Category: Haredim/Haredi-ism


Rather than seeing Orthodoxy as a more or less fixed entity, with “modern” and “ultra” flavors, I suggest we look at it as a cluster of processes, enacted across a range of what I call “Modernizing Orthodoxies,” by which I mean a group of religious movements bearing a familial resemblance, based on some core features, through which each works and reworks in its engagements with modernity.

Yehudah Mirsky, “Modernizing Orthodoxies: The Case of Feminism”, in To Be a Jewish Woman: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference: Woman and Her Judaism, June 2005, ed. Tovah Cohen (Jerusalem: Kolech – Religious Women’s Forum, 2007), 37.

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What has changed with Orthodox women in the last two decades in reality is astounding. Some of the initiatives started by JOFA and other forward-thinking organizations took hold. Some didn’t. Some failed miserably. But some of the vision “leaked” out to other communities and organizations, and change happened where we least expected it.

We started noticing that the haredi communities that denounce feminism had their own feminist issues: women were standing up to their leadership about domestic violence and sexual abuse and even agitating in order to get into Hatzolah, the volunteer ambulance corps. Places that 20 years ago would not have considered celebrating a bat mitzvah or a girl’s birth were regularly holding those celebrations. Women’s tefillah (prayer groups), which had been seen as crazy and “out there,” became the more conservative bat mitzvah alternative to partnership minyanim (where women lead parts of the service).

In Israeli newspapers after Simchat Torah, observers were struck at seeing women dancing with Torahs in places you’d never think possible. And no one batted an eye. And even on the issue of agunot, or women unable to get Jewish divorces from recalcitrant husbands, which is seen by so many as the big failure because we have yet to develop a systemic solution, the Orthodox community has made incredible strides. It sits front and center on the communal agenda, and different rabbinic courts and organizations are using their clout to try to solve the problem case by case.

The seismic change in the community has been women’s learning. Twenty years ago there were a handful of women learning torah sheba’al peh (the Oral Law). Today there are dozens of women’s programs that teach Mishnah and Talmud. No one seems to think twice about it.

Bat Sheva Marcus, “How Change Happens”, The Jewish Week (6 December 2013), 23.

The charedi world, in the main, especially the “Lithuanian” branch (with whom I identify myself as belonging to), has yet to come to grips with the realities of today. It is still fighting the battle of the nineteenth century against secular Zionism, a battle long ago ended and not relevant any longer in today’s Jewish world.

Part of the problem is changing this mindset of complete disconnect with reality. We have grown so comfortable over the past centuries of Jewish life as being the persecuted victim, that we are frightened to shuck off that protective mantle. We see the world in black and white colors only – the good guys and the villains. There is no room for nuance or moderation in such a worldview.

If we are involved in rabbinic scandal, financial misdeeds, abusive physical and sexual behavior, violence against police, corrupt elections (and those elected thereby) and are caught by the authorities for so doing, the immediate knee-jerk reaction is that we are being persecuted because of our religious practices, different dress, traditional lifestyle and distinct societal mores.

Somehow we have forgotten that idleness, poverty and a persecution complex all are, in the long run, self-destructive conditions. These were the conditions that secularized much of Ashkenazic Jewry over the past three centuries. Eventually a system built on declining governmental welfare allotments and unending charity from others – a system decried by Maimonides and other great rabbinic sages and religious leaders throughout the ages – is a Ponzi scheme that inexorably will collapse of its own weight.

And we are ill served by religious political leaders and the handlers of old and revered great Torah scholars who, for purposes I have never really understood, oppose any change of the current miserable status quo. And, there is never any plan advanced to help rescue their adherents from the deepening abyss of poverty and personal despair.

Rabbi Berel Wein, “The Truth of Satire“, Rabbi Wein’s Weekly Blog (4 December 2013).

I don’t think we need to get all out of shape about demons. To begin with, and readers can correct me if I am wrong, I don’t think that most people in the American haredi world really believe in demons. Yes, I know they study the talmudic passages that refer to demons, and will mention them as the reason for washing one’s hand three times in the morning, but based on conversations I have had with people in the haredi world (admittedly, most of them from the intellectual elite), I don’t think that they take it seriously. (When I say they don’t “believe” in demons, I mean real belief in the role of demons and how they affect humanity, as expressed in the Talmud and elsewhere.) It is almost like the emperor has no clothes, in that they don’t believe it but continue acting as if they do, afraid of what will happen if they are “outed”. (I have found a similar phenomenon with regard to Daas Torah. I have discussed this issue with many people in the haredi world, and have yet to find even one who accepts the version of Daas Torah advocated by so-called Haredi spokesmen and Yated Neeman.) But even if I am wrong in this, there are lots more important things to keep out of Modern Orthodox schools than an occasional reference to demons. How about the negative comments about non-Jews and even racist statements (sometimes under the guise of Torah) that children are exposed to in Modern Orthodox schools? How about rebbes telling the students that there is such a thing as spontaneous generation, which is akin to telling the students to sign up with Flat Earth society?

Marc B. Shapiro, “Answers to Quiz Questions and Other Comments, part 1”, The Seforim Blog (20 February 2012), n. 9 {http://seforim.blogspot.com/2012/02/answers-to-quiz-questions-and-other.html}

YCT has, to date, consistently and, perhaps, fanatically adhered to the Maimonidean rule forbidding responding negatively toward others. YCT’s curriculum is not only a course of professional study; the quality, quantity, subject selection, and orientations of its instructors provide the discerning reader with a quantifiable and unified ideological self-definition of the kind of Orthodox Judaism that it fosters and offers. As a self-consciously modern (YCT prefers the adjective “Open”) Orthodox Yeshiva, it requires commitment to Jewish law in both theory and practice as a pre-condition for acceptance as a student. But, as an Open Orthodox institution, YCT is open to the insights of non-Orthodox rabbis who can make what it believes to be serious contributions. Academic Talmud is taught by an observant Orthodox rabbi who happens also to teach at the Jewish Theological Seminary, revealing an openness that violates no rule in the classical canon but does deviate from the insular political discipline demanded by Haredi religion. Critical methodology actually empowers the student with the tools to make an autonomous reading of the canon. Since, in Haredi religion, the communal rabbi is authorized only to echo the views of the official “rabbonim and poskim” but not to render an autonomous opinion, however reasoned or defensible within the canons of talmudic hermeneutics, the democratization of independent learning is fraught with danger and is, therefore, off-limits to all but the Haredi gedolim elite. For this reason, academic Talmud undermines “the sanctity of Torah,” precisely because it affords its practitioners the power to render defensible readings and judgments – the original sense of “criticism” – of the canon with unfettered autonomy. Furthermore, Haredi rabbis are, by habit, conditioning, and education, disinclined to speak to the concerns of Conservative synagogues. By founding an institution that trains virtuosi who do not regard the Haredi elite as the ultimate source of rabbinic authority, YCT cannot be deemed to be legitimate to the Haredi elite.

Rabbi Alan J. Yuter, “The Two Contemporary Varieties of Orthodox Judaism,” in Mishpetei Shalom: A Jubilee Volume In Honor of Rabbi Saul (Shalom) Berman, ed. Rabbi Yamin Levy (New York: Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, 2010), 583-585.