Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Austritt Psychology

I want to try to characterize the psychological /attitudinal profile of a Jewish secessionist. They are meant to apply to the many cases described in my last two posts to a greater or lesser extent. In some instances one or other of the characteristics does not apply at all. (As a philosophical aside, if the following is adequate it shows that it is possible to explicate a concept without giving a definition, i.e. necessary and sufficient conditions. I feel that many of the ideological problems Jews face stem from an essentialist philosophy. An essentialist believes being an X (Jew, UO, M0, heimish, etc.) can be given an essentialist definition thus allowing for the move "you call that an X? He believes or does Y.")

Some of the main characteristics are:

Dualism …They tend to divide the world between the “good” insiders and the demonized “bad” outsiders. Sometimes this is put in Jewish theological terms as a difference between the chosen of Israel and the mixed multitude (erev rav). Israel draws on holiness whereas the outside group sustains itself from the forces of impurity. There are multiple metaphors for characterizing the inside versus the outside. The common thread is the distinction is being used for religious political aims. In modern times and in America, there’s less of a tendency to characterize the opposition as working for the satanic dark side. In the Jerusalem based anti-Zionist literature, describing secular Zionists as part of the “other” side (sitra achra) is very common.

Separatism…Because the outside is demonized, it is of utmost importance to separate from the evil ones. This separation takes many different forms. In Ultra-Orthodox circles, it even requires the religious person to be visibly different from non-religious Jews, hence the outfits, the beard, and all the rest. In the old days, the Edah Hacharedis refused to speak Hebrew because it was the language of the evil Zionists. The obligation of separation is absolute and requires that the inside and the outside group should have very little contact. Modern Orthodox differentiate themselves, to some extent, by relaxing these restrictions. It is no accident, on my view, that the Frankfurt secessionists were, in their heyday, also very much anti-Zionist. Better to wait for the Messiah who will vanquish the secular Zionists than to compromise and build Eretz Yisrael with the secular enemy. The austritt yekkes felt any activity that would strengthen the forces of secularism even if they also benefited was wrong.

Hatred towards the outside demonized group... Under hatred I include any combo of the following attitudes: abhorrence, abomination, acrimony, alienation, antagonism, antipathy, aversion, coldness, contempt, detestation, disapproval, hostility, loathing, militancy, prejudice, rancor, revulsion, scorn. (Sort of reminds one of multiples of the 10 plagues.) Generally these attitudes are projected onto the outsider, and it is therefore assumed that these feelings are reciprocated. Sometimes they are, sometimes the projection is imaginary. For example, all these attitudes in different degrees, depending on the person, characterize charedi attitudes to Reform and secular Jews. Many, many Israeli secular Jews unfortunately have similar attitudes going the other way.

Negative attitudes to more moderate factions… Within the religious camp those who don’t share the radical view are subject to particular negative attitudes; thus, the antagonism of anti-Zionist charedim to those who compromise with the despised Zionists. The old Agudah’s attitude to the Religious Zionists and the current Edah Hacharedis attitude to the Agudah both fall under this heading. The main reason for the negative attitudes is that they cause a blurring and merging between the Zionist and anti-Zionist camps which, if all was proper, would be kept totally separate. The general idea is that the biggest danger comes from the group you interface and with whom you share some common assumptions. If the compromising groups wouldn’t exist, the difference between the right and wrong way, between good and evil and light and darkness would be transparent. Grey is the enemy of salvation. Similarly and to a much lesser extent MO let it rip when they think of groups that are to the left but nominally inside the Orthodox camp. Some/many YU people are upset with the new seminary YCT because the graduates are to the left of them and still insist on calling themselves Orthodox. Special scorn is reserved for those who say the times have changed and new more accommodating attitudes are necessary. The charedim have no hesitation in saying nature has changed radically since Creation. They can’t tolerate the idea that times have changed since Sinai. Examples of rabbis who were especially vilified as wolves in sheep’s clothing are: Rabbi Goren, Rabbi Hildesheimer, Rav Kook, Rabbi Lieberman and Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik.

Demonic explanations for minority status…Part of the austritt psychology is to be unimpressed with its own relative minority status. The fact that eleven out of thirteen million Jews are not Orthodox counts for less than nothing. “They are children who have been kidnapped in an early age and are ignorant,” is one typical explanation. (See my posts of 10/3 and 10/4). I remember hearing as a child someone say, “If every Jew in the world became a Zionist and there were only ten Jews left who recognized ‘the truth,’ it would be more than enough.”

Intense messianic expectations… Some secessionist groups exhibit an intense longing for the Messiah and a conviction that one is either IN messianic times or PRE-messianic times. They’re also convinced that the demonized doctrines and group is responsible for prolonging the exile and preventing the arrival of the true Messiah. Scaling down a bit, there is the view that Jewish people would be much better off if everyone signed on for the view in question. By way of contrast, most liberal Jews today do not feel that there is any special significance if everyone became liberal. In fact, they are happy that at least some Jews are religious. They don’t believe that Orthodox Jewry must be brought around to the correct doctrine only known to them.

So what should one say about this type of secessionist person? I think it depends largely on how one was raised. I myself feel perfectly comfortable being with those who express these attitudes, having heard one or another of these doctrines pretty much my whole life. Someone who was raised on a steady diet of tolerance and pluralism would find such views immediately abhorrent. My only problem is that I’m also deeply committed to trying to understand the world around me, and if I go pooh-pooh-pooh too early, I’ll understand nothing. For me, the task is to combine empathy for all Jews with the more gung-ho feelings of “it’s us against them forever.” The latter besides being important in maintaining group cohesion is frequently lots of fun. Sometimes too much fun. I also feel that what is good for a stripe is frequently bad for the Jewish people as a whole; and I am sort of sweet on Jews, all Jews...what I call the Jewish people.

Postscript: The core idea how to characterize the extreme end of the Edah Hacaredis is due to Yehuda Liebes. (See Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 1982.) I remembered the article after I wrote my post on Frankfurt. I have tried to generalize the core ideas, and added new examples, additional jargon, etc. All the mistakes are mine. In the article Liebes undertakes a detailed discussion of the doctrines of Rav Asher Zelig Margolioth, a major thinker of the anti- Zionist Edah Hacharedis. It was Rabbi Margolioth, a Munkaczer chasid, who arranged for the visit of the Munkaczer Rebbe, the Minchas Elazar, with the Jerusalem mkubal and tzadik, R. Shlomo Alfandrai. It is well known, that the purpose of the meeting was for the two to force the coming of the messiah. Their efforts failed. The rest is, as they say, history. World War II followed soon thereafter.


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