By Barry Jacobson –
Originally published June 13, 2013 –
A beautifully arranged presentation, graciously hosted by the Wolfson family, was held this past Motzaei Shabbos regarding the upcoming plan in Eretz Yisrael to conscript yeshiva bachurim into the IDF. Sadly, at the conclusion, I left with a feeling of disappointment.
No questions were permitted from the floor. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the speakers afterwards, who generously listened to me. But that was not the same as a full discussion of a difficult issue.
I am grateful to Rabbi Bender for his infinite chassadim to my family in numerous areas. Any comments I make are in no way intended to minimize the tremendous feelings of respect I have for him. Similarly, I had the opportunity to know the father of Rabbi Ginzberg from my days in yeshiva. He was a paragon of seiver panim yafos, friendship, kindness, and concern about the welfare of all the bachurim. Any points I raise here are only intended as an exchange of ideas and an expression of deep pain for what I and many others see in the current state of affairs.
I was inspired to devote a number of years to learning in my early youth. The warm feelings towards Torah, Yiddishkeit, and a Shabbos table filled with ruach will never be dimmed. The desire to maximize that path motivated me to send my kids to chareidi yeshivos where they were given a warm and meaningful Torah education. However, I am deeply disturbed at what has been happening on a wider level in the klal as a whole. I believe I speak for many others, and I know my chaverim have discussed these issues with me, as well.
After introductions by Rabbi Kobre, Rabbi Bender opened with a discussion of the importance of Torah in protecting the klal. He quoted the Gemara in Cheilek that one who says “Mai ahanu lan rabbanan, ldidhu karu ldidhu tanu,” is an apikorus. (One who says, ‘What do the rabbis help us? They only learn for themselves.’ He is considered an apostate.) Rabbi Bender discussed how there were a certain number of yeshiva bachurim learning, while the soldiers fought, during the times of Tanach. He also mentioned how the chareidim have a much lower rate of incarceration in Israeli jails than the general population, thus demonstrating that the Torah teaches good behavior. Finally, he mentioned that there are a number of chareidi organizations which do much chesed for the klal as a whole in Israel, not just for the frum segment, such as supporting the poor and providing assistance with medical issues.
Rabbi Ginzberg focused on why even people who had respect for gedolim in the past, such as those of the stature of Reb Moshe Feinstein, now seem to have wavered, and why questioning daas Torah has become more widespread, particularly on blogs.
Rabbi Eli Paley focused on some of the technical issues, such as how many soldiers the army really needs, and some of his own experiences in the army which seemed to be difficult for a chareidi lifestyle. He seemed to imply that the army is used in some ways as a form of indoctrination and acculturation with the secular viewpoint, rather than as an absolute necessity for security.
Rabbi Kobre mentioned some of the problems chareidi soldiers have recently faced, including medical exams which intruded upon their sense of privacy, and that even in the newer chareidi programs, 25% of the alumni come out non-frum. He took umbrage with a statement from a high level army chief that the chareidim are a worse problem than Ahmadinejad. Rabbi Kobre concluded that this is a state of emergency, and we all need to cry out for salvation.
All of this is true. But it is totally beside the point. The main problem that needed to be addressed, but was totally ignored, is why the chiloni sector has turned on the chareidim at this point in time. It is my belief that we are largely to blame. If it were only a matter of logistics, with the enrollment of more chareidim, suitable infrastructure would be set up so as to better serve them. But that is not at all the point of this article.
For the past 100 years, the chareidi world has been fighting Zionism like it is some kind of poison. They coined fiery slogans such as the Zionists didn’t become frei in order to build a state; they built a state in order to become frei. Aside from being totally foolish, as one can become frei by going to the McDonalds down the block without going through the backbreaking effort of building a state, it is an insult to the downtrodden Jewish people. After suffering 2,000 years of persecution, poverty, plagues, and pogroms at the hands of their host countries, which caused the spirits of many to break, is there no understanding why the status quo was unbearable? Many were converting and leaving Judaism in droves because they couldn’t take the anti-Semitism, discrimination, and misery. Many fled to America or wherever else they could get into.
Theodore Herzl warned that things would only get worse, and his prophecy was 100% correct, as we saw in the Holocaust. He knew the answer was for the Jews to get a place of their own, and he tried his best to help his suffering brethren, despite whatever personal failings he may have had. He did magnificent work. Think about how hard it is to organize a shul dinner, and then imagine how hard it is to organize a country. He had to rally the Jews, raise funds, meet with countless heads of state. The chareidim totally vilified Herzl and forbade any hazkarah in his honor within the city of Brisk after he passed away. The rav of the main shul in town locked the doors to prevent it. But the population was undeterred and broke the lock and held a massive service with thousands of people in attendance. To this day the vilification continues.
