Tuesday, July 08, 2008

An Introduction to Haredi Philosophy Part 1

With the utmost thanks to Jordan, who is a beautiful person and a fantastic teacher.

~

The difficulty with being a Modern Orthodox Jew attempting to understand the Haredi community lies in our mostly knowing its negatives. When one thinks of the Haredi community, one generally thinks of extremism. The anecdotes that come to mind revolve around the Tznius Police in Israel, a focus upon obedience and guilt-tripping, all that which is distasteful or forced upon constituents who either submit to this brainwashing or abhor it. We cannot understand the allure of an insular community, have difficulty comprehending the concept of people who choose to be isolated and live outside of the tenets of our secular world, and this is all aside from the fact that if we choose to be honest, it is quite possible that we are embarrassed by people who make themselves so distinctly different, wearing their black and white garb proudly, without the faintest desire to fit in or otherwise agree with the customs of the times.

Such an approach fails to take in the absolute beauty of the Haredi lifestyle, all that which is pure in it, much of which it would be important for those who refer to themselves as Modern Orthodox to implement within their own lives. This is not deliberate; it is simply that our exposure to Haredi people is so limited and seems so uncultured in contrast to our own lifestyles that we cannot comprehend the beauty within the culture until it is shown to us so vividly that we no longer have the ability to deny it.

The first point is that ideally there should be no labels. Ideally, there ought to be no distinction between the Haredi and Modern Orthodox Jew, the only question there ought to be is whether or not one is a practicing Jew. There is right and wrong, and this is defined by the Torah, the guide which we claim to follow. If this is so, the only question that remains to us is whether we do right or wrong, whether we choose to obey or disobey the law. But with the understanding that the society we currently live in greedily clutches at labels, we shall assume there is a difference, and attempt to dissect it.

Perhaps the greatest distinction between the Haredi and Modern Orthodox philosophy appears with the idea of Torah u'Mada. Torah u'Mada suggests an equation, Torah and Science, by which we mean everything secular- secular studies and the like. We use the phrase without thinking about it; it has become a catchphrase, something easy, but what does it really mean? Does it mean to equate Torah and secular studies, and suggest that the same amount of value is to be found in both of them? Does it mean to suggest that secular studies are a form of Torah? Does it simply refer to the fact that one ought to be allowed to study secular studies alongside Torah? What in the world does the phrase mean?

It seems logical to begin at the beginning, in which case one refers to the Rav, the alleged founder of Modern Orthodoxy, for clarification. He states very clearly:
    I have heard criticisms against the Yeshiva that we have not yet achieved the proper synthesis between Torah study and secular endeavor; between fear of God and worldliness. We have not achieved what the German Orthodox Jews called "Torah with derekh eretz [worldly occupation"] [Avot2:2]. I claim that the true greatness of the Yeshiva is that it does not have this synthesis. The truth is that there is no real synthesis in the world. If there is a contradiction between Torah and secular endeavor, then synthesis is not possible. If there is a thesis and an anti-thesis, then no synthesis is possible. In general, a synthesis is very superficial. It is apologetic, it imitates others and the individual loses his uniqueness. In synthesis, no one succeeds. Even our great teacher Rabbi Moses ben Maimon [Maimonides] did not succeed in his attempts at synthesis. The greatness of the Yeshiva is that it is a real Yeshiva and on thesecond level a proper academic institution. Both divisions function without synthesis and compromise.

    My students go from my shiur on the first floor of the Yeshiva building to their college classes on the third floor. In my class, they study in depth such talmudic topics as whether the signatures of the witnesses or the witnessing of the actual delivery make the get [divorce document] effective [Gittin 23a], or whether going over the writing on a get document can validate the get [Gittin 20a]. Then they go upstairs to their college classes, where they study theories in mathematics and physics. I am proud when my student is both a Torah scholar and a good college student. If there were a synthesis, both achievements would be weakened!

    In this concept, our Yeshiva is unique. It is not like other yeshivot. [...] The Catholics also have religious universities. I do not like to imitate others! We have a Yeshiva, and because the times demand it, we also have a university. These two divisions will not be synthesized. They will remain two institutions. It may be like a man with two heads, but it is better to have two heads than not to have one. [Laughter]

    The uniqueness of the Yeshiva is another reason why I am loyal to this institution. It is a reflection of my own thinking and commitment. (pages 229-231)

    ~The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 2, page 229.
The key statement here occurs when the Rav states, "If there is a contradiction between Torah and secular endeavor, then synthesis is not possible." Now we must define contradictions between Torah and secular endeavor. What is an example of that?

Well, there is a simple example of a play being performed on a Friday night. Simply due to the fact that one would have to act in this play on a Friday night (and use a microphone or otherwise break the rules of Shabbat), one would not be allowed to indulge in this secular endeavor. But of course, there are examples that are murkier than that, and delve into shades of grey rather than easy black and white. And this has to do with secular endeavor on a whole.

What exactly is a book like The Fountainhead to me? Before now, I would have said that it was a form of Torah, because Torah encompasses everything, which means it encompasses all secular studies as well, which leads me to the idea that everything true and beautiful would be found within it, including the subject matter of The Fountainhead. Yet, when I come down to it practically, am I going to live my life in accordance to the tenets of Objectivism as outlaid in The Fountainhead or in accordance to the Torah? Should these values conflict (and they do, perhaps most strongly in Ayn Rand's take on charity, which works within her black-and-white construct of a world, but would not work when applied to our society) then I must stick with the Torah values. This means that the Torah is my guiding principle when determining what kinds of secular endeavor are appropriate or accurate. In this way the easy phrase "Torah u'Mada" becomes meaningless. The phrase seems to equate the two, to place them on the same level. Yet even I as a Modern Orthodox Jew must acknowledge that in fact Torah is higher than Mada, Torah trumps secular endeavor because it is Torah that defines what in secular endeavor is accurate or pure. This suggests that on the simplest level, a Modern Orthodox Jew believes just as a Haredi Jew does, that there is a hierarchy, and Torah appears before secular studies do.

