Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Nice, Tall, Round, Felt, Black Security Blanket


On the post below, DB asked this question:
So what's the diagnosis? Why do solid Jews get so insecure around caftans and fur hats?
I thought I would try for an answer.

It seems to me to be a mixture of perhaps four things. First, we are all brought up to admire frumkeit. Even wholly non-practising Jews look at Rabbis with respect and - at least until the whinging, preaching, chumras and demands for money become too much - affection. And the Charedim are ritualistically frum, which is actually how we define frumkeit. A man who davens 3 times a day, wears arba kanfot and is careful what he eats - that's a frum man. A man who always looks after the sick, goes miles to do nachum aveilim and is always there when someone needs support - that's a mensch. Different.

I am trying hard not to believe that the qualities we associate with being a good person - a mensch - are female qualities so that Judaism does not really value them. I'm trying really hard.

Secondly, we are inculcated into believing that real Jews do not interact with the secular world. This is entirely contrary to Tenach, but it is a consequence of the Jewish decision to shun secular power after the destruction of the Bet Hamidrash and to concentrate on religious development; coupled with the prevailing political conditions for Jews for the next 1700 years or so. We are slow to unlearn this because of the Talmud itself. The grand panjandrums of the Babylonian Institutes took advantage of the respect afforded to all religions in Babylon and rather looked down on their non-rabbinic co-religionists in Babylon and Palestine who had to work for a living. Don't believe me? Look at the conflicting statements about the value of work in the Gemara and work out where each contributor lived.

Ironically, the way in which the major Rabbonim of the Gemara were able to avoid secular work and the secular world has been translated into today's society as a positive mitzvah. We internalise that and value the Charedim accordingly.

Thirdly, the Charedim are successful in evolutionary terms (now there's a delicious irony). That is to say that they succeed in breeding more Charedim. That this is done by depriving people of what we regard as modern freedoms and opportunities is, in evolutionary terms, beside the point. Accordingly, the Charedim gain adherents and respect because of their visible success. MO, on the other hand, may well suffer from being visibly unsuccessful.

Fourthly, we are not good at providing for ourselves. The MO world should be able to provide its own Rabbonim, shechita, mohellim and so forth but we largely don't. We allow communities to be religiously run by those who profess a different standard, whilst we get on with earning a living. The difficulty is that our employees (or leaders as they like to be known) look up to people who they perceive as being more religious (read ritually punctilious) than them. In the UK this has reached the point where a community which is barely qualified to describe itself as MO is governed by a Beth Din so out of tune with those it 'serves' that its members tend to go to head the Eda Charedit on retirement.

Of course, that means that for impressionable youngsters the role models tend to wear black. And so it goes on. Bizarre though it is to say this of Jews, we lack self-esteem.

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1 comment:

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