The last few generations have provided us with a whole array
of terms and concepts, which attempt to define the extent of
religious observance of a member of the Jewish nation. In
the past there was an obvious distinction between a Jew and
non-Jew, the Jewish and non-Jewish nations, and an observant
and nonobservant Jew, but in recent times we have witnessed
the birth of a plethora of new definitions.
The confusion started when secular inciters, the Zionist and
Haskalah leaders initiated the deceitful concept of
the "new Jew." Once their ideas took root amongst the
masses, the concept of a "Jew" was no longer synonymous with
religious observance and a separation from non-Jewish
culture. That was why the need arose for the concept of the
"religious Jew," an unfortunate term in view of the fact
that every Jewish person is meant to be observant. During
the next stage, the concept "religious" gave birth to
various sub-categories, such as "national-religious," "Torah
nationalists" (Torani leumi), "chareidi," "chareidi
leumi" and so on.
Two news items published recently, which are indicative of
our generation's way of thinking, made me reflect about the
term and concept "chareidi," its history, its connotations
nowadays, and what it should mean.
A recent edition of the NRP's mouthpiece Hatsofe
contained a report of a spontaneous protest of national-
religious youngsters studying in yeshivot hesder.
They warned that they would refuse to be drafted to the army
because of tznius and other halachic problems
involved in army service. Although these circles seem to
have successfully "adapted" themselves to the unsuitable
atmosphere (to put it mildly) in the army, which is in total
opposition to an observant Jew's lifestyle, these youngsters
say that matters have currently deteriorated to a point
which even they can no longer tolerate.
If they would engage in some appropriate introspection, they
might realize that the source of this ongoing problem lies
in two distorted concepts, which they have been brandishing
for decades: "national-religious" and "hesder
Rav Elchonon Wassermann zt"l Hy"d already wrote about
the first concept in his "Ikvesa Demeshicha:" "In the
course of time the nationalist movement gave birth to an
offshoot movement calling itself `national-religious.' The
name proves that the term `religious' is not enough, since
it has to be complemented by the description `nationalist.'
This term itself constitutes a denial of one of the basic
tenets of faith. The posuk says that `Hashem's Torah
is perfect,' it is not missing anything and is flawless. We
were warned not to `add' and that `whoever adds, derogates.'
If the nationalistic [Zionist] idea is avoda zora,
then the national-religious philosophy is avodoh zora
beshituf (idol worship together with faith)."
Similarly, the whole idea of the hesder yeshiva also
distorts the hallowed concept of the yeshiva in Judaism. The
yeshiva is a holy place of study where every minute and all
one's efforts and aspirations are dedicated solely to growth
in Torah and yiras Shomayim and the perfection of
character traits. The yeshiva is a workshop of Torah -- and
Torah only. Any other external goal poisons the atmosphere
of the yeshiva. The number of hours added to the curriculum
and the religiosity of the secular teaching staff cannot
alter the fundamental fact that any addition nullifies the
whole, "whoever adds, derogates."
The national-religious youngsters who chose this path are
making a double mistake. First, by agreeing to devote their
youth, the most precious years of their life, to military
service, in preference to Torah study. In addition, the
delusion that they could observe a religious lifestyle in
the hostile army environment was shattered in the face of
Any religious Jew who has ever been inside an army camp
knows how difficult life is in such a place for an observant
Jew. We know that this problem is not a new one. The Israeli
army was from the outset meant to be like this. The
first Prime Minister declared that the army of the new State
would be a "melting pot" for the creation of a uniform
Israeli identity detached from the traditions of our
ancestors. Anyone drafted was influenced (or pressured) to
assimilate into this new secular nation. The army was to
play a key role in the establishment of the new homogeneous
Our gedolim past and present warned us that the
Zionist venture and its various offshoots were designed to
uproot religion and create the model of a "new Jew," but all
those who deluded themselves into thinking that they could
create an original national-religious Jew, that they could
break the barrel and still keep the wine, are today faced
with unbearable conflicts, even from their perspective.
We have opened with a short description and topical example
of the continuous evolution of the concepts "religious" and
"national-religious," but we should also look inside our own
camp and consider how the terms "chareidi and "the chareidi
public" are used nowadays. In the past these terms were
defined in a unique and unequivocal way.
