.

The Haredim: A Defense

By Aharon Rose

How scholars have misunderstood the ultra-Orthodox.


Obviously, the preservation of such an intense, close-knit community involves the suppression of a certain measure of personal freedom. And indeed, the Haredi is not free to think, to doubt, and to act as a secular person does. He is committed to his community’s tradition and to the authority of his community’s leaders, and lives in a social and cultural ghetto. No doubt, this is a heavy price to pay—for many, it is simply too heavy. But to the extent that the Haredi community demands the forfeiture of the individual’s personal liberties for the sake of the whole, the individual is rewarded with a life imbued with meaning, and an almost unparalleled feeling of belonging and of continuity, and of certainty as to his place in this transient world and beyond—indeed, in all of Jewish eternity.


Some years ago, I began my journey from the Haredi society in which I grew up—the world of the Belz Yeshiva and a generations-old Hasidic family—to the “outside world.” In the world I had left behind, I was filled with questions; in my new life, I searched for answers. This journey led me, among other places, to the pages of the research to which I have referred above. For the first time, I looked to academic books on the history of Orthodoxy and Hasidism to serve as my guides to the society of which I was once a part. Through them, I was able to look at the Haredi community from a new, critical perspective. I found, however, that along with penetrating insights, these books contained much flawed analysis. Often, these flaws stemmed from sheer intolerance and a not-inconsiderable level of hostility.
This attitude toward Haredi society, common among the secular public, is to me not entirely surprising. I am all too familiar with the stringencies of Haredi life that are often construed by outside observers as “repressive” or “fundamentalist.” And indeed, I concede that there are negative aspects to the Haredi way of life, whether its suppression of individuality or its own hostility towards those streams of Judaism opposed to it. Yet, at the same time, I cannot ignore the secret of its power—an uncompromising devotion to a long and glorious tradition that embodies the continuous striving for the supreme good. The religious idealism of the Haredi society could well be construed, from the outside, as rigid and oppressive. Yet at the same time, this religious idealism creates an intense form of human existence based on the values of communalism, the sanctity of the family, and the obligation of study. We who are on the outside should ask ourselves: Are these values really such a bad foundation on which to build one’s life?
They are not. And it is just possible that beneath the hostility directed by much of secular society toward the Haredi community lies a fear of the challenge the Haredim pose, through their unremitting resistance to the modern, liberal worldview. And the strength of the Haredi alternative is all the more evident precisely when it is set against the weakness of the open, permissive society that surrounds it. If Haredi society is nothing if not certain of its own values, what is to be said for a liberal culture that is constant wracked by doubts as to its own value in this world?54
It would seem, then, that rather than deliberately distancing himself, the modern Jew can learn something from the Haredim. He may not be able—or want—to accept the Haredi dictum that “the Tora prohibits innovation,” but neither should he succumb to the facile, modern dismissal of the past: “Never look back.” For as the Haredim make clear, there is much to be learned from our past. Haredi society is characterized by vitality and moral strength precisely because it wholeheartedly believes in its holy mission—the preservation of Jewish existence—and is willing to sacrifice many things that the “enlightened” man views as crucial to daily life. The Haredi’s eyes are directed at eternity, and away from the fleeting idols of fashion. Surely this sacrifice is itself worthy of admiration—and perhaps even inspiration.
In the end, it is certainly difficult to imagine an ideological compromise between Haredi Judaism and other sectors of the Jewish public that have adopted a more “progressive” worldview. After all, there exists between them an unbridgeable chasm: Modern Jewish trends are founded on the view that Judaism will survive only if it succeeds in incorporating certain aspects of contemporary Western liberal culture, whereas the Haredim believe that only their entrenchment behind the walls of tradition can guarantee the continuation of Judaism in future generations. Surely, however, the modern Jew cannot deny that there is something comforting about the knowledge that there exists a community dedicated to the preservation of Jewish identity in its maximalist version, even during periods of far-reaching social and cultural change.55
Once, during a heated debate on the question of whether the Haredi community helps or hinders the future of the Jewish people, my teacher and rabbi Professor Shalom Rosenberg, a researcher of Jewish history, claimed that the Haredim are the “savings account” of the Jewish people. In contrast, the modern Jewish movement may be compared to “venture capital,” used to invest in bold political and ideological ventures. Surely, we can see the value in both. Indeed, there may come a time when the modern Jewish community will need to dip into its reserves. The resilience of the Haredi community assures us that these reserves will always be there.

