Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Existential Threats

I was thumbing through a past issue of Misapacha Magazine recently when I came across a surprising blurb. It was a quote from an article in Commentary Magazine written by Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

I have been a fan of Ambassador Oren’s for some time now and was quite pleased when he was appointed as Israel’s ambassador to the US. He was born and raised in the United States - educated in some of the finest universities here and served as a paratrooper in the Israeli defense forces during the first Lebanon war (1982).

Even though I do not always agree with him, the vast majority of the time - I do. He is a clear thinker and a brilliant writer.

What he was quoted as saying by Mishpacha magazine is quite revealing about the ‘state of the State’. He lists seven existential threats now facing Israel. All of them are quite serious.

1) The loss of Jerusalem
2) Arab Demographics
3) Israel’s de-legitimization in the media
4) Terrorism
5) Iran
6) Corruption
7) The hemorrhaging of sovereignty

Each one of these is worth an essay of its own. The Jerusalem issue is the one which concerns me most directly because it – in part - involves the religious world.

It is first a reference to the failure of the government to exercise control over Arab activities and attitudes which harmful to the state. But it is also the Charedi community’s unwillingness to participate in the military and their eschewing of the symbols of the state. I would also add its inability to contribute to the economy via the workforce.

What Ambassador Oren sees is increasing population growth by segments that have absolutely no loyalty to the State of Israel. Current statistics put the numbers of Charedim and Arabs as the majority in Jerusalem. Combined with the flight of secular professionals - the future looks pretty dim – at least in financial and political terms.

Interestingly Mishapacha Magazine does not dispute any of these existential threats. It only adds one of its own - based on the Torah’s warning about Jews being expelled from the land if they do not follow the Torah.

Of all the threats mentioned - the Charedi demographic is the most paradoxical one. It is the Charedim who are currently the most motivated to live in Israel. They along with the are the fastest growing Jewish demographic in Israel. You don’t have to be a Navi to see future here. If the demographic continues we are in for a major collapse.

Leaving aside their enormous spiritual contributions - the Charedi philosophy and way of life is not a materially contributing one. The current trend is unsustainable. One cannot expect a society to survive if its largest and fastest growing segment takes more materially out of the system than it puts into it. If these populations continue to grow at the current rate and secular Israelis continue to leave - Jerusalem is in for a disaster!

Charedim do not encourage working. They encourage learning. They see the spiritual as being of such great importance that they virtually ignore the material. And as their demographic increases in size exponentially who will support them?

I have noted that there have been some subtle changes in attitude by some Israeli Charedi leaders. But I think that the scale of these changes is minuscule - not enough to make a difference. There is just not enough going on. There are currently 60,000 men learning full time in Kollelim. If things don’t change that number is sure to increase substantially –while the workforce in Israel decreases.

There are many who will argue that it is the Bnei Torah who sacrifice themselves in Ameilous BaTortah – working hard to learn – who are really the State's sustainers. I certainly would not dispute the value of learning Torah. On the contrary. I agree that learning Torah and following Halacha are important components in the success of a Jewish State. Without it, there would be nothing really Jewish about it. But no matter how important Torah and Mitzvos are, they are not enough. Without Hashtadlus - perseverance - in meeting the material needs of a country it cannot survive.