Thursday, January 04, 2007

Chareidi Insularity and Blogger Emotion

I'm trying to figure out why many non-Chareidi bloggers react strongly to every headline in the Yated, Jerusalem Post, or Haaretz regarding Chareidi insularity. Okay, let's say that the Chareidi world is moving in the direction of greater insularity. But why the strong reaction? Each to his own, live and let live!

Do people feel compassion for chareidim? Or are they afraid that they might be asked to contribute money to the chareidi community? Perhaps some are insecure about their own choice of lifestyles. These might be concerns, but why the vehement reaction? Why does it appear to bother people who are not members of the community?

The particular issue doesn't make a difference. Yesterday it was the El Al boycott, today it is the Beis Yaakov teachers' training issue. A few months ago it was the blurring by Charedi newspapers of pictures of women on the cover of books. No doubt that there will be at least fifteen more such issues before the end of the year--the particular issue is unimportant, as the internet posts will simply repeat the same ideas. We are obviously talking about prototypical issues, and a prototypical reaction.

Often, readers of blog postings on these issues focus on the language of the posts in question, accusations of “charedi basher” are then hurled, and the discussion doesn’t get to the heart of the issue.

For a moment, though, let's leave the question of what is bothering bloggers , and focus on what one might term the positives and negatives of Chareidi life.

As I see it, living in the American, and particularly the Israeli Chareidi communities involve trade-offs. They negative aspects include (a) the acceptance of a more non-nuanced rejection of secular education and society, (b) a more intense rabbinic authority structure, (c) a more intensely regulated media, and (d) some degree of economic hardship.

All of these items are perceived by outsiders as negative aspects of life. The possible benefits are (a) being able to partake in an unadulterated and unique kind of spiritual life, and (b) possibly taking greater responsibility for the continuance of the Torah nation.

Now these are what I think are benefits as perceived by chareidim, and the negative aspects as perceived by outsiders. An outsider him or herself may feel that they, as well, take great responsibility for the continuance of the Jewish nation while maintaining their own lifestyle. Personally, I think that both groups need each other. But I am talking about conceivable benefits and possible drawbacks.

Presumably, many charedim view this trade-off as worthwhile, and are satisfied with the above reality. Nevertheless, it is equally true that there are at least some charedim who likely are unhappy with the system, and these people are sometimes interviewed in articles on the subject.

It is also possible that with time, the Israeli system will move slightly in the direction of the model of the American Yeshiva World, in terms of being more accepting of advanced vocational training for both men and women, and accepting the value of secular knowledge, including acceptable elements of secular psychology—chochma b’goyim taamin. On the other hand, there is resistance to change. As is known from past experiences, there are conservative, or zealous elements, in the Chareidi world who resist any type of change. No one can therefore predict the future with certainty.

Getting back to what I think bothers people most, I would say that it is the concern that the Israeli Chareidi model might be imported by Western countries. This is an entirely understandable thought, and there is nothing wrong with discussing it respectfully. Certainly, even some Charidim would find it difficult to adjust to the Israeli model.

Is this concern realistic? In think not.

Notwithstanding that the American Yeshivah world, influenced by its more insular factions, appears to be shifting to the Right, I still think that in reality, adopting the Eretz Yisrael model in its entirety is an unlikely occurrence, given the different environments. The fact that the Israeli chareidi community, as per a recent Jewish Observer article, discourages potential Olim who are unable to accept the above trade-offs and “leave their hashkafos back in America”, would seem to show that the differences in the nature of the two communities is indeed still being recognized and respected, at least at the current time.

Perhaps people are concerned that their own communities might be affected by the rightward shift, even if the system in its entirety will not be imported to their areas. What do you think?

To end on a positive note, I think it is good advice, sometimes, to ignore the opinions of others on intra-Orthodox matters, to ignore the claims advanced that, "my group, rabbi, or gadol is better than yours". Let everyone concentrate on their own spiritual goals in life, and stop trying to show that one's own derech is superior to someone else's. We shouldn't feel a need to defend our choices to anyone else either, as long as we follow our personal Rebbe or Rav.

Here is one of my favorite quotes on intra-Orthodox issues, from the end of an article by someone who deals with people from all segments of the Orthodox community:

People, most of all, need to be comfortable with themselves, in their own skin, to comfortably find a place in their community. It is not in the color of their hat. Dr. David Pelcovitz often speaks of the resiliences of people, the inner strength a person has to carry them through difficult times. Dr. Abraham Twerski is renowned for his message on building self-esteem as a most important ingredient to carry a person through life with a positive self-image, an intrinsic belief system that you are good. As long as we're comfortable with whom we are, with what we want to be, we can be in the Center, the Right, Left or anywhere in between. As long as we don't change to be someone or something else we're not ready to be, and whom we don't want to be.

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