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Reforms of ultra-Orthodox – a short history of Hareidim

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RABBI GAVIN MICHAL

In the non-Jewish world, during the era characterised by the rise of nationalism, Jews began to wonder where they belonged. Although they didn’t yet have a homeland, they could still align themselves with their own ideological movements. The age of Enlightenment led to the founding of Reform. This new movement became so popular in Germany that, by the middle of the 1800s, the more traditional Jews had actually become a minority.

In response to Reform, a counter-movement was born. This was spearheaded by Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch and became known as the Orthodox movement. (Certainly orthodoxy and traditionalism always existed, but now it was crystallised into a movement).


CLICK to read Part 2 in which Rabbi Michal gathers contemporary reports, often from the very same sources used by extreme Hareidim, to show why he is so concerned…


However, while keeping strictly to tradition, it embraced elements of the secular and modern culture in which it was nurtured. Rabbi Hirsch introduced secular studies into his Torah schools, and German was accepted as the language of Torah instruction (much like English is the language of Torah transmission in the Anglo-Saxon world, today). This was the dawn of centralist and modern Orthodoxy.

Now things get very interesting

In response to Orthodoxy, yet another movement is born, this time in the poorer regions of Hungary, and its adherents become known as Hareidim. They positioned themselves to the far right of Orthodoxy. This new movement was created by a trio of fervent devotees, Rabbis Sofer, Lichtenstein (and his son-in-law) Schlesinger.

They were fearful that Torah values would be undermined by the recent relocation of Jews from rural areas to the cities, and the new legislation requiring compulsory secular education in all schools (there were 300 Jewish schools in Hungary at that time). 

Rabbi Gavin Michal tall1But strangely, for what was supposed and alleged to be a continuum of an ancient tradition, this new right-wing movement began with a signed manifesto.


RIGHT: The author is the Rabbi at the Baal Shem Tov Shul in Orange Grove, Johannesburg
 

It is known as the 1865 Psak Din (Rabinical Decree) of Michalowce and targeted the Orthodox rabbis of the time. The document includes the following points;

  • “It is forbidden to deliver sermons in the language of the nations of the world”;
  • “It is forbidden to listen to sermons delivered in the language of the nations of the world”;
  • “It is forbidden to enter choir synagogues”;
  • “It is forbidden to place a chuppah in a synagogue”; and
  • “It is forbidden to study Torah from a rabbi who teaches in a foreign language. Appointing such a rabbi is tantamount to idolatry.”

Many of these rulings were inspired by the teachings of the Chatam Sofer (no relation to Rabbi Moshe Sofer of the 1865 manifesto), who had passed away a few years earlier. He was so against secular education that he went so far as to condemn the signing of one’s name (in non-Jewish script) even for secular affairs, and threatened to fire a shochet for reading secular literature.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Schlesinger taught that it was forbidden to undergo any form of secular education, even for the purpose of making a living. He taught that the function of the non-Jew is to master science and invent useful technologies, while that of the Jew is only to study Torah (while he is permitted, however, to make use of non-Jewish technology). According to him, maintaining a Jewish “name, language and dress code”, were literally tantamount to the entire Torah.

He also believed that it was “good to elevate a prohibition”. From this his followers deduced that a rabbinic law could be elevated to the status of a Torah law, and a custom, to a rabbinic law. The authority of aggadaic literauure (the so-called stories of the Talmud), was according to Rabbi Wechsler, to be elevated to that of orally transmitted halacha. This view was vehemently opposed by Rabbi Hirsch.

We now had to fulfil not only the mitzvoth of the Torah, but also “even the most trifling customs’ The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Law), according to Schlesinger, “is equal to the Ten Commandments”. In time 71 rabbis signed the Hareidi manifesto of Michalowce. They even coined the phrase “Yahadut” or Jewishness to describe their “ancient and authentic” practices.

With regard to the prohibition of wearing contemporary modern clothing, as opposed to the long frockcoats of the Hareidim, the alleged biblical infringements mysteriously grew from four (in 1853) to eight (in 1865).

