What would make Haredi Renewal Possible?

Naftali Brower writes a thought provoking essay in the Jewish Chronicle:

The Charedi community is insular, highly regulated and extensively influenced by its rabbinical authorities. So how can it shirk responsibility? The zealots did not emerge in a vacuum. Each of these men has a rabbi whose word is law. Where were these rabbis when their adherents were forcing women onto the back of buses, spitting, and protesting in concentration camp garb?…

What we are witnessing is a ripple effect. At the outermost fringe are those who spit at little girls. This group is by all accounts a small minority. Yet it is a ripple created by a swell of consecutive inner ripples that start with disregard for those who adhere to a different lifestyle, followed by intolerance, and then hatred. At the core lies a problematic contemporary Charedi ideology which, like a heavy stone cast into a pond, is the cause of these ripples.

If Charedi rabbis and leaders were serious about dealing with the problem they would ask difficult questions about their ideology. Has it become too focused on the details of Judaism at the expense of its bigger picture, on what one believes rather than how one behaves, or on the man to God relationship over that of man to man?

Such critical self-examination is difficult. The Hebrew term for it is heshbon ha-nefesh – taking account of one’s soul. At stake here is not the actions of several hundred zealots but the health, vitality and very soul of Charedi Judaism. The sad thing is that Charedi Judaism was not always like this….

Given the defensiveness of the Haredi response these last three months, one wonders if the community has the will to carry out this cheshbon nefesh. Yet can we afford to let it fail? Through the sheer force of birth rates Charadi Jews are growing as a percentage of the total Jewish community.

But even if they were never going to be more than a small minority, they are fellow Jews. If they have lost their way, we are still obligated to help in any way we can. What does this cheshbon nefesh need to succeeed? Is there a role for the larger Jewish community? If so, what? Gadfly? Sharing our concerns with friends on the fringes of Haredi society? Generating a public discourse about the values we think our fellow Haredi Jews seem to have been forgotten or devalued? Something else?

Categories: Building a Better Judaism | Leave a comment

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