Over the past few months, we’ve been inundated with stories about Haredi men and women who can no longer tolerate life inside their sheltered—and at the same time oppressive—communities, and opt instead to live in the big city, go to college, go on the Internet, and subscribe to cable television like the rest of us.
Some of them do it because of their sexual preferences—as was depicted by the touching film “Trembling before God,” others go on NBC to explain how much better off they are with their college degrees and Manhattan careers. It’s all extremely touching as well.
Then there are Modern Orthodox Jews who advocate passionately that these ex-Haredim should try their looser-but-still-religious lifestyle, instead of going “off the road” altogether. I’m sure Conservative and Reform compassion is poured on them, too. No Jew left behind, you know the drill.
If you ask me, there’s something hollow, even vacuous, certainly vulgar, about people who manage their personal relationship with God through newspaper articles and television tidbits (like the recent NBC item). It makes me, personally, feel uncomfortable. It’s like watching someone shopping for a bathing suit – I have no doubt they could use a nice suit, but why must I be made to watch?
But the hyper indulgence of outfits like the Forward and NBC in these stories and confessions and heartbreaking melodramas have very little to do with religious or spiritual soul searching and a whole lot more to do with the Jewish left’s panicky need to do something about the enormous tide of Haredi births, which threaten to drown American Jewry with torrents of cute, little, seemingly identical Haredi babies—in my opinion, the current dispute is only over the point in time in which Haredim will constitute the majority of Jews in America, but nobody questions the fact that that moment will be here, in our lifetime.
By pointing out the shortcomings—some obvious, some less familiar—of the burgeoning Haredi masses, these anxious reporters must prove that the laws of physics are working, and that the Haredi pendulum that has been swinging in an unstoppable curve to the right, must, at some point, give in to the laws of gravity and entropy and start swinging back.
And so, the refugees from Lee Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for their self-indulgent reasons, are collaborating with the anxious, Jewish left, to make history more palatable.
Here is the most recent contribution to this genre, “Why I Am Not Modern Orthodox,” by Shulem Deen, on the Forward’s blog dedicated to “conversations about the Jewish tomorrow” (where Shimon Peres meets Zabar’s? — thanks to my friend Larry Yudelson for the link and the quote, I originally thought it was written by Larry, only to be told otherwise by our readers):
“What many ex-Haredim are saying, then, to religious leaders and religious communities and religious lifestyles of all kinds: We have lost the trust necessary to embrace your religious views, however moderate they might be. We have lost faith in your ability to convey truths, just as we have lost faith in the Haredi worldview with which we were raised. We have rejected that which demands trust but does not recognize the need to earn it; dogmas and assertions simply declared as truths, be they Satmar or Modern Orthodox, Chabad or Renewal.”
This note aggressively depicts that mission in well phrased protests good enough to be pinned, Martin Luther style, on the oak doors of the main Satmar synagogue. But while I recognize the validity of these protests, I don’t believe they are valid—as he seems to argue—in describing the actual motivation of even a single Haredi dropout.
My own experience with young men and women leaving the fold has been that their departure was over sexual choices – looking to date more freely, yearning to explore their sexual identity, over education, over love of music, over just needing to have more fun in their lives. I doubt very seriously that anyone has decided to move to Manhattan over their loss of trust in their religious Sherpa.
I think Deen very much engages in these issues of mistrust, and he is absolutely on the money regarding their seriousness. In fact, I would venture that this loss of trust in our leaders is common to all of us, religious Jews. When a chief rabbi today is up on charges in Israel for embezzlement and the Jewish world is yawning in disinterest—it must mean that we are simply not surprised that such a man would do such things. So, we expect our rabbis to be scoundrels—what does that have to do with keeping kosher or driving on Shabbat?