Joel Worthman, Lippman Bodoff, and Others.

Aharon Rose responds:

Many thanks to those readers who pointed out lapses in clarity in my article, thus allowing me the opportunity to set the record straight.

Joel Worthman argues that I did not adequately distinguish between “core” and “peripheral” elements in Haredi society. This is a complicated issue, and one that would require its own essay. I thus cited the matter as merely one example of the type of issue that both popular and academic literature on Haredi society ignore, thereby obstructing a better understanding of that society. Indeed, the problem is amplified when researchers engage in prognosis of Haredi societal continuity based on the activities of the group’s periphery alone.

As to Worthman’s comment regarding my inclusion of Lubavitcher and Breslaver Hasidim in the peripheral category, I am not saying anything that has not been said before: The general sentiment, among both “core” Haredim and the secular world alike, is that Lubavitch Hasidism is a separate phenomenon entirely.

Worthman also claims that there is a contradiction between my view of hozrim bitshuva (newly religious) as a sign of Haredi vitality, and my including this subgroup as part of the periphery. But I do not see any contradiction: The fact that the Haredi world not only does not intend to disappear from Jewish history, as those who have studied it have forecasted, but in fact has succeeded in courting new recruits is to my mind proof that Haredi vitality is unparalleled.

Worthman also opposes my definition of Haredi values, which strive for perfection and as such are essentially unattainable for the majority of adherents, since the halacha, by definition, is practicable. But the traditional Jewish values espoused by Haredim are drawn more from extra-halachic sources (musar and drashot) than they are from purely legal works, the former being sources that guide the spiritual development of an individual who wishes to extend himself beyond what is minimally required by halacha.

Moreover, Worthman ignores the two references I made to the philosophy of the Hazon Ish, whom I quoted as legitimizing the status of mediocrity with little hope of achieving perfection, and instead chooses to challenge me based on the Hafetz Haim’s preface to Shmirat Halashon. Yet this preface is extremely complicated in its effort to move the concept of lashon hara out of the world of musar (moral teachings), with which it was until then classically associated, and into the realm of halacha.

Also, for whatever reason, Worthman seems to have difficulty getting over my statement that Haredim see themselves as the preservers of ancient Judaism, concluding from this that Haredim should, if this were truly the case, be active supporters of the Temple Mount Faithful. What he misses is that the Haredi connection to ancient Judaism runs via traditional Jewish literature and its exegesis. The question therefore becomes not whether the Haredim are rebuilding the Temple, but whether they continue to preserve the traditional belief in an eventual messianic redemption.

Finally, Worthman asks: “Which aspects of [the] past do the Haredim seek to preserve?” My essay did not attempt to break any new ground, only to document the self-awareness of the Haredim as steadfast and consistent keepers of an ancient tradition. It is no secret that the modern Orthodox rivals of Haredi thought are embarrassed by questions as to the extent of tradition-based authority. Do modern Orthodox adherents believe, as is the traditional understanding, that the giving of the Tora at Sinai is a binding historical event? Or do they prefer to see it as an allegory bordering on myth? In the encounter between traditional values, like obedience, family, and education, and modern values, like autonomy, freedom, and individualism, does the modern Jew lean towards tradition when making decisions? For the Haredi Jew, there is no contest; the very strength and essence of the Haredi community lies in the fact that tradition dictates in matters of personal autonomy and modern considerations.

Lipmann Bodoff argues that a Haredi lifestyle is not the only alternative to secularism, since modern Orthodox society offers many of the same advantages as Haredi society, but without its drawbacks. As the Haredim see it, however, the main thing separating the respective camps is not each group’s attitude towards nationalism or secular culture (although religious Zionists may believe this to be the case), but rather modern Orthodoxy’s lack of commitment to mitzva observance.

In addition, Bodoff challenges my assertion that the Haredim seem to place more importance on the principles of yeridat hadorot and daat tora than on Maimonides’ thirteen, citing an internal contradiction: If each generation has less authority than the previous one, Maimonides’ authority to set principles surely supersedes that of our generation. Bodoff, of course, is correct. However, my comment was meant to be part irony and part sociological reflection, and I apologize if I was misunderstood.

Last, Lustig is correct in that the internal Haredi struggles between isolation from the rest of Israeli society on the one hand, and nationalism and the need to influence Israel’s future on the other, are among the most important developments in contemporary Jewish history. These struggles have been part of Orthodoxy from its inception, and ultimately will determine the future of Haredi society: Will it see fit to become more culturally involved with broader Israeli society, or will it turn once again inwards?

Lustig intimates that in his view, Haredi society is headed towards greater integration into general Jewish national life, and it seems that he may be correct. At this point, I can only hope that he may convince the editors at Azure to request an article from me on the subject.


