By Shmuel Katz
The chillul Hashem that we do is often done “in His name.” In the same week that our armed forces (who deserve a tremendous yasher koach every minute of every day for protecting us) thwarted the smuggling of a frighteningly dangerous cache of arms into Gaza, probably saving countless lives, the very people that they protect figuratively spat in their faces. Call it what you want, a gathering or a demonstration, I am astounded by the lack of hakarat ha’tov routinely demonstrated by the chareidi public.
And the American chareidim, assembling in one of the world’s major cities to make a spectacle of Jews in front of the nations of the world? I have nothing but absolute disgust for their actions.
Even the Five Towns Jewish Times appeared to help them. I consider Larry Gordon to be a good friend and a supporter of sense and reason. And I try to give him and the paper the benefit of the doubt when I see something I might find to be over the top in the paper. Which I am sure others do when they see my articles.
However, the 5TJT Facebook feed ran a publicity statement from the Agudah urging people to participate in last Sunday’s event in Manhattan with strong language of support. This raised many eyebrows here (and not a small amount of ire). When I saw it, I assumed that it was a simple cut and paste, done without much review of the content.
As Larry clarified in a subsequent Facebook posting, “There was an apparent misunderstanding here the other day about where I stood or stand on the tefillah asifah that took place in New York City the other day. For whatever it is worth, I was not in favor of such a demonstration and thought that while it was orderly and well organized it bordered on a chillul Hashem more than anything else.
“The dispute as to what the policy should be in Israel about whether or not yeshiva students should be required to do some form of national service of which joining the IDF is just one option is an internal dispute within our community. Hanging it out there for every already existent critic of Israel—of which there are many—to see and hear about is plainly not the way to go.”
I want to explain why some of the statements made at demonstrations/gatherings, online, and in other forums, while factual, are entirely misleading.
Take for instance, the popular, “Only in Israel is it a crime to learn Torah.” The argument is that chareidi youth, who only seek to learn Torah, will be charged with a felony for doing so. This is an outright lie. I am not saying that people will not be charged with a crime if they learn instead of serve. Yet it is still totally false.
Take two youths. One is chareidi and the other is totally chiloni (secular). Both of them choose not to serve in the army. One of them chooses to learn in a yeshiva. The other chooses to spend his days at the beach. Assuming both of them were issued draft notices that they ignored, they are both guilty of the same crime, even though one was totally wasting his time while the other was not. Neither the “going to the beach” nor the “learning” is the “crime.” It is the failure to report when drafted that is the “crime” in this case. It makes no difference what you are doing and how worthwhile that might be. Once you fail to report (without some form of deferment or exemption), you are in violation of the law.
Here’s another of my favorites. “The number of draft dodgers in the chiloni sector is much higher than in the chareidi world.” A draft dodger is someone who is drafted, is not given either an exemption or deferment, and still refuses to report. By definition, that percentage has got to be (currently) minuscule in the chareidi world. They all get exemptions. OK, maybe not all, but a tremendously high percentage of them currently get exemptions. The number of chareidim who do not get exemptions is exceedingly small. Out of that small number of people, those who are drafted and still fail to report (instead of either serving in Nahal Haredi or taking advantage of national service options for married men who fit certain conditions) are the only ones who can actually be called “draft dodgers.” This is obviously a ridiculously small number of people.
By comparison, the vast majority of those in the chiloni sector are actually drafted (without exemptions). So, the pool of draftees in that sector dwarfs the chareidi pool of draftees. Even if they have a small number of draft dodgers on a percentage basis, because the pool is much larger, the actual number of draft dodgers should also be larger. So it stands to reason that they have more “draft dodgers” since they are the majority of the people actually being drafted!
Even political history is being rewritten. Pinchos Lipschutz, editor of the American Yated Ne’eman, comments that had Shas not fallen short (by three seats) of having enough seats to be a part of the coalition, “its members would be prominent ministers, chareidim would be praised, yeshivos would be funded, and Bibi would be the savior.” What he omits is that the Tal (draft) law was actually struck down by the courts in 2012 during the last government’s tenure. There were protests against the expected draft of yeshiva students well before the elections. If it is only the current coalition that is to blame, why did they need to protest back in June 2012?
This crisis was coming well before the current government took office. This was one of the major issues in the last elections, and the voters of a democracy were the ones who selected the parties they favored to govern. So maybe the reason that people turned out to vote in the current coalition is specifically because they saw that chareidi leadership was doing nothing to solve an emerging crisis (other than continuing to whip its constituents into a frenzy) and decided they wanted to elect leaders who would make a change.
Even my friend Rabbi Yair Hoffman writes that top IDF experts say that there is no shortage of manpower for the military. Yet he too is glossing over the issue. The argument is not that the military is undermanned. We have a draft and it gets us enough soldiers. Yet they have to serve three years.
Recently, there was an attempt made to increase hesder service (I wrote about it). The push for the change (one month was added to hesder—not enough, according to those who proposed the changes) did not come because there was a shortage of manpower. It was, instead, motivated by a desire to ease the burden on those who do not do hesder (religious and non-religious alike).
Like the plan for increased hesder service, the current draft plan is aimed (I think) at providing a more equal division of responsibility. Imagine if you were forced to give three years of your youth to the military. Those who grew up in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s don’t have to imagine too hard. While Rav Yair argues that Torah learners are doing their part, the burden (both as regards the army as well as financially) that they are demanding that the rest of the public shoulder is too much to handle. And some would argue that it is not fair to demand that we handle it without physical, tangible help.
The economics of continuing in the current vein are unsupportable and unjust. Both sides must agree to a mutually beneficial arrangement. At the current time, one side is balking and change is being made. Not just with the army, but with education, welfare, financial support, and much more. If the chareidi leadership would lead and take the forefront in finding a workable solution, perhaps something palatable, some middle ground, would have been found. Instead we get rhetoric. Slogans.
The ones I mentioned are just a couple of those currently being used. Prior slogans such as “Orthodox Jews will proudly go to jail rather than join the Zionist army” is a repudiation of many of you (and certainly of me, my children, and many in my community) as Orthodox Jews. How nice.
I remember another that was once used in another demonstration, “The Israeli Draft Law: An attack on our freedom of religion.” Apparently, the proposed law is an attack on the right of a bunch of American Jews to practice religion as they see fit. Even they have to see the absurdity in this.
I have repeatedly voiced my support for what I feel is a more responsible chareidi public and more forward-thinking chareidi leadership. Our history is replete with giants in Torah who had fulfilling careers and who interacted with society. Tannaim, Amoraim, Rishonim, and even the Avot were farmers and businessmen and got involved in wars and in ensuring the safeguarding of their communities. I may be wrong, but for the most part, the majority of them were not in the habit of sticking their hands out and demanding that their communities support and protect them. They took care of their responsibilities (many of them to degrees that we cannot imagine, living spartan lives—but still making their own way, for the most part).
As a side note, as we go to press, the votes are being counted in the Bet Shemesh revote. I am sure to have more to say on this next week. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.