Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Exclusive Title Holders

Sometimes I like to think that under all the infighting there is a quiet undercurrent of unity in the Orthodox Jewish community.  We differ over a plethora of issues, many of them superficial and we fight vigorously at times but I like to think that beneath that conflict there is an understanding that we are all yirei Shamayim together.
Other times I think I'm deluded for believing that.
On my more cynical days I see Orthodox on Orthodox hatred everywhere.  The angry faces are the easiest to spot but even in the friendly faces I imagine seeing disgust hidden below the surface.  "Yeah we're friendly," the face says silently, "but you're not frum like us so you're scum".
Maybe I just read blogs too much.  However, this thought definitely  came to me after reading Rav Shafran's last piece on Cross Currents.  If he is truly stating what many in his community are thinking then I am deluded about the underlying unity I hope is there.
It's nothing new to note that Chareidim don't like being called Ultra-Orthodox.  I can think of two reasons for this.  First, many don't like to be thought of as extremist.  They see Chareidim as a normative form of Torah observance and nothing on the fringe.  Secondly, many (like Rav Shafran) like to think that UltraOrthodox is not only normative Orthodoxy but the only genuine Orthodoxy.  Consider these gems from his article:
He also accuses charedim of departing from the Orthodoxy of the past. The example he offers is that, in the charedi world, “water must be certified kosher.” And he decries the charedi “notion that Orthodox Jews always shunned popular culture.” Hasidic rebbes,” he explains, were, “among the crowds who streamed to Marienbad, Karlsbad and the other spas and baths of Europe for the cure, so much a part of popular culture in pre-Holocaust Europe.”

Charedim, the professor pronounces, fear “the encounter with the world outside their own Jewish one,” unlike the true inheritors of the Jewish past, like himself, who “believe Judaism can meet and successfully encounter a culture outside itself and be strengthened rather than undermined by the contact.” They, he adds, “also have the right to be called Orthodox.”
If by “kosher water” Professor Heilman means filtering water in places where the supply contains visible organisms, that is something required by the Shulchan Aruch. Most cities’ tap water is free from such organisms, but New York’s, at least in some areas, is not. And applying codified halacha to contemporary realities is precisely what observant Jews, whatever their prefixes, do.
As to pre-war Chassidic rebbes’ visits to European hot springs spas, they were “taking the waters,” not attending the opera. (Contemporary charedi Jews, a sociologist should know, take vacations too.)
n this piece Rav Shafran works to reinforce the revisionist view of history that he and his comrades have worked so hard to create in the last few decades, a view that says that until the rise of Reform in Germany in the 1800's Orthodox Jews were universally identical to the Chareidim of today.
He pushes this point even more strongly right after:
What I wrote, rather, was that charedi attitudes and practices are those closest to the attitudes and practices of observant Jewish communities of centuries past. A familiarity with Jewish history and responsa literature readily evidences that fact.

In an “Editor’s Notebook” column, The Forward’s editor, Jane Eisner, whom I have personally met and come to respect, defended the paper’s use of “ultra-Orthodox,” taking issue with my contention that it is pejorative. “[J]ust as often,” she contends, “it connotes something desirable, a positive extreme.” She cites “ultra thin” used to laud things like military ribbons and computer mouses. But people, of course, aren’t ribbons, and Ms. Eisner declines to address my citation of “ultra” as used in political discourse, the rather more pertinent comparison here.
I was surprised to read that someone as thoughtful as she would echo the professor’s peeve. To my contention that charedim today are most similar to observant Jews of the past she asserts: “[N]ot my grandparents, who were strictly observant Orthodox Jews, but did not dress, act, or think like the Jews of Boro Park and Crown Heights today.” The latter, she contends, refuse “to engage in the modern, secular world, to partake of its culture, acknowledge its obligations and respect its differences.” Charedim, she writes, do not practice “normative Judaism. Or even normative Orthodoxy.”
I didn’t know Ms. Eisner’s grandparents, but I am prepared to trust her memory. I’m pretty sure, though, that she didn’t know their grandparents, who I’m also pretty sure looked and lived much more like charedi Jews today than she might suspect.
The arrogance is breathtaking.  Apparently he knows someone else's family history better than that person herself.  Why?  Because they were Orthodox and since all Orthodox were always exactly like how the Agudah portrays Orthodoxy now he must be more correct than their own grandchildren.
Rav Shafran's citing of "history and facts" is duplicitous.  We have photo evidence of Jewish life in Europe stretching back to the late 19th century.  We know very well that observant Jews of that era did not dress like their Agudah counterparts today.  They did not wear black Borsellino hats as a matter of religious conviction, only if they were the predominant fashion.  Even the Chasidim did not wear the grand shtreimls that adorn their heads today but simpler fur hats.  The founding pictures of the Agudah show men in grey suits and hats, some of them clean shaven!  And yes, there are great rabbonim who were fans of the opera and weren't ashamed to attend a performance.
Rav Shafran would like the "Ultra" dropped from UltraOrthodoxy because he would like you to believe that his version (and presumably those versions to the right of him) are real Orthodoxy with everything else being a deviation from the genuine and therefore deserving of an adjective.  What he doesn't want you to realize, and perhaps he himself doesn't either, is that Chareidism is not genuine Orthodoxy any more than Religious Zionism or Modern Orthodoxy.  Torah observant Judaism has changed through the ages, slowly adjusting to predominant surrounding environments and cultures.  The Tannaim of 2000 years ago would stare in disbelief at the Yiddish-accented prayers and frenetic swaying that is a modern Chasidic prayer service.  The Rambam would like like an Arab standing next to modern poskim.  Not only that but when they came to compare their approaches to change and interactions with the surrounding society they would find today's Agudah crowd completely at odds with them in many ways.  That is the true fact that must be repeated lest the true history be swept under the rug in the name of false homogeneity.


frum single female said...

So very true

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

If the charedim today cannot accept that Orthodoxy includes divergent opinions, it also clearly cannot accept that there were divergent opinions in the past. Is there no wonder, as such, that they have to paint history as lacking such divergence?

Rabbi Ben Hecht

RAM said...

Do we really care how Orthodox fashions in clothing have changed?

Whom would you nominate as the Jews today who most emulate the Orthodox (really whatever label they used for that) Jews of the 1800's or prior?

Temujin said...

Odd questions, RAM. Emulation is no longer possible...nor desirable, lest you create a museum culture, a dysfunctional system which will in time collapse from the weight of its contradictions and inevitable impoverishment.

Modernity has been so rapid, so radical and all-pervading, that few things today can resemble life of yesterday. This is why the pseudo-historical pastiche which ultra-Orthodoxy has slapped together flops so miserably; one cannot recreate history without first knowing it and then, without the conditions which no longer exist. Do not attempt such an experiment in your home.

Temujin said...

O, one nearly forgot: Do we really care how Orthodox fashions in clothing have changed?

Indeed we should, RAN, very much so, as we are no longer just talking fashion, but uniforms with concocted mythologies, near-magical properties and symbols of progressively self-isolating, totalitarian sub-cultures. For example.