The next day Harry put up another post which presented a totally different perspective. In this one, he wrote in glowing terms about all the positive qualities he sees in the chareidi community: Their dedication to god, their single-minded commitment to learning torah, their countless chesed projects, their efforts to do every mitzvah in the nicest way. These and other various examples demonstrate the positive side of chareidi life. Unsurprisingly, this post garnered appreciation from those who had taken issue with the first post, and earned him praise for painting such an accurate picture of who they really were.
One thing is clear [sic] evident is that you know very little about what chareidim are and stand for.
But you have to wonder - how can one group elicit such dramatically different portrayals? Which of these depictions truly represents the chareidi community? Are they really a bunch of superficial, xenophobic fundamentalists? Or are they a group of spiritually sensitive, kindhearted and generous scholars? Which is it?
As I read these pieces, I found myself somewhat agreeing with both pictures that he painted. As odd as it might seem, they're both true. Both these sets of qualities can be found to a large degree throughout these communities. One simple explanation for this discrepancy is the obvious fact that no community, not even one that preaches conformity like the chareidi community does, is entirely monolithic. Although they all like to place themselves within the expansive tent of 'chareidi' ideology, there is actually a broad spectrum in which one can find a wide range of behaviors and perspectives. But although this is true, I think there's an even more key issue to understand. When looking at these contrasting perspectives it's imperative to realize that one is an expression of the ideal chareidi community and the other is the actual reality of what you find in the community.
Chareidi society is a very idealistic place. The standards in that culture are set incredibly high. So it's true, in a sense, that they are all about serving god, doing good, and learning torah. If you asked any person in the chareidi world, he would tell you that these ideals are in fact exactly what the chareidi community is all about.
But if you look just a little bit closer at that world, you'll find that although they have these wonderfully admirable ideals, the actual day-to-day norms which are prevalent among its members are so unbelievably far from those ideals, one would be hard pressed to draw any plausible connection between the two. The reality falls very short of the ideal. Yes, the ideal is that they encourage people to devote themselves to pure torah study. But the reality is that that policy translates into vast numbers of people spinning their wheels unproductively, and wasting years of their lives on something they have no inclination for. Only a very select few have the mettle to live up to the ideal in the way it should be done. The vast majority find themselves frustrated and bitter, and the consequences are an economically crippled society. Yes, they have an admirable ideal of promoting Jewish continuity by raising large families, but the reality is that hardly any have the practical, financial, and psychological wherewithal to properly undertake such a responsibility. Instead, as a result of a misguided effort to live up to that ideal, far too many families struggle with high levels of dysfunction and family instability, which consequently causes all sorts of other problems in their society.
When those people took offense at Harry's depiction of the chareidi community, they were partly right. Those aren't the sort of practices the community defines itself with. But the sad reality is that those sorts of attitudes and practices are actually very commonplace in the community.
So I guess the question is - how should a community be defined? By its ideals, or by its adherents?