Monday, December 17, 2007

Haredi Generation Gap

In my last post I raised the question as to how someone like Rabbi Horowitz could justify remaining in the Haredi world considering his views on the internet. Rabbi Horowitz is not the only person in this predicament of viewing himself as Haredi depite being open to the world. My father sees himself as part of the Haredi world, despite the fact that many of his closest friends are reform and conservative rabbis. My cousin’s father-in-law has a PHD in history and teaches gemara at Bar-Ilan, but lives in Bnai Brak. SB, the father of a good friend of mine, strongly indentifies with his Torah V’daat education despite the fact that he has an apartment full of books on philosophy, politics and history.

Because of my father, I identified myself as being part of the Haredi world through high school. Growing up in Columbus OH, I assumed that Haredi meant people like my father; someone who meticulously kept Jewish Law. It was very easy to make this mistake since, as I was growing up in Columbus OH as the rabbi’s kid, my family was the most religious family that I knew. It never occured to me, for example, that there were Yeshivot out there who would have rejected me because my family owned a television.

I believe that what separates me from my father is the generation gap. My father and all the other people I mentioned were born before the late 1960s. Back then the Haredi world was much more of a big tent. Being part of the Haredi world meant you were deeply committed to practicing Jewish Law. It has nothing to do with not seriously studying secular subjects, banning television and banning the internet. Haredim before the late 1960s were still raised as relatively normal American kids, albeit with tzitzit and kipput. They followed sports, watched television and movies and got an education. In my experience when dealing with Haredim from that generation, even those who support not having anything to do with the secular world, if you scratch below the surface you will find that they do have a background in secular culture and that they got it honestly. The interesting thing is when you talk to their kids. The kids have no such background, at least not any that they got honestly. Do kids raised in Haredi homes know about secular things? Quite often yes. The thing is that they have gained it, usually from movies, by breaking the rules and engaging in behavior that they themselves see as wrong.

So my father was not deceiving me when he raised me to believe that being Haredi meant being meticulous with Jewish Law; that was the Haredi world he was raised in. The problem, though, is that my father’s Haredi Judaism has disappeared. What is left are eccentric intellectuals or, as in my father’s case, people who live outside of New York and therefore failed to get the message.

I have no such option available to me and it is my father's generation's fault. They failed to preserve a big tent for Orthodox Jews and my generation has to pay the price.


Daughter of Snowball said...

Just as interesting to me is the fact that the older generation, the one that came by their secular knowledge honestly, don't realize or admit that there is a generation gap.

Particularly my father.

Some of it is that one of the hallmarks of the Haredi movement is to view themselves as "traditional", in the sense that what they are doing is how it has always been done - whether or not that is accurate. So it is not considered that yeshivish communities could have looked very different back in the day - even when the evidence abounds in the form of many older yeshivish people who are now professionals with numerous graduate degrees.

Izgad said...

In defense of your father (and mine for that matter) people like him are, in many respects, far better representatives of tradition then modern day Haredi fundamentalists.
In pre 1960s Judaism your father would have made perfect sense. Living today I have no idea how he has avoided getting tarred and feathered by angry mobs.

Daughter of Snowball said...

He doesn't get tarred and feathered because he doesn't live there, and doesn't interact with those people enough for them to care. But people who have met him, when I mention to them the psak he follows on any particular issue, will always say "well, he's not really part of our community"

The problem with that is that he used to be and he hasn't moved!

Of course the people who were yeshivish pre 1960s were better representatives of tradition. But tradition has conveniently undergone a rewrite.