The decline and fall of haredi Judaism

I see a movement that has lost its way and forgotten its mission. Is it any wonder that secular Israelis pull away from Judaism?

haredi men black hats 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredi men black hats 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
While many may look at the state of Judaism here at the moment in very positive terms – largest concentration of Jews in any country, more yeshivot and more boys studying in those institutions than at any time in history, etc. – I am afraid they are viewing matters through rose-colored glasses.
For as I survey the situation, I see a movement that has lost its way, forgotten its mission; most disturbing of all, the branch of Judaism which should be steering us in the right direction, the Orthodox (of which I myself am a member), is the one leading us astray.
SIMPLY READING the daily newspapers or listening to the news on the broadcast media leaves one to wonder – whatever happened to Jewish religious/ethical principles? A few examples:
• Religious parties – To my way of thinking, a religious political party is what the Talmud refers to as s’tira mi’nehu bei (a contradiction from within itself), or an oxymoron.
The Ethics of the Fathers warns us, “You shall despise authority.” Commentators note that, in some form or other, currying favor with those in power (joining the coalition??) will inevitably lead to one having to sacrifice religious principles. The same text counsels, “Do not turn your religion/learning into a spade”; i.e., do not use your religiosity as a tool for financial gain (ministries, perks, financial grants). And as secular Jews observe the antics of these parties, how many are drawn towards the religion and how many are driven away?
• The Tal Law – Halacha is crystal clear on this matter.
When Israel is fighting an offensive war (milchemet reshut), the Levites (those responsible for maintaining religious observance and study) are exempt from serving in the army; when the nation is engaged in a defensive battle, no one is exempt. I am sorry, but however one attempts to twist the facts, at present the nation is in a state of siege. Surrounded as we are by those who seek our extinction – Iran, Syria, and their proxies (Hizbullah, Hamas) – we are clearly fighting a defensive battle, fighting for our very existence. Everyone is to serve in the army, period. Again, when secular Jews see their sons’ blood being spilled in defense of our country, while their religious counterparts sit ensconced in halls of learning, how many are drawn closer to Judaism and how many are driven away?
• Eda Haredit – “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck” might be true, but as we watch the despicable antics of the Mea She’arim goons, we are hardpressed to equate that axiom to “If one walks like a hassid and dresses like a hassid, one is a hassid.”
Throwing dirty diapers and stones at police officers on Shabbat? Calling members of the riot squad Nazis? Setting public facilities on fire? What warped sense of Judaism allows one to desecrate the Sabbath in order to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath? How does one who knowingly injures a fellow Jew acquire the moniker “haredi”? I seriously believe those who are careful in their adherence to the kashrut laws should question the validity of kashrut supervision provided by an organization (Badatz) which condones and implicitly supports such anti-religious behavior.
• Conversions – The Torah is blanketed with demonstrations concerning how we are to treat converts. We are to welcome them with open arms; we are warned against making their lives difficult; we are commanded to include them in our religious festivals; we are forbidden to throw up their past in their face. “Do not oppress the convert/strangers, for you were strangers in Egypt.”
So, can someone please explain to me upon what basis do religious judges/courts discard all these indelible precepts and retroactively void hundreds and thousands of conversions performed by a fellow religious authority? And why did the Supreme Rabbinical Court, whose members I am sure are familiar with the prohibition of shaming a fellow Jew in public (lest one loses one’s share in the world to come), feel it necessary in voiding the conversions of the Conversion Authority under the aegis of Rabbi Haim Druckman to point out that the first letter in Haim’s Hebrew name (het) is the same as the first letter in the Hebrew word for sin (heit)? I would be most interested in your response, Rabbi Avraham Sherman.
• Emmanuel – Unfortunately, the public at large has been subjected to this most unseemly display of action antithetical to the foundation stones of the Jewish religion.
Perhaps the Slonim Hassidim were too busy creating dividing barriers in their schools to keep Sephardi schoolgirls away from their daughters to have found the time to reflect upon “and you shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” Or “every Jew is responsible for every other Jew.” Or “do not create divisions.”
I have heard all the gossamer-thin excuses posed in this matter – some Sephardi customs were not to their liking; some did not keep Shabbat, etc., etc., ad nauseam.
As the expression goes: not worth the paper they are written on. By the same litmus test, how many secular Jews are drawn closer to the religion by such abhorrent behavior, and how many are driven away? THE LIST goes on and on – Selma, Alabama-like city buses, redacted issues of the Talmud with all mention of Jesus deleted, ordering special kosher meals on our national airline El Al (when all meals served are kosher), etc.– but by now the point should be clear.
Haredi Judaism has lost its way. The hard-line, “just say no” position taken by a large segment of the religious public and its rabbinic decisors (to the exclusion, for the most part, of the religious Zionist movement) is one which has been summarily rejected by the Jewish populace throughout the ages.
In the time of the Talmud, there was Beit Hillel, which generally followed a liberal, accommodative course, against which stood Beit Shammai, which proposed a very strict posture on all matters. Yet throughout the 26 tractates, the law follows Beit Hillel, in all but eight instances. The Talmud teaches us that if we are to be a light unto the nations, if we are truly the chosen people, if we are to draw fellow Jews closer to the religion instead of driving them further away, we must just say no to “just say no.”
In closing, let me suggest the following to all my fellow Orthodox Jews. Each morning, before you begin your daily regimen, recite the following: “Hillel says you should make yourself into one of the students of Aaron [the high priest]. A lover of peace, one who runs after peace, one who loves all fellow creatures [not only those born Jewish], and brings them closer to the Torah.”
The writer is a professional portfolio manager for both highnet-worth individuals and institutions. He resides in Kochav Yair.