Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A few days ago, one of Israel's dynamic young Admorim convened a small meeting. (An aside: has anyone noticed that many of those who can be called "dynamic young Admorim" are from modern backgrounds? Some examples: the son of Sternberg the lawyer, the son of Brayer the psychologist and the son of Weinberg the ministry official. [Can anyone name them?])

Anyway, it was a group of about a dozen people representing charedim and chilonim (including one or two emeritus members of each). The participants included well-known figures from the Eida Chareidis, editors of major newspapers, etc. The purpose was to flesh out a project of joint interest to both groups. It began benignly enough with the usual bromides and the usual airing of grievances. Things got interesting when a very prominent lawyer (VPL), a former Ponovizher with ongoing social ties to that world (he was on the Haredi "side" of the table), was asked to state his views on the matter at hand.

VPL launched into one of the most remarkable soliloquies I've ever heard. This is the gist of what he said:
1. There is no point in dialogue unless it is based on complete honesty. Both charedim and chilonim are fundamentally dishonest with themselves and, consequently, with each other.
2. Charedim have an inflated view of their own power due to the ability of Shas to project Charedi power that is actually nothing but a short-lived optical illusion.
3. The fact that so few people in the charedi world earn income, a relatively recent phenomenon, has led to debilitating poverty. Worse than that, it has led to an unprecedented level of dependency on the government, which is the exact antithesis of ostensible charedi aims.
4. The charedi world, and especially its leading lights, used to be exposed to a broad range of experiences and people, but now lives in a bubble. As a result, it is completely devoid of any intellectual creativity. Not a single book on machshava has come out of the charedi world in the last 50 years that has any value at all.
5. The few people in the charedi world who actually have something interesting to say are scared to death to say it because the charedi world is actually run by thugs who intimidate everyone, including leading rabbonim.
6. Chiloni Israelis once claimed to be developing a secular Jewish culture but this claim is no longer even slightly credible. Secular Israeli culture now consists almost entirely of imitation of the most debased aspects of American culture.

All this was stated with great passion and eloquence. None of the content was especially novel; it was mainly of interest because of the audience in front of which it was said. But, as it turns out, what was most remarkable was the response by one of the leaders of the Eida Charedis. As best I can recall, these were his exact words:

"My job is to defend the honor of my community and to explain to you why everything that VPL just said is false. Unfortunately, I am unable to do that. Every word he said is the sad truth. That's all I have to say."