Rabbi Dovid Bloch is the official spokesman for the Nahal Haredi, the Netzah Yehuda IDF battalion, was among its founders, and is the spiritual guide (mashgiach ruchani) of its recruits. This part of his record is impeccable, as far as secular Israelis are concerned. Rabbi Bloch studied at Yeshivat Ponivez and for many years served as Rosh Yeshiva of the Midrashia in Pardes Hanah. He currently is a Ram (Rosh Metivta) in Nahora Yeshiva High School and a Rosh Kollel in Jerusalem. That makes his record impeccable for Haredim. This means that his opinion carries a great deal of weight in both camps, and that should give all of us reason to hope for a good resolution of the Equal Burden issue which has been troubling coalition talks these past three weeks.
Now, I ask the reader not to take away from the following text the position that the Haredim are the only ones to blame for the severe gap on so many levels between the two societies inside Israel. But it’s refreshing to read a respected Haredi source with a clear eyed view of the Haredi contribution to the problem.
In an article titled “Maybe the Secular Are Right?” that was published this winter in the Haredi Kikar Hashabbat, Rabbi Bloch asks: “Why is it so common for Haredi pundits and public figures to pin the motives for secular hatred against Haredim only on the formers’ bad qualities, their emptiness, anti-Semitism and the ignorant man’s hatred for the scholar? And another question we should ask ourselves is whether, in some cases, the value benefits from this conduct or another are worth the consequent heavy price of hilul Hashem (desecration of the Holy Name).
Rabbi Bloch then poses 12 questions which he encourages his Haredi readers to ponder.
1. We’ve chosen, for understandable educational reasons, to withdraw and live in exclusively Haredi cities and neighborhoods, avoiding as much as possible any social contact with the secular.
This is legitimate and understandable, but as a result they don’t really know us, amd so they naturally view us as bizarre, in our manner of dress, our behavior, and our language. This creates aversion and alienation. Why, then, we are angry at them for treating us this way?
2. We chose, for educational reasons—although some of us really believe it—to teach our children that all secular Israelis are sinners, vacuous, with no values, and corrupt.
This could possibly be a legitimate view, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular, in return, teach their own children that the Haredim are all primitive, with outdated and despicable values?
3. We have chosen, for the sake of the preservation of Torah in Israel, to prevent our sons from participating in carrying the heavy burden of security, and instead tasked them with learning Torah.
Of course we could not give that up, but why are we outraged and offended when the secular, who do not recognize nor understand this need—or rather most of them are familiar with the issue, but argue that there should be quotas—see us as immoral, and some despise us as a result?
4. We chose for our sons who do not belong, by their personal inclination or learning skills to the group of Torah scholars (Yeshiva bums and worse), to also evade enlistment—including into perfectly kosher army units. And when it comes to the individuals who have joined the Haredi Nahal, we do not praise them, but despise them instead, and we certainly show them no gratitude, while the Haredi press ignores them—in the best case.
Why, then, are we outraged when the secular don’t believe our argument, that the purpose of keeping yeshiva students from enlisting, is to maintain Torah study and not simply the Haredim’s unwillingness to bear the burden?
5. We chose to teach our children not to work for a living, and to devote all their time to Torah study. Clear enough, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular—who do not consider Torah study an all encompassing value—feel that we are an economic burden on their necks, as a mere 38% of us take part in the labor force, and they hate us for it.
6. We chose not to teach our children any labor skills, and we condemn those who do pursue a profession. As a result our kolelim include all of those who do not belong among the scholars and still prefer not to work for a living.
Why, then, do we complain when the secular feel, and say so with an increasing volume, that we are parasites, living off of their efforts?
7. We chose (for educational considerations?) not to educate our children to show gratitude to the soldiers who risked their lives and were killed or injured for our sake, too. So we do not mention them in any way by any special day or prayer or special Mishna learning that’s dedicated to their memory. Moreover, not a single Mashgiach or Rosh Yeshiva ever talks about it in a Mussar Schmooze, and you’ll find no mention of it in the Haredi press.
Why, then, are we surprised that the secular feel that we are ungrateful and despicable, and that the reason for our not enlisting is simply because we are parasites, living off the sacrifices of others in society?
8. When extremist, delusional groups behave in ways that besmirch the name of God—e.g. the spitting in Beit Shemesh, dancing during the memorial siren, burning the national flag—our rabbis chose not to condemn them, clearly and consistently ( except for a few faint statements here and there). Why, then, are we explaining away the fact that the secular believe we all support those terrible acts? Why do we insist that their hostility stems from their hatred of the scholars?
9. We’ve opted to allow our public officials and pundits to curse out all the secular all the time. Why, then, when the secular media treat us the same way, are we offended and cry out that they’re persecuting us?
10. The Haredi press will never offer any praise of or express support for secular Israelis who perform good deeds. Why, then, do we jump up and down when we are rewarded equally? And, in fact, while Haredi spokespersons rarely point anything positive about secular society, the secular media often gives positive coverage to Haredi organizations like Yad Sara, Hatzala, Zaka, etc.
11. We would not agree, under any condition, that secular Israelis turn up in our schools to teach our children heresy, and we would have kept them from putting up stands with books of heresy in our areas. Why, then, do we not understand when the secular do not agree that we seduce her children into denying their parents’ heresy?
12. We do not agree—in my view, rightfully so—that secular people move into Haredi neighborhoods. So where do we get the arrogance and audacity to call anti-Semites those secular who don’t agree that Haredim move near their homes, in secular neighborhoods?
In my view, this is the strongest and most introspective comment on Haredi interaction with the state I’ve read. The pundit Menachem Rahat, who mentioned Rabbi Bloch’s writing in this Shabbat’s Matzav Haruach magazine, also cites a rarely discussed ruling of Maimonides, Hayad Hachazakah, Hilchot Talomud Tora, 3:10:
Anyone who decides to be engaged in Torah study and not work, and instead to be supported by charity – this person desecrates God’s name (Chillel et Hashem), degrades the Torah, extinguishes the light of our faith, brings evil upon himself and forfeits life in the world to come; since it is forbidden to derive benefit from the words of Torah in this world. The Rabbis said (Avot 4:5): Anyone who derives benefit from the words of Torah in this world, forfeits his life in the world to come. They further commanded and said: (Avot 4:5) Do not make the words of Torah a crown to increase your own importance, or an axe with which to chop. They further commanded, saying: (Avot 1:10) Love work and despise positions of power (Rabbanut). And: (Avot 2:2) Any Torah which is not accompanied by work will eventually be nullified and will lead to sin. Ultimately, such a person will end up stealing from others.
Are Haredi politicians, public figures and spiritual leaders familiar with this Rambam? Well, people often quote the Chazon Ish who, reportedly, said that after the Holocaust, there should be two generations in which Haredi society devote itself entirely to a resurrection both in demographic and institutional terms. Well, if we count a generation as 30 years, we are well into the third generation of free Jews in the land of Israel, with stunning growth on both desired counts. Is it time for Haredi society to come out for air?
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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