Monday, November 2, 2009

Shidduch Crisis, Shabbos Elevators and the Internet

In the last few weeks there have been a spate of articles in the Jewish press regarding the pressing issues of the haredi day ranging from the problems resulting from the paucity of men for appropriate shidduchim to b’nos yisroel; issues of shmiras shabbos - the use of the classic shabbos elevators; and the perennial nightmare of the encroaching internet into the lives of haredim and threatening their bayis neeman. What to do? After all, the future of the Jewish people depends on how the gedolim approach each of these super sensitive, fateful issues threatening the rhythm, cadence and survival of the Jewish people.

While each of these issues is seemingly different and unrelated, they all have the same common denominator: the rabbinic obsessive preoccupation with relevancy in the face of a radically changing world where they are becoming marginalized. Over the years I have addressed the phenomenon of daas torah and the thought police within the haredi community.

In the instance regarding the dearth of eligible men, 60 rabbis signed off on a silly approach whereby young men are encouraged to marry older women. Accordingly young men should relinquish their option to choose a younger bride, perhaps a prettier more talented and alluring woman as a gesture of self-sacrifice – for the good of the community; to do as the rabbis suggest. As if that would solve the problem. They are so determined to hold on to power they will grasp at straws not understanding the dynamics of the social revolution taking place within their own communities. Perhaps there was a time when they would have been able to manipulate and socially engineer the community – but no more. Those days are over.

With regard to the elevator crisis 4 prominent haredi leaders including non other than Rabbi Y.S. Elyashiv banned the use of shabbos elevators. Apparently there is a concern that body weight contributes in the descent to increased electrical usage but not to its ascent (this probably fits in homiletically to Jacob’s ladder where angels were ascending and only then descending). Imagine the problem these four rabbanim have caused to all those wealthy haredim who planned on travel to hotels or ascending and descending their apartments on Shabbat! I don’t imagine for a moment that these balabatim and their families will recluse themselves fro 24 hours every seven days!

The last remaining issue is that presented by the Belzer Rebbe who has just woken up and outlawed the Internet. Imagine that. A little late (I guess Yanukas are late bloomers). After all the trains been out of the station for the past twenty years. Where has he been? The computer and Internet are so ubiquitous that it would be rare not to find it hidden in the closet of your typical haredi family. Is the Belzer Rebbe kidding? After all it was his ancestor Rebbe Yehoshua Rokeach (the 2nd in the line) who launched the newspaper Machzike Hadas (employing maskilim as journalists) at great umbrage of many of his contemporaries such as the Gerer Rebbe (who burned the newspaper when it was sent to him) because he would be getting into bed with the maskilim.

The key to understanding the psyche of these rabbis in their desperation to hold on to power and control is their old style approach of micro managing as is so well documented in Shulchan Aruch. It worked during the middle ages and as long as there was ignorance, dependency on the community for a livelihood (more so with a Hasidic rebbe), a ghetto, and the clinging to the old ways. The enlightenment sounded the death knell for that life style; it was just a matter of time. While the liberal communities fell to modernity pell mell, the orthodox communities managed to hold on to late in the 20th century. But the unstoppable encroachments have made great strides and there is no turning back.

It must be enormously frustrating to these rabbanim who are doing whatever they can in their power to hold back the floodwaters. To their credit, they are doing as good a job as can be expected. But all they have done is slow down the on coming storm and perhaps delay the inevitable. In so far as they have been able to, the tide has not turned into a tidal wave, but rather a steady but insidious stream of modernity, slowly eroding the entrenched value system (as the steady dripping of water on a rock forms a fissure), which must ultimately give way to some morphed version that won’t be a total concession to modernity but won’t be the haredi version of Judaism that we know today.