The manifesto also argued that changing any custom was “tantamount to eating pork”.

The condemnation of any language other than Yiddish, inspired a very creative theory as to its evolution. The new Hareidim claimed that certainly the earlier rabbis understood German, but had intentionally “corrupted” it, to form a new language, so as not to have to speak a language of the gentiles.

Of course mainstream Orthodox leadership opposed the radical views espoused by this new group. The Maharam Schick, who became one of the leading halachic authorities of Hungarian Jewry in the 1870s, argued that to issue such innovative interpretations was against halacha, and he refused to sign the manifesto.

In principle, though, he accepted the general sentiment of the proposals – only as temporary and emergency measures – but not as an escalation of halacha. He certainly couldn’t condemn the synagogues of his day as “houses of idolatry”.

The Kotzker Rebbe, although living in Poland and having passed away six years before the Manifesto of Michalowce, felt the rumblings of this new movement. He referred to its adherents as “mindless followers of Frumkeit” (in this sense, fanaticism). He was also clearly outspoken in his opposition to the emphasis on the minutiae of law, and the adoption of dress codes (or as he referred to it, “the wearing of white socks and fur hats”).

Notwithstanding (what has been called) “the invention of a tradition”, and the subsequent growth of Hareidism, it was only about 100 years later that it evolved into the movement it has become today.

This took place after the Second World War when the movement gained renewed impetus as many saw it as the best way to re-establish the destroyed communities of the Holocaust. All in all, it cannot be said that their roots go back to ancient times. Their history is a relatively short one.

Today Hareidim are often characterised by their dress, militant stance to religion and uncompromising attitude to even the religious societies in which they live. They number about 15 per cent of modern Israeli population and have one of the highest birth rates in the world, with 25 per cent living below the poverty line.

 

Bibliography

  • The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy by Michael K Silber.
  • The Making of Haredim by Rabbi Natan Slifkin.
  • The Manifesto of Ultra-Orthodoxy (1865) translated by Dov Weiss.

Continue Reading
22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. bf

    Jul 30, 2014 at 5:44 am

    ‘Dear Gavin

    As I mentioned previously -Silence is an incredible midda.

    A useless,sloppy,non referenced article.

    Provocative without substantive or tangible conclusions.

    Not for the 9 Days(or anytime-for that matter)’

  2. Daniel

    Jul 30, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    ‘Dear Gavin

    This is nothing but sheer junk.

    The group called ‘Haredim’ was a name given by the secular zionists after the start of the state of Israel. 

    Your hatred for these people runs through every column that you write, and that includes the Chazon Ish, Rav Gifter, Rav Aharon Kotler etc.

    You aren’t fitting to present a view of Judaism.   ‘

  3. David Blend

    Jul 31, 2014 at 4:56 am

    ‘interesting criticism  ‘bf ‘.  I was always taught to believe that criticism from an anonymous voice is not  a meaningful criticism, but only an  excuse by a cowardly  voice, who does not have enough conviction, and moral fortitude  to back it up with his name .’

  4. Amichai Tahor

    Jul 31, 2014 at 6:35 am

    ‘There is such an essential rationship inbetween fact and faith, in the project of reaching our collective higher goal. Whilst faith has held a coherent Jewish voice through many dark ages,  it is facts that ground us in the real and protect our faith from being swayed by the extremist.

    This is clear,  impeccability referenced short piece that calls out toward that real.’

  5. Aharon Kangisser

    Jul 31, 2014 at 7:13 am

    ‘Well written ‘

  6. STAN

    Jul 31, 2014 at 8:18 am

    ‘Peculiar comments- I read this insightful article over a few times and disagree with the vitriol expressed by the writers. All I see is a historical perspective presented in a meaningful and thought provoking way that got me thinking and can stimulate others too. Since when is it taboo to think ?’

  7. Stan

    Jul 31, 2014 at 8:38 am

    ‘Methinks BF  protests too much – Hit a nerve did he ???

