The Tolling of The Forward’s Bell of Hatred

Call them what you will — ultra-Orthodox Jews, “fervently Orthodox” Jews, Haredim, black hats. They will soon become the majority of affiliated Jews in the metropolitan New York area, and the religious majority in Israel. The results will be catastrophic.

So begins Forward contributing editor Jay Michaelson’s extraordinary appeal for the development of a New York yevsektsia to thwart, as his piece is entitled, “the creeping Jewish fundamentalism in our midst.”

That fundamentalism is responsible for a variety of vices and sins, claims Michaelson, reciting a litany of real and imagined haredi crimes. He does not make it so clear how those sins impact the lives of non-haredi Jews, but the thought that haredim of various stripes will take over is reason enough for panic. After telling us that he has their well-being in mind, he launches into his action plan:

We are abandoning thousands of our fellow Jews to this hierarchy of power and abuse. We are doing nothing to help them….Demographers tell us that 49% of New York’s Jewish children are Haredi (either Hasidic or “yeshivish”). Especially in light of non-Orthodox disaffiliation, New York Jewry, within a generation, will be fundamentalist, poor, uneducated and reactionary. Non-Orthodox Jews will look like the secular Persians … now a minority oppressed by fundamentalists. The good news is that since we are propping up this system, we have the power to weaken it.

What we need, then, is Jews going on the offensive against other Jews. What the Uptown Jews of early 20th century New York couldn’t accomplish by benign neglect against their poor cousins of the nether parts of Manhattan, Michaelson advocates doing through direct action against the haredim of Brooklyn:
We don’t have to compel anyone to change his or her religious beliefs. We just have to stop artificially propping up a system that otherwise would not exist. For example? We can demand an end to all federal and state subsidies to yeshivas that do not prepare students for contemporary economic and civic life. We can oppose all Jewish-fundamentalist efforts to take advantage of government or Jewish communal largess.

The sweeping generalizations, the incitement, the demonization make the piece a study in evil – and poor judgment on the part of The Forward’s editorial staff that allowed the piece to be published under their imprimatur. Allowing Jonathan Rosenblum to respond (setting off a literary subway series between the two submissions) does not compensate for that lapse. (Jonathan, bless him, wisely decided not to debate Michaelson on the (de)merits of his screed, but used the opportunity to convey truths about the haredi community to the readership of the paper.)

What is really behind this piece?

We fail to act because, I think, deep in the hearts of non-Orthodox Jews there lingers the belief that the Haredim are the real Jews, or the safeguards of our future, or perhaps the sweet, cuddly Tevyes of our imagined Yiddish roots.

Not really. What lingers is the reality that non-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel are quickly disappearing, and are more self-conscious of becoming irrelevant to the entire Jewish enterprise. The Orthodox are not the safeguards of “our future,” anymore. There is no real “our” that remains. If a Jew is someone who identifies with the history of the Jewish people, past, present and future, the non-Orthodox are beginning to realize that they don’t have a shot at the last of those three. The effects of a devastating cocktail of forces are now obvious to all. The non-Orthodox are plagued by intermarriage, late marriage, small families, declining affiliation, and embarrassment – rather than exuberance – about Israel. To the Orthodox will go the future not because of any wrongdoing on their part (although we certainly ought to recognize too much of that to make any of us triumphalist), but abdication on the part of the non-Orthodox. (Michaelson himself is triply challenged in regard to any link to the future. He is a champion of “alternate spirituality,” sour on Israel, and a gay activist.)

And so we get to the point of this short essay. My guess is that many who read Michaelson’s piece thought to themselves, “Yes, it’s offensive. But he doesn’t really mean me, even if he includes the “yeshivish.” He just doesn’t recognize the difference between us and the benighted Chassidim.” Alternatively, “Yes, it’s offensive. But he certainly doesn’t mean me. I am Modern Orthodox. He even says he sees them as allies in his struggle against the primitives.”

