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?!
And what are they protesting? If one listens to their ‘Shmad’ rhetoric and compares it to the actual proposed legislation you have to wonder if the leadership has any clue about what they are protesting. From the Jewish Press:
The new law divides Haredi society into three age groups:
If passed, the law will immediate allow Haredim ages 22 and up to enter the workforce if they wish, and never have to worry about being drafted again. They will receive a permanent exemption. They can also sit and learn forever, if they so choose.
Next, the law will allow Haredim ages 18-22 to defer their draft until they reach age 24, and then, at age 24, they may decide if they want to serve in the army, do national service, go to work, or stay in kollel and learn forever. In other words, to this age group the law guarantees temporary exemptions until they may receive a permanent exemption. But, once again, they would be able to legally join the workforce in 4 to 6 years.
The third age group are Haredim who will turn 18 in the year 2017.
Out of this group, 1,800 will receive exemptions to sit and learn Torah, for the first time effectively sanctioning Torah study in the Jewish State as the full equivalent of military service. The fate of rest of those who turn 18 in 2017 will depend in some way on what today’s 18-22 age group does over the next 4 years.
The government intends to set a draft quota of 5,200 Haredim out of the approximately 8,000 who will reach 18 in 2017. Out of that quota, 3,000 will enlist in the IDF, 2,200 will do National Service—most likely in their own communities. The remaining 2,800 will receive permanent exemptions.
But, if the full 5,200 quota isn’t met, then the envisioned 2,800 exemptions will be automatically reduced to 1,800.
And moderate Charedi columnists walk in lockstep with the Charedi leaders who so badly mischaracterize what is really happening? This is Shmad?!
And where is the outrage about the implication that Hesder boys, the vast majority of whom are Religious Zioinists – are Amalek?!
The only explanation of the moderate Charedi columnist disconnect between reality and the fantasy of ‘Shmad’ is their fealty to Daas Torah. If I had to pick one thing that defines Charedi Hashkafa it would be that. Right is left and left is right – if Charedi Gedolim say it is. Because it couldn’t possibility be rational thought and objective analysis that they base their columns on.
And thus we descend further into the abyss of discord and disharmony – not because of legitimate disagreement to reasonable legislation, but because of the complete mischaracterization of reality and the extreme and condemning rhetoric of their leadership.
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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