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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘draft’

New Draft Law a Gift of Hope to Impoverished Haredim and to Israel

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

The latest incarnation of the Haredi Draft Law, aka “The Perry Law,” is an excellent piece of legislation.

The Haredi community suffers from serious problems, which are affecting the rest of the country as well.

Haredi towns and neighborhoods are among the poorest in Israel.

The cycle of poverty in which Haredim are stuck is due in part to the way governments have dealt with the draft issue in the past (no army service—no work permit), but, just as significantly, due of the way the political leaders (“askanim”) of the Haredi community have created a social structure that locks people into the cycle of poverty, thus also guaranteeing their reliance on those same leaders for education, social acceptance, and money.

Israel’s society also suffers from Haredi poverty, because when such a large segment of the population relies on welfare payments, the effect on the economy is devastating.

The new Haredi draft law has just passed its first reading, and will now undergo review in a special committee chaired by Jewish Home’s MK Ayelet Shaked, before it is sent back for a second and third round in the Knesset.

This law is not so much about getting Haredim into the army in the near future, as it is about immediately permitting Haredim into the legal workforce, thus breaking the cycle of poverty.

The new law divides Haredi society into three age groups:

If passed, the law will immediate allow Haredim ages 22 and up to enter the workforce if they wish, and never have to worry about being drafted again. They will receive a permanent exemption. They can also sit and learn forever, if they so choose.

Next, the law will allow Haredim ages 18-22 to defer their draft until they reach age 24, and then, at age 24, they may decide if they want to serve in the army, do national service, go to work, or stay in kollel and learn forever. In other words, to this age group the law guarantees temporary exemptions until they may receive a permanent exemption. But, once again, they would be able to legally join the workforce in 4 to 6 years.

The third age group are Haredim who will turn 18 in the year 2017.

Out of this group, 1,800 will receive exemptions to sit and learn Torah, for the first time effectively sanctioning Torah study in the Jewish State as the full equivalent of military service.

The fate of rest of those who turn 18 in 2017 will depend in some way on what today’s 18-22 age group does over the next 4 years.

The government intends to set a draft quota of 5,200 Haredim out of the approximately 8,000 who will reach 18 in 2017. Out of that quota, 3,000 will enlist in the IDF, 2,200 will do National Service—most likely in their own communities. The remaining 2,800 will receive permanent exemptions.

But, if the full 5,200 quota isn’t met, then the envisioned 2,800 exemptions will be automatically reduced to 1,800.

Give and take.

Incidentally, last year some 2,200 Haredim were drafted. Out of that group, 1,300 enlisted in the IDF and 900 did national service.

This year, the total number of enlisting Haredim is expected to reach 3,300. Not so far from the envisioned quota ( which could change following the committee review and the Knesset debate).

Indeed, Haredi youths are already at close to two-thirds of the draft quota of 4 years from now, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

This isn’t a one-way street as the IDF will gain as well. We think merely adding a large group of soldiers who are mature, disciplined, who don’t curse, and who keep the Mitzvot would go a long way to improving our army—but the much more important result of the law should be felt immediately, with Haredim who did not serve in the army legally taking on jobs to feed their families, with honor.

We happen to believe that, just as Haredi young men will surely make for a better, more civilized and more Jewish army, so will mass entry into the workforce have a similar positive influence on Israeli society.

Another Defender of the Haredi Status Quo Clucks His Tongue

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Eytan Kobre has got be one of the most annoying defenders of the Haredi status quo in Israel on the face of the planet! He rarely fails to upset my sensibilities. His holier-than-thou attitude goes well beyond polite discourse in disagreement about public policy. It borders on the hateful! And he did it again in his weekly Mishpacha Magazinecolumn. Note in particular the three bullet points where he manages to disparage Jewish Action Magazine, an Orthodox blogger, Rabbi Dov Lipman and the “talmidei hachmim” and “ehrilche yidden” (his words) who hosted Rabbi Lipman on his recent visit to America.

What makes Mr. Kobre particularly annoying is the way he presents himself. He is an attorney. His talented writing skills indicate a fine secular education… attributes that would describe many moderate Haredim. And as most people know, I am a big fan of moderate Haredim – even though I am not Haredi myself.

The problem with Mr. Kobre is that he is anything but moderate. Despite his education and skills he writes like an extremist zealot.

