Sunday, December 03, 2006

Orthodox Schisms

In my last post I said that the complex of attitudes involved in a secessionist philosophy have been reinforced in so many different ways within the charedi community, it has become an almost natural reflex, and even extends to Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodoxy. I’ll rephrase this by saying Austritt eats its own. I want to spell this out in greater detail.

In Israel, the Agudah couldn’t hold itself together and has split into a Lithuanian (Degel Hatorah) and Chassidic(Agudah) factions, that then formed an alliance that now goes under the official moniker UTJ (United Torah Judaism). The great lasting coalition that Frankfurt tried to accomplish worked well until there were real spoils to divide. Then, the infighting began and, over time, the two groups could not live in peace with each other in the same political party. You might say they each seceded from each other. Each side felt that it was better to have less than half a political party that is ‘ours’ and follows the true holy and pure ideological doctrines of ‘our’ gedolim than to compromise with those ‘others’ who are not ‘us.’ It is a story worthy of Dr. Seuss.

In Israel, the Agudah, who claimed to be the legitimate representative of all Ultra-Orthodox religious Jews, could not find it in their hearts to accommodate Sefardim. They were insensitive both to their idiosyncratic cultural variations as well as their legitimate aspirations for representatives in the Knesset. The Agudah refused to divide the spoils of the elections in anything approaching a fair division. Along came Rabbi Yosef and the party that he founded, Shas, and walked away from the Agudah. It was, in my opinion, a major political blunder on the part of the Agudah. It did a disservice to charedi Jewry that will continue to be felt for many years to come. It is now possible for the secular government in power to split religious Jewry with ease, by dangling a few extra shekels or appointments to one party or the other.

In America, as many bloggers have noted and bemoaned, the Agudah/charedim have conducted a sort of ideological warfare against Modern Orthodox for many years. One year they complain about YU, the next year about some laxness in halacha; the third year, they just wink as if every right thinking charedi person understands that Modern Orthodoxy is way too modern. Lately, they have been on better behavior but the impulse to pull away from Modern Orthodoxy is as strong as ever. In Israel, the charedim have even less to do with the religious Zionists and truly form a world onto their own. In Jerusalem charedim on the north side, MO on the south side. On the other side of the divide, the MO blogging community has shown that MO Jews are not weaklings when it comes to ideological infighting. Each side seems intent on sharpening the differences. To an outsider it is sometimes difficult to discern who is pulling away from whom, though on balance I would say MO are the more collegial and the less austritt-oriented ideologically. OTOH, on the internet at least, the MO look like they are on the offensive. Maybe they are playing catch up.

Within the chasidic world itself, there have been many, many fights over the years. For one thing Chasidim started out in a spectacular austritt from the pre-chasidic unified religious world to form separatist congregations. The history of chasidus is replete with disagreements, fights and splits to a point when it became almost comical. Even in modern times, where there is some pressure to hold things together there has been a fair share of fights. One would think that Belz would have gotten along with Munkacz or Satmar. But no, there was no peace on that front. Even before Lubavitch went the way it went, it was fighting with Satmar, sometimes violently. Today, there’s nothing to talk about. Nobody deals with Lubavitch. Lubavitch itself is already divided into factions. Even in a place like Ger, which is run by a very strong rabbinical dynasty, peace and harmony is a bit iffy, and there are speculations concerning who will be the next rebbe. Most recently there are concerns that a major schism is about to occur in Bobov. And of course, there’s the spectacular Satmar crack-up that has provided its share of gossip to the press and the blogger community. The splintering of the Toldos Aharon and Spinka dynasties are two more examples worthy of independent posts. In this context it is also relevant to note that there are at least half a dozen of totally new chasidic rebbes on the scene, creation ex-nihilo, all with appropriate Polish and Hungarian appellations. Why are there new chasidic dynasties forming today unless there were breakaway chasidim from the old established dynasties?

