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May 4, 2015 / 15 Iyar, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Ultra Orthodox’

The State of the Jew According to Pew

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Pew conducted a study of Jews in America and has released a comprehensive report based on its findings. Nearly 2800 religious Jewish people were interviewed and the results of those interviews make up the model for the results of the study. It’s difficult conduct a study like this and achieve meaningful results. I am not a statistician nor can I compare the sample sizes used in this study with others. To my untrained eye, it seems small.

There are many very interesting findings to discuss. I have three things I want to say about the study.

First, people will point to the staggering number of orthodox Jews who are no longer orthodox. That number is 52%. It seems impossible to believe. That means that over half of people raised orthodox are no longer orthodox. Think about the orthodox Jewish friends and family you know. Does it make sense to say that over half of them are no longer orthodox? I don’t think so.

If you drill down a bit you notice a couple of things. For starters, I know many people who say they were raised orthodox because they went to a yeshiva or modern orthodox school even if they weren’t frum at home. I went to school with several people like that. Those people certainly skew the numbers. After all, the study relied on self identification. There was no process to classify people into categories other than to ask them.

But the real key here what the numbers are for young people being raised in contemporary orthodoxy. Those numbers are impressive. 83% of people raised as orthodox Jews under the age of 30 stay. This is a huge success. It’s also a number that correlates with anecdotal evidence. So the people who were raised orthodox and no longer are orthodox are mostly older people. What does this mean?

It means one of two things or perhaps a hybrid of two. [It doesn’t mean that orthodox Jews leave the fold in their 30’s and 40’s at alarmingly high rates.] It could either mean that orthodoxy is much stronger today than it was 20 and 30 years ago. People get a better Jewish education, there is more insularity, and the shift to ultra orthodoxy which outnumbers modern orthodoxy by nearly 10:1 in this demographic is working to keep more orthodox Jews orthodox. Alternatively, it signifies a shift in who attends orthodox schools. In other words, 20-30 years ago it was far more likely for a family to send a child to an orthodox school and identify as orthodox even if they were not totally observant of halacha. There was more cross-pollination and there were fewer non-orthodox options. So you wind up with more people from previous generations identifying as being raised orthodox even though they weren’t truly orthodox through and through. This is rarer today because we are more insular and non-orthodox or unaffiliated Jews feel less comfortable in orthodox institutions. The truth is likely a combination of the two but the latter does concern me.

Also, very few middle aged and older people consider themselves ultra-orthodox. It’s a youth movement. Sure, some mellow out and switch affiliation. But it’s also a recent phenomena that is sweeping orthodoxy. It’s pretty compelling evidence that what is happening now for the under 40 orthodox Jew is different from what their parents and grandparents experienced. It’s a different kind of Judaism. The numbers bear it out.

Next, the non-orthodox denominations are falling apart. The numbers support the rumblings and rumors regarding the demise of Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism is dwindling as well. Some orthodox Jews like to cheer while these two denominations begin to disappear. Others view it as a sign that those Jews must be saved and brought into orthodox Judaism.

I think that it is important for Judaism that non-orthodox denominations are strong and vibrant. I think that orthodox Jews should be concerned and make efforts to help revive non-orthodox Judaism. This sounds controversial and heretical but it’s really not. Orthodox Judaism is not going to magically become the Judaism for the 89% of non-orthodox Jews. We can either wish them well and watch them disappear or we can try to keep them connected to their Jewish heritage. I think the latter choice is preferable. Now we can either keep them connected by “making them orthodox” as if that is even possible, or we can rely on strong non-orthodox denominations to keep them in the fold. I think the latter choice is preferable here too. It’s certainly the more likely option to achieve widespread success. While resources are precious in the orthodox community, I think strengthening the non-orthodox denominations is a worthy endeavor. They are also our brothers and sisters. If we value what we have, we should do whatever we can to help them stay somewhat connected to their Judaism. A little bit of a good thing is a whole lot better than nothing.

‘Amalek’ Comment More an Expression of Shas Despair than Hate

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Saturday night has been for years an opportunity for the Sephardi Haredi party Shas’ spiritual leader, Rav Ovadia Yosef, to make headlines with some outrageous statements. In fact, as the Israeli media began to carry those statements, making them the focal point of many a Sunday morning conversations (Sunday is Israel’s Monday).

Initially, those statements were mostly against the Arabs, most notably the Palestinians, most emphatically the late Chairman Yassir Arafat. But as of Israel’s most recent elections, during the campaign and especially as it was becoming clear that the Jewish Home national religious party was going to be inside the coalition government while the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, were out—the great spiritual leader started frothing at the mouth cursing out his rivals.

He called them “Goyish Home,” he accused them of fighting and desecrating the Torah, he ridiculed their notion of being religious—how could they possibly be religious when they conspire, along with Yair Lapid’s burgeoning middle-class party Yesh Atid, to force thousands of yeshiva students into military conscription.

This past Saturday night, in Rav Ovadia’s synagogue in the Bucharim neighborhood in Jerusalem, a member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, Rav Shalom Cohen, dean of the Porat Yosef yeshiva, compared the national religious in Israel, whose noted symbol are the knitted yarmulkes—kippot srugot—to Amalek.

