The following was written as a letter to the son of a very Orthodox American acquaintance who questioned how I can be critical of both American liberal Jews and haredim.
Dear J –
Your question is a valid one – as to how I can be so excoriating of both liberal/progressive Jews and the frummers.
As you are a dentist, let me start with a dental story.
A client organization of mine maintains a pediatric dental clinic in the heart of Meah Shearim – routine stuff; cleanings, x-rays, fillings. There are several chairs operating simultaneously as the mothers sit in the waiting room. From the way these mothers carry on one might think their children are undergoing open heart surgery or something more severe – the davening, the crying, the Tehillimming, the utter trepidation on the mother’s faces as their young ones are having their teeth cleaned.
Now, admittedly, these are the most extreme haredim. Yet the frum world looks to them as the avatars of genuine Yiddishkeit, worthy of constant and generous financial support (think of all those Meir Baal Haness charities), the ones closest to G-d.
Of course any reasonably intelligent person realizes these are brutally primitive, illiterate, superstitious people, who adulate human intermediaries live and dead; who believe all sorts of bubbe meises (fairy tales) about rebbes and gedolim of bygone generations, centuries and millennia. Yet the frum world sees these people as the real thing, worthy of awe and support, if not emulation.
It is also true that these extreme haredim live in a jabberwocky economic world in which no straight line exists, no normal work is done, no legitimate income generated, no concept of paying taxes, no notion of ever going off life support when it comes to the food chain, medical care, defense, utilities, infrastructure, even garbage collection.
Their mentality was forged in an earlier Europe where everyone ‘other’ was perceived as a threat to their physical well being, a menace to their material survival, a human trap waiting to rob them of their spiritual vitality. In other words the enemy was everybody – Jews included, Jews especially, if they looked, dressed, behaved differently.
And so, viewing themselves are perpetual victims of EVERYBODY and feeling themselves helpless in terms of actually becoming dominant and victorious in any mainstream sense, they resorted to “shtick” as a way of life. Cheating, finagling, taking advantage were not merely efforts at existential survival but also a way to compensate their fragile egos through little acts of chicanery. Sort of like a nine year old schoolboy who pulls shtick (pranks) in school for a momentary, and always insufficient, way of getting even with a teacher or other authority figure.
For centuries, European Jews lived this way, and it became a part of their cultural DNA. They brought this value system with them even to America whereby the ‘other’ (including government) is always perceived both as a threat and as fair game for “shtick”. No need to go onto details, as I am sure you read the newspapers just as I do, and see what’s going down right under your nose.
In Israel the situation is at an extreme, just as the frumkeit is at an extreme, and everyone – government especially – is marked for theft not only as a means of support by those who have never seen a father work for a living, but also as a way for powerless (because dysfunctional = powerless) people to give their egos a quick fix.
Yet I view these people very differently than I do Reform Jews in America (not so much the rank and file who know less than nothing, and care even less than less than nothing — but their anointed leaders) for one simple reason. Every single official act and activity promoted by these liberal Jewish leaders is a nail in the Jewish coffin, drilling another exit hatch whereby their minions can accelerate their escape from even vestigial Jewish identification.
Worse yet, this erev-ravization (erev rav: mixed multitude) of their constituents (take patrilineal descent, for example) comes with a corollary, whereby the evaporation wheels are greased with proactively hostile activities against Israel. This is neither the time nor place to go into a psychoanalytic explanation of why this is so. But it just is. Hence, for example, liberal Jewry’s virtually automatic and total support for the intersectionalized Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.
Consequently, I see liberal Jews not merely as lost souls but as active enemies of my people, of its history and of its future.
By contrast I see haredim as 50 shades of primitive. Even if they speak some sort of English, even if they go to college, they are culturally backward, superstitious and look over their right shoulders to those who are even more culturally backward and superstitious as being somehow better versions of themselves.
Having said this, the biggest difference between liberal Jews and haredim is that the liberals are not only murdering their Jewish spirit, they are actually committing demographic suicide. They do not marry (either late or never), do not have children (less than enough to replace themselves) and support such core vales as abortions and LGBT which, by their very nature, are anti-reproductivity. Hence, even if they are not actively engaged in activities hostile to genuine Jewish interests, they are in effect un-breeding themselves out of our collective existence.
By contrast, haredim are fully engaged in one industry to the exclusion of all others. And that is the manufacturing of children. It is they, and they alone, who are re-peopling the Jewish People in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
It takes very primitive people to do this. Enlightened, educated, productive human beings do not, as a rule have 9,12,15 children. There are, of course, exceptions.
In the wake of the Shoah, and in light of today’s massive miscegenation, we need every one of these children. Because, and make no mistake, the day will come – once we have the critical mass – that these primitives will experience a revolution of their own, as many of their best and brightest break the bars of their cages ready to make their positive contributions to the greater society. This happened once before in the 19th Century when European Jewry enjoyed a huge spurt of creativity, medicine, science and, yes, even serious Jewish scholarship made possible by men and women who decided that their old way of life, and their raboonim, had it wrong.
Thus, from a cosmic point of view, I see the haredim as fulfilling a very important mission via their primitivism, namely to repopulate the Jewish world. Their great grandkids will still be Jewish while those of the liberal Jews – assuming they will ever be born – will not.
Net Net, I see Meah Shearim and its myriad satellite communities in Williamsburg, Boro Park, Flatbush, Lakewood, Monsey, Stamford Hill, Antwerp etc as necessary holding patterns that enable a fecundity which will transmogrify ultimately into a vastly stronger Jewish community and Israel, although the price paid in real time by the rest of is, indeed, unacceptable