Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Do Chareidim have Wings? (Or do they have Horns?)

Looks like my buddy Harry Maryles is making waves. 4 out of his last 5 posts were critical analyses of what he thinks is the chareidi world (One, Two, Three, Four . Note - this does not include the most recent one about Centrists. Most of this post was drafted before his Centrist post appeared.).

Harry seems to be very clairvoyant. He has been predicting the demise of the chareidi community for quite a while already. With expressions such as: "the Charedi world as we know it will collapse" (Feb 15) and "It will not survive in its present form," (Feb 16). In the Feb 16 post, he set the stage for the "new world order" in the Orthodox world and did everything but place odds. That's a shame. I was hoping place my bet and cash in.

And so the chareidi world is doomed. The funny thing is that, on his terms, I might actually be inclined to agree with him.

Anybody who reads his blog knows that the most frequently appearing word in his posts is charedi. (The next frequent is abuse). That much is clear. What is not so clear to his readers is: Exactly who is he including in the club when he preaches the gospel truth about the chareidim?

(Note - It took him until his most recent post to define what a Centrist is supposed to be. After looking it over it seems to me that a Centrist is somebody who bridges the gap between Talmid Chacham and an Am Haaretz).

So once again the entire nation of Israel is plagued by the controverial question:

Mihu Chareidi - מיהו חרדי ?? What exactly is a Chareidi?

For now, let's forget about what I wrote in my book and get down to the brass tacks. The best answer is:
A chareidi is a Jew who styles his life based exclusively on the teachings of the Talmud and the body of Halacha that is derived from it - i.e., Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and the ensuing poskim.

In terms of prioritizing our lifestyle, any formula that is supported in the Talmud is valid and one that has no support is considered invalid. So what formulas do we find? Here is what I wrote in my book (click HERE for excerpt).

To summarize, we find two models articulated in the gemara in Berachos 35b: Model A - Rabi Yishmael (R"Y) and Model B - Rabi Shimon ben Yochai (RaShb"Y).

Both models base their ideologies on the prerequisite that the main duty of a Jew is to study G-d's Torah. They merely present alternative approaches as to how a Jew should expect to "get by". According to R"Y, a Jew is permitted to divert daylight hours toward working for his sustenance. It is fair to say that to the extent that it is necessary, it is obligatory. Likewise, to the extent that it is unnecessary, it is forbidden. This is what we chareidim (and blog lingoists) call Torah and Parnassah.

RaShb"Y tells us that R"Y's approach is not always necessary. For those who are true servants of G-d, they may shun the outside world and immerse themselves in full time study and expect their sustenance to be provided by others. This is what the blog lingoists call Torah Only.

As I wrote in my book, there is no indication that these two ideas conflict with each other but rather that Rabi Yishmael's model is the more practical one that applies in most cases and RaShb"Y's model is the idealistic one that applies in limited cases.

The chareidi world does not see any Talmudic support for an idea of supplementing Torah knowledge with general academic knowledge that it not directly necessary for sustenance. This is what the Modern Orthodox world terms as Torah uMadda. Not only is this term not sourced anywhere in Talmudic literature but Rabi Yishmael himself rejects this concept in Menachos 99b. This also seems to be the opinion of Rabi Akiva in the Mishna in Sanhedrin 10:1 (90a in Talmud).

What emerges is that the chareidi world is comprised of 2 types of people: followers of Rabi Yishmael (R"Y) and followers of RaShb"Y. In today's terminology we may call the Rabi Yishmaelists (RYniks) the LW Chareidi and the RaShbYniks RW (or extremist) chareidi.

Now let us discuss the Modern Orthodox. There are 2 kinds of MO - (1) serious ones, who are now being referred to as RWMO and (2) unserious ones - LWMO. Those on the left wing are for the most part sheer am-haaratzim. They barely study any Shas or poskim and barely know any. The little that they know is often misused and distorted to validate their liberal lifestyle and ideology.

Those on the right wing are very different. Many of them are proficiently learned and sincerely submit themselves to a Halacha based lifestyle. Though typically they may choose more lenient positions on many issues it is usually not of a radical nature.

In effect, there is very little discernable difference between MO Jews on the extreme right and the R"Y minded chareidi Jews especially in the Anglo communities. Members of both groups can be found in Yeshivas and in colleges. Many of each group are close friends, relatives, and neighbors of their "counterparts" and not few are those who shifted from one camp to the other.

That said, how would I distinguish between the RWMO and the Rabi Yishmaelist chareidi?

This is the question that I was trying to address on pages 76-78 in my book. As a public service I will link an excerpt HERE.

Now this excerpt spoke in theory and not so much in applied terms. Tachlis, what it says is this: One of the key differences between the RWMO and the R"Y chareidi is how they view the RaShb"Y chareidi!