The funny thing is that he does not really say anything about the Haredi belief system that is all that outrageous. But he uses those beliefs to disparage those who dare to challenge Haredi polices that in the view of many need some very serious tweaking at the least. He not only says that such challenges are evil, he implies that those that give a platform to people who advocate them are at best a bunch of morons. Of course, he doesn’t use the word moron. But he may as well have.

The subject of his most recent column is the draft of Haredim in Israel. His point is that if one were to truly understand the protective value of those who learn Torah they would know that all the miracles evident in every war were a direct result of the zechus (merit) of those who were learning Torah. He asks in the most hyperbolic of tones:

Now, as this fragile little country, whose 65-year history has been a string of wondrous miracles, faces the apocalypse being feverishly readied by the lunatic of Tehran, now is the opportune time to drag talmidei hachamim from their shtenders with brute physical or fiscal force, in a grand social reengineering scheme?
… is this the moment to allow the squelching of the amal haTorah that stands between us and a violent vomiting out of the inhabitants of this most spiritually sensitive of lands?

Brute physical force? Really, Mr. Kobre? What have you been drinking? No one in the government has suggested using brute physical force on Haredi Jews.

The fact is that no religious Jew would deny the merit that Torah study contributes towards the country’s security. But it is the height of folly to believe that hishtadlus via a strong military is therefore unnecessary. I’m sure that even Mr. Kobre understands that. But nowhere in the article does he make mention of it. The truth is that there has to be both. The only question is – what should the numbers look like.

What percentage of able bodied men who are dedicated to Torah study should be exempt from military service? In my view that has yet to be determined. I’m personally not sure what the percentage should be. But one thing I am fairly certain of is that they ought to not look like they do now. There is no way that every single Haredi Jew should be exempt from military service by simply registering in a yeshiva.

Mr Kobre might accuse me of hutzpah right about now. How, he might ask, do I know what the numbers should be? Am I a gadol (great Torah leader)? Only gedolim should decide these things, he might say. And right now they have determined that no Haredi Yeshiva student should serve, no matter what his age or status in Torah study.

True, I am not a gadol. But I have to ask, how many yeshiva students were there in 1948? So many miracles occurred in Israel’s war of independence that one would have to be the biggest cynic in the world to not see the hand of God in that victory.

I am absolutely convinced that Torah study in the yeshivos at that time protected Israel and contributed to the miracles. But the numbers of lomdei Torah then were substantially lower than they are now. In fact they were minuscule compared to what they are now. And yet Mr. Kobre would have us believe it is all about the numbers!

One might argue that you never know where we are holding as a nation with respect to deserving miracles. So the more people that are studying Torah the better chance we have for survival. I find this attitude to be a terrible way to look at God’s beneficence towards us. I would posit that considering the miracles that took place in 1948 – God is not interested in sheer numbers.

Yes, he wants us all to fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study. But he also wants histhadlus – to do what we can physically to achieve success. Hazal tell us – ein somchin al hanes – do not rely on miracles. The way to best succeed in winning a war is to have the best physical army we can field – in addition to the spiritual army that studies Torah full time.

The bottom line for me is that there ought to be divinity student exemptions. But they ought to be applied to the best and brightest among us – and only the highly motivated of those! The rest ought to be willing to serve in some capacity. This does not mean able bodied Haredim must give up Torah study entirely. One can continue to study Torah by being koveiah itim – establishing a fixed time for it… even while serving one’s country. Furthermore all conscripts can go back to the beis hamedrash once their military service is completed after two or three years.

There are those who argue that once you are out of the beis medrash – you will never return to it. Well… so be it. All that means is that they were only there in the first place for sociological reasons. Real masmidim will want to return… and they are probably the ones who get draft exemptions anyway.

But perhaps we should take Mr. Kobre at face value. He believes that we should maximize Torah study at such a dangerous time for Israel. If that is really the way he feels, then he ought to give up his law practice here in the United States, move to Israel, and “pitch in.” I’m sure if he went to the Mir and asked if he could join the full time lomdei Torah there, he would be accepted. He is after all a pretty bright fellow and his learning would no doubt contribute to his goal of relying on Nissim (miracles). How in good conscience can he continue stay here and work for a living?

