Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chareidi Judaism

In a recent post entitled Charedi Judaism at a Crossroads, Rabbi Slifkin discusses certain issues in the Chareidi world which he considers problematic. I’ve jotted down a few random musings which came to mind. The truth is, I thought long and hard before writing this post. I don’t like to write about politics. Too much subjectivity; too many variables to account for, too much fluidity associated with its fundamental premises. And on the flip side, we have Rabbi Slifkin.

Rabbi Slifkin is an expert in politics. Ever since his books were banned he has gone on a political campaign to clear his name. And while I can’t say that I blame him for his initial response, the fact that he chooses to maintain his campaign on an ongoing basis has caused him to adopt and promote ideas and ideologies that are not only foreign to our traditions, but oftentimes undermine the very fabric of our religion. But this is not the topic of our post. Our topic is politics. So let’s talk politics.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:

What should the Orthodox rabbinate do about the Charedi far-right?

Charedi far-right? To my mind that’s a buzz word used by Modern Orthodox (MO) pundits to imply disparity amongst the Orthodox. But is there really a fundamental division in the ranks of Traditional Orthodox Jewry (TOJ)? Like any other conglomeration of individuals united by a common goal, TOJ enjoys a wide spectrum of personalities and backgrounds, chasidish, litvish, heimish, yekish, yeshivish, etc. They like to bicker amongst each other and they like to consider their personal Rabbi/Rebbe/Rosh Yeshiva as one of the most important leaders of klal Yisrael. But after all is said and done there are some minimum requirements which must be satisfied in order for one to consider himself a member of TOJ. Chief amongst them is reverence for our Torah leaders.

You know why Rabbi Slifkin refers to certain individuals as “Charedi far-right”? Because these individuals are most vociferous in upholding the authority of our gedolei Torah. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that this attitude is a fundamental dogma which undergirds the very essence of TOJ. (There is of course an alternative possibility. Rabbi Slifkin does indeed understand this state of affairs and is trying his best to undermine it.) Every individual who associates himself with TOJ accepts this principle, more or less. Some do it sincerely. Some only pay lip service. And some are somewhere in between. But if you want to be a member of the TOJ club, acceptance of Torah authority is a minimum requirement.            

Rabbi Slifkin:

The question threatened to split the Orthodox world after the bans on Kamenetzky, Slifkin and Lipa, the silence on Tropper, the neglect of the abuse issue, and the economic collapse of the Charedi world.

“Threatened to split”… Doubtful. I happen to be a card-carrying member of the chareidi world and I did not sense any impending split amongst our ranks. The fact is there is no split. Sometimes however, there is, unfortunately, a defection from our ranks. This occurs for several reasons chief amongst them the influence of Western culture and ideology. And sometimes we are even undermined from within. Rabbi Slifkin considers himself an explicator of rational Judaism but unfortunately his approach is not seen that way by our gedoley Yisrael. They see it as a form of undermining rational Judaism. The fact that Rabbi Slifkin chooses to take on the vast body of gedoley Torah puts him squarely outside the confines of mainstream Orthodox Judaism and makes his personal theology very tenuous indeed.   

Rabbi Slifkin:

Even if no further changes are contemplated, doesn’t the approach suggest an understanding of mesorah fundamentally at odds with the rest of the Orthodox world, whereby mesorah means "what we do" as opposed to "what was traditionally done"?

It sure does! According to TJO, “what we do” must always be informed by “what was traditionally done”. This is not to say that Judaism cannot invent new customs or respond to new challenges with innovative approaches. But everything must be within the spirit of our mesorah. If not, all is lost… 


  1. You know what's really funny?
    Rav Slifkin's post was a satire of a post on Modern Orthodoxy in which Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein stereotyped and attacked Modern Orthodoxy's various failings as he perceived them. Rav Slifkin's piece basically mimics it and cleverly rewords it to show that someone from the Chareidi world who attacks the perceived deficiencies of Modern Orthodoxy is living in a glass house (as in: people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones)
    That's the funny bit: you took it seriously! Were you not aware that it was just satire?

  2. MIghty Garnel Ironheart,

    Shalom Aleichem! Welcome to our blog! I’ve been indisposed of late and haven’t had the opportunity to check the site. I apologize for the delayed response.

    That's the funny bit: you took it seriously! Were you not aware that it was just satire?

    Yes, I was aware. But that doesn’t detract from the seriousness of his post. The issues he broaches there are very real to Rabbi Slifkin. Satire is used specifically for the purpose of exposing someone else’s shortcomings. I think you are confusing satire with spoofing which is generally more light-hearted.