Thursday, August 19, 2010

2 Thoughts on Charedi Isolationism

Saw 2 interesting comments today that I wanted to share.

One was a comment on a Jerusalem Post article about army exemptions for charedim.

Commenter Norma Gellman responded to the article as follows:

It's time the non-religious become 1st class citizens, the Haridi need to serve the country like everyone else. This may also help to bring them into the 21st century

That last line sums up exactly why many Charedim try to avoid the army, and why many secular feel that this is the most important issue in the county is the Charedi draft. It is nothing to do with defending the country, rather the main issue is whether the Charedi community should be ‘brought into the 21st century”?

Not sure exactly what Norma means by “21st Century”, but if it is a reference to many of the values we see coming out of Hollywood of off the Internet, I don’t want the army teaching those values to my kids.

I strongly believe that serving in the army is a Mitzva, and the Charedi community should join the rest of the nation in army of some other type of national service, but if the purpose of the draft is to get them to break from their values, and adopt “21st century” values, I understand completely (and support) the Charedi leadership opposition to military service.

For a totally different perspective, Hasidic-Feminist has a fascinating article about life in the Satmar World and how the entire lifestyle is geared towards separating Chasidm from the rest of society. A well written article and definitely worth a read.

Some highlights:

I davened every day. While my lips moved in futile prayer, the sexy little voices in my head never stopped talking, infringing on my relationship with God, luring me to earthly temptations. The more I tried to silence them, the more those voices clamored; spurring me onward in my dangerous quests for adventure…

Satmar is currently the largest and most extreme of the Hasidic sects; the thick beards and long side curls, as well as the traditional black hat and coat, are more than just a religious dress code. They are ways to mark Satmar Hasidim as separate in the most glaring way possible. Difference is what keeps Hasidic people on their narrow path.

Mostly though, Hasids keep to themselves; they prefer the safety of their home base and the spiritual protection it affords them. Once inside the community, Hasids close themselves off to the many opportunities and conveniences on the outside. They have no inkling of popular culture, and are ignorant about secular ideas. Most Hasidim have not received any education beyond religious schooling, and can barely speak English. Although I taught myself to speak and write English fluently, I was a conspicuous exception. All my life I felt drawn to the English language, because it allowed for much more freedom of emotion and expression than Yiddish. While Yiddish was my native tongue, somehow the words that were available never seemed right, and so the language stunted my thoughts, constricted my voice.

Hasidic people find interacting with the secular world a frightening ordeal; the struggle to speak English and fit in coupled with an eccentric demeanor results in an awkward encounter at best. I had to overcome those fears every time I left Williamsburg; at least when I blended in with the others around me I felt normal, but on the outside I felt exposed, an object of ridicule. It was impossible for me to de-emphasize my difference. The Grand Rabbi of Satmar, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, had intended these obstacles, designing a lifestyle that would separate us so completely that assimilation would be nearly impossible. Rabbi Teitelbaum had reinvented the Hasidic movement in the post war period of the 1950s; he claimed that assimilation had been the cause of the Holocaust, and that only by demonstrating true devotion to God could the Jewish people prevent another outpouring of His wrath. Only in America did the Hasidic lifestyle become such an intensely structured experience; every act and thought was accompanied by detailed rules and guidelines. For a Satmar Hasid, there was only one morally correct way in which to conduct one’s life, with no room for difference.

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