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A Haredi Thawing? Oops, Never Mind

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Once again I am disappointed. A few months ago in a moment of reflective candor – Mishpacha Magazine Editor in Chief, Rabbi Moshe Grylak, put aside the rancor that so often characterizes the Haredi response to the kinds of issues now before them and actually had a good word or two to say about the recent elections in Israel. He praised the fact that there are a record number of observant Jews now serving in the Knesset. Formerly anti-religious parties now went out of their way to court Kipa wearing rabbis as part of their lists.

Although still firmly in the camp that opposes current attempts by the government to equalize the burden of army service by subjecting Haredim to the draft and that also opposes the installation of a core secular studies curriculum, he definitely seemed to be thawing out a bit. At least as far as the cold harsh rhetoric is concerned.

I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he was taken out to the proverbial “woodshed” by a rabbinic leader. But in his latest entry in the war of words against sharing the burden and altering even slightly the ‘no secular studies’ policy in their schools, he has returned to the harsh almost vitriolic rhetoric of the past.

Here are some selected excerpts from Rabbi Grylak’s editorial atoning (without using that word) for the terrible mistake of thinking something good may come of this new Knesset:

[O]ur gedolim agree that the current situation calls for intense public prayer…

From its inception, Torah study has always met with difficulties, malicious decrees, persecution and plotting…

Due to this age-old animosity, Torah study has faced countless threats throughout history. The peoples who would rather be left to sleep in peace among their abominations will do anything to silence the voice of Torah. Ever since the Roman decrees against Torah study, burning of Torah scrolls and deadly persecution of Torah Sages have run like a red thread through the chronicles of Torah life, encompassing the entire Jewish people…

When liberal-minded rulers in Europe first proclaimed emancipation for the Jews and granted them various civil rights, leaders in the world of Torah and [H]assidus saw this as an incipient disaster, leading to assimilation and the loss of a large portion of Jewry, another form of Holocaust. We have been witness to this sad reality from then to the present day.

The same secret applies to the survival of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. (emphasis mine)

Those who plot against the Torah world today are motivated by the same animosity that has long stirred in the hearts of the nations. They can’t enjoy their Western liberalism and self-centered individualism in peace, because the presence of Torah gets in the way of a new permissive society unfettered by Judaism. So, sensing where their values have led them, they can only justify themselves by striking out at those who won’t let them sleep in peace.

I think Rabbi Grylak has satisfied his attempt at teshuva (repentance). He echoes the harsh rhetoric of his rabbinic leaders. What happened to the nice words he said about all the Kipa wearers?

Shhhhhhh… don’t mention it. He made a mistake! He’s sorry! He corrected it! Don’t embarrass him. Leave him alone.

Well, I’m not going to leave him alone. I am going to praise his first thoughts and question his recanting them. In the first instance he spoke from heart. In the second instance he reverted to the harsh words of his rabbis. Rabbis that are still fighting ghosts. Ghosts that Rabbi Grylak says are still here motivating the “Torah haters” they are fighting.

There is one paragraph in that editorial that is very telling:

We should be grateful to Ben Gurion for making army service obligatory on anyone who leaves yeshivah for the workforce. In this convoluted way, young men have remained in yeshivah for decades, thus realizing the dream of the Chazon Ish and Rav Aharon Kotler, who saw it as their obligation to rebuild the decimated Torah world following the war. As a result, a generation of talmidei [h]achamim has emerged that has immeasurably changed the face of Haredi society.

It seems to me that this is a clear admission that the main reason the Torah world has grown to its current size is not because these young men were motivated by a love of Torah study, but by a fear of being drafted.

Is he then not saying that this growth is artificial? That not everyone in a Yeshiva or Kollel would be there if they had a choice? That perhaps they could be more productive for Klal Yisroel and in the eyes of God and man if they developed and used their innate talents for Klal Yisroel instead of burying them for the sake of avoiding a draft?

Not that I think that Rav Aharon Kotler’s goal of rebuilding the glorious Yeshiva world – decimated in the Holocaust – is a bad idea. I think it was a good idea. An important idea. A necessary idea. He deserves all the credit he has gotten for it. I actually support the concept of Yeshivos like Lakewood and Mir. I want to see them flourish. Not because of artificially inflated numbers due to draft dodgers. But because of a genuine love of Torah study that generates the kind of greatness seen in the Yeshivos of Europe.