  8. ilan

    Aug 1, 2014 at 6:51 am

    ‘This is a fascinating insight’

  9. Aaron Berkman

    Aug 1, 2014 at 6:54 am

    ‘Great passage very well written, amazing insight, 10 out of 10 , I would for sure recommend this! Great!’

  10. Jack

    Aug 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    ‘To the uneducated mind, this is a good well written piece.

    But in truth, the writer has merely bundled a few random laws promulgated due to the times, and tried to force his agenda to fit it.

    In reality, Jews kept their own names and language already during bondage in Egypt. The Talmud (Sanhedrin) already mentions that for a Jew to change his shoe-laces to that which is similar to the non-Jews, is a very crucial prohibition.

    The question of whether to have a Chupa in a shul dates back far earlier than the writer suggests, it based on a Talmudic source whether one should be under the stars.

    What the writer has missed, is that there was no such thing as Haredi until 50 years ago, when the secular zionists labelled those who feared the word of G-d, as Haredi.

    It is extremely hard to be convinced that the Haredi world is not authentic Judaism, where their leadership dates back to the Vilna Gaon, Reb Chaim Mibrisk, the Netziv (who was extremely against even an hour of secular studies in his Yeshiva), Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer. Even the head of the Haredi court, Rav Moshe Sternbuch is a great grandchild of the Gaon, and follows his rulings and views unchanged.

    Due respect to the writer, but he may well want to become more learned and humble before contending against the traditions passed down via Reb Elchonan Wasserman (the chief student of the Chofetz Chaim), the Chazon Ish, the Steipler, Rav Shach etc etc.’

  11. truth seeker

    Aug 4, 2014 at 7:08 am

    ‘Dear jack 

    It was rabbi slenzenger, one of the founders of the new charedi movement who equated dress name and clothing not as something new but as EQUAL to the ten commandments. This was new  and unprecedented. Every jewish child in nursery school knows that we didnt change dress name and clothing in Egypt so your insight is not terribly enlightening and so you to have missed the crutical point of midrash becoming elevated to god given law.The article had no agenda other than pointing out that charedi do not go back to the time of moses and the fact presented are absolutetly intriguing’

  12. Alan

    Aug 4, 2014 at 10:28 am

    ‘Since when does an ancient tradition need a signed manifesto? Anyway you get Hareidim and Hareidim. One mans Hereidi is anothers Mizrachi. Clearly here the most extreme Hareidim are the subject of this article.    By not giving children a secular education you create a begging bowl society like our community is beginning to see now that we are being exposed to  real Hareidim for the first time.’

  13. Alan

    Aug 4, 2014 at 10:39 am

    ‘You get Hareidim and Hareidim. One mans Hareidi is anothers Mizrachi. Clearly the most extreme Hareidim are the subject of this article.

    By depriving children of a secular education you create a begging bowl society, the likes of which our community is beginning to experience – now that we are, for the first time, being exposed to these types of Hareidim.’

  14. Shmuli Lichtenstien

    Aug 4, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    ‘Jack, please don’t put words in the mouth of the writer. He never once mentioned any of the names you quoted. You defend a group that do not believe in secular education, yet you obviously learned English. You go by the name Jack, instead of a Hebrew name. You read an article in a foreign language, you may be guilty of idolatry (by these peoples standards)’

  15. truth seeker

    Aug 6, 2014 at 7:02 am

    ‘Some comments seem to ignorantly insist that the term \”chareidi\” was coined by secular zionists about 50 years ago. Actually it was first used in the book of Isiah 66, 5 referring to the extremely fervent. ‘

  16. Isaak Woolf

    Aug 18, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    ‘The while notion of a movement being new and coined and gaining momentum  is all a load of hogwash insofar as the Torah is concerned.  

    As Rav Mordechai Gifter zatzal put it so succinctly 

    \”I am not an orthodox jew. I’m a Torah jew. \”

    All these funny new terms Hareidi reform orthodox are simply new terms in Jewish society but they are not ideas. 

    The reality is that there has only ever been Torah values based Judaism and anything new was either coined exclusively in terminology but not compromising in Torah values  (eg: orthodoxy) or new terms new parameters new definitions that did indeed compromise on traditional Torah values – such as Reform,  conservative etc. 