In that case, one must then wonder exactly what role secular studies fulfill. There are several options. One could argue that secular studies in and of themselves have intrinsic value due to their introduction of pretty concepts and ideas, which one can enjoy simply as entertainment (but need not apply to one's life.) Then again, one could also argue that secular studies enrich one's learning and approach to Torah, as I find is the case with me. There are many ideas I could not have thought up unless I had watched movies or read books first, for it is only due to reading those books that I was even allowed to comprehend such an idea. But this begs the question- someone like R' Aharon Kotler, who did not delve into secular studies- do I mean to suggest that such a person was lacking in his knowledge of Tanakh and Gemara? No, for shame! That cannot be. For does not the Torah contain everything, and would a person not be able to grasp everything contained within it? What I can suggest is that perhaps it depends on the person. Some people would be able to come up with such creative thoughts simply from reading the Torah itself, while others would only have such ideas suggested to them through outside means, such as reading English literature. But even then, one must wonder whether an entire philosophy can be based upon what is best for a particular person. This is all aside from the most basic fact that it may simply be better to be exposed to something secular so that one does not find the forbidden attractive and alluring at another point in one's life.

The point remains- there is a hierarchy here, and Torah trumps Mada. As the Rav makes clear, if there is a conflict between Torah and secular endeavor, Torah wins out.

This brings us to the matter of halakha. What is halakha? Halakha has been incredibly misrepresented. This is perhaps due to the way in which it has been taught to us in our elementary schools and high schools. Halakha is a subject, just as Machshava/ Hashkafa is, Chumash is, and Navi is. Halakha has been interpreted as being one part of Judaism, one facet of Judaism, but is not in and of itself Judaism. Nothing could be further from the truth. To be a practicing Jew is to keep halakha, to follow its tenets and its laws even when it makes demands on you that are absolutely horrifying to our ethically and rationally ordered minds. And this is what makes it so difficult to obey. We live in a Western society and for the most part we cannot help but be influenced by Western values. This allows us the illusion of thinking that something is morally or ethically right simply because it seems right to us. We are the final arbiter, the final judge, something is either logical or illogical to us. If something is distasteful, if we find something difficult, we do not hesitate to reinterpret halakha accordingly. Oh, some of us are less bold than others, and would not put it in such terms. But there is no doubt that that is what we are doing. We are recreating halakha to suit our needs, to suit the needs of the time, whether it be arguing that there ought to be women Rabbis, trying to come up with impossible loopholes in order to free agunot, or claiming that halakha on a whole is fluid rather than codexed, and that we have the right nowadays to take it further than it was hereto taken.

Why is it that we do this with halakha? What is the reason that we are not terrified, scared out of our wits to reinterpret it in this fashion? It is because many of us do not know people who truly live their lives in accordance to these principles, who function, live and breathe in accordance to halakha. To us, the concept is foreign. It is difficult for us to understand. We function as part of a society which promotes tolerance, the live-and-let-live approach. And practically, it is important that we do so. But it is similarly important that we realize that according to the tenets of the Torah, certain practices are permitted and others are not. My heart may bleed for homosexuals who wish to practice their homosexual behavior, but that does not mean that I can reinterpret this behavior as not being a sin simply because I do not want it to be so. The same goes with any other law, however it is derived. There is often (not always, but often) a distinction between the action and the person. One must have the ability to say that a person is not following halakha in a certain matter, but that does not in and of itself make them a less worthy person; one must be able to note the difference between right and wrong while still acting in a nonjudgmental fashion. And yes, this too is very difficult to do. But that does not mean that we must engage in apologetics in an attempt to allow for people to do what they want, simply because they want to do it. I too desire to do what I want, and sometimes I do. The difference is that most of the time I am very aware that I am simply doing what I want, rather than attempting to justify what I want and call it legitimate per halakhic practice.

Now comes the question of people choosing to live in an insular community. As a Modern Orthodox Jew, the first argument that comes to mind is one having to do with the strength of Judaism. If Judaism is a strong religion, shouldn't it be able to flourish and function in any society, no matter the deterrents or the opposition? And in that case, living in an insular community is a suggestion that Judaism can only function behind closed doors, an extremely weak form of the religion! As an idea, this sounds very appealing, does it not? But then there is the practical approach these people are taking. Practically speaking, who is going to be exposed to less ugliness in the Torah sense of the world, people living in this insular community or people living outside of it? Those of us who live outside of it are inured to various images, words and statements that would make those who live inside this community shudder. Can you imagine never having seen someone being mechalel Shabbat, or never having seen a billboard with a provocative picture of a woman? Can you imagine having the ability to shudder at such things, to see God's word defiled and stepped on by others, even by those who are not necessarily aware of what they do? Does it make you cry to see a non-religious Jew marry a non-Jew, or are you so used to it that you shrug your shoulders and continue about your day? There is a certain purity in being able to live a life that is insulated so that you might practice God's word in a community that truly values it, in a community where God's word is so much your life that to see anyone disobey it comes as a shock and something deeply hurtful for you.

Those who live outside such a community might instinctively express scorn for such an approach. Oh, it is not the real world, they will say. They will claim the real world is the world where God's word is trampled, where one becomes accustomed to its defilement and ill-treatment. But who says one must trade in one's purity for such a world? How does such an argument hold up?

This is not all. There is the institution of learning, of kollel. Now, let us grant to begin with that kollel is not for everyone, that indeed there are people who are not serious and who would not devote the proper amount of time or effort to study, and in that case are simply taking from the community's funds without giving back. But what is learning, truly? You have not seen learning until you have seen someone from the Haredi community learn. Learning is their life blood, something beautiful and true, something absolutely gorgeous, a song that flows through their veins and makes them live more truly, more beautifully, something which identifies them and makes them them. What is most important is the ease with which your Haredi scholar learns, the facility he has with texts and different ideas. He has mastered this at a young age, and for him the Torah truly is his lifeblood, something authentic, genuine and true, his master and his teacher, his beloved in a way that is incomprehensible to anyone unless they have either seen or experienced it. It is not the lackluster learning that many of us experience because we are forced into it, or even the increased intensity one accesses upon spending the year in Israel. It is learning as a deep and abiding pleasure; it is learning as a dance; it is learning as fire in the veins, which propels and seduces the one who studies the text.

