I was davening in shul late one evening when a
beeping sound came from the Chassidic-garbed gentleman next
to me. Seconds later, a similar sound emanated from my own
We both chuckled as we realized what was happening. Each of
us has a Palm Pilot, and a program that reminds us to count
As I chuckled at the simultaneous sounding of alarms,
however, I was reminded of the stereotypes held by many Jews
about chareidi Jews. "Stuck in the 16th century" is a refrain
I often hear. This, despite the mastery in many chareidi
circles of cutting-edge technology -- and its determined
employment toward Jewish goals.
"No," critics will protest, "We mean that they are stuck in
the 16th century regarding Jewish law." But they are wrong
there too. It is true that halacha does not change simply
because of society's whims or contemporary mores. But it does
develop in order to meet the particular challenges of every
age. The process of applying halacha to new circumstances
I find it particularly ironic that what seems to particularly
rankle some about chareidi fealty to halacha is what the
rankled see as traditional Judaism's "medieval" world-view
with regard to women.
They have a point. Torah Judaism flouts modern society's take
on that topic. It is well known how the contemporary world
treats women, and it is not with respect.
What modern society does to women, halacha rejects, and
forbids; it, moreover, commands husbands to respect their
wives more than themselves.
Recently, I read a piece by a parent who, overwhelmed by the
hectic pace of contemporary life, suggested that families set
aside one night per week for a nice, quiet, uninterrupted and
sacrosanct dinner together. She concluded that it could never
happen. Their lives were simply part of modern society moving
at light speed.
But a family dinner with no interruptions or competing
activities does happen in my family and countless other
traditional Jewish ones. And an elaborate lunch the very next
day. Every single week, and it is a time not only of family
togetherness but of holiness.
And so it occurs to me to suggest that it's not that I, my
Palm-Pilot-toting Chassidic neighbor and other Orthodox Jews
are trapped in the 16th century. It's that most everyone else
is trapped in the 21st.
Eric Sholom Simon, a Research Analyst for the Federal
Bureau of Prisons, is a former Reform movement lay leader. He
and his wife are currently Torah-observant, and active in
Jewish outreach and educational activities in Northern
Virginia, where he studies and teaches Talmud and Jewish