Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Nightmarish Ideal

One of the recurring words that come from the PR hacks in the UltraOrthodox world is "mesorah". Mesorah is trotted out time and time again to explain inflexible positions on certain issues or opposition to innovative ideas or suggestions on controversial subjects.  We are assured that the mesorah has already spoken on such things and that there is one position, one only, that is the correct one.
Did you ever wonder what the ultimate incarnation of the mesorah would be according to these guys?  Their fantasy Jewish society in which everything happens by the book, their book?
Two recent articles in two major Chareidi magazines might be giving us a strong hint of that that dream is and if you're a thinking person it should scare you silly. 
The first is a recent article in Mishpachah Magazine, usually touted as a moderate Chareidi publication as it admis the existence of non-Chareidi rabbonim without automatically denigrating them.  As detailed by JewishWorker it contains a description of life in the American Chasidic village of New Square:
The piece emphasized the total conformity in New Square in every aspect of life. Here are some example:

1.There are no restaurants, bakeries, prepared food stores in all of New Square. The only supermarket sells only basic items, no prepared food, no national brands. Everyone eats the same few staples

2.Everyone eats the exact same food on Shabbos. For example, the menu in every family in New Square for the Friday night meal without exception is

1.Gefilte fish

2.Chicken Soup


4.Fruit compote for desert

3.There are no individual simchas. Every Shabbos there are approximately 10 aufrufs and ten bar mitzvas, they only throw candy at the end for everyone and there is 1 small kiddush after davening

4.There is only 1 shul with only 1 minyan. On Shabbos morning at 8AM they start saying Tehilim for 3 hours, at 11AM they start Shacharis which takes over 3 hours

5.There are 3 tishes every Shabbos which everyone must attend

6.All the men dress exactly the same down to the boots that they all wear.

7.There is complete separation between men and women

1.separate sidewalks, one side men one side women, married couples aren't allowed to walk together
2.separate waiting rooms at the doctor
3.mechitza buses
4..women leave shul after kedusha so that when the men leave there isn't a woman around

Another aspect mentioned in the article is the fact that the Rebbe is in total control of the town. The mayor, city councilmen, city workers are all appointed by the Rebbe and nothing happens without his say so. Since, the Rebbe is the absolute focus of the town, before anyone does anything they consult the Rebbe. Consulting the Rebbe is not cheap, first you have to pay the Kvitel writer, then there is a Gabbai in charge of the door to the Rebbe's room, you have to pay him as well. Last but not least you need to leave money for the Rebbe himself when you finally meet him
Charming, yes?  And lest you think this is a one off phenomenon, Ami Magazine recently features a piece on those lovable Canadian misfits, the Lev Tahor cult.  As detailed by the Bray of Fundie and Rav Harry Maryles the writers did not come so much to critically assess the cultists as to defend them.  Other than opining that the burka probably isn't a great idea there was apparently little in the article about the midn control, malnutritions, health issues and child abuse that are the defining features of this group. 
What the two articles seem to have in common is this: both want to present communities in which there is no freedom of information, no freedom of thought, no freedom of movement, no freedom of education, and complete dictatorial control by a single man who thinks he's God's personal representative on Earth as "nice Jewish communities".
Is this the true face of the mesorah the Agudah would like us to believe in?  Is living a Stalinist life of complete conformity the ideal Jewish experience?  Check your brains at the door and just say "Baruch HaShem" when you're told to?


Mr. Cohen said...

Temujin said...

How interesting. Uniforms, rigid hierarchies, regimented schedules and separation of sexes and perhaps the clue to this mystery; strict limits expenditures evidenced by the detailed sumptuary laws with an evident ban on conspicuous consumption. Basically, streamlined, predictable behavior resulting in conservation of resources...will this head towards ultra-religious "kibbutzim"?

Times must be tough if monasticism or communitarianism are knocking at the doors of the Hareidi world.

Michael Sedley said...

I read this account of New Square on other sites, but it doesn't ring true to me an sounds very far fetched - far more extreme than even Satmar who think of themselves as the most extreme of the Chassidim.

I have no first-hand knowledge of what goes on in New Square, but I would be interested to hear from anyone else who has visited the community and can confirm or elaborate on some of the more bizarre community standards in this article.

Atheodox Jew said...

Not exactly what I'd call a "phytonutrient-rich" diet.

Aside from issues of over-the-top religious conformity/coercion, I'm always curious how religious ordinances relating to modest attire or gender separation are dealt with when your community resides within a free society. For instance, the notion of "separate sidewalks" - can such a thing possibly be legal in the U.S.? Is this something that people are simply "mekabel" upon themselves, or are there actually signs up telling people where they're allowed/not allowed to walk?