And what of those who are not so smart? There is still the beauty in their commitment- they wake up in the morning, go to seder, begin preparing with their chavrusa and learn away. They have committed themselves and their time to their God. Do you realize the simple charm that lies in such a commitment? The ease with which they practice it? This is simply their life; they are truly humble; they take no excess pride in what they do; it is simply what they have been taught to do. To love God's law and to learn it each day, in a rhythmic sort of sway and dance. The fact that they do this so simply, so easily- that too is to be admired! That too is something beautiful.

This is a community which desires to live Torah, which has no tolerance for apologetics, for dancing around the truth of an issue. Something is wrong or right, muttar or assur, in accordance to the noted opinions of the scholars. Doing things in order to keep friends and avoid enemies is frowned upon, making certain claims because they are easier or we want them to be true is also frowned upon. So why do we have so much trouble submitting to halakha? It is that many of us lie to ourselves and refuse to see halakha as codified, preferring to see it as fluid, something still malleable, able to be created and changed. Or it is that we truly have had no role models who live their Judaism truly and genuinely, with respect for halakha in their every act, who are truly passionate about desiring to be pure, desiring to be bothered by things they see which are inappropriate or against God's law. But most of all it is that we want what we want- we want God to be compassionate on our terms; I want God's law to make sense to me- for it to make sense for me to kill an Amalekite, for him to have actually harmed me before I do so- and this is not a luxury I am granted. And for that, for that, I struggle so, and I cannot surrender- unless I change something in myself, unless I humble myself abjectly and utterly, which is something I must strive to reach, and have not yet reached.

Every community has its problems, and it is certain that one could point out problems in the Haredi sector just as one could point them out in the Modern Orthodox sector, the Centrist sector, the Reform or Conservative sectors, and so on and so forth. But it is necessary to understand the beauty in such a lifestyle, genuinely and authentically lived, to realize what passion fires the veins of its constituents, to see the grandeur of such an approach to one's God and one's religion, the respect with which its members hold its Rabbis and scholars. There is something so beautiful in this. God, it is so beautiful! I am envious, yes, very envious, of the ability they have to integrate Judaism and halakha, to see those two things as one and the same rather than seeing one as a part of the other. God grant that I should see it, too, and be able to humble myself before You as I would like! God grant me strength.

63 comments:

Ezzie said...

It's about time this post was written. :)

the apple said...

Wow . . . I'm very pleasantly surprised by this.

shlomo said...

If I had a dollar for each time I saw a charedi man in my neighborhood walking his kids to school (the wife of course being at work) rather than learning in the nearby kollel, then perhaps I could afford to be in kollel myself.

There are many charedim who honor the "charedi" ideals you describe more in the breach than the observance, and a not insignificant number of MO and dati leumi people (albeit most of them in Israel) who do live according to those ideals. In the end I think one's personal commitment has a much larger influence on behavior than do communal norms. There are good people who accomplish good things in both Satmar and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, despite their drastically different understandings of Torah.

For an argument somewhat similar to yours, see http://www.azure.org.il/magazine/magazine.asp?id=307

Tobie said...

Interestingly, I have heard attributed to the Rav the statement that it is muttar to read everything except for Ayn Rand, because that is simply idolatry.

Anon said...

What a great post!
Clear and from the heart.
Who is Jordan? Are you learning with him?

SimchaGross said...

Tobie,
That comment was made by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstien, Rabbi Soloveitchik's son in law. The issue comes up yearly at the Chutznik question and answer session, why Rabbi Lichtenstien disapproves of Ayn Rand's writing. His response is not that it is idolatrous, but rather unethical, and therefore a waste of time, or in Yeshiva parlance, 'bitul torah.'

uptown guy said...

Chana,thank you so much for this very informative and truthful post. I was able to relate to it well,considering the fact that in France Haredi culture is looked down upon. God,you write so beautifully and formulate your arguments so clearly.
I envy your time with Jordan.He sounds like quite a fellow .

Anonymous said...

>If I had a dollar for each time I saw a charedi man in my neighborhood walking his kids to school

So what do you want? The kids to walk themselves? The kids not to go to school? The wife not to work at all, so that she can spend 1/2 hour a day walking the kids?

Do you know his kollel schedule? Is it possible it's before seder? Listen to yourself, are you being logical?

Anonymous said...

have difficulty comprehending the concept of people who choose to be isolated and live outside of the tenets of our secular world
======================
haven't read the whole post yet but totally disagree with this assertion. Most philosophically MO folks I know understand fully well the attraction of a sheltered black and white approach to life - it's just they don't think this is what hkb"h wants from them.

perhaps more later

KT
Joel Rich

Tobie said...

Thank you, Simcha. I stand corrected.

SuperRaizy said...

What a beautifully written analysis.
I don't necessarily agree with all of your points, but your writing blows me away.

MF said...

Chana,
thanks for this engaging post. I'm looking forward to more parts to come. May I suggest a must see to your readership? Somehow I will not be surprised to learn that you already saw the movie I'm about to suggest because you are always a step ahead of me. It's called "My Father,My Lord" by David Volach(Israeli film director).The movie's depiction of Haredi society is meticulously accurate. I believe that its content will support this and all your future posts to come regarding the subject nicely.
Well done!(as usual)

Moshe said...

Was waiting for this post since last week :-)

Harry Maryles said...

Brilliant essay! I linked to it on my blog today. ...should be read by everybody!

Harry said...

There is a new book that is expressly geared to explain the philosophy of the Chareidim. It is called One Above and Seven Below: A Consumer's Guide to Orthodox Judaism from the Perspective of the Chareidim .

All information on the book's web site:
http://oneabovesevenbelow.googlepages.com

Chana said...

mf,

Yes, I saw that film. It was extremely powerful. Thanks.

harry,

That book will not help people understand Haredi Judaism. I know because I read it/ own it, and it was put together in a haphazard fashion, poorly edited and otherwise poorly written. If anything, it will confuse people further.

Gavi said...