The Frankfurt community has not exactly been great at cloning itself in more modern times. I am not up on the minutiae of yekke politics, but from Evanston it appears one segment of the community became straight out charedi- yeshivish under the leadership of Rabbi Schwab z”l. The old style Frankfurt type, to the extent that it exists, is now buried somewhere inside the more dominant ideology of Torah U’Madah. I do think it’s fair to say even Frankfurt did not emerge whole as the years progressed. (Some of the comments on my last post spell this out in somewhat greater detail, though there is much more that could be said).

Many an older yeshiva graduate will remember vividly the petty and not so petty fights (machlokes), both real and imagined, between various factions surrounding the different and sometimes mutually hostile, rosh yeshivas. If such stories are less frequent today, and I suspect they are, it is because the newer yeshivas tend to be privately owned. The fighting about issues such as the role of musar, the style of learning and other such highbrow topics was frequently constructive in that it led to a split and the creation of two new very good yeshivot.

I think it is not an exaggeration to say that traditional Jewry has been engaged in a more or less continuous three hundred and fifty years war. Sometimes the enemy was outside, sometimes within. Some battles ended peacefully, others continue to this day. It is to Orthodoxy’s credit that these ‘wars’ were conducted without weapons or violence. I shall name some of the main battles in the 350 Year War: The one hundred year battle against the neo-Sabbatians, exemplified in the monumental, ever so exciting fight between Rav Yonasan Eybeschutz and Rav Yaakov Emden and continuing from the aftermath of Sabbati Zevi and lasting until the destruction of the Frankists. There were many other skirmishes, including the fight against Rav Nossan Adler and the RaMCHal. At the height of the Emden- Eybeschutz battle, the European rabbinate was so divided that each half excommunicated (put into cherem) the other half, leaving everyone in a state of excommunication. (B’’h Daas Torah wasn’t launched in the mid-eighteenth century.) The anti- Sabbatian establishment won, but they paid heavily and their strength was diminished.

Chasidim and Mithnagdim (anti/non-chasidim)…The chasidim were excommunicated, the two groups fought and fought. Eventually they got over it, though the two groups remain more or less separate until today. How and why they got over it, how chasidim began to study Talmud in a more Lithuanian style and how mithnagdim began to treat their heads of yeshivot like chasidic rebbes are topics worthy of further discussion.

The fight against the Berlin Haskalah (Enlightenment)…interesting fight but ended in victory for traditional Jewry when the children of the Berlin circle self destructed, many becoming Christian converts.

The fight against Reform… The Reformers initially won. Today we are in the middle of the CounterReformation. The jury is still out, but the tide of battle has turned decisively in favor of the Orthodox.

The fight against foreign ideologies… maskilim modernizers,Bundism, communism, socialism, secularism, Yiddishists, and Hebraists and more…Here the record is mixed. There are by my count around 200 living American Bundists and not many more communists. OTOH, the maskilim’s program has been adopted even if they never lived to see it. Even the Neturei Karta speak English and understand television all too well.

The fight against Zionism….ongoing for the anti-Zionist charedi groups like Satmar, etc. The MO always was Zionist, so they are not engaged. Many/most MO are supporters of the West Bank settlers. In virtue of this identification, they have issues with those Israelis who are in favor of territorial compromise. The Agudah has a left and right faction. Skirmishes on the role and extent of Zionism continue all over the Orthodox world. The topic is a favorite of mine and I will examine it in more detail at some other occasion.

The fight against Conservative Jewry and Reconstructionists and all other religious splinter groups outside of Orthodoxy is going strong.

And finally, there is the ongoing ideological jousting between MO and charedim.

So, let us count the ways of Austritt from the charedi point of view… First, we eliminate 6 billion people who are not Jewish. Then we eliminate 11 million non-Orthodox Jews, then we scratch a million Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionists, leaving…maybe…a million charedi Jews worldwide. Before life gets too boring there’s always some internal charedi fight every now and then. Nevertheless, there’s a problem. Years can go by before a new interesting fight develops. What is an austritt person to do? One answer is: “Go after the women.” You can’t secede from all women, but you can make sure there’s very little contact between men and women. So, we’re down to…five hundred thousand, divided between Israel, America, and the rest of the world. Life has become more manageable and much safer. The charedi camp is now secure.


