2016 Annual Assessment

Annual Assessment 2016

Dr. Shlomo Fischer

Avinoam Bar-Yosef, Susanne Cohen-Weisz, Rémi Daniel, Chaya Ekstein, Dan Feferman, Avi Gil, Inbal Hakman, Michael Herzog, Simon Luxemburg, David Landes, Dov Maimon, Steven Popper, Uzi Rebhun, Shmuel Rosner, John Ruskay, Noah Slepkov, Shalom Solomon Wald, Einat Wilf

Barry Geltman
Rami Tal

2016 Annual Assessment

The barriers to the integration of the Haredi sector into the established mainstream Jewish communal organizations are significant. Fundamental ideological conflicts divide the Haredim and the broader Jewish population, and given the existence of their own network of charitable and social service organizations, there is a lack of incentive on the Haredi side to bridge those differences. In sorting out the options available to the established communal organizations it is useful to consider the similar predicament faced by liberal democratic states in dealing with illiberal minority communities.

The liberal democratic state typically recognizes the right of ethnic and religious communities to reproduce themselves, and believes it should be tolerant of these communities even when their values and ideologies clash with those of the liberal mainstream. Mainstream Jewish organizations similarly have a strong interest in seeing the Haredi sector flourish, committed as these organizations are to the growth of the Jewish people and the perpetuation of its traditions.

The great difficulty faced by the liberal democratic state is where an illiberal community does not permit, and does what it can to prevent, its members from developing an additional or secondary identity as citizens of the state and the internalization of the individual rights and responsibilities attendant thereto. 36 The Haredi sector is a “totalizing” community of this sort, demanding exclusive identification from its members; it does what it can to prevent its members from developing additional identities, including identifying with the inclusive big-tent Jewish community envisioned by the mainstream Jewish organizations. Furthermore, in the Haredi case, identifying with the inclusive, big tent Jewish community may not be just an additional identity but may flatly contradict a central tenet of Haredi ideology – that only the Haredim are really Jewish. As long as the Haredi sector continues to hold fast to its singular and narrow conception of the Jewish community – and there is little reason to think that this will soon change – it cannot be expected that the Haredi sector can be integrated into today’s mainstream Jewish organizations as full participants in its projects and as financial supporters.

Jewish organizations will need to work selectively with the Haredi sector. They will need to seek out those individuals and groups within the Haredi sector who are open to collaboration, bring Haredim into administrative and managerial roles within their organization to the extent they can, and identify the types of programs that fill a need and can garner financial and other support from some corner of the Haredi sector. At the same time, any organization that wishes to develop a substantive relationship of mutual support with the Haredi sector must recognize that it cannot also engage in public criticism of their way of life, or provide support to organizations like Yaffed who seek to reform their practices in some way. This limitation will sorely test an organization’s capacity for tolerance, and it is likely to meet with resistance and opposition from among an organization’s mainstream leadership and long-standing supporters.

In order to work effectively in this selective manner, the mainstream Jewish organizations will need to commit significant resources towards attaining a thorough understanding and appreciation of the various Haredi communities. Practically speaking, this would mean the hiring of Yiddish speakers, persons who are or who once were members of these communities and still have ties to them, and academically-trained researchers who will be tasked with spending time with Haredi Jews in their communities, getting to know them up close in an intimate fashion, and developing relationships of mutual respect.

A possible alternative to working with the Haredi sector in this selective manner, identifying specific projects, people, and groups with whom to work, would be to establish separate affiliates that serve the Haredi sector and which are largely staffed and managed by Haredim. Such affiliates could be designed in such a way that would grant them considerable autonomy, with a mechanism in place affording some degree of oversight and guidance by the regular staff of the organization. The affiliate would gain from the experience of the organization, its range of professionals, and its network of connections. The organization could help develop programs for the Haredi sector that the Haredim strictly on their own would have difficulty developing, such as more serious college, advanced degree, and mid-career management training programs. The creation of largely independent Haredi affiliates, however, can be expected to alienate the liberal core constituencies of such organizations who object to Haredi social values and practices.

If not palatable now, the establishment by mainstream Jewish organizations of Haredi affiliates may become a more attractive and practical solution as the Haredim become a greater and greater portion of the total Jewish population and a more comprehensive relationship with the Haredi sector is seen to be necessary. If the Orthodox population does at some point become the largest identifiable population group of American Jews or even the majority of American Jews, as some have predicted, those organizations that view their authority as deriving from their acting as representatives of American Jewry as a whole will face an existential dilemma. An argument could be made that the keys to their organization should then be handed over to the Orthodox. On the other hand, a strong counter-argument would be that if such a step were to be taken, non-Orthodox Jews would suffer unacceptably from Haredi intolerance of other forms of Jewish identity. In order to forestall such crises and to preserve the liberal character of the major communal organizations long term, it will be necessary to find ways in the immediate term to include the illiberal Haredi sector as participants and contributors, despite the inevitable conflicts and compromises that it entails.