Thursday, March 27, 2014

what is the answer for the 99%?

Rabbi Ehrman has done a few posts (e.g. here, here, here, here, here) on the events in Eretz Yisrael, and although he has a different view than my own on some of these issues, I respect the sincerity and thought he put into the topic and therefore would like to offer a response to some of what he wrote, not (as I communicated to him personally) l’kanteir, but l’labein and l’vareir and also to expand a little more on what I wrote yesterday.  For me, writing is cathartic.  On one issue I think R' Ehrman and I both agree: we respect the concern and passion of all those who are thinking about and struggling l’shem shamayim with the question of how to fulfill their responsibility to Hashem and to Klal Yisrael, no matter what derech they take or which gadol they follow. All too often I think, especially here in chutz la’aretz, people are more concerned with whether the Knicks will make the playoffs than with finding the correct derech hachaim! 

I willingly concede the point that the bachur jailed for not responding to a draft summons was acting in accord with what he views as da’as Torah, of R’ Auerbach, in particular. Yet, I don’t see how rationalizing it in that way makes a difference. The bachur could have b’tzinah take his lumps for civil disobedience (by definition, civil disobedience means you flaunt the law knowing you will pay a price – you can’t say “I’m going to disobey but don’t punish me”) and be done with it. Let him be the chareidi Ghandi or Martin Luther King if he wants to be. However, I would be very, very surprised if you told me that R’ Auerbach says you should make a whole simcha of the event and sing songs about “shilton hakofrim,” especially when anyone there could have been learning instead. That’s the chilul Hashem

In a post on Understanding The Charedi Weltanschauung, R’ Ehrman writes, “For a charedi the word "national" is essentially two four letter words [count...:-)]. They feel that that the State has been waging war against them from the very outset. Would you want to work for your enemy??”  I think that it is not from a want of understanding that people react so negatively to this point of view -- it is precisely because they understand it all too well. They see the sacrifices of soldiers defending the State’s borders, they see the tax dollars spend by the State on yeshivos, they see stipends and support for Torah on an unprecedented scale, and instead of a thanks, the State is still considered “the enemy” in the eyes of far too many (but thankfully, not all.)

I think about the behavior of this jailed bachur and compare it with that of a bachur I know about in yeshiva here in the US who, on the day of the big rally, when he heard that his yeshiva encouraged, but did not require that they go, stayed behind, said tehillim in his beis medrash with the others that were there, and then learned k’seder because he sticks to his sedorim no matter what. You can ask him any gemara in nashim and nezikin and he knows it cold. In my opinion a bachur like that, were he in Eretz Yisrael, deserves a draft exemption and as much support as possible. I don’t need him to give me a speech or hold a rally to tell me about how important Torah is – I see it from his behavior. If all bachurim were like that, we would not be having this conversation – I think most Torah Jews would support their continuing to learn. But all bachurim are not like that and never will be.  I might be wrong, but I highly doubt that those dancing in the street around the jailhouse are the types who won’t miss a seder for anything (they obviously missed seder to go there and celebrate) or who you can farher on all of nashim and nezikin and they know it cold. Eleph nichnasim l’mikra, but only one comes out a real talmid chacham.  So what happens to this jailed bachur at age 28, or at age 38, when he has no job, he has a few kids to support, he has no skills, he is of average talent and ability in learning and cannot get a position as a RA”M or Rav? What is R’ Shmuel Auerbach’s solution to the inevitable poverty he (and the other 999) will face at that point? As I wrote here , the simple question is this: what’s the plan? Without a concrete vision of how the ideals being impressed on this bachur can translate into a working reality for his life and the lives of countless others in a similar situation, then what are we doing and where are we going? 

If R’ Auerbach answered that question and I rejected what he said in favor of my own 2 cents, then you can say I lack emunas chachamim. But as far as I know, he or anyone else in the chareidi world has not offered a real answer.  Demanding government support is not a solution. You can’t decry the situation of people writing and doing “ish kol ha’yashar b’einav” without offering something better.

