Monday, May 09, 2011

Reflections on the Fifth Day of Iyar

This beautiful video celebrating Israel’s birthday was produced for Aish HaTorah.

Although tomorrow is the day that Israel celebrates its Independence Day - it is today the fifth day of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar that in 1948 David Ben Gurion declared statehood for Israel after the UN voted to partition Palestine.

Israel delayed the celebration this year by one day because the day preceding it is Yom HaZikaron - Israel’s Memorial Day. Since it would have fallen out on Sunday preparations for the Motzoi Shabbos celebrations would have incurred violations of Shabbos. So both days of observance were moved forward.

But the actual anniversary is today. For those who say Hallel and/or refrain from saying Tachanun on Yom Ha’atzmaut - today is that day, not tomorrow. This is how Rav Ahron Soloveichik Paskin’d.

This simple act of gratitude - Hakoras HaTov to God for putting the land of Israel back into Jewish hands for the first time since the destruction of the 2nd Temple is nonetheless - unfortunately - one of the most controversial acts in all of Orthodoxy. The venom coming from its detractors is often shocking. One would think that regaining Israel was the devil’s work. In fact that is how Satmar sees it.

But it isn’t just Satmar or Neturei Karta or the Edah HaCharedis or the entire population of Meah Shearim and their spiritual kin all over Israel that is so troubling. It is the more moderate Agudah and other Charedi parties in Israel that is. They have benefited from the establishment of the State immeasurably and yet rarely miss an opportunity to curse it - even as their hand chosen politicians serve in the government extorting money from them in exchange for their vote.

This is the dominant feeling now among Charedi Israel. It wasn’t always like that.

The Ponevezher Rav, Rav Kahaneman, did not say Tachanun. And the great Mir Rosh Hayeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz understood the value of the government and its army and said so publicly in his own Yeshiva.

But Rav Schach changed everything. He was very anti State. When he was in Ponevezh under Rav Kahaneman he was the only one in the entire Yeshiva who sat down on Yom Ha’atzmaut and said Tachanun. Rav Shach ultimately came to be seen as the Gadol HaDor by the Yeshiva world. Now every Charedi Yeshiva student says Tachanun. That is not an act of Hakaras HaTov. It is a slap in the face of the hand that feeds you and an unwillingness to express gratitude.

This attitude is instilled in virtually every single Charedi Yeshiva student in the world. Legend has it that the Chazon Ish once said Tachanun at a Bris because it was on Yom Ha’atzmaut and he didn’t want anyone to think he was avoiding it because of the day. I don’t know if this is true – I hope not - but this is the model now for the Charedi world. The disdain for the State is palpable among Charedim. There is no sense of Hakaras HaTov. There is no ‘thank you’ for the government stipends. There is just ‘give me more… or else!

Just to be clear, there are occasional exceptions and expressions of gratitude by a Rosh Yeshiva here and there. I’m told that Rosh HaYeshiva of the Mir, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel is one such exception. But that is hardly the rule. The attitude among the right is a near hatred of the government – as though it were Czarist Russia. One can feel it in the air of any Charedi neighborhood. One can see it in the Charedi Knesset members. The operative word for Israeli leaders is ‘Reshaim!’

This attitude does not only exist in Israel. It exists here even among some moderate Charedim in America. Before Yeshivas Brisk of Chicago closed its doors as a Yeshiva high school, some parents whose children were about to enter high school approached its Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Eliyahu Soloveichik (Rav Ahron’s son). They offered to rejuvenate the Yeshiva by sending their children to Brisk. Why Brisk? They wanted to send their children to a Yeshiva that did not disparage college. So Telshe was out. But they definitely wanted a Charedi type Yeshiva. So Skokie was out.

With a little tweaking Brisk seemed ideal. What was the problem? The Yeshiva said Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. That was an obstacle for them. The condition for sending their children was to eliminate it. As if the defining characteristic of Judaism was to ignore the day the Jewish people got their land back.

How backward is that? Where is the Hakaras HaTov to all the State has accomplished? And what an insult to Rav Ahron! To his credit Rav Eliyahu refused. The Yeshiva closed its doors as a Yeshiva high school. Yeshivas Brisk is now mostly a Shul with an open Beis HaMedrash.

What is the matter with these people? How can anyone alive today not see the blessings of a State that has more people learning Torah than at any time in history? …a country whose army is populated by many Kippa wearing Jews ready to put their lives on the line for their people.

How can they not recognize the Yad HaShem in all of the wars? How do they not recognize the fact that displaced Holocaust survivors finally had a place to go upon the declaration of the state? …that a country now exists where being a Jew gives you an automatic right to immigrate and claim citizenship?

And how do they not recognize all the material contributions made by this country – all the Nobel Prize winners; the advances in medicine and technology; despite its constantly being threatened with annihilation by its neighbors?

How long will they continue to use Ben Hecht’s Perfidy as their bible?

Why do they only see the anti-religious Kibbutz HaShomer HaTzair and not the religious Kibbutz of Yavneh or Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim? Why do they see only the Yaldei Tehran of the early fifties who they claim were torn from their parents in order to take away their Yiddishkeit; and not the explosion of Yeshivos all over Israel? Why do they complain that the government doesn’t give them enough money and not see the 6 million dollars that - until the economic downturn of a few years ago - was the annual State allocation to Yeshvias Mir?

Is even the slightest bit of Hakaras Hatov on Yom Ha’atzmaut too much to ask? Rav Kahaneman didn’t think so. Neither did Rav Ahron. Aish HaTorah doesn’t think so. And neither do I.