The Tragic Unraveling of Haredi Judaism and the Challenge for our Community, by R. Yosef Kanefsky

It is obviously too early to know for sure, but it is plausible that we are witnessing the slow-motion unraveling of Haredi Judaism. Between periodic money-laundering and sexual abuse scandals in US Haredi communities and the militant intolerance of others on display today in Israel – with no meaningful internal calls for soul-searching – the signs of a religious community in deep spiritual distress abound. This seeming unraveling represents a profound tragedy for the Jewish world and for Torah, and it places a critical burden on the shoulders of the modern Orthodox community. 

It is a tragedy because the Haredi community has for many decades been an inspiration for Jews from all walks of Jewish life. We have all heard and been moved by the stories of extraordinary chesed (kindness) and self-sacrifice, piety and God-fearing-ness that are commonplace in the Haredi community. There can be no question that the profound appreciation Torah study that has sprouted day schools, yeshivot and Kollels all over the Jewish landscape is in large measure the result of Haredi dedication to this sacred activity. And yes, the importance of personal and sexual modesty has been upheld and taught to us by the Haredi community. Despite their philosophical or practical differences with Haredim, Jews of all kinds have been motivated, inspired and moved by the Haredi commitment to core Jewish religious values. 

These days are likely dwindling however, as the Haredi community is, and projects the image of being, something much less wholesome. At this juncture, how many non-Haredi Jewish teenagers, to choose the relevant demographic, are associating Haredi Judaism with piety and fear of God? What associations, tragically, are the ones that the term “Haredi” is now most likely to elicit? The spiritual unraveling of the Haredi community will create a vacuum of inspiration and religious role-modeling of enormous and frightening proportion. 

Whether we are prepared for it or not, the modern Orthodox community (in all its many shades and forms), bears the obligation to step up and fill this void. We can no longer be content to carve out our own religious lives, and bear responsibility only for our own families and communities. We need to pick up the fallen torch, and be the models of piety, Torah study, and self-sacrifice that Jews everywhere need to see, admire, and be inspired by. This shouldn’t be a stretch for us. As Orthodox Jews, we are already committed to all of these values. And we have the additional strengths of also being committed to the ways of peace and mutual-respect, to positive engagement with the world around us, and to seeing the good in modern society. Now more than ever, we need to be true to our Modern orthodox values, as the mantle of broader Jewish inspiration is falling to us.

14 Responses to The Tragic Unraveling of Haredi Judaism and the Challenge for our Community, by R. Yosef Kanefsky

  1. Lisa Liel says:

    This is no more the beginning of an “unraveling” of Haredi Judaism than this blog is the beginning of an unraveling of Modern Orthodoxy.

  2. Saul says:

    You are taking some rather large leaps of logic & faith on both the Haredi & MO sectors.

  3. sheldan says:

    Sadly, I would have to agree that what comes to mind when I think of the word “Haredi” is someone who is intolerant of religious Jews who do not share their worldview. I will qualify this by saying that this, of course, doesn’t mean that ALL haredim are like this, but there are too many of them that contribute to this impression.

    I used to be active in the CompuServe Jewish Forum. There was the whole spectrum of our people there, and some of the dialogue wasn’t pretty. However, I went into that forum with the attitude that I wanted to get along with all my fellow Jews. There were actually few that I couldn’t stomach (on both ends of the spectrum). But some of the things I read on the boards really shocked me.

    There is a real hazard in upholding the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. (And, of course, vice versa.) I don’t think that this needs to be the end of Haredi Judaism, but if those in their midst don’t control their actions and continue to be prominent in the very negative headlines they have been in lately, it will reflect on all of religious Jewry, and I don’t think anyone wants that.

    Maybe this is a wake-up call for both haredim and the modern Orthodox (hey, while we’re at it, why can’t it be a wake-up call for the non-Orthodox, too?). We all need to step up and do what we can individually for Jewish life. Then we can influence our families and communities and the world.

  4. minda says:

    hadarat(hadaras)nashim has connotations of purdah&worse

  5. eli says:

    In the words of Paul Simon “A man he hears what he wants to hear and he disregards the rest”. Being a student of Avraham means having an ayin tovah. What that means is that the lens you choose to see the world through is one of positivity. I think you need to understand that there is an ugly underbelly that has always existed and is now getting more exposure. Is there not any positive take away? There is much to learn from the chareidi world how to be and sometimes how not to be. Rather than internalize the positive messages that are central to a chareidi world view and lifestyle that can impact the modern orthodox community for the better we tend to focus on the gotcha moments. Each tenth of Tevet it is determined whether the temple will be rebuilt which is why the avudraham says you can fast on shabbos as you would for a taanit chalom that is changing something that will happen in the future. Have we rectified the sin of joseph and the brothers?

