Latest update: December 16th, 2013
There are two segments of Jewry facing existential problems that could not be further apart religiously. The two segments are the American Conservative movement and the Charedim of Israel.
Conservative Rabbi Gordon Tucker has written an article trying to rebut (unsuccessfully in my view) fellow Conservative Rabbi Daniel Gordis’s eulogy over their movement. The Pew Report has really brought to the fore what many leaders of that movement already know… that the Conservative movement is dying. Aside from that report, there is ample testimony from Conservative Jews who seek more than mere membership in the movement. In one case (I’m sure there are more) reported in the Forward an idealistic Conservative Jew left the movement for Orthodoxy where he could actually practice Judaism instead of hearing his rabbi talk about it while the majority of congregants ignored him.
The trend is brutally clear for them. And they are scrambling for ways to change the tide. I do not believe they will succeed unless they change into something radically different from what their founders intended – which was to ‘conserve’ Judaism.
The Charedi world in Israel suffers a different existential dilemma. Unlike the Conservative Movement – they are not leaving the fold in droves. The opposite is true. Their ranks are growing exponentially with every new generation. Their existential threat is of a different nature. It is a threat to their current way of life. The increasing poverty of their ranks has given rise to worries about how their lifestyle will continue to exist. And yet they fight any change that would actually help them – not only to survive but thrive! From their point of view, any change is seen as a spiritual death.
I get no joy in seeing either segment die.
As it pertains to the Conservative Movement – I am not joyful about their demise – not because I support them theologically in any way. But because I believe outreach to fellow Jews is far more successful when reaching out to Jews who in some way identify as Jews. Whatever one might say about the Conservative movement, they do at least nominally keep Jews Jewish in some sense. Furthermore, they would rather see one of their members become Orthodox than completely secular. To that extent I believe they are willing to work with Orthodox outreach groups that will have them.
As it pertains to Charedim, there too I have no joy in their demise. I absolutely believe that they provide a vital function to Klal Yisroel via their dedication to Torah study.
While I do not see the Conservative Movement surviving into the future in its current incarnation (as per Daniel Gordis) I do see the Charedim surviving into the future, big time. But there too – not in its current incarnation.
I have been forwarded a video (below) of MK Rabbi Dov Lipman addressing the Knesset on this very subject. His words are the same as mine. He believes as I do that the Charedi educational paradigm in Israel must change to one that is similar to the American Charedi paradigm and cites statistics to back it up. Statistics that show that a decent education is required in order to get decent jobs.
But as I have pointed out so many times rabbinic leaders in Israel could not care less about statistics or what Rabbi Lipman says. They refuse to recognize the reality of the situation and continue to insist that introducing secular studies into the curriculum is an anti Torah measure.
They do not recognize the logic and wisdom of Rabbi Lipman’s words. That changing form the current Chareid paradigm in Israel to one that is similar to the American Charedi paradigm would help – not hurt them.
As logical as Rabbi Lipman is, his ideas will never be accepted by the rabbinic leadership there. And because of American rabbinic leaders deference to Israeli Rabbinic leaders, they too will not accept his ideas. Therefore the vast majority of Charedim won’t accept them either – even if in their own minds they must know that a change like this would go a long way to help them. They call it listening to Daas Torah.
One of the things that Charedim in Israel count on is that eventually Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, will have the same ignominious end that his father, Tommy Lapid’s party, Shinui had. It too won big after one election only to see its own demise after only one term (if I recall correctly). Charedim pray and expect that this will happen to Yesh Atid too.
The fact is that as Israeli politics go, it may every well happen and soon. Lapid has lost a lot of is original popularity with the public. And he may very well be ejected from the current governing coalition in favor of the Charedi parties as noted in this article.
But this will not make their problems go away. They will only increase. I do not see any government in Israel – with or without Yesh Atid – going back to the way things were. I do not see the Charedi parties being successful restoring what they have lost. There may be some compromise to get them to join a coalition, but the funding will be nowhere near what it once was. Because it isn’t only Yesh Atid that feels the way it does. I’m pretty sure that just about all other political parties in Israel feel that way too.
This will not end well for those Charedim who insist on the status quo. Not because they don’t have the determination to tough it out on principle. They do. They will continue to sound the clarion call for resistance… and appeal to Americans for financial help as in the ‘Adopt-a-Kollel’ initiative. But I do not believe this will come anywhere near solving their financial woes.
How will this end? I don’t know. But what needs to happen is a virtual grass roots rebellion. It’s happening somewhat in places like Ramat Bet Shemesh. They have started a Charedi high school that has Bagrut level secular stButudies. But as noted in an earlier post – it is being strongly resisted by their rabbinic leaders.
Rabbi Lipman may lose a seat in the Knesset if new elections are held. But his message will remain because the conditions which generated his message will continue. And hopefully gain some real traction soon. God bless him.
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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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