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A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Sivan 5772 - May 31, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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On Fanaticism and Extremism, "Chareidi Pioneers" and "New Chareidim"

The Editorial Board of Yated Ne'eman under the direction of the Rabbinical Board

Originally published in the Hebrew Yated Ne'eman on 5 Iyar

The government declarations and greetings made in honor of Yom Haatzmaut included the familiar motifs. The Prime Minister said that he was proud that Israel has a "strong army", and wished Israeli citizens "enjoyable entertainment upon the various stages, together with the plastic hammers and frothy sprays," noting that "I, too, will celebrate with a barbecue, our national `sport'!"

Such boasting in the style of "my strength and the might of my arm" were voiced by additional government figures while the Knesset Chairman decided to devote the highlight of his speech at the torch lighting ceremony to the extremists and fanatics which he dubbed the social enemy of Israel. "There is a dangerous enemy which threatens our joint future here and the future of our children, and that is the fanatics and their fanaticism." This, he explained, included the "fight against those who regard military service for women as `a call for shmad', meaning that they are prepared to lay down their lives rather than let them be inducted." He concluded by calling upon the chareidi public to "summon up their courage and declare their affinity with those chareidi pioneers who have already been absorbed into the army, academia and the work force." He concluded, "Only a struggle against fanaticism will guarantee that the fire of Zionism will continue to burn as an eternal light."

These words join a long line of statements this past year by secular politicians and media figures who warn against "extremism" and seek to encourage the formation of a new scale of values for the chareidi public. They aim at replacing an exalted aspiration for a sanctified lifestyle and dedication to Torah with careerism, and strive to create schisms in the isolationism and self-imposed insular buttressing of the chareidi public and its holy values by creating a hybrid society like a "chareidi-army" and "chareidi-academia."

Needless to say, our gedolim regard these goals with severe criticism, as is clearly and directly expressed in the historic letter of Maran R' Yosef Sholom Eliashiv (may he be granted a speedy recovery).

Regarding the worn cliches "against the fanatics and their fanaticism" (which originated in Dati Leumi circles but were, to our shame, embraced also by some chareidi spokesmen), we must reiterate and review the Chazon Ish's letter (Kovetz Igros III) which states that extremism expressed shleimus and that whoever "pursues mediocrity and despises extremism casts his lot with falsifiers or the weak-minded... We are accustomed to hear certain circles declaring that they spurn any attachment to the extremists, and yet they retain for themselves the name of upright members of Israel who align themselves with Torah. We allow ourselves to say, from a legal viewpoint, that just as those who love wisdom do not love a part of it and hate the majority of wisdom, similarly, among those who love Torah and mitzvos there is no love for mediocrity and hatred for extremism.

"Those who testify that they never savored the sweetness of extremism, thereby attest that they are lacking in emunah based on deep introspection and deep-felt feelings, and only have a superficial relationship with it [emunah], while the extremists, from the depths of their soul and with all their desire to have pity on those who shun the extremes, cannot respect their opponents, and a deep chasm gapes between them when they encounter genuine acts which necessarily foster dissension and widen the gap so that it can never be breached."


The Knesset Chairman's words which praise the chareidi pioneers in the army and the intelligentsia join the stream of inane talk spouted by factions outside the circle of the devout who believe that those selfsame "chareidi pioneers" indicate the beginning of a major social change. To be sure, these are unfounded hopes since the majority of the chareidi public rejects out of hand such "pioneering" which attempts to `cool off the tub' in the same vein as [Amolek's] "asher korcho".

Those so-called pioneers, better known as "new chareidim," continue to serve as the basis of hope for hostile elements seeking to change the face of the chareidi public.

It should be remembered that after R' Eliashiv's letter was publicized, the media produced the reaction of the "Chiddush" Association's leader, Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, one of the heads of the Reform movement, who clarified that henceforth, in light of the letter, the secular activists can only pin their hopes upon the emerging phenomenon of these new chareidim, who may create their own ideology even in opposition to daas Torah. The Reform leader even expressed his ludicrous desire that a different type of rabbi make its appearance subscribing to the ideas of the New Chareidim and following a different line altogether. "It is to be hoped that the community of New Chareidim which is fast developing will produce its own great rabbis who will be more fitting to lead the society of scholars to a new era that will combine study in yeshiva with army service and work."

This paper has noted that such words merely serve to prove again that the phenomenon of New Chareidim, which gains momentum from the ongoing encouragement of the elements of the chareidi press which our rabbonim write letters against, expresses both direct and oblique support of secular elements that seek to undermine the vital foundations of the chareidi public. Even the worst and most dangerous elements, the heads of the heretical movements, express open sympathy with these New Chareidim, and pin high hopes on their success.


Some people in our midst ask, with real or apparent naivete: What's the big deal? What really is the difference? What are the basic points of contention between the New Chareidim and the authentic, original Chareidim?

Some of them, seeking to deflect criticism, ask with venomous demagoguery, "Do you wish to say that whoever joins the work force automatically becomes a New Chareidi?"

The answer is, of course, negative. It is clear that working for one's livelihood does not disqualify a person as a chareidi.

In response to these attempts to confuse the discussion, there is a need to clarify and define the issues. Distinctions between the two groups can be made according to the following differences:

A chareidi Jew knows that he is subservient to a code of behavior and values which obligates him at every step.

A New Chareidi believes that the label `chareidi' is merely a flexible, symbolic brand which he can tailor to his needs.

A chareidi Jew knows that his goal in life is to elevate himself in Torah and yiras Shomayim, to increase the honor of Heaven and expand the borders of kedushoh, with everything else being secondary, even if justifiably necessary. From early childhood, he is imbued with the aspiration to dedicate his life to Torah, and he will seek to realize this goal with all the resources at his command. If circumstances force him to leave the beis hamedrash and seek a livelihood, he will do so against his will and not proudly declare that he is "a working chareidi". His career is no source of pride for him, and he will continue to raise his children to the ideal of remaining within the four cubits of Torah. He will constantly reaffirm to himself and his family the realization that Torah scholars are on the highest attainable level, beyond any comparison to him.

