Rabbi Sack’s criticsm is valid despite their protestations to the contrary.
Agudah says that its organization is living proof that they are not insular. Agudah has indeed been in the forefront of many issues that are important to observant Jews. Following Rabbi Moshe Sherer’s example their lay leaders have cultivated relationships with the political leadership in the highest echelons of government. They have created a very effective lobbying presence in Washington. Agudah has indeed been able to make great strides in advancing the cause of Orthodoxy.
Nonetheless, this does not diminish at all Lord Sack’s point about the insistence that their flock remain insular. The philosophy of the Charedi mind is to have as little to do with the outside world as possible. To the extent that anyone must have some contact because of livelihood concerns and various and sundry other necessities they should minimize interaction as much as possible and see it only as a necessary evil. (with emphasis on the word evil.)
While it is true that there must be some form of protecting ourselves from the negative influences that exist so freely in the culture – it ought not be so extreme that we end up as isolationist. There ought to be more interaction in the world so that we can impact it for the better with Jewish values that are more or less universal.
Where we should draw the line between participation and non participation is a matter of serious debate. One can indeed choose to be more insular or less insular. But one should never choose the extremes of either full participation or complete withdrawal .Full participation would involve violating Halacha or coming very close to it. Withdrawal can easily result in the type of behavior identified as Halachicly acceptable – and yet end up a Chilul HaShem.
Agudah may feel that the only real way to protect ourselves in the current cultural atmosphere of moral decline in the area of sexuality – is to completely remove ourselves from any of those values and temptations. That is certainly their right. But in my view rejecting a view that does not see it that way – the way they did here – does not advance the cause of Achdus at all. And I am very disappointed.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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