Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Monday, May 08, 2006

Has The Agudah Jumped the Shark?

For years, I've had mixed emotions about the Agudah. But it always seemed as though their critics were always those on the left. But now, they're getting ripped a new one from the Right. What's going on?

To me, Agudah always represented the charedi baal habatim. They were never too far to the right, and they've always seemed to strike a balance between being chareidi and yet worldly and intellectual. When you go through the Jewish Observer, for example, you get the impression that they're trying to appeal to the intellectual baal habatim out there. They have the cool covers, the Jonathan Rosenblum articles on Israeli politics, a few book "reviews," (I take the CD reviews in Country Yossi more seriously, but anyway), and a poem written by someone with nothing better to do. While I think they fail miserably in trying to be intellectually stimulating, their style is a stark contrast to that of Lipschitz in the Yated, who will just use his editorial page to bash YU. Lipschitz is blunt and direct; he doesn't even attempt to cloud his thoughts with an aura of intellectualism.

And with the article on metzitza, it was more of the same. They tried making it look like a balanced, intelligent discussion ("Public Health and Masores HaAvos"), and that's a big part of why they're getting ripped. Plus, some of the gedolim didn't agree with what Zweibel had to say, so that's also a big part of the issue.

The general public's shift to the right is what will doom Agudah. It is no longer fashionable to be charedi and intellectual. Now, only the former will do. Anything that even has slight implications that would be anti-daas torah is to be vilified. And as it is, there's been a split in daas torah over the past few years between the more "moderate" gedolim and the ones who are more to the "right." And people who are machmir very often have no tolerance for dissenting views. And in light of all the book bans and the general move to the right, the credo of "eilu v'eilu" doesn't quite ring true in many circles. Harry Maryles had a great piece on this idea, which I currently cannot find. But while you're looking for it, read through his archives. Great stuff.

The Agudah has represented the shtark baal habatim, the ones who went to yeshiva and went to college. But these are the last of a dying breed. These days, everyone is either learning for life, off the derech, or "frum apathetic." Very few worldly yeshiva types are being produced. So Agudah's clientelle is dwindling.

You also get the feeling that R' Moshe Sherer ZTL was irreplaceable. Nobody else in the Agudah has been able to fill his shoes. Then again, who knows if R' Sherer even would've been accepted by the chareidim if he were around in 2006?

- My prediction: over the next few years, the Agudah will either shift to the far right (no more JO's about secular studies) or simply cease to exist.

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