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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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A Brighter Future for Haredim in Israel

There is no reason why Haredim should continue to be the single biggest and fastest growing welfare demographic in all of Israel.
On Nittel Nacht religious Jews play games instead of learning Torah.

On Nittel Nacht religious Jews play games instead of learning Torah.
Photo Credit: Serge Attal / Flash 90

Maybe I am a hopeless optimist. But I see a lot of changes happening in the Jewish world. And they seem to all be for the better.

One of those things is something that Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn wrote about today on his blog, Daas Torah. Rabbi Eidensohn is a Charedi Rav whose credentials are quite impressive. His Magnum Opus are the widely respected indices (in both Hebrew and English) to two of the greatest Halachic works of the 20th century: the Mishnah Berurah, by the Hafetz Haim and the Igros Moshe by R’ Moshe Feinstein. He has a Ph.D. in psychology and has also written books dealing with the issue of sex abuse. He is also very close to Rav Moshe Sternbuch.

In the most recent contribution Rabbi Eidensohn has made what I believe to be an astounding admission. Especially in light of the very name of his blog. He said that with the passing of R’ Elyashiv, there is really no more Daas Torah!

That is pretty shocking coming from someone who is as close to Rav Sternbuch as R’ Eidensohn is. It is also shocking in light of the fact that there is a conflict going on between two Charedi factions – each loyal to their own “candidate” as to who should succeed R’ Elayshiv for the ‘post’ of Gadol HaDor – the ultimate expositor of Daas Torah: R’ Aharon Leib Steinman or R’ Shmuel Auerbach.

I have often said that the rabbinic leaders of today are not the Gedolim of yesteryear. The right wing has always countered with the following expression from the Gemarah: Yiftach B’Doro, K’Shmuel B’Doro. What the Gemarah is telling us is that even though a later generation’s Gadol (Yiftach) is is not as great as a previous generation Gadol (Shmuel HaNavi)… they are the best we have and we must listen to them. And that what they tell us is still Daas Torah. And yet a man of R’ Eidensohn’s credentials says we have no longer have it!

I would disagree with him. I think we do have Daas Torah – individuals who can speak to us using the wisdom of the Torah they have achieved. I just don’t think it is necessarily or exclusively in the hands of Haredi Rabbanim. Especially when there is such infighting among them about who should be representing it to us.

Which brings me back to my original point. I am optimistic about recent developments in Israel with respect to the Haredi situation in Israel. It seems like the Haredi world of the past is doomed. I do not mean has v’shalom that it will disappear. Quite the contrary. I think it will be strengthened.

The new government in Israel (assuming it has any longevity to it at all – which is a real question) is determined to change the Haredi paradigm of full time Torah study for every male for as long as possible without any preparation for the workplace and exemption from any military service. This is something I have been advocating for decades.

The fear of this change is on the minds of virtually every rabbinic leader in Israel. So afraid of change are they that they see it as a shas hashmad – something which a Jew is supposed to give up his life for even if he is asked to violate the most minute mitzvah.

They fear that conscription of Haredim will destroy Yeshivos and that all serious Torah study will come to an end. Once a Haredi is drafted, and does his army stint, he will never return to serious Torah study. He will instead seek a job. This is existential for them. Life or death! To a man… it seems that every single Haredi rabbinic leader of all stripes – and even some of the more right wing Religious Zionist rabbis (Hardalim) – have all called for resistance to the draft in various forms. Like going to jail; or leaving the country to study Torah elsewhere.

But their fear is misplaced. The new government is not interested in destroying Torah Study – despite its even religious members being accused of it and being vilified by some of those rabbinic leaders. Neither Naftali Bennett nor even Yair Lapid can be compared to the Czarist Russia of old. They are interested in mainstreaming Haredim into society to be more productive – outside the beis hamedrash as well as inside.

Adding to their fear is the loss of power that Haredi parties have until now enjoyed. Even as their population numbers increase along with their representation in the Knesset, they are no longer part of the governing coalition. That means they will not have any cabinet posts or the power that goes with them to allocate funds to their cause.

This is kind of ironic considering all the predictions that say Haredim are growing at such a rapid rate that they will eventually become the majority. That may still be true at some point in the future. But if things go the way they are now, it will not be the same Haredi world that exists now. It may very well be a Haredi world that looks more like the American version. There seems to be some realization about that too. From Daniel Eidensohn:

My niece who attends a chareidi seminary for American girls here in Jerusalem – was recently told in all seriousness by a teacher that the New Chareidim constitute a serious threat to the Chareidi way of life and authority. My niece wasn’t sure what New Chareidim are and why they are so dangerous – as she leads a very sheltered chareidi life – typical of many American chareidim. She couldn’t understand why Israeli chareidim are so afraid of a way of life which is typical in America.

Indeed. This is what all the screaming by Israeli rabbinic leaders is all about. But as R’ Eidensohn says, Daas Torah no longer exists. And as I said these fears are misplaced. Instead of looking at this as a Shas HaShmad – they should be looking at this as an opportunity to get their community out of poverty and into the mainstream so that their members can better support their families.

I undernstand their fear. It is the fear of the unknown. Change means facing an unknown future. And they fear the worst. But the worst won’t happen. The IDF is not prepared to put every single young Charedi into the army. They don’t really have the room or the need. Although I still strongly feel that there should be no general exemption given to any single demographic group from being put in harm’s way, the reality is that most Israeli service personnel are not put in harm’s way – if I understand correctly. Most of the military jobs are not in the battlefield. Many soldiers have ancillary or supporting jobs. And exemptions exist outside of the Yeshiva world too.

My guess is that there will be a compromise that will require some sort of military commitment by most Charedim… but that it will be along the lines of the old Tal Law – that allowed Yeshiva students to stay in the Beis HaMedrash full time until age 23 or so… and then they will be required to do some sort of military service – perhaps combined with their continued Torah study. They will not have to completely leave the Beis Hamedrash. After fulfilling their military requirements, they can continue to learn in the Yeshivos they are in – and go back to full time study if they choose.

Some, on the other hand, may actually leave to find a job – and the skills they picked up via their army training will aid them in getting better jobs. Additionally full exemptions will probably be given to the top students in any case so their Torah study will continue full time without interruption. The percentage of those exemptions can be worked out amicably in my view. Where there is a will, there is a way.

The future that I see does not change the commitment to Torah study. It just allows for options that heretofore were not available.

I am not saying that the version of the future I just outlined will happen exactly in the way I suggested. It may take some sort of alternate form. But whatever form it takes it will be for the better. Because it can’t get much worse. There is no reason in the world why Haredim should continue to be the single biggest – and fastest growing – welfare demographic in all of Israel. The result will be the ‘new Haredi’ the teacher in that seminary so feared. And hopefully will stop fearing when she realizes the better world it has created for them.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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