January 4, 2012
The Tragic Unraveling of Haredi Judaism
It is obviously too early to know for sure, but it is plausible that we are witnessing the slow-motion unraveling of Haredi Judaism. Between periodic money-laundering and sexual abuse scandals in US Haredi communities, and the militant intolerance of others on display today in Israel - with no meaningful internal calls for soul-searching - the signs of a religious community in deep spiritual distress abound. This seeming unraveling represents a profound tragedy for the Jewish world and for Torah, and it places a critical burden on the shoulders of the modern Orthodox community.
It is a tragedy because the Haredi community has for many decades been an inspiration for Jews from all walks of Jewish life. We have all heard and been moved by the stories of extraordinary chesed (kindness) and self-sacrifice, piety and God-fearing-ness that are commonplace in the Haredi community. There can be no question that the profound appreciation Torah study that has sprouted day schools, yeshivot and Kollels all over the Jewish landscape is in large measure the result of Haredi dedication to this sacred activity. And yes, the importance of personal and sexual modesty has been upheld and taught to us by the Haredi community. Despite their philosophical or practical differences with Haredim, Jews of all kinds have been motivated, inspired and moved by the Haredi commitment to core Jewish religious values.
These days are likely dwindling however, as the Haredi community is, and projects the image of being, something much less wholesome. At this juncture, how many non-Haredi Jewish teenagers, to choose the relevant demographic, are associating Haredi Judaism with piety and fear of God? What associations, tragically, are the ones that the term “Haredi” is now most likely to elicit? The spiritual unraveling of the Haredi community will create a vacuum of inspiration and religious role-modeling of enormous and frightening proportion.
Whether we are prepared for it or not, the modern Orthodox community (in all its many shades and forms), bears the obligation to step up and fill this void. We can no longer be content to carve out our own religious lives, and bear responsibility only for our own families and communities. We need to pick up the fallen torch, and be the models of piety, Torah study, and self-sacrifice that Jews everywhere need to see, admire, and be inspired by. This shouldn’t be a stretch for us. As Orthodox Jews, we are already committed to all of these values. And we have the additional strengths of also being committed to the ways of peace and mutual-respect, to positive engagement with the world around us, and to seeing the good in modern society. Now more than ever, we need to be true to our Modern orthodox values, as the mantle of broader Jewish inspiration is falling to us.