What can the OTD sector do to bolster its ranks and promote its cause?
The OTD sector is burgeoning. In the last ten years it has grown from a no-name isolated and anomalous condition to a widespread and well-known and documented phenomenon. Young people, having been born and raised is a resurgent Ultra-orthodoxy of the 80’s and 90’s are discovering that they’ve been duped and they’re leaving in massive numbers. This doesn’t just reflect the growing numbers of Haredi ranks due to high birth control. Rather, it’s a movement. Like other social and religious movements such as Jewish Reform, Protestantism and the labor movement of the interwar era, the OTD movement is triggered by socio-religious events and conditions within the microcosm of haredi Jewry and the host culture it resides in.
The following is a subjective treatise. It assumes that this movement is good, not just for its adherents but for the Haredi sector from which it derives its numbers, that is to say: it is good for SOME folks within the haredi, whose ranks are bound to swell in the years to come.
So, back to the question: what can be done to further the cause?
a) Education (primary and secondary).
In my opinion, by far the most significant and effective way to go about “proselytizing” is by simply promoting a better all-around education for haredi youth. Haredi culture thrives in darkness. It is a virtual continuation of Dark Age mentality of the Middle Ages: a theistic mindset, emphasis and dogma and deeds, dismissal of science and secular pursuits, xenophobia, superstition, etc… Education opens up eyes. Not everyone will ask the same sort of questions. Some will not ask questions at all; they will merely study to pass exams. But there will be some critical thinkers asking obvious questions about the inconsistencies and fundamentalism of their communities. Many of them will ultimately decide that the haredi lifestyle is ill-suited for themselves and will quit.
I’m not talking about religious education. Yes, of course the haredi youth get a religious education and a very good one at that. But that’s ALL they get. It’s like a biologist who decides to study ONLY the mitochondria of cells, not the ribosomes or the nucleus or the membrane, let alone any other branch of biology. The haredi focus on Torah study is likewise zeroing in on a very particular subgenre of law/legal history: that of the ancient Semites and their pharisaic and rabbinic successors. The tunnel-vision therein is absurd in the extreme.
Needless to say, it isn’t just the OTD movement that benefits from the “enlightened” individuals who choose to leave Ultra-orthodoxy. The departees themselves will benefit. By living a wholesome, normal life, by enabling a tertiary education and a professional and fulfilling career path, the departees render themselves more adaptive individuals, fitter and more likely to pass on their genes, as well as just enjoying life more.
b) better organization.
“Organization” stems from the word organ. An organ is a complex entity that has many components, all of which work in concert to achieve a common goal. As it stands now, the OTD sector is extremely fragmented and disorganized. Not only is there no central body to even attempt to represent their social and religious interests, but there is no way to easy way for one to benefit from shared insight and wisdom –from economies of scale. Individuals who leave often are so disgusted with their radical past that they refuse to look back, even to possibly help another fellow out who is in the same boat with them –the boat that’s sinking. Little do they consider that there is advantage in numbers.
To further illustrate what I mean by lack of organization, there are presently about half dozen social entities founded by or promoting OTD individuals or interests, including Yafed, Unchained at Last, Gotta Givem Hope, Unpious, HasidicNews.com (myself, currently suspended), Failed Messiah, and more. None of those entities coordinate activities with each other even though this should be as common sensible as sliced bread. After all, can an organization helping women who are seeking divorce not find insight by working with an organization helping to promote education or more critical news reporting or gay rights?
Another civic realm where greater coordination would be most desirable and probably effective is politics. The Haredim were very keen to exploit Johnson’s Great Society gravy train for their purposes, channeling millions of Federal dollars in financial aid to their communities in the name of civil rights, equal opportunity and the correction of historical wrongs against a group which suddenly secured for itself the designation “underprivileged class” (as if it’s merely a random, unjustified misfortune that Hasidim can’t get good jobs and are struggling economically).
We, the OTD sector, are the true underprivileged class. We did NOT choose to be born and raised in extremist loony communities who do not harbor any semblance of civic duty and participation in the larger affairs of its nation and humanity at large. We ought to be asking for our civil rights, our rights for equal opportunity, our rights not be penalized in college application procedures just because out parents and communities chose not to send us to High School. Hell, we demand affirmative action. We ask for remedial action to be taken. We want a head start so that we can effectively compete in college and beyond against those who grew up normal.
There are many reasons people leave Haredi society and all of them are just. When someone dodges a car careening towards them thereby saving their life, there is no wrong motive. However, the fight against the oppression of the Haredi ghetto subculture is not just about physical conditions; it’s also about the spirit -- about ideology. Simply put, we need to engage in propaganda (without the loaded negative connotation it has assumed), a.k.a. “public relations”. We need to put our best foot forward with cogent arguments why haredi society is doomed to failure, why it’s maladaptive, why it ought to reform itself and be more tolerant even for those choosing to remain in its midst.
There are many levels to argue for the permissiveness of turning on a light switch on Shabbat. One could argue that it’s not “work”, electricity is not fire, rabbinic law is not binding, God’s law is subject to change, God’s law is not binding unless I choose to it to be (a.k.a. I’m not afraid of God). One could even assert that there is no God. All of these arguments have merit and are worth discussing. But when one has no argument at all, or when it appears that the reason one leaving haredi society is to participate in the rather draker sides of humanity such as drugs, promiscuous sex, excessive drinking and ostentatious display of wealth or “coolness”, then we are setting the wrong model for potential departees.