Certain circles have recently taken the initiative of
negotiating with the Communications Minister regarding the
establishment of a "chareidi" television station. These
people seem totally unaware of the paradox involved in this
initiative. They justify their actions in all seriousness by
stating that they would ensure that the "kosher" content of
such a station would enable chareidi families to allow this
machine into their homes and enjoy it in "a permitted
fashion." (We may assume that as with similar cases in the
past they will publish specious denials, but this is not the
first time that this idea has arisen, the only difference
being that this time the Communications Minister decided to
publicize the contents of an understanding reached between
We already have "chareidi high schools" which the
gedolim warned us against, about a year ago someone
touted the idea of a "chareidi university" and "colleges in
a chareidi environment" as well as other ideas in the same
This new initiative of a "chareidi television channel" is
the latest in a long line of ideas in the entertainment and
"leisure" field with which we have been inundated such as
"chassidic music" concerts at which "Chassidic pop" idols
appear to the delight of their adoring fans.
Any chareidi Jew who still has a feeling for the concept
must ask himself about its real meaning. If this process
will continue, we will be left to wonder what actually
defines a person as "chareidi." Is it sufficient just to
wear the external garb?
We can imagine the following scenario, which is likely to
take place within a few years if the tendencies of the "new
chareidism" continue to gather pace.
Picture the average chareidi family getting together to
celebrate the end of the academic year. The married son, an
avreich proudly displays his academic degree obtained
through a "chareidi college" program. The oldest daughter
has an academic degree from a "chareidi university" (there
is a total separation between men and women). The younger
son has graduated from the chareidi high school (pictures of
gedolim adorn the corridor walls).
The whole family wants to go out to celebrate together. The
younger children moan that they will miss their favorite
program on that evening's chareidi TV station. The
television is in the middle of the living room next to the
seforim cabinet. "Don't worry," their older brothers
reassure them, "Tonight it's bein hazmanim and we
have plenty of choices. The chareidi magazines tell us that
thanks to the initiative of some chareidi MKs and ministers,
a new cultural center has opened up in the center of town
and tonight there are three different performances in each
of the halls. We can choose between a chassidic pop concert,
a chareidi theatrical performance and chareidi cinema.
Everything having been censored in advance and received the
approval of the rabbonim!"
And so the whole family goes out to celebrate, the men
dressed in black suits and hats, of course. On the way, the
youngest boy notices another boy his age wearing a knitted
yarmulke with a pretty butterfly design. The boy
screams that he also wants such a yarmulke instead of his
dull black one. His parents tell him off: "How could you
even think of such a thing, do you think that we are
This would be very amusing were it not so sad.
The term "chareidi" in the fringes of our camp is rapidly
becoming a mere label, an external nonbinding concept. At
the end of this process the chareidi public may end up being
perceived as just another group within the religious sector,
whose Orthodoxy consists of a distinctive uniform.
We must not forget that the term "chareidi" started off as a
definition of a unique type of Jew, who sought to
distinguish between the truly observant and those whose
mitzva observance was less than complete. This became
necessary when it was realized that the term "religious
public" also included large population sectors who "make do"
with mitzva observance on just a basic level and just in
order to get by, to fulfill their duties. These people
subscribe to values imported from the outside, and do not
want to be deprived of anything.
The editor of a "chareidi" magazine talked about this last
year in an interview with a media and advertising
periodical. He explained that there was a fundamental
difference between the conventional chareidi press, such as
Yated Ne'eman, and his publication: "They prohibit
everything. As far as we are concerned, whatever is not
forbidden explicitly is permitted!"
The chareidi Jew lives in a totally different atmosphere, in
a different world. This finds expression not only in his
scrupulous observance of mitzvos and halachic
hiddurim, but also in the formation of a noble inner
world where all one's aspirations are concentrated and
centered on a desire for Torah and avodas Hashem. Of
course not everybody reaches perfection and many are far
removed from it in their personal spiritual lives, but even
if everybody is on a different level, the goal to be reached
is clear. There is a consensus about a person's ideal
internal character which does not allow for the intrusion of
foreign ideas from the outside.
The chareidi Jew goes out of his way to observe mitzvos at
the highest possible standard. He does not consider them to
be a yoke around his neck and he will certainly not try to
exempt himself from them by relying on dubious
The chareidi Jew puts up a clear barrier between himself and
the secular street. He will scorn the worship of academic
degrees. The chareidi Jew sees the dedication of life to
Torah as a supreme ideal to which he aspires and in the
light of which he educates his children. If he must work he
will consider this an unavoidable necessity, but he will
realize that the avreich learning in kollel is
on a higher level than he.
The chareidi community does not encourage a "leisure
culture," a concept stemming from the secular world where
people "kill" time, and it will not adopt secular forms of
entertainment with a "hechsher."
We could cite further examples to illustrate this basic
point: the chareidi Jew lives in a totally different
internal world, not only far removed from that of our
straying secular brethren, but also far from the norms of
those who define themselves as "just religious" (as opposed
to chareidi or "ultra- Orthodox"), one of the central points
of difference being our absolute isolation from foreign
values and the aspirations of society at large.