Rav Aharon Kotler’s goal of restoring the great Yeshivos of Europe has more than surpassed his goals – looking at it in sheer numerical terms. Instead of Yeshivos that have the elite of Torah scholars studying in them (as was the case in Europe) the vast majority of male Haredim are now studying in them. This is not what European Yeshivos were about. They were not about quantity. They were about quality. We do have quality now. But I suggest that the same ratio of greatness in Torah that existed then exists now – camouflaged by the geometrically greater numbers that are in Yeshivos now – learning at mediocre levels.

If the draft was suddenly abolished, I wonder how many Haredim would stay in the beis medrash? My guess is that it would probably be a lot since they are indoctrinated to do that. But I think we might just see a significant drop off that would auger well for Haredim as a whole in many ways – not the least of which is financially.

The questions that remain are the following. What is really being gained by continuing to force Haredim to stay in the beis medrash full time via a draft that exempts Haredim? Is this the best use of our young people? Is the poverty class of semi motivated people that this situation has created really what God wants of His people?

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Changing the Paradigm of the Haredi Jew

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

I have just read Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz’s article defending the Haredi way of life as the quintessential way for a Jew to live …and criticizing those who believe that Judaism is not a “one size fits all’ religion. He is entitled to his opinion. And I am entitled to believe he is wrong. I don’t know how many times I have written about why I think so. Probably too many to count. So I am not going to do it here.
What I will say is that it isn’t just that he disagrees. It is the condescending way in which he does it. It is beyond his understanding that a Rabbi Dov Lipman who self identifies as Haredi can say the things he did, things which contradict the Haredi narrative.

Rabbi Lipschutz does a nice job explaining what he believes Haredism is about. It is about

“basking in the glow of Abaye and Rava, Rashi and Tosafos, the Rambam, the Ramban and the Rashba, the Ketzos and the Nesivos, Rav Chaim and Rav Aharon, as well as the giants of our day.”

OK. I understand that. Limud HaTorah in his world is exactly that: the joy of studying the minutia of the Talmud and all of its commentaries. It is about trying to understand its subtleties and absorbing its entire corpus and discussion of biblical and rabbinic law – which is the source of Jewish law as we practice it today. To use a phrase the Yeshiva world uses – it is about the geshmak of learning Torah.

In the course of extolling the virtues of the Haredi way of life that he cherishes – he attacks those who veer even slightly form that narrative. Only this time it is not the secular or Dati Leumi crowd. It is Rabbi Dov Lipman who has himself imbibed in the “Geshmak of Torah.” He has “basked in the glow” of all those great historic religious figures. As a self-defined Haredi he has never really left it.

I’m sure he still agrees that if one is capable, has the love and commitment to it, he should do exactly that: continue basking in it. Those who have this kind of dedication and discipline are the rabbinic leaders of the future. No matter what hashkafa one has, there is no question that Torah knowledge is paramount to rabbinic leadership.

Unfortunately Rabbi Lipschutz does not understand that. He sees Rabbi Lipman as some sort of sellout. Why? Well for one thing because he dares to praise as heroes those who are kovieh itim (set times) and learn Torah whenever they can – but spend most of their time supporting their families.

Rabbi Lipschutz obviously sees them as second-class citizens. They no longer bask in the glow of a R. Akiva Eiger for example. They must suffice with learning daf yomi (a page daily) on a train on their way to work. It’s not that Rabbi Lipschutz criticizes them. Its that he criticizes Rabbi Lipman for praising them as the true heroes.

They are true heroes. They are moser nefesh for limud HaTorah and do so even though they spend a full day working to support their families. Either by waking up early and learning in a shiur or with a havrusa before shachrit, learning late at night, or on their way to work on a train. Are these people any less valuable than an Avreich who spends the entire day learning – leaving support for his family to others (e.g. his wife, parents, in-laws, or the Israeli taxpayer)?

R. Lipschutz is critical of the philosophy that values equity in army service, claiming that for the first time, the status quo agreement reached with Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion exempting Yeshiva students will be broken. He is critical of Rabbi Lipman for joining in the political party that advocates that. And he is even critical of Orthodox Jews who have welcomed him into their synagogues to hear his views.

None are as blind as those who will not see. Rabbi Lipshitz is guilty of willful blindness. The kind that refuses to see or understand that no one in Israel wants to destroy the Haredi way of life (except for some on the fringes of the left). Least of all Rabbi Lipman. He actually wants to save it by creating a way for Haredim to be more self sufficient and do their fair share.

