Why do American black hat families choose to join the charedi community in Israel?

>>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.  


22 thoughts on “Why do American black hat families choose to join the charedi community in Israel?

  1. Hi Aviva,
    Thanks for this post! T
    As a side note, do u mind posting a list of Chardal communities up north or in Gush Etzion that we might enjoy?

  2. Israeli society in general is very polarized. The lifestyles of Israeli Chareidim have unwritten set rules which include where one lives, how he dresses, which institutions he supports, and where his children go to school. The American Charedi coming to live in Israel must choose Schools for their children. The choices are schools within the charedi system outside of the state funded religious educational school systems. I believe you are correct in understanding why the american ‘black hat’ family on the surface identifies with the Charedi system and only after living here for a while understands the many differences, In order to fit in the parents must conform to israeli charedi standards or else they will end up with troubled, conflicted children. The chardal and dati leumi torani communities are actually closer to the american ‘black hat ‘ communities in respect to how they educate their children and their attitudes toward parnassa and commitment to torah learning. One of the major difference is in the strong connection to Zionism and settling the land of Israel – and the willingness to join the army in some form. This is a point you left out. NBN has a list of “chardal” type Schools- http://www.nbn.org.il/advanced-search-schools/tag.html?tagId=57 They also have a list of chardal communities
    http://www.nbn.org.il/component/customproperties/tag.html?tagId=27 However this list is very broad and some are mixed communities where many different types of families live, and there are also communities of american/chardal/dati leumi torani families living.
    Of the ones mentioned – some examples are
    Moshav Matityahu – has a large majority of english speaking Charedi families under the leadership of Rav Leff
    Har Nof, Ramat Bet Shemesh, Neve Yaakov, Nof Ayalon are examples of communities that have a large community of families with American ‘black hat ‘ background.
    Alon Shvut- in Gush Etzion has a large english speaking dati leumi torani community as well as Israeli chardal.
    Many of the other communities both up north, and in the south are Israeli communities where groups of young chardal families have moved to form Torani garinim. It is probably a good idea to join the nefesh b’nefesh chat list and ask about the schools and make-up of the communities that one would be interested in living.

    1. Hi, Shoshana, welcome and thank you for your comment! I’m sure your list of communities will be a helpful starting place for people to look into.

      As far as the point that you said I left out about settling the land and the army, I had this in mind when I wrote:

      >>- 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.<<

      1. Aviva,
        I think that it is just a little bit more than the fact that joining the army makes people makes some people uncomfortable. I think it is the major difference – more so than simply looking at dress styles. It is not just discomfort with a political difference. These families really want to live in Eretz Yisroel and lead a more meaningful spiritual life without actually supporting the State of Israel and contributing in some way to the defense of Israel- Most don’t do sherut leumi or sherut ezrachi either.- It does mean that they must give up a way of life that they had in America which included more leisure activities like sports etc, as well as virtually no secular education for their children. This conflict has caused many at-risk problems with their children.

  3. You are either very sensitive or very naive. I don’t know about olim today (I came over 30 years ago) but in our day, the main reason people joined the chareidi society instead of religious zionist (which includes yeshivot like mercaz, and i don’t think you will fault their students as being halachically lax) was to avoid the army. Like the saying goes, maybe they are “moser et hanefesh” for Torah learning – but I’ve yet to see a yeshiva student killed by a falling sefer.

  4. “There’s a tendency to think that those who look the most religious are the highest quality people.” That is so so true. There is so much judgment and stereotypes of what makes you “really, really” frum and if you send your kids to X school then you’re so “holy” but if you send them to Y then… you “settled”

  5. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. This is a very sensitive issue that most Americans thinking about making Aliyah are dealing with. My family is planning on making aliyah with 6 months and this issue is discussed almost every Shabbat. I am not sure how to deal with it other than to speak to a Rav but if he is charedi he will probably tell you to stick to that camp…

    1. Asking a rav really is a challenge for exactly the reason you said. If you ask a charedi rav in Israel, it’s highly likely you’ll be warned about the dangers of other religious communities (this is what happened when we asked for feedback on our decision to send our boys to the school that we do – we were told that it’s dangerous to send to a school where the students have access to the media and it would be better for our children to be in standard charedi schools). But you can’t ask an American rav because they aren’t here.