Jews and Power

To the Editors:

Michael Oren’s “Jews and the Challenge of Sovereignty” (Azure 23, Winter 2006) is replete with insights into the Jewish antipathy to power. To underscore Oren’s argument, I would adduce the legend of the golem. In a sixteenth-century variant of this Jewish folktale, Rabbi Loew of Prague (the Maharal) creates the golem to defend the Jewish community against its hostile neighbors. Although the golem succeeds in this purpose, its uncontrolled power becomes a danger to the Jews themselves. In the end, the rabbi is forced to turn his creation into dust to ensure his community’s safety.

How remarkable and counterintuitive a denouement when one reflects on the beleaguered and defenseless situation of Europe’s Jews in that age. But then, one need not reach back into the sixteenth century. The lessons of the twentieth century’s seminal event-the Holocaust-are also depressingly misunderstood by many Jews.

One would like to think that the experience of the Holocaust would have infused the Jewish people with a sense of the utter necessity of power for self-preservation. But this is not the case. To many Jews, particularly some residing in the diaspora, the primary lesson of the Holocaust is that all manifestations of power are evil, and are therefore to be shunned. Even power wielded to defend oneself, if necessary, is viewed as lamentably necessary.

Have the Jews learned anything at all from their history as powerless victims? I believe some have, and each new day in the existence of the State of Israel is a testament to the comprehension by these Jews that power is required for self-preservation.

Indeed, the State of Israel has restrained the full fury of its golem, often at ill-advised cost to itself. But unlike the Maharal, Israel will not turn it to dust, a distinction that Israel’s neighbors would be well advised to keep in mind as they seek to indulge their medieval-and, sadly, twentieth-century-fantasies.

Darren Pinsker

New York

To the Editors:

Michael Oren writes that Jews who built “unauthorized settlements in the territories” essentially subverted the democratic process. This begs the questions: What is the law in Israel on settlements? And if Jews are in violation of that law, should they be punished and removed? Finally, should this law apply equally to non-Jews as well?

Last year, a report commissioned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and named after its author, Talia Sasson, concluded that outposts were illegal because they did not receive full government authorization. Yet the hundred or so outposts in question are connected to large, established communities and are strategically located. Moreover, they comprise fewer than 2,000 people, mostly young religious families. In contrast, the report did not deal with the more than 100,000 illegally erected Palestinian buildings in Israel-not including those in Judea and Samaria.

Sasson held that in order to get authorization, settlements must be approved by a ministerial committee; have a valid zoning plan; be on land owned by the state; and have a municipal boundary set by the regional IDF commander. Settlements that do not meet all four conditions, she concluded, are illegal. These criteria seem clear enough, but the problem is that even those settlements which do not meet all four conditions were in fact built through the involvement of agencies of the state and with approval from the highest levels of government. Indeed, since authorization and approval were implicit when the appropriate government ministries and public institutions, including the Israeli military, were involved, it would seem to make them legal. The outposts are well within the boundaries established for communities, according to building and zoning plans submitted some fifteen years ago, and all outposts in question are built on state land, or land which was purchased and/or unclaimed.

When we add to the mix the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of instances in Israel in which buildings, neighborhoods, and even entire communities were built without full approval, and received it only subsequently, we can only conclude that the dismantling of new outposts and long-established settlements is done not because they are illegal, but rather for political and ideological reasons. In fact, the government itself has not taken any decisions on the matter: The appropriate ministerial committee required to determine the settlements’ legality has never convened, nor has the Knesset passed any laws or recommendations or the courts issued any rulings. Critics of outposts and settlements must thus rely on a combination of Jordanian laws and Israeli procedures that are unclear and open to interpretation.

Ultimately, however, the issue is not really a legal one. The fate of Jewish communities in the West Bank goes beyond strict legal definitions; rather, it bears on the continued existence of the Jewish state: Surrendering to American (and UN, EU, and Russian) demands may trump historical and legal arguments, but appeasement never brings peace. Political expediency and concessions may buy us a little more time, but to what end?

In the final analysis, destroying Jewish communities is not an act of mamlachtiyut (the exercise of sovereignty), but its opposite. It sends an unmistakable message: We don’t belong there. In principle, therefore, there is no difference between outposts and settlements, or what constitutes the State of Israel itself. As recent events in Gaza and Lebanon prove, it doesn’t matter where Jews live in Israel, but that a state called Israel exists at all. Consequently, denying the right of Jews to live in “outposts” threatens the moral and ideological basis for all settlement in the land of Israel. And this is both anti-democratic and anti-Zionist.

Moshe Dann


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