Joel Worthman, Lippman Bodoff, and Others.

The Haredim

To the Editors:

In “The Haredim: A Defense” (Azure 25, Summer 2006), Aharon Rose criticizes secular depictions of Haredim for failing to distinguish between a “center” and a “periphery” in Haredi society, yet his own attempt at differentiation is both unclear and contradictory. For example, he writes that the periphery consists of “the numerous outer or fringe elements that have attached themselves to [Haredi society] in the last generation.” But he also states that the majority of those who joined the IDF unit Nahal Haredi did not come “from the core of the Haredi community,” but rather from “followers of the Lubavitcher and Breslaver Hasidic groups.” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Lubavitcher Hasidism, died in 1812, and Rabbi Nahman of Breslav, the founder of Breslaver Hasidism, died two years earlier. These groups certainly did not join Hasidism recently. On what grounds, then, does Rose consider them peripheral? Rose also places hozrim bitshuva in the “peripheral” category, but had previously pointed to their growing numbers as evidence of a “Haredi renaissance.” Surely he sees a contradiction here?

The real problem, though, is that Rose seems confused about the essential character of Haredi society. He explains that the Haredim aim “at preserving the same rigid theological principles that continue to guide them as they did generations of Jews in the past.” This past, Rose writes, is specifically “the time of the revelation on Mount Sinai, and the days of the biblical prophets and the Temple.” Rose then cites the transition from Yiddish to modern Hebrew in many yeshivot as a “concession.” But if the Haredim wish to strengthen the connection to the biblical era, modern Hebrew is far closer to biblical Hebrew than “traditional Yiddish.” In addition, those from the “core” of Haredi society have never been at the center of movements such as the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful, whose goal is the building of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in our lifetime. Nor have they been at the center of movements for prophetic social justice in Israel. Surely, then, the past of the “revelation on Mount Sinai” is not the period to which the Haredim aspire.

Another candidate for the “past” which the Haredim want to preserve is, according to Rose, “the traditional Jewish identity in Eastern Europe that preceded the Emancipation.” But again, which aspects of this particular past do the Haredim seek to preserve? The author already discounts dress and language when he asserts that the Haredim want to maintain “principles and values” rather than “praxis.” Rose points to the value placed on education. Yet he does not consider universal yeshiva learning a value preserved from the past. Rather, he states that “the Haredim would be the first to admit, for instance, that the universal duty to study in a yeshiva derives from the distinctly modern need to rebuild the world of Tora that perished in the Holocaust.” Moreover, he cites the Hazon Ish and the Slonimer Rebbe to support his claim for the modern creation of universal long-term learning. Once again, we are left with confusion, and little in the way of a definition of Haredim at all.

Rose’s view that Haredi values “cannot, by their very nature, be upheld fully” contradicts the traditional Jewish understanding of halacha, and the two examples he uses to illustrate the point-the requirement to learn Tora day and night, and the prohibition on gossip-are misguided. Regarding the first example, later Jewish halachic authorities discuss how one can fulfill this requirement even though one works during the day. As for the second, the Hafetz Haim, in his introduction to Shmirat Halashon, states that the reason he wrote the book was to convince Jews that the laws of gossip could be observed in practice.

Finally, the “acceptance of rabbinic authority” is also not a value unique to Haredim. Does Rose mean to imply that the religious Zionists do not follow their rabbis? Even Reform and Conservative Jews do this. Furthermore, this is not a value preserved exclusively from the past, because the author has already agreed that “as a vehicle for the expansion of rabbinic authority, it [daat tora] is a new thing.”

Overall, Rose fails to convince the reader of the shortcomings of modern academic literature in its efforts to characterize the nature and future of Haredim. Indeed, the author’s personal ruminations and anecdotes only serve to obfuscate the subject.

