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Why Is the Left So Concerned with Haredi Dropouts?

There's something hollow, even vacuous, certainly vulgar, about people who manage their personal relationship with God through newspaper articles and television tidbits.

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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?

Our religious leaders are not much to write home about—that’s fact number one. We want to date shiksas, eat shrimp and play the blues—that’s fact number two. The equation that suggests that because our religious leaders stink we started dating shiksas just doesn’t add up.

Finally, lest I come across as a Jew whose heart doesn’t bleed when he hears that a fellow Jew isn’t keeping the mitzvahs any longer, I can assure you that I care very much about every Jewish individual who is experiencing doubt and conflict about their faith. I just don’t think it’s anybody else’s business outside that person’s immediate circle of friends and family.

You don’t see the Forward interviewing Jews who had their boils or gallbladders removed. Not because the experience couldn’t possibly be emotionally captivating for the patients involved—but because it’s none of our business.

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About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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50 Responses to “Why Is the Left So Concerned with Haredi Dropouts?”

  1. Jews were known for their hard work as Jacob their father. Paul said a man who does not work shall not eat. The faith is not an excuse for a person to shun to work. Work is a blessing, but labor is not though essential to succeed. Only the Levites were called not to get involved in secular jobs, but they still had to work in God’s temple. It seems Haredi are so extreme in their approach of their faith.

  2. Lisa Kamins says:

    well said. thank you.

  3. Well said. Most fo this kids adults come frm bckgrnds tht arent pleasant like they were molested or abused emotionaly. they are thinking If this is what judaism offers then y b jewish

  4. Dan Silagi says:

    It's not only the left which is "concerned" about Haredim going off the derech, Yanover. It's just about every Jew, in Israel and elsewhere, which doesn't want to see their religion hijacked by insular extremists who have given a bad name to Judaism in the past, and who continue to do so today. Morever, "concerned" isn't the right word. "Gratified" and "relieved" are.

    Tell me, Yanover, would you be all hot and bothered if former Talibanistas renounce their extremism and violence, stop acting like zombies following their religious "leaders" and join the 21st Century?

    The more Haredim that leave the ultra-orthodox world, the better it is for Judaism as a whole. The same holds true for religious extremists of all stripes.

  5. Claro: Paul??? F*** Paul. What does he have to do with Israel, Hareidim, or G-d? In America and other Christian regimes there are false prophets in the name of a false messiah who milk people of money day and night and masquerade as “priests” in their very own Temple substitutes. So you’re worried about Hareidim, people who attempt to serve a real God though not trying to sell themselves as priests but trying to live in what they see as piety. Maybe you should worry about your own kind.

  6. Yori Yanover says:

    Dan Silagi · In order to decide whether more or fewer Haredim are good for Judaism, you'll have to share with me what you regard as the essential values of Judaism. In my view, the Haredim are remarkably astute in loving God and loving mankind. Take a look at the Satmar Bikur Cholim at NYU when you get a chance. for an example of selfless charity.

    I care not a hoot about the changes within the Taliban movement. They have no meaning in my life.

  7. Eva Feld says:

    The Haredi movement, though honorable in intent and purpose is not addressing the total issue of religiosity. The Haredi movement is extreme and extremism has caused more trouble; i.e. the return of the Babylonian exiles asking the Prophet Ezra of ethnic cleanse the population; the post Maccabean era, total blood shed. No "ism" is perfect and neither is the Haredi was basically means "one who shakes" – shakes for who? Shakes for what?

  8. Stuart Rosenthal says:

    What concerns me more is a lack of non-judgmental services to help deal with these issues, be they sexuality, music, education, etc. Can one really approach an haredi rabbi with these questions? Can one even approach their parents or relatives. Is there a safe place?

  9. Dan Silagi says:

    Haredim, or at least those who lead them by the nose, are a bunch of intolerant fools who are an embarrassment to Judaism, which should be pluralistic in their approach to those who consider themselves Jewish.

    While I'm sure there are plenty of honorable Haredim, the movement is doing nothing than bringing ridicule and scorn upon Judaism.

  10. Yori Yanover says:

    Dan Silagi – I spent 14 years of my life davening in a Haredi shul on the Lower East Side. I couldn't find finer, more sweet, supportive, inclusive, productive and learned men anywhere. I certainly prefer their company over yours any time.

    I've no idea what you mean by "Judaism should be pluralistic." Halacha is not pluralistic, it is very specific and it is only for Jews. Do you want a Judaism without Halacha? I recommend the Catholic Church.

    Also, there's no such thing as a Haredi "movement." It does not exist. There are thousands of communities, each with its set of rules and customs. Only the media, in its simple minded take on everything on the planet, would conjure such an obscene notion.

  11. Yori Yanover says:

    Eva Feld · Ezra cleansed the idol worshiping foreign wives out of the nation. And not a moment too soon.

  12. Dan Silagi says:

    That's your opinion, and that of other ultra-orthodox troglodytes. It's not the opinion of the vast majority of those who consider themselves Jewish. As for me, I'm secular, intermarried, and proud. You'll never find a lovelier, more compassionate woman than my wife.

