Number three: From my perspective, [we haredim] have never been people who didn’t join the workforce or didn’t view ourselves as part of the nation. Haredim should be the leaders of the nation. They should be involved in the country instead of building walls. Building walls is destroying us as a people. Let’s get back to the way it’s always been where people were bnei Torah and also part of society.
Is that really the way it’s always been?
Yes. Historically we’ve never had a population that said, “We don’t work.” The Smag says that it’s a mitzvat assei min haTorah to work. The mishnah in Pirkei Avot says that Torah without work leads to sin. The Gemara says that a father must teach his son a trade.
Let’s go further. The Rambam says anybody who chooses to learn Torah and force others to sustain him disgraces Torah, disgraces God’s name, and has no portion in the World to Come. Let’s learn the Shulchan Aruch. Every morning, it says, a person davens, learns Torah, and then goes to work.
That’s who we’ve been throughout our history. It’s a new phenomenon [to not work]. Many people say it’s because after the Holocaust, we had to rebuild Torah because it had been destroyed. I get that. But we’ve rebuilt Torah, we’ve done it. Now let’s get back to the combination of the two.
Would you be happier if all haredim acted like some Satmar groups who don’t serve in the army but who also don’t take funding from the state?
I certainly think it’s more consistent, although you have to ask yourself, “What does not taking from the state mean?” Do they take garbage collection from the state? Do they take streetlights from the state?
More importantly, though, to take that approach is to say we’re going to have polarization and lack of achdus in am Yisrael, and I think that’s wrong. I think the correct approach is to say, “Let’s be part of am Yisrael.” If bnei Torah are part of Israeli society, I think you’ll see an amazing response on the chiloni side. I’m not talking about their individual level of shemiras hamitzvos, but their perspective toward Judaism and Torah and their pride in being Jewish [will change].
Some observers have pointed out that Israeli haredim are more extreme than their American counterparts. Is that true?
There’s no Ner Yisroel in Israel. There’s no Chaim Berlin where guys go to Brooklyn College at night. There’s no Monroe, New York where Satmar provides a few hours of English and mathematics in high school. It doesn’t exist. These are things which I very much want to try to change.
Among Yesh Atid’s goals is converting Israel’s non-Jewish Russian population to Judaism. Even some Orthodox Jews support this, fearing that Israel will have a huge intermarriage problem on its hands if it doesn’t. However, before possibly converting these Jews, shouldn’t haredi MKs like you push to amend Israel’s Law of Return so that only halachic Jews can move to Israel and attain automatic citizenship? Otherwise, we might face this problem all over again somewhere down the line.
We don’t have Russians coming en masse anymore. So let’s first deal with the 300,000 who are here. Let them convert. Rabbi Chaim Amsalem wrote a sefer of a few hundred pages with all the sources allowing this. Let’s begin with that.
You publicly identify as haredi, yet many of the positions you’ve outlined are hardly “black hat.” How do you explain that?
If haredi means that I force other people religiously, that I’m not Zionistic, and that I only wear a white shirt – then I’m not haredi. If haredi, however, means that I’m a chared b’dvar Hashem, that I’m very careful in my life about Torah and mitzvot, that I’m concerned about the influence of the outside world on my children, and that my wife and I bring up our children where genders are more separate – then I am haredi.
[People identify haredi with “extremism”] but I don’t think that’s what haredi has always meant. On a certain level, therefore, I’m fighting for the integrity of [the word]. There’s a political party here in Israel called Tov that has 40,000 haredi members who believe haredim should work and have general studies. They’re growing in terms of their political power and they take great offense when people talk about them as the “new haredim.” They say, “No, we’re the old haredim. The other guys have changed things.”