Monday, Jun 24, 2024

The Messenger Wants Your Soul

There is nothing new in Jewish history. What happened back then repeats itself in various incarnations in the present and in the future. When one analyzes history, one learns lessons for the present as well as for the future. There are those who advocate for chareidim not to focus on the messengers, but rather on the message being broadcast by the “share the burden” crowd. They maybe well intentioned, but they ignore lessons of history at their own peril.

In last week’s column, we quoted retired US Army General Hunt, who said, “If you want to do good and be good, you better know how to recognize bad.” The wisdom of his comment came to mind when contemplating the many good souls who claim to be chareidi, or chareidi sympathizers who have been urging chareidim to confront the message being broadcast by Israeli society. These people have been advocating for chareidim to try to participate and interact with the wider Israeli society both economically and socially.


They cannot understand why chareidim are reacting so viscerally to the designs of “the share the burden” politicians. “There is an important message that Lapid and company are delivering. It is an important debate,” they claim, as they shake their heads at the obstinacy of the chareidim.


One of the most recent issues discussed in every media outlet in Israel is what has been dubbed as the “debate” about the “share the burden” campaign. It behooves us to understand that there is no debate here. If there is a debate going on in Israeli society, it is a one-sided debate. The “share the burden” slogan was designed to squelch debate. The slogan was designed to imply, “How can you not share the burden? How can our boys go and die and not your boys?” The entire point of the “share the burden” slogan was to demonize one segment of society as somehow content to let other people’s kids die at the war front.


This obviously served to put chareidim on the defensive and precipitated the knee-jerk reaction of chareidim digging their heels in even deeper, not the opposite.


Indeed, it is not a debate at all. It is a gimmick that garnered votes by vilifying an entire segment of the population. A real debate would have been to try to understand the religious life and obligations of the charedi and try to figure out if army service is at all compatible with that lifestyle.




The bottom line, however, is that those who so righteously called for “sharing the burden” were completely not interested in a debate. They were interested in creating a lynch mob atmosphere against chareidim, an atmosphere into which the unfortunately decidedly not media savvy chareidim stepped right into.


Another issue that has been raised is the idea that Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and Dov Lipman bear a message that is very important, a message that chareidim should hear and contemplate, regardless of whether we like them or not. The message is that chareidim have to start becoming part of the fabric of Israeli society, both socially and economically.


The truth, however, is that charedi society has no choice but to opt out of the tenor of Israeli life. So much of its norms and values are contrary to everything we stand for and aspire to be. There is no debate among chareidim about participating in Israeli life. It is decidedly secular in nature, and just as chareidim in the United States opt out of so much that is objectionable to our values in American life, so do chareidim in Israel opt out of much in Israeli life and culture.


Truthfully, perhaps distance from cultural norms in Israel is even more of an imperative than in the United States, because in America there is still a degree of natural havdalah bein Yisroel lo’amim, which does not exist in Eretz Yisroel. Thus, the situation in Eretz Yisroel calls for even more vigilance, so as not to be swayed by norms of society that are incompatible with our Torah lifestyle.




Throughout Jewish history, the gentile claim against the Jews has been, “Why can’t you just be a little more like us? Why do you have to segregate yourselves? Just be part of society, dress a little more like us, act a little more like us, engage in the same recreational activities, enjoy the same entertainment venues, and just don’t be so different.” History has proven two things. Jews have been hated and persecuted for preserving their autonomy and not being more like the surrounding society, and when Jews have adamantly insisted on being different, they have succeeded in preserving their unique character and not assimilating. The second they made concessions, they began to fall and assimilate.


Thus, the idea of participating in Israeli life means taking the first step to adopting its norms and assimilating into Israeli life, thus becoming more Israeli and less authentically Jewish. The greatest proof is the National Religious public, who somehow try to accommodate observance and participation in Israeli life and culture. They have an appallingly high rate of attrition and, understandably, their youth are confused by the mixed messages sent their way.


Indeed, Rabbi David Stav, one of the Religious Zionist candidates for chief rabbi, advocated watching films, even those that have the occasional immoral scene. The Miyom L’Yom newspaper recently cited quotations from Rabbi Stav’s book, Tarbut Bilui Upenai (The Culture of Entertainment and Leisure). In one chapter, titled “Books of Idolatry and Heresy,” Stav rules, “Possibly, when the prohibition against reading [heresy] causes a person to feel that Judaism is hiding something from him and this disturbs his belief, reading such items may be permitted due to this rationale.”


Seeking examples of people going on trips and tours from ancient Jewish history, the book cites Yitzchok Avinu going out losu’ach basodeh, to pray in the field. As an example of ancient Jewish involvement in sport, it mentions Yaakov Avinu wrestling with an angel.


Bein Hazemanim,” another volume authored by Rabbi Stav, permits reading immoral books under certain conditions.


“The Shulchan Aruch rules that someone who reads sifrei cheishek transgresses by arousing the yeitzer hara, etc.,” he writes. “But possibly, this is only a suggestion and not an absolute prohibition.”


The book permits viewing films that have “positive values,” even if they contain “a few scenes with light tznius problems.” It advises covering one’s eyes to avoid inappropriate scenes.


That is what one comes to when one crosses the line and attaches value, at times religious value, to participating in a society that is run by secular values.




Certainly, the economic question is a serious one that requires contemplation and action. And yet, the “share the burden” campaign and its perpetrators are not the appropriate messengers.


In this instance, it is impossible to separate the message from the messenger. The messengers have no interest in empowering chareidim to end the cycle of poverty. They have clearly shown that they are interested in social engineering, creating a “new chareidi,” who serves in the army and participates in Israeli society on its terms, not on the chareidi’s terms.


The bottom line is that if anyone is really interested in solving the chareidi economic difficulties, the solution is simple: Just allow them to work. The army will never be a place where chareidim will be able to preserve their religious life. That is a fact. Anyone with knowledge of the situation in the army will admit that, and even the officers and the generals in a moment of candor will admit that.


The whole “share of the burden” sloganeering is a two-pronged plan to both delegitimize the chareidim and engage in social engineering, creating a new, more spiritually pliable chareidi.


If the messengers would have really cared about the chareidim joining the workforce, they would have encouraged the shifts that had organically been taking root in chareidi society. What they have done instead is effectively stop all of that progress.


Indeed, I am befuddled when I hear some of the good souls who want to “help chareidim overcome their dysfunction” ask, “Why can’t chareidim in Israel be like chareidim in America? So many chareidim in America are gainfully employed and support their families with dignity. Why do the chareidim in Israel have to be so obstinate?”


One of the answers is that Israeli society and Israeli law have jailed them. Those who are either not engaged in Torah learning or are at a point in life when economic factors dictate that they earn a livelihood have to choose between joining an army – which by default causes them to compromise on their most sacred religious values – or remain in poverty. They choose poverty.


If the “messengers,” such as Lapid, Bennett and Lipman, really wish to help chareidim join the workforce and “contribute” to society – as they bemoan how 10% of the population doesn’t contribute – all they have to do is let them go to work.


The fact that they don’t and the fact that they won’t shows that they care far more about social engineering than improving work participation. If they have done anything with their enactment of draconian legislation, it is to ensure that the incremental changes that have taken place will stop.


History has shown us that, at times, it is impossible to ignore the messenger, no matter how important the message is. This is, unfortunately, one of those cases.




Walking the Walk Have you ever had the experience of recognizing someone in the distance simply by the way they walk? I have, many times.

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