In XGH’s most recent post, How to stop Chareidim breaking the law, the suggestion was to emphasize Kiddush Hashem/Chillul Hasehm (sanctification/desecration of God’s name, usually through public conduct) and its implications for practical conduct in the public square.

While I agree with the sentiment of the post, I think it misses a fundamental point.

There is a 3,000-year old debate in Judaism as to whether human initiative and human judgment is of value.

One position is that God has laid out for us the manner in which we should act, and that the human challenge is to submit to that, to yoke ourselves to that path, and to blind ourselves from anything that might lead us astray. This is the path adopted by Hareidim today.

The other position is that we have been granted a Divine gift of judgment and decision-making, and that we must use those faculties to choose a proper path through an ever-changing world. This is the Modern Orthodox (MO) position.

When the MO look at the Hareidi world, they level a critique based on observed facts. How can it be, they say, that you are following the Divine path, if your real-world outcomes are so poor? Your institutions are built on corruption and theft, your youth are delinquent, uneducated, and filthy, and your communities rally behind th emsot odious villains and act out violently as thier only means of expression. Surely this can’t be God’s will!

In turn, when Hareidim look at the MO, they don’t look so much on the facts on the ground as much as the influences. If you, the MO, want to believe your judgment is sanctified and in line with the Divine will, you must purify yourselves. If you were influenced only by Torah and expressed excellent character traits, perhaps we could believe in your judgment. But instead, your homes have televisions and internet showing obscene images and abhorrent culture. Your children grow up knowing more rock songs by heart than mishnayot, idolizing movie stars instead of Gedolim, and wasting their time on Harry Potter instead of Halacha.

I’m not sure how to bridge this gap, but I do know that the first step towards bridging it is understanding it. This is an ancient Machloket. It’s the same as the argument over whether the world was created in Tishrei or in Nisan. It’s the same as the argument over whether God performing miracles on your behalf is a good reflection on your or a  bad reflection on you. It’s the same as the argument over whether we should start the Haggadah with the story of our slavery in Egypt or our idolatrous roots in Mesopotamia. And this isn’t something we’re going to easily resolve.

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