Baruchim ha’nimtza’im b’Jewlicious!

So, in case anyone hasn’t been reading, I was part of the ROI120 conference that graced the Holy City this past week, a meeting of minds I have never experienced before or since. The conference was pluralistic, which, as was the case with other pluralistic conferences I have been to, translated into “95% Orthodox-free.” However, as I learned at LimmudNY, it is usually not the secular or non-Orthodox Jews who are the ones with barriers to “interdenominational” sharing and idea exchange.

I went in thinking that I was going to be the one to raise the banner of charedi Orthodoxy, to show that ultra-Orthodox can be ultra-now, ultra-savvy, and ultra-cool while still remaining true to Torah and halacha. Ostensibly, this meant that I would feel most at home in, or at least connected to, charedi areas in Israel. To say that this simply “was not the case” would be a monumental understatement.

It was quite disillusioning to have my friends from yeshiva tell me that I should “be careful” because the “gedolim” would rally against me for my music and concerts. It was disheartening to feel so welcomed in Modi’in by chardali Jews, but to feel so excluded in charedi neighborhoods and to be told “you’re not really charedi, you’re ‘charedi lite’.” After all, I put myself on the line repeatedly defending charedi communities for even the most extreme of actions, and sing the praises of halachic Orthodoxy in every venue to which I have access — but what I started seeing was a culture which had long since passed halacha, that had built so many fences around Torah that it had grown distant from the Torah itself.

I began to hear stories from Israelis from charedi/dati families who had been abused, manipulated, or generally mistreated by batei din or rabbis and became chiloni as a result. And I began to feel fear rising in myself at the sight of — as happened one night in Rechavia — groups of Chassidic yeshiva students approaching the car I was riding in, thinking “am I dressed right? is this music offensive?”

While I would never, chas v’shalom, leave the path of Torah and halacha, I began to understand the points of view of the Tel Avivim in the audience at my shows who screamed to shamayim about “the charedim”, of the dati-leumi woman in the German colony who said that the phrase “Yiddishe ta’am” (loosely translated: a “Jewish flavor”, referring to extra-halachic distinctions between “Jewish” and “goyish” events, music, or things) was traumatizing, and of the American XO (ex-Orthodox) Jew all at once. I began to see standards of tzni’ut surpassing Iran’s. I began to feel for the hapless drivers who took wrong turns on Friday night only to be greeted by hundreds of cries of “Shabbos!”

I said multiple times during the conference in conversations with the dynamic people G-d allowed me to meet: if the Beit Yosef, the author of the Code of Jewish Law, could get out of his grave in Tiberias and catch a bus to Jerusalem, he would walk through many streets saying “I didn’t write or mean any of this” or Aramaic phrases which would translate to “y’all have issues.”

And I began to wonder if this was a new type of re-formed Judaism I was seeing: re-formed into something bypassing even jihadi daydreams. But it was through this disillusionment that I would re-affirm my ties and affinity to Torah and halacha, and through which I would reaffirm my belief that halacha is the Divine will on paper, the life-defining plan of the Creator Himself as codified.

Perhaps my left-wing, ultra-Orthodox attitude really doesn’t exist in Israel. But I did meet a few like-minded souls at ROI, and baruch Hashem for that.

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About the author


A modern charedi Jew-by-choice since 2000, and igniting headphones with Torah hiphop since 2001.

Originally from Maryland and now holding it down in the shtetlach of New York, won the Jewish Music Awards for "Best Hiphop" in 2006. Vocally anti-prejudice and pro-unity.

Love me, hate me, or debate me, know you can't ignore me, though.

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