Monday, September 11, 2006

Thoughts on "The Haredim: A Defense"

A reader sent me the article "The Haredim: A Defense" by Aharon Rose from Azure, which you can read in full here. It's an interesting article, with a lot of good points. The end of the article made me think the most.

This paragraph brings up a lot of questions for me:

The preservation of such an intense, close-knit community involves the suppression of a certain measure of personal freedom. And indeed, the Haredi is not free to think, to doubt, and to act as a secular person does. He is committed to his community's tradition and to the authority of his community's leaders, and lives in a social and cultural ghetto. No doubt, this is a heavy price to pay - for many, it is simply too heavy. But to the extent that the Haredi community demands the forfeiture of the individual's personal liberties for the sake of the whole, the individual is rewarded with a life imbued with meaning, and an almost unparalleled feeling of belonging and of continuity, and of certainly as to his place in this transient world and beyond - indeed in all of Jewish eternity.

What I found interesting about Rose's description was that he seems to view the Haredim as a collectivist culture. The way in which he describes this life sounds very much like many Asian or Africa cultures in which the good of the whole community comes before the good of the individual. The reason I find this interesting is because I don't think that many Orthodox Jews would consider themselves part of a collectivist culture, would appreciate being described in such a manner. And I'm not sure why that is.

A question it brings up is whether the price that people pay to be part of such a collectivist culture, for their individuality, is too much. Obviously, what is being offered is a lot - community, tradition, safety. And that is plenty for many. But what about those who fall through the cracks, who it isn't enough for? Is what it offers worth the fallout of the few? It's an age-old question, whether the price paid for a few souls who can't handle it is worth those who can, whether it's better to get rid of a "bad seed" from a group rather than trying to have the group rub off on the "bad seed" in a good way.

The other question it brings up is whether someone who didn't grow up in such an environment could possibly subscribe to it and give up their personal freedoms in order to be taken care of in such a way (obviously, I'm thinking about baalei teshuvah here). I think it depends on how a person is raised - if they are taught, as many are in American society, to value individualism and indepedence, I think it would be extremely difficult for them to ever completely accept this attitude. But I think there are people, even who grow up non-religious, who are taught tradition and obeying those in command (the traditional Southern attitude actually comes to mind here). However, I know for myself, that I couldn't handle subscribing to such a view. It's just not part of who I am. And if that was the only option in the world of Orthodox Judaism, I'm not sure I could be an Orthodox Jew, to be perfectly honest.