Tuesday: non-haredim discuss haredim

Would you like to be a fly on the wall while a battery of secular and modern Orthodox academic experts are discussing the dynamics of change in the haredi world?
If so, then today Tuesday 3 bKislev you can view and listen to the conference (live in Hebrew) taking place at this link for the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem at their website

Here are some highlights for Tuesday, Israel-time. 9-11 am Changes in the public sphere; Consumerism as a political strategy;Limits to consumerism:the case of wigs; The eruv in a multi-cultural society;Chareidim from the ghetto to the Israeli suburbs
11:30am to 1:30pm Volunterrism and medical help (Zaka, genetic testing, philanthropy)
2:30 to 4 pm Education and communication; “An orphaned generation seeks a mother: The mesoret of Sarah Schenirer as a means of post-Holocaust rehabilitation”;
Children’s heroes; Forbidden and permitted media among haredi women/
Final session 4:30 to 6:30pm Halacha, Theology and Education; lectures on Rav Eliashiv shlita, R Shlomo Volbe ztzl; haredi girls’ educaiton between opennessa nd conservation;
theological discussion in popular literature.
Even if you don’t get to view the conference, just reading the list of topics (there is another list for Monday’s sessions) gives you an idea of just how dynamic and varied are the chareidi sectors (plural, there is no one sector) .

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via www.cross-currents.com.

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21 Responses

  1. Janet Friedman says:

    Has anyone hareidi ever expressed the question of why the hareidi viewpoint was not solicited at all? Or was it, and nobody deigned to respond, or was afraid to? All this talking-about and no talking-to is a little weird. Are they trying to make the hareidim things instead of people so they can continue to treat them the way they do? Why are the MOs such dupes that they can’t realize that the hilonim ultimately mean them, too. The disengagement and Amona haven’t sunk in yet?

  2. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Sorry, that comment was by me, not my wife, but she probably agrees.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    “Would you like to be a fly on the wall while a battery of secular and modern Orthodox academic experts are discussing the dynamics of change in the haredi world?”


  4. Yossie says:

    I’ll wait until Haredim discuss Haredim. Yet, sadly, I know that will never happen. Even an ostrich has to stick his head out of the sand to breath once in a while, that’s our only hope.

  5. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    Were charedim not invited, or did they decline invitations?

  6. Mark says:

    ““Would you like to be a fly on the wall while a battery of secular and modern Orthodox academic experts are discussing the dynamics of change in the haredi world?””

    Wouldn’t want to be anywhere near. What purpose would it serve exactly? I already know what many of them think about Hareidim [visit the MO blog of your choice if you’re not sure and read about Hareidi aspirations of world domination] and it’s not anything that’ll make me feel better about our chances for achdus anytime soon.

    I can only wonder what the reaction would be if Hareidim got together and discussed MO. Actually I don’t wonder at all. I’ve seen it more times that I care to remember.

  7. lacosta says:

    1. while i think MO know what hareidim think of them, if there was such a conference , they would be interested in hearing it.

    2. please name the list of haredi -ACADEMICS- that should have been invited. if there are none in the respective disciplines, then there is noone to invite— you wouldnt invite a university professor of talmud to a conference of roshei yeshiva….

  8. mycroft says:

    Van Leer has a good reputation-are there relevant Chareidi academics who were not invited?

    BTW a few years ago in December Van Leer had as their topic RYBS. Many if not most of the invitees were not followers of RYBS-although one of his daughters -Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein did speak. Of vourse, recentcommentator on blogs-Lawrence Kaplan also was on the program there.

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    Somehow, I get the impression that the average Charedi man and woman in the street could really care less about what the MO and secular worlds think of their world. This looks like a warmed up version of D CS’s famous Tradition article.

  10. nachum klafter says:

    “Has anyone hareidi ever expressed the question of why the hareidi viewpoint was not solicited at all?”

