Monday, November 05, 2007

What Is Happening To Us?

There have been several news stories over the past few months (and general trends that are observable over the last few years) that have me wondering where we are going as a people.

Of course, everyone knows about the violence on the buses in Israel. Last year, Miriam Shear was beaten on a bus for refusing to leave a seat that she was legally entitled to keep. This year, we have another story of a woman who was beaten for not leaving a seat (I don't know if this was a "mehadrin" [separate seating] bus for not, but even if it was, there is no excuse for beating someone up over this anyway), and an Israeli soldier was beaten for coming to her aid.

We have stories of vigilantes who go around destroying clothing they find offensive and torching people's businesses for selling items that they find offensive.

We have stories about ever-more extreme steps being taken to separate the sexes to the point where concerts are banned even when they have separate sex seating. We take away almost every opportunity for adult singles to meet each other and then we complain that there is a "shidduch crisis." In some circles, adult singles aren't even allowed to meet until the prospective date is vetted out for every possible detail from the truly legitimate avenues of inquiry to the downright silly questions of tablecloths and loafers versus laces.

We have stories where boys are told to extort large sums of money from their future fathers-in-law, even when they can't afford it, because the yeshiva's prestige is more important than the father-in-law's finances and shalom bayis.

Whereas once we were a people proud to be educated in all areas of endeavor, we now seek to become a people who shun all knowledge outside the daled amos (four cubits) of Torah. Women's education programs were banned in Israel (where, in Chareidi circles, women are the main breadwinners of the household) and those who already completed the program have found themselves blacklisted from employment in their chosen field of teaching. Instead of recognizing that there are matters that can be disputed within Judaism, we now seek to outright ban anyone who doesn't toe the official party line.

We've become a people who are so afraid of anything that isn't 100% Jewish in origin that we seek to ban pizza shops or mobile restaurants who dare to operate in our neighborhoods.

We've fostered an environment where not only is it not acceptable to simply "stay out of trouble," but we've defined "trouble" as not actively learning Torah at any given moment. Sporting activities, day trips and the like are now ruled out in many communities because the boys should be learning Torah and not wasting their time with recreation. My Rav recently refelcted on the fact that when he was a boy, there were Saturday night "fun programs" of sports and the like to keep boys out of trouble; now it's all learning programs, when, in fact, young boys (for the most part) are not really capable of keeping up such a schedule. In his words "they should be playing, not learning."

We've set up a society where everyone scrupulously follows all the rules, not because they want to, or because they think the rules are correct; but because they know that if they don't, it will be held against their children when it comes time for shidduchim. Everyone struggles to keep up with the chumra (stringency) -of-the-month club so that they shouldn't seem like second rate Jews.

We've created an environment where people are no longer trusted to be able to police and think for themselves. Cell phones with text messaging has been ruled assur (forbidden) because people might use it to contact others of the opposite gender. Schools have tried to institute policies where parents cannot have Internet access in their house on pain of expulsion on the pretense that they are protecting the children (which, if it were truly the case, then they should just ban the children's use of the Internet). I'm kind of surprised that no one has tried to say that it's forbidden to sleep in the same house with one's wife when she's a niddah.

We have set up a world where "work" has become a dirty word. For thousands of years, from the time of the entry into Eretz Yisroel until recently, the vast majority of our people earned their living while learning part-time, while the truly exceptional scholars among us were supported by the community in full-time learning. Now, it seems that everyone is *expected* to learn full-time and that people who work because they have to either face an economic reality or because they have the maturity to recognize that they aren't capable of full-time learning are looked down on and discriminated against in shidduchim.

We have a community that judges you more by the material that your yarmulke is composed of than the contents of your neshama (soul) and where the material that your skirt is made out of is more determinant of your observance than how well you actually observe the mitzvos (commandments).

With all this currently happening in our midst right now, I shudder to think at where we'll be in twenty to thirty years if nothing changes.

We need to stop leaning always to the right and return to a centrist position. In the sea, a ship that lists too far to the right or the left will eventually sink. Only a ship that is even and upright can survive the voyage. If we don't, the challenges we face in the next generation will be far worse than those we face now. The "teens-at-risk" and "adults-at-risk" situations didn't happen in a vacuum -- they came about at least partly because people have found that Orthodox Judaism has gone so far to the right that they no longer have a place in it. The further we go to the right, the larger these problems will become as more and more people will feel alienated in their own religion.

The Wolf


DAG said...

The ship WILL correct itself. The question is how many are swept overboard before it does.

Zach Kessin said...

It seems that not only are we heeding over a cliff, our leaders seem to be leading the charge.

Makes me wonder why I stay sometimes

Stephanie said...

sorry..i am jewish but it sounds extremely cultish to me..fanatical and seems there is no happy medium. Men who beat women??? and in the next breath call themselves Godly? Its just appalling and a slap in the face to all Jews.

Michael Koplow said...

