Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 8 May 2008

The Consequences of the Coming Split

Not too long ago I posted two articles on my thoughts about the diverging paths of Chareidi and non-Chareidi Torah Jewry. In the first, I noted that part of the problem was the increasing variation in the forms of non-Chareidi Orthodox Jewish practice as well as non-religious groups all claiming to be the genuine article. This diversity is leading the Chareidim to develop a simplistic "You're either like us or you're not part of the club" attitude to avoid having to make complex judgement calls and decision. In the second article, I noted the entrenching that the various attitudes within Orthodoxy have taken, leading to difficulties with the achieving the concept of reconciliation between the two groups.
But then the Mercaz HaRav massacre happened (may God avenge their blood) and a spark of hope was kindled. The Belzer Rebbe himself came out as a sign of achdus to show he cared for his fellow Jews. The Yated Neeman wrote a sympathetic piece that showed far more understanding of the precarious nature of Jewish survival than anyone might have ever given them credit for.
Unfortunately, the spark was soon extinguished. If there's one thing that Jews have proven throughout history it's that factionalism and sinas chinam are more important that achdus and survival. Does anyone recall the great enmity between the Chasidim and Litvish in Europe that existed until the Shoah decimated their numbers to the point that they had to abandon it? How many people know that there were two or three different Jewish resistance groups participating in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and that even as the Nazis, y"sh, closed the noose around their necks, they refused to cooperate with each other on principle? The sympathy and outpouring of brotherhood after the Mercaz HaRav massacre wasn't incredible because of its widespread nature. It was incredible that it happened at all!
As noted in a previous post, the Chareidi leadership seems to have decided on an end game to deal once and for all with the two large non-Chareidi Orthodox movements, the Modern Orthodox and the Dati Leumi. Having taken over the Israeli Rabbanut, an organization they do not recognize or respect, their leaders are now in a superior position to make demands of the rest of the Torah world and the first demand is: Do everything our way or you don't count.
Again, as I mentioned before, this attitude is understandable. In the Chareidi scheme of things, there was only one way of practising Torah Judaism before the rise of Reform in the 1800's. Never mind that they're are wrong in this assessment, that historically Torah Judaism has had a wide variety of expressions. In their view, it used to be that all religious Jews were Chareidi. the first challenge came with the rise of Reform and Conservatism, the two movements which claimed one could be a good Jew without observing mitzvos properly, or even at all. However, that battle ended a long time ago.
The second challenge came with the existence of Modern Orthodoxy and Mizrachi, two movements claiming to be Torah observant but not Chareidi. With the rising strength of the Chareidi world, their religious muscle has now been turned on these two groups. The first real salvos, as seen in recent days and over the last few months, has been to take away their independence in matters of conversion, something in which they have been successful to a degree, as the RCA's capitulation in the matter showed.
But this doesn't seem to have been enough. The recent humiliation of Rav Druckman and all the people he converted shows that their agenda continues to roll along and that the sensitivities and positions of those who oppose them don't concern them a bit.
In a way, this is not suprising. One needs only look at throwaway comments by even moderate writers in the Charedi community, such as Rav Yonasan Rosenblum. In an otherwise beautiful piece on his reaction to the Mercaz HaRav massacre, he notes, amongst other things:

My son-in-law gives a weekly shiur in the Mercaz Harav high school in the framework of Ve’Dibartem Bam, an organization that arranges for weekly shiurim by avreichim in national religious yeshiva high schools in order to expose the students to the geshmak of yeshivishe lomdus.

First thought: Oh, how nice and look, it's cross-cultural, Chareidim interacting with Mizrachi.

Second thought: Oh, those poor Mizrachi. Thank God this young man can go and lift them out of their ignorance and show them yeshivishe lomdus, because Mizrachi rabbonim have no idea what that is.

In the aftermath of this debacle, Marc Shapiro, noted author and professor, wrote an editorial piece for The Jewish Week News:

It should also show the shortsightedness of the Rabbinical Council of America’s recent decision to play ball with the Chief Rabbinate and accept the body’s authority in matters of conversion. The reason this is shortsighted is because this isn’t simply a conflict between the haredi (or ultra-Orthodox) rabbinic leadership and some liberal Orthodox rabbis with regard to this issue. Rather, the haredi leadership rejects the entire notion that there can be Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist halachic authorities and dayanim, and indeed has attempted to keep non-haredim off the religious courts. Accepting the legitimacy of a Modern Orthodox or Religious Zionist posek (decisor) is in their eyes an oxymoron

Right off the top, Shapiro notes the root of the problem that I mentioned above: forget reconciliation, a search for mutual respect. The Chareidi position is sealed: It's their way and that's it, and anyone who thinks that eilu v'eilu applies to non-Chareidi schools of thought is kidding himself. He then continues on:

It should be obvious that there are two very different types of Orthodoxy being practiced in Israel, and to a lesser extent here. The haredim realized this long ago and have done everything in their power to make sure that only their form of Orthodoxy survives, and that any other approach is moved to the dustbin of history. Any successes in this effort (and there have been many) were only possible due to the massive financial support of both the Israeli government and the American non-haredi Orthodox community. The Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world should not seek to delegitimize the haredi form of Orthodoxy. But basic pride in one’s ideology would suggest that the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world should not feel the need to follow the haredim and adapt its own practices in order that there be “one standard.”