    Because these academics are not planning during this conference to listen to what Haredim say and feel about being Haredi. They are interested in Haredim, Haredi life, Haredi beliefs as academic scholars of religion.

    They are studying Haredim academically. They might also find it interesting to dialogue with Haredim, interview Haredim, debate Haredim, etc., but the focus of this conference is academic discussions by academic Judaic scholars.

    Al derekh moshol: Let’s imagine that a group of great Torah gaonim held a conference on Agunos. The program included a serious of shiurim by gedolim on different aspects of the halakhic issues of contemporary agunos. Would you say, “Why isn’t there an aguna speaking at this conference?” No, you wouldn’t. Probably most of those Torah scholars would have dealt with and spoken with many agunos, but that doesn’t mean they need to speak at the conference.

  11. nachum klafter says:

    MOre on this: From an academic point of view, MOdern Orthodoxy, Religious Zionism, and Haredi-ism are all ‘new’ forms of Judaism which did not exist before modernity. From a Torah perspective, none of them are new.

    A modern Orth. Jew will feel that Modern Orthodoxy is the most valid and historically continuous version of Judaism. He believes that it is just “Judaism” and that if Rabbi Akiva were alive today, he’d be the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Yitzchok Elchonon. A Haredi Jew will feel the same about ‘his’ Judaism, and has no doubt that Rabbi Akiva would be giving the top shiur at the Mir or at Brisk. But that way of thinking is all from a Torah perspective and not an academic perspective.

    From an academic perspective, Haredi-ism is a response to modernity. The academic perspective is that if not for Reform, Conservative, the Enlightenment, inclusion of Jews in modern societies, etc., there would be no need to form insular enclaves, to write pashkevils, to ban books, to designate stricter modesty standards, to form mishmarei ha-tzeniyut, to restrict women’s higher education, etc. Their might be great flaws in their analyses, and if you would read their papers you wouold be able to respond and clarify. From a Torah perspective a lot of this is irrelevant to us, but from an academic perspective it is all very significant. From an academic perspective, Haredi Judaism is one of the most fascinating and complex religious phenomena in the world. Take it as a compliment that they are interested.


    What I find interesting is that when there was a Conference at Tel-Aviv U on Haredim and the Holocust (in which I particapted), Shira Schmidt criticized the organizers for the fact that no Haredi scholars were invited, but she does not make this criticism about the Van Leer Confernece. I have the feeling that the difference is that regarding the TAU conference there was a Haredi scholar on the subject who should have been invited, Esther Farbstein. The question re the Van Leer Conference is whether there is Haredi academic scholar of the current Haredi community who similarly ought to have been invited, but was not.

  13. YM says:

    I disagree with those who would characterize “Haredism” as a “response to modernity”. If you learn Chovos HaLevavos or Mesillas Yesharim, it it clear that Haredism aspires to the perfection of divine service as described in those sefarim. Other “flavors” and “denominations” do not aspire to this at all. Haredism is the mesorah of what we always aspired to.

  14. Ada Jacobowitz says:

    This looks like a warmed up version of D CS’s famous Tradition article.

    Comment by Steve Brizel — November 13, 200

    Who is D CS??
    What is the article in Tradition that you are referring to??

  15. joel rich says:

    Even accepting your assertion (which I don’t)

    1. See the original post “just how dynamic and varied are the chareidi sectors (plural, there is no one sector)”

    2. Do you ever wonder why those sefarim were written at those points in history? Are you sure they capture every possible approach chazal envisioned, encouraged or allowed for?


  16. nachum klafter says:

    Yes, that is why I say that there may be large flaws in the academic analysis. I am just trying to clarify what an academic conference on Haredi beliefs and practices is about. An academic view of Haredi beliefs and practices is, by definition, NOT a Haredi view. The Haredi view is that this is the most authentic articulation of the mesorah. The academic view is supposed to be neutral on questions like that, and would attempt to look at how each religious community or movement defines itself, what the forces were/are that led to that community’s current structure, how this represents or differs from other historical religious movements, how econonimcs, politics, etc. all factor it.