Aharon Rose is an undergraduate in the department of Israeli history at the Hebrew University. This essay, originally composed in Hebrew, won first prize in Azure’s Hebrew Essay Contest for Young Writers in 2005.

Notes
1. Shalom Noah Brozofsky, Tractate The Slain is Upon You: Articles about the Holocaust (Jerusalem: Machon Emuna Vedaat, 1988), p. 28. [Hebrew] In this context, Eliezer Schweid coined the expression “the truth comforts” as a means of explaining Haredi philosophy’s efforts to cope with the Holocaust. See Eliezer Schweid, From Ruin to Salvation: Responses of Haredi Philosophy to the Holocaust in Its Time (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 1994), p. 12. [Hebrew]
2. See the definition provided by Haredi social researcher Kimmy Caplan, who characterizes Haredi society as a combination of ideological and theological opinions as well as of a unique lifestyle. Kimmy Caplan, “Research into the Haredi Community in Israel: Achievements and Challenges,” in Israeli Haredim: Integration without Assimilation? eds. Emmanuel Sivan and Kimmy Caplan (Jerusalem: Van Leer Institute, 2004), p. 227. [Hebrew] See there his discussion on the ruling of the High Court when asked, in order to resolve an argument over the government budget in 1993, to answer the question: Who Is a Haredi? See Caplan, “Research into the Haredi Community in Israel,” pp. 226-227.
3. This is only the briefest of sketches of Katz’s and his students’ research into Orthodoxy. For a bibliographical survey of the subject, see Caplan, “Research into the Haredi Community in Israel,” mainly pp. 231-234. For research that deals with Katz’s historiography, see Immanuel Etkes’ introduction to Moshe Samet, The Tora Prohibits Innovation: Chapters in the History of Orthodoxy (Jerusalem: Carmel, 2004), pp. 7-9. [Hebrew]
4. Jacob Katz, “Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective,” in Studies in Contemporary Jewry, part 2, ed. Peter Y. Medding (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1986), p. 4. Katz published his collected articles on Jewish Orthodoxy in his book Halacha in Distress: Obstacles on the Way to Orthodoxy in Formation (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1992). [Hebrew]
5. Katz, “Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective,” p. 4. For a discussion of the question of whether Orthodoxy is the only possible reaction to modernity (in the context of an analysis of Jews of Middle Eastern origin), see the fascinating polemic between Zvi Zohar and Benjamin Brown, “Eastern Sages and Religious Fanaticism: Points for a Renewed Examination,” Akdamot 10 (2001), pp. 289-324 [Hebrew]; Zvi Zohar, “Orthodoxy Is Not the Only Authentic Halachic Reaction to Modernity,” Akdamot 11 (2002), pp. 139-151 [Hebrew]; Benjamin Brown, “‘European’ Modernity, Orthodox Reaction, and the Causal Connection,” Akdamot 11 (2002), pp. 153-160. [Hebrew]
6. Michael K. Silber, “The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Invention of a Tradition,” in The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era, ed. Jack Wertheimer (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1992), p. 24.
7. Israel Bartal, “Responses to Modernity: Haskala, Orthodoxy, and Nationalism in Eastern Europe,” in Zionism and Religion, eds. Shmuel Almog, Jehuda Reinharz, and Anita Shapira (Hanover: Brandeis, 1998), p. 18.
8. The influence of the doctrine of daat tora and its transformation from Haredi into religious-Zionist society provoked a stormy debate, and increased the interest of both researchers and the general public in its theological and halachic roots. See Benjamin Brown, “Daat Tora in Religious Judaism in Israel: The Background, the Positions, and Their Implications,” in Religious Zionism: An Era of Changes-Studies in Memory of Zvulun Hammer, ed. Asher Cohen (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2004), pp. 422-474. [Hebrew] Discussions on the daat tora principle are based on articles by my teacher, Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Brown, and on the course he taught at the Hebrew University in 2004, “The Hafez Haim-Faith, Halacha, and Public Leadership.” My debt to Brown does not end with those notes referring to his articles. It is customary for the writer, after he has thanked his teachers, to add that they are not responsible for his errors. In my case, Brown told me that he does not agree with my conclusions. It is therefore my duty, not only as a matter of course, to say here that the errors-if there are any-are mine alone.
