Time to trash ‘ultra’? A response

“Call us Orthodox. Or if you insist on using an adjective, traditional Orthodox.”

June 22, 2016 21:20
2 minute read.

Haredim. (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)


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I read with interest the op-ed piece of June 14, 2016, by Rabbi Avi Shafran. His basic contention is that the term “ultra” should be eliminated when referring in the media to the haredi world. He takes umbrage at the term and finds it pejorative and derogatory.

I fully endorse his opinion and support the idea that the prefix “ultra” be dropped from the media lexicon when referring to haredim. However, a closer read of his article shows a number of flaws with his arguments for eradicating the “ultra” moniker.

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He states, “Haredim... are among the dedicated defenders of Israel against its enemies.” Really? Then why were there tens of thousands of haredi protesters against haredim being drafted into the IDF, on more than one occasion? Had it not been canceled at the last minute, there was a similar protest planned in the United States. Constant calls for haredim to resist the draft and eschew service to the State of Israel is not the hallmark of “defenders” of Israel against its enemies.

(Obviously, Torah learning is a defense – a spiritual one, which does not exempt one from physical defense as well).

Furthermore, Rabbi Shafran states that “the haredi community is becoming the Orthodox mainstream. It is the fastest growing part of the Jewish world.” While there is no doubting the statistics documenting the explosive growth of the haredi population (may the numbers increase!). However, numbers alone do not make a sector “mainstream” or not.

It may be more common or prevalent, yet there are still tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews who do not act in accordance with haredi norms.

Finally, he states, “Call us Orthodox. Or if you insist on using an adjective, traditional Orthodox.”

Why? What part of haredi lifstyle is considered “traditional”? If it is adherence to the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, then how is haredi life more “traditional” than a National Religious life? There is something that Rabbi Shafran does not state, and which I feel is critical: all of us, the adherents to Orthodox halacha, tradition, etc., have so much more in common than not in common with each other.

Often the differences are philosophical, although there are a few halachic ones. If we were to actually stress the similarities rather than harp on what makes us different; if we were to embrace each other rather than repel each other; if we were to respect each other rather than make claims of “mainstream” and “defenders of Israel,” perhaps we would bring a major change to the Jewish world: Orthodox and non-Orthodox.

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