Friday, October 14, 2005

Sociology Among Some of the Ultra-Orthodox

Attitudes among the most Ultra Orthodox never seem to change...

Well that's a truism of course. That's why they're ultra-orthodox, because their perspective on Judaism never budges, except to become more determined to resist the march of time. Sometimes it's a strength. Other times...well speaks for itself.

Ha'aretz provides an interesting look at how in some Israeli ultra-orthodox communities, the schools are rejecting as pupils the children of the not-so-recently religious. That is, the parents of these children did tshuva -- turned from secular to religious - and have lived their lives in religious communities from that point. But now their children -- who were raised in these religious communities -- are facing prejudice from the generational taint of secularism they inherited.
A newly religious journalist stirred up a fierce storm among the ultra-Orthodox public when she asked what was the point of attracting more people to Torah observance if their children would not be accepted to Haredi schools anyway.

In recent years, a new type of discrimination has emerged in Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox educational institutions. In addition to their discrimination against girls from Sephardi backgrounds, children whose parents found religion in adulthood are also being sidelined. For the past month, the Haredi weekly, Mishpacha, has devoted several pages each week to a public discussion of this sensitive issue.

Avigail Meizlik - the paper's cuisine columnist who lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh and became religious as an adult herself - kicked off the discussion. She related that the class in which her daughter studied, and which was composed mainly of children from homes like hers, had been closed and that now no other school wanted to accept her daughter.

"There are so many organizations and people devoting their lives to attracting people to a religious lifestyle," wrote Meizlik, "Why bother? Why convince them to make such a difficult, painful change? Why call upon them to come and live a Torah lifestyle if no one has any intention of giving them the opportunity to live such a lifestyle? Perhaps the time has come to stop investing in outreach and to redirect the immense energies of these organizations to the existing newly religious families."
An excellent set of questions.

I understand the rationale for why the Ultra-Orthodox do not want to let anyone into their select circles. They see their position -- as the fierce and unyielding guardians of the law -- as absolutely critical for the spiritual fate of the people Israel in the long quest to persevere until the days of the Messiah. And thus, they resist anything that might expose their inner circle to forces that will weaken it. In this case, they presume the weakening will creep up on them from inside, attack their children unawares, by exposing them, however tangentially, to a favorable impression of secularism. And thus, in their desire to maintain a pure guardianship over the law, they eschew contact even with the children of people who have joined their world, but are widely regarded by many within that world, as living on a second tier. Not quite pure enough yet. The sins of their fathers -- even if since repented -- still manifest themselves, however subtly, in the upbringing of their children.

It is interesting, though, that they privilege the threat these marked children can do to their own children above the good that their children and they themselves might do these children by providing a righteous - and thus persuasive - model of Torah Jews. The fear weighs more than the chance to do what by their lights would be a mitzvah.

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