Friday, June 21, 2013

The rift between the chareidim and secular in Israel - a summary

Tablet Magazine   There’s an oft-repeated story of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, paying a visit in the 1940s to Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, known as the Chazon Ish, a prominent Haredi rabbi living in Bnei Brak. The Chazon Ish, it is said, took off his glasses so he wouldn’t have to properly see the socialist interloper, after which they got down to the business of figuring out what the role of the ultra-Orthodox would be in the new Jewish state.

The Chazon Ish quoted a story from the Talmud to make his point. When two wagons (or camels, in another version of the story) meet on a narrow mountain pass, who shall give way—the “full” wagon laden with goods, or the “empty” wagon? The rabbi’s point couldn’t have been clearer: He expected the “empty” wagon of secular society to defer to the “full” wagon of a religious tradition spanning millennia.

As is well-known, Ben-Gurion granted the small ultra-Orthodox community in Israel an exemption from army service in order to rehabilitate the Haredi “community of scholars” of Eastern Europe wiped out during the Holocaust. Ben-Gurion, it’s believed, predicted that the ultra-Orthodox community would slowly disappear anyway, melding into the assertively modern Zionist project. The opposite, however, has happened. This “community of scholars” numbered 400 in 1949. Today the figure for exemptions among army-age ultra-Orthodox men is estimated at 50,000.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid and many other Israeli politicians are now intent on reversing Ben-Gurion’s edict, spurred on by a Supreme Court ruling early last year that declared the Haredi draft exemption unconstitutional. Many of Lapid’s campaign slogans, like “Equal Service for Everyone,” squarely targeted Haredi Jews, who comprise 10 percent of the Israeli population, about 800,000 people, and 15 percent of the Israeli Jewish public. In mid-April, in his first speech as finance minister, the charismatic but untried politician entered into a heated exchange from the Knesset podium with the ultra-Orthodox caucus. “You’re pushing yourself into a corner,” Lapid said [1]. “No one hates you. The only thing that happened is that you’re not in the [governing] coalition. It’s called democracy. … I don’t receive orders from you anymore, and the state doesn’t take orders from you anymore. We’re done taking orders from you.” [...]

Yet the ultra-Orthodox, for the most part, don’t seem interested in the proposals currently being floated by secular politicians. In mid-May, a demonstration took place in central Jerusalem outside the main army conscription office. An estimated 30,000 ultra-Orthodox men took part, and events quickly spiraled out of control. Rioters threw rocks at security personnel and lit trash cans on fire; nearly a dozen police officers and demonstrators were injured, and several arrests were made. It was seen as the opening gambit in what could be a summer of serious internal unrest.

The most interesting aspect of the demonstration, however, was the fact that it was organized by an extremist, Jerusalem-based faction of the Lithuanian Haredi movement. Rabbi Shteinman and his moderate faction, which greatly outnumbers the extremists, refused to participate. It seemed that, despite the rhetoric, there was still some hope of striking a peaceful compromise.

Israel’s political class is hoping that the difficult socioeconomic conditions of the Haredi community will be the prime motivator for the necessary changes. “The No. 1 daily problem—not talking about the coming of the Messiah—but day-to-day problem for the Haredis, is making a living,” Brig. Gen. (ret.) Meir Elran, one of Israel’s foremost experts on military-social affairs, told me recently. “They need to see that at the end of the process they’ll be able to make a living. It’ll be the only thing that convinces them—they don’t care about the army, or Zionism, or the state. They care about making a living, honorably.”


  1. Officially, chareidim don't care about making a living either. The question is - will fact will overcome myth.


    In the ultra-Orthodox communities, most notably Hassidic Jews and some communities in Israel, use the oral method. [28][29] The practice has become a controversy in both secular and Jewish medical ethics. The ritual of metzitzah is found in Mishnah Shabbat 19:2, which lists it as one of the four steps involved in the circumcision rite. Moses Sofer (1762–1839) observed that the Talmud states that the rationale for this part of the ritual was hygienic — i.e., to protect the health of the child. The Chasam Sofer permittedmetzitzah with a sponge to be used instead of oral suction in a case presented to him for a ruling. His letter was published in Kochvei Yitzchok.[30] Moshe Shik (1807–1879), a student of Moses Sofer, states in his book of Responsa, She’eilos u’teshuvos Maharam Shik (Orach Chaim 152,)[further explanation needed] that Moses Sofer gave the ruling in that specific instance only and that it may not be applied elsewhere. He also states (Yoreh Deah 244) that the practice is possibly a Sinaitic tradition, i.e., Halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai.
    Chaim Hezekiah Medini claimed the practice to be Halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai and elaborates on what prompted Moses Sofer to give the above ruling.[31] He tells the story that a student of Moses Sofer, Lazar Horowitz, author of Yad Elazer and Chief Rabbi of Vienna at the time, needed the ruling because of a governmental attempt to ban circumcision completely if it included metztitzah b'peh. He therefore asked Sofer to give him permission to do brit milah without metzitzah b’peh. When he presented the defense in secular court, they erroneously recorded his testimony to mean that Sofer stated it as a general ruling.[32]



  3. Most people choose the lifestyle of shnorring and "learning full-tiime" (that is to say learning, when they are not busy shnorring in one way or another) because of laziness. Not because of a love for Torah. Someone who loves Torah would take the Torah way and find parnassah for his family in a kosher way and not result to relying on other people.