Think again. The rage burning in Michaelson is like the candle whose fuel is spent, described by the Netziv at the beginning of Vezos HaBeracha. Just before its final moment, it manages one last flare-up. He is not disturbed so much by the problems of extremism in the haredi world as by the fact that he will have no connection with the future of New York Judaism – in the short run, at this point, not the long one. Haredim make easy targets at the moment to a journalist. It is, however, the triumph of Orthodoxy that he resents, and it matters not which variety. He is equally distant from all of them.

Those of us who saw the piece as directed at “others” shouldn’t delude ourselves. Get used to the idea of a growing resentment towards everything Orthodox by the non-Orthodox. As John Donne put it, “Therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

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22 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    Allowing Jonathan Rosenblum to respond (setting off a literary subway series between the two submissions) does not compensate for that lapse. (Jonathan, bless him, wisely decided not to debate Michaelson on the (de)merits of his screed, but used the opportunity to convey truths about the haredi community to the readership of the paper.)

    yes R’jr shows “truths” but by not addressing the major points (i agree they were written in screedlike form), the average reader may say “that’s interesting informatiom but it doesn’t respond to my concern”

    I also wonder about the concern about policies that might be contrary to chareidi interests. I’ve had discussions with secular jews who have asked then why is there no uproar over the amount of resources going into kiruv which thet percieve as contrary to secular interests (and saying we’re right may work for us, but it doesn’t for them)

  2. Ellen says:

    And the proof that he’s fighting EVERYTHING traditional, is that he doesn’t advocate the “counter-attack” as sending money to Naftali Bennet.

    As Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlita has said, Dati Leumi have much more in common with Charedim than they have differences, and on this basis has advocated always making alliances where possible – kiruv, political, chessed, etc.

  3. dr. bill says:

    Attacking the author’s dying brand of Judaism is an easy target. And no doubt his brand of Judaism will die out. But you acknowledge he raises real issues, some of which spell the demise of chareidi streams of ultra-orthodoxy (and their transformation back to tradition) as well. It would be more helpful to address them. My view is that all extremes die out; most/many have positive impacts on the traditional community that continues ad biyat goel, vad bechlal. And hopefully what dies out are the sins/excesses not the sinners.

  4. Reb Yid says:

    To be fair about this, that was one opinion piece by one Forward columnist.

    Today, the Forward’s editor, Jane Eisner (who has been attacked on these pages before) critiques Michaelson for his viewpoint. Moreover, she puts forth an alternative narrative that is titled “The ‘Unaffiliated’ Danger Within”.

    [YA Thanks for sharing this. She did write a good piece, and should be complimented on it. It does not atone for the poor judgment in publishing Michaelson’s contemptible piece.]

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Jay Michaelson: Non-Orthodox Jews will look like the secular Persians of Iran: once the complacent majority, now a minority oppressed by fundamentalists.

    Ori: They and what army? In Israel the power of the government can be used by one Jewish group to oppress another. In the US we are, all of us together, a minority. The worst that the Jewish “other” can do to us is to ignore us, and that isn’t oppression.

    On the other hand, the suggestion to support former Charedim who want to become more secular is a Mitzvah, IMAO. When your nephew gets in a fight with your brother and runs from home, you let him in your house lest he become homeless.

  6. David says:

    “although we recognize too much of that to make any of us triumphalist”

    Halevai this were true.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Some Jews are highly offended by any Judaism that has recognizably Jewish content. Their actual religion is liberalism or something further to the left, or sometimes libertarianism (“Ayn Rand” was not exactly religious). They have grown up to believe that the poor substitute is the real thing itself.

  8. Jon says:

    Resentment of us Orthodox is nothing new. If you actually leave the daled amos of frum neighborhoods once in a while, you can detect it under the surface from C and R Jews in the suburbs.

    The question, however, is why is Michaelson wrong? Just because those were his motives in writing the piece doesn’t mean they’re wrong at all. I happen to think he’s right about everything except publicly campaigning to cut off funding to Haredi yeshivos. Why couldn’t the author here address those concerns?