The first part identifies both the problem and the solution. While the Chareidim have been busy over the last 25 years or so redefining the public face of Judaism so that the stereotypical religious Jew becomes synonymous with the Chareidi approach, the Modern Orthodox world has been busy trying to prove its secular credentials and the Mizrachi have focused on the rebuilding of Yehudah, Shomron and 'Aza. As a result, the battle may have already been lost. How can one catch up to the Agudah's PR machine at this point? Where are the non-Chareidi Artscroll and Feldheim? how does one change the focus of not one but two movements?

Having demonstrated the danger that Modern Orthodoxy and Mizrachi find themselves in, Shapiro then draws his radical conclusion:

The haredi world follows its own authorities without regard for the non-haredi rabbinate. Isn’t it time for the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world to do the same? This would mean a complete break with the haredi halachic authorities and the establishment of religious courts that share at least some of the values and worldview of the community in which they serve. I am sure some readers will protest that it goes against Orthodox unity to advocate this approach. Yet with such a step the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world would only be acknowledging the situation that the haredim have created, and are now pursuing with a vengeance.

With emotions running high, this seems to be the right solution, at least on first glance. They don't care about us. Why should we care about them?

There are, however, severe consequences that must be considered before anyone can seriously endorse this option.

1) The current leadership of Modern Orthodoxy is split into two basic groups - the YU and YCT crowds. The YCT crowd has already moved to and possibly past the leftmost boundaries of Modern Orthodoxy with their recent, controversial decisions regarding the participation of women in services and their acceptance of interfaith participation in worship. However, the YU leadership's drawback is that, depending on one's point of view, they are other Chareidim working in the Modern Orthodox world, or Modern Orthodox who want to be taken seriously by the Chareidim. In either case, this would make it difficult for the prominent religious scholars and leaders at YU to stand up to the Chareidi leadership and announce that they are going their own way.

2) The Chareidi response to a split would be disasterous for the Modern Orthodox community. Perhaps not immediately but over time the fallout would become obvious. Consider that no Orthodox authorities would recognize a non-Orthodox get. The only reason Reformers and Conservatives don't have a huge mamzerus problem is because the Orthodox leadership also doesn't recognize their weddings, hence there's no problem with children being born to the wrong father. Imagine what happens the day after the RCA announces they're going it alone. They'll have their own beis dins, their own standard for conversion, etc. And slowly, slowly people will start to discover that the Chareidi world will ascribe as much legitimacy to their conversions, marriages and divorces as they do to the non-religious movements. Imagine a person raised in a Modern Orthodox home, who has gone to shul and yeshiva, who has always kept kosher and now goes to Israel for a year of study. The only wrinkle is that his mother converted through the RCA after the split. In Israel he meets a girl but when he goes to get married he suddenly discovers that he's not Jewish according to the Rabbanut! This is not fear mongering or idle theorizing. This is what will happen if the RCA unilaterally splits and goes its own way as a response to this challenge. Torah observant Jews will be rejected by their Chareidi brothers. Can you imagine the hatred that will arise from such circumstances? Isn't there enough anti-Jewishness around us? Do we have to consider adding more?
Before one says "Yeah, let's flip the Chareidim the bird and get outta here" consider what will happen. Is there a happy alternative? Not that I can see but that doesn't mean a lousy choice is better than none at all.


Anonymous said...

You make a good point. Also, don't forget that the OU can't get rid of Belsky or else no one in the haredi world will eat its hechsher. So the Modern Orthodox are really in a box. I understand why the haredim are so arrogant -- they know the future is theirs, and it really is.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

You're right that practically speaking it probably can't be done, but the alternative is for the MO to eventually acknowledge that MOxy is illegitimate as an ideology, and that there can be no MO dayanim and moreh horaah. Yes, the Chareidi world will accept the existence of supposedly halakhically lax Orthodox Jews, but in their heads they will have to be Chareidi, just as R. Hirsch much preferred Jews who were Orthodox in their minds and hearts, but who didn't keep shabbat, to Jews who were not Orthodox in mind and heart who did.

If the MO velt can live with that, then they can ignore Shapiro's alternative. Nu, they probably will ignore it anyway - and even if they didn't, the Chareidi velt will eventually overwhelm MOxy irregardless.

Anonymous said...

There is an alternative: get together with secular Israelis to end funding for charedi schools and yeshivas, and force charedim to serve in the army.

The charedi world would never have grown so fast, nor would it have become so arrogant or irresponsible, if it didn't receive a constant, giant influx of money and services from the non-charedim surrounding it. Cutting off those resources would slow their growth and necessitate a much-needed reappraisal of ideology.

These measures are harsh and many people would suffer from them in the short term. But in the long term, there is no other way to preserve what we consider the more authentic form of Torah Judaism.

As nauseating as it is to sit at a table with the Shinui crowd, I think we need to do it. Or at least, to go to the charedim with a credible threat of doing it, if we don't get what we want.