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January 23, 2017 / 25 Tevet, 5777
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I Am Haredi

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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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  1. In the 1970's these people were not called "Hareidim". So if that's who you are emulating then indeed you are NOT Hareidi. American Jews like you have adopted Israel's Hareidi label but not their ideology. In fact, in Israel, people like you would be chewed up and spit out by the "real" Hareidim.

    What you are, if you need to label it, is far closer to Rav Soloveitchik's ideal of modern orthodoxy.

  2. I am going to have go with Michael on this.

    You sound like a good, nay, great Jew who I would be happy to meet and converse with, but charedi… in no way. Charedi is an Israeli concept for a wide group of people, but almost all of whom would reject you. Rav Shach z”l would have rejected you. Rav Elyashiv z”l would have rejected you.

    But why quibble about labels? I have no idea what label works for me, either, the child of lithuanian rabbis on one side, chassideshe rebbe's on the other, live in Israel, studied engineering and Talmud in Machon Lev, served in the IDF, and now work full time but have a regular chavrusa.

    We need to stop worrying about simplistic labels and focus on core values. The world is not, nor ever was, black and white. The simplistic approach of trying to define people by these labels diverts us from the core problems that beset us: intermarriage and assimilation on one side, extremism, intolerance and abhorrent behavior on the other… the list goes on and on.

    BTW: If you would add Israel to your set of values, you would be perfect ;-).

  3. Yonah Fuld says:

    The majority of people who call themselves by that name shirk their real responsibility to klal yisrael on this side of the ocean. I wouldn't be proud to be part of that.

  4. Yaakov, in my opinion, you are not Haredi.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is a very well written and thoughtful article! One major thing you left out, though, in weighing whether you are haredi, is your attitude towards women– their public roles within the community, their private roles within the home, their access to serious talmud Torah and other avenues of spiritual fulfillment, etc. Another thing is Israel– how do you feel about the State and its leadership, etc. Those 2 points are crucial ones that set haredim apart from many other Jews today. If we want to know whether you are, in fact, haredi, I think you must address these issues, as well.

  6. Janina Wilen Madoff says:

    Dear Rabbi Rosenblatt; that was wonderful; but whom are you addressing?

  7. Abigail Strubel says:

    Why not?

  8. Yitzchak Bukingolts says:

    I am loud and proud! I would concentrate more on the secular people shirking their responsibility to torah study before I condemn those who dedicate their lives to it!

  9. Shella Sadovnik says:

    Rabbi Rosenblatt,
    That was a beautiful article but you are not charedi. You're Modern Orthodox, the only sustainable future for Judaism.

  10. Matty Lichtenstein says:

    He's out of town haredi. Also, in terms of sustainability, haredim are doing just fine according to the Federation report. Growing by leaps and bounds.

  11. Yonah Fuld says:

    Secular people don't know any better. Large percentages of so-called chareidim walking the streets at 11 a m and hiding behind toratam umnatam is a chilul Hashem for which there is no excuse and we know better. Their rashei yesivot who register them regularly for $ and other sordid reasons also know what midvar sheker tirchak means. Milchemet mitva and chatam mechupato and on and on-these are scoundrels hiding behind relligious garb and nothing more.

  12. It is interesting that he seems to define himself as Chareidi mainly because of where he went to school and by the clothing he wears (first paragraph).

  13. Abigail Strubel says:

    Isn't that how most people define charedim? How they look, where they learned.

  14. Abigail Strubel says:

    Isn't that how most people define charedim? How they look, where they learned. It's not about personality or character anymore.

  15. I''m a haredi too !

  16. "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." This is very vague.

  17. Yaffed says:

    He is Haredi in the true sense! We wish there were more like him!

  18. Try reading the newspapers!

  19. Shifra Apter Herzberg says:

    Aside from the matter of dress, I know a fair number of New York chareidim who would agree with everything else he wrote.

  20. Give it up, Shella. You are outnumbered! 🙂

  21. Roc Diaz says:

    I don't say that I rush to do every mitzva, but I love and fear Hashem, and I have an overwhelming desire to live in this land more than anything else. I am terrified of going after my bodily desires and forsaking the One Who is always watching. I fall down sometimes and mess up, but I get up again, ask for forgiveness, and start over. I would say, even though I don't dress the part. I don't follow all of the minhuggim, I'm a working stiff, and I need to improve greatly and learn more, yes I am haredi and I thank Hashem for it!

  22. Roc Diaz says:

    P.S.most importantly, I would go to the end to help my fellow jew to protect him from harm.

  23. Hersh Starck says:

    If anybody really wants to know if they are Chareidi, I recommend to check out the official handbook: One Above and Seven Below: A Consumer's Guide to Orthodox Judaism from the Perspective of the Charedim by Yechezkel Hirshman.

    Read Chapter 9 first!


    Properly defined, today's Chareidi is yesterday's chareidi. There is no "Circa 1970" chareidi.

  24. Gershon Seif says:

    To the author I ask; why is it important to you to have a label? How about just being a good, solid religious Jew?

    You wrote of having fealty towards Torah Authority. But to be a chareidi, whose authority are we talking about? Being Chareidi means accepting "Da'as Torah" and for reasons not 100% clear to all, these days Da'as Torah halachic rulings and guidance in life in America must come from a short list of Gedolim in Israel who Gedolim in America look to before they make any major decisions. And those Gedolim in Israel would disagree with many of the things in your self description.

    In your father's time, it wasn't so. American Gedolim were the leaders in America who allowed, or turned a blind eye toward college and many of the other things you described. It seems the American Gedolim feel they are not on the level of the Gedolim in Israel. As a result of this shift, the culture of the Chareidi world in Israel is now the new standard of being a Chareidi in America.

    You would need to convince the Chareidi leaders in America to be bold and be prepared to not promote Israeli Charedi standards, in order to behave as your father did in 1970 and still be considered a chareidi. I'm not sure there are that many leaders who are prepared to do that.

    In the meantime, you may have the right color yarmulka, you may even do the daf and daven in Agudah shul but you just don't fit the chareidi bill. Some would call you a Chareidi Lite. You OK with that?

  25. Dear Rabbi,
    very beautiful article! But if you are truly Haredi why then do you feel the need to add "American" haredi? why isn't being a haredi or just Jewish enough?
    Why do jews always feel the need to call themselves American first and for most?
    The jewish pride is to be able to say I am a Jew! Not an american jew…
    But shcoyach on the beautiful aritcle! I wish all haredim thought like you!

  26. Abigail Strubel says:

    Arnold, you've been spammed

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