Haredim lots of haredim 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
There is a wickedly funny a nd enormously sad piece of satire making the rounds
about a “Lithuanian” haredi father attempting to explain to his inquisitive
child the story of the Hasmoneans and their triumph over the Greeks. On the one
hand the Hasmoneans were staunch “Lithuanian haredim” who learned all day, while
on the other hand they apparently had weapons, organized an army that they
themselves led in actual warfare against the Greeks.
They also engaged in
commerce and agriculture, albeit always wearing only white shirts. And,
apparently, they wanted to establish an independent Jewish state in the Land of
Israel. The child realizes the enormous disconnect between the traditional story
of Hanukka and the Hasmoneans and what he has been taught at home, in school and
among his peers about the country and society he currently lives in.
father admits to himself the existence of this savage disconnect, but says one
may not state so publicly lest one be accused of being a Zionist.
as in all good satire, there exists more than a bit of exaggeration. But there
is no doubt that more than a kernel of truth also exists in this fictitious
conversation. The haredi world in the main, especially the “Lithuanian” branch
(which 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 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
Somehow we have forgotten that idleness, poverty and a
persecution complex all are, in the long run, self-destructive.
were the conditions that secularized much of Ashkenazi 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
So, a little clever satire can be a good thing for us.
A good look at the absurdity of some of our societal practices, at the
disconnect with reality, at an educational system that impoverishes its students
for life and stifles creativity and different opinions can only help us in the
long run to advance the cause of Torah in Israel and in the Diaspora! A
middle-aged person recently came to see me before embarking on a trip to the
United States to raise money to pay crushing debts accumulated over the years
that he has not worked. The irony is that he graduated university and as a
qualified engineer is easily employable.
So when I asked him why he
doesn’t go to work instead of undergoing the humiliation of canvassing for
charity door to door in the American winter for a month, much of it given
begrudgingly, I sighed deeply at his answer: “I have daughters to marry off and
the husbands they want to marry will not accept daughters of someone who is
working!” I wanted to answer him harshly: “But they will accept daughters of
someone who begs others for charity?!” However, I bit my tongue and wished him
success (?) on his journey. I was impotently outraged all day at how this type
of mindset has corrupted such a wonderful people.
Perhaps we need more
satire to have the truth of the situation sink into our society.
The author is a rabbi, and the founder and director of the Destiny
Foundation since 1996. For over 25 years, he has been identified with the
popularization of Jewish history through his more than 1,000 lectures heard
He blogs at www.rabbiwein.com