Thursday, December 6, 2007

Can "Walmart" Destroy the Haredi World?

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz of Project YES has an interesting article, “Walmart is coming,” in which he uses the analogy of Walmart to describe the threat posed to the Haredi world by the internet. Walmart can provide a whole array of different products all at a cheap price. If you an owner of a mom and pop store in a small town, not used to any competition, Walmart is likely going to destroy you. The only way to survive is to innovate. You need to give people, who have Walmart to shop at, a reason to still shop by you. The internet is, as Rabbi Horowitz observes, “the Haskalah on Steroids.” It provides a world of options at the click of a button. The Haredi educational system is built around the mom and pop store model. It assumes that students do not have other options and that they will continue to accept what they are taught simply because that is the way things should be. Will the Haredi world learn to adept itself to this new world or will they go the way of thousands of small mom and pop stores around the country?
Rabbi Horowitz is without question the blogosphere’s favorite Haredi rabbi for his honest and insightful criticism’s of the Haredi world. What perplexes me, at times, about Rabbi Horowitz is how he still views himself as part of the Haredi world and has not declared himself Modern Orthodox. Many of the things that he criticizes Haredim for are not simply problems that the Haredi world has but things that by definition make the Haredi world what it is. This article on Walmart and the internet is an excellent example of this.
Rabbi Horowtiz talks about the internet as “the Haskalah on Steroids.” What made the original Haskalah so dangerous? One needs to understand that the Haredi world is built around a paradigm of obedience. A Haredi Jew submits himself to the authority of his community, the Gedolim and Chazal. There is no room of an individual, as an individual, to judge, let alone challenge, these institutions. The original Haskalah of two-hundred years ago built itself around a paradigm of the individual. As Immanuel Kant argued in his famous essay, “What is Enlightenment:” the enlightened individual is one who is not bound by the authority of tradition. Everything must be judged before the bar of reason. What is important here is not the acceptance or rejection of the claims made by traditional authorities, but the right of the individual to judge those traditional authorities. Once you admit that the individual can judge traditional authority than that traditional authority has already lost. It no longer has any real power and must bow before the feet of the individual. In a similar vein C.S Lewis, in his essay “God in the Dock,” argued there that the essential sift to modernity lay in how man viewed his relationship to God’s judgment. In the pre-modern world man viewed himself as standing in the dock, being judged by God. In the world of modernity the roles have been switched. It is no longer man being judged by God, but man judging God. God now stands in the dock and man sits in judgment.
I am not here to judge between these worldviews, that is a discussion for a different post. What is important here are the different worldviews and the stakes attached to them.
(To be continued …)


Shana said...

BZ...I could always argue that the Haskalah created Hareidism.

In some ways we are still stuck in a reactionary period and are waiting to slowly come out of it (go independent minyan scene?)

Izgad said...

100% the modern Haredi world is as much a child of modernity as the Enlightenment it claims to fight against.
The great irony of fundamentalist movements is that the very act of trying to go back to a past makes you different than those who lived in the past.
Read Karen Armstrong's book on fundamentalism "The Battle for God."

Shana said...

I still want to read Mark Lilla's Book on the the subject...he was amazing when I took him as a professor, though a tough professor. (For all those Columbia students out there....though he might have been doing the Uchicago thing at the time by being a tough grader....that and I have a very hard time stating my opinion.)