    However, I think it is unrealistic to think that the following historical realities do not have an impact on Haredi approaches to hashkafa:

    1. The modern State of Israel
    2. Secular Zionism
    3. Religious Zionism
    4. Heretical and heterodox movements (Reform, Conservative)
    5. The Shoah
    6. Feminism
    7. Sexual permisiveness and immodesty in the sourounding western cultures and societies
    8. The enlightenment and the inclusion of Jews in western governments, businesses, professions, academics, etc.
    9. Mass communication and globalization, and the easy accessibility to religious leaders on the other side of the world.
    10.Israeli military service
    11.The economics of kollel life in Israel and North America
    12.The Hassidic movement and the misnaggedim
    13.Modern Orthodoxy and modern orthodox institutions
    14.Religious political parties in the Kenesset
    15.The expectation in liberal western societies that everyone should be college educated, and then tendency of Jews to pursue gradute level educations.
    16.The discoveries and theories of modern science which clash with traditionalist beliefs about creation.

    What academic scholars are paying attention to might seem irrelevant since you are fulfilling ratzon HaShem in the manner which you and your rebbeim see being most consistent with the vision of Chazal. But I think it would be hard to deny that the above factors (among many others–this was just a list off the top of my head) which did not exist until the Modern period are very powerful influences on Haredi identity, Haredi beliefs, Haredi educational institutions, Haredi communal structures, Haredi leadership dynamics, politics, etc.

    The same can be said about any other Jewish religious community, group, or movement. In generaly, the existence of the Reform and Conservative moements has a tremendous impact on Orthodoxy. There wasn’t even such a thing as “Orthodoxy” until there was institutionalized heresy. It was just “Judaism”.

  17. dr. william gewirtz says:

    YM you helped hit the nail on the head! Academics say that charedism is a response to modernity, and you say that “Haredism is the mesorah of what we always aspired to.” What you assert is a part of the charedi belief system – all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu, or perhaps earlier, practice did not change. Academics discuss the changes that they claim have occurred particularly/even in the last 150 years. Often that is subject to fact based analysis. Academics often purport to demonstrate that history supports their conclusions; charedim tend to place less of a premium on historical accuracy. Academics whether or not they are so in reality, claim to be bound by historical accuracy; charedim have on occasion demonstrated/declared a higher regard for a different standard. In that context there may be little basis for useful conversation.


    From a strictly scholarly point of veiw, Dr. Benny Brown, the author of a wonderful thesis on the Hazon Ish and probably the leading scholar of Haredi ideology active today, has argued that the view of Prof. Jacob Katz and his students that Haredism and Orthodoxy in general is primarily a response to modernity underplays the movements traditonal roots in pre-modern traditonal Judaism. The jury is still out.

  19. Toby Katz says:

    I don’t believe people who say, “No I wouldn’t like to be a fly on the wall at a meeting full of people talking about ME.” Of course charedim are fascinated by what other people say about charedim — good or bad, accurate or off the wall. Everybody is fascinated by what other people think of him, it’s human nature.

  20. YM says:

    Nobody would argue that the Haredi communit hasn’t changed over the last 150 years. The false argument is that the Haredi community is just another response to modernity. The truth is that the Haredi approach has a historic continuity with the everything that went before in Rabbinic Judaism: the Achronim, the Rishonim, The Geonim, the Amoraim, and the Tannaim. It represents what the leadership of the Jewish world always stood for.

  21. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “the view of Prof. Jacob Katz and his students that Haredism and Orthodoxy in general is primarily a response to modernity underplays the movements traditonal roots in pre-modern traditonal Judaism.” (Comment by LAWRENCE KAPLAN — November 16, 2007 @ 2:46 pm).

    I’m confused: If Orthodoxy exists only as a response to modernity, then what exactly WAS traditional Judaism?

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