The New Haredim

The New Haredim

“The haredi Israeli world is undergoing enormous changes. In 10 years it’ll be something else entirely,” predicts social activist Racheli Ibenbuim

Published in the Jerusalem Post, March 2nd, 2017

There is a general consensus among young haredim that we are living through a major transformation in the history of the ultra-Orthodox community. There is a new generation of haredim who are feeling more and more Israeli, and they are regarding their identity, responsibility and tradition from different angles. The authority of rabbis is slowly, but noticeably, becoming weaker and what used to be referred to as a rather homogeneous haredi society is disintegrating. One increasingly hears: “There isn’t a haredi society anymore, but haredi societies.”

“Elul,” a short story by Ibenbuim, provides an intimate look into the inner lives of the new haredi Israelis. The story begins before dawn of the first day of Elul. Ibenbuim’s month of Elul is then personified in a figure who roams the pitch-black streets of Jerusalem, knocking on windows to wake up Jews for early morning prayers, navigating his way in the dark alleys of the city using both a lantern and a smartphone. Then the story moves into a couple's bedroom in one of the houses around. The woman is already awake, but keeps her eyes shut, contemplating her religiosity, spirituality and everyday life.

The world of the new haredim vividly illustrated in the story is distinctly traditional, yet at the same time colored pale Facebook blue, reflecting everyday Israeli reality. The conflicts the author masterfully expresses are the deliberations of a growing number of young haredim – activists, entrepreneurs, educators, artists, thinkers, businessmen, yeshiva students, working women and more – who are reflecting on a crucial transitional period in their community and are trying to mend what they see as the wounds of their society. Some of them even task themselves with envisioning what it would mean to be haredi in the next decade of the millennium.

Some link these changes to the proliferation of smartphones and access to the Internet; others, to the desperate need of youngsters for education and employment outside the community, an experience that broadens their worlds and blurs the lines of segregation. The most urgent question though, isn’t why this is happening, but rather where the community is heading. 

Four youngish haredim coping with some of the most explosive topics in the haredi world – gender equality, political identity, the authority of rabbis – tried to answer at least some of these questions. 

continue reading at the JPost  published March 2nd