The R"Y chareidi looks up at the RaShb"Y chareidi as one who personifies the highest ideal. A R"Y chareidi would like to be a proper RaShb"Y chareidi but knows that his strength to commit himself to this ideal is lacking. So he must "settle" to be the "second class" R"Y chareidi. Yet, he would be tickled pink if his son were to grow up to be a true RaShb"y chareidi. He believes the more RaShb"Yniks there are in the world, the better off we all are. The best place for his money is toward the developing and support of more and more RaShb"Yniks. He chooses his wife and establishes his home with an atmosphere conducive to budding RaShb"yniks. In general he identifies with the RaShb"Y chareidi because he shares his ideals and that is why he calls himself chareidi". We are one community.

The RWMO believes that nobody should try to be a RaShb"Y chareidi. Sure, klal yisrael needs Manhigim, Dayanim, and poskim, but that is for individual distinguished Jews from individual distinguished families. Not for my kid. And one who is not a Manhig, Dayan, or Posek has no business committing himself to full time learning. Consequently, the more people committed to full time learning who are currently not headed to be a manhig, dayan or posek, the worse off we all are. Money toward full time learning is low on his list and even counterproductive in his eyes and he would be quite distressed if his son told him that he would like to travel that road. The household he establishes, though perhaps fully compliant with Halacha (depends who you ask), is not meant to be conducive toward nuturing RaShb"Yniks. Even though he knows and respects many R"Y chareidim, he considers the chareidim in general to be a distinct community.

That said, let's take a closer look at the chareidi world a la Harry Maryles.

One thing that I have said numerous times is that there are basically 2 conflicting definitions of a chareidi.

  1. The one that the chareidim give themselves
  2. The one that non-chareidim give the chareidim

The definition that the chareidim (e.g., myself, Rabbi Moshe Grylak, Rabbi Noigershall, Yeshaya HaNavi, etc.) give thmeselves is the one I presented at the beginning of this post and it is generally a large heterogeneous group consisting both of R"Y minded and RaShb"Y minded chareidim.

The definiton that the non-chareidim (e.g., Harry Maryles, Gil Student, Natan Slifkin, Naomi Ragen, and others) give us is typically limited to RaShb"Y minded chareidim and the most extremist among them, to boot.

Now let us discuss the "problems" in the chareidi world - real and imagined.

Now, the financial situation is getting a lot of press (especially from Harry) but I think it is a red herring. For most chareidim, it is not a radical change. A financial situation that was hitherto difficult is, in some cases becoming a bit more difficult. It's just two shades of red. Nevertheless, the chareidi ideology was never based on financial considerations and, as difficult as the situation may be, I don't see it as a threat to the community's stability. As I see it, there are more drastic financial issues in the non-chareidi sector where many householders have suddenly gone into the red from the black. If anything, the gap between the chareidim and non-chareidim has narrowed. True, we do not have the money in reserve to marry off our many kids. But, B"H, the kids are still getting married (at least the boys are).

Regardless, I will readily acknowledge that there truly is one - and only one - serious problem in the overall chareidi community. And this is that the RaShb"Yniks overplay their hand. The RaShb"Y model is an ideal that is to be aspired to but it cannot be forced. The idea that me all must live up to the RaShb"Y model is not realistic. The gemara clearly states that only a few will succeed at it. Even RaShb"Y himself said so (Sanhedrin 97b, Sukka 45b). Yet, many forces within the chareidi camp are striving to force this ideal and it causes severe problems. Especially within the education system and in the handling of at-risk youth.

This is also the basis of what Harry refers to as kanaos. Kanaos is a very complex issue because it crosses many lines. Some of it is sincere and some is not. Some of it is misplaced and some is not. When kanaos is employed to protect universally acknowledged Torah ideals (for example, the battle against wanton autopsies), it is legitimate. But when it is employed to protect or enforce the elite ideals of RaShb"Y, it is certainly misplaced.

The kanayim are the smallest but most visible subset of the overall community. But who are they really? In many cases they are RaShb"Y minded chareidim who do not live up to the RaShb"Y ideals. They would like to but they don't have the mustard. So instead of laying the blame on their own shortcomings and fixing things from the inside out, they lay the blame on the hostile environment and focus their (pent up) energies on fixing that.

In my mind, this the only real problem that is indiginous to the chareidi lifestyle. Outside of this, the chareidi world does not suffer from any problems that were not imported from the outside world. (Even this "extremism" problem is to a large extent orchestrated by people who are newcomers to the chareidi camp. We have our own "erev rav"!!)

So here is where I can agree with Harry. And I agree because the Talmud agrees with Harry (for once). But this is provided we go with Harry's definition which characterizes the entire chareidi community as the extremist element within the RaShb"Y model.