The New Chareidi creates an inverted pyramid of values which promotes going to work as an ideal and he admires Western material careerism. He seeks to create a class of working chareidim that will be recognized as admirable and praiseworthy, and accepted as a "central stream" of the chareidi community. He conveys to his family that financial success is a desired goal, while putting down the nebich avreich who devotes his life to Torah. He constantly seeks to still the voice of his conscience by pointing out flaws in their lifestyle, and arrogantly states that the kollelim are "filled with people who are there just because of social pressure and who are really just wasting their time."

A chareidi Jew unequivocally accepts daas Torah and halochoh in every area of his life. He is seeks out the view of gedolei Torah and morei horo'oh and follows their opinions and recommendations. A forbidden technological device will not cross his threshold or enter his pocket. He will educate the members of his household in modesty without seeking loopholes.

A New Chareidi mocks the safeguards established in the halachic rulings of Torah authorities, arguing that he need not obey "extremist rabbis who bury their heads in the sand in the face of modern progress." He regards lightly any psak that, in his view, "is not explicitly stated in the Mishnah Berurah." Destructive technological devices spill out of his pockets and his family disregards the guidelines of tznius. He calls for minimizing rabbinical decrees and safeguards that are "restrictive," and "machmir." He is constantly invokes that limitation of "gezeiros that the community cannot abide."

A chareidi Jew knows that the policy of isolation from the outside world is a basic rule of our survival. He teaches his children to belittle foreign notions and to know that only fundamental Yiddishkeit is the basis of our existence. We must shun all modernity, all semblance of `street' values and the outside world. The outward appearance of a chareidi ben Torah or Chassidic Jew should remain forever. Even if he must pursue a livelihood, he will remain proud in his `black' exterior and identify with those who are still within the walls of the beis medrash.

A New Chareidi gives weight to the values of the outside world, such as careerism or academics, entertainment and recreation. He strives to join the tide of modern progress and feels inferior to the outside world, seeking recognition from it and declaring his desire to "live in harmony" with society at large ("since after all we are all Jews" in Israel), glancing out of the corner of his eye at the changing styles in dress and speech. When he goes out to seek a livelihood, he will adapt himself to his new environment by changing his mode of dress to declare his detachment from his previous world. He will announce that he is a new person now, and shed affiliation with his previous world of Torah so that he will no longer be bound by the norms of the Torah world. On the other hand when he feels a need to be accepted back into chareidi society, he will say that he never really changed and has just incidentally wore clothing of a different color or fabric.

A chareidi Jew recognizes that the need to run the community according to daas Torah is not limited or conditional or subject to personal interpretation. He will willingly affiliate himself with the movement representing gedolei Torah under all circumstances.

A New Chareidi declares that politics is not within the expertise of Torah leadership and he will accept their line only if it makes sense to him. He complies with it only conditionally and only when it suits him and only under certain circumstances, while ascribing full legitimacy and allegiance to the new stream of New Chareidism. He has explicit conditions which must be met if he is to support the chareidi position, and if they are not met he feels free to go his own way. He still reserves the right, after the elections, to argue that he is basically willing to listen to the gedolei Torah if they meet his demands.


These are some of the blatant differences characterizing the New Chareidim. Each case must be dealt with separately and not judged hastily, but it can definitely be stated that a person who answers to some of the above descriptions is placing himself in the ignominious front lines of the New Chareidi.

It is no secret that while Yated Ne'eman represents daas Torah against the new trend, others seek to promote it and legitimize it, such as the weekly commercial publications, against which our rabbonim have issued bans because of their harmful effects upon our public.

These publications cast sand in the public's eyes by defining the battle against the New Chareidim as including any chareidi who has joined the work force. This is a gross falsification. The tactic is clear: to create a false impression that we say that all are treif inviting the reaction that all are really kosher.

This is, in fact, a carry over from the tactic of the ancient Nachash who expanded Hashem's prohibition to say that all was forbidden, even touching the Eitz HaDaas. Since this would have been impossible, the opposite must be true that all was permissible. [See Ohr HaChaim, Bereishis 3:1, and the Introduction of the Chofetz Chaim.]

The label of `new chareidi' was never meant to apply to everyone who goes to work. We surely admire those who uphold the very world through their study as the supreme value, but we do not condemn one who goes out to work unless he makes an ideal of leaving the beis medrash and obfuscates the true priorities. This is also the policy of Degel HaTorah which unites in its platform every Jew who recognizes daas Torah and the authority of our rabbonim in establishing the definition of a chareidi lifestyle on a public and private level. So long as a chareidi Jew preserves his image as a ben Torah in all his ways, he is still recognized as a chareidi. The misleading attempts of the weeklies to lump all working people together as defectors or conversely, as including all of them, indiscriminately, in chareidi society, shows why it is necessary to stay away from them.


We reiterate that whoever regards our position as extreme is, we admit, correct. Yes, we are proud to be extremists!

The Chazon Ish wrote that we are obligated to educate to extremism because this is the only way for us to guarantee the future of our children.

"Mediocrity that can persist if the beinoni who loves the extremes and longs for it with all its abilities, and educates its children towards the height of extremism. How pitiful is the beinoni who despises the extremes. We must educate towards extremism! The armor of education is to inculcate disgust for those who persecute the extremists... The middle-of-the-road stream of education failed because of the falsity in the middle way. The knowing heart distances itself from phoniness... and they stole the secret of extremism away [from the middle-of-the-road education]."


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