I think that the most important lines in your beautifully eloquent post are the following:

"It is because many of us do not know people who truly live their lives in accordance to these principles, who function, live and breathe in accordance to halakha. To us, the concept is foreign."

In my opinion, this is the single greatest failing of traditional Jewish education - we must convey to our children, students, and fellow Jews that halacha is a system of rules for life, encompassing all aspects of life, that is to be followed without exception. Built in to the halacha are the safeguards of stricture, leniency, unique situations, etc.

[There is a very scary article in the Summer 2008 issue of Hakira, by Aharon Hersh Fried, about the observed disconnect between learning and practice in all walks of traditional Judaism.]

I once asked an old man in Ponovez (whom I later found out to be one of the senior Ram'im] about how to live life: he told me to "keep the four chalakim of shulchan aruch."

This is why my brother and I identify ourselves as "Shulchan Aruch Jews" - we keep what Rav Karo wrote (and the Rema where applicable, since we are Ashkenazi!).

Anonymous said...

Continuation- outline of topics

1.Basic Differences - What about the State of Israel and interaction with modernity? (I'd say the latter is more of a difference than Mada per se)

2.The Rav as alleged founder - how about the Rambam or Moshe Rabbeinu?

3.Of course Torah comes first (the writer makes it sound like this is some huge chiddush) but how do you define it? Is there an ethic outside of halacha (micro)? One example - why is there a mi shepara?

4.Was R'AK lacking - according to the Gra - yes, unless he had the other chachmot through bathroom reading or sod hashem lyereav.

5.The paragraph on the matter of halacha - how do you understand dracheha darchei noam as an example? We are not recreating halacha but engaged in the traditional pursuit of understanding how halacha applies in every time and place (or did Hillel do something distasteful as well? Beis Yaakov?)

6.I would say you haven't seen learning until you see your example and MO folks who have worked hard all day and don't feel societal pressure to be at a shiur, poring over sfarim when they could be easily elsewhere. The commitment you describe is not a function of philosophy imho. I strongly suggest you read the introduction to the chochmat adam found here http://www.hebrewbooks.org/14718 where he discusses this issue (see bottom of page gimmel starting with hineh yadaati)

7.envious of the ability to integrate Judaism and halacha - look homeward angel, the beauty you seek is right here - integrating halacha into the fullness of the world HKB"H created.

Let each of us plumb the depth of our souls to determine what HKB"H wants from us but don't imagine that Torah Umadda (or whatever you choose to label it) is a compromise, if anything it's a greater challenge.

KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

Chana, it is obvious from your essay that you don't live in the charedi world. You have an illusion about what life is like in this world.

Uri said...

Anon 2:54 pm,
why don't YOU tell us about the life in the Charedi world? It's so much easier to critisize than critique. This post is written so that discussion and exchange of ideas take place. Your comment is not helpful at all.

Harry said...

"That book will not help people understand Haredi Judaism. I know because I read it/ own it, and it was put together in a haphazard fashion, poorly edited and otherwise poorly written. If anything, it will confuse people further."

Strange. I wonder if we are discussing the same book. I actually read the book twice and I thought it was very thorough, well thought out and organized. Also, quite humorous for something so serious. It makes a point and sticks with it.
He does a lot of "darshaning" so maybe it's more geared for guys or people with good learning backgrounds. It's true he doesn't talk about Torah U'Mada or many social issues - but he says he won't. The funny thing is that his main point (at the end) is just what you said in the beginning of your essay that he is trying to reduce labels and just get people to do what G-d says in the Torah so I'm a bit puzzled at why you didn't like it.

G said...

Assuming what you write is the goal/ideal...to what degree is it practiced/accomplished and what is the fallout when such a community falls short?

I honestly do not know.

--I would also second points 6 & 7 of Joel Rich

Unrelated to the post but commenting it anyway...what is the view of those who choose this way of life of those who do not

Anonymous said...

The long galut casts a terrible shadow. Its very easy to ignore shadows, its not like they get in the way. But a modern Jew can not appreciate his people if he/she blindly views the present reality while remaining ignorant of the shadows of the past.
During the horrible dark ages that Jews lived practically among cave dwelling european barbarians, these degrading environments had a tremendous effect upon shaping Jewish identity. As the european became more enlightened, meaning the Catholic church lost its monopoly of spiritual dictatorship over europeans, the europeans put their jews in smaller and tighter boxes - called ghettoes. Comes the French Revolution which overthrew both the Monachary and the Catholic church and Napoleon frees the Jews from their ghetto prisons. Shock the world has pasted the Jews by and the Age has changed from agriculturally based societies to industrially based societies. The Jewish minorites "freed" from their ghetto prisons are confused who the hell they are?! Reforms sings of assimilation and freedom. Orthodox, a christian term, cling to their out dated apparel and love to live in ghetto like enclosures.
Once Jews could easily distinguish between themselves and crude european barbarians. But following the collapse of the ghetto walls, everything europe seemed to shine. 19th Century white man europeans thought they had a mandate to rule the tribal inferior brown men. Two world wars and the Shoah and all realize that scratch a european and find a barbarian still holds true - irregardless of european culture and enlightenment. Reform, its disgraced, these goyim have no shame! Over 60% of the Jewish populations in America and europe have no Jewish connections!
Zionism achieved international recognizion of the rights of Jews to self determination ie in the Balfour Declaration and the 1948 UN vote. Jews now have a homeland Yoffe! Now what are we going to do with it???????????? We as a people left Egypt armed in order to conquor Canaan. Israel aint the Huns. To uproot the culture and civilizations of Canaan required replacing the old culture with a new culture. Hence Israel accepted the Torah at Sinai. The conditional statement "we will do and hear", in hebrew is future tense. Its a conditional acceptance of the Torah! If the Torah becomes the Constitution of the State and Bnai Brit mutually assume responsibility to keep and guard the 613 obligations as a people, then Israel accepts the Torah. The spies abandoned the double conditions and the wilderness generation were crushed under Sinai! Commandments concern the living not the dead; commandments define the meaning of Oral Torah and its logical rules of interpretation. No one generation makes a nation. And if the Torah shall function as the Constitution of the Jewish State then all the generations shall require Oral Torah logic to interpret the intent of the Framer of the Torah! The death of the Wilderness generation equally applies unto all generations of Jews who return unto the oath/sworn lands. The we shall do and hear applies equally unto all generations for our life or our deaths.

