Latest update: March 27th, 2014
The day before the Manhattan rally earlier this month opposing the Israeli haredi draft legislation, I was contacted by an old friend who now lives in Israel, part of the haredi world. He sent me his thoughts and I responded. The exchange follows, with minor editing and condensing. I have deleted the friend’s name.
Ahead of the mass gathering of Torah-true Jewry scheduled to take place tomorrow in Manhattan, I’m reaching out to you, our brothers in America, to share with you the sad truth: here, in the state of Israel, Torah Jewry is subject to religious persecution.
To classify Torah students as “criminals,” subject to imprisonment, is only the latest and most absurd of anti-haredi laws enacted recently by the government. In addition, they have drastically cut education and welfare budgets, aiming to choke our yeshivas and schools, and even our individual religious freedoms, so prized by Americans and citizens of democracies worldwide.
Under the deceptive mantra of “sharing the burden,” the government is responsible for a wave of unprecedented incitement against haredim, thereby splitting the nation. It is no secret that the objective of conscripting Torah scholars is a thinly disguised attempt at social engineering.
Is it conceivable that a Jewish government in Israel is trying to prevent its citizens from living Torah-true lives in the tradition that their ancestors for generations were moser nefesh for?
As you prepare to gather to offer heartfelt tefillos tomorrow, please remember that the train of persecution of lomdei Torah has already left the station and that there is no doubt it is more difficult to stop a train that is already moving than to prevent it from leaving.
We know that the heart of Torah-true American Jewry beats together with its brethren in Eretz Yisrael, and senses that the danger to Torah observance in the Holy Land is a danger to the entire Jewish world.
Your brother in Eretz Yisrael
It is great to hear from you and I hope you and the family are well, but I must part company with you on this issue, and I will not be participating in the rally. In fact, I denounced it yesterday – even noted (based on a Midrash at the beginning of Vayikra) that there is such a concept of a “Talmid chacham she-ein bo da’at.”
Here is why:
Haredim make a mistake in thinking that only the Lapid-led diehard seculars have a growing contempt for them. The dati-leumi community is also increasingly hostile, because they sense – to me, accurately – that the haredi community is causing hatred for Torah. It is impossible to explain to, for example, my nephew, who learned in Hesder and completed his army service, why his Talmud Torah is somehow inferior to that of haredim. It is not. Perhaps his Talmud Torah is the same, but the haredi world’s “nosei b’ol im chaveiro” is completely absent. That deficiency in Ahavat Yisrael is glaring, noticed, and the reason why the society at large no longer tolerates it.
It is unconscionable that there exists in the haredi world this idea that work and army service are beneath it, and that the rest of society that haredim hold in contempt must support them so that they can sit and learn. I too would love to sit and learn, and have someone support me, but that is not the system Hashem set up.
Odd, indeed, that the Rambam’s clear statement (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10-11) is ignored, if it is even taught. But when he speaks of “kavah me’or hadat,” that is exactly what has happened. That construct of the haredi world as practiced today is unprecedented in Jewish history.
About the Author: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and author, most recently, of “Tzadka Mimeni: The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2014). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.
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