Army service is about sharing the burden. It is also about mainstreaming Haredim into the workplace so that they can earn a livable wage and support their families. It is not about destroying a way of life… unless we are talking a way of life that is rapidly descending into a poverty in ways that they will not be able to overcome.

Protesting the ‘Evil Decree’? Why Not a Counter Rally?

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

I don’t know who is behind this rally. But it is quite clear that those who are sponsoring it do not have any warm or fuzzy feelings for the State of Israel. Yet on this day… when literally millions of Jews in Israel are celebrating the birth of their modern State, it has been announced via Matzav that a rally will take place this coming Sunday in New York City to say Tehillim about the ‘terrible’ gezeirah (decree) being enacted by the Israeli government. From Matzav:

Matzav.com has learned that feverish )arrangements are being made for an atzeres tefillah to be held this coming Sunday, April 21, on New York City in light of the gezeiros being enacted by the government in Israel, specifically the implementation of a draft that would remove bochurim from their yeshivos and place them in the Israel Defense Forces. With the threat of the mandatory draft hanging over the yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel, and the budget cuts that have slashed funding to mekomos haTorah, the Olam Hatorah in the Holy Land is facing daunting weeks and months ahead

“The gathering will not be a protest against the Israeli government,” an event organizer told Matzav.com, “but rather purely a tefillah gathering, for thousands of Yidden to beseech Hashem for mercy at this most trying time. It will not be a political event.”

A kol koreh signed by leading rabbonim and roshei yeshiva encouraging attendance at the atzeres tefillah is currently being compiled and will be released as early as later today.

The gathering, to be held in downtown Manhattan, will feature the recital of Tehillim, divrei hisorerus, and kabbolas ohl Malchus Shomayim. The exact time of the event has not been released, though it is expected to be some time in the early afternoon.

I have to marvel at the way this is being characterized by the organizers. They say it will not be a protest against the Israeli government while practically in the same breath they speak about gezierot ( …as in ‘evil’ gezeirot. In their circles when one uses that term, they do not mean it as a compliment.)

Although I have expressed disappointment and opposition to the way this is being handled by rabbinic leaders in Israel and even here, I understand their angst. And their desire to be spared this ordeal. Their emphasis on prayer to God to relieve them of this ‘burden’ is therefore understandable too.

Even though I understand it, I do not support it. Far from it. In my view doing this in the middle of Manhattan in broad daylight is still a loud and terrible statement to be making to the world. The world will not understand that they are not protesting Israel no matter how they parse it in statements like the above announcement in Matzav. They can say all day long that they are not protesting Israel. The fact that they will be out there in the middle of Manhattan talking about “gezeirot” says otherwise.

Had they done so indoors in private setting it would be one thing. People can pray for whatever they want in private. Doing so in public does not add to their prayers. It instead speaks to their opposition to the State – protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Actions like this speak louder than any explanation. And how will news of this feel to those IDF soldiers who risk their lives daily?

I don’t know who the signatories to this kol korei will be. But I would urge prominent rabbanim of any stripe not to sign it. I doubt that God will see any greater value of this prayer rally being done in public over being done in private. The only value it will have is to bring publicity to them. In my view very negative publicity.

Can it really be the case that rabbinic leaders think God will listen better to them if they do so in public? And how will it be seen by the New York City public that will be forced to be inconvenienced by the almost certain traffic jams this rally will cause? Is unnecessarily inconveniencing the public – and making them angry at us – the way to God’s “heart”?

If the streets are going to be blocked off for this prayer rally anyway, I would love to see a counter rally in close proximity held by members of mizrachi where there will also be Kabbolas Ol Malchus Shamyim. But the Divrei Hisorerus and Tehilim will be said for the safety of IDF soldiers instead.

There should be nothing negative said against the other rally. There should be no bashing of the other side at all. Just a pro Israel rally for the troops and a lot of flag waving… Israeli flags, of course.

This would speak volumes to our brothers and sisters in arms across the ocean risking their lives daily to fight our enemies while protecting our country. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of those attending the other rally would come over and join? That would be a Kiddush HaShem in my view. Frankly I think God might better appreciate those prayers than the other ones.

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How to Lessen the Hatred

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Jonathan Rosenblum asks a question in the title of from his most recent column in Mishpacha Magazine (republished in Cross Currents): “Can We Do Anything to Lessen the Hatred?”