    The Gedolim were right 50-70 years ago. Now I don't know if they are.

    1. @Guest2: You completely miss the point and give in to the story line presented by Lapid and Lippman. You use the derogatory term "Schorring" and attribute the sad situation that Chareidim find themselves in to "laziness". Shame on you!

      There is no question that there is a systemic problem in the Chareidi system but it is not about laziness nor does the name calling, "schnorring" help.

      The issue is plain and simple. There are two schools of thought in the Chareidi world today.

      1) It is important to understand what HKB"H wants of us and to do His Mitzvos and learn His Torah to the best of our ability in the society that He put us.

      2) It is important to understand the way our Gedolim lived their lives for the past x number of years and emulate their lives regardless if the sociological and environmental underpinnings are different today.

      Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Chareidi world follows the latter. It explains their attitudes to Israel, secular education, exclusive Torah study, dress, language (Yiddish), work, relations with non-Jews etc. It is a mentality to recreate the ghetto in the western world because that is what existed for 1,000 years! They have made the ghetto into Torah and anyone that criticizes the ghetto is by definition in their minds criticizing the Torah C"V. To paraphrase the old Salem commercial (I'm dating myself) You can take the Charedi out of the ghetto, but you cant take the ghetto out of the Charedi.

      They have in effect taken a situation the was forced on us for 1,000 years, no secular education, no work, can only learn Torah, and yes even negative things like cheating and stealing (because it was the only way to survive in the ghetto) and turned it into Torah and Mitzva. Yes, its OK to cheat for Limud HaTorah. Yes its OK to to accept (its a Mitzva) Tzedaka for Limud HaTorah. No we should not engage in work or secular education etc etc etc...

      No matter how many Gemoros, ie: the requirement to teach your son an Umnos (profession), Geonim, Reshonim etc you can show them, it falls on deaf ears... why? Because it is not about doing the Ratzon HaShem (of course they will say it is) but what is most important is doing the Ratzon HaGadol or Ratzon HaRebbe without understanding the underlying reason that the Gadol, Rebbe, Rav, lived their life they way they did.

      Making fun of them by calling them "Shnorrers" or calling them lazy, besides being wrong on many levels will not solve the problem. Having secular legislators or modern leaning "rabbis" try and force them into a different way of life will not solve the problem.

      Understanding and "feeling" that they are Acheinu Beis Yisrael, who are sacrificing much to live their lives as they best understand to do the Ratzon Hashem, who are stuck in a system that they didn't create, while helping Gedolim and Rabbanim who share our view to speak out, will help.

      These Gedolim exist, I have spoken to some of them. These Rabbanim exist. They need our support. it is not easy for them and it needs to be done intelligently and incrementally. If we REALLY want to solve this, as we enter the 3 weeks, lets all redouble our efforts to avoid Lashon Harah, name calling, on all sides and ask the Rebono Shel Olam to help us be successful.

    2. "Most people choose the lifestyle of shnorring..."
      How do you 'know' this? From the media that you choose to read and the few soundbites and anecdotal stories that have been quoted to you about "Charedim"?
      Have some respect and stop oversimplifying a position you do not agree with.

  4. The biggest thing any interest group fears is the fulfillment of its agenda. Once that happens it no longer has any reason to exist and has to disband but no one wants to give up the cushy office they've obtained through the group's efforts so far.
    That's why anti-poverty groups keep fighting to change the official definitions of poverty and work against any government initiatives that encourage people to get off welfare and find a job. The more people working, the less the need for them is.
    It's the same with Chareidism. The extremist group in the community knows that the minute Chareidim step into the outside world and discover that average Israelis don't hate them and that working for a living doesn't spiritually destroy them they're finished. So they are doing the only thing they can: they are acting in a vile and selfish fashion so that Israeli society will develop hatred for them. Then they'll turn around and say "Ah ha! We knew it! You hate us!" In that way they keep their group intact.

  5. > The Chazon Ish, it is said, took off his glasses so he wouldn’t have to properly see the socialist interloper,

    I wonder if the Chazon Ish would have dared to do this to any other world leader.