    For the record rabbi shimshon refoel Hirsch was a uncompromising undiluted Torah values based leader of Jewry. So was the chasam sofer and so was the kotzker rebbe. 

    For the record the terms chareidi come from a verse that says yoray vechoreid lidvar Hashem which translates as fearful and trembling to the word of Hashem. 

    So was  Rav Hirsch chareidi?  Absolutely. Was he orthodox –  which comes from a Greek term and means unchanged? Absolutely orthodox without a doubt. 

    And I take exception that the author does not refer to these holy sages and Torah leaders by their appropriate title… And that’s called Rabbi. 

    We should tremble before we speak of these greats lest we minimize their greatness and negate their sagacity to our minute much  smaller and much more feeble minds who have yet to accomplish a fraction of what they did’

  17. Anonymous

    Aug 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    ‘The bibliography speaks volumes: anti-Haredi books, of which one author (Slifkin) has been publicly discredited by the so-called: \”Haredi\” leadership.

    We cry foul when non-Jewish detractors present bias against Israel’s actions in the current conflict (Aug 2014). However, when our own people present similar bias without proper research from both sides of the divide, we unreservedly absorb it all as unadulterated truth. The truth is that until you include both sides of a historical discussion – i.e. citing many the many responsa of Rabbonim as well as such as notable figures such as Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s letters and journal Yeshurun. The historical impact of such eminent thinkers of the 19th Century shows very clearly that the reform movement was a responsive movement to an already established Orthodox establishment.  However, the particular circumstances of Frankfurt, and Germany gave the \”reformists\” the upper-hand initially.  The author in this article failed to cite the relevant articles by the early reformists: Israel Jacobson and Abraham Geiger among others.  W. Gunther Plaut’s \”The Rise of Reform Judaism: A Sourcebook of its European Origins is instructive.\”  

    The author writes: \”Rabbi Schlesinger taught that it was forbidden to undergo any form of secular education, even for the purpose of making a living.\”

    This view has been a standard view among various great leaders.  The Brisker Rov vehemently objected to the then Russian authorities imposing secular education on the Volozhin Yeshiva, which they threatened to close-down.  

    Additionally, there is nothing wrong with denouncing a \”secular education\”.  What is a secular education?  Language?  The Talmud explicitly informs us that judges on the great Sanhedrin had to know multiple languages.  Rabbonim through out Jewish history were known for knowing multiple languages, and effortlessly switching.  In Israel, Yeshiva bochrim usually speak at least two languages, some three, and many four.  (Hebrew, Yiddish, English, and French/Spanish). Secular education involves Maths and science.  A serious Torah education must include a detailed knowledge of the Talmud, its commentaries as well as the Rambam.  Yeshiva students are routinely taught the tractates of Bava Basra, Sukkah and Rosh Hashana.  Each involve complex trigonometry and geometry, with practical aspects of celestial mechanics, and mechanical engineering.

    Great scentists of the past are heralded as bright giants among the intellectuals of their day.  Yet, their secular education is often dismal.  Newton’s educational background made him open to re-evaluating the scientific dogma of his day. Einstein flunked school.  Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone) never went to school). Secular education is not necessarily a means to an end.  And doesn’t necessarily add to one’s achievements.  You don’t have to value or have a \”secular education\” to be a well-rounded, productive member of society.

    The author comments further: \”…According to him, maintaining a Jewish “name, language and dress code”, were literally tantamount to the entire Torah.\” One has to be careful about exaggerations lifted out of context.  The writer of this piece is comparing the Jews who left Egypt with nothing more than their names, language and dress-code and went on to receive the Torah at Sinai.  This is not to say that the two are synonymous, just that one led to the other.

