The willful thwarting of creativity in the Orthodox world

Orthodox Jewish society — and especially Haredi society — is almost totally lacking in creativity, imagination and innovation. In fact, it can be argued that it is the enemy of creativity, imagination and innovation of any kind. The very term ‘haredi’ ­– one who fears — is ostensibly meant to imply a fear of G-d. In fact, however, it is a fear of absolutely everything other than shuffling inside an extremely, and ever-increasingly, narrow track. Afraid of science, afraid of music, afraid of art, afraid of women, afraid of medicine, afraid of public service, afraid of English, afraid of their own shadows.

This is less true of more conventional Orthodoxy, yet there, too, there is genuine fear of creativity. The economics of Orthodoxy, in America especially, are partly to blame. The cost of being a religious Jew is so prohibitive, so onerous, that only the greed track offers any likelihood of surviving intact materially — if indeed living in a society totally bereft of creativity can be called surviving.

An op-ed in the New York Times by Professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School can shed important light on the awful absence of creativity in the ‘frum’ world, an absence so monumental it takes on a negative presence that can be compared only to the midrashic description of the plague of Darkness. It is not an absence of light, but rather the presence of a darkness that is tangible in its opacity.

In the frum world the ability to simply memorize and regurgitate and repeat ad infinitum the creative genius of the past is rewarded, while any sign of fresh creativity is firmly thwarted. Is it any wonder why there are so many dropouts? Is it any wonder why the streets of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Kiriat Sefer, Betar Ilit and Ramat Bet Shemesh are swarming with aimless, shiftless, endlessly smoking and cellphone-shhmoozing men in black caftans? Most likley it is among these that one finds those who showed signs of creativity as children — the restless, inquisitive, challenging misfits whose souls and spirits had to be expunged at the earliest possible time, only to be replaced with ‘hoshekh,’ total darkness.

Surely there are no fewer creatively endowed children born in these communities than elsewhere. But within the ever-higher walls of the self-imposed ghettos all signs of creativity are ruthlessly squelched as the visual world is made hermetically monochrome, and curiosity is dismissed out of hand and often with the back of the hand.

One shudders to think of all the creative potential — the congenital genius — that is being willfully trashed; of the human beings who might offer so much to their world and ours turned into hopeless, shiftless and aimless wastes.

What a tragedy. What a pity What a crime against G-d and man.

Would that that Haredi leadership would read Professor Grant’s article. But how can they when they will not allow themselves or their children to even learn the English alphabet?

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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