But one thing that we do tolerate in the Ortho community is theft. It's shocking how open some Orthos are about stolen ring tones, pirated videos, etc. I assume it's a small minority of us, but the fact that our ganovim are so open about it suggests that they know the rest of us tolerate it. So you can be honest about being a crook, but not about that TV in the attic (in some Orthodox circles).

I recently heard on NPR about a lawsuit that Jewish, Muslim, and Christian groups have filed against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which had been indiscriminately confiscating religious books (esp those not in English). Among the people suing were a bunch of Orthodox white-collar convicts who were upset that their seforim were taken away. What an embarrassment. What a shande. What a bunch of hypocrites.

Stephanie (if you're still reading this), I didn't embrace Orthodox Judaism until I was in my forties, and I find much that's worthwhile about it (otherwise I wouldn't stick around). I also agree with everything you just said.

Anonymous said...

Wolf, does the "We" in your article really include you?

Anonymous said...

I was educated in yeshivas even though I was raised in a secular hom. I became frum in my late teens. Now, in my early 40s, I wonder if it was not perhaps a grave mistake. Orthodox Judaism appears to enact rules that are more coercive, dogmatic and oppressive with each passing day. It's not just "youth at peril" nowadays. It's Jews at peril.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Rosenblum spoke in Baltimore this past Shabbos. He gave a good metaphor: When the wagons are circled too tightly, some of those inside pop out.

Anonymous said...

It's not a good metaphor because it externalizes the problems the community is creating within itself. In the name of piety and allegedly in reaction to world that's more threatening they create more chumrahs each day. My rabbi said it best: when most of the responsa come out of the yeshiva world- a world disconnected from the needs of regular working people- extremism and a schism are inevitable.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should move away from new York. The world dose not look like that from where I am.

-suitepotato- said...

If you gave them swords, they'd be feudal-era Samurai. This is not a good thing.

Much pity is to be had for the poor soul who loses the reason for piety in the methods by which they obsess over reaching it and more for the rest of the people beset by their compulsions. G-d help us all.

In the meantime, the charedi community's hat makers should be investigated for possible lax observance of good workmanship as it would seem they are making the hats too tight.

Anonymous said...

I howl with the Wolf.

I had the courage to forge my own path in Judaism but, let me tell you, it's one helluva lonely ride.

Example: My shul ("Ahavas Yisrael") sent out a letter before Rosh HaShanah stating that one was not welcome if one owed ANY money. When repeated requests to discuss the matter fell on deaf ears, I approached the Rabbi and got cursed out. (And this was a rabbi I always liked and admired!)

How I miss the simple small-town Young Israel existence I once lived. Alas, that world seems to be gone forever.

Michael Koplow said...

Anonymous 11/07 1:01 AM: Do you mean anyone who was in any debt at all, or anyone who owed money specifically to the shul? Just curious. It's disgusting either way, but the second is even more so.

Jeff Eyges said...

I'm kind of surprised that no one has tried to say that it's forbidden to sleep in the same house with one's wife when she's a niddah.

Don't give them any ideas!

-suitepotato- said...

cipher said...

I'm kind of surprised that no one has tried to say that it's forbidden to sleep in the same house with one's wife when she's a niddah.

"Don't give them any ideas!"


Why do you think Henny Youngman said "take my wife... please?" That is the one time of every month you can.

Anonymous said...


Anyone who owed the shul. Of course the letter wasn't as blunt as I made it sound, but it did say it.

("Anyone who has an outstanding balance must call the shul office before being allowed to purchase seats...")

Anonymous said...


I couldnt agree more.

Anonymous said...

The ship is about to capsize.The latest statement is if you believe the world is older than 5768 years you are a KOFER.

Zach Kessin said...

The ship is about to capsize.The latest statement is if you believe the world is older than 5768 years you are a KOFER.

Well I'm a Kofer then. The universe appears old by any measure I can put to it. (Just as a FMI who said that).

Anonymous said...

I would like to e-mail you, but the "e-mail me" link doesn't work for me. Is there an e-mail address that you would be willing to post?

BrooklynWolf said...

wolf at the name of this blog dot com

The Wolf

Lion of Zion said...


"Perhaps you should move away from new York. The world dose not look like that from where I am."

everything eventually filters down from new york. (i don't mean that condascendingly as a new yorker, but it is what i see happening as far as frumkeit is concerned.)

Lion of Zion said...


"I'm kind of surprised that no one has tried to say that it's forbidden to sleep in the same house with one's wife when she's a niddah."

ethopian jews did have this practing in the alte heim. but they were very strict with niddah in general (based perhaps on an extra mappiq in the beginning of parshat tazria)

but in any case, i have heard of niddah issues coming up at interviews for toras emes.

Lion of Zion said...


"The ship WILL correct itself."

not as long as everyone complains only amongs themselves but outwardly continues to support the individuals and institutions that push this lifestyle.

by example, most of wive's friends complain to no end about the frumkeit of yeshivot they send their kids and the way they have to adjust their own lifestyles. yet at the end of the day they continue to patronize these schools without a peep.

Zev Stern said...

A Time For Courage