Joel Worthman

New York

To the Editors:

Aharon Rose assumes that there is no Jewish religious alternative to secularism other than that espoused by Haredi Jews. But surely a religious Judaism can be described, and lived, with the benefits of Judaism as practiced by the Haredim, but without its detriments. That Judaism is the classical biblical and rabbinic (talmudic) model, without the problematic layers of Kabbala, Hasidism, and “Haredi Judaism.”

In that regard, I note that the author-if he had his way-would put his two principles of the Haredi community before Maimonides’ thirteen. But how can the twentieth-century idea of daat tora take precedence over the twelfth-century ideas of Maimonides, if we accept the Haredi principle of yeridat hadorot, which holds that recent religious attitudes are inferior to earlier ones? Doesn’t the principle of yeridat hadorot compel us to accept Maimonides’ much earlier view that the wisdom (hochma) of other peoples and nations, including particularly the sciences, is part of Tora and the way to love and fear God, even though it runs contrary to the more recent religious outlook of the Haredim? It would seem that the Haredi principles as described by Rose in his article themselves negate crucial ideas of Judaism as practiced by the Haredim, and may thus be considered self-contradictory.

Lippman Bodoff

Glen Rock, New Jersey

To the Editors:

Aharon Rose’s essay was an impressive repudiation of intellectual thought about the Haredi lifestyle. Yet while he touched briefly upon the dialectic between the ideas of “progress” and yeridat hadorot, he ignored the scope and importance of, or at least misframed, the real battle that is taking place within the Haredi world today. Namely, just as the destruction of the Second Temple cast Jewish identity into crisis, the combined historical effects of the Emancipation, Zionism, and the creation of a sovereign Jewish state in the land of Israel have reignited, in modern times, the age-old war over the true nature of Judaism.

The revolutionary idea within Zionism is its goal of reinventing the Jewish people and the Jewish religion on Jewish land. This represents a fundamental shift in Jewish life from dependence-as was always the case in the diaspora-to sovereignty. From the beginning, the notion of Jewish sovereignty was contested by traditional Jewish communities, especially those that developed and thrived in the diaspora. Even before the advent of Zionism, in fact, traditional Jewish authorities opposed the very notion of rebellion against one’s fate, or of attempting to hasten divine redemption. The reason is clear: The very idea of Jewish sovereignty and independence, taken to its logical conclusion, could lead eventually to the idea of Jewish independence from even God himself.

Naturally this causes serious ideological and theological implications for the Haredim. The revolutionary ideas of Zionism are in many ways opposed to the “rigid theological principles” upon which the Haredi community is based. Indeed, the Haredi community developed in an environment of complete dependence upon surrounding peoples, and so, even today, while Haredim may have established a flexible system to preserve [those] principles, they still operate within the same paradigm of dependence.

This is not to say that Judaism and Zionism are antithetical; despite what Jews such as the Neturei Karta say, Zionism is inherently Jewish. The reality is simply that because Judaism has always internalized elements of its host cultures, now that there is a sovereign Jewish state, the battle to determine the future of the Jewish people and religion is waged by the competing forces of Zionism and “diaspora-ism.”

Rose is correct when he remarks that most of the supposed “Haredim” who, for example, serve in the IDF are not a part of the cohort who are “central to that society’s vitality.” Yet he is wrong to discount their potential contribution to the allaying of secular-religious tensions both in Israel and around the world. For in this “periphery” lies the difference between the path of national self-realization and the fulfillment of the creative energy of the Jewish people, and the path of simply continuing on with the way of life that was before in a perpetual battle to continue the chain of tradition.

Rose beautifully notes the battle between a Judaism “incorporating certain aspects of contemporary Western liberal culture” and a Judaism finding refuge behind “the walls of tradition.” Unfortunately, however, he simply sticks to the level of this battle that occurs over assimilation, a battle that has been commented on thousands of times ever since the walls of the ghettos were torn down. He ignores the other levels that are just as, if not more, important: The fight over the very soul of the Jewish people.

Jason Lustig


From the

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