Jewish continuity conference rapped over absence of haredim

Culture gap, lack of desire on part of organizers are blamed.

Haredim 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Haredim 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The inaugural conference of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which aspires to offer concrete policy proposals that would improve Jewish continuity, was criticized Tuesday for conspicuously lacking significant representation from a segment of the Jewish people that has most successfully maintained continuity - the haredim. Tens of NGO directors, academic scholars, philanthropists, youth directors and even two modern Orthodox rabbis are among those attending the three-day "Conference on the Future of the Jewish People," being held in Jerusalem through Thursday. The JPPPI has been planning the conference for four years. But not one of the participants truly represents haredi Judaism, the critics said. Dismay at the lack of haredi representation, and at a purported failure by the conference planners to pay sufficient heed to the successes of the Orthodox community in maintaining its identity and viability, was expressed by several participants at the conference's opening question-and-answer session. JPPPI director-general Avinoam Bar-Yosef said there were a few haredi representatives, whom he declined to name, and others had been invited but chose not to attend. "We did not make an effort to bring to the conference a haredi representative," said Dr. Dov Maimon, a fellow of the JPPPI with a doctorate from the Sorbonne who specializes in Islam. "True, there was no opposition in principle to bringing a haredi representative," he added, "even though there are people at the JPPPI who are antireligious, who think religion is irrational. But I do feel we did not try hard enough to make sure there was a haredi participant." Maimon, the son of an Orthodox rabbi who leads an Orthodox lifestyle, said there was also some difficulty finding a haredi representative who had "a good grasp of geopolitical realities," who could "converse with a broader public that did not share its assumptions" and who could "use universally understood terms and language." "There is a nearly unbridgeable cultural gap between the types of people attending the conference and members of the haredi community," he said. "This would have made it nearly impossible to create a dialogue. Also, the haredi community feels embattled and threatened and tends to use aggressive language." MK Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism) said the lack of haredim at the conference was indicative of a serious problem. "Jews who ignore their past, who say that 3,000 years of Jewish tradition is passé, have no hope of a future," he said. "They do not understand something basic: A Jew who abandons the Torah inevitably disappears." Former UTJ MK Israel Eichler accused the participants at the conference of having an "ambivalence bordering on schizophrenic" vis-a-vis Judaism. "Maintaining Jewish continuity is like abiding by traffic rules," he said. "When you break the traffic rules you will inevitably have a traffic accident. So too, when a Jew ignores the dictates of the Torah he will assimilate. Its as simple as that." The JPPPI's Bar-Yosef said there were several haredi representatives at the conference, possibly referring to Maimon and/or Rabbi Dr. Rene Shmuel Sirat, a former chief rabbi of France. But neither would be widely considered representative of the haredi community. "We did not choose people because they were or were not haredi," Bar-Yosef said. "We did our best to bring the best representatives of the different sectors of the Jewish people who are involved in planning policy. We invited a few [other] people who could be considered haredi. But they chose not to show up." Some haredim who were considered and might have been invited were Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, former Sephardi chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and Ravitz, informed sources told The Jerusalem Post.