Rav Natan Slifkin's latest essay, a piece on the phenomenon of "Post-Chareidim" is currently making the rounds of the blogosphere. As the gifted author notes, even those sites that you'd last expect, like Chareidi ones, are picking up on it. He has even followed up with an interview with a fellow traveller who expresses in a succint manner his reason for leaving formal Chareidism.
The concept of post-chareidim is a fascinating one. One of my best friends is a post-Chareidi although he has no ties to others of the same philosophy, nor does he label himself in this fashion. In short, he loves being Chareidi, he just hates Chareidi society.
I think this is a differentiation that is important to understand. For many Chareidim the two are intertwined and inseparable. One cannot be a good Chareidi without accepting the authority of the Gedolim as transmitted by the Askanim and by accepting the receiving Torah MiMeah Shearim. For others, there is an obvious difference.
Consider the following two people as an example:
Yaakov works at a basic job and spends very spare minute shteiging his Gemara and sifrei Shu"t. He sways when he davens so much that people are worried he'll fall over. He makes every Shabbos a day of elevated spirituality and no one outdances him on Simchas Torah. However, he wears a knitted kippah and feels that Rav Kook was the premier Rav of the 20th century including in his Zionist philosophy.
Yankl doesn't have a job but he doesn't spend much time in the beis midrash either. He does a minimum each day of learning but it's more by rote than anything else, like his davening. He follows every last chumrah but mostly because that's what everyone else around him does. For fun he goes and stares at 8 year old girls in knee socks, calling them perutzah and shiksa while hiding the feelings of lust for them burning with him. Oh, and he wears the requesite hat, shirt, socks and bekisher.
Which of these two men are truly chared l'davar HaShem? And which of them is Chareidi?
This is an element I think is missing from Rav Slifkin's essay. Today one can easily see that there are Chareidim and there is Chareidism. Like the distinction between behavioural and intellectual Modern Orthodox Jews as described in Dr Michael Schweitzer's epic essay, there are also two types of Chareidi Jews. One is the spiritual who loves the principles of being chared l'davar HaShem and the other is the behavioural who goes through the motions because he doesn't know anything else. The former is Chareidi, the latter practices Chareidism. The former is a religious form of Judaism, the latter is political and nothing much deeper.
There is another facet to note. Chareidism as a form of Judaism is based on a contradiction. On one hand a society based on the principle of "learn, don't earn" could only exist if there is a source of outside wealth to maintain it. Until seventy years ago this outside source did not exist. However, the combination of the rise of the State of Israel and the rapid increase in wealth in the North American and western European communities have created a situation in which large numbers of Chareidim can, with the appropriate amount of schnorring, live off of the earned money of others while simultaneously looking down on their donors because they aren't learning all day. A society built on an official lack of respect for the providers of its sustenance cannot be a stable or rational one.
It is in addressing this inherent contradiction that I believe the post-Chareidim have great potential. Bottom line: one can be chared l'davar HaShem without believes that the "Gedolim" have a magical Daas Torah that renders them infallible. One can be chared while working for a living. One can be chared without worrying that the Taliban have more chumros when it comes to separation of gender than we do.
In fact, post-Chareidim are a threat not to the system of Chareidism but more to Modern Orthodoxy. Rav Harry Maryles often likes to write that it is his dream that part of the Chareidi community will eventuallty merge with right wing Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism to produce a functional, dynamic and definitive Orthodoxy. The practitioners of Chareidism will never want to be part of this but perhaps as the numbers of post-Chareidim grow they will be able to contribute to such an endeavour.