    1. playing devil's advocate: with an obama or thatcher or someone else like those two, he wouldn't have to. they aren't jewish and therefore wouldn't have to adhere to the standards that the chazon ish had for a jewish leader.

      for an interesting look at the famous meeting take a look:

      They then parted ways with a warm handshake, and after they left Ben Gurion is quoted commenting on the Chazon Ish's wisdom, and the Chazon ish is quoted commenting that Ben Gurion is person with a neshama gedola.

  6. The way I have heard is that the Chazon Ish said that he did not want look in the face of a rasha. How would you say "socialist interloper" in Yiddish or Hebrew ?

  7. To set the historical record:
    1 - The meeting took place in 1952 when the question of giyus banot was on the front burner. Ben Gurion wanted to get a true picture of the level of opposition that drafting women would arouse and therefore arranged to meet with the Chazon Ish. It is absolutely untrue that the Chazon Ish removed his glasses - I heard this directly from Reb Yitzchak Schwartz z"l who served the Chazon Ish as his personal secretary and from Yitzchak Navon - Ben Gurion's aide de camp who later was elected President of Israel.They were the only two people present besides BG and the Chazon Ish. Incidentally, Navon told me that they spoke in Hebrew because the Chazon Ish was concerned that Navon, a Sefaradi, did not understand Yiddish, which was untrue as he was completely fluent.
    Dovid Landesman

  8. You are confusing a number of different issues. The meeting with the CI took place after the founding of the State when the issue of giyut banot was in the forefront of secular/religious issues. Ben Gurion wanted to guage the level of opposition of the charedi community and therefore asked to meet with the Chazon Ish. The draft deferrments for yeshiva bochurim as well as the other issues of what came to be known as the status quo agreements were reached in negotiations with Itcha Meir Levine - the Agudah leader - and the CI was not a party to them.
    The story of the CI removing his glasses is a total falsehood - I heard this directly from Reb Yitzchak Schwartz, the CI's secretary, and from Yitzchak Navon, BG's aide de camp who later became President of Israel; they were the only other people present. Incidentally, Navon told me that the conversation was in Hebrew because the CI assumed that Navon, a sefardi, did not speak Yiddish which was not true.
    Dovid Landesman

  9. Is everyone noticing the MASSIVE PR coming from Israel and Charedi centers, to ‘educate & inform’ American Charedi brothers on the evil, harsh decrees and consequences of its implementation? I’ve been wondering why…..

    There is an element of surprise (from Charedi leadership here & in Israel) that the American ‘yeshivish/Charedi’ kehilla is not convinced or swallowing tooth and nail the HEADLINES (shmad, destruction of Torah world, evil, avodah zara). In order for the Charedi world of Eretz Yisroel to grow and sustain itself (in the present model), the dire need of ‘open pockets’ is essential. There will not be masses of Israeli Charedim leaving the country and setting up home ‘Chutz L’Eretz’. They love their life style, culture and land of Eretz Yisroel. Therefore CASH, $$$$$ and donations are the answer flowing from US to Israel.

    EXCEPT the Mosdos in America are hurting and months behind in salaries…...where should askanim/gevirim put the bucks? This is the system that Rav Steinman, I believe is alluding to when he says ‘Changes will happen’. It will be an impossibility for Chutzniks to sustain the Israel Charedi lifestyle for two reasons, money is not abundant and crack of 'not in agreement' is showing through.

  10. Torah Truth, almost got the point. Historically our nation never had so many בטלנים. Tanaaim, amorim and rishonim usually worked for a living and in the impoverished E. European countries not working was a shortcut to a certain demise.
    The early years of the state of Israel were fraught with war and acts of terror, and every parent was hoping that their son would not be drafted, it was only the fervour of Zionism and defence of the nation, together with the very tough enforcement of anti draft dodging regulations, that so many parents sent their boys off to the enrollment offices. The haredi elements were more frightened than most, having brought with them their ghetto mentality and fears. They discovered this wonderful loophole. Send your son to yeshiva and he's kept out of the army.
    This created a greater influx of applicants who also stayed on for much longer - until they were too old for the draft.
    Over the course of the past 65 years those numbers increased exponentially, as did the size of the yeshivas. The roshei yeshivas found themselves in a position of immense power. Anyone who doesn't follow the new dictates won't be accepted. From year x we won't accept boys who went to high school, only boys who went to yeshiva ktana. Overnight thousands of boys were taken out of schools and enrolled in yeshiva ktana.
    In the 70s the haredim started gaining political clout by winning just a small number of seats they could sway the results for leadership in knesset. They shamelessly sold their votes for state funding for haredi institutions.

    We then find ourselves with a handful of rabbis who control thousands of pupils and millions of dollars, who can do and say whatever they like.

    The 50k or so yeshiva students aren't really there for the study of Torah, otherwise they would behave differently and we would have an abundance of gedolim. They are only there for what started out as a draft dodge and has evolved into a socio-political situation whereby everyone follows the dictates of the roshei yeshivas, blindly.


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