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Dec 28, 2011

From Doublethink to Dissent

An Anonymous Guest Post

Preamble: The following article was originally written and posted on my personal blog in June 2009.  I took it down for fear that my children might be thrown out of their "moderate charedi" schools - ironically, for exactly the reasons I rail against in the article itself.  In light of current events in Beit Shemesh receiving national attention, and because the original reasons for removing the post from my own blog are still applicable, I hereby submit it for anonymous re-publication on Life In Israel, with contemporary edits in brackets.

Warning and Disclaimer: This article contains several gross generalizations. I am fully aware that there are very large numbers of people, including several of my very good friends, who are going to be innocent "collateral damage" victims of these generalizations. The reader is therefore notified that, מכאן ולהבא, all generalizations made are specifically intended to exclude all those people to whom they do not apply. Read this paragraph again, then carry on. (Note to programmers: please insert a "break" statement after the word "apply". I don't want you stuck on this blog forever; you have work to do.)

Something really doesn't add up.

I've blogged a few times about [my Rosh haYeshiva], his commitment to balance, to moderation, to avoiding chumros, to just plain old common decency. I'm not going to rehash that now.

And in response to these articles, I have had overwhelmingly positive feedback, both online and offline. People wishing there were more people like [him] in the world, people looking for moderation, people searching for a voice of reason and sanity. People of all stripes of Judaism - including a good many people who dress only in black suits and white shirts with velvet or satin yarmulkes. In common parlance, that means charedim (I think we've long since lost the connotation that Yeshayahu HaNavi intended when he coined the term).

And that's what doesn't add up. To the casual observer, charedi society today seems like nothing resembling these values. Not balance, not moderation, not accommodation with the outside world, not unconditional love for all other Jews, irrespective of where they're holding, and drawing them closer - but rather extremism, rejectionism, insularity and building walls to protect themselves from those - even religious Jews - who are not exactly like them. And the shtick you have to go through to win approval! Can't send your children to this school if they have siblings in that school, or if you eat food with the wrong bada"tz hechsher, or if you aren't in full time learning, or if your wife wears/doesn't wear a sheitel... if they don't go to this school then they won't get into that yeshiva, they won't get a good shidduch, blah blah blah.

So if the society is full of shtick, and the people living in that society are telling me that they are against the shtick, then who exactly is running the society, who is making the rules, and why are people complying with them?

I'm currently re-reading Natan Sharansky's excellent book, The Case For Democracy. In this book, Sharansky describes his experience of living inside the "fear society" of the Soviet Union, and applies the lessons of how the USSR was destroyed to the Arab world today, making his case for how to transform today's "fear societies" into "free societies". He describes three kinds of people in a fear society: True BelieversDissidents and Doublethinkers. The True Believers (TBs) are the ones who really believe that the society they have created is a good thing, and they are the ones who prop it up, who proselytize and brainwash, and who enforce compliance. The dissidents are the ones who are opposed to the regime and who are unafraid to speak their minds. And the doublethinkers (DTs) are the ones who don't really, in their heart of hearts, agree with the regime, but they are afraid of the consequences of non-compliance, and therefore toe the party line and do as they're told. Very importantly, Sharansky points out, it is nearly impossible to tell what proportions of TBs or DTs are in the population in a fear society, because they are indistinguishable by their actions.

I won't go so far as to say that charedi society today is like the USSR or today's Arab states, but l'havdil elef havdolos, there are certain similarities, particularly in the "town square" test: can you walk into the middle of a public area and loudly proclaim your views, no matter what they are, without feeling threatened by violent retribution? You certainly can't drive through RBS-Bet with an Israeli flag on your hood, nor can a woman wear culottes in certain charedi neighborhoods without the threat of being physically attacked.  Compliance with other chumros may not be enforced by the threat of gulag or summary execution, but if you get on the wrong side of the "tznius police", they can make your life a misery in other ways.

And however watered down the analogy may be, I think we also have here the same categories of TBs, DTs and dissidents. Judging by the responses I've had to my previous articles, it looks like there are a lot of DTs out there. DTs who wear the uniform, not because they think it's a good thing, but because it's what they're expected to do. DTs who look the other way when the TBs get violent, not because they agree with the violence, but because they're afraid to speak out. DTs who go along with all the shtick of chumros upon chumros, not because they want to bring themselves closer to Hashem, but because they fear if they don't they will be ostracized, excluded and rejected.

I personally live on the fringes of charedi society, and despite many of the negative things I have written about here, I identify strongly with the charedi commitment to Judaism, to Torah, to taking our obligations seriously and living Jewish in the fullest sense, rather than tolerating our religion and finding compromises that allow us to live comfortably despite it. I have a lot of friends and contacts who are fully in the charedi world, shtick and all. I'm not sure I know any True Believers at all, and if I do, I can count them on one hand. The vast majority are normal, balanced people, who want to achieve closeness to Hashem through personal, internal struggle, not the superficial narishkeit of how long their tzitzis are.