    [YA – Which author do you mean? Rabbi Rosenblum, or myself? Rabbi Rosenblum couldn’t because when they give you 750-900 words, you can make one point, perhaps two. He chose, and I think he chose wisely. I didn’t because it would take a volume, not an essay. I found Michaelson’s call to arms contemptible, as well as his hysteria about what haredi growth means to the Judaism of NY. I would not dismiss his complaints as groundless. Some of those are real problems that he points to, although he overstates them. Yes, they should all be addressed and not papered over. Rabbi Rosenblum doesn’t look away from those problems, nor defends the indefensible. I don’t think I do either. We’ve certainly taken a hard look at practices in the Orthodox world over the years in Cross-Currents, and more recently in Klal Perspectives. Finding problems in a community, or even lots of problems, is not the same as delegitimizing it, which is what Michaelson does. I would not have reacted to yet another restatement of problems in parts of the Orthodox world. His treatment of those problems was over the top, and today Editor Jane Eisner pretty much conceded that this may have been so. My objective was to point to the cause of the hatred behind the incendiary piece, and to opine that it will not go away very quickly, but will spread to all forms of Orthodoxy.]

  9. Raymond says:

    Interesting idea about how the animosity that some secular Jews feel toward more traditional Jews may be little more than sour grapes. That is definitely food for thought It is also a far more generous sentiment than the rather nefarious motivation that I have in mind. See, my understanding of what the nazi movement was all about, was not, contrary to popular belief, primarily a racial or even directly ethnic in nature, but rather one of ideology and morality. That is, the real reason why the cursed adolf hitler wanted to wipe us Jews out, was because of what we Jews represent in being G-d’s Chosen People: The Absolute Morality of G-d. In his thoroughly twisted mind, he hated Jews for bringing moral conscience to the world. So really, the ones who carry on the legacy of the nazis in our day are not the racists per say, but rather anybody who has a negative default stance toward Orthodox Jews.

    That does not necessarily mean, though, that the Orthodox Jewish world is therefore free from all blame. In fact, I do think that there are certain areas that can stand some correction within the traditional Jewish world. For example, I think the secular Jews are right, in objecting to traditional Jews who live off of government welfare or other government subsidy. In fact, it is my understanding that many of our greatest Torah sages would have the same position on me as this one. Rashi was a wine merchant, and the Talmud takes the time to list the professions, often very seemingly menial ones, of some of our greatest Talmudic scholars. Even without invoking our Torah sages of centuries ago, it is plainly embarrassing whenever any of us Jews lives freely off of the hard work of others.

    Another somewhat related area where the Orthodox Jewish world needs some correction, in in the fact that too many Orthodox Jews think that somehow they have an inherent right to avoid fighting in the Israeli army. I think it is not unreasonable to take the stance that no Jew’s blood is redder than any other Jew. I personally think it is tragically sad whenever any Jew dies at the hands of our very numerous enemies.

    And finally for now, while I have heard it expressed that none of the Torah commandments are any more important than any other, I think that it also says somewhere in our tradition that how we treat one another, is more important than what our relationship is with G-d. After all, compared to G-d, we human beings really are nothing. G-d can hardly be hurt by even the worst insults we can throw at Him. How different is the case with our fellow human beings. As human beings, we are far more fragile than is usually comfortable for us to acknowledge. Therefore how we treat one another, does matter very greatly. I strongly suspect that G-d Himself cares a lot more for how we treat one another, than how pious we are toward Him. That does not mean that the latter type of commandments are not important, but on the other hand, I have come across far too many Shomer Shabbat, glatt-kosher Jews who have lacked even very basic consideration for their fellow Jews. Even more disturbing is when such Jews try to justify their cruelty toward their fellow Jews by claiming to be doing so with G-d’s tacit approval.

  10. MenachemG says:

    Why then, does Cross Currents seem to think that Yair Lapid’s hatred is directed only against Israeli Chareidim and not against all Orthodox Jews? Please remember that that bell indeed tolls for all of us.

    [YA Please identify whom you mean when you indict “Cross-Currents.” Last time I checked, CC features a few writers, all of whom differ with each other.]

  11. E. Fink says:

    With all due respect R’ Adlerstein, you have not rebutted his claims either. You’ve just told us why he you suppose he hates us. And just because we might “win” does not give us license to do as we please with no concern for what is right. It would serve our goals and needs as a community much better to actually address the many unfortunately truthful claims Michaelson makes and not focus on his motivations or mistruths.

