- the increasing influence of the extremist elements in the frum world
- trusting rabbis
However, in today’s day and age, thanks to the increase in our levels of torah observance and the tremendous proliferation of all the wonderful yirei shamayim, ba’alei madreiga, and gedolei torah that have filled our ranks, being frum is something else entirely. Normal, it isn’t. Enjoyable, it doesn’t even pretend to be. What we have today is something only vaguely recognizable to what existed barely a generation ago. True, the world has changed, and certain measures may be justified, but the degree to which frum society has become such an unpleasant, repressive, intolerant and narrow-minded culture can not be based on external factors alone.
When I was going through yeshiva, I often pointed out to some of the more moderate rabbeim I dealt with how proponents of extremist views make Judaism so unpleasant for people like me. They often were sympathetic to my frustrations, and encouraged me to try to find my own niche where these views weren’t present and I wouldn’t have to put up with inanities such as those. Yet, they wouldn’t ever take a stand (even privately) against promoters of the stringent views. They always maintained that these figures were ehrliche yidden, following their gedolim, who themselves were following their established mesorah, and were not to be viewed as unacceptable. The farthest I ever heard any rabbi go was to criticize their methods, but the goal of these factions (supposedly that of protecting the Torah, and increasing observance of mitzvos) was always unassailable. "They’re derech is not the way we do things", they’d say, "but it’s a derech that is based in Torah."
While recent incidents like the Slifkin controversy truly turn my stomach when I see how these fanatics are becoming increasingly more powerful and influential, I have to admit that I enjoy seeing how those same rabbis who were always too hesitant to criticize these figures, are now finding themselves on the receiving end of the extremism. The uncomfortable position that they find themselves in is truly amusing.
On the one hand, they’ve been trying to pass themselves off as moderate, as sophisticated, as being in touch with the modern Jew, understanding of the subtle conflicts that an educated person deals with, and offering a Judaism that caters to these sensibilities. On the other hand, they desperately need to maintain their "frum credentials", and if they come across too agreeable to modernishkeit they will suffer the wrath of the frumkeit watchdogs. So at the same time that they’re pandering to the modern sensibility, they’re also professing absolute loyalty to da’as torah, halacha, mesorah, and of course, the gedolim.
No one’s surprised that when push comes to shove, they will always faithfully take the side of the gedolim. But what’s so humorous about this situation is seeing these supposedly "with-it" rabbis now being forced to take positions that they themselves are truly uncomfortable with. The fence they once were able to straddle no longer exists. At this point, the extremism has so permeated the mainstream approach to frumkeit, and is supposedly being promoted by the current crop of roshei yeshiva and gedolim that if they really believe they’re own shpiel about submission to da’as torah being paramount, then they necessarily must adopt these views too. So, while 15-20 years ago, they didn’t see such a problem with keeping quiet about certain trends developing in frum society, now those trends have snowballed into outright lunacy, and these rabbis are being forced to reap what they’ve sown.
- For example, back then they might not have had a problem with those who were discouraging interaction between the sexes, but now those same ideologues are pushing for the need for separate busses, even separate streets in certain locations, forbidding healthy and normal socialization and in general promoting a social norm that is frighteningly similar to those found in repressive Muslim societies.
- Whereas in prior years, they would have silently ignored certain vocal elements in the frum world as some of their views were harshly criticized, confident that their opinions were still accepted in the mainstream, now the mainstream has rejected their approach as heretical.
- Whereas before they extolled the trend to encourage more and more torah study, emphasizing it’s primacy over "secular" studies, now they find themselves dealing with a community that is wholly unprepared to face the challenges of the modern era, incapable of supporting themselves, utterly ignorant of established scientific facts, and lacking in the most basic of critical thinking skills.
- Whereas in an earlier generation they were complimentary of the trend towards increasing levels of torah observance, now they find themselves dealing with a community that is obsessed with obscure rituals and stringencies to a degree that is unprecedented in Jewish history; a community that is so focused on the letter of the law that the concept of "the spirit of the law" is absolutely foreign to them.
- Whereas before they might have quietly gone along with the trend to avoid "non-torah" sources of information such as secular newspapers, nowadays the recommended resource for news and information comes from organs that are merely mouthpieces for their leaders own agendas and who’s only objective is to present their community in a positive light, liberally dispensing with such journalistic notions as fairness, objectivity, truth, and avoiding slander and libel.
- Whereas before they might have sided with groups who were strongly critical of Zionist institutions, now they find those same groups supporting murderers of Jews.
- Whereas before they might have been understanding of the community’s tendency to distrust "the goyim", nowadays they have to deal with rabbinic figures who expound racist views.
- Whereas before they preferred the idea of taking care of problems in the community privately without involving the authorities, now they find that this policy has left them with no effective means of combating criminals and deviants who have used this system to gain positions of great influence, all the while using their positions to exploit and harm innocent people. Self-appointed vigilantes who openly commit criminal acts and ruin innocent people’s lives, reputations, and livelihoods have free reign.
These people have ruined Judaism enough already. Our leaders have proven themselves to be untrustworthy and incompetent to combat this blight. I hope and pray that this incident will be the wake up call that the frum world needs to realize how badly their society has degenerated. Maybe when the stench is too strong to ignore they will finally do something about it. And maybe then, when we see them caring about matters of truth and justice more than they do about frumkeit images and superficialities, those of us who left it out of disgust and frustration may be willing to give it a second chance.
(Eh, who am I kidding?!)
Update: Check out this great spoof.
Second Update: Chakira chimes in with a worthwhile analysis. At the end, he mentions that he wrote about this a year ago and was written off as being too paranoid about people on the fringe of the frum community. This illustrates exactly the point I was making above. These people used to be on the fringe, and now they have become mainstream.