Over the past decades, the popularity of the RaShb"Y model was built up to the extent that, in some areas, it plays a dominant role in chareidi society. This would be fine if all the players actually live up to the model. But, as the gemara in Berachos says, many who tried to implement it (the RaShb"Y model) came up empty. And so, that part of the RaShb"Y minded population which are not up to snuff will indeed implode and the pendulum will swing back to the R"Y model. With a weakening financial situation, it is very likely that the proportion of full time learners will diminish as it becomes more challenging and those that are not fully committed will drop out.

So when we define the chareidi world by the Harry Maryles non-chareidi definition, which Harry calls, the "charedi world as we (i.e., HM and his circle) know it", there is reason to fear that indeed something may implode because it is not fully genuine. But when it comes to the general, much larger chareidi world as per the chareidi definition, here, again Harry is correct.
It is the wave of the future.
And why not? It's been in operation for 3300 years.

So, in terms of the chareidi world as I know it - reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated.

Oh, and one more thing...

There is no such thing as a centrist.





9 comments:

Baruch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baruch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baruch said...

In terms of prioritizing our lifestyle, any formula that is supported in the Talmud is valid and one that has no support is considered invalid...The chareidi world does not see any Talmudic support for an idea of supplementing Torah knowledge with general academic knowledge that it not directly necessary for sustenance. This is what the Modern Orthodox world terms as Torah uMadda. Not only is this term not sourced anywhere in Talmudic literature but Rabi Yishmael himself rejects this concept in Menachos 99b. This also seems to be the opinion of Rabi Akiva in the Mishna in Sanhedrin 10:1 (90a in Talmud).
I am currently in the preliminary stages of a sociological study on Orthodox Jewry. It would be much appreciated if any Orthodox Jews who agree/disagree with Mr. Hirshman on the points in the above quote please email me at yodamace@gmail.com or post a comment here using their real name.

Thanks,
Baruch Pelta

Baruch said...

ps if you would email me your own affiliation (e.g. Litvish, Chassidish, Modern, Centrist, whatever), that would be appreciated too.

[sorry I messed up with the first two comments Mr. Hirshman]

fluffykneidle said...

I'm sorry I can't wade my way through the semantics in this article.
To define chareidim as followers of halacha and the talmud is wrong, because now where in the talmud, or halacha, is the mouldreed and murderous ethos of chareidim condoned.

Peodophiles are rodfim and should be prosecuted.
Girls should not have to 'buy' learning boys for upwards of £50,000.
Foriegn education, nadens and/or flats, and other impossible expenses that have become prerequisite to a 'good' shidduch, land family after family in choking debt and father after father in the cardiac unit of their local hospital.
Hundreds of children are excluded from schools every year, suffering, because their parents dont have the money/social standing/long enough peyos to enjoy protekzia.

As a blue blouse/beige tights beis yaakov graduate, I'm sorry, but I am not chareidi. To be labelled as such would be an insult. And tell me that your upstairs neighbours, and downstairs neighbours, and hundred of people you know are honest to goodness 'chareidim' and have never harmed me or anyone else, well that doesn't help because they don't run the batei din. There are not merely a few rotten apples in one nice big wholesome barrel. The BARREL is rotten.

G said...

::sigh::

As usual the levels of arrogance and cognitive dissonance present in much of this post are staggering...and saddening.

evanstonjew said...

Having read parts of your blog I can't exactly say that it gave me any great joy. But perhaps that's what makes for interesting discussions.

I won't bother with the way you characterize LWMO...You remind me of New Yorkers who think civilization ends just beyond the Hudson.

I do want to interrogate your understanding of those who disagree with charedim, namely almost 13.5 million Jews out of a total of 14 million. I think everyone has the right to define and posit their own ideals. For me the goal of Torah lishmah over a lifetime supported by voluntary contributions by parents,in-laws and others is unobjectionable, and in fact has had beneficial consequences in building a religious tzibur. I think it is really unacceptable to use tax dollars to support these ideals, whether in Israel or America. The point of throwing one's woes on Hashem doesn't mean tax your fellow citizen to pay for your chosen life style.

The reason people want their kids to have a parnassah is they recognize that otherwise they become welfare wards of the state. Couple this with a strong dose of anti-Zionism and the entire view becomes insufferable.

Shlomo said...

A chareidi is a Jew who styles his life based exclusively on the teachings of the Talmud and the body of Halacha that is derived from it - i.e., Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and the ensuing poskim...
The chareidi world does not see any Talmudic support for an idea of supplementing Torah knowledge with general academic knowledge that it not directly necessary for sustenance.


Well, I guess that Rambam, Ibn Ezra, and most of the other Rishonim from Sefarad were not charedi then.

Harry Maryles said...

Thanks for linking so many of your posts to my blog. Even though you don't ahve that much traffic, I'll take what I can get.