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The Purpose of Criticizing Charedi Society
Recently, I received two letters of criticism. Both were written by very fine people, who are somewhat in the charedi world, but not at all typical of mainstream charedim. The first wrote as follows:
What is the value of arousing animosity against chareidim? This is a serious, not a rhetorical question. Your emails are obviously not going to be read by Israeli chareidim, so influencing them for the better is obviously not the goal. What is your goal? ...Your books were written with a goal of bringing yidden close to Torah. If you now feel somewhat bitter towards your former community, I would not blame you. But ask yourself, for what purpose are you in the world? Why did Hashem give you the tremendous abilities that He gave you? ...Your column about the lion hunter who helped the Jews of Palestine -- one of the true tzaddikei umos ha'olam -- was fascinating and inspiring. I am asking you, please write more of those articles, and please don't write articles that will only arouse animosity against bnai Torah. You have enormous influence, maybe more than you know, and if you really want to bring all Jews together, you have the ability to influence secular and modern Orthodox people in that direction.
And the second person wrote:
I have been an avid reader of your blogs and articles and many of them are most enlightening... But I must say I have found your caustic tone towards Charedim in recent weeks most unsettling and uncomfortable. You seem to paint all charedim in the same light, or at least all leaders... However despite even some of the theological flaws and sometimes the bully tactics that go on in the upper echelons of the charedi establishments, I cannot help but admire the vitality they have for their Judaism. I am wondering what is the goal of all these anti-charedi articles or exposes?
Where to begin? I have so much to say, but I'll limit it to a few points.
First of all, it is probably significant that these two people live in out-of-town communities in the Diaspora. I, on the other hand, live in Israel, and moreover in a city that is at the forefront of tensions between charedim and non-charedim. This inevitably gives us a different perspective.
Second, I fully agree that it's not healthy for me (or anyone) to obsess over the shortcomings of others, and I need to work harder to make this blog more positive. On a personal level, as is well known, I have been through some hardship as a result of charedi society's flaws. This has inevitably created some bitterness in me, that I strive to overcome.
But that's as far as my own personal character growth is concerned. In terms of what other people need - I think that it is very important to point out the serious flaws in chareidi society, from a Torah/ scholarly perspective. This is especially since chareidi society is almost never open to addressing or even admitting its own problems.
I used to think, as my two correspondents still apparently do, that charedi society is basically correct, albeit possessing certain problems that need fixing. But over the last decade, I have changed my perspective. I now think that charedi society is deeply flawed at a fundamental level (for some reasons that I explained in my post "Not For The Reason You Might Suspect", as well as other reasons.) This is not to say that it has no praiseworthy aspects - of course it does. Chareidi society has a degree of passion and sacrifice for Judaism that is not found as much elsewhere. But fundamentally, it is the wrong path in Judaism - and it is especially at odds with the approach of the rationalist Rishonim.
Why do people such as Jonathan Rosenblum and Avi Shafran write critiques of groups such as Women Of The Wall? Because they believe that these groups are perverting authentic Judaism. I don't quite understand why they publish these articles in forums such as Mishpachah, which has no readers that might be tempted to join these groups. But, supposing they were to be addressing a forum in which they could have an impact, it would certainly be understandable that they would try to do so!
Well, I have such a forum. These postings are read by several thousand people. Some of these people are deeply embedded in the charedi world - and benefit from learning about what needs changing, and from understanding why non-charedim might not be sympathetic to the charedi lifestyle. Others are at a life juncture where they are making choices, to a lesser or greater degree, regarding which community to affiliate with, or which schools to send their kids to, and they benefit from being better informed regarding their decisions.
It's not enough just to praise the positive in non-charedi approaches to Judaism. The charedi approach is dominant and infiltrates non-charedi communities, through print and people. And it's often difficult for people to understand, or to explain, why and how the charedi approach is incorrect and inconsistent with classical Judaism. That takes detailed knowledge of the charedi world as well as an understanding of intellectual Jewish history.
I am not a great person or a leader. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, studies and experiences that I have acquired over the years. These enable me to make some penetrating analyses that result in this website being a nightmare for promoters and enforcers of the charedi approach - which is why my writings were singled out for condemnation at the Agudah convention. The criticisms show that Charedim are not the sole bearers of Torah-True Tradition TM and embodiments of Torah-True Values TM that they claim to be.
The greatest irony here is that I am a former charedi apologist myself. Many years ago I wrote an essay, "The Nine Questions People Ask About Charedim," which aimed to justify and promote the charedi lifestyle. I also published a book in which I (attempted to) justify "Daas Torah" and avoiding army service, amongst other charedi values. Jonathan Rosenblum once said that I would someday be his successor. I used to loathe certain people for criticizing charedim. But it gradually dawned on me that the criticisms were correct. I also realized that these criticisms are especially painful for sincere people that, for idealistic reasons, want to identify with the charedi world (which has a well-earned image of passion and a less well-earned image of authenticity), but who, deep down, are troubled by many aspects of it.
I try hard to avoid mudslinging, or obsessively reporting wrongdoings. And I know that it would be better for me personally to adopt a more positive approach, and it would perhaps even make my writings more effective. But the basic purpose is to show that many aspects of charedi ideology and communal policies do not represent traditional and correct Torah values, and to thereby enable people, and society, to improve.
It's a form of kiruv.