Just when I didn’t think the level of public discourse couldn’t get any worse, I read the following in today’s Jerusalem Post:
Shas’s Council of Torah Sages member Rabbi Shalom Cohen in a sermon Saturday made degrading remarks against the religious Zionist sector by questioning their Jewishness and referring to them as “Amalek” – a biblical tribe hostile to the ancient Israelites.
Cohen, dean of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, was seen in a video on the haredi website Kikar Hashabat as saying, “the Throne [of God] is not complete as long as there are Amalek, ..when will the Throne be complete? When there are no more [religious Zionists].”
According to the article, sitting next to Rabbi Cohen was Rav Ovaidia Yosef. He said nothing in response to this comment.
The rhetoric that has accompanied the proposed legislation to subject Charedim the draft seems to be bordering on hysteria. Remarks like this are completely irrational.
Amalek?! Religious Jews who lay their lives on the line for the people of Israel are now put into the category of people so evil that God mandates the eradication of that entire nation?! I realize of course that Rabbis Cohen and Yosef do not mean that Halacha mandates that every Jew pick up a gun and shoot to kill every Jew who wears a Kipa Seruga. But the comparison is no less odious.
And all this… why? Because of the hysterical reaction that the new draft law; and the requirement of Charedi schools to offer less than an hour additional study of math and English if government funding is to continue at present levels. They believe that it will destroy Torah Jewry. They therefore continually describe the situation this way – many of them calling it Shmad! Shamd is the Hebrew word for forced conversion to another religion.
What does this rhetoric end up doing? It ends up with what happened in Meah Shrarim last week. 2 Charedi IDF members were practically lynched by a mob that is inspired to do so by that type of rhetoric. And by a lifetime of indoctrination equating Israeli leadership (and by association, their enforcement agencies and their army) to Nazis. Calling Religious Zionists Amalek will no doubt encourage more of those kinds of attacks.
What makes this whole thing even more troubling is the way even moderate Charedim are treating this.
Case in point, columnists like Jonathan Rosenblum who have written many articles sympathetic to the concerns often expressed here do not seem to protest the kinds of comments made by Rabbi Cohen.
Jonathan has in the past expressed many of the same concerns about the Charedi community in Israel that I have. Like the need of Charedim to improve their poor financial lot. And praising the creation of Nachal Charedi – where Charedim can serve and have their religious sensibilities honored.
He has publicly indicated that the very things that the new legislation is designed to improve – was already happeneing on its own – organically. Charedim were increasingly joining Nachal Charedi and Shachar; and were at least tacitly accepted into their communities.
But he and many other moderate Charedi columnists tells us that Charedi soldiers are now shunned in their communities; that Charedi enlistment in Nachal Charedi is now at a virtual standstill. And Shachar he says is virtually destroyed. Who does he blame for this? The legislators who have proposed legislation along these lines for it – saying that it isn’t about Charedim serving in the military, It is about forcing them to.
And because of legislation forcing a core curriculum, it pits Torah study against secular studies vilifying that legislation as Shmad, too!
Why can’t these moderates see that it isn’t the legislation that has caused this unbelievable backlash, but the Charedi leadership’s reaction to it? As well as an undercurrent of disdain that has been preached against the state since before its founding?
Can’t they see that the incendiary words of someone like Rabbi Cohen who in essence paints all the Hesder boys as Amalek is the real cause of the problem? This is what has caused the backlash, not the new legislation. I’m not saying that they have no right to disagree with it and even oppose the legislation. But to vilify it in this way is the height of irresponsibility! Can’t they see that this kind of vilifying rhetoric amounts to handing the Charedi terrorists in Meah Shearim a lit match?!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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