Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Change of Heart?

I am encouraged by a letter published at Cross-Currents. It was written by a fellow who was raised in an American Charedi community and later made Aliyah, He is now serving in the IDF (The Israeli Defense Forces) via Nachal Charedi. Nachal Charedi was created by the State of Israel to enable Charedim to serve their country in complete fealty to Charedi religious values.

I do not think this fellow is typical. I think most Charedim in Israel still try and avoid army service and consider it almost sacrilegious. That is the unfortunate residue of decades long preaching by their Rabbanim against the State. But as an American Charedi he is not as extreme to start with. And this fellow decided to open his mind by studying the works of Rav Kook, the Satmar Rebbe and Rabbi Meir Kahane. He gets a lot of points from me for that.

The advent of Nachal Charedi should once and for all dispel the idea that as a rule secular leaders of the State of Israel are anti religious. Although there are pockets of resentment by some secular officials in the Israeli government, it seems to me that they have been eminently fair to Charedim in the past - at least for political reasons if not for idealistic ones. Although I would argue that the democratic ideals are a greater motivation for Israel’s leaders.

This ideal was articulated by founding Prime Minister David Ben Gurion who declared that his vision of a Jewish state included all factions - including Charedim. His compromise concession to the Chazon Ish in exempting Yeshiva students and all Charedi women from army service reflects his desire for that.

Army service inspired this fellow to become a more patriotic Israeli citizen. And yet he has not given up his Charedi credentials. I think this he should be the prototype for all Charedim - even those who do not serve.

What is interesting is not so much that at one Charedi individual experienced there although that should not be overlooked. What is interesting is the following:

Rabbonim from all camps would come to the base to give us shiurim. We had ashkenazim, sephardim, dati leumi, charedi, chabad rabbis all come to give us chizuk. What they all had in common was that all of them, even the mainstream charedi rabbonim, believed that there is nothing holier than protecting the land and people. Even the charedi rabbonim (we had some big names come) constantly spoke about how we need to view every second of our service as an active mitzvah. So even though most charedim still don’t send their kids to the army, for various reasons, my personal feeling is that most mainstream charedim today do believe in some form of Religious Zionism.

I only wish he would have named names. Especially those big names who spoke of army service as a Mitzvah. That is so counter-intuitive it almost sounds like he made it up. Consider some of the things said in the past about army service by ‘big names’ in Charedi Israel. The phrase that immediately comes to mind is Yehoreg V’Al Yaavor – one should martyr themselves before serving in the army!

Perhaps that ideology still exists in certain Charedi circles. But I believe this fellow’s claim that some of the biggest names in the Charedi world no longer feel that way. But then again some Gedolim of the past were also quite open in their Hakaras Hatov – the gratitude they had for the IDF. The most famous among them being Rav Chaim Shmulevitz of Yeshivas Mir who said so publicly over a generation ago.

I guess the real rejectionists of the day are the Edah HaCharedis and Neturei Karta as the writer points out. I would add Satmar. The writer says that these groups are not mainstream. Fair enough. I feel the same way.

But I do have a touch of cynicism about the level of ‘religious Zionism’ this fellow says exists among mainstream Charedim. It seems that despite the Shiurim he heard by some ‘big names’ – more often than not the views coming out of those quarters would lead one to believe that the antagonism toward the state is greater than ever. Whether it is about avoiding secular values, protesting a grave site excavation, a court decision, conversion controversies, fighting educational standards, or complaining about a reduction of government funding of their institutions.

I would love for mainstream Charedim to dispel that notion. Let them make public pronouncements that reflect what this fellow heard from Charedi Rabbanim. Wouldn’t that unite rather than divide? That every public statement seems to always reflect a repudiation of the state only serves the latter.