Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Challenge of a Happy Haredi

The Rabbinic Ban on the concert in Israel is starting to make its rounds in the blogosphere, and I would like to share some thoughts on both the issue of Jewish music concerts in general, as well as on the meta-issue of satisfaction with Haredi life.

Personally, I am an avid fan of Jewish music, and I enjoy attending these concerts from time to time. I think that on a whole, they are a simple, kosher pleasure. I do agree that there can be issues and/or grounds for improvement, whether intermingling of genders that may occur at the events, hero-worship of performers, or the secular nature of the music.

On the positive side, I would note that at a recent concert that I attended, one performer, who is a Ben Torah, performed in a very aidel(refined) manner. So, while people are welcome to criticize the Jewish Music industry, I would appreciate if some nuance is used in this forum, and also, if names of singers are not mentioned.

The Jewish Observer recently published an article, which as noted in the magazine, had input from two of the biggest names in the Jewish Music industry. While the author strongly called for an increase in the "Jewish" aspect in these concerts, to his credit, he recognized that people are on different levels. He thus concluded that if improvement occurs, even those who don't attend concerts on principle, need to be able to give a genuine "yasher koach" for the improvements made.

In practice, the Israeli ban is not relevant to many people. If one is Modern-Orthodox, these issues are not on the radar screen. In the American haredi world, no one is banning concerts. In fact, a prominent haredi Rav, recently recommended that an older, single, relative of mine attend Jewish music concerts(where there was separate seating), because he felt that it was important for her happiness.

Indeed, at Jewish music concerts, I often notice groups from Ohel Family Home attending these events; once, I saw an "out of town" eighth grade class with their rebbeim as well. I once took a recent baal teshuva whom I was acquainted with, who was alienated from his family, to a Hasc concert, and he enjoyed the evening, even though he never experienced Jewish music before. For some people, these events are, therefore, important.

I would also note that the Israeli Haredi world does have some type of Simchos Bais Hashovea concerts, although these are subject to Rabbinical oversight.

To shift to meta-issues of understanding the Israeli Haredi world, most secular, or non-Haredi perspectives would emphasize the arguable difficulties in Haredi life, as viewed by an outsider.

For example, the following was a description by Micha Odenheimer in Foreign Policy:

In Hebrew, ultra-Orthodox Jews are called haredim, which translates as “tremulous” or “fearful” and reflects the community’s claim to represent the last segment of Jewry whose behavior and commitment are centered in awe and reverence to God. It is an apt name in another sense, because fear of the relentless assimilative power of modernity has shaped ultra-Orthodoxy’s ideology and survival strategy since its inception. Ultra-Orthodoxy began in the early 1800s, when the secular humanism of the Enlightenment started to penetrate into the Jewish population centers of Eastern Europe. Key rabbinical leaders—revered by the faithful as towering scholar-saints—responded to the challenge by erecting a virtual firewall that they hoped would keep their flock from straying. Secular learning was banned, as were innovations of theology, practice, and style that were seen as reflecting modern sensibilities.

After the Holocaust, the shattered remnants of ultra-Orthodoxy that regrouped in the state of Israel were faced with the triumph of secular Zionism and the appeal of the new kind of Jewish identity it offered. In response, Israel’s haredim (America’s largely followed suit) created a religious culture more insular and controlled than had ever existed in Jewish history. A single kind of personality—the preternaturally pious, diligent, and ascetic Torah scholar—became the ideal that everyone was meant to emulate. Television and movies were banned, and the pursuit of higher education, unless strictly related to making a living, was frowned upon. So was internal debate and criticism, which could subvert the authority and ideology holding the nearly exterminated community together in the face of what it perceived as existential dangers.

As noted above, the Foreign Policy description is written from a secular perspective, and does not focus on an appreciation of the Torah accomplishments of the Israeli and American Haredi world. Having said that, would you agree with the above, that, " Israel’s haredim (America’s largely followed suit) created a religious culture more insular and controlled than had ever existed in Jewish history" ?

What do you predict as the future of such a trend? I would say that the future is a mixed bag; for example, Mishpacha Magazine, to my suprise, has advertised Lander College.

In addition, as I noted above, many(certainly not all) Israeli haredim are happy in their lifestyle, and accept as a package deal, Rabbinic Bans. It is also true that "the grass is greener on the other sides", and that some Modern Orthodox recognize the strength of haredim

On a personal note, I sympathize with anyone caught in between various segments of religious world, whether in Lubavitch, Religious Zionist world , or the Haredi world. This was poignantly brought out by Rav Nosson Kaminetsy's speech which I attended in Boro Park. While Rav Nosson was obviously pained by the ban on his book, he noted that his relationship with Rav Elyashiv had, ironically, become stronger after the ban, and he quoted from an unpublished work of his, that he would not dream of disobeying Rav Elyashiv, "whom he loves, nay adores".

While I do not have the relationship that Rav Nosson Kaminetsky has, I can say that I have met(as part of a group) some of the signatories of the ban, including Rav Elyashiv, Rav Sheinberg, the Gererer Rebbe, and Rav Shtienman. As is obvious from the pictures I have from some of the meetings, they gave me their full attention, and it was certainly an inspiring experience.

Similarly, a rabbi in the Centrist world whom I met at an event, echoed these feelings, and he told me that while he did not necessarily follow Rav Elyashiv as a final authority, he had met, and of course, respected Rav Elyashiv.

Comments on the concert ban are welcome, pro or con, but please be respectful, and focus on ideas, not people.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home