He is referring to a common theme I write about here – the conflict in Israel between Haredim and non-Haredim. Please note that I did not say Haredim and Hilonim (secular Jews). That would be incorrect. Datim – or Religious Zionists – are increasingly being lumped (by Haredim) together with Hilonim. But they don’t need to be lumped together by Haredim. Datim are actually siding with Hilonim against Haredim on many issues. As in the one referred to as “sharing the burden” – meaning subjecting Haredim to the draft.

I recently wrote about this very issue. And I made note of the fact that thinking Haredi writers like Jonathan have expressed the same thoughts I have on this issue. He does so once again.

What surprised Jonathan is the level of hatred that actually exists – even among Religious Zionists. He gives the following example:

I sent a national religious colleague my piece in Mishpacha on the Haredi draft issue. I consider this woman to be Israel’s finest columnist. She always writes in a measured style, building her argument block by block, like the engineer she is by training. I was sure she would approve of my pragmatic argument for allowing processes well under way to develop.

I was wrong. Perhaps she would have agreed five years ago, she wrote, but now she was fed up and fully behind Bennett. Even a statement by Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, that army service represents a spiritual threat to [H]aredi recruits – an unassailable sociological fact in the current IDF environment – elicited paroxysms of anger. The evident frustration coming from someone normally so temperate and with a number of [H]aredi friends clued me in to the depth of feeling in the national religious world.

In light of all that Jonathan concedes that their attitude is based on how the Haredi world presents itself to the non-Haredi world… and suggests that it ought to change. He gives examples of successful interactions where preconceived notions about Haredim were changed. Like the following:

Over the last decade, the Karlin-Stolin community, led by the Rebbe himself, has hosted between 10-15,000 Jews in small groups for Shabbos meals. Last week, one of the Torah flyers distributed in national religious synagogues on leil Shabbos included a letter from a waiter at Shabbos gathering of 370 Karlin-Stolin [H]assidim. He wrote of the warmth and respect the Hassidim showed him, of how they saved a seat for him at the table and invited him to join them in their dancing, of how they washed so neatly so as to minimize the clean-up.

“Shabbos ended and so did all my stereotypes,” the waiter wrote. So moved was the waiter that he called the Rebbe himself, who cried with joy and exclaimed, “That’s how I educated them for decades — in ahavas Yisrael and mutual respect.”

He ends up saying that this is an example worth emulating. I agree. This is indeed the kind of behavior to emulate. But this is not enough. It isn’t only about PR. It is about actually sharing the burden of military service.

But even if we were just to follow Jonathan’s advice about PR – it will not happen. It is one thing to writing about this issue to a sympathetic public. But as long as the rabbinic leadership continues their harsh rhetoric – changing their approach along the lines of this one [H]asidic group will not happen. No matter how many times Jonathan – or how many writers like him say so.

Jonathan is not a rabbinic leader and neither are any of the common sense Haredi writers like him (R’ Yitzchok Adlerstein comes to mind). I think that in their heart of hearts, most Haredim would agree with Jonathan .But as long as rabbinic leaders live in the past and insist on calling the idea of ‘sharing the burden’ a Shas HaShmad – comparing even observant Jews like Naftali Bennett that advocate it to what Czarist Russia did over 100 years ago – there will be no change in that paradigm any time soon. Especially when an influential Haredi publisher like Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter salutes his Rebbe and asks how high up the flagpole he should climb! (…in honoring his directive to make sure that the Haredi public understands that it is unequivocally a Shas HaShmad).

A Mistaken Plea to Klal Yisrael

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

One of the most pressing issues facing Israel right now (at least internally) is the issue of “What to do about the Haredim.” I do not say this in any pejorative sense at all. But the fact happens to be that the last election was all about that.  This is a subject that gets discussed a lot here. And it may be tiring to keep reading about it. But the issue has not gone away and remains as controversial as ever. It has as of yet not been solved.

I purposely characterized this as an over-all problem and not just a problem with the draft. Drafting Haredim into the army is but one facet of a much larger multifaceted problem. Aside from ‘sharing the burden’ of military service by submitting to the draft in equal proportion to the rest of the population, there are issues of rising poverty; the increased reliance taxpayer funded government welfare programs for sustenance; the  lack of education; and the ability to get decent jobs. And they are all related.

