From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
It is difficult sometimes to relate to the destruction of a Temple and a way of life that occurred 2,000 years ago. But every year something happens that I decide to focus on as “this year’s churban,” this year’s representation of national destruction, that allows me to properly mourn our reality. Sometimes it happens right after Tishah B’Av, sometimes months later, and sometimes, as in this year’s sorry episode, in the days leading up to Tishah B’Av, our national day of mourning.
I speak of what I consider a new low in behavior, an episode so painful, with implications so deep, that it rivals, at least in my mind, the greatest of tragedies. I speak of an incident that happened just this past Tuesday night in Meah Shearim, when a group of chareidim, ultra-Orthodox Jews, surrounded a chareidi Israeli soldier and assaulted him. It reportedly was not an isolated incident.
I speak of that episode that I will focus on as the symbol of national destruction in 5773. If I were a secular Israeli—a “chiloni,” as termed by the Orthodox—my response to the above incident would be something like this.
“You want me to believe and practice like you? I say, give me a reason to believe. The recent events in Egypt, the overthrow of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, states our chiloni position well. The average human being does not want to be micromanaged by a G‑d or by any human being. We do not want every facet of our daily lives to be controlled. We want freedom and, face it, Orthodox Judaism with all of its requirements and restrictions is the antithesis of freedom.
“Did you ever wonder why so few of the members of any mainstream religion are practicing their faith? It’s because man wants to determine his own daily routine. We want self-determination. We want freedom. You want us to believe like you? Give us a reason to believe!
“Now assume for a minute that there is a G‑d. Should I assume you and your lifestyle are representative of His will? Should I model myself after you? I have been to your synagogue, albeit not often. It was so noisy I could not believe it. Where is the reverence? Where was the fear of G‑d you profess to have?
“You cheat each other in business. The stories are well known. You devise all kinds of ways to take from the government, here and abroad. You want me to believe? Give me a reason.
“When my secularist friends err, maybe it’s because we are not educated in your ‘Torah ways.’ But you, who claim to live by the word of G‑d, you who are educated, you pick and choose. You are hypocrites.
“You say we are pushing away the Messiah. Really? There is more infighting in your ranks than in ours. This rabbi won’t talk to that rabbi, this sect won’t eat the meat supervised by a rabbi of a different sect or branch of Orthodox Judaism. This group believes in the eiruv, this group won’t. Come on, in whose camp is the baseless hatred of the other Jew fomenting? We live and let live.
“When one of us chilonim don’t grant our ex-spouse a get, it is because it’s just not that important to us. When one of your ilk refuses to give their wife a get, it is done to torture the woman, out of spite, anger, and revenge. Give me a reason to believe!
“You sit and learn all day in the Torah study hall in Jerusalem. Who provides the electricity to illuminate the hall? Who provides the water that’s in your coffee? Who paves the roads you walk on to get to the study hall? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s the very government you seek to delegitimize. Which army shoots down missiles from the sky before they fall on your homes and schools?
“Whose soldiers bleed and die so you are not dispossessed by the enemy? The very soldiers you attacked the other night.
“I did a little research into your Torah, my chareidi friend. I found a few interesting things. Deuteronomy, chapters 20 and 24. Read it. Who is exempt from fighting in a war, from joining the army? Well, according to your Torah, one who is engaged to a woman, has planted a new vineyard, or has built a new house is exempt from fighting but must provide backup assistance to the military. One who is just married or just redeemed a planted vineyard or rendered it profane is exempt for a year from not only active combat but from backup assistance as well. Similarly, one who built the new home and inaugurated it may enjoy the one-year full exemption. That’s it. Those are all the exemptions I see listed in your Torah. Some get an exemption from fighting but must provide national service and others enjoy the exemption from fighting and national service but only for a year. That’s it. End of story.
“And here is the clincher, my chareidi friend: On Deuteronomy chapter 20 verse 8, your Tanna, Rabbi Akiva (who by the way was a chiloni till age 40 and who loved every Jew) explains that a person who is a sinner should not fight because his sins will weigh him down. Following that logic, the only people who should join the Israeli army are you chareidim, you Torah-followers, because you are the only ones following the word of G‑d! We sinners should be the last ones fighting. Isn’t that ironic? We should stay home and you should defend us!
“And then you attack one of your own, a chareidi who had the inner strength to defend the country that defends you! We thank him, you attack him. And you want me to believe and act like you? Give me a reason to believe.
“My chareidi brother, maybe if you were different, we chilonim, as you call us, maybe we would be different. Maybe if you believed in man more, we would believe in your G‑d more.” v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.