>>Avivah, perhaps you can explain something that I am always curious about. When American yeshivish families make Aliyah, they tend to try to join the Chareidi community. But, it seems from my point of view that American chareidi is actually much more similar to chardal, or what is called “dati torani” (basically the same as chardal but men wear knitted kipot and women wear kercheifs). These communities (chardal and dati torani) are makpid on mehudar hechsherim, on seperation of girls and boys, tznius, etc. Many boys in these communities go on to learn in a kollel, but children are given the educational choices to either continue learning or go on for a higher secular education. In addition, they tend to be more open and accepting of behaviors that are halachically in the norm while out of the chareidi norm (e.g., colored shirts for boys, sneakers for women, sports for boys, etc). Is this not more similar to the American yeshivish than the chareidi society?<<
Your description of the chardal and Torani communities is very accurate, and I agree that it seems many families who aren’t aligned philosophically with the charedi community are nonetheless choosing to affiliate as such. I’ve thought a lot about this issue: why are families choosing a path that doesn’t match up with who they are and what they want in the long term? And similarly, why are they not choosing to be part of communities that would seem to be a better match?
There are a few core issues that I see, and I’m going to risk seeming simplistic by sharing them here.
– People will choose a community not only by looking at how they match those in the community from the outside, but based on where their friends are affiliating. So you have a perpetual cycle of Anglos joining the charedi community because their friends are in the charedi community, and then their friends who move to Israel look at them and think that that’s where they should also affiliate. This ties in to the next point.
– There’s a tendency to think that those who look the most religious are the highest quality people. It’s natural if you’re a person who sincerely values growth to want to affiliate with those who seem like they’re on a higher spiritual level. And the people I see making aliyah very much want to grow spiritually. This goes both ways – people will avoid options that look like religious compromises or something that isn’t up to their current standards. When I asked my kids for feedback on this issue, one said, “Everyone who looks like us is charedi, and if we affiliated as Torani, everyone would look down on us and think our family went off the derech (became religiously wayward).” This is very true – there is a lot of judgment based on externals, and as unfair and inaccurate as these judgments often are, that’s how it is.
– The torani/chardal communities are relatively small and therefore harder to find, so you have to be looking for them to find them. The chardal communities seem to be mostly in Anglo areas. Most yeshivish Americans know very little about the Torani community, if they even know that they exist at all. (I’ve asked people their thoughts on the Torani community, and every single person has given me a blank look and said, “What/who is that?”)
– The schools in the relaxed black hat and yeshivish communities in the US feed into seminaries/yeshivas in Israel that are charedi; they have the same rabbis that they look to for guidance. This tracking is very significant.
– The position regarding the State of Israel in the Torani community is politically different than those in the charedi community and this makes some people uncomfortable. (Edited to clarify: by this I’m specifically referring to the position on settling the land and army service – the Torani community is very supportive of the this and the charedi community is not.)
But what I really think it comes down to is, people look for what looks familiar to them. When you look at a community, what you see are the externals, not philosophies. ‘Black hat’ families come to Israel and see the charedi community looks like them, and that’s where they assume they will best fit in. Though this may seem superficial and to a degree it is, the fact is that we identify with those who look like us. And we make the natural assumption that they share our values.
In my experience, many people aren’t aware of the significant philosophical differences in the Israeli charedi community. For example, I asked someone recently what school she would be sending her son to, and when she told me, I asked why. She said it matched their hashkafa/philosophical views. From my knowledge of both the school and family, they don’t seem to be a good fit, so I asked in what way she felt the hashkafa was the same. She responded that the men in the family wear black hats and white shirts during the week. I’ve heard this same response a number of times from others. That’s a dress code, not a philosophy, and it’s a mistake to think that because the outsides match, so do the inner values.
Even when Anglos are told about this discrepancy between world views, they usually minimize it or think that those issues won’t affect them, things will change by the time their children are old enough for it to be a concern, etc. Many Anglos who are new to Israel understandably don’t realize how deep the differences go. It can take quite a while to see how differently Americans think from their Israeli counterparts about a number of key issues, and once you’re part of a community, you don’t leave it so quickly.
Even if a family recognizes from the outset that the Israeli charedi community has some views that aren’t quite similar to their beliefs, they are faced with the reality that they need to send their kids to school somewhere and once they do, they’ll need to conform to the expectations of the school. Someone looking for alternatives will quickly find how few choices there are within the charedi system. The phrase, “If you can’t beat them, join them” has come to my mind many times when contemplating this topic.
The Torani community looks different externally, and what seems like a small difference like the color and material of a kippa has specific associations – for Americans, it’s reminiscent of the modern Orthodox community, though the MO are quite different from the Torani community. In Israel, there’s not much mixing from community to community, and it makes it hard to get to know people outside of your religious framework so there’s a tendency to make judgments from a distance based on externals. As superficial as it may sound, setting aside externals means setting aside all of your past associations, which isn’t easily done. This is an intellectual approach, not emotional, and when you’re moving to a new country, you’re looking for what looks and feels familiar.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that Americans are never going to fit into any non-Anglo community here without adapting their beliefs and practices somewhat, or staying the way they are and accepting that they’re going to be different. This is a different country and you have to be able to accept that there are differences. I know that sounds obvious but it’s not!
If there are other points that I left out, please feel free to comment! If you disagree with me, that’s fine – often I change positions and find myself disagreeing with things I previously believed! – but please be respectful when you comment.