In the 20th Century, Ultra-Orthodoxy Protected Itself by Building High Walls. In the 21st, It Must Sustain Itself by Reaching over Those Walls

In the aftermath of World War II, ḥaredi Judaism emerged in Israel in its present form as leaders came to the conclusion that, after the onslaught of the Holocaust, the only way to defend against the onslaught of modernity was to create communities of intense religious devotion that were sealed off from outside influences. These communities grew and flourished beyond the wildest dreams of their founders, let alone of their detractors. But, writes Yehoshua Pfeffer, today’s Ḥaredim are hardly immune from outside influences, and suspiciousness toward secular ideas has left them without the intellectual armor to defend themselves against values antithetical to their own—what he terms “the liberal threat.” Pfeffer, himself a ḥaredi Jew, thus calls for a major change:

My contention . . . is that [the] current situation calls us to reexamine our strategy in the struggle against the liberal threat. Days of a militant secularism that seeks to destroy all things good while defying God and His Torah are long behind us; the 21st century is not a repeat of the 20th.

The traditional Ḥaredi strategy of raising the barricades is hardly a viable defense against the liberal threat; our fences can no longer keep out the influences we fear. Conversely, the prevalent approach today—completely ignoring the issue, hoping naively that we can ride out the liberal wave and emerge in one piece on the other side—leaves us exposed to great danger.

Reading ḥaredi literature dealing with parenting and marriage reveals clearly how deeply liberal messages have been internalized, often with full backing from traditional religious sources. Even when it comes to pluralism—the question of one Truth versus multiple truths—it seems we have been deeply influenced by common liberal views. “I am a liberal and a pluralist,” say many Ḥaredim who wish to be viewed as “open-minded” and not “fanatical.”

[But] the reason we are so threatened by liberal moral views is that we live in a vacuum: lacking our own moral-human language, we adopt the foundations of liberalism, only later understanding the depth of the challenge they pose to a Torah life.

Meanwhile most Ḥaredim have no notion of those ideas from the non-Jewish world that could provide a bulwark against progressive assumptions. The remedy to this situation involves not greater isolation, but engagement with conservative ideas:

Conservatism, without a doubt, is not Judaism. . . . However, there is much in the conservative conception of the good that could serve as important tools for the believing Jew to validate his belief in the Torah, providing a vital alternative to liberalism’s conception of the good. While obviously not a substitute for belief in the Torah, conservative thought can provide fortification for the Torah way of life, utilized in the same way that Torah leaders of the past made use of the philosophy and thinking of their time to strengthen the Jewish religion.

Read more at Tzarich Iyun

More about: Conservatism, Liberalism, Ultra-Orthodox

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship