March 11, 2008

Learning From History

The old cliche of "If you don't learn from history, you are bound to repeat it" should mean something to the Orthodox Jews. I say 'should,' but I know it doesn't, at least not to a very large segment of Orthodox Jews. The haskala, to the charedim is an extremely profane word. Images of Jews being taken away by a demonic entity called enlightenment, into assimilation and heresy, fill their heads. Hence, they pass this idea to the next generation both in oral and written form. From a certain perspective, they are right. Traditional Jews did suffer much from it. But from another perspective, they have totally lost the bigger picture of what happened.

It is often repeated in lecture halls that the reason Jews left Judaism was because of the Reformers and Maskilim. One that reads even a bit about this period will see this is not entirely the whole story. Jews left, because Judaism, instead of adjusting and learning, it withdrew into itself. I think its fair to say that both Western and Eastern Europe did this to varying degrees. Eastern Europe though eventually decided to totally close themselves up from the outside world. Jews in Western Europe were able to adjust, again, in varying degrees. Italian Jewry for example, was much more able to deal with the haskala because their society was always much more open to the outside. The Eastern rabbinate chose to simply censored the entire world out. Anything new was assur and rigidity, especially in the yeshiva system was the direction they things went. That is why the attrition rate was higher amongst the young in eastern Europe than in Western Europe*

In reality, we don't really have to go very far back to understand what happened in the late 19th century. If the charedim today would simply learn history they would see what they are doing today is no different than what was done then. All you really have to do is replace 19th century haskala with the internet. Replace it with clothing. Replace it with music. Replace it Zionism, etc, etc. and badabing, we are right back in Europe. The charedi’s INABILITY TO RESPOND, WITHOUT A REACTION TO THE EXTREME OPPOSITE DIRECTION has only been hastening the inevitable of disillusioned people leaving Judaism. Basically throwing away the baby with the bath water and in the process, turning Judaism into a joke. Creativity is shunned and any new idea not proscribed in the Talmud or mefarshim, is deemed unworthy of being considered remotely true. Jews, like the rest of humanity cannot be strangled, with the noose getting tighter and tighter with every new chumra, issur and ban and not explode. I think it already has exploded. For example, I don’t think rabbinic authority, as an enterprise if you will, has had such little respect by so many Jews around the world. Instead of a rabbinate that deals with fraud, molestation, poverty etc, turn to issues of minutia and end up totally missing the forest for the trees.

What is this, if not for the haskala playing itself out all over again? Everything that should have been learned from it, is being totally ignored, that too much control is just as dangerous as the anarchy they fear so much. So now, instead of learning from this part of our history, a particular sub-sect of Judaism is recreating what was a failure then.

Cross-Currents had a post on Marvin Schicks response to the Lipa Concert ban. One commenter said this:

· I’ll probably be a lone voice on this internet blog, but here goes:

My rebbe, Rav Avigdor Miller, ZT”L, explained that our Father Abraham was called “Ivri”–because he was on one side and the entire world was on the other. That’s how he earned the right to be the father of the “Chosen People.”

Our nation lives and dies on its ability to be “a separate people.”–”Am LeVaDad YishKon.”

We live in a very dangerous time. It’s roughly analogous to the period of the Renaissance in Europe, when the Ghetto walls were torn down, and the Jews were finally permitted to integrate with gentile society. The result in France and Germany was rampant assimilation.

In Russia, where the exclusion of Jews remained intact, Judaism flourished. In Hungary, where the Orthodox Hareidim separated themselves officially from the Reform and “Staus-Quo” community, Judaism flourished.

The Jewish community in America is at serious risk of assimilation to the gentile culture. Rav Aaron Kotler used to talk of Jews in America as “30-40-50% Goyim.”–What percentage of our thinking is gentile?

Music has the power to move the soul. It is profoundly influential. Shlomo Carlebach started the modern Jewish Music movement, and it has now evolved to the point where it is morphing into a sanitized version of gentile rock-and-roll and “Rap” music.

The gentile world has finally awakened to the corrosive effect of this jungle music on the moral development of their youth. We, evidently, have not. We’re 10-20 years behind.

Our Gedolei Torah are the people who are closest to our Torah ideals and Torah sensibilities. With all due respect to Dr. Schick and to Rabbi Alderstein, they are not as immersed in Torah to the same extent as our Torah leaders, who live and breathe Torah 24/7.

If we can’t follow our Torah leaders, and give them our full support and cooperation–no matter how difficult–then we are surely lost.

Comment by HILLEL — March 10, 2008 @ 11:08 am


This comment is a perfect example of a belief that the only way to respond to anything, in this case a fear of assimilation, is by taking the extreme opposite path. Hence, he agrees with the banning, since our Torah leaders, in their infinite wisdom, -- like the wisdom of the late 19th century rabbanim, -- see assuring and tightening the noose as more fitting.


I will close with something a very well known charedi rabbi told me a few weeks ago when he was here in Los Angeles. I was walking him to his car, and I don’t remember how, but we got into the topic of Jews going to the extremes. He told me, and I am paraphrasing:

“I was talking to a friend at YU and I told him the next generation of Jews will belong to him.”

He simply then told me that charedi Judiasm of today cannot last.


* Marc Shapiro "Between The Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy. The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg," pg 27.