Just before Purim, many divrei Torah are said about the true identity of Amalek. Some say it is a real nation, whose goal in history is to negate whatever it is Jews are doing, because Amalek are the enemies of God, while we are the children of God. They see Amalek in every great enemy of the Jews, culminating in the Nazis and Ahmadinejad. Others talk about the Amalek within us, that fascistic component of our personalities that has no problem stepping on others, brutally if need be, just to get its way.

In that context, Rav Cohen’s note was blood curdling. Whether he had had too much of the glass of havdala, or truly believes it, he made the following clever spiel: “It says God does war against Amalek. So long as Amalek exists, the throne—kess is not complete. KS is an acronym for Kippa Sruga—knitted yarmulke. When will the throne-kess be whole? When there’s no longer a kippa sruga… Are these really Jews?”

Haredi journalist Israel Gelis says Rav Cohen’s poor choice of words should not be taken seriously. It’s part of a particular culture where heated expressions are thrown out with little consideration of their impact. Gelis says that on Shabbat he ran into Rav Cohen at the Kotel, and the latter said to him with a huge smile: “Did you see the name of the chief of the tribe of Naftali (as in Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett)? It’s Achira (Num. 1:15),” literally “brother of evil.” And he was very pleased with himself, adds Gelis.

Those things shouldn’t be taken seriously. But the total failure of Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri to deliver on any of his promises, says Gelis, bears far more serious ramifications for the Haredi Sephardi party that relies on thousands of knitted yarmulke voters.

Having lost out in the coalition building wars to Bennett and Lapid, Deri has forged an alliance with leftist Meretz and the Arab parties, to the point where he is more likely to vote with them against the Zionist coalition government than not. His rival in the Shas leadership, deposed chairman Eli Yishai, is a regular secret visitor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chambers—so secret the entire Haredi world knows about it. Yishai has been a reliable, steady partner to Netanyahu and other secular, right-wing leaders. At this point he is waiting for his nemesis to sink deeper in the political mud.

Life in the opposition is murder on a party like Shas, which used to utilize its government ministries to favor its Sephardi sector. Now, unable to bring home the paella, Shas is standing to lose much of its support to the new powers that be in the ministries they used to control: Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home.

Add to that the fact that Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef is not getting any younger, and you’ll understand the Shas angst.

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.

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.

An Autonomous Haredi State: Having Their Cake and Eating It Too

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

The Haredi publication Hamodia (as reported by The Jewish Press) has called for establishment of their own autonomous zone in Israel. The feel that they have been mistreated.

Here is how the Times of Israel put it:

As the Knesset works on legislation that could see most ultra-Orthodox men required to serve in the IDF or other national service frameworks, and planned budget cuts threaten the community’s already strained economy, Hamodia, the mouthpiece of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party, suggested self-rule was the best answer to unwanted secular intrusion.

Hamodia said:

Autonomy means independent administrative rule for internal matters without sovereign political status, with legal and financial independence and police, but without an army or foreign policy.

I find this approach to be both intriguing and at the same time very self serving. And frankly somewhat humorous. I have always thought that places like Meah Shearim ought to be given what they want – complete independence from the State of Israel. They don’t think that the Jewish people have a right to their own state pre-Moshiach? That’s fine. Give them Meah Shearim and they can give it to which ever non-Jews they choose to live under. I hear that there are some Palestinians that might be interested.

But this is different. Hamodia isn’t talking about only the rejectionist Jews of Meah Shearim. They are talking about all Haredim – including those who have in the past worked with the government.

And they aren’t talking about seceding from Israel. They are talking about living there autonomously. They want to build a society of their own. They claim to have the ability to build their own infrastructure. They will have their own judicial system; their own political system; their own electric companies, roads, water works… and everything else necessary for a society to function independently. They look to Haredi cities likes Bnei Brak and Beitar as their models for success.

Really? Hamodia thinks that a society that does not educate their children in anything but Torah study will enable them to build a society that functions? Where are they going to get people with the expertise to build all of the necessary components of a modern society? The engineers, the doctors, the dentists, the lawyers, the accountants, the urban planners, the police, the judges and the myriad other trained people who will be qualified to do the things that a city needs to function? From Brisk?

But let us grant that they will somehow find a way. Maybe they will change the paradigm a bit to allow some of their students to learn those disciplines so that they can have such a society. (Although I doubt it.)

But here is the problem. They still want army protection. That is the advantage of having autonomy. You can then eat your cake and have it too. They will graciously allow secular and Dati Leumi Israelis to put their lives on the line for them. Isn’t this what the whole debate is about in the first place?!

It does not cease to amaze me how clueless some of these people are. How can they think that this would in any way be acceptable? How will this new autonomous entity share the burden? Maybe they think this is all about money… that their offer to live autonomously means that they will relieve the Israeli taxpayer of the burden of supporting them. I don’t know… that is an enticing concept. But if so, where will they get the money to replace what they receive now? How will this under-educated (aside from Torah knowledge) class with little marketable skills survive?