    The author comments further that: \”…From this his followers deduced that a rabbinic law could be elevated to the status of a Torah law, and a custom, to a rabbinic law. The authority of aggadaic literauure (the so-called stories of the Talmud), was according to Rabbi Wechsler, to be elevated to that of orally transmitted halacha.\”

    This statement is completely erroneous.  It makes no distinctions as to what is ment by Rabbinic Law, Torah Law and custom.  Rabbinic Law could be anything from a tradition received from Sinai not explicity mentioned in the text, to a civil enactment.  Each has their own weight and jurisdiction.  Custom is not understood as is commonly thought, but rather as halachic tradition – which has the force of law (\”Minhag Yisrael is Torah\”). The definition of \”Aggadaic literature\” (sic) is entirely wrong.  Aggaddic is a reference to style of interpretation, and not application.  There are numerous Aggadic portions of the Halachic (legal) aspects of the Torah that have the full weight of law.  For example the Torah writes \”do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk\” three times in the Torah.  the Talmud (in Chulin) cites the Sifri (aggadic literature) as to the interpretation – that one may not cook, eat or derive benefit from a mixture of meat and milk.

    The author then writes: \”We now had to fulfil not only the mitzvoth of the Torah, but also “even the most trifling customs’ The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Law), according to Schlesinger, “is equal to the Ten Commandments”.\”

    What the author finds \”trifiling\” is really indicative of his position. The Shulchan Aruch, represents the code of Jewish Law, that was practiced and followed long before the Reform Movement existed.  It was compiled on the basis of the Tur written before the 14th Century.

    The author then proceeds to lambast a culture \”With regard to the prohibition of wearing contemporary modern clothing, as opposed to the long frockcoats of the Hareidim, the alleged biblical infringements mysteriously grew from four (in 1853) to eight (in 1865).\”

    As with all aspects of Judaism, (the Talmud is replete with examples) many issues are debated and discussed with multiple view-points from the leading Torah-Scholars of the generation.  After consensus, the issues are decided upon.  The author, to use a modern example, could easily criticise Hubble for deducing that the universe was 3.8 billion years old, when radio-carbon dating had suggested that the earth was 4.5 billion years old.  But as scientists progressed and gathered more insights, the values were re-evaluated.  Nonetheless, today, the mode of dress is a choice, as is in most free, liberal western democracies, you may wear whatever you decide.  If the author feels critical of \”Hareidi\” Garb, he may allow himself an open criticism of current secular culture that parades the nudity of women as sexual objects, without respecting their body, or their rights.  Routinely the media bombards children with images of practically naked men and women and their sexual drives. Advertisers often compare smoking, sport, or some other drive or entertainment with sexual inuendos, and the culture in which we live sports that ideal.  200 years ago, Europeans would have been horrified at the dress-code today.  Back then, secular society valued the nobility and beauty of people and imposed a culture of respect and common decency.  

    The revulsion at our society needs no comment.

    The condemnation of any language other than Yiddish, inspired a very creative theory as to its evolution. The new Hareidim claimed that certainly the earlier rabbis understood German, but had intentionally “corrupted” it, to form a new language, so as not to have to speak a language of the gentiles.

    The author then writes: \”Of course mainstream Orthodox leadership opposed the radical views espoused by this new group. Notwithstanding (what has been called) “the invention of a tradition”, and the subsequent growth of Hareidism, it was only about 100 years later that it evolved into the movement it has become today.\”

    The author is confused.  Mainstream orthodoxy opposed a minority group, and they died out.  Mainstream orthodoxy still exists and has continued – these are Hareidim.  

    The author then claims \”Their history is a relatively short one.\” built as a responsive movement to the times of their day.  However, it seems that if it has its roots as a responsive movement, then its built on orthodoxy – which has a history going back to ancient times.  The author is now playing with semantics – Hareidim is a Hebrew word used by the Secular Zionists as a derogatory term to describe the old orthodox traditionalists.  The name has stuck and is used as a canard against Orthodoxy as a whole.