  6. Shoshana, when I said that it makes people uncomfortable, it was a purposely understated comment. I totally agree with your point. I chose not to detail what I meant because this is a highly charged emotional issue for people and I felt, hamaivin yavin.

  7. One of the major difference between american black-hat and torani/chardal is in the strong connection to Zionism and settling the land of Israel – and the willingness to join the army in some form

  8. The difference for me would be television. That’s the great divider. If the MO would get the darn TV out of the house, I’d be fine with a MO school. You are not going to eat in any restaurant that serves poison. TV has become poison.

    1. I agree that television overall is a negative influence. But in the Torani community, they don’t watch television. Torani and MO are not the same at all.

  9. Hi Avivah, this was very nice! I just stumbled upon this and linked to it at our essay on Karmiel here:

    I wish we had spoken more while you were living here. In any case, there is just one point with which I don’t fully agree, namely when you remark: “that’s the way it is.” My wife and I don’t think it has to be that way: You don’t have to judge people and groups by their externals, and you don’t have to join the same kind of community that other people “like you” have joined. In fact, if you avoid doing this, your aliyah is likely to be a lot more successful.

    1. I’m still living here, Avi!

      I said: “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 don’t see where we disagree. I can accept that people are put into boxes without participating in that; seeing what the reality is doesn’t mean someone agrees with it or contributes to it.

  10. I recently found your blog and this post really resonated with me. My parents moved to Israel 25 years ago. At the time the chardal and torani communities were not really established, but the dati community had some Torah-strong factions, if this makes sense. My parents still joined the charedi community for many of the reasons you mention. I was the oldest and 6 years old at the time and even though there were some things that weren’t an issue, like popular culture or TV (we never had those nor was I exposed to it) there were other things that I didn’t understand, like why I had to wear blue tights and not white socks, and why I had to put my hair in a ponytail or braid rather than clip it back with barrettes. Despite trying their hardest, my parents never fit in and I was teased a lot in school. Today, none of my 7 siblings are charedi. We range between non-religious and even atheist, to torani and chardal, but none stayed in the charedi community and my parents consider us all “off the derech”. It’s sad that they felt that had to conform to that community and now can’t accept our choices or our interpretations of what a Torah lifestyle is, even though quite a few of my siblings are “more religious” than my parents were when they were their age!

    1. Welcome, Rena, and thank you for sharing. That sounds like a painful experience for you and I’m sorry that you’re still not able to be validated as valuable as you are right now. ((((Hugs)))

  11. What is missing in your post is the realization that the charedi community is also mulifaceted. Of course, none of them will subscribe to the ‘Atchalta D’Geula’ according to Rav Kook, but there are also charedi communities which have no problem with working for a living, that there is a well used charedi track to higher education that is just different so generally ignored and that ther are even more charedi families sending boys to the army (My 6th boy was drafted this week). I live on a mixed Torani charedi yishuv. It is true that in some things the Torani and US charedi have common practice, but it is not as simple to cross over as you think. It would probably better to suggest that they look around at the charedi communities first before bringing what could be a major problem. It is not a simple matter to say to children that SOME of what used to be assur is now mutar in our new community. Better to leave this issue to each family and their own LOR.

    1. Hi, Rivka, welcome!

      I know my readers as well as myself would love to hear about what charedi communities you’re referring to in which working is a mainstream positively regarded choice. I’d also appreciate hearing about the charedi track to higher education that you mentioned. Thank you!

      I agree that the charedi community is multifaced, and I don’t believe it’s simple to cross over – this is really only something for someone with young children to consider.

  12. Spent 4 hours today on a Nefesh b’Nefesh webinar for folks like me considering making Aliyah. One item stressed was to be sure to find a community where an Oleh would fit in. Here in the US I like davening Orthodox because they seem serious about spiritual matters, not a “social club.” I’m BT, struggling to be shomer Shabbat, kashrut, etc. I have no clue what sort of community in Israel would work for me. By the way I love culture – symphonies, opera, fine art, literature, and so on. Does that make me MO?

    Torah observant seems to come in many different flavor in Eretz Yisroel.

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