The only way their sincerity about living autonomously can be tested is if we require them to have their own army. That would be fair. Without it… all this amounts to is formalizing the status quo with respect to sharing the burden. Only they will be doing so in the form of an autonomous state. Why would the government of Israel want to do that? In my view it would be an act of true humanitarian nature to deny this option to them. Because they will surely fail – even if they are granted protection by the IDF.

What about Bnei Brak or Beitar? I doubt they could exist as autonomous states. Don’t they realize that?

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

What Are They Crying About? (Conclusion)

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

The ultra-Orthodox were also on a sort of automatic pilot.

Their society did not talk about the redemptive process and all types of glorious concepts. They simply waited for Mashiach. They learned Torah, fulfilled the directive to settle the land of Israel in their own way, and protected their communities from the winds of heresy with all their might. The irreverent Zionists who suddenly decided to play state making reshuffled all their cards. After all, it cannot be that the Mashiach wears an Israeli farmer’s hat. For the ultra-Orthodox, a serene prayer at the Western Wall under the enlightened flag of her majesty is ten times better than the unnecessary wars that the “heretics” brought upon us.

But somehow, their logic continues, the “heretics” actually established a successful state. And to prove how serious they were, they even asked us to join in on the democratic game. Now that you have engaged us against our will in a state that we do not want, we will try to salvage as much as possible for our communities.

At first, it seemed that the competing religious ideology that viewed Zionism as a positive development was flourishing. The National Religious Party had 12 Knesset seats. They controlled the religious institutions. They were the source for Israel’s chief rabbis and engaged in dialogue with the state. The ultra-Orthodox approach seemed to have reached its end.

But then everything changed. The religious Zionists began to sink, their rabbis looked to the ultra-Orthodox rabbis for approval, their political institutions became increasingly less influential, the state scorned them, and their leaders paid homage to the rabbis in ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak – not to the rabbis in religious Zionist Kiryat Moshe.

For an entire generation, it seemed that the ultra-Orthodox ideology was more realistic. Proof of that was Aryeh Deri’s consistent observation that no government could be formed without Shas – true, until the past elections. And then it turned out that a government could be formed without Shas – with those very same religious Zionists whose influence had almost dissipated.

That is how the ultra-Orthodox ideological self-confidence evaporated – to be replaced by cries of pain and insult. It is always easiest to blame the rest of the world and not to make an accounting of your own ideology. That’s fine. The religious Zionists did the same thing. But ultimately, reality prevails.

In truth, the religious Zionist ideology was not destroyed. Its foundations were genuine. Those foundations also exist in ultra-Orthodox ideology.

The religious Zionists correctly understand the redemptive process. But their abundance of love caused them to relate to the state as a means – not as an end. Danger! From this point, it is very easy to descend into a soft type of fascism. It is a kind of idol worship, as the halachic decisions made by some religious Zionist rabbis obligating soldiers to obey orders to drive Jews from their homes testify. When the individual belongs to the state and not vice versa, when the state is both father and mother to its citizens, the resulting crisis is just a matter of time.

For their part, the ultra-Orthodox correctly understand the danger of the state – any state. But they completely miss the redemptive process, leaving them outside of history and even outside of society.

Just as the Gush Katif crisis opened the religious Zionists up to their surrounding Israelis, creating diversity and new options, the same will happen now to the ultra-Orthodox. Everybody will gain from this process – first and foremost, the state of Israel and Israeli society.

The state of Israel is stuck, and not only because it does not have an answer for the missiles from Gaza. Bereft of its faith, it is incapable of dealing with all the deep-level challenges of our era. That faith, existing among believers of all stripes and all ideologies, will rise out of the crises to create a faith-based Israeli culture – a new type of vision.

WOW Claiming Groundbreaking Court Ruling

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Following the arrest of five Women of the Wall on Thursday, during the Rosh Chodesh prayer, the women were taken to Magistrate Court, where police accused them of disturbing public order and asked the judge to ban them from the Western Wall for three months.

After examining the evidence, Judge Sharon Larry Bavly stated that there was no cause for arresting the women, WOW Director of Public Relations Shira Pruce reported.

In a groundbreaking decision, the judge declared that Women of the Wall are not disturbing the public order with their prayers. She said that the disturbance is created by those publicly opposing the women’s prayer, and Women of the Wall should not be blamed for the behavior of others. The women were released immediately, with no conditions.

MKs Tamara Zandberg and Michal Rozin of the left wing Meretz party accompanied the women, to bear witness. Rozin said, “I think this place should be equal for everybody, every Jew, women and men.” Zandberg stated, “We are here to show our identification and solidarity with Women of the Wall. They have been praying here for years now… and we will continue to come here every month, until this place is free.”

“The judge said today what we have been saying for many years: women’s prayer, with talit and even with Torah, is not a disturbance,” said WOW director Lesley Sachs. She added, “We hope that the police will think twice before arresting women mid-prayer at the Western Wall again.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/wow-claiming-groundbreaking-court-ruling/2013/04/11/

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