G said...

As for 1 above/7 below:

You might want to check out the comment thread from this post wherein the author of said book has a little back and forth with one R' Natan Slifkin.

http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2008/04/04/stop-calling-us-%E2%80%98ultra-orthodox%E2%80%99/

SE from Chicago said...

Chana,
I know your parents,their level of Yiddishkeit and the way they bring you and the rest of their children up. What you described in your post is not so different from the way you live and/or practice Yiddishkeit. You must consider yourself very lucky.Your parents did well.

shlomo said...

-If I had a dollar for each time I saw a charedi man in my neighborhood walking his kids to school

So what do you want? The kids to walk themselves? The kids not to go to school? The wife not to work at all, so that she can spend 1/2 hour a day walking the kids?

Do you know his kollel schedule? Is it possible it's before seder? Listen to yourself, are you being logical?


It's not before seder - I daven in that kollel every day, I know when seder starts.

I'm not saying that all charedim are evil or that non-charedim have nothing to learn from anyone else.

It's just that I read lines like...

"You have not seen learning until you have seen someone from the Haredi community learn. Learning is their life blood, something beautiful and true, something absolutely gorgeous, a song that flows through their veins and makes them live more truly, more beautifully, something which identifies them and makes them them."

...and I think of the MO people I know who are maligned by the implication that this description does not apply to them. And then I think of the charedim I know who don't live up to that standard. And I get a sense that the description is out of touch with what is actually happening in the real world.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

As a general comment on the article from my own perspective, as I see it both Modern and Ultra Orthodox, as well as Conservative Jews first and foremost have to come to terms with the Biblical and Talmudic rulings about what we can or cannot do or think or believe and how to interpret them, and it isn't really dependent on 'objective logic' (which you seem to be relying solely upon) or the like (if one was studying the subject of the logical authenticity of the sources then objective logic might come up).

I did fully agree about us three though, that we shouldn't be judging each other (or people of any religion other than Pagan for that matter) ח"ו.iכל הפוסל במומו פוסל- כתוב

sol said...

Chana,

Many of the differences between Chareidi and MO do not revolve around halacha. In my experience they revolve more around kedusha and gedarim.
Even if something is muttar al pi halacha, a Charidi may say that the idea comes from the velt and is therefore assur.
Just a thought.

ClooJew said...

Kudos on a very well written piece - both in terms of content and style (though, lulei demistafina, you may want to check out the proper usage of the phrase "begging the question").

However, you write as if there are two distinct, as you call them, "sectors": Hareidi and Modern Orthodox. I would argue that there is a range of Orthodoxy that begins at one end and continues through the other.

Next, you make it seem as if "Hareidim" - a term that originated in Israel, and only recently made its way to America - are a unique breed that live in some sort of ghetto. This is not even true of the Yerushalmis in Me'a She'arim; it is certainly untrue of Jews in Lakewood, and even in Williamsburg. Everyone in the 21st century is exposed to secular culture, like it or not.

Finally, your assertion that "You have not seen learning until you have seen someone from the Haredi community learn," is quaint, but, lulei demistafina, inaccurate. I have observed no distinction between the learning that goes on in Chaim Berlin, Lakewood, REITS, or the Sephardic shul in which I davened Minchah this afternoon. I am equally proud and impressed with them all.

Let me finish by stating that, despite my above criticisms, your post, written in a loving, elegant way, is a true kiddush Hashem. The B'sphere needs more like you.

Anonymous said...

“it is simply that our exposure to Haredi people is so limited and seems so uncultured in contrast to our own . . .”

Is this really accurate? Maybe its because its because youre originally from outside ny/nj, but in my personal experience the the average MO has plenty of exposure and interactions with the charadi world, or “almost” charadi world. Even interactions with ohr hachaim or chaim berlin kids who also go to cunys gives one exposure to the charaidi world (even if they are no longer 100% “charedi”). Heck, even if you go to harvard or columbia law you will find those hardcore charadi types who never went to college, and were forced to leave kollel when the money ran low. The point is, MOs interact with haradim all the time. Haradim arent these mysterious, hard to find exotic creatures. Just go to any pool hall in flatbush:)

Plus, almost everyone has that set of close haradi relatives who wont eat at thier home. Oh, and of course the family member who becomes hardcore in israel and now lives in bnai brack.

The Hedyot said...

This piece has a truly nice sentiment behind it, but I do think you are a bit misinformed. As someone who grew up chareidi, I think you have a bit of an unrealistically rosy picture of that world.

The difference between the two worlds is about so much more than just torah u’mada and insularity. It is about insistence on conformity. It is about keeping up with the latest halachic fads. It is about blind obedience to authority. It is about allowing people to be honest about who they are. It is about rigid and unbending lines that reflect unrealistic standards which are not relevant to contemporary society. It is about living with an ideal as an absolute standard rather than an inspiring goal to strive for.

Additionally, in your essay, you pick a few nice examples, which firstly, are not unique to the chareidi world, and secondly are not the norm in the chareidi world, they are exceptions. And thirdly, you totally ignore the incredible downside of the issue. Let’s pick one of your examples - devotion to torah learning.

There are plenty of people in the MO world who are as devoted to torah learning as is thought to be in the chareidi one. Secondly, those people who are truly devoted are not the norm. They are a rare breed. And following paragraph where you extol the beauty of the commitment, even for those who don’t live up to that ideal:

"And what of those who are not so smart? There is still the beauty in their commitment- they wake up in the morning, go to seder, begin preparing with their chavrusa and learn away. They have committed themselves and their time to their God. Do you realize the simple charm that lies in such a commitment? The ease with which they practice it? This is simply their life; they are truly humble; they take no excess pride in what they do; it is simply what they have been taught to do. To love God's law and to learn it each day, in a rhythmic sort of sway and dance. The fact that they do this so simply, so easily- that too is to be admired! That too is something beautiful."