Let me begin by first making clear (if it isn’t already obvious by my many posts on this subject) that I am not opposed to the Haredi way of life. Nor do I reject the philosophy of learning Torah full time as a legitimate Hashkafa – even though I do not see it exactly the same way they do. But even if I didn’t agree at all – people have a right to believe as they choose and act in accordance with their beliefs as long as they do not interfere with the rights of others. My only issue with Haredim is their unwillingness to accept – or at best to consider as second class – other Hashkafos. Like Torah U’Madah  or Torah Im Derech Eretz.

To the extent that Haredim in America are better educated and a lot more productive than their Israeli counterparts is to the extent that I support them. Yes, there are pockets where poverty is great and education poor to non-existent. Yet I think it is fair to say that most Amercian Haredim do get a basic secular education and in some cases go on to have professional careers. Or at least have to ability to do so. And the draft is not an issue here.

But as I mentioned so many times in the past – Israel is a whole other ballgame. Haredim in Israel are nowhere near where American Haredim are.  Haredi Hashkafos in Israel are so extreme that there is no such thing as education outside of Limudei Kodesh (religious studies) in high school and beyond.  There are some exceptions to that – but those schools are few and at best considered outside the mainstream.

I bring all this up in light of the lengthy cover story in Ami Magazine. Publisher Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter interviewed Rav Dovid Soloveitchik who is the son of R’ Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (The Griz).  He is a leading rabbinic figure in the Israeli Haredi world and widely respected even among Haredim in America.  R’ Frankfurter studied in his Yeshiva (Brisk) for a year and considers himself a Talmid.

R’ Dovid summoned him to Israel and expressed the urgency of spreading the word about his (and the virtually all the rest of the Israeli rabbinic leadership’s) opposition to the draft. That they consider serving in the army a Shas HaShmad is no secret. He has spoken about this many times. I covered one of those times right here.

What makes this interview interesting for me is the fact that Rabbi Frankfurter actually asked him questions that I would have asked. Although he unhesitatingly accepts the answers from his Rebbe, I do not. He promised to ‘spread the word’ through his magazine and this cover story certainly did that. At least to paid subscribers or those who went out and bought the magazine.

But the questions were a lot better than the answers which can all be refuted. The question I am most referring to is the following.

Rabbi Frankfurter asked him why Haredim could not do both – learn and serve in the army at the same time. His answer was that Torah can have no Hesech HaDaas (interruption of focus and concentration). Torah requires exclusivity. If someone wants to learn Torah he cannot have anything else with it. He must give himself over to Torah completely. A Bachur must commit his whole life solely to Torah. And he quotes the Rambam (Hilchos Talumd Torah 3:6) to prove his point:

A person whose heart inspires him to fulfill this Mitzvah in a fitting manner and to become crowned with the crown of Torah should not divert his attention to other matters. He should not set his intent on acquiring Torah together with wealth and honor simultaneously.

This not only precludes serving in the army while learning, it precludes any possible preparation for the workplace via an even basic secular education.

With all due respect, to the Rosh HaYeshiva, this is hardly an argument for not having a dual army/Yeshiva program like hesder. Nor is it an argument (as implied by his response) to reject all limudei hol past 8th grade (where basic math and the Hebrew grammar are the only secular subjects taught).  What the Rambam must have meant is that it is indeed preferable to study Torah without any distraction. But I doubt very seriously that he meant that this should be the way of life for every single student from age 12 and up to the exclusion of ever learning how to make a livable wage.

If that were the case, the Rambam could never have studied medicine. He must have at some point done both. Perhaps his Torah study was at its best when he was not distracted by parnassa (livelihood) concerns. But I seriously doubt that he would tell anyone to ignore it. What he probably believed was that one should strive for pure Torah study. But not at the expense of learning to make a living. Else, how could he have become a doctor? He therefore must have also believed that it is legitimate to combine Torah study with preparation for a Parnassa. Either that, or he was not very good at taking his own advice.

The same argument can be made for the requirement to give up a couple of years to serve in the army. And if one can still study Torah during that time – like the hesder program does – all the better.

That secular studies harm Torah scholarship is disproved not only by the Rambam – who many say was an exception to his own rule because of his genius, but by his own cousins the Rav and Rav Ahron who both attended university, one receiving his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Berlin and the other a law degree from NYU. Is there anyone who would say that the Rav or R’ Aharon were deficient in Torah knowledge?