  6. rejewvenator says:

    I think Orthodox triumphalism tastes sour in Hareidi and MO flavors.

    R Kanefsky is it really your vision that MO Jews “models of piety, Torah study, and self-sacrifice?” Frankly, that doesn’t sound appealing, nor do I think it inspires others. Even at its best, Hareidi Judaism was more admired from a safe distance, and was not a great source of inspiration for non-Hareidi Jews.

    I think MO should strive to be deeply engaged in Hashem’s world, with learning (including secular learning), commitment to high personal standards of conduct (including bein adam la’makom and bein adam l’chavaiero) and giving voice and support to the powerless, as the pillars of the movement – which actually maps pretty well onto Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim.

  7. MO to fill the gap? Please.
    How many MO shochtim are there? How many cheder rebbe’s? How many are involved in Zaka and Hatzalah?
    How many MO poskim with any influence on their followers are there? How many are writing world-class teshuvos?
    Yes, there are some but unless MO starts to prioritize learning and schechting above medical and law school there certainly won’t be enough to fill any gap.

    • sheldan says:

      Be very careful here…triumphalism really does sound distasteful.

      You are generalizing when you imply that MO doesn’t prioritize learning. It may be different in your location, but in our local day schools there is a mixture of MO and more traditional types teaching students. Not all MO go to med and law school, as you imply (or more accurately, not all MO have the priorities you imply about MO); it seems that you are implying that modernity is all that counts for MO, and that is far from the case. As for Zaka and Hatzalah, I will leave those to those who have those organizations, but I would guess that MO is represented there. I have a real problem when someone claims to include all the people in a given category in “their” group, as if it is inconceivable that a shochet (slaughterer), cheder teacher, or posek (decisor) can be found outside “their” group.

      Maybe it is inconceivable that there can be any Orthodox Jew outside the haredim, but I can attest that there are many. The choice is not between haredi and secular; Orthodoxy has more to it than that black-and-white choice.

      • I am sure there are MO’s who do all the things I mentioned. I am also sure that the vast majority of people in those professions are UO, not MO.
        If you exclude all Chareidi poskim from the discussion of a halacha, that discussion becomes very short.
        If you insist on eating meat slaughtered by a MO shochet, you’ll be searching for a while until you find some.
        MO’s such as this exist but they are a small minority compared to the UO numbers.

    • Shmilda says:

      >How many are writing world-class teshuvos?

      And how many Chareidi are writing world-class teshuvos?

  8. Chasha says:

    …and, no one will ever hold down Chabad as caretakers of our people. The Yeshivos of Chabad will always supply us with Rabbi/poskim, shochtim, sofrim, melamdim, etc. This whole world is a “shlichus” and not just in Mumbai–and you know that all the Chabadnikim who are b’mesiras nefesh out there bringing the Torah’s importance to all Jews will be there to be a friend and guide to all, with unconditional love.

  9. Hareidi says:

    I apologize if this cramps your style, but I am chareidi and I do not call women prostitutes nor do I spit on little girls. I am not a rebellious chareidi either as I have never been taught to do such a thing by my Rabbeim. I do think that you are a rebellious MO as one of your (very admirable) ideals is affinity to Eretz Yisroel. Chazal teach us that any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt is responsible for its destruction. The Chafetz Chaim explains that it means we are obviously guilty of the sin that destroyed it, namely Lashon Hara. He also says that anyone who says vesechezena eineinu beshuvcha lTzion berachamim without first resolving to love every member of Israel first is a hypocrite… I am a chareidi, and I approve this message.

  10. SML says:

    When any religious community’s insularity, suspicion of and disdain for ‘outsiders’ and elitist sense of ‘chosenness’ allows it to circle its proverbial wagons in the defense of molesters, criminals such as Shaul Spitzer and those whose actions are offensive and despicable (such as spitting on MO girls in Beit Shemesh) that community has lost all claim to occupying any form of moral high ground. For better or worse that’s what’s going on among the Hareidi and it is that which is belatedly being exposed in the New York Times, among other sources. That will become the perception of Haredim by those outside that community first learning about them now, in this way. The rot needs to be addressed from within the community or it will indeed spread and erode it from the inside out.

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