In 1923, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah passed a resolution condemning the efforts of the Zionists and vowed to fight any attempt to set up a state with all means at their disposal. This was 25 years before the saga of the Yemenite children whose peyos were allegedly cut off. This fighting and denigration of the medinah continues until this day. Chareidim refuse to say the tefillah for the medinah or for the chayalim in their shuls, citing all kinds of Kaballistic reasons, or because we don’t have power to write new tefillos (despite that we say new kinnos on Tishah B’Av for the Shoah) or other creative points. However, in the old siddur Otzar HaTefilos, written about 100 years ago, there is a tefillah for Czar Nikolai, his wife, his parents, and children, mentioning them all by name, with effusive praise for each. We are allowed to say a tefillah for this individual who was no friend of the Jews, but for our brethren in the Israeli government, it would somehow ruin the davening.
The average Jew is tired of this stuff already. When a Jew goes to Israel and is greeted at the airport by the sign, Bruchim Habaim L’eretz Yisrael, his heart soars. When he enters Yerushalayim and sees the beautiful floral arrangement spelling out Bruchim Habaim LiYerushalayim, and sees the Old City and the Kotel, his heart is torn with emotion. When he sees young soldiers guarding the streets with dangerous weapons, the same age as our kids, who are often roaming the pizza shops, he is amazed at the level of responsibility and maturity they have achieved at such a young age. When he sees how advanced the country has become technologically, such that it exports its know-how all over the world, in areas such as military technology, water management, agriculture, medicine, electronics, software, and nanotechnology, his heart bursts with pride. When he realizes that there is freedom to set up as many shuls and yeshivos as he pleases, without any fear of pogroms or anti-Semitism, he is overjoyed and dumbfounded that for the first time in 2,000 years, this is possible. Medinas Yisrael is the biggest berachah the Jews have received since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
Now we run into a problem. When somebody tells us that daas Torah is opposed to this, or that the founders of the state were wrong, or bad people, or that we should not say the tefillah for the Medinah, should not celebrate Yom HaAtzamaut, should not sing Hatikvah, should not stand for the memorial sirens on Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaShoah, the average Jew becomes rather confused and torn, with his heart telling him one thing, and all kinds of yeshivishe propaganda that has been drummed into his head telling him another thing.
A little while ago, there was a picture on the front page of the 5TJT of a young child hugging his father’s grave at the military cemetery. The father died so we can enjoy the freedom and the shuls, yeshivos, and mekomos hakedoshim of Eretz Yisrael that we now have. Can chareidim not give this poor child respect for two minutes and stand still while he cries? How dare any leader not emphasize basic decency in his yeshiva. When a frum IDF soldier is stoned and rained with trash when he enters Meah Shearim, the rest of the country is sickened. We often hear that it is one meshugeneh. Totally wrong. When verbal violence is preached at the top levels, physical violence results at the lower levels.
All the chesed that the chareidim do, while certainly well appreciated (as it is here in the Five Towns, as well), it doesn’t come to a drop in the ocean of the chesed that the Medinah does. The chareidim may provide transportation, food, or advice to people in need of medical treatment. But who provides the hospitals, medical training, medicines, instruments, research, universities where training and innovation is carried out, and roads to transport the patients and medicines, etc. They also pay for the care, to begin with.
The chareidim give generously to the poor, but how many mouths does the government of Israel feed? Who ensures that the economy runs smoothly, that there is electricity, and engineering training to design a power grid, and water, and chemists who know how to test its safety? Who protects this vast infrastructure, and provides army personnel to stand watch day and night? The Medinah dwarfs all chesed organizations put together. Where is the hakaras hatov?
The klal craves achdus and warmth. The constant anti-Zionist propaganda spewed forth by chareidim is causing giyul nefesh (utter disgust) in me and many of my chaveirim who learned in chareidi yeshivos, not to mention the chilonim themselves.
Rabbi Ginzberg asks why there is a reduction in respect for gedolim. Well, Sunday following parashas Korach there was a massive demonstration where two warring brothers found that they don’t hate each other more than anything else in the world, as previously believed. It turned out that they hate the State of Israel even more. And the entire ideology is based on some obscure aggadeta (Shalosh Shevuos) not brought down in any of the classic codifiers, which is itself based on a verse in Tanach, from which we don’t generally derive halacha, anyway. Incidentally, a possible message of the Shalosh Shevuos is not to rebel against one’s hosts, out of derech eretz. Would that, perhaps, be applicable as well to Jewish hosts, or are they less deserving than King Henry VIII or Queen Isabella? This movement often resorts to outright lies, such as that the Zionists colluded with the Nazis, when letters have recently become available that Ben Gurion begged the British government to allow Jewish fighters to go to Europe to fight the Nazis. They also claim that enormous numbers of Jews have died as a result of the Medinah, when the number is 25,000 in 150 years, far less than in many other similar eras in Jewish history.