Lest anyone say that they too are geniuses, Rav Ahron clearly states that full time Torah study is not for everyone. Who says that every Haredi in Israel must learn full time from the moment he starts school until well after he is married with children? Rav Ahron might argue the reverse and say that geniuses in Torah like the Rambam should study full time and not be distracted by parnassa concerns. Everyone else should be kovieh itim (set aside regular times for Torah study) and serve God by what suits his intelligence and personality the best.

Returning to the issue of the draft – I completely reject R’ Dovid’s characterization of it being a Shas HaShmad. He compares it to Czarist times and characterizes what is going on now as a 100 percent war against the Torah.  I think it is quite clear that R’ Dovid is living in the past on this issue. He remembers Ben Gurion who personally saw no value in Halacha and thinks the current political leadership is no different.

For example Ben Gurion and his wife did not bother having a religious marriage ceremony. They only had a civil ceremony in New York. He refused to ever wear a kipa. He ate bread on Pesach. His concession to the Chazan Ish about maintaining the status quo – guaranteeing Haredim would continue their British mandated control over religious matters in the new State of Israel was entirely political. He did not want them to oppose the creation of a state in the U.N. which they were going to do. When he promised them that, they supported the creation of the State.

But things are not like that now. Had he paid attention to Yair Lapid during the election he would know that. Ever since the six day war and especially since the Begin era there has been an increase in the respect for Torah among Israeli leaders.  Unlike R’ Dovid, Haredi writers have taken note of the fact that the current Knesset has more observant Jews serving than at any time in history.

This is not a Shas Hasmad. If it were, I would support them. The more these rabbinic leaders say it is, the less credible they sound. Instead of ‘spreading the word’ the way R’ Dovid and his Shaliach (messenger) Rabbi Frankfurter are. They ought to sit down with the government and work out a compromise that everyone could live with.

Just like there was a divinity exemption in my day when America had a draft, so too there should be one in Israel. The only problem in Israel is that because of the philosophy of full time Torah study for everyone – every single Haredi man gets a divinity exemption. That is not right. Divinity exemptions are designed to produce clergy that will serve the populace. Not so that every single member of it becomes a member of the clergy.

With this philosophy in place, the Israeli government has no choice but to set up a quota system – where a certain percentage of young Talmudic scholars will be fully exempt and even subsidized by the government with a living wage. The rest must register and share the burden just like Dati and secular Israelis do. What that percentage should be can be negotiated by men of good will.

There should also be a track whereby a Haredi can both serve and continue his studies simultaneously the way Hesder boys do. And certainly religious sensitivities of Haredim must be honored so that their way of life is not compromised. Which means that Nachal Haredi and similar programs need to be improved and expanded.

I truly believe this approach or something like it is the best solution. But as long as Haredi rabbinic leaders like R’ Dovid Soloveitchik so stridently sees this as a Shas HaShmad, it will not happen.

As for injecting some secular studies into their curriculum to improve their lot… well… one step at a time.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

200 Haredim Drafted on Thursday

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

On Thursday, two hundred Haredim were drafted into the “Nahal Haredi” combat battalion, Netzach Yehuda.

According to the Ultra-Orthodox paper, Kikar Shabbat, this recent draft represents a 30% overall increase in the number of Haredi men drafted into the unit.

This Ultra-Orthodox army unit was first established in 1999 with just 35 soldiers. It now consists of 500 active combat soldier, and has become the largest individual combat battalion in the army.

In the previous draft, the unit drafted 150 Haredi soldiers.

In 2012, the Ultra-Orthodox battalion won the IDF’s Excellence Award for Judea and Samaria.

The Netzah Yehuda Battalion, also known as Nahal Haredi, is part of the IDF Kfir Brigade. The unit allows Haredi recruits to serve in an atmosphere conducive to their religious convictions, within a framework that is strictly halachically observant.

The unit is responsible for areas of operation around the Jenin area. The soldiers regularly go out on arrest missions in the area with a high rate of success.

The battalion lost its first casualty on August 19, 2006, when Muhammad Ban-Yuda, a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, shot and killed Staff Sergeant Roi Farjoun of Yehud at the Beka’ot Checkpoint east of Shchem. A Haredi soldier then opened fire and killed the terrorist.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/200-haredim-drafted-on-thursday/2013/03/24/

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