Ultra-Orthodox Bring Pride, Charity and Vitality Back to Jewish People

Shameful Stereotypes Only Bring Division and Hatred

getty images

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Published May 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Is there too much endemic poverty aside great wealth? Yes. But as economist Herbert Stein famously noted, “Trends that can’t go on forever won’t.” Israel’s child support allowances, niggardly by European standards, and its highly regressive tax structure (18% VAT) make it impossible to feed large families, even within the parameters of the simple Haredi lifestyle, without gainful employment. Haredi young people are flocking into academic degree programs and into the labor force — though not fast enough to satisfy their critics.

Over the last twenty years, I have become a widely read communal gadfly pushing the community — and myself — to live up to the ideals that led my wife and I to join the Haredi world in the first place. But those ideals provide a language for self-criticism, and common core of assumptions around which communal debate can proceed.

David Goldman notes an interesting pattern. Churches that have lost all religious vitality (including the Church of Scotland, the Church of England, Presbyterians and Episcopalians in America) and nations facing demographic demise (including nearly all of Western Europe) become consumed with hatred for the Jews and the state of Israel. The eternity of the Jewish people, its exemption from the otherwise universal historical pattern of civilizational rise and fall, engenders bitter animosity from those suffering premonitions of their own societal death.

The same impulse animates Michaelson’s screed. His ultimate complaint about the Haredi world is that there are too many of them and they are too high a percentage of world Jewry. But instead of telling me to have fewer children, he should be addressing his complaint to his contemporary American Jews. Urge them to find something that gives meaning to their lives, a set of values dear enough to transmit to future generations by producing children.

And if he and his friends hope for a Jewish future, let them heed the numerous jeremiads of Jack Wertheimer, former provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who warned that there will be no future for non-Orthodox American Jewry without a reversal of current trends — namely anti-natalism, acceptance, even celebration, of intermarriage, declining sense of Jewish peoplehood, and lack of theological seriousness. Above all let them rediscover, in Wertheimer’s words, “the distinctive commandments, beliefs and values for the sake of which Jews over the millennia have willingly and gratefully set themselves apart.”

The Talmud states that God took the children of Israel out of Egypt and called them, “my son, my firstborn son,” on account of the two words the nation uttered in anticipation of the receipt of Torah “na’aseh ve’nishmah (We will do and [then] we will understand).”

A Sadduccee once saw Rava learning Torah with such intensity that he did not even notice that he was sitting on his hands, which were dripping blood. The Sadducee charged Rava with being the member of an am pezizah — a heedless, uncalculating people — just like his ancestors who accepted God’s commandments without first knowing what they were.

Rava acknowledged the charge, for in that reckless passion for Torah lies the secret of Jewish eternity. No Jewish community that has cut itself off from Torah observance and study has ever survived for long.

The greatest contribution of the Haredi world is to have miraculously rebuilt in 60 years an entire world of Torah learning destroyed by Hitler, and to have maintained a passion for Torah study that radiates out to the entire Jewish world.

Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Mishpacha Magazine, as well as the author of seven biographies of contemporary Jewish leaders.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.