Sunday, July 27, 2008

Can Charedim Save Israel?

It’s interesting to see how Jonathan Rosenblum seeks to rectify a problem that has emerged in general society in the State of Israel. He has written on similar themes in the past but this time it was kind of a reverse take. Instead of talking about Charedim surviving in Israel he talks about secular Israel surviving through Charedim.

Charedim - he says - need to be proactively involved in with their fellow secular citizens. In the process of making that case he espouses the same thing he has espoused in other themes – primarily the modification in attitudes toward secular Jews. And he points to lack of leadership as one reason for that not happening. Interestingly he gives only one example of such a leader in the past: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

He does not bring Rabbi Hirsch in the context of Torah Im Derech Eretz of which he is personally an advocate. He is speaking in terms the kind of leadership that has a vision for an entire community. A Kehila – as it were. This is how I read Jonathan’s words and I agree.

I think one reason he brought no other names as an example is simply that there has been no one of Rav Hirsch’s caliber of leadership since the days of Rav Hirsch himself. No one has had the vision and the capacity of leadership that he had. That seems to be what Jonathan is saying and that’s quite a statement. It is almost an admission that there is no real Klal leadership in Israel today - and there hasn’t been since the days of Rav Hirsch.

I’m sure that Jonathan would vehemently deny he meant that. He would most certainly say that he was talking about a specific context and not in any way meant to slight our Gedolim. I’m sure that’s true.

But in fact his entire article testifies to exactly the lack of leadership that Charedim need to effect the required change. He is critical of the fact that so many Charedim are of the isolationist type who view their role in Israel as an oppressed minority with no influence on general society.

Although that may have been true in the past, it is by no means true today. But that false self perception is the reason that certain Charedim have no compunction about burning garbage cans, stoning cars, or assaulting women who sit in the front of the bus. Jonathan’s words not mine. These people do not see themselves as part of a society at all. They therefore do not consider the consequences of their actions or the impact it has on the secular Israeli. They don’t care. To use a Yeshivishe phrase - they aren’t Gores them.

Jonathan correctly points out that secular Israel is ripe for an attitude adjustment about religion. This has in essence been acknowledged many secular commentators in the Israeli media - who point to the lack of Jewish identity by the inreasing number of Israelis who see Israel in a post Zionist state. There has been a deterioration of a national will which he says can be traced to a lack of Jewish religious identity. Many secular Jews are searching for a national identity now.

The Charedi world - says Jonathan - is in the best position to do so. They are the ones pointed to even by secular writers as the bearers of tradition. They have a concrete identity as Jews that the secular world no longer has and is hungry to get.

The Charedi world isn’t totally isolationist. There are areas of positive Charedi contributions to the secular world. There are cable TV programs that offer Shiurim, outreach organizations, and service organizations, such as Yad Sarah that are widely used by secular Israelis. But on the whole there is no sense of personal responsibility to their fellow secular Jews. This is where he feels that a leader like Rav Hirsch would be effective.

There is one very large obstacle to influencing secular society that he mentions -the perception of Charedim as beggars.

In a great analogy, Jonathan points to the fact that no one would ever take advice from a Meshulach. People who knock on your door asking for handouts - no matter how wise they might appear - are not going to be asked for advice for anything.

The Charedi world is now looked upon that way. The secular Israeli sees the Charedi world with their hands constantly stretched out begging for charity. This is not a group whose wisdom will be sought. Or that can give them a national identity.

Though Jonathan says that things are changing - and more Charedim are entering the workforce that ever before, it is happening at an evolutionary pace not a revolutionary one. Evolutionary change is hardly ever noticed.

But all is not lost. Attention is now being paid to Charedim as those who have a clear Jewish identity - an identity that is lacking in the secular Jewish world now. Add to that the fact that there has been so much corruption in government, declining educational results, and loss of communal values and there has never been a time riper.

Now is the time for the Charedi world to do some soul searching. And come up with leadership – and a plan to be more involved in influencing their secular brethren.

It would also help a lot if Charedi leadership would call off the war it has declared on Religious Zionists and for Religious Zionists to understand today’s reality of Zionism even in its religious form - and adjust their views accordingly. Charedim could use their help. Just think of the possibilities of the Torah world joining forces and working together trying to create a ‘new world order’ in Israel. It boggles the mind.