9. Ze’ev Safrai and Avi Saguy, eds., Between Authority and Autonomy in Jewish Tradition (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 1997). [Hebrew]
10. Jacob Katz, “Daat Tora: The Unqualified Authority Claimed by Halachists,” in Safrai and Saguy, Between Authority and Autonomy in Jewish Tradition, pp. 95-104. [Hebrew] Although this is a research anthology, Katz did not refrain from expressing his personal opinion, as he writes at the end of his article: “It [the emergence of the phenomenon of daat tora] is a result of special historical circumstances, and though a historian should never try to prophesy, he is not prevented from hoping that what has emerged in the course of history may also disappear in the course of time.” Katz, “Daat Tora,” p. 103.
11. Lawrence Kaplan, “Daat Tora-A Modern Conception of Rabbinic Authority,” in Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy, ed. Moshe Sokol (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1992), pp. 1-60. Kaplan even anticipated that the ideology of daat Tora, as a result of a proliferation of contradictory authorities, would become a victim of its own success: “As a result of the proliferation of conflicting daat tora viewpoints, of conflicting de’ot tora… the concept of daat tora as the expression of the sole legitimate, authentic Tora viewpoint would seem to be in trouble.” Kaplan, “Daat Tora,” p. 53.
12. Mishna Avot 5:22.
13. Hagiga 12a.
14. Benjamin Brown, “The Doctrine of ‘Daat Tora’: Three Stages,” in Way of the Spirit: Book on the Jubilee of Eliezer Schweid, vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies, 2004), p. 594. [Hebrew]
15. Thus Jacob Katz also refers to the phenomenon of the Musar (“moral”) movement of Rabbi Israel Salanter in the mid-nineteenth century as a kind of reaction to modernism. Katz, “Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective,” p. 6. Lawrence Kaplan claims that the attempts of the Hazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz), the leader of the Haredi community in Israel, to neutralize the effect of the Musar movement are also reactions to modernity. Lawrence Kaplan, “The Hazon Ish: Haredi Critic of Traditional Orthodoxy,” in The Uses of Tradition, pp. 145-173. Moreover, Menachem Friedman and Haym Soloveitchik regard the strictness imposed by the Hazon Ish as a result of a literary tradition that developed in yeshivot that were not tied to any particular Haredi community, and had thus cut themselves off from the communal tradition and its customs. Haym Soloveitchik, “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” Tradition 28 (1994), pp. 64-130; Menachem Friedman, “The Lost Tradition: How the Written Word Defeated the Living Tradition-A Perspective on the Lessons Debate,” in The Quest for Halacha: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Jewish Law, ed. Amichai Berholz (Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot, 2003), pp. 196-218. [Hebrew]
16. Menachem Friedman, The Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) Society: Sources, Trends, and Processes (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 1991), p. 77. [Hebrew]
17. Joseph Dan, “Prevailing Haredi Society: A Product of a Secular Israel,” Alpayim 15 (1998), p. 241.
18. It is interesting to note that those researchers and intellectuals who are not experts in the history of the Jewish people are more respectful of the Haredi experience of continuity. Thus, for example, Emmanuel Sivan wrote: “This ‘highlighted’ past is experienced with utmost contemporaneity, spoken about in the same way one talks about figures and events appearing in the major text, the product of the revelation, which carries authority in the enclave. Chronological distance is abolished, as is clear to any observer watching Haredim on the ninth of Av as they lament the 70 C.E. destruction of the Temple and the onset of Exile, or Shi’ites weeping in self-flagellation for the murder of Imam Husayn, ‘Ali’s grandson, on the tenth of Ramadan (‘Ashura).” Emmanuel Sivan, “The Enclave Culture,” in Fundamentalisms Comprehended, eds. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995), p. 38. As a result of a trip he took to the Geula and Mea Shearim districts in Jerusalem, the author Amos Oz also writes: “Here in northwestern Jerusalem everything remains almost as it was. Enlightenment and assimilation, the return to Zion, the murder of Europe’s Jews, and the establishment of the State of Israel seem swallowed up, covered over by the growth of this Judaism, fierce and tropical, like some primeval jungle.” Amos Oz, In the Land of Israel, trans. Maurie Goldberg-Bartura(London: Chatto and Windus, 1983), p. 7.