Allow me to paint a different picture of what that commitment is all about:

And what of those who are not so smart? Those how have to sit through hours of tedious, mind numbing shiurim which they never really understand much of? They wake up in the morning and have to look forward to a day devoted to an enterprise which they have very little interest in. They have to go to seder and pretend to be busy with the sugya. They have to sit with their chavrusa and fake that they understand the gemara. They have to sit through a shiur which is incomprehensible to them. They have to endure the condescension of their peers. Do you not realize what torment it is for people to have to be committed to something which they do not enjoy? The difficulty in subscribing to an ideology which looks down upon oneself? Yes, this is their life, like you say, and they are indeed humble. After all, they have been told that they are failures for not being the talmidei chachomim they are supposed to be. This is simply their life. Because even though they would love to do something else, they cannot do so in their society without suffering unfortunate consequences. The fact that they remain committed to this lifestyle is not something to be admired. It is something to be lamented. It is something truly awful.

wannabe frum said...

i think that the point that many people are missing is that chana was trying to show people the beautiful nature of chareidi society. did she say that it is perfect? NO! did she say that every person who calls himself "chareidi" fits this description? NO! and did she say that there are no "MO" people who fit this description? ABSOLUTLEY NOT! hte problem is that some people get so insecure and feel so threatened tat they cant stand to hear (or read)anything good about chareidim - chill out - if you know that what you are doing is correct, it shouldnt bother you to hear something good about other jews! sheeeeeeshhhhhhhhh

The Hedyot said...

> "This is a community which desires to live Torah, which has no tolerance for apologetics, for dancing around the truth of an issue."

I'm sorry, but this line truly reveals your misinformed perspective. I can not think of any other society on the planet which puts out more apologetics than the one you are praising so highly. From the highest leaders through their various spokespeople, all the way down to the Average Yankel on the street. The claim of absolute devotion to the principles of torah are so clearly refuted from simply listening to how they react to any of the countless scandals which occur regularly in their society. When one of their own are caught violating something, it is first defended ("it's not really wrong!"), then denied ("it never happened!"), then minimized ("It's only an isolated incident!"), then the insults are hurled at those who raise the issue ("she has an axe to grind!"), then it's whitewashed ("you have to understand the situation..."), and when it ever reaches the point where it is proven to be an irrefutable wrong, they do their utmost to bury it silently. They never stand up and say "this was wrong and it must be stopped."

Whether it's regarding social issues or even strictly halachic ones, the amazing ability for a gemara trained person to come up with twisted apologetics to defend his position, even as it runs so obviously contrary to halacha is so well known that I'm sure everyone here can think of some examples form their own experience. Their insistence on dancing around the issue and resorting to the most outlandish apologetics once can ever conceive of just proves how they are not truly committed to "living a life of torah." (Listen to a yeshiva guy defend his smoking habit despite it being an issur d'oraysa for a great example.)

Chareidim have many fine qualities, but this is definitely not one of them. And that you think it is true should you make question how honestly you are looking at chareidi society.

The Hedyot said...

wannabe frum -

If it is not unique to chareidi society, and it not common to those who call themselves chareidi than how can it be considered part of "the beautiful nature of chareidi society"?

Izgad said...

Some of my fondest childhood memories come from attending a Charedi summer camp, Camp Torah Vodaath. The first time I stepped foot in Lakewood, I was struck by the sense of being back in camp. Then it struck me, this was camp, albeit year round and for adults. Lakewood, like camp, was beautiful, but a fiction created by Abba's and Mommy's pocketbook. Of course the fact that both camp and Lakewood are fictions does not take away from their beauty. As lovers of literature know, there is a certain beauty in fiction.

Anonymous said...

It is about allowing people to be honest about who they are. It is about rigid and unbending lines that reflect unrealistic standards which are not relevant to contemporary society.
-----------
Like me, I'm gay so I left the Charedi fold, and I am now part of left winged modern orthodox. It's a wonderful feeling being accepted for what I am.

The Hedyot said...

Maybe the reason some of us have a hard time acknowledging that even certain aspects of chareidi society are beautiful is because we see the ugliness that is the price to be paid for that supposed beauty. If you were shown a dazzling work of art, would you still insist on admiring it's beauty if you knew that the result was a product of other people's suffering?

Yes, the insularity can create a certain devotion that at times seems admirable, but when it also causes countless people to be denied their dreams and passions it somehow doesn't seem as admirable any longer.

ClooJew said...

What a lot of axe-grinding going on here!

A few points, lulei demistafina, are in order:

1) The idea that there are two worlds, one MO and one Chareidi, is false. It may be somewhat true in Israel but not in the US. What we have here is a broad spectrum that moves slowly from left to right. Stop making black-and-white assumptions in a community full of color.

2) In light of the above, comments blaming Chareidi culture as causing "countless people to be denied their dreams and passions" are ludicrous. People deny their own dreams and passions because they are lazy - intellectually or otherwise - to make the changes in their own life. It's easy to blame one's background for one's own problems.

3) Cut Chana some slack, all y'all. She herself turned away from that background to embrace a Yiddishkeit more real and meaningful to her. She is only pointing out the value of the other perspective, which shows how honest and thoughtful she is.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with The Hedyot and others. In general, quite a few Hareidim I meet seem to be bitter and sarcastic people and it gets worse with age. I've lived in the Chassidic, Litvish, and MO worlds and see the pluses and negatives of each, but the older I get and the more of the world I see, the more I want to run from the first two groups.

Anonymous said...

ClooJew: btw, What's with the >lulei demistafina< in every single posting of yours?

SemGirl said...

Chana...dear, whatever you are smoking give me some of it, PLEASE..

Im sure you are aware, that you and your entire class at Stern would be considered pariahs and aberrations in idyllic Charedi soceity.

Just last Shabbos I ate lunch by a neighbor, who is a real beautiful soul in every sense of the word. I mean that sincerely. He is definitely a crown jewel in Charedi soceity. In the course of the conversation I mentioned you and your tremendous breadth of Torah knowledge, as well as my adoration for you. His reply was that for a girl, that isnt praiseworthy..

