Dealing With New and Old Enemies

Last week in these pages, I shared a letter that I sent to a lost innocent soul who thinks he is a Reconstructionist Jew.

This week, I must sadly respond to a Reform rabbi who would purposefully like to destroy Judaism. The response to him and his ilk must be different than what we say to a lost brother. I must thank my friend, Rabbi Avi Shafran, of Agudas Yisrael, for bringing to my attention this latest onslaught on the Torah.

Eric H. Yoffie, the former president of the Union for Reform Judaism recently wrote in Haaretz, the Israeli left-wing newspaper (November 29, 2018), that “the Ultra Orthodox political leadership is destroying the State of Israel. Literally.” He quotes extensively from one Professor Dan Ben-David, president of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research. This “expert” recently issued a report titled “Overpopulation and demography in Israel.” Sounding suspiciously like Paroh’s worry that “the Children of Israel are more numerous and stronger than we… Come let us outsmart it” (Shemos 1:8), he speaks in jarring pejoratives of the Torah leaders in Eretz Yisroel. He accuses them of “distorting and besmirching [Torah] tradition for its own narrow purposes.”

Claiming that “lovers of Torah” (like him who have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Torah) “can only weep,” the professor is worried that “in 40 years, Israel will be more crowded than any country in the world except for Bangladesh.”

Acknowledging that “a very high birthrate is usually a blessing,” Yoffie claims that chareidi population growth is different, because since so many of its members are devoted to full-time Torah study, “a substantial segment of its citizens receives a Third World education.”

Resorting to name-calling and ad-hominem attacks, Yoffie calls gedolei Torah such as Rav Chaim Kanievsky “political hacks,” instead of “giants of Torah.” These “politicos in religious garb” ostensibly use “wrath” and a “massive machinery of religious coercion” to deprive their followers of the tools to earn a living, dooming them to eternal poverty.

Ironically, it is Yoffie who advocates coercion to wean chareidim from full-time Torah study. “Enforcing these regulations [which he advocates] will not happen through pleading or persuasion, but only through compulsion.”

Part of the fallacy of Ben David’s and Yoffie’s thesis is that they speak of “the resounding failure” of “public education,” blaming this sad situation on the chareidim, when they do not participate at all in that system. Virtually all chareidi schools are independent of the Mamlachti system and produce scholars, businessman and productive citizens of every stripe. Most importantly, we believe and can prove that historically Torah scholars have, in fact, kept our nation alive, healthy and stable for millennia, without help, thank you, from the likes of Eric H. Yoffie.

In a witty and compelling rejoinder to both Yoffie and Ben David, Rabbi Shafran (Cross-Currents.com, 12/15/18) cites many of the naysayers of history, such as Lord Kelvin, who stated in 1895 that “heavier than air flying machines are impossible” and Paul R. Ehrlich, who predicted in his 1968 bestseller that “hundreds of thousands would starve to death by 1988.” These objections are quite true, but I would like to suggest a somewhat different answer and approach to Eric Yoffie’s familiar display of contempt for the Torah world.

I have related in these pages a story from my Yiddish-speaking childhood. My entire family used to listen “religiously” to WEVD, which also employed a weather reporter, called the vetter novi. One day he badly miscalculated a severe snowstorm, which brought several feet of trouble despite his promise that it would be a beautiful day. The next day, the announcer dutifully admitted that his climate expert had been a novi sheker.

For several centuries now, the anti-Torah movements, be they called Conservative, Reform or other euphemisms for Torah destroyers, have falsely predicted doom and gloom unless Torah study is diminished or, chas veshalom, eradicated entirely. As Rav Berel Wein writes (Triumph of Survival, page 52), “The first Reform Temple was dedicated in Seesen, Germany, in 1810. Israel Jacobson, who headed that temple, introduced an organ, a mixed choir, German sermons, German prayers and ecclesiastical robes.” Despite the Reform predictions that these innovations would save Judaism and endear us to the German people, the German-based churban of European Jewry was a mere 130 years away, unanticipated let alone predicted by the Reform leaders enchanted and obsessed with Germany and its culture.

Of course, it took a gadol B’Yisroel of the stature of the Ohr Somayach to predict (Meshech Chochmah, Vayikra 26:44) that “there will come a time when Klal Yisroel will declare that Berlin is Yerushalayim.”

Just like Eric Yoffie, Abraham Geiger, one of the founders of the Reform “spoke of the need to abolish all the institutions of Judaism” (Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, page 334).

However, there is an even more insidious aspect of Yoffie’s newest assault on limud haTorah. My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, once found himself in an anti-religious kibbutz on David Ben-Gurion’s yahrtzeit. His hosts invited him to offer appropriate words for the occasion, but he did not quite say what they expected. Rav Hutner noted that the prime minister had made several concessions to the religious parties regarding kashrus and Shabbos in the new medinah. “Let me explain his motivation,” Rav Hutner began. “You see, Ben-Gurion, like many of his secularist compatriots, thought that time was on their side. They reasoned that they might as well throw us a few bones in exchange for cooperation on other matters, since as far as they were concerned, in just a few decades there would no religious left anyway. But Hashem and Klal Yisrael had other plans. Time was actually on our side. Each year new yeshivos open, new botei medrash are founded, more and more young men enter kollel, and thousands of families begin their new lives al taharas hakodesh” (Pachad Yitzchak, Sefer Hazikaron).

Rav Hutner left us with a fundamental analysis of why and when our spiritual enemies are willing to compromise with us. Their end-game is our destruction, but until then, they are willing to make what they consider minor concessions to gain their ultimate malevolent goal. I believe that Yoffie’s brazen but desperate missive against Torah is one of the last salvoes coming from our spiritual enemies who see the proverbial handwriting on the wall. As they did in the early years of the Haskalah, they are turning to governmental intervention – here in the United States, in England and in Eretz Yisroel – to accomplish what Klal Yisroel itself is not accepting.

On another occasion (see Sefer Hazikaron, page 84), Rav Hutner offers another penetrating insight that impacts mightily upon the current situation. Someone commented to him that “today’s apikorsim – heretics – speak differently than those of earlier times. They don’t seem to be as rebellious and revolutionary as those in the past.” Rav Hutner agreed and explained the phenomenon with a metaphor. “In the modern world,” he began, “there have been two types of revolutions against existing monarchies. In Russia, the communists came, toppled the Czar and supposedly ended all forms of imperial government. England, too, experienced a revolution, but they left the monarchy intact with kings and queens, reducing them to powerless figureheads. This is the difference between the old apikorsim and the new ones. Both wish to throw off the yoke of Heaven and free themselves of any obligations to the Creator. The old heretics attempted, in the Russian prototype, to completely jettison any connection to the rule of heaven, while the new model of enemies of the Torah do so like the British example, acting more subtly and leaving a mere shell of authority and figurehead.

We might extrapolate from Rav Hutner’s teaching that in the early years of Haskalah and Reform, the audacious overthrow of basic Yiddishkeit was indeed outrageous and scandalous.

In order to protect ourselves, our children and Torah institutions, we must be both vigilant and aware of the weaponry being arrayed against us so that we can save the sanctity and purity of our holy Torah until Moshiach opens all eyes, bimeheirah beyomeinu.