I find myself in the awkward position of defending actions that I abhor. According to an article in YWN – the arm of Israel’s education ministry that is responsible for providing funds to Haredi schools is deciding what sanctions these schools should get. They were open on Yom Ha’atzmaut which is in direct violation of the Ministry’s requirement that all schools should be closed on that day.
I find the position of the ministry not to be in consonance with the character of a free society. I suppose that technically they can issue any conditions for funding they choose and implement financial sanctions if those conditions are not met. But I believe it undermines the very nature of a free and democratic society to force people to close their institutions on any given day of the year no matter what its significance.
Sanctions for doing so seem inappropriate and heavy handed. Ministry officials argue that this is a form of lawlessness which can lead to a general disregard for the law in other areas. I don’t think so. This is not hurting anyone. It does not detract from others their right to celebrate that day. All they end up doing is looking like bullies who want to force people to do something they don’t want to do. Haredim may be unpatriotic for refusing to close schools on Yom Ha’atzmaut. But a lack of patriotism is not – in my view a cause for punitive measures. In a free society people should have a right to do as they choose as long as they don’t hurt anyone in the process.
That said, the fact that these schools do not voluntarily close is in itself disgusting. This is not to say that I think Torah study should stop on that day. It shouldn’t. But not in ways which dishonor the day. By treating it as a normal school day – as most of them do – they are sending a message that they have absolutely no Hakoras HaTov (gratitude) for what they have been given since the very founding of the state over 65 years ago. They show that they are takers without saying thank you.
This is indicative of an attitude expressed time and again by some Haredi leaders. I am not talking about the rejectionists of Meah Shearim like Netrurei Karta and Satmar. I am talking about mainstream Haredim who rarely if ever have a good word to say about the State. Mostly what you hear them saying is that Israel is an evil empire out to destroy Judaism.
They continually bring up examples of that evil which they say took place during the formative years of the State. Examples that are of questionable reliability. I am not going to delve into those issues. All I will say is that there are different versions of what happened in every case. There are always at least 2 sides to every story.
Nonetheless they insist on believing the most unflattering versions of those stories. This is what they focus on. Never mind that this is ancient history and the religious climate then was not what it is now. Nor are today’s political leaders anything like those early pioneers. Some Haredi rabbinic leaders still see children being kidnapped from their parents and disabused of their religious beliefs.
More importantly, it is their refusal to recognize all the truly great things that Israel has done for the Jewish people that is so troubling.
It was the declaration of statehood that opened the doors to all Holocaust refugees that were in displacement camps waiting for someone – anyone – to help them get back to a normal life. Nobody wanted them after they were liberated from the death camps, including the British Mandatory government in Palestine. Very few permits were issued to those Jewish refugees. But the day Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel, the flood gates opened.
I cannot image the depth of joy, fulfillment of destiny and sense of promise that must have been in the heart of a refugee when he or she first beheld the shores of the promised land after suffering the worst degradations imaginable to man. That moment must have been cathartic. Every refugee now had the right to come to the land of Israel. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty first uttered by the Jewish Poet Emma Lazarus was never more appropriate than it was in Israel in those early and heady days of the state:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Wretched refuse. After years of anti-Semitic degradation, deprivation and torture by the Nazis and their willing accomplices of occupied lands – this is how the world saw the Holocaust refugee. It must have been hard for those refuges to think of themselves in any other way before they came to Israel’s shores. With the founding of the State these people had their dignity restored.
How in heaven’s name can any human being, let alone a fellow Jew not recognize that momentous day in Jewish History? I doubt that there is a single rational Holocaust survivor who immigrated who does not recognize it.
My wife had an uncle that was a Ger Hasid, who went through hell during the Holocaust losing his his wife and all of his children. Even though he was very close to the Gerrer Rebbe, on Yom Ha’atzmaut he Davened in a Mizrachi Shul so that he could say Hallel. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of stories like this. Surviving Jews of all stripes recognize the importance of Yom Ha’atzmaut. That’s because they lived through the horrors. But too many rabbinic leaders today refuse see any of this.
But even if there had been no Holocaust, what about the of the land of Israel being returned to the Jewish people after 2000 years? Do they not recognize the miraculous nature of that event?! Satmar refuses to recognize it calling it the work of the devil. But supposedly this is not the mainstream Haredi view. And yet they ignore it.
What about the fact that the state has enabled the development of the greatest Makom Torah in the world? Greater in depth and scope than at any time in history since the time of Hazal? It was Ben Gurion that exempted all Yeshiva students from army service! According to an article in last week’s Mishpacha Magazine, the Chazon Ish himself had said that Ben Gurion would have no idea why he would be given such honor in the next world. It would be due to the few words uttered from his mouth. He declared that he would not be the destroyer of Yavneh and its sages!
And then there is all that money given to Yeshivos and their students. There has probably never been a greater Issachar- Zevulun partnership in history.
And yet, not the slightest bit of hakarat hatov (appreciation of a good deed). All they see is evil. That is the message far too many Haredi mechanchim (educators) impart to their students. Especially now that there is a threat of a draft and reduction of funding.
I’m surprised they don’t tear kriyah (mournful tearing of the clothing) on that day based on the rhetoric I hear from some from some of their leadership these days.
I have absolutely no sympathy for their position on this matter. None! And yet I support their right to be as disgusting about it as they choose. Because that is the way of a free society.
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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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