The Hareidim – a Primer
In light of the recent civil unrest and civil disobedience displayed in hareidi communities the world over, we bring to you a short primer on the Haredim. Hopefully, this brief outline will afford our readers a better understanding of the nature and composition of the community.
Not all haredim are hasidic, but all hasidim are haredim. In general, the hareidi community comprises two distinct communities, hasidim and non-hasidim. Both are ultra-Orthodox Jews, also known as frum Jews, hence the name of this Facebook group. The hasidic community contains multiple sects, such as Satmar, Chabad, Ger, Belz, and many others. For the most part, all the hasidic sects are at odds with each other, with some also at war. The reasons for this division and rancor are varied, some are battles over turf, others battles over ideology and influence. For example, the Satmar and Chabad sects have been at war for the better part of the past 50 years. However, of late, they have agreed upon a cold truce. This detente was due to the joining of forces to repel the treif influence of the internet and other evil secular influences.
Hasidic sects, except Chabad and Breslov, are led by a living rebbe, or admor (grand rabbi). Chabad is still in the throes of its failed messianic experiment, which collapsed with the death of M.M. Schneerson, their rebbe, in 1994. Unable to accept their leader’s failure to bring the messiah, Chabad leaders have refused to appoint a rebbe in his place. Most Chabad followers recognize their rebbe’s death and burial in Montefiore Cemetery, Queens; however, some still refuse to accept that he is no longer among the living. This extreme Messianic faction controls the main 770 synagogue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. They believe the rebbe is the long awaited messiah and, though we can’t see him, is still alive.
The case of Breslov is somewhat similar to that of Chabad in that a new leader was never appointed after Rebbe Nachman’s (their founder) death in 1810. Breslov, too, is a fervently messianic group. However, Breslov has never officially proclaimed Rebbe Nachman as messiah, but instead insisted that his light will burn until the messiah’s coming. Breslov hassidim place great importance on praying by Rebbe Nachman’s grave in Uman, Ukraine, on Rosh HaShana.
The non-hasidic hareidim, aka Litvish, aka yeshivish, Jews, mostly hail from the area of pre-war Lithuania and live in the Flatbush/Midwood section of Brooklyn and Lakewood, N.J. They are led by the non-hasidic faction of Agudas Israel of America. Agudah, for short, is the leading umbrella group of American ultra-Orthodox Jews. Agudah not only protects the interest of the non-hasidic community, it also tries to cover up the misdeeds of the hasidim. For this reason when the New York State Education Department ordered hasidic yeshivas to teach their students the mandated minimal secular subjects, it was Agudah who sued them in Federal Court. It was this same Agudah who recently sued Governor Cuomo when he ordered the shuls in Boro Park and Flatbush closed for Simchat Torah.
A third group of hareidim, that of Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews, also exists. This group is much more prominent in Israel, where their political party, Shas, holds 9 seats in the Knesset. Hareidi Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews are primarily found in the US in the Syrian community of Brooklyn.
All hareidim are suspicious of secular authority, scientific knowledge, and anything “modern.” They feel that they must reject secular authority whenever it infringes upon their Torah lifestyle. It is this rejection of secular authority that is behind all the ills in the hareidi community. For example, cheating on one’s taxes is legitimized because leading a Torah lifestyle is expensive and very costly — from private school yeshiva tuition to the price of glatt kosher meat. Working off the books and not paying taxes is the only way for many frumme to get by. In addition, cheating and scamming the welfare system is also legitimized on this account. How else is a frum family of 10 living in a 3 bedroom section 8 apartment going to survive?
The rejection of civil authority is also behind the widespread disregard of social distancing guidelines currently wreaking havoc in hareidi enclaves the world over. They believe, as the Belzer rebbe made clear, that they cannot allow the guidelines to interfere with their day-to-day Torah lifestyle. If people have to die, so be it, the Torah lifestyle must go on.
We must emphasize that the extreme fundamentalism of current hareidi practice, theology, and philosophy is a recent creation. In earlier times, observant Jews had a healthy respect for science, doctors, and civil authority. Whether on account of the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel, or otherwise, the hareidi community’s rejection of civil authority is unprecedented in the annals of Jewish history.
Please note that, though the demographics are not in their favor, there still exists a substantial group of Modern Orthodox (or MO) Jews. Modern Orthodox Jews are generally college educated professionals and businessmen. While ritually observant, this group is familiar with contemporary culture and respects the rule of secular law.To read this on Facebook please click here.