A correspondent had some complaints about my essay below “Meet Cindy,” and since the points he raised are important ones, I am sharing my slightly edited responses to him here.
He quoted the following paragraph from my essay:
“And a country that calls itself the Jewish one, it can well be argued, has a special responsibility to underwrite the portion of its populace that is willfully destitute because of its dedication to perpetuating classical Judaism.”
And then commented:
The charedi community is not willfully destitute because of its dedication to perpetuating classical Judaism. In classical Judaism – both in sources in the Gemara and Rishonim, and in actual Jewish history – people worked to support their families. Following the directives of Chazal, people raised their children with the skills, the desire and the motivation to work for a living. There was no system of mass kollel.
The charedi community is not willfully destitute because of its dedication to perpetuating classical Judaism. It is willfully destitute because of its dedication to perverting classical Judaism.
Classical Judaism is, above all, hewing to the interpretation/application of the Torah’s timeless principles to each generation and place’s situation and needs. The dorshov of each dor vi’dor [spiritual leaders of each generation] are the arbiters of what is required of us in each era of our history.
I may personally be (and am, in fact) a Hirschian in outlook, and be as puzzled as you at the seeming shunning of what seems to me to be healthy development for Klal Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. But even Rav Hirsch, in his day, recognized that his school model in Germany could not be “exported” to Eretz Yisrael. To ascertain when we are correct and when we are not is what we have Gedolim [recognized spiritual leaders] for.
In the end, whatever my natural personal view, my emunas chachamim [trust in the judgment of the wise] trumps it. When there is a consensus of the greatest and most recognized Gedolim that a certain departure from the historic norm (and the historical uniquenesses of our times are many), I don’t second-guess them, because I believe that Hashem’s will is that I follow the decisions of the judges “in my day.”
My correspondent then asserted that my analogy between charedim and my fictional creation Cindy was flawed. He wrote:
1. Cindi is raising her children to be productive citizens, not to also require welfare.
2. Motherhood is something valued by everyone. Being charedi is not. (It’s not being a religious Jew that we’re discussing – plenty of people who work are also religious Jews.)
3. Cindi is presumably appreciative for the aid. She’s not part of a movement that disparages the government, refuses to serve in the army even in times of great national danger, and refuses to display any gratitude to those who defend her and those who financially support her.
4. Cindi’s situation is unplanned, unwanted, and she hopes to get out of it one day.
1) Perhaps she is, perhaps she isn’t. But if she isn’t, should we feel differently about her? And if so, should we see ourselves as responsible public policy makers or as social engineers? You may well disagree with my feeling that how Cindy raises her children should not matter, and I respect your point of view on that, but I reject it.
2) My essay wasn’t an attempt to convince a reader that the charedi way is right or wrong. It was intended only to, through a thought experiment, help him/her to better relate to how charedim feel.
3) Most charedim do not disparage the government (at least not any more than non-charedim or secular Israelis). Their avoidance of military service is for principled religious reasons, not as some sort of eye-poking (and they contribute – at least to those of us who consider Torah-study to be protective of Klal Yisrael – much to the security of the state).
And I explicitly wrote that charedim need to be makir tov [have and express gratitude to the state for what it provides them].
4) That is a valid difference. Whether it makes a difference is another matter. I don’t think it does.