Among the many loanwords, idioms, and sayings German has borrowed from Biblical scripture (Gen 1:2 here), “Tohuwabohu” might be among the most catchy – in no small part because its sound well reflects what it denotes: a mess, a disorder, a state of chaos.

I’m trying not to stretch the analogy too thin, but let’s say that every chaos provides the chance of a new order.

Over the past few weeks, news from Britain’s ultra-Orthodox communities has been emerging which make me think that the frum communities there have arrived at a state of chaos. Mind you, there are enough posts and news stories out there covering what caused this state and its development, so this won’t be my objective. Everytime there’s a scandal in the frum community, snark is to be expected. I’ve also been guilty of my share of schadenfreude, but, realistically, this is not going to improve or solve anything.

Friends of mine in the frum community have shown their concern not only over how the public eye may perceive them but also what will come out of this scandal. There is hope that the outcome may be positive.

The “off the derech” parts of the frum community (ex-frum?) have received widespread recognition over the past few years; mainstream media have covered their plight as they try to fit in in the secular world, battle over custody with frum ex-spouses, get on a quest to find their true calling etc. There is less coverage about those that fail as they leave the safety of the familiar communities and find that the world “out there” that had looked so promising is full of everyday battlefields of its own; a sheltered upbringing had spared them many of the everyday woes and insecurities secular people are challenged by. (In a nutshell, as long as they are exotic curiosities, they make great reading / watching material.)

However, little notice is taken of those that are frum and okay with it. That is, they may not be okay with everything that goes on in the frum communities. They may even feel utter disgust at the many scandals that have been uncovered, not in small part thanks to modern media. But, and here’s the thing, many of them are not disgusted by those scandals because they draw attention to their communities but because they are genuinely disgusted by what caused those scandals: crimes, sexual abuse in particular, are not met with indifference by many. On the contrary, most of the frum people I’ve met and all of the many I’ve become friends with, are decent people that want to live happy, productive, and ethical lives. They want their leaders and organisations to reflect their values. They want to be at peace with people that are less religious and people of different or no faith. They want to be educated both in religious and secular matters. And they want to be frum – because their community gives a lot to them and they feel they’ve got a lot to contribute to their community. They want to be frum because they enjoy the communal and family aspects of frum life. They want to be frum because they feel that being a happy person and being dedicated to a religious lifestyle do not clash.

Many are in a pickle; so far, being different amounted to becoming secular – or so it seemed. There appeared to be little middleground, even though all they wanted was a frum life but just a little bit different. And now that those scandals seem to be toppling over the old hierarchies, many hope that the frum communities will not fall apart but change into something more along the lines of what would make them be at peace with their communities: religious, yet not feverishly so; dedicated, but not lost; driven by values rather than seeing the ends justifying the means; critical where criticism is warranted; modern as far as possibilities and responsibilities are concerned; ethical with the gauge of religious practice and custom being values and not fulfillment.

There is a lot in the frum world that I feel is worth preserving even if you are not part of it. I love the sound of Yiddish and love listening to a native speaker who is at ease with that language. I love seeing how dedicated many are to their families in times where many families break apart and many Western countries experience only small or even negative population growth. I admire their knowledge that children suck up from small on – even if it has no practical benefit in the eyes of outsiders. (How much practical benefit is there in many children’s TV shows? See.) I praise their degree of literacy; I’ve rarely met a frum person that was not a fast learner, not matter what content was thrown at them. (In contrast, an estimated 7% of adults in Germany – where primary and secondary education is basically free and attending a school is mandatory – are analphabets.) I cherish their love of helping others and how deeply they care.

And I hope the current turmoil in their community won’t be lost to scandals on the news.

About the author


1 Comment