19. As Benjamin Brown points out: “Some would try to attribute the success of the Haredi world in Israel to the Zionist state whose existence it opposed and to the democratic government… but this claim, even if it is correct, cannot diminish the extent of the achievement of the Haredi community, because every achievement is built, among other things, by using the conditions created by the opponent. The very ability of this society to adapt its course to a changing reality without significantly straying from its fundamental values demonstrates the power of its existence. In order to succeed it is not enough to open the window of opportunity; you have to know how to use it properly.” See Benjamin Brown, “Rabbi Schach: Admiring the Spirit, Critique of Nationalism, and Political Decision Making in the State of Israel,” in Religion and Nationalism in Israel and the Middle East, ed. Neri Horowitz (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2003), p. 318. [Hebrew]
20. Throughout his book, Friedman emphasizes the existentialist crisis facing Haredi society. See, for example, Friedman, The Haredi Society, pp. 4, 75-77, 129, 190-191.
21. Friedman, The Haredi Society, p. 191.
22. Friedman, The Haredi Society, p. 192.
23. Friedman, The Haredi Society, p. 188. It should be emphasized that other researchers proposed a more complex analysis than Friedman’s narrow economic one. Many of them maintained that research into Haredi society must take into consideration its ideological elements, as well. Charles Liebman, for example, argues that Rabbi Schach’s decision not to join the government’s leftist coalition despite the economic incentives shows that the political behavior of the Haredim cannot be explained in purely economic terms. Charles Liebman, “Joining the Government Coalition in Light of the Haredi Reaction to the Yom Kippur War,” Perspectives on the Revival of Israel 3 (1993), pp. 380-398. [Hebrew] For Liebman, Haredi society is based first and foremost on an obligation to religious-ideological principles, in the name of which it demands material sacrifices from its adherents. Moreover, “its religious leaders, as distinct from its political ones, provide an example of simple life if not actual poverty in their private lives.” Liebman, “Joining the Government Coalition,” p. 384. As Liebman states, the Haredi sense of moral responsibility for the Jewishness of Israeli society has increased since the Yom Kippur War. In his view, the trauma of Yom Kippur aroused the feeling that Israeli society was part of the rhythm of Jewish history, “a feeling that stems from the fact that the pain, suffering, and humiliation Israel endured during that war are consistent, as far as the Haredim are concerned, with the Jewish nation’s bitter experience since the destruction of the Temple.” Liebman, “Joining the Government Coalition,” p. 387.
24. Studies of this professional training provided a wealth of insight into Haredi society, from anthropological fieldwork to philosophical and historical reviews of changes in Haredi attitudes toward work. The reader will find a good summary in Joel Rebibo, “The Road Back from Utopia,” Azure 11 (Summer 2001), pp. 131-167. For the latest literature: Yohai Hakak, Between Sanctity and Tachles: Haredi Men Learn a Trade (Jerusalem: Florsheim Institute for Political Research, 2004). [Hebrew]
25. Yair Sheleg, The New Religious Jews: Recent Developments Among Observant Jews in Israel (Jerusalem: Keter, 2000). [Hebrew]
26. Sheleg, The New Religious Jews, p. 13.
27. Sheleg, The New Religious Jews, p. 145.
28. Tamar Elor and Eran Neria, “The Wandering Haredi: Time and Space Consumption among the Haredi Community in Jerusalem,” in Israeli Haredim, pp. 171-195.