Rabbi Ehrman writes about chareidim that, "....they are also the group of Jews who are doing everything they can to preserve Torah..."  I would like to think that Jews like myself are also doing all we can to preserve Torah as well.  We may differ in methods in outlook, but our goal is the same.  As R' Aviner has written, "Charedi Judaism represents the authentic first floor of the Jewish People. Yet now the time has come to add a second floor, or more precisely, to restore the second floor that disappeared in the Exile: the rebirth of the Nation in its Land, according to its Torah."  If you identify as dati-leumi, modern orthodox, etc. that is not a ptur -- it is a mechayeiv.  It means learning as intensly as the chareidim, davening and being immersed in avodah as deeply as the giants of chassidus, but on top of that also building Eretz Yisrael, using the positive peiros of humanism and secularism to benefit ourselves and contribute to the world around us.  Holding rallies about it and talking about it is not going to convince anyone through.  The best proof is to live it.


  1. I suggest laying in a stockpile of Prozac, because when the chasuna season starts in earnest after Shavuot, and the dear American yeshiva bochurim start returning from their year or two in Eretz Yisroel, you're going to be seeing a lot of the shilton hakofrim dance.

  2. BTW, what's the answer for the hundreds of troops who are sacrificed to protect a single general?

    1. If there is a mashal here, I'm missing it (give me a break -- it's Friday and I'm tired). A general's strategic thinking can save an entire army and win a war. But there are few generals.

  3. The idea is that a conscious decision has been made to destroy the lives of all of those yeshiva bochurim who can't make it in order to create and sustain a handful of future gedolim. When Chazal said elef nichnosim v'echad yotzai, the elef are a necessary prerequisite for the echod yotzai.

    R' Moshe pretty much says this straight out: the decision to push the kollel concept was in order to create a new generation of gedolim, since most of them had been wiped out in the war. He does not, however, point out the corollary that you mention.

  4. I think our very painful situation today might have been less painful psychologically if it had been announced and implemented over a longer period of time. Personally I agree that charedim themselves, and klal yisrael as a whole, will all benefit more in the long run from greater participation by charedim in being educated to earn a living and bearing a reasonable share in the collective burden of national defense. I agree that is ultimately fairest and wisest for all of us.

    But that said, the fact is there was a status quo arrangement -- by consensus, and under all different Israeli governments -- for many decades that exempted full-time yeshiva/kollel students from military service. Likewise there was a traditional policy of generous public subsidies for kollel institutions and families. It may well be the case -- I agree it's true, and more importantly so do a majority of Israeli voters -- that the time has come to change these policies. We are no longer well-served by them. OK. But imposing such changes so abruptly seems unfairly harsh to the populations who have come to rely on them. I'm not saying they have a chazaka and are permanently entitled. I am just saying the change ought to be more gradual, taking effect gradually or after a period of several years so families can adjust their planning and get used to new expectations and choices.

    Imagine if you or your teenage son grew up their whole life assuming -- legally and legitimately -- that they were exempt from draft, but then 6 months before their 18th birthday the law is abruptly changed and they get a draft notice. Not because of actual war or emergency chas v'shalom, but because of shifts in public mood and a new political party. I can sympathize with how disorienting and frightening that must feel. Again, I agree the best result is for everyone to share in public burdens, and for the charedi community to grow into being more economically productive and self-sufficient. However, I am not so sure it was fair or realistic to expect charedim to psychologically absorb and accept such dramatic shifts so abruptly. I think delaying or phasing in these changes over time would have shown more sensitivity and empathy, and would better demonstrate the spirit of true brotherhood that we all aspire to. Conversely, imposing the changes in such an abrupt and authoritarian way worsens the charedi misunderstanding that they are under attack by a wicked secular majority who wants to destroy their frumkeit.

    Maybe it's too late now, but I'm just saying there may have been a much more constructive way to do this.

    1. Many Roshei Yeshiva in the hesder world either participated or expressed sympathy with those protesting the draft law because of the very reasons you mentioned here. It is a flawed solution. The point of my post was that some solution must be found -- the status quo cannot be maintained. Had the chareidi world come to the table and said, "This is unworkable -- but we are willing to consent to X, Y, and Z," I think reaction in many quarters would have been different. It takes 2 to tango, and at this point neither side is willing to step onto the dance floor with the other.