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The Downside of Religious Idealism

The lifestyle of a Jew is lived far more fully in Israel than in most communities in America. Even Boro Park.
The Downside of Religious Idealism

Photo Credit: Yori Yanover, with images by Yehoshua Yosef / Miriam Alster / FLASH90

After thinking about yesterday’s post, I realized that there is a method to this madness. Why is there so much animosity between Charedi and DL/RZ (Dati Leumi/Religious Zionist) factions? I can’t fully answer the question. But I do have some thoughts about it. I think it is because Israelis are far more idealistic about their religious values – especially those who make Aliyah.

Moving to Israel is not easy. No matter how much of a religious Zionist one is or how committed a Charedi is to learning in an Israeli Yeshiva – leaving the culture one grew up in is difficult. I don’t think most people even realize just how ingrained that culture is in them until they leave. It becomes virtually a part of one’s identity. But even if they do realize it, the sincerely committed make Aliyah anyway – difficult though it may be to pick up and move to a distant land where the culture and way of life is so different.

They do it because the values most important to them over-ride all that ingrained culture. They believe that being a Jew in the fullest sense of the word can best be fulfilled only in the holy land. They are defined mostly by those religious ideals.

It is one thing to be a die-hard Cub’s fan. But compared to living in Eretz Yisroel being a Cub’s fan is almost meaningless. Oh… one may still be interested in whether his hometown sports team is doing well. But on the scale of things important, it is way down on the list.

This is true for those with the Dati Leumi Hashkafos as well as those with Charedi Hashkafos.

The religious way of life for Charedim in Israel is a far superior to that of America. Yom Tov in one of the many religious enclaves like Ramat Bet Shemesh is filled with Limud HaTorah. I have observed that there are Shiurim given daily on Chol HaMoed by various Roshei Yeshiva and other religious personalities daily in one Shul after another. One can walk into a Shul Beis HaMedrash on any given Chol HaMoed morning and find it packed with young people – mostly Charedim – learning B’Chavrusa till the earliest Mincha at about 12:30 PM.

Teffila B’Tzibur in most places is taken far more seriously… and takes longer on the average than most American Shuls. This is true for both communities. On Chol HaMoed afternoons, many parks, zoos, and other leisure type areas are filled with huge numbers of Charedi families enjoying the facilities. You can tell it is Yom Tov all over the land. In other words the lifestyle of a Jew is lived far more fully in Israel than in most communities in America. Even Boro Park.

The problem lies in the Hashkafic values of these two dedicated groups and the intensity of adherence to them. The Hashkafos do not coincide. Although there is some overlap since both communities are observant after all – there is apparently not enough for any kind of harmonious relationship. The values end up clashing. Each side feels their values are the correct ones and the values of other religious Jews are actually detrimental to their goals. It is because both camps are so idealistic that they are so uncompromising.

To a religious Zionist, making Aliyah is an important focus of his life. Once in Israel supporting the Medina, protecting and defending it via military service is a part of it. As is being a materially productive member of the society.

While most religious Zionists value learning Torah and are Koveah Itim (establish regular times for Torah learning) they firmly believe that most Jews should first support their families and be productive members of society. Not that they oppose learning Torah full time for the elite. They don’t. But they do not support it for the masses.

They therefore see the masses of Charedim not doing their part for the Medina and resent it. Especially when it is accompanied by disparagement of the Medina.

To the Charedi – learning Torah L’Shma is the best thing any Jew can do. It is the epitome of Judaism. They strive to learn Torah at great personal sacrifice… in most cases willing to live in poverty to achieve that end.

They do not value Aliyah per se. They see living in Eretz Yisroel as a plus. But they see the Medina as a necessary evil at best… that needs to be constantly pressured for support.

Working for a living is seen as a B’Dieved… to be done only as a last resort. Although many Charedim do end up working after learning in a Kollel for a number of years- leaving the Beis HaMedrash is seen as a defeat of their goals of learning full time.

If they do make ‘official’ Aliyah at some point, it is not for idealistic reasons but for practical ones – to gain whatever financial benefits the government offers to encourage it. They do not consider drafting Charedim into the military fair since they feel that the spiritual contribution of Torah learning is far more contributory to Israel’s safety than is the military. Charedim therefore see RZ/DLs support for the Medina and the draft as worshiping ‘false ideologies.’

Those from both communities who have moved to Israel are far more committed to their value systems than those who haven’t. They moved to Israel because they can be better Jews as they define it. And they are going to fight much harder for those beliefs.

I think this is the impetus for the bitterness between the two worlds. Compromise is not in their lexicon. They did not give up ‘the good life’ in America and move to Israel in order to compromise their values. They moved to Israel to strengthen them.

I suppose there are other reasons too. And I suppose that this is all a bit of an over simplification. But I do think that it is the very idealism that motivates one to live in the holy land that is at least in part responsible for the degree of enmity that results.

Just some of my thoughts on this issue.

Visit the Emes Ve-Emunah blog.

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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