Hard Data Shatter Myths about Those Who Leave Orthodoxy

While the popular memoir about leaving the ḥasidic fold is almost as old as Ḥasidism itself, the past decade has seen somewhat of a boom in this genre. But Schneur Zalman Newfield’s Degrees of Separation provides something these works do not: a measured sociological study of the phenomenon. Moshe Krakowski writes in his review:

[Newfield’s story] is not only novel and fascinating, but inconsistent in significant ways with those often assumed by media and popular literature (including many of the ex-ḥasidic memoirs). Many of Newfield’s respondents hold warm feelings toward their former communities. Abuse and scandal do not dominate their accounts. Their departures from ḥasidic life were not frequently marked by rupture and animosity. The vast majority of his subjects maintain relationships with their families and have been neither rejected socially nor in some way excommunicated formally.

Newfield is admirably honest about his data and writes with balance and empathy. Still, in a few places, the book’s portrait of ḥaredi life feels incomplete. . . . For example, Newfield argues that ultra-Orthodox life is inherently “anti-intellectual.” . . . He presumes that because ḥasidic students are not allowed to question the authority of religious texts and authority figures, their study is not intellectual, but this misunderstands what it means to engage in intellectual study, reasoning, and thinking. The reality is that students in ḥaredi schools, including ḥasidic schools, routinely engage in incredibly difficult and high-level intellectual work.

[Moreover], in leaving one community for another, one can easily see the norms of the new community as, well, normative. In framing the book around the narratives of exiters—looking back at their former communities—Newfield loses sight of the fact that they haven’t just left one community, but they’ve joined another.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewry, Hasidism, Orthodoxy

Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden