Monday, December 15, 2008

Fighting Satan

Destined for failure makes his case why the Hassidic community, (henceforth, we, us, our), is, well, destined for failure. He proves black on white, or rather white on black, (I highlight the text, so I get blue on white; can’t read otherwise), why seclusion will become impossible in the years to come and that the walls of our self-made ghettos will fall as the Berlin wall did.

I agree with his main point, but disagree with some supporting arguments.

I believe the Chassidic community leaders should embrace technology and open-mindedness instead of evading it. There is a way to preach faith in face of all the secularity, and a way to stay true to tradition in spite of all the communication possibilities. The Amish allow their young a period of rumspringa, yet a very great percentage remains demut. How entrenched in faith are the Evangelicals? Don’t they watch national TV? Don’t they go to Blockbuster? To the library? Browse the internet? All, of course, with parental restrictions. You don’t have to go further than Chabad. They sent young couples over to places as remote as possible from Jewish life, and yet they remain as steadfast to tradition as a Jewish mother could only wish.

R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch taught a righteous person doesn’t hide out form the world, but mingles among the common folks and makes a positive influence in the world and lets his torah have an impact. I believe we would had been better off if we were introduced to the outside world early in our lives and offered the religious interpretation of it. Instead of banning the media, avoiding all outside literature, and segregating between genders, our rabbis should have ripened us to the discovery of the forbidden fruit later in our lives; that would soften the impact of collision. Our teachers and parents should have taught us that watching movies featuring erotica and violence is bad, that that the pieces in National Geographic about the age of the universe are wrong, and that God despises prenuptial affairs.

However, I do believe that, if we choose to, we can hide from the outside world even in the years to come; it’s difficult, but nevertheless possible. The biggest proof is how we stayed secluded all thsoe years. Centuries have passed since the first voices were heard that things are different nowadays, that we can longer stick to the practices of the old ages, and that Judaism will have to adapt. Yet we managed to stay aloof and aloft for all those years, despite what the cynics said.

I well understand that things are different in this age, that there was never a threat to fundamentalism as ominous as the internet, and that internet is widely in use and puts frum souls within a button-click of falling deep abyss. However, they said the same thing back when egalitarian ideals swept across Europe, they said the same thing back when Neologs threatened to swallow Hungarian Judaism, they said the same thing back when radio or TV became household commodities, and they said the same back when we were uprooted from the shtetl and transplanted into metropolitan. Fundamental leaders always took extreme measures to preserve and protect Torah-true Judaism, and will not shun from repeating history again.

Rabbis are notoriously known for procrastination and ineffectiveness in acting on issues or solving community trouble in timely fashion. Coupled with all the petty bickering and power jockeying and you got a completely crippled theocracy. Wait until internet victimhood becomes a plague beyond a point where it can be conveniently swept under the rug or dealt with posters on shul walls, and some dramatic measures will be taken. I can’t brainstorm any ideas what they might do, but then if I could, I would be sitting at that convention.


  1. "The Amish allow their young a period of rumspringa, yet a very great percentage remains demut."

    Rumspringa is almost entirely mythical. The Amish keep their kids in line mostly the same way chassidim do: by crippling their ability to navigate the outside world. Look it up, you'll see.

    "How entrenched in faith are the Evangelicals?"

    Not very. They have very high turnover rates, which is why they sometimes resort to homeschooling and fear college. And making it about "faith" misses an important point: they switch churches a LOT. To a chassidish family, a kid switching allegiances to Modern Orthodox or Reform is unacceptable, but Evangelicals make such move within their ranks very, very often.

    Also, Evangelical Christianity places very little demand on it's participants. It's all feel-good stuff, making it a lot easier to retain members than an all-encompassing lifestyle like Chassidism. The Amish comparison is better because their's is a high-burden lifestyle--but then they too hobble their kids, just like chassidim do, and unlike the Evangelicals.

    "You don't have to go further than Chabad. They sent young couples over to places as remote as possible from Jewish life, and yet they remain as steadfast to tradition as a Jewish mother could only wish."

    Chabad is so all over the map in more ways than one. You cannot fathom how fragmented the Lubab world is with BTs, OTDs, mostly-OTDs, and almost-OTDs. This causes outside influences to flow in and through Lubavitch at amazing rates, which is why they change so fast. You don't want to emulate them if stability of transmission is what you're looking for.

  2. I've read a few books on the Amish, and they match up pretty closely with the Wikipedia article:

    I agree with you that most young Amish don't go far from home, in large part because they're unfamiliar with "English" society, and have relatively rudimentary educations -- by design. Those that leave are frequently shunned (to varying extents), which also enforces conformity.

    I think you're exaggerating the Evangelical turnover rate -- there's a lot of shifting between churches, but it's usually more like shifting between Chassidic sects, rather than Jewish denominations. You're also underplaying the demands of (certainly, the stricter sort of) Evangelicals -- lots of Church activity and classes, gender restrictions, censorship, educational limitations and so on.

    None of it is anywhere near as all-enveloping as Chassidism (or the Amish, for that matter), but by general American standards, it can be pretty intense.


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