haredi and WWII veterans 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hot on the heels of the mass haredi (ultra-Orthodox) protest against government
plans to conscript them into the Israel Defense Forces, Jay Michaelson recently
argued in The Jewish Daily Forward that global Jewry should relinquish support
for the ultra- Orthodox community, both in the US and in Israel, because of its
“creeping Jewish fundamentalism.”
Jonathan Rosenblum ripostes by judging
Michaelson’s logic to be pointillist – “stringing together every negative
headline he could find” – while instead focusing on the significant haredi
contribution to society.
Here we have a convenient dichotomy fit for
140-character tweets: Michaelson paints the ultra-Orthodox black while Rosenblum
saturates it in white. How do we avoid getting caught in this binary? Although
Michaelson’s depiction of the coercive fundamentalism dominating the haredi
community is troubling, he addresses the trend in a callous, counter-productive
fashion that borrows from the corrosive ostracism of the larger Jewish
establishment. In a recent article, I showcased some of my research displaying
the frightening pressure on Jewish youth to either be with American Jewry or
against it in terms of stance on Israel. Do we really want to address the
communal concern of the ultra-Orthodox with the same antagonism, hate-inciting
generalizations, and relinquishment of institutional support? What is the
alternative? First and foremost, we need to better understand haredim without
painting them black in broad strokes. Academic research chronicling trends in
the life of the ultra-Orthodox indicate that haredim are growing not only
because they are having more children but also because they are converting
entire centrist, modern Orthodox communities to ultra- Orthodox practice. Some
say this is emblematic of an extremist rightward shift among the most religious
members of our society. On the other hand, there is compelling evidence
suggesting that this trend has actually moderated the ultra-Orthodox due to the
influx of community members with diverse educational and cultural backgrounds
which are more open to the secular world.
We must refrain from rushing to
attack a straw man haredi monolith when its community members in fact prove to
be far more heterogenous.
Michaelson provides nuance when clarifying that
he is speaking ill of the haredi system rather than its people, yet he is all
too eager to throw out the baby with the bathwater. By advocating for cutting
institutional support for the ultra-Orthodox, he is recommending we further
entrench its people within an already considerably secluded haredi enclave. This
will serve only to radicalize the membership rather than support their internal
trend of moderation – it is counter- productive.
Rather than shunning the
haredim, a feasible alternative would be to extend them our hand in
We must encourage their moderation by partnering with those
more open in the ultra-Orthodox community to begin inspiring cultural change
from within. This suggestion has already been proposed in the Israeli context,
specifically with reference to the potential of a Left-haredi opposition in the
Knesset. It would be wise to pursue alliances with both ultra-Orthodox
communities in Israel and the US in tandem, making both partnerships
exponentially more viable.
This means we must reach out to the converted
modern Orthodox and to more open-minded sects of the ultra-Orthodox. Chabad, for
example, which has led Orthodox movements in engagement with the nonreligious,
would be a valuable candidate for partnership. Chabad already serves as a
powerful bridge between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Jewish society,
currently operating childcare services, Hebrew schools, day schools, summer
camps, teen programs, college groups, religious prayer venues, and even Jewish
singles groups for all Jews across the country regardless of affiliation. It
would be wise to invest in this moderating power.
The collaboration would
have to be mutually beneficial. In exchange for a commitment to curb Jewish
fundamentalism among haredim, support for the Association of Jewish Outreach
Programs (AJOP) must be heightened. This is not necessarily a bitter compromise.
Even speaking as a secular Jew, I believe that promoting kiruv (literally
“bringing close,” as in closer to God) is a welcome byproduct of an enhanced
mainstream- Orthodox relationship.
Although I do not practice spiritually
myself, I am profoundly thankful for the kiruv work of my local Chabad which has
provided me with the unique opportunity to be a role model for special needs
children through The Friendship Circle. I have grown as a Jew because of
Outreach work will enrich the Jewish identity of the growing number
of disinterested or unaffiliated Jews while simultaneously moderating and
integrating the Orthodox sector of our community. This is preferable to
instigating demographic and/or financial warfare that will only sharpen divides
within the Jewish community. Is this alternative practical? Some may suggest
not, but I would challenge them – does our community not advocate negotiations
and dialogue for far more acrimonious conflicts? Rather than ostracizing those
with whom we disagree, we should temper our knee-jerk reaction and wisely offer
them a hand in partnership instead.
The writer is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. You can follow him on his blog and on Twitter (@roibachmutsky).