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A Rational but Insufficient Haredi Response

Rav Lopiansky tries to actually answer some of the questions I have publicly asked about the current Charedi opposition to drafting Charedim into the army.
Rav Aharon Lopiansky

Rav Aharon Lopiansky
Photo Credit: Kuvien Images

Rav Aharon Lopiansky is one of the reasons I insist that there ought to be Achdus between Charedim and Modern Orthodox Jews. I am a fan. Not because we agree on everything. I’m sure we don’t. But because he exudes respect for opposing points of view within Orthodoxy.
Rav Lopianky is the son in law of famed Mir Rosh Yeshiva, R’ Beinish Finkel. And the brother in law of R’  Beinish’s other more famous son in law, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. He is also the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, Maryland.
My first encounter with him is when I heard the beautiful eulogy (Hespid Sheloshim) he gave for his brother in law, R’ Nosson Tzvi, in Skokie Yeshiva,  R’ Nosson Tzvi’s alma mater.  I later met him at a wedding in Chicago where he was the officiating rabbi. My impression of him then was that he was a wise and a humble human being, a Rosh Yeshiva with strong convictions and yet respectful of the beliefs of others. This was again evident in an article he wrote in last week’s Mishpacha Magazine.
Rav Lopiansky  tries to actually answer some of the questions I have publicly asked about the current Charedi opposition to drafting Charedim into the army – and their opposition to requiring a core curriculum for the continuation of government funding to their schools. Instead of the harsh rhetoric and cynicism that is so typical from Charedi politicians, some Charedi rabbinic leaders, and the Charedi media – he actually deals respectfully with the issues raised. Here is how Rav Lopiansky puts it:

The questions hurled at us from the Israel arena are powerful and cogent: How long can the chareidi public shirk their responsibility to serve in the army?  Is their blood more precious than the non-chareidi’s blood?  And why can’t they add a little math and English to their curriculum? How much can it impact their Torah study? Don’t many yeshivos in America offer a richer secular curriculum without affecting the caliber of ben Torah products?

These questions need to be addressed head-on; not only for the sake of a response to “them” but for ourselves. We would be dishonest and insensitive if we did not ponder these questions with the gravity they deserve.

How wonderful it is to see a Charedi rabbinic leader speak in terms like this! Not to mention the fact that as a student of R’ Chaim Shmulevitz he shows tremendous gratitude in this article toward the brave soldiers of the IDF. Something he points out R’ Chaim constantly did.
In the process of answering these questions he describes eloquently what the ideals of a Charedi Jew are in contra-distinction to those of the Dati or Modern Orthodox Jew. He does so not by putting down the latter two, but by describing the sublime nature of the Charedi.  He paints a beautiful picture.  One we should all respect and admire
It is from that context that he tries to explain Charedi opposition to the draft. The army, he says, is the great equalizer. The conformity and obedience to the chain of command which he concedes the army requires in order to be effective is counter to the ideals the Charedi tries to live by. The culture of the army is designed to remove all previous loyalties and replace it with loyalty to the army and the State.  Add to that the coarseness and values that are part of the army culture – and the army becomes anathema to the Charedi.
They are in essence fighting what they see as a forced assimilation away from the Torah. Rav Lopiansky cites evidence that people who go into the army are negatively affected  religiously… especially if they go in at the critically impressionable ages of between 18  to 23. And shows that it has little if anything to do with the effectiveness of Charedi Chinuch and much more to do with a not fully matured and set Hashkafa being impacted with an onslaught of ideas foreign to everything he has been taught to that point.
I completely understand this. But what Rav Lopiansky does not do is answer the very question he began his article with. Even with all of this, how can a Charedi justify to a grieving mother who lost a son in battle why all Charedim should be spared from that possibility?  I have yet to hear an answer to that. All the talk about the army not needing Charedim – that they already have enough people fighting still does not answer that question. If one is going to be fair about it – the possibility of being put in harm’s way in defense of one’s country should indeed be shared equally by all segments.
I would also suggest that the assimilation fears that Rav Lopiansky expresses do not justify opposition to a draft. What they justify is being drafted into the regular army. If Charedim were truly only afraid of assimilation, they would not oppose the draft, but instead insist that Nachal Charedi (or some modified version of it) be expanded to accommodate Charedi recruits so that their values would not be compromised. That would be something I would support. The logistics of how this would work can be worked out.

The other problem Rav Lopiansky addresses is the core curriculum issue. He says that it isn’t so much secular studies themselves that Charedim  object to. It is the idea that a secular government will be dictating what to teach. Even if the current government would be respectful of Charedi sensitivities about what can and can’t be taught, there may arise another government with a different anti Torah agenda.

I understand this fear. But I do not believe that this alone is the problem. The problem is that Charedi rabbinic leaders have no interest in educating their male students in anything other than pure Torah (mostly Gemarah). If they had any interest in secular studies they would have offered them by now.

That they are not opposed to a core curriculum on a religious basis is evidenced by how Charedi girls are educated. They actually have a core curriculum much better than the minimal one proposed by the government. The same thing is true for Maarva, the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva that bucked the Charedi system and offers a curriculum that requires taking the Bagrut – the national test required for an official high school diploma.
If Charedim were truly only afraid of what the government would mandate – let them look to the girl’s schools or Maarava and implement that. If they had anything like that until now, is there any question that this would not be an issue? Instead of fighting a core curriculum they should be saying OK, we’ll have one but we will decide which subjects they will teach. I don’t think the government would object if the boys would have the same secular studies program as their girls do.

So even the I admire and respect what Rav Lopiansky has tried to do here – and the way in which he tried to do it, I do not think he succeeded in answering the very real “powerful and cogent” challenges he concedes are being asked by the secular and Dati/MO side.

That said, if all Charedim were of the caliber of a man like Rav Lopiansky, I truly believe we could work things out.

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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One Response to “A Rational but Insufficient Haredi Response”

  1. Eric Leibman says:

    The yeshivah world must never allow itself to be coopted by, or dictated to, by the state of Israel.

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