problematic are, for example, its approach to abuse, with Ami magazine's recent interview with Weberman's defense attorney (but not the attorney for the prosecution!) being the latest example. Another serious problem with the charedi world is its utter mishandling and abuse of the concept of rabbinic authority, with major decisions being made in a non-transparent way, by people who lack the proper knowledge, wisdom and input to make such decisions, and being manipulated all the way through by askanim.
Still, to my mind, these problems, as grave as they are, do not fundamentally invalidate charedi society in its entirety. Every community has its problems. Chabad has its crazy messianism. Modern Orthodoxy fails to produce adequate teachers to perpetuate itself. Religious Zionism struggles with political extremism.
The biggest problem with charedi society (certainly here in Israel; I'm not sure about the US), the one that makes it a failure, is something else: the charedi approach of mass, open-ended kollel, with the notion of work being, at best, a choice for second-class citizens, and at worst, something less preferable to collecting at people's doors. This goes hand-in-hand with educating one's children to follow the same path, and denying them the education and (more importantly) the inclination to do anything else.
As I've written previously, this is completely untraditional, or, if you want to sound more frum, against the mesorah (see my post The Invention of Kollel, and my paper on The Economics of Torah Study.) It also goes against numerous statements in Chazal about the value of work, the problem of casting oneself upon the community for support, and the obligation to train one's children to be able to provide for themselves. It goes against the kesubah, in which a man accepts to “work for, esteem, feed and support” his wife. It goes against the very fundamental nature of human society, across all times and cultures.
The problems that it causes are catastrophic, and extend far beyond the financial poverty of the people in kollel. Parents drive themselves into deep debt in order to marry off their children, which requires buying them apartments and supporting them for many years, even forever. Shidduchim are made and broken on the basis of money. An often unbearable strain is put on the wife, who is expect to not only give birth to, and raise, many children, but shoulder the burden of earning money (in contrast to the kesubah). The men themselves often feel unfulfilled and inadequate (which they are). And poverty itself is the cause of many problems with shalom bayis. And it's a problem that just gets worse and worse with each generation; for each child that goes a little "off" and attends one of the new charedi vocational training schools, there are five that don't.
In Israel, the problem is compounded. Not only is there an entire community that simply shirks its responsibility in sharing the national burden of serving in the army, pretending (to itself as well as others) that learning in kollel is an adequate substitute. It also drains from the national economy instead of contributing to it (and I'm not just speaking about money - I am talking about not putting skilled people into the workforce). The result is a community that is fundamentally selfish - taking and not giving.
(It could be that living in Ramat Bet Shemesh makes me especially sensitive to this problem. I am surrounded by hundreds of lovely Anglo charedi-wannabe families, in which the husband has a good job thanks to his college education, and/or there is a lot of parental support. But they send their kids to charedi schools in which there is little or no secular education, and even more significantly, the kids are educated with the Charedi ideal that work is for people who fail. The children will never be able to support themselves to the level of security and comfort that they have grown up with and become accustomed to; instead, they are on the path to all the problems mentioned above, which will be even worse when they themselves have children.)
I was gradually working along this line of thinking even before my books were banned. The ban just helped remove the emotional ties that hindered me from seeing the conclusion.