Another rav Rabbi Ginzberg is fond of quoting spewed forth the same type of anti-Zionist vitriol for years. One can open up a book of his transcribed speeches in English. This same rav also founded new political parties. One would think some important ideology was at stake. But it was his dislike of a certain rebbe. For some unknown reason, despite this rebbe’s incredible erudition, breadth, and kindness to all segments, this rav considered the rebbe to be inferior to himself. He disliked that rebbe so much that when that rebbe’s wife passed away, he told other rabbanim not to pay a shivah call. The klal is mortified and tired of this. These types of things have led to a weakening of faith in daas Torah.
Is it telling that the preceding two-brother chassidic movement, and the preceding rav’s yeshiva are now both torn asunder by internal machlokes? Walls have had to be built and smoke bombs have been thrown in the beis medrash of one of the world’s most prestigious yeshivas in Israel. Midah kneged midah? Perhaps. But maybe just the natural progression of things. When multiple generations have been raised on hatred and sinas chinam, the imbibed hatred is then used on each other, as well.
A few years ago, there was a major chinuch protest demonstration, with all chareidim in Israel urging their followers to attend. What was the issue? The Israeli government was upset that a certain school was separating the Sephardic girls from the Ashkenazic girls by means of a fence in the middle of the school building, and down the middle of the playground. Personally, even if a thousand gedolim held a demonstration with a million followers urging people to be cruel to young Sephardic girls, I would follow my heart and simply ignore it, and instead welcome them with open arms. The hamon am is disgusted.
Torah has become an exercise in mental gymnastics, with the primary message being ignored. When Rebbe Akiva said that v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha is klal gadol baTorah, he meant it. It supersedes all other considerations. Am I ignoring or denigrating daas Torah? I hope not. Rabbi Ginzberg has mentioned on more than one occasion the importance of keeping mesorah. There is one mesorah we have which is even older than the mesorah of learning—by about 500 years. It is the mesorah of chesed. It was taught by Avraham Avinu. When three individuals who he actually thought were idol worshippers (see Rashi) showed up at his door, he did not spit, as some chareidim now do, at priests of other religions. Rather, he served them a delicious meal and gave them a place to rest, before sending them on their way. Chesed comes before ideology.
When Avraham was told that anshei Sdom were going to be punished, he didn’t smirk that they deserved it, but he screamed to the Ribbono Shel Olam, “Hashofet kol ha’aretz lo ya’aseh mishpat!?” Will the judge of the entire world not do justice!? He was our father, and the father of all peoples of the world. Av hamon goyim.
One of the speakers mentioned that we are experiencing a war against Torah Judaism, an oft-heard refrain of the last hundred years, that the chilonim and Zionists are aiming to destroy Torah and see the chareidim as its symbol. This is needlessly inflammatory (but admittedly effective as a way to rally the troops) and simply false. Reb Aryeh Levine dressed chareidi. Yet the Knesset dedicated a special day in his honor and made a special plaque which was awarded to him in a major presentation. He worked with all his might to help the fighters in the early days before the state. After davening, he walked tens of miles on Shabbos to the prisoners in jail to tell the families how their loved ones were doing. He cried out on Rosh Hashanah, mentioning each by name, when they were sentenced to the gallows. The chilonim recognized that he loved them with all of his pure heart. The chilonim, in turn, loved him with all of theirs. If we acted like Reb Aryeh, and gave the chilonim the slightest bit of hakaras hatov and warmth and appreciation for the amazing achievement they accomplished (bsiyata deshmaya), not just as a condescending ruse to be mekarev them, but with a sincere and full understanding of the miracle they created and the intense effort they put in; and if we offered to move our yeshivos to the army bases to keep them company in times of war and be mechazek them with kindness; and if we stopped our foolish and angry (and baseless) rhetoric, they would never think of drafting a single yeshiva bachur. We have only ourselves to blame for this miserable situation. Let us try to rectify it before things get worse.
For now we need to know that there is nothing more to Yiddishkeit than simple kindness and mutual love and respect. In the words of Hillel, idach perusha hi—all else is just commentary. Perhaps it is not the chilonim who have gone off the derech. Perhaps it is us. I am not rejecting daas Torah, rather I am relying on the daas Torah of Reb Aryeh Levine which goes straight back to Avraham Avinu.
The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.