29. Elor and Neria, “The Wandering Haredi,” p. 195.
30. Cited in Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, Splendor of Our Generation: Selections from the Life and Writings of Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, the “Hazon Ish,” ed. Shlomo Cohen, part 1 (Bnei Brak: Netzah, 1969), pp. 292-293. [Hebrew]
31. Sheleg, The New Religious Jews, p. 164. Yet another example of a baseless prediction on the future of Haredi society is Sheleg’s pronouncement that the death of Rabbi Schach would lead to a lessening of the status of the rabbinic leadership in the Haredi world, and a rise in the status of its politicians. In truth, four years have passed since the death of Rabbi Schach, and there is no discernible change on the horizon. Sheleg also claims that the rightist tendencies of the Haredi community will lead it into conflict with the authority of daat tora. Yet the support of the United Tora Judaism party for Sharon’s disengagement coalition is obvious proof, if any were needed, of the ability of daat tora to prevail over rightist tendencies among the Haredim.
32. For the Haredi slant, see the apologia of prominent Haredi author and journalist Moshe Grylak, The Haredim: Who Are We Really? (Jerusalem: Keter, 2002), pp. 24-27. [Hebrew]
33. Menachem Friedman, The Haredi Woman (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 1988). [Hebrew] The article was also published with minor changes as “The Haredi Woman,” in A Window on the Lives of Women in Jewish Societies, ed. Yael Atzmon (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 1995), pp. 273-290. [Hebrew]
34. Menachem Friedman, “The King’s Daughter Is All Glorious Without,” in Blessed Be He Who Made Me a Woman? Women in Judaism: From Biblical to Present Times, eds. David Joel Ariel, Maya Leibowitz, and Yoram Mazor (Tel Aviv: Miskal, 1999), p. 193. [Hebrew]
35. Friedman, “The King’s Daughter,” p. 205.
36. Leo Strauss describes the idea of progress as one composed of several rudiments: A parallelism between intellectual progress and social progress; the determination that human thought is a developing process, and that modern thinking from the seventeenth century on is an example of a type of progress that cannot be reversed; and the possibility of infinite progress. See Leo Strauss, “Progress or Return?” in Leo Strauss, The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism: An Introduction to the Thought of Leo Strauss: Essays and Lectures, ed. Thomas L. Pangle (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1989), p. 238. The idea of progress in modern culture is expressed mainly through the charm that the “new” holds for consumers. A member of the Musar movement, Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein (1880-1941), who was active in Lithuania between the wars, compares “the lust for change” with the quest for truth. In his efforts to discourage his students from yearning after the trappings of modernity, he blamed the philosophers of his time: “For their view that if they follow the path trod by all the Sages of past generations, they will be unable to do much to bring about changes that will shake up the entire world…. They found no other way, except to cause a revolution in the spiritual world and to choose a new path for themselves and leave the one that the great of the world trod for thousands of years.” See Moshe Rosenstein, Ahavat Meisharim, vol. 1, second ed. (Petah Tikva: Gnuzot, 1995), p. 47. At the peak of the ideological age, Rabbi Rosenstein warns that just as it is impossible to bring about a revolution in the physical world and “destroy the civilization enjoyed by the world’s peoples until now,” so, too, in the spiritual world “a man would be crazy to have the arrogance to pull down what previous generations have built.” He wonders at those of his own generation who are led astray in search of novelty, “who will be quick to be attracted by the new opinion of any crazy and deceitful man and place the crown of wisdom upon his head without much scrutiny of his veracity.” Rosenstein, Ahavat Meisharim, pp. 48, 49.In contrast to others in the Musar movement, who view the attraction of men to the new as a simple lust for anarchy, Rabbi Rosenstein argues that most people are miserable because they are distracted by the new as opposed to being engaged in the search for truth: “So when they hear a new opinion from some crazy and misguided person, they grab it with both hands, thinking, perhaps, to find something helpful in this opinion that will improve their lives.” Rosenstein, Ahavat Meisharim, pp. 49-50.
37. Schweid, From Ruin to Salvation, p. 9.
38. Much has been written on the topic of “first” and “last” in Jewish tradition, but as yet there have been no exhaustive studies on yeridat hadorot in Haredi philosophy. On first and last in Hasidut, see Mendel Piekarz, Hasidic Leadership: Authority and Faith in Tzadikim as Reflected in the Hasidic Literature (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1999), pp. 60-77. [Hebrew] See there the references in notes 1-7. Benjamin Brown says that yeridat hadorot and daat tora are the final two of the fifteen essential principles of Haredi society. If I were bold enough I might say that they are principles 1 and 2 and only after them come the other thirteen principles of Maimonides.