At 10:31 AM, Blogger avakesh said...

Your analysis is right on the mark but what should those of us do who must live and strive to be constructive in this milieu. It is not always possible to avoid conflict.



At 11:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Most recently there are concerns that a major schism is about to occur in Bobov."

Hasn't that already occurred ? or are you talking about a new one ?

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous yisroel said...

Evanston Jew,

I love reading your blog. It's refreshing to see how you bring a historical view into your posts.

I was wondering if you can post about Breslov.

It seems that tens of thousands of jews from every stripe (and every political view and level of religiosity) throughout the world are going to Uman (where Rabbi Nachman is buried) for Rosh Hashana.

I know Rabbi Maryles was negative re: Breslov.

However, I think many people feel that Rabbi Nachman's teachings are very applicable for today.

Rosh Hashana in Uman is like a chassidic Woodstock. Many people that go to uman are not religious. Yet, everyone is dancing together.

I also think that Breslovers are less judgemental and conforming then any other chassidic or yesivash groups.

They also do not have a living rebbe so people might feel more at ease with that concept.

The question is How does a chassidic group that 30 years ago had maybe 500 chassidim now attract tens of thousands of people ??

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evanston: Dr. Benny Brown in his thesis on the Hazon Ish and in a subsequent article has distinguished between political separatism, i.e., Austritt, which the Hazon Ish did NOT approve of, and cultural- religious entrenchment, which he did approve and encourage. The Haredim have followed the approach of the Hazon Ish. I wonder whether you are confusing these two things.

lawrence kaplan

At 4:59 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

avakesh...Thank you for pointing me to your interesting posts. The beth din problem you raise is important.Until there is some effective way of guaranteeing the beth dins will not be corrupted it is difficult to have much confidence in them when big fights are involved like the Satmar division of property.

anonymous...I am talking the 'old one'. I used the present tense because I was not sure everyone had picked sides and the split was signed,sealed and irrevocable. I know the new yeshiva is/has been built but somehow I thought some compromise was still possible.

yisroel...I am happy you enjoy my posts.My rule of thumb is that before I allow myself to write with conviction about a large group of Jews, I try, there are exceptions, to personally know at least one Jew from the group.I have never had the privilege to meet someone who went to daven in Uman. The PaulMazursky movie should be out in '07 and then everyone will blog. I do not know the answer to your last question though I suspect you do.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Dr. Kaplan…The German Austritt and the separation from Reform and Consevative by all of Orthodoxy in America look to me like cultural-religious entrenchment in Dr Brown’s terminology. Why would either be viewed as political? My thesis is that cultural- religious entrenchment leads to an attitude of taking your marbles and going home rather than compromising, and this is felt in the political sphere (the Agudah cases) and the chasidic fights where the cultural –religious issues are minimal. The inner chasidic fights have a significant power and real estate aspect. I also suggest that after a while there is a sort of austritt lishmaw, people get into the habit of circling the wagons, condemning outsiders and so on as a way of strengthening group cohesion. I believe the lishmaw aspect is involved in the charedi assault on MO

At 2:24 PM, Blogger SephardiLady said...

Such a great blog. You have such memory and great historic knowledge.

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Years can go by before a new interesting fight develops. What is an austritt person to do? One answer is: “Go after the women.” You can’t secede from all women, but you can make sure there’s very little contact between men and women."

LOL. It's overdetermined (they are running out of areas everyone is machmir on; they are no longer worried the women will become irreligious etc.)

At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Your analysis is on the mark. However, I would add the following observation. All hashkafic trends have within them an innate tendency towards intellectual arteriosclerosis. IOW, take any hashkafic trend which started as a supplement to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. Over the passing of time, whether because of the absence of a successor in leadership of the hashkafa , the inability to react to historical changes or becoming a rationale for all sorts of problematic decisions, the hashkafa then has the possibility of supplanting Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. IMO, this observation can be found to be evident in every Hashkafic trend since the era of the Gaonim to contemporary times.


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