    [YA – There are lots of us who have not shied away from pointing out the problems, and occasionally suggesting solutions. I’ve paid dearly for it. And no one does it more effectively and more consistently than Jonathan Rosenblum. Because he recognizes boundaries and limits, he can be a vehicle for change, while some bloggers can do no more than let off steam.

    You want everything in one essay? We have venues for the intelligent discussion of communal problems – like Klal Perspectives. Our ability to talk about the problems in places where people listen is one of our strengths – something not matched in other parts of the Jewish landscape.

    Which brings me to my real point. We can’t expect to marshal communal energies if we have no pride in who we are. Michaelson’s piece deserves contempt – not equanimity. Knowing who we are and what we can be proud of, we can move to finding solutions and repairing the בדק הבית

  12. David F. says:

    I’m sure there are some minor differences, but in reality, his position is not all that different than what Lapid, Bennett, and Lipman have in mind for the Charedi population in Israel. They too, just want to “save Charedim from themselves” and ensure that they don’t drag down the economy etc.

    If I recall correctly, you Rabbi Adlerstein, expressed much support for their efforts [while simultaneously stating that we only half-heartedly cheer the major realignment of the Torah world that this would cause] as did so many others here. I’m not sure why Michaelson’s plan is any different or worse. Or is it the fact that he’s made it clear that it’s not just the Charedim that he’s out to “help?”

    [YA 1) You paraphrase my position inaccurately 2) I don’t believe that Lapid or Bennet or the Israeli electorate want to stamp out Torah. They want, first and foremost, to be relieved of an economic albatross that keeps growing. As such, their concern – their urgent concern – is understandable. (I have nothing positive to say about today’s Perry Committee vote, with its introduction of criminal penalties that will undoubtedly fuel a pushback far more determined and far more effective than if Lapid’s original plan of monetary incentives and disincentives had carried the day.) Michaelson is not complaining about the extra tax burden he is shouldering, which everyone understands is a drop in the huge welfare bucket. He is frothing at the mouth over the takeover of Judaism by what he considers fundamentalists, while his more genteel Judaism withers on the vine.]

  13. DF says:

    The comments in response to the articles – always the best part – reveal a lot of people completely talking past each other. But where the Charedi view wins out, I think, is that they at least acknowledge their problems, whereas Michaelson entirely avoids them. That’s the first step to solving a problem, and Rosenblum is representative of Charedim in that sense. Even someone like Jack Wertheimer mentioned in the article, who himself might be called the Jonathan Rosenblum of Conservatives, is atypical of others in the denomination. Outside of Wertheimer, there is very few signs among the conservative (or reform) leadership of recognition that they have a problem.

    Moreover, even in the odd moments when such hand-wringing occurs, it is usually limited to angst about inter-marriage. There is no introspection at all on other issues, as though left-wing liberalism has become THE cardinal tenet of their faith. Does anyone in that movement ever reflect as to whether or not ordaining women might have been a mistake, for example? By contrast, there is a hale and healthy debate in the orthodox community on numerous fronts, on issues big and small. It’s a sign of vitality.

  14. Shades of Gray says:

    ” Just before its final moment, it manages one last flare-up.”

    I never saw this Netziv, but I remember hearing a similar idea in the name of the Chasid Yavetz explaining why there was a need for a miracle to happen to the Kohein Gadol on Yom Kippur, as mentioned in Pirkei Avos.

    “They will soon…be the religious majority in Israel. ”

    Without a screed, the question of how Charedei MK’s will govern Israel is real, assuming they will be a majority of the country.

    ” Those of us who saw the piece as directed at “others” shouldn’t delude ourselves.”