    The author continues: \”Today Hareidim are often characterised by their dress, militant stance to religion and uncompromising attitude to even the religious societies in which they live. They number about 15 per cent of modern Israeli population and have one of the highest birth rates in the world, with 25 per cent living below the poverty line.\”

    Disraeli said there are lies, damn lies and statistics.  In a western, liberal democracy, its easy to point fingers at a culture, that doesn’t fit in with one’s own preconceived notions.  Hareidim are often \”characterised\” (read: stereotyped). \”Militant\” (read: steadfast, resilient, committed). Hareidim also have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, lowest divorce rates in the world.  Living below the poverty line is not a problem, if they are happy with it.  The poverty line is a man-made statistical line devised by governments to determine who gets welfare.  All states have welfare.  Judaism enshrines the idea of looking after your brethren.  Poverty is a perception as it is a state of being.  Having enough to subsist if that is what you want, is not poverty, it is bliss.

    This opinion piece is multifaceted hatred against Chareidim.  Pure and simple.

  18. Alan

    Aug 26, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    ‘Hi annonymous, if thats your honarable name. It amazes me how you defend the concept of Not getting an education, by citing Einstein, who dropped out of school. At least he STARTED school and wasn’t forbidden from pursuing other avenues of education. Not all people who eat starch get fat but most do. You cannot rely on exeptions being the rule. Especially when it comes to future generations. Best to follow tried and tested systems that usually work. Open your eyes and look at the streets of the world. Who would you rather have as neighbours. Probably those with some education?’

  19. Yossi

    Aug 26, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    ‘Hello Anonymous…Please dont try and discredit Rabbi Natan Slifkin just because you find that his truths make you uncomfortable. By the way his is a huge talmid chacham and comes from a haredi background. I met him when he spoke at Rabbi Hendlers shul some weeks ago and attest to his knowledge and meticulous scolarship. You cant choose sources that suit you while rejecting others. History either happened or it didnt regardless who records it.Your words are heavy with agenda and emotional. Perhaps you can learn from RAbbi Michal and be objective and factual.’

  20. Dovid

    Aug 26, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    ‘Dear Mr Anonymous, I am not surprised you don’t want others to know your name. I would also be embarrassed to spend so much time righting such a long comment that really makes no point at all. You quoted everyone, bar my grandmother, to try prove a blurred opinion. Oh well at least no one knows who you are.

    Nonsensical opinions, like tzedakkah to the blissfully impoverished, is best kept anonymous.

  21. Frum jew

    Aug 26, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    ‘I just want to comment on the comment from Anonymous:

    There are many errors in what you say, but I have more worthwhile things to do than address them right now.( I am fully Torah observant, important to know that I am not anti religious. I feel that Rabbi Michal is aiming and succeeding in strengthening our way of observance by focusing us on truth)

    Anonymous says: \”Hareidim also have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, lowest divorce rates in the world.  Living below the poverty line is not a problem, if they are happy with it.  The poverty line is a man-made statistical line devised by governments to determine who gets welfare.  All states have welfare.  Judaism enshrines the idea of looking after your brethren.  Poverty is a perception as it is a state of being.  Having enough to subsist if that is what you want, is not poverty, it is bliss.\”

    1) It is easy to say that poverty does not really exist and its something made up by the government but when babies and children are starving and go to bed hungry because their parents shun their responsibility to provide (or at the very least provide some vessel for Hashem to grant the blessing of wealth through natural means) this is child abuse. Then not giving them tools to be able to help their children one day is further child abuse!

    2) Maybe the crime rate is so low because there is nothing to steal?

  22. Dovid T

    Aug 27, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    ‘Dear Isaak Woolf.  You say R Hirsch was absolutely charedi? Well according to R Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann a leader of pre-holocaust Jewry, R Hirsh allowed his students to sit BAREHEADED during SECULAR studies. In an un- sensored version of his Teshuvos, he writes: \”The first time I came to meet with R Hirsch with my hat on my head, R Hirsch said to me that it is propper respect to remove one’s hat when talking to someone in authority.\” This text appears in the original text, but is missing from the latest edition. Even the Vilna Gaon wrote: \”Amongst the Hungarian Rabbis, they are EXTREMELY STRICT with regard to covering one’s head.\”        Please lets not try rewrite history to further our fears, agendas and leanings.’

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