Daganev said...

"I have to agree with The Hedyot and others. In general, quite a few Hareidim I meet seem to be bitter and sarcastic people and it gets worse with age. I've lived in the Chassidic, Litvish, and MO worlds and see the pluses and negatives of each, but the older I get and the more of the world I see, the more I want to run from the first two groups."

That is just because they are from New York. All types of New Yorkers are like that, even the non Jewish ones.

AK said...

SEMGIRL,
your comment is nasty.
I'm sure Chana's post is not dedicated to the Chareidim you represent,for you have no derech eretz!

Chana said...

Actually, Semgirl's comment is accurate. In much of the society to which I refer, I would indeed be an aberration. That doesn't stop it from being beautiful in other aspects ;-)

Anonymous said...

2 points:
1. In much of the society to which I refer, I would indeed be an aberration. That doesn't stop it from being beautiful in other aspects ;-)

True but as you grow you will imho realize that to a large extent you must take "the package" and move within those constraints- which is most consistent with your weighted priorities and work to get it closer. Lhavdil, a society can keep crime down by executing petty criminals. one can admire the resulting calm but would one throw in one's lot with them?


2.God, it is so beautiful! I am envious, yes, very envious, of the ability they have to integrate Judaism and halakha, to see those two things as one and the same rather than seeing one as a part of the other. God grant that I should see it, too, and be able to humble myself before You as I would like! God grant me strength.

I would argue that to fulfill this one must follow the avot (see heemak davar intro) and be yesharim in ones total dealings with the world around them. imho the mo model, when truly lived, comes closest to this ideal (as R' nissan alpert zt'l taught-we must shake at the cash register the same way we shake on yom kippur)

KT
Joel Rich

SemGirl said...

To ak and anyone else on this blog I have inadvertantly offended. My intention was not to insult Chana, who I love and admire, in any way, shape or form.

I was merely stating the metzius. Virtually all the women that I know in Lakewood and other Charedi communities, would consider a girl who learns on an advanced level, like Chana to be worst case scenarion, "mamash, not normal!!", at best "cute" ..

Chana, Joel is right, it kind of is a package deal..

Baruch said...

G., I'm shocked at you!

Y'all, please see my response to One Above and Seven Below at http://orthodoxfreelancers.blogspot.com/2008/03/one-above-and-seven-below-controversy.html .

Click on "a critique."

Naftali Zvi said...

To Joel Rich -

"imho the mo model, when truly lived, comes closest to this ideal (as R' nissan alpert zt'l taught-we must shake at the cash register the same way we shake on yom kippur)"

Joel, your entire post was worthy and credible until you reached this point (an all-time low, in my conceited opinion). There is nothing distinctly MO about proper midos and behavior. This has nothing to do with the M in MO only with the O. All Orthodox Jews (serious ones) read the script from the same texts - Pirkei Avos, midrashei Chazal, etc. In effect, the only taanos that can be truly levelled against the Chareidim are that they do not always live up to their own ideals. But "truly lived" applies to everybody.
Why do you attribute such a basic elementary statement to Rabbi Nissan Alpert, ZT"L? Every Rosh Yeshiva, Mashgiach, and ADMO"R and Moshe Rabenu and Yeshaya HaNavi and Hillel HaZaken have said the same thing. It's pashut ehrlichkeit that we are discussing and your endeavor to monopolize ehrlichkeit is a sad reflection on your own ehrlichkeit (and ahavas Yisroel)!

Incidentally, would Rav Nissan Alpert ZT"L label himself MO?

Your post taught me 2 things:
(1)When one prefaces a comment with "IMHO", the ensuing statement is anything but humble.
(2) If MO truly lived (exclusively)meets these lofty standards, you - by submitting such a needlessly bigotted post - are not truly living your MOness.

Kol HaMigareah Mosif!!

KT

Naftali Zvi

Anonymous said...

naftali zvi,
I am truly taken aback by your reaction.

I said:

"imho the mo model, when truly lived, comes closest to this ideal (as R' nissan alpert zt'l taught-we must shake at the cash register the same way we shake on yom kippur)"


you said (all will be in italics)

Joel, your entire post was worthy and credible until you reached this point (an all-time low, in my conceited opinion).
==========================
You are certainly entitled to your opinions
============================

There is nothing distinctly MO about proper midos and behavior. This has nothing to do with the M in MO only with the O. All Orthodox Jews (serious ones) read the script from the same texts - Pirkei Avos, midrashei Chazal, etc. In effect, the only taanos that can be truly levelled against the Chareidim are that they do not always live up to their own ideals. But "truly lived" applies to everybody.
==========================

true but as a matter of emphasis imho (despite your later comment, this was the approach to expressing opinions that my mentors taught me) a philosophy which stresses insularity makes it much more likely that those outside the walls will not be dealt with byosher.
===========================
Why do you attribute such a basic elementary statement to Rabbi Nissan Alpert, ZT"L? Every Rosh Yeshiva, Mashgiach, and ADMO"R and Moshe Rabenu and Yeshaya HaNavi and Hillel HaZaken have said the same thing.
===========================

Because I sat in his shiur and heard it from him and while I did not take full advantage of it at the time, I was taught kol haomer davar bshem omro mavi geula lolam (megilla 15a)

=============================
It's pashut ehrlichkeit that we are discussing and your endeavor to monopolize ehrlichkeit is a sad reflection on your own ehrlichkeit (and ahavas Yisroel)
==========================
No attempt was made to monopolize only to comment on where actualization would be most easily supported. Any model has strengths and weaknesses in the real world
=======================

Incidentally, would Rav Nissan Alpert ZT"L label himself MO?
========================

I never asked while he was my rebbi in YU but I suspect he did not view the world in terms of groupings only in terms of dedication to carrying out the ratzon hashem
=============================
Your post taught me 2 things:
(1)When one prefaces a comment with "IMHO", the ensuing statement is anything but humble.
(2) If MO truly lived (exclusively)meets these lofty standards, you - by submitting such a needlessly bigotted post - are not truly living your MOness.

