Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 17 June 2012

You Can't Maintain The Darkness Forever

One of the canards of Chareidi society is that it never changes, that what is practiced today is how Judaism has always been.  This is untrue but a great deal of effort is put into maintaining the illusion.
Another canard is that Chareidim have always valued a "learn, don't earn" culture.  Again, anyone from pre-War Europe will tell you this is not how things were until after the war when the famously anti-innovation Chazon Ish, zt"l, innovated a major change in Chareidi society by declaring that learning full-time was really the only acceptable occupation for one who is chared l'davar HaShem.  And even since then the increasingly large Chareidi community has committed itself, especially in Israel, to a life of dependency while it toils away in its kollelim and yeshivos.  The result is a huge number of people living in poverty with a limited education outside of Talmud and poskim.  Despite all the Artscroll-style books extolling the spiritual greatness of such a life, many of the people actually living it have been quietly seething at the limitations it forces on its practitioners.  It's one thing to immerse oneself freely into a Torah-only lifestyle, quite another to be raised by a system that prepares a person for nothing else.
Add to that the little-known fact that the average Chareidi is intelligent, motivated and desires a better life for himself and his children and you have the fertile ground for the growing disconnect between the Chareidi leadership and its followers.
As I've noted before, Chareidim do change slowly over time but on one condition: no one is allowed to acknowledge it.  Like the Minitrue in George Orwell's 1984, history and religious principles are revised to reflect the new reality and present an altered history consistent with it.
Thus while the Chareidi leadership officially disdains any involvement with general society and non-Torah education, more and more Chareidim are doing the exact opposite and engaging both.  Chareidi units in the army are slowly increasing in number while more and more Chareidim are attending modified post-secondary institutions that cater to their special cultural requirements in order to become employable.  Again, none of this can be acknowledged by the leadership but as Israel Hayom notes, this will soon start to change:

You will be seeing them near you. You will not find them in movie theaters or nightclubs, but you will see them driving the Mazda on your right at the traffic light. They will be standing on line in front of you and behind you at the duty-free shops in Ben-Gurion Airport and will be sitting at the next table in restaurants all over the country. They work for a living just like you do, and in complete opposition to the description of haredim as parasites, they earn salaries similar to those of the Israeli middle class.
This description comes from a haredi man wearing a black suit and a black skullcap on his head. He represents the "new haredi" movement that has had Israel’s religious world in an uproar in the recent past. If this phenomenon had been hidden away like skeletons in the closets of haredi society until fairly recently, now no one dares to ignore it.
This topic — one of the most sensitive and urgent in the haredi sector — threatens to change the face of haredi society. Some people claim that this new movement is going to cause a revolution.
The number of the "new haredim" is estimated in the tens of thousands.
They are scattered throughout the haredi population centers in Israel, from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak, from Beitar Illit to Elad, from Beit Shemesh to Upper Modi’in. Most of them come from the major Lithuanian segment identified with the United Torah Judaism party. Their parents no longer shun them as was done in the past, even if they do not necessarily condone their children’s choices. “The parents are in no hurry to let people know that they have "new haredim" at home, but they are not ashamed of it either,” one of them says. “Ostracism by the family has become something that is done only by the more extreme types, if at all.”

The bias against admitting that this change is happening, spreading in size and desirable will remain for quite some time.  A few posts ago, in an attempt to sound modern and accomodating, Rav Yonasan Rosenblum tried to point out that one of his sons, although he works full-time, has maintained a full Chareidi lifestyle.  the attempt backfired when one of the comments at Cross Currents noted that the wording he used made it sound like he was labelling his son as one might a mentally retarded child: Yes, he's quite a good boy even though he's not as intelligent as the others.
But as more and more Chareidim penetrate the army and the workplace and yet remain staunchly devoted to their community, all the excuses about how the secular world corrupts etc. etc. will become challenged.  And as more and more join the workforce the old threats of ostracism and losing a shidduch will lose their effect. How many of the fathers who insist they only want a ben Torah for a son-in-law are truly thrilled about committing their grandchildren to a life of poverty?  Like everyone else, many Chareidim don't see an empty fridge as a desirable thing.
Slowly change will come but remember: you can't actually talk about it.


Adam Zur said...

in spite of the greatness of learning Torah I am forced to agree with you.I happen to know the amazing energy that is at the core of Torah.But I have been forced to conclude that using the Torah as a shovel to make a living is wrong. This is not just wrong in terms of it being asur according to all poskim. It is wrong in its effects also. I creates a mentality of people to think they are the masters and those not in kollel were created just to serve them. They see themselves as a entirely new species that has evolved above the dreg of us ami haartetz. If this would be true then perhaps i would not mind. But there is nothing to indicate that people in kollel are any more or less moral than Joe smo down the street. They consider themselves as heroes and gods. No they are just trying to make a buck in the only way they know how.
They think they are fighting evil. No. Firemen, the IDF, the American Air-force, doctors, policemen the FBI and the CIA fight evil. They protect the free society we live in and help people in need. People in kollel are dong none of this.

SJ said...

in other words, kollel people are on the level of occupy wall street.

AztecQueen2000 said...

High time! the Torah way is not to hide in some kollel and read books all day. The Torah is meant to be applied to to one's life. That's why there are laws about the military, farming, and running a business. Otherwise, it may as well have stayed in Shamayim.

frum single female said...

great post. i hope this is true.

SJ said...

how the hell did judaism get so anti intellectual?

Menachem Lipkin said...

Excellent post. All anecdotal indications here on the ground in Israel support your analysis.

I would also add that many of us believe that the escalation of extremist behavior within the Chareidi community is a response to this change. As is the severe reaction to the internet by so-called "Daas Torah".

Pragmatician said...

Great article, imagine the howling of those who just "missed" the acceptability era of talking a working son-in-law as opposed to a sleeping-learning-coffee drinking ones.

jrs said...

Interesting. Great if it works this way.

The other, less optimistic way of looking at it: these people---who’re beginning to venture into the working world as they maintain their essential chareidi principles are moving to the left... to where they’re just a bit to the right of, say, Lakewood.

One could say, Well, inch by inch---but as we see here in the US, it doesn’t seem to trend that way: intellectual laziness, abdicating every issue to rabbonim, halachic fetishism, and the security of parochialism vs the scary, corrupt outside world... the pull is just too strong