    As a man far wiser than me famously said, "it's not what goes into your mouth that's important. It's what comes out." That man was Jesus of Nazereth.

  13. אברעמל טשארייער says:

    The Jewish left are simply pining for a new genre of literature, Shtetl nostalgia is way out of date. OTD's are offering it on a silver platter, replete with modern day sensationalism. Tikkun Olam also plays a part; these deprived neglected under-educated, for which English is as second language, are not given any fair career options. The Jewish left are hiring…

  14. Eliyahu Fink says:

    It seems to me that the author of this article fails to take not of any social commentary that arises from the stories of those who leave orthodox Judaism. In particular I find it disturbing that the author seems to think that leaving orthodox Judaism is about sexual choices. It betrays a complete lack of knowledge in the subject area. Ultra-orthodox Judaism places so much importance and trust in its leadership that finding out the emperor has no clothes can be much more damaging that the author can understand.

    The article is offensive. But not as much for its content as its hubris.

  15. Dani Klein says:

    What do you expect from the Jewish Press?

  16. Dani Klein says:

    Also, who is forcing this dude to watch someone buy a bathing suit?

  17. Cookie Jar says:

    Are we surprised that Yuri Yanover wrote an article about a topic he clearly knows nothing about? Seems par for the course…

  18. Malky Wigder says:

    Way to distort what Shulem was saying. Just plain dumb, Yanover.

  19. David Blatt says:

    Rav Eli, most of what appears in the "Jewish Press" is offensive

  20. Fred MacDowell says:

    Why does this guy keep on going on and on about something that "Larry" wrote when it's something that Shulem Deen wrote? What?

  21. Eliyahu Fink says:

    He's writing about Larry's comment for some reason.

  22. Fred MacDowell says:

    Look at the article again. The quote he attributes to Larry is from Deen's article. Not a Larry in sight.

  23. Eliyahu Fink says:

    You're right. I don't know what heck is going on over there.

  24. Yori Yanover says:

    Dan Silagi · It's not my "opinion" any more that it's my opinion that the sun risis in the east and sets in the west. And the term "those who consider themselves Jews" is very telling, as is your reference to Jesus of Nazerath. The fact is that, just as you're doing it here, the Catholic Church has been trying to pass itself off as the new Israel for 2000 years, give or take, and in order to be that, it felt compelled to murder the original knesset Israel. Ideologically, there's no daylight between your Facebook post about how you are the real Jewish majority, and the Church's burning of thousands of Jews.

    Unlike some other Modern Orthodox Jews, though, I have no problem telling you in your face: We're strictly halachic, We're here to stay, and we'll still be here generations after your own grandchildren will disappear into the swarms of gentiles, like so many of your kind have done since the Exodus from Egypt.

  25. Yori Yanover says:

    Stuart Rosenthal · There's no such thing as the proverbial Haredi rabbi. Every person develops and cultivates a relationship with the rabbi that understands him and knows enough about him and his needs to lend support and guidance.

    I'll grant you that the Holocaust has ravaged through the social structure of all our Jewish communities, Haredi and otherwise, and safety is not as easily gotten as it used to.

    BTW, I don't believe that leaving the fold is a bad thing. A person needs to walk the path of their life to discover themselves.

  26. Yori Yanover says:

    Eliyahu Fink · Ouch. Well, saying it's offensive don't make wrong. Haredi life poses restrictions that not everyone is prepared to accept, and secular life makes it much easier to leave the fold today than used to be the case before the war.

    Also, should you come to the East Coast, I recommend the "Tcholent" gathering Thursday nights on 6th Av. in the 30s, where you could find a wide sampling of reasons why people have left Haredi life — but still miss it very much. You'll be stunned by how much of the departure is related to the sexual allure–of all stripes and colors–of the big, secular city.

  27. Yori Yanover says:

    Cookie Jar · First, it's YORI, not Yuri. Short for Yoram.

    Second, you're right. As someone who for 15 years was member of a hasidic shul on East Broadway, and was following a hasidic Rebbe for many years, and wrote an important book about Chabad (Dancing and Crying) and was editor of the Lubavitch News service for a few years — I still could learn more about the issue.

  28. Yori Yanover says:

    Fred MacDowell – simple — I got the quote via Facebook, under Larry's name and assumed it was his. My article was not a response to the article per se, but to the phenomenon of leftist publications rejoicing in the Haredi exodus.

  29. Shulem Deen says:

    Fred: Thank you! Eliyahu: I was going to say, the article to me was offensive neither for its content nor its hubris, but for the fact that its author addresses very specific content from an article (and knows enough to link to it), when he clearly hasn't bothered to even read the piece to know what's the article and what is comment from "Larry." I don't remember the last time I've seen a mixup so utterly buffoonish.

    This, of course, is on top of the fact that this dude simply doesn't know what he's talking about; his comments are too ludicrous to even merit a response.

  30. Eliyahu Fink says:

    I think it's ridiculous to compare the experiences and lifestyle of Chabad with other chasidic groups Yori Yanover.

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