09 April 2008

Fundamentally speaking

Note: Skeptic hat removed for this post.

"Fundamentalist movements are embattled forms of spirituality which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil. They fear annihilation and try to fortify their beleaguered identity by means of a selective retrieval of of certain doctrines and practices of the past. To avoid contamination they often withdraw from mainstream society to create a counter-culture. Yet fundamentalists are not impractical dreamers. They have absorbed the pragmatic rationalism of modernity and under the guidance of their charismatic leaders they refine these fundamentals so as to create an ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action.

Karen Armstrong - The battle for God (as quoted in "Under the banner of heaven").

This passage was quoted in a book about the Mormon faith. Yet it instantly brought to mind the Chareidi/Lakewood culture that materialized in the last twenty five years or so. Today's Yiddishkeit is no longer the same as the Yiddishkeit that I grew up with. What changed? I see it as being due to the undue emphasis on "Talmud Torah Kneged Kulam". This retreat into learning was the direct cause of a great increase in Torah Scholarship. But it was also the catalyst for the acceleration of a trend that was documented and explained as the retreat into a textual world as opposed to inherited practice.

I don't need to bring proof, it's open for all to see. Yiddishkeit was not always as it is today.

It has changed right before my very eyes. And I'm fearful for my children's future.

As a point of comparison, let's take a brief look at the accomplishments of the post war, Baaleh Batish, era that burgeoned out of the ashes of the holocaust.

They built a society that offered everyone the opportunity to be a self supporting, educated, realistic and a fully committed practicing Yid. They established Mosdos, charities for those who fell on hard times and a full sustainable infrastructure for continuity. At the same time, they produced doctors, lawyers, scientists, businessmen and rabbonim who contributed to the general well being of the community and society as a whole.

They stood at the precipice of being a people that could be the Ohr Lagoyim, "A light unto the nations".

The future was bright.

And all this was accomplished without resorting to Daas Torah or a Chareidi Mindset.

And now?

I know there's a lot of individual good in the Chariedi Community. The individual members are for the most part extremely well intentioned and hard working too. But other than building some wonderful Mosdos of Torah, what have they accomplished at the community level? Please don't bring up the hundreds of Gemachs that they run. It's beautiful, but I don't see it is a great social advance.

Furthermore, it seems that not a month goes by in which the Chareidi world does not face a new internal crisis and black eye.

Without thinking too hard:

Indian Sheitels , Strawberries, Bugs in water, Shevach meat Kashrus scandal, Boro Park Chareidi riot (Schick), Shidduch Crisis, Burkas in Beit Shemesh, Chaim Berlin Sheitel showdown, Kids at risk , Tranquility Bay & Rav Aaron Schechter, Sex abuse/Torah Temima, El Al boycott, Internet Crisis, Kids can't get into Lakewood schools, Slifkin Ban, Botched Concert Ban, Rioting in Israel / Gay parade, Making of a Godol fiasco, Parnossah Crisis.

The Chareidi world lurches along from crisis to crisis as it retreats into it's own little world of an imagined past.

Fundamentally speaking, something is terribly wrong.

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