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September 25, 2016 / 22 Elul, 5776
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I Am Haredi

Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt

Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt

I am haredi. I was born in Brooklyn, went to mainstream haredi elementary and high schools, spent two years in Mir Yerushalayim and attended kollel at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey. I wear a black hat on Shabbos and dark pants and a white shirt much of the week. My yarmulke is large, black and velvet, and being a frum and inspired Jew is my most basic self-definition, on par with being human and male.

Am I haredi? I believe in the utter supremacy of Torah wisdom to secular knowledge. But I also believe one can see Hashem through analysis of the physical world and that many committed Jews who engage the sciences have a richer appreciation of Hashem because of it.

Am I haredi? I believe Torah study is a most worthy pursuit and the community should support and lionize scholars whose wisdom is clear and vision is pure. Writing sefarim, debating sevaros, and forging new paths in Torah is an effort worthy of a significant portion of our charitable dollars.

Am I haredi? I learned in kollel for four years and am now in the business world. Having observed and experienced the high cost of raising a large frum family and the gargantuan, often futile effort to attain those funds without a secular education, I am no longer sure that open-ended kollel-for-the-masses is a good idea. While kollel-for-all was critical in establishing a Torah society in the late 20th century, the second decade of the 21st century may be a time to reevaluate the socio-economic ramifications of thousands of men unable to support their families with dignity.

Am I haredi? I respond with disdain when some Orthodox leaders respond to theological challenges with nuance and apologetics rather than passion and conviction. We are blessed to live in a nation whose heartland craves traditional values. We are the Judeo rock of the Judeo-Christian bedrock of American civilization and should be proud to explain our beliefs and practices to those who question them. And I respond with disgust when some of my coreligionists defend observant Jews who knowingly bend the rules and break the law, bringing dishonor to our camp and disrepute to our mission.

Am I haredi? I like to read about current events and am fascinated by the interplay of religion and politics in America. I believe we should be involved in the political process as informed, concerned citizens with traditional values, not merely as a voting bloc looking for its share of the pie.

Am I haredi? I believe in the passionate worship of Hashem and that keeping of every nuance of halacha is our path to a relationship with the Creator. I believe intense Torah study can bring one to a closer relationship with God and we are most encouraged and inspired when we seek the advice and blessing of pious rabbis. I treasure my few conversations with HaRav Nosson Zvi Finkel, zt”l, the Mir rosh yeshiva, when I studied in his yeshiva. His was a purity you could see, a connection you could touch.

Am I haredi? I cut a deep line between Judaism and the culture that surrounds it, even if some of my brethren cannot. I regard most issues of dress, attitude and religious emphasis as the result of history and personality, not values and principles.

Am I haredi? I am embarrassed when some of my brethren don’t act appropriately in the larger society. I know they are merely extending the culture that works in their neighborhoods to the larger world as they pass through it. And I understand they are intelligent, kind people who are ignorant of the mores of American society. But I am embarrassed nonetheless.

Am I haredi? I believe many non-Jews have a relationship with God that is worthy of respect and encouragement.

Am I haredi? I believe that while the haredi world has become larger over the past few decades, much of that growth has been in nuance, not diversity. I wish there were less uniformity; it would keep our most creative youth more engaged.

Am I haredi? I believe the trend in our community toward sameness of dress and greater insularity was not a decision consciously made, but the result of the blending of the yeshiva and chassidic communities in the same neighborhoods. When you daven in the same shteibels and use the same mikvehs, you take on the tendencies of the other.

Indeed, I am haredi. I am haredi circa 1970, my father’s generation. Then, yeshiva students wrote, spoke and thought in English. They dressed in color. Frum men went to college to train for a means to make a living. People were pashut in their hashkafa and sincere in their avodah. They would enact chumras when advised but did not see stringency as a path to purity. They had a closer relationship to secular Jews because of their secular first cousins and to non-Jews because they lived in mixed neighborhoods. Their motivation was to build a frum infrastructure for the next generation where observance would be easier and Yiddishkeit would be the natural choice. They were not motivated to get their kids into “the best” school and their kids married off to “the best” shidduchim.

They were American haredim. And I am an American haredi. I pray that my children will be haredim like my father. And I pray, fervently, that they maintain, live and promote the haredi values he promoted: fealty to Torah, reverence of Torah leaders, and a lifelong commitment to the Jewish people. All in a very simple and very straightforward American way.

The author of two books, Yaakov Rosenblatt tends the flock both literally and figuratively, as CEO of AD Rosenblatt Kosher Meats and a rabbi at NCSY-Dallas.

Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt

About the Author: Yaakov Rosenblatt, the author of two books, is a rabbi and businessman in Dallas.


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