39. Eliyahu E. Dessler, Strive for Truth! Michtav Me-Eliyahu: The Selected Writings of Rabbi Eliyahu E. Dessler, part 1, trans. Aryeh Carmell (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2002), p. 205.
40. Shalom Noah Brozofsky, Paths of Peace: An Anthology of Discussions for the First Watch (Jerusalem: Machon Emuna Vadaat, 1990), p. 60. [Hebrew]
41. Yeshayahu Halevi Horowitz, The Two Tablets of the Covenant (Jerusalem, 1963), introduction, Beit Hochma, p. 18. [Hebrew]
42. Shalom Noah Brozofsky, Paths of Peace, p. 94.
43. Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam, Way of Life: Chapters on Education, Guidance, and the Foundations of Judaism According to Tora and Hasidut (Union City, N.J.: R.M.L. Goldman, 1997), pp. 180-181. [Hebrew]
44. Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam, Way of Life, pp. 190-191.
45. It should be emphasized that the great historian of the Jewish dispersal in Christian Spain, Yitzhak Baer, accepts the authority of the testimony of the Hasid Yabetz (Rabbi Joseph Yabetz). See Yitzhak Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, vol. 2, From the Fourteenth Century to the Expulsion, trans. Louis Schoffman (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978), p. 443. Other historians have disagreed with Baer. See Israel M. Ta-Shma, Studies in Medieval Rabbinic Literature, vol. 2, Spain (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2004), pp. 279-296. [Hebrew] See the discussion of Avishai Ben Haim, Man of Vision: The Ultra-Orthodox Ideology of Rabbi Schach (Jerusalem: Mozaika, 2004), pp. 149-159. [Hebrew] For the citation by Rabbi Schach see Eliezer Menachem Schach, Letters and Articles, part 4 (Bnei Brak, 1980), p. 154. [Hebrew]
46. This was recently brought into sharp focus by the way Haredi newspapers (non-affiliated) covered the disengagement process. The Haredi newspapers were unable to remain indifferent when faced with a settlement without television like Atzmona, or the Torat Haim yeshiva in Neve Dekalim, whose principal, Rabbi Shmuel Tal, is closer to the Haredi Tora sages than to the religious Zionist community. In the most popular Haredi chat site on the Internet, Behadrei Haredim (“In the Haredi inner sanctum”), part of the Israel-based Hyde Park general forum, some visitors claimed that the Haredim have no right to be arrogant after “the mizrahnikim [religious Zionists] took devotion to the mitzvot away from them.”
47. Schach, Letters and Articles, part 1, p. 31.
48. Chaim Grade, The Yeshiva, trans. Curt Leviant (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1976), pp. 384-385. On the historical importance of Grade’s theories, see the evidence of one of the greatest Talmud researchers, Saul Lieberman: “When I read The Yeshiva I was filled with amazement at the accuracy of the historical-literary descriptions…. I knew personally almost all the people in Grade’s novel about the yeshiva.” Saul Lieberman, “On Chaim Grade the Storyteller,” Bitzaron 3 (April 1981), p. 29. [Hebrew]
49. Exodus 42:21-22.
50. Psalms 105:15.
51. For a fascinating and sensitive description of Haredi education see Samuel Heilman, Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry (New York: Schocken, 1992), especially pp. 168-177, but also in the chapters describing the heder (elementary school) and the yeshiva. And see also the references to Haredi educational literature.
52. Maimonides, Mishneh Tora, Laws of Festival Offerings 2:3.
53. Shlomo Wolbe, Alei Shur, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Beit Hamusar, 1998), p. 259. (The book was originally published anonymously.)