DTs often think there's no harm in accepting chumros, if they serve their purposes of being accepted into charedi society in whatever context. I'm coming here to tell you that yes, chumros do harm. Motzi laaz is a big one - casting negative aspersions on people who are keeping the basic halacha. What about yuhara - arrogant pride that you're doing things "better" than everybody else? Derech eretz kadma latorah - if you go into somebody's house, are you going to embarrass your host by refusing to eat his (perfectly kosher) food because you hold by a "stricter" hechsher?  Show me the chumra and I'll show you the inherent kula. Not that all chumros are bad, but they have to be weighed up (see Mesillas Yesharim Chapter 20); it's not necessarily, nor even often, the safest route to be more machmir.

In summary, this is a call to all charedi doublethinkers to become dissidents, after a fashion. Obviously don't throw everything out - but don't reflexively accept the shtick that the True Believers are imposing on you. If you think it's good, then do it. If you don't see the value in it, don't be intimidated. Evaluate the gain of a chumra versus the loss. If you hear people saying "Daas Torah" or "The Gedolim Say", run a mile - because as one senior Rabbi told me, that's a sign of insecure people trying to squash debate. Rule of thumb: the gedolim didn't say it, and even if they did, it's a quote taken out of context or patched together by askanim with an agenda, who asked misleading questions to get the answer they wanted. Here's an example of that.

If enough charedim have the courage to dissent and refuse to comply with the shtick and narishkeit, then just maybe we might start seeing a transformation within that society, towards a gentler, kinder, more balanced environment - truly a society of charedim lidvar Hashem.


  1. Great article, thanks for posting it! I particularly agree with the part about chumras having corresponding kulas, and the quote "If you hear people saying 'Daas Torah' or 'The Gedolim Say', run a mile - because as one senior Rabbi told me, that's a sign of insecure people trying to squash debate." I've seen many a debate squashed that way, which is very frustrating for people that appreciate the benefits of rational discussion.

  2. and yet check out what R Eliyashav wrote and was published in the yated:


  3. Way: Even though it appears in genuine black and white, in a publication as committed to truth as Haaretz, I am still skeptical on several counts:
    a) Did Rav Elyashiv really write it? Or even sign it knowingly?
    b) Even if he did write it, how much of it did he write, and how much was edited/rewritten by his askanim?
    c) Even if he did wittingly write it and sign in its entirety, who excerpted and translated it? Were they faithful to the original? Did they leave out crucial pieces?

    In short, I remain unconvinced.

  4. Shaul: Would you take it more seriously from the Yossed Neman and Bechadrei?


  5. Does it really matter? It seem to me that if someone is so out of touch with the world that he can be as constantly misquoted as Rav Elyashiv is reputed to be, without being able to find a way to indicate his true opinions to the public, this is not someone whose advice is worth arguing about (or taking).

  6. Baruch, I share that thought. If the so called "Gadolim" don't care what is said in their name, why should I?

  7. good article, but the fact that is was anonymous made me laugh. Expecting other charedim to rebel against the system, putting themselves on the line and the author himself does not want to be identified!!

  8. Not sure what was so "dangerous" in this article that it called for anonymosity. Pure common sense.

  9. shalom - I guess it is common sense itself that is dangerous...

  10. The Original AuthorDecember 29, 2011 9:45 AM

    Don't think the irony of my anonymity was lost on me. In general I'm usually not shy to speak my mind about this kind of thing, when the consequences are only on me personally. On a private and individual level, I'm very open about my feelings as expressed here, so I'm sure a lot of readers of this article will be able to piece together who I am, and I'm totally OK that. But when it comes to making a grand public statement like this, and the possibility of serious unintended consequences for my children, I prefer to have plausible deniability on my side, if you get my meaning. :-)

  11. Shaul!

    where r u?

    for some reason you didn't trust haaretz's reporting but have no comment on all the other sources.

    And my next question is this:

    In today's age, when verification is so easy, things are written, recorded, digital, analog, video, iphone, galaxy, tablet, webcam etc

    if you can't trust a statement put out by a 'gadol' today then how can you trust anything that is written in the mishna or gemara which was written by people after generations of telephone tag across multiple languages and geographies?

    or are you going to once again admit that to be religious you have to throw all common sense out the window. which actually sort of brings us back to anonymous' post

  12. Way:
    OK, now that I've seen the original letter reproduced here, I can comment with a little more understanding. And it turns out that my point (c) is fully applicable.

    Read the letter. Nowhere does R' Elyashiv specify any particular program - not Nachal Charedi, not michlalot or charedi colleges, nothing. He only generalizes about programs that are intended to bring Charedim under evil secular influences. I'm also against such things, if they exist. But as for programs that are genuinely intended to help Charedim make a parnossa, while preserving all their religious and lifestyle values - nowhere does the Rav say that he is against charedim learning a trade, and I cannot believe that he would say any such thing. All that this letter is effectively doing is saying, "Beware! There are programs out there that are intended to ensnare Jews into abandoning their values! Don't fall for them! Caveat Emptor!"

