Seven years ago, three of my books were banned by three dozen leading rabbis
from the haredi rabbinic establishment in Israel and the US. This was due to my
Maimonidean approach to resolving conflicts between Torah and science – that the
account of creation is not to be interpreted literally, and that the sages of
Talmud were mistaken in some of their statements regarding the natural world.
While I sympathized with the concerns of these rabbinic leaders about the
effects that such an approach could have for some members of their communities
with simple faith, I could not accept the charge that the fundamental approach
was heretical. It became clear to me that in my line of work, I could not
continue to lead my life in the haredi community.
But I was not (at the
time) ready to define myself as modern Orthodox or religious Zionist. So when
people asked me what I was, I replied with what I thought was an original
response: If people who are disillusioned with Zionism are called
“post-Zionists,” and people who are disillusioned with Judaism are called
“post-religious,” then someone who is disillusioned with Haredism is
To my surprise, my “original” phrase had been used before.
The label “post-haredi” (in Hebrew, haredi leshe’avar
, abbreviated as harla”sh)
is used by many people. Yet this group is little-known and
Post-haredim are not to be confused with the Orthoprax
Jews described in a recent Jerusalem Post Magazine article (“Haredi against
their will,” October 14). Whereas Orthoprax Jews lack belief in the fundamentals
of Judaism, postharedim do not (necessarily) suffer from any such lack of
Instead, they are regular Orthodox Jews who no longer subscribe
to haredi ideology. Some post-haredim remain in the haredi community, either due
to inertia or due to their valuing their social ties and
Others secede, changing their manner of dress and moving into
different social and cultural frameworks.
There is no clear line between
more moderate haredim (such as many Anglo-haredim) and post-haredim; in Betar and
Beit Shemesh, the revolutionary Tov political party rejects the haredi system of
rabbinic authority, and is supported by a spectrum of people ranging from
moderate haredi to post-haredi.
What is it that causes post-haredim to
reject the haredi ideology? The answer to this question is best understood by
analyzing how the haredi approach to Judaism developed.
popular belief, neither Moses nor Maimonides was haredi. Haredi Judaism
developed from Orthodox Judaism, which itself differed in small but significant
ways from the traditional Judaism that preceded it.
Orthodox Judaism, as
the term is used in the academic study of Jewish history (as opposed to in the
colloquial sense of “observant”), arose in the 19th century as a response to the
challenges of the Enlightenment and emancipation, and particularly in response
to the assault upon traditional Judaism led by the Reform Movement. In the face
of systematic and sweeping deviation from traditional beliefs and practices,
traditionalists found it necessary to separate themselves into a distinct
sub-community within the Jewish people and to develop a more conservative
approach to Judaism in general.
Originally there were a variety of
streams of Orthodoxy in Europe, but over time, extreme forms of ultra-Orthodoxy
began to overwhelm the other approaches. In the face of the novel phenomenon of
Jews organizing themselves politically (such as with the Zionist movement) and
the new personal autonomy offered by the modern period, Orthodox Jews created
organizations such as Agudath Israel that began to dramatically recast
traditional models of rabbinic authority into their modern
THE PROCESS whereby Orthodoxy became ever more withdrawn
from the modern world was further assisted after the destruction of European
Jewry in the Holocaust and the subsequent re-creation of Jewish communities in
Israel and the US, when the structure of the Orthodox community changed. Instead
of the synagogue being the focus of religious life and the community rabbi being
the main rabbinic authority, the ivory tower of the yeshiva took center stage,
and the heads of the yeshivot gradually assumed the reins of rabbinic
Furthermore, with the increasing laxity and encroachment of
modernity, the conservatism of Orthodoxy accelerated to an unprecedented degree.
As contemporary culture became ever more antithetical to religious values and
became harder and harder to keep out of the home, haredi Judaism responded by
building ever higher walls in an attempt to keep it out.
problems are well-known to all observers of haredi society. The system of mass
open-ended kollels, originally created to recover the losses of the Holocaust,
has long since exceeded its original goals and is ultimately
Increasingly, the extreme conservatism of haredi society
results in intellectual and social mores that are often excessive in their
When rabbinic authority is vested in yeshiva deans who are
isolated from wider society (and often “handled” by various assistants), abuses
of rabbinic power are inevitable. And a siege mentality has developed in which
any criticism of haredi society, even coming from the inside, is to be fought or
As a result, many people in haredi society – including both
those born into that society and those who joined in a spirit of youthful
idealism – have grown dissatisfied. Some, myself included, were forced out by
dissatisfaction with the narrow boundaries of haredi thought, which stands in
sharp contrast to significant classical schools of thought within Judaism. For
others, it was dissatisfaction with various aspects of haredi society including
its relative indifference to wider national issues of the economy and national
security, heavy social pressures regarding even non-halachic lifestyle aspects
and the application of rabbinic authority.
Ironically the post-haredi
movement is occurring at a time when the haredi world itself is undergoing a
process of reversal from its previous excesses. Many more haredim are entering
the work force, and there is even a haredi division in the army. The Internet is
radically changing the dynamics of discourse and free speech in the haredi world
despite rabbinic attempts to restrict or even ban it.
such as Mishpacha
feature positive profiles of non-haredi figures and delicately
air a variety of criticisms of haredi policies, despite the shrill protests of
“establishment” publications such as Yated Ne’eman.
But for post-haredim,
it’s too little, too late.
The writer is the author of a variety of works
on the relationship between Judaism, zoology and the natural
sciences. His website is www.zootorah.com, and he blogs at