    This also sound like Martin Niemöller,

    “…Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”

    Michaelson also wrote,”in recent months, the Forward has depicted…in brilliant essays…We need a Giant Footsteps —a major federation initiative”

    R. Avroham Meir Gluck has written in 2006 “part of this process[of reflection] must include a no holds barred discussion, seeking answers to the critical question of why too many of our precious children are leaving yiddishkeit. If we, proud members of the yeshiva world, will not engage ourselves in this process, others will do it for us…” However, even when “others” try to engage in their version of “no holds barred” wrestling, they have no right to “hit below the belt” and should be fair, decent, and engage in the same self-introspection they demand of others. For example, if readers will infer from an anecdote in one of the “brilliant essays” to entire population, that is unfair on part of the writer and publisher.

  15. Stacey Ahlvers says:

    There is nothing worse than a self-hating Jew.

  16. Mr. Cohen says:

    Many times I have literally prayed to G_d that Jews,
    especially those Jews who claim to be Orthodox,
    should stop buying Orthodox-bashing newspapers.

    Many times I have prayed to G_d that Orthodox institutions
    should stop advertising in Orthodox-bashing newspapers.

    In my humble option, Jews who purchase Orthodox-bashing newspapers,
    or advertise in them, will eventually be punished by G_d [unless they repent].

  17. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The most relevant, though not necessarily the most effective response to Michaelson’s attack is, you liberal Jews out there, go have five or six kids or even four or three and raise them Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or whatever. That’s the ONLY thing that can save heterodox Judaism. Since they won’t do it, they are becoming history. Secular Israelis are far ahead of hetero/secular Jews in the Diaspora in birthrate because they are still somewhat believers. So Plan B for the future of heter Judaism is aliya. But they won’t do that either. None of the developed world except strong believers have enough reason to give bearing and rearing children the priority that will keep them around for the future. The Muslims are a paper tiger, BTW. Their birthrate is crashing much faster than the western rates. See David Goldman aka Spengler on that.

  18. Miriam A says:

    Mr. Cohen says:
    In my humble option, Jews who purchase Orthodox-bashing newspapers,
    or advertise in them, will eventually be punished by G_d [unless they repent].

    THIS is fundamentalism at its worst. This is what turns off Jews, Orthodox and not Orthodox. Constantly wrapping things in Pseudo-Torah and religion, is not a way to inspire people. When non Orthodox talk about G-d they do not see him as a Meitiv, we do not know when and why G-d will punish, we do not see the big picture. We need to work on our own middos, our own observance, and thereby change ourselves and the world.

    Threatening people that G-d is going to get them is silly.

  19. Meira Greenfeld says:

    I think Rav. Adlersteing made a great rebuttal. Michaelson claims, among other things, that having a majority of Haredim in Metropolitan New York will be catastrophic. The counterargument: “The non-Orthodox are plagued by intermarriage, late marriage, small families, declining affiliation, and embarrassment – rather than exuberance – about Israel. To the Orthodox will go the future not because of any wrongdoing on their part (although we recognize too much of that to make any of us triumphalist), but abdication on the part of the non-Orthodox.” By the way, a response need not be a rebuttal. Rav. Adlerstein, correctly points out the risk of checking the author line by line. What ensued when R. Rosenblum, (whom I greatly admire), responded was the “literary subway series” that demonstrates why a different strategy against such demonization might be in order. Sometimes it’s important to capture the entire landscape of an issue that can be lost in a point-counterpoint in which one side is simply bent on obscuring facts in a diatribe of baseless vitriol.

  20. Moshe A says:

    I would like to see some statistics that back up the claim that the Chareidi community in the United States is draining the social welfare programs, and living off of government handouts. Have any of you been down to the diamond district in the last 25 years? Or the photo/electronic areas in Manhattan? Can we have some real numbers please? What percentage of Chareidi Jews are unemployed, on food stamps, or on some other social welfare program as compared to the rest of the population of the United States? Is it more or less than Mitt Romney’s infamous 47%? I will go out on a limb here and say, ALOT LESS.

  21. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    In my comment I detected perhaps one of the better Freudian slips I ever made, writing heter Judaism instead of hetero Judaism. I stand by both what I meant to write and what I actually wrote. Thanks again for the privilege of participating in the intelligent conversation.

  22. Nathan says:

    Responding to Miriam A:

    The Biblical prophets and the Rabbis of the Talmud and all the mussar books
    threaten punishments against Jews who commit sins and fail to repent.

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