Kol HaMigareah Mosif!!

KT



I'm sorry that's what you got out of it and would urge you to submit the dialog to an independent 3rd party who could assist in understanding whether the intent was as you saw it, and, if not, why you reacted as you did and was your reaction within the bounds of the "ehrlichkeit (and ahavas Yisroel)!" you mention.

KT
Joel Rich (this is my true and full name and I'm happy to discuss further on or offline)

someone who knows Chana said...

This piece is incredible,considering what Chana experienced in her High school.
It takes maturity and deep thinking to see beauty in something that was so damaging to begin with.
Kudos!

jackie said...

Hey Chana--I always love the posts about ideology and the Jewish community (even when I don't agree with you). In this case, your post is just thought-provoking and a pleaseure to read. Looking forward to more of the series! :-)

Naftali Zvi said...

Joel, LOY"T

I am confident that we could carry out a civilized discussion but I am not optimistic that it would be a productive one because I sense here a major impasse in ideology that would prevent either one of us from appreciating the other's views.

It is a question of getting blogged down in semantics. I subscribe to a viewpoint that has been presented in these forums by a fellow who calls himself "ClooJew" (lulei, I missed the sfina)that there is no demarcation between "MO" and "Chareidi" but rather it is different levels of intensity within one spectrum. I believe 2 other people who have been mentioned in this thread share this view: one being the characterization that you presented of Rav Nissan Alpert, ZT"L (RNA)who you said would view the world "in terms of dedication to carrying out the ratzon hashem" and the other being Rabbi Yechezkel Hirshman who very much inspired me with his book. I live in Har nof so I know who he is, and his book is all over the place here. (BTW,I agree with Chana about the poor editing but with Harry about everything else.) Rabbi Hirshman basically echoes RNA by claiming in his opening chapter that his definition of Chareidi is precisely one who sees the world "in terms of dedication to carrying out the ratzon hashem" as per the words of the Navi Yeshaya. He just spends the rest of the book proving from the psukim and chazal just exactly what the "ratzon hashem" is. I personally think he puts out a very convincing picture. He writes in his intro that he is trying to fight against those who think like you that there are any socially defined distinctions between Orthodox Jews except for "ratzon hashem". He calls it Consumer Hazard 6.
BTW, my feeling is that even though she didn't like Rav Hirshman's book, Chana (blog-owner)also sees it this way.
All this being said, believe it or not, I do agree with you that the "Chareidim" who are in Rabbi Hirshman's "One Above" camp do have more of a yetzer hara to look down on those outside the walls but being "byosher" should have nothing to do with it. If one is ehrlich he is ehrlich and if not, not but the "ratzon hashem" side of the line is where ehrlichkeit starts.

Regardless of everything, I still maintain that your post was needlessly bigotted.

Sorry for rambling. It's midnite here and I just turned into a pumpkin.

KT

Naftali Zvi

P.S. You can contact me off line at chevrahman@gmail.com

ClooJew said...

In an attempt, lulei demistafina, to bring shalom to the world, I would say that I think Joel Rich and Naftali Tzvi have more in common than this blog might highlight.

With that disclaimer...

NT, I think your term "biggoted" is too strong. You were probably looking for something softer like "prejudiced," though I don't believe that is an accurate reflection of JR's comments either.

On the other hand, I think JR's assessment that "the mo model, when truly lived, comes closest to this ideal" is untrue. I think both models, when truly lived, reach the ideal.

I believe that too often in the blogosphere, each camp pits its best examples against the other camp's worst offenders. It makes for lousy comparisons and only serves to stir an already contentious pot.

Baruch Hashem there are, lulei demistafina, quite a lot of Chanas and Joel Riches and Naftali Tzvis out there who try their best to be their best, and serve God in the best way they know how.

This common goal needs to be spotlighted more and the differences, less.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of everything, I still maintain that your post was needlessly bigotted.

Sorry for rambling. It's midnite here and I just turned into a pumpkin.

KT

Naftali Zvi
==========================
My last word on the topic

bigot=: a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.


KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

Despite this well written piece, im not at all convinced that chana actually holds these high opinions of haredim. To me it reads a little forced- like an exercise to help force her see the positive in all people, even those from cultures which disgust her.

chana's former classmate said...

Anon 1:10am,
it's not wise to speculate,especially in this case.Chana accepts all kinds of Jews. Yes, she did experience a lot of ugliness stemming from some of her Agudah teachers @ her high school,but this doesn't mean that she is not able to see positive even in the cultures that "disgust her"/per your comment. In fact,she keeps in touch with a couple of Agudah Rebeim from her former high school ,one of whom is a head of a well respected bais yakov type seminaries in Israel.

G said...

Baruch said...
G., I'm shocked at you!


Well this is a first.

I am usually very aware of what I've done to tick someone off.

Chana,

In my opinion on this one particluar issue given my understanding of the community/ideals being discussed - it is not that you would be an abberation, it is that you would be bordering on an atrocity. Big difference.

NMF #7 said...

As another former classmate, I can truly say that Chana accepts all types of Yidden- and that's a wonderful thing to do! Thanks for the post Chana, I loved it!

Chana said...

Former classmates,

Hey! Out of curiosity- who are you guys? Feel free to email me and say hi. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Baruch said...

G. and I cleared it up. 'Twas a j/k.

Anonymous said...

“it's not wise to speculate,especially in this case.Chana accepts all kinds of Jews.”

Now whos speculating? Unless you live inside chanas head you have no way of knowing this.

G said...

Unless you live inside chanas head

Now there's an idea for a post!

Anonymous said...

>>it's not wise to speculate,especially in this case.Chana accepts all kinds of Jews. Yes, she did experience a lot of ugliness stemming from some of her Agudah teachers @ her high school,but this doesn't mean that she is not able to see positive even in the cultures that "disgust her"/per your comment. In fact,she keeps in touch with a couple of Agudah Rebeim from her former high school ,one of whom is a head of a well respected bais yakov type seminaries in Israel.<<

I feel the same way re the Amish. There's a lot of stupidity there but also a lot I admire. Go figure!