Grandfathering the grandfathers

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Montréal’s Hassidic Jewish community is involved in a long-standing conflict with Québec’s provincial education authorities for reasons that probably most readers can guess: they have generally dragged their heels on implementing the provincial educational curriculum due to (at least perceived) conflicts with ultra-orthodox Jewish teaching. I bring this up because it’s an interesting case in point about an issue that is usually discussed regarding Muslim communities, but in the more or less spoken context of a perceived invasion. Or it is sometimes discussed about very “out-there” Christian groups, generally in the context of concerns about their perceived reactionary political influence among incumbent majorities.

Communities of Jewish people, as we know, suffer from much antiquer animosities, conspiracy theories, and everything, but there’s no meaningful way anyone can accuse them in the West of being the vanguard of a horde of millions of barbarians at the gate or a clash of civilisations or whatever. (Yes yes I know anti-Semites will come up with all sorts of delusional things.) The ultra-orthodox sometimes have frictions with neighbouring communities, including in Québec, as the whole old fracas about the YMCA fitness centre shows. They even have these conflicts in Israel with secular Jews, who sometimes do view them as a barbarian horde, or so I’m given to understand.

A liberal ethical order has, at least in theory, an abhorrence of forcibly conducting cultural groups who wish to maintain their group identity to their dissolution by coerced assimilation, let alone by active destruction. (Let us ignore practice here, for the sake of argument.) But at the same time, the same ethics prize the ability of the individual to forge her own destiny, with community coercion only present to restrict direct negative effects on others — you can’t “forge your own destiny” by deciding to become a cannibal or something.

Closed communities like the Hassidic Jews of Montréal present a conundrum within this ethical rubric, especially once we’ve decided that for a person to be meaningfully able to forge her own destiny, she must be educated to an accepted baseline of common community understandings and veridical knowledge. But: the very basis of communities like this is the different educational foundation. There really can’t be ultra-orthodox Jewish communities of this nature without the peculiar educational structure that ensures that their young people are not brought to the baseline in theory agreed upon by the wider community. For them, the demand that they introduce teaching that deviates from their very specific educational party line is tantamount to demanding that their communities dissolve.

This post has been percolating around my head ever since the very beginning of the hijab ban Charter of Values saga, because the underlying demand of its proponents is for a stronger effort on the part of communities, particularly Muslim ones, to “integrate”, with an effectively punitive attitude to those who do not. And the pretext of this — some of the supporters were prominent Québec feminists — is that religious minorities in particular are resistant to some of the social changes of the majority, particularly those changes that move away from patriarchal mores.

Of which, of course, Hassidic Jews have in spades — in some ways, hijabed immigrant-descending Muslim women are often “better integrated”. And somewhat predictably, the Le Devoir comments section is full of sovereigntist complaints about the unwillingness of this (not meaningfully “immigrant”) community to “integrate” and laying blame on the demon of multiculturalism…

Despite the time this post spent percolating (I actually ruminate for quite some time over a lot of my posts, which is why they’re often so after the fact), I don’t have very good answers to this question. In some ways, events surpassed these communities, or rather, they have made a conscious decision not to adopt many of the changes. And so, the question is, to what extent can they be “grandfathered” into the present order, to what extent do they have the right to protect their mores, to what extent do “we” “allow” them to replicate their communities by pursuing educational ends counter to what they see as the changing foolishness and fashions of a depraved majority?

To some readers, I think the answer will be obvious: not at all, or not meaningfully. Perhaps that is the strictly moral and upright answer, but the reality of people’s lives is sometimes a little twistier.

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on June 8, 2014 2:53 PM.

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