54. An assertion to this effect is also made by Eliezer Schweid, who sees the revival of Haredi society as one of the most amazing paradoxes of our time. The reason is, according to him, that Haredi society represents not only a nostalgic past but “a real advantage that makes it relevant to extremely pressing current problems.” In Schweid’s opinion, in contrast with the “emptiness of the non-religious community” the Haredi community offers “an overall religious attitude to life and a rich family and communal lifestyle, and above all it gives a man a definite direction in his life, a personal and social purpose, and meaning. Once more Haredi society has been found to provide answers to questions raised by the tensions, risks, and superficiality of post-modern societies.” But Schweid indicates not only the advantages of the Haredi community but also the moral price it pays for its success: A relationship of lack of responsibility towards the society and the culture thanks to which and in which it exists; narrowness of horizons and a restriction on the extent of its creativity; behavior according to the standards of a dual morality, one directed internally and the other externally; repression of natural urges; and an accumulation of mental and social tensions. See Eliezer Schweid, “Haredi Society as a Product of Post-Modern Culture,” Nativ 1 (1988), pp. 27-32. [Hebrew]
55. On this point it is worth referring to the book by the scholar of contemporary Judaism Charles S. Liebman and the political scientist Bernard Susser, Choosing Survival: Strategies for a Jewish Future (New York: Oxford, 1999). These two researchers, who do not describe themselves as Orthodox, took upon themselves a task that is beyond narrow academic endeavor: To propose ways of preserving Jewish existence-cultural, not physical-in Israel and worldwide. To do this the authors have to define Jewish survival and non-survival, which they believe ends with assimilation. Susser and Liebman, Choosing Survival, p. 135. The authors are severely critical of the liberal Jewish streams in the United States that identify liberalism with Judaism, or more accurately, the identification between “being Jewish” and the lifestyle mapped out according to the liberal worldview. Susser and Liebman, Choosing Survival, p. 77. They claim that Judaism and the liberal culture represent two opposing cultures. Susser and Liebman ask a rhetorical question: “Is there a single assumption, implication, or conclusion adopted by the privatizers that runs against the grain of an urban, upper-middle-class American consensus?” Susser and Liebman, Choosing Survival, p. 87. Therefore, when Judaism is redesigned in the liberal style, both the American and Jewish cultures will come out losers-the former because the independent critical voice of Jewish civilization has been denied it, and the latter-because it has lost its Jewish identity: “A Jewish community claiming personalism, universalism, and so on, as its content will quickly learn that its members are adept at finding their personalism, universalism, and so on, elsewhere.” Susser and Liebman, Choosing Survival, p. 88. Susser and Liebman see the flowering of Haredi society as a rebuttal of Spinoza’s famous observation: “As to their continued existence for so many years when scattered and stateless, this is in no way surprising, since they have separated themselves from other nations to such a degree as to incur the hatred of all…. That they are preserved largely through the hatred of other nations is demonstrated by historical fact.” See Benedict de Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise, trans. Samuel Shirley, second ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001), p. 45. Against this, the two researchers assert that Judaism does survive not because of hatred and persecution by the surrounding society but as a result of the power of a religious idea, a cultural richness, persistence, and commitment. Susser and Liebman, Choosing Survival, p. 171. They propose that we learn several principles from Orthodoxy: The return of the traditional study ideal to the center of Jewish life; preservation of communal unity accompanied by a selective acceptance of Western values; renunciation of the cosmopolitan mentality and legitimization of open discussion on the subject of Jewish uniqueness; condemnation of mixed marriages despite the demographic price, i.e., the qualitative criterion over the quantitative one; commitment to Jewish identity as an historical responsibility and not as an attractive market alternative. Susser and Liebman, Choosing Survival, pp. 145-151. However, as is the way with liberals, Liebman and Susser want to have their cake and eat it, too: They accept without a trace of criticism the ideals of universalism and liberal individualism, but admit that these values are in direct contradiction to the commitment to Jewish uniqueness. If so, why should the modern Jew restrict his individual liberty, the holy of holies of liberalism, for the sake of the continued existence of the Jewish people? How will we oblige our children to study Jewish texts? Moreover, the authors do not even mention the million-dollar question: Why is there such a furore about Judaism’s continued existence? Liebman and Susser are forgetting that the Orthodox, at least the Haredim among them, reject liberal values while clinging stubbornly to traditional values. Therefore, the success of the Haredi community cannot be understood except through an examination of the criticism that Haredi philosophy levels at the Western liberal culture.
 


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