    The askanim do this all the time. When Rav Shteinman came to RBS as a guest of Degel Hatorah before the municipal elections, the next day Gimmel had published posters and flyers saying that Rav Shteinman had said it was nothing less than a Chillul Hashem to vote anything other than Gimmel. Then I read his actual statement, and it said nothing of the sort. All he said was that voting for people with non-Jewish values was a Chillul Hashem. The Gimmel party workers obviously felt that this meant anyone other than themselves, hence the subsequent marketing.

    So, once again, don't believe what you read in the media, until you've checked the sources. Same applies to charity collectors who shove "haskomas" in your face. Read them. And same applies to when a Rishon quotes a gemara: go to the source and make sure the quote is accurate. The results are sometimes very surprising.

  13. this is from your research:

    ... We must protest and warn of all sorts of trends from outside to harm the pure cruse of oil, who found 'special frameworks for Haredim,' which will be under their full control and spirit, included in this are: programs of national service, army service,
    They also are encouraging all kinds of institutes and colleges for job training and academic degrees which bring in foreign ambitions absorbed from the outside, and their goal is to bring a change in the spirit and essence of the Haredi public, and act to introduce all sorts of other aspirations, national and enlightenment which our forefathers did not know; and to integrate and connect them with the nonreligious life and the culture of evil people.

    so your right, he doesn't name any particular program. He simply publishes a letter on the front page of yated against the general army and college programs geared to charediim as a buyer beware warning. And of course he does it now for no particular reason either.

    its all so general. can't actually mean a thing. right?

    do you ever step back and see the mental gymnastics you need in order to rationalize and justify and balance the two lives?

  14. There is a common misconception among Anglo-Saxon olim – that Israel is like chutz la'aretz. And by that I mean - there are 2 general directions (1) modern orthodox and (2) black hat.

    In chutz la'aretz, black hat communities are the ones that hold a strong "commitment to Judaism, to Torah, to taking our obligations seriously and living Jewish in the fullest sense." and the modern orthodox are the ones that are perceived as only "tolerating our religion and finding compromises that allow us to live comfortably despite it." (I am quoting from the post).

    While that generalization may be successful in the states, it is pointedly false in Israel. In Israel there are 2 general philosophical tracks from which to choose within Orthodox Judaism. Each track has its strong commitment camp, its more modern camp and even an extremist camp. One track is chareidi - where there are modern chareidi, committed chareidi and extremists. We have the luxury of knowing these 3 camps very well within Ramat Beit Shemesh. The second track is the dati leumi track, with the same 3 camps (modern, committed and extremists). The fundamental difference between dati leumi and charedi is ONLY leumi (nationalist) issues. NOT modesty, strictness in halacha, the shininess of an Esrog…nothing. Only Zionism. So unfortunately, many olim come to Israel with natural Zionist tendencies, feelings and beliefs that in fact drive fundamental life decisions (like moving to Israel). In addition, due to the natural pride of building the Jewish homeland, all three Zionist camps respect army service, education and work – even though many of the “committed” and “extremist” camps do not always serve the army, get an education and work.

    I think this post is quite interesting, but the issue that gets me the most disappointed is the short-sidedness of many olim that immediately classify themselves as chareidi, send their children to chareidi schools, and become DTs (as the post discusses) without realizing there are more viable, logical, and parallel tracks to the normative “religiously committed” community.

    I think many readers unfortunately fall into that category, many people who went to YU, etc. What do you think?

  15. Interesting observations, David. not sure I agree with all you've written, but I don't buy this self-classification thing at all, honestly. I know that some other people like to classify themselves as "Charedi", "Dati Leumi", "Chiloni", "Masorati", whatever; I think this is practically a violation of לא תתגודדו. Me, I'm just a Jew. אני יהודי.

  16. Way: I didn't forget your comments. Here is my response:

    As for Rav Elyashiv's choice of wording and timing, and any mental gymnastics that I may or may not be performing... I have to admit, that even if the saintly Rav would come out straight, in a video published on YouTube, and state unequivocally that it's prohibited for Jews to use the Internet (YouTube aside!), work in a secular workplace, go to the army, or learn anything other than Torah, I would not obey him. He is not my Rebbe, and I do not believe he has the power to demand unflinching compliance by all Jews with his commands. I believe, however conveniently, that he would never do any such thing, does not believe in any such thing, and that his opinion is chronically misrepresented by the askanim, perhaps because it suits me to feel that I'm acting in accordance with the Rav who is generally proclaimed as the "Gadol Hador". But as a rule, I act in accordance with the mesora that I received from my teachers, and if Rav Elyashiv rules differently, that's great for his talmidim, but I am not bound by it.

    I don't want this to become a whole public polemic. If you want to carry on discussion offline with me, I will be very happy to do so. Please email me at sgb.at.sabreton.com


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