How upsetting it has been over the past few years to witness
the development of a new "charedism" whose sole connection
at the end of the day with the original product is the black
It is possible that this phenomenon occurred
partly because among those who are aroused to return to
their roots are some who have only taken the preliminary
steps towards full mitzvah observance, but maintain strong
ties to the secular world.
Some have joined the Torah world with their whole inner
being, and not just with external features, dip their whole
selves, their minds and hearts, into the mikveh of
the yeshivas, and absorb and internalize the values and
aspirations of a ben Torah.
However, there are many who have not reached this level and
are still at the early stages. As a first step, they don the
external garb. They may have a black yarmulke on
their heads, but inside the head itself various feelings and
aspirations are still to be found, which are far removed
from the Torah world. The newly observant, who have only
recently been liberated from the fetters of secularism, are
not capable of distinguishing between different shades of
religiosity. They cannot be blamed for this, and we cannot
expect a person to change his inner concepts and aspirations
suddenly and drastically over a short period of time.
These naive Jews see nothing wrong in secular ideas in a
chareidi wrapping. They will ask you to cite the exact
section in the Shulchan Oruch which forbids their
ideas, and will wonder aloud what is so terrible about
coming up with "permissible solutions" to prevent their
families from straying to foreign pastures.
For a real chareidi Jew these questions do not arise in the
first place, but for them the answers are not convincing.
This may be the background and explanation for all these
problematic phenomena which have been imported into the
fringes of chareidi society. Alternatively, they may be the
result of the difficult and incessant temptations which the
contemporary chareidi Jew faces in dealing with an arrogant
secularism. Anyone who has not internalized from his youth
the attitude of, "And his heart was lifted up in the ways of
Hashem," is likely to feel a sense of inferiority ("And we
were in their eyes as grasshoppers") upon being confronted
with the glittering world outside. As a result, this person
will want to introduce elements from the outside world into
the chareidi setting albeit with a "hechsher."
Whatever the reasons for them, we cannot ignore these trends
and, unfortunately, secular circles have already noticed
what is happening, deriving much pride and satisfaction from
this. Articles, investigations and books are filled with
descriptions of the "new chareidim" who represent a new type
of ultra-Orthodoxy whose views do not derive exclusively
from the Torah world with its "extreme" absolute guidelines.
This movement, they report, is developing at the fringes of
chareidi society, to the dismay of the gedolim.
Incidentally, we need not be amazed about surveys published
from time to time by public opinion institutes with a high
percentage of "chareidi interviewees," which contain strange
answers about hashkofoh, lifestyle matters and so on.
If the interviewer defines anyone with a black yarmulke
as "chareidi" we need not be surprised by the far-
reaching conclusions reached in some of these reports.
Perhaps we have reached the stage where a further linguistic
segregation is called for. When secularists sought to
distort the concept of a Jew, the observant started to
define themselves as the "religious public." When the
nationalist religious and compromising circles misused the
term "religious," the term "chareidi" started to be used.
Now that we have "new chareidim," which new definition can
we escape to? Perhaps we should stick to "chareidi" without
any supplements such as "new." Then again, maybe it would be
better if we defined ourselves as the "old-fashioned"
chareidim or even the "obsolete" chareidim!
Chazal say that when Ruth wanted to convert and Naomi
started to explain the main aspects of Torah and mitzvah
observance to her, the first thing she said was, "Jewish
girls are not used to frequenting theaters and circuses" (to
which Ruth replied, "I shall go wherever you go").
Why did Naomi choose to warn her about this point
specifically, which is not even a deOraisa
prohibition on the face of it?
Rav Yosef Lipovitch zt"l explains in Nachalas
Yosef that Naomi is coming to teach us that Judaism is
not just a collection of laws, customs and prohibitions. Our
whole outlook, all our basic concepts are fundamentally
different from the thought processes of the non-Jewish
world. That was why Naomi chose to stress this point, which
demonstrates the profound difference between the Jewish
weltanschauung and that of the non-Jewish world, as
it finds expression in everyday life.
That was how the difference between the Jew's and the non-
Jew's internal worlds used to be perceived in previous
generations. In time, this analysis was restricted to
comparing the inner worlds of the secular and the religious
Jew. At a later stage still, when sections of the religious
public sought to draw closer to outside influences, it was
felt necessary to distinguish between "religious" and
Now that the word "chareidi" has also become a mere "label"
and nonbinding concept, and has lost its uniqueness, even
serving as a decoration for peculiar ideas, where do we go