Rejecting the world is much of what the extreme right wing in Judaism is all about. One need not go far to see this in action. Take a walk in Williamsburg, Kiryas Joel, Square town, or any Charedi neighborhood in Israel. The ‘walls’ separating these communities from the rest of the world are getting higher every passing day. There is no effort spared to assure that outside influences do not penetrate ‘holy’ ground. Any and every device, electronic, print, or otherwise that can enable a connection to the outside world is condemned and banned with serious consequences for violations.
These bans are spreading. Last year’s internet Asifa at MetLife Stadium is a case in point of how the right eschews any contact with the outside world. And by outside, I mean outside their own Charedi environment. Anything outside of that is vilified, including Centrist Orthodoxy. Let’s be honest. The purpose of that Asifa was not only to prevent coming into contact with pornography. It was also to prevent coming into contact with other Hashkafos.
I have been lamenting this trend for some time now. Lord Sacks is right. The right is growing by leaps and bounds – simply by virtue of their much higher birth rate. And the center, though growing as well, is shrinking by comparison. That is not a good thing. Isolationism is not what Judaism is about. Isolationism is over-protectionism. And yet, because of the nature of the right to see the world only through the eyes of their leadership – whether it is a Chasidic Rebbe or ‘Daas Torah’ – and because of their naturally high birth rate, the isolationist philosophy may very well prevail.
All is not lost, however. One of the reasons I write this blog is to counteract that trend and influence those who may waiver between Isolationism from the world and interaction with it. (Although it’s kind of like spitting in the wind compared to the much wider influences outside of the web.)
But there is another phenomenon that is hopeful. I have mentioned this before – many times. The truth is that, at least outside of Israel in places like England, America, Canada, and Australia there is a vast and growing middle class that consists of moderate Charedim and Centrists like myself. Although our Hashkafos may be different, our lifestyles and values are not all that different. It is this center that should be listening to Lord Sacks lament. They should follow that up by engaging with their environment rather than shrinking from it.
For Centrists, that is a natural path. For moderate Charedim… well let us just say that they need a bit more convincing that engagement with the outside world will do more good than harm. Look what Lord Sacks engagement with the world has wrought. Would that any of us could accomplish in our entire lives – a fraction of what he accomplished his 22 years as Chief Rabbi.
I do not envy Chief Rabbi Elect, Ephraim Mirvis. Lord Sacks’ shoes will be hard to fill. As for what Lord Sacks will do next… I don’t know. But wouldn’t it be nice if he were to become the next Chief Rabbi of Israel? That would be a mind blowing event that would restore the integrity and confidence in that institution to what it once was – giving it the respect it had under the first Chief Rabbi, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok HaKohen Kook. And it would change the direction of the Chief Rabbinate from the right – back towards the center where it belongs.
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