Thursday, February 02, 2012

Suckers, Dummies, and Boobs

I could swear that Rabbi Berel Wein reads my blog. Except for the fact that he doesn’t. I had occasion to meet him not long ago and when I introduced myself to him – he never heard of me. Which makes his words all the more relevant. He is a thinker. Not influenced by a blogger with strong opinions . Like me. A man of principle who sees the world as it is; knows how the world should be; and is not shy about telling you.

I cannot recall ever disagreeing with him on anything. What is nice about Rabbi Wein is that he has credibility with the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry. Of all persuasions. Including the right. He is the brother-in-law of one of the members of the Agudah Moetzes - Telzer Rosh HaYesiva, Rav Avrohom Chaim Levine. A great and courageous figure in his own right. Rabbi Wein is a welcome and sought after speaker at many a forum and banquet, having done so at his Alama Mater and mine, HTC. And in venues like Telshe.

In short, when Rabbi Wein says something – people listen. Or should. That said, I’m sure he has his detractors. All great people do. But whatever disagreement anyone might have with what he says, he cannot be ignored. It is with that in mind, that for the second time in as many days I am going to publish an article in its entirety - his latest in the Jerusalem Post. To say that I agree with him is an understatement. His latest missive could easily have been written by me. I have in fact said many of these things. Many times. His words follow.

The most dreaded status in Israeli society is to be considered a frier - a sucker, a boob, stupid and unable to withstand being taken advantage of. The current backlash in Israeli society against Charedim is not merely a matter of theology or of vastly different societal values, different dress and customs.

That would prove insufficient to provoke the over the top reaction that has emerged against Charedim generally because of the abominable behavior of some Charedim – with unfortunately the tacit approval of many other Charedim – over the past month.

The underlying motive for all of this Charedi bashing is that the Israeli public, including the divergent sections of it – religious, traditional, secular and Charedi light, is tired and disgusted at being a frier. It has had it with supporting a large and growing section of the Israeli population that it feels is being supported by the general public while itself contributing next to nothing to the general good and welfare of society.

It is useless to protest that the study and observance of Torah and the continuity of Eastern European or Sephardic traditions is somehow the guarantee of the continued existence of the State of Israel. The religious Jewish community has never educated the general public to understand this issue correctly and thus the Charedi world stands defenseless in the face of the public onslaught against it. And not only is it defenseless, it itself, in many respects, is the main culprit in causing this situation of the disparagement of Torah, its students and teachers. It is guilty of making the general Israeli society feel like a frier and in being very smug about so doing.

It is well recognized that thousands of Charedi young men are not really cut out to sit and study Talmud all day. The streets are full of them even if they are not yet those who have thrown off their garb and faith. Yet the rabbinic and Chasidic leaders of the Charedi community refuse to endorse the practical notion that these young men do national service stints - in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, shelters and other welfare institutions.

In this way they can fulfill their obligations to the state and society and allow themselves to obtain the necessary educational and vocational skills to enter the Israeli workforce and not be condemned to a lifetime of borrowing, charity and poverty.

Who should care for the stranger, the widow and the orphan if not the strictly observant Orthodox community? Why is this not seen as the fulfillment of a Torah value? Why is it perfectly acceptable, after already condemning two generations of Charedi families to poverty and many times to the dysfunction that poverty causes, to continue to condemn a third and a fourth generation to such a fate?

Is the sole and main purpose of the Charedi members of Knesset to allocate as much government funds as possible for the unemployed, the uneducated and the unappreciative at the expense of others in society? These are the questions that Israeli society asks of the Charedi world for these are the issues that engender in general Israeli society the feeling of being made a frier.

And then there are the small things that have been raised to be great principles of faith in Charedi society that are continual irritations. I cannot understand why a prayer on behalf of the soldiers of the State of Israel is not allowed to be recited in Charedi synagogues and institutions of learning. Is this not the height of ingratitude when such prayers for the Czar’s army, the Turkish army and other “friendly” governments when we were in exile were recited?

The Charedi community may have legitimate theological problems with the state and its leaders but what does that have to do with the ability to say thank you to those that protect it from annihilation or for that matter to a government that provides it with millions of shekels and without its support it would collapse.

Its refusal in the smallest way to acknowledge these benefits and be appreciative of them creates the frier complex in the general Israeli public and endangers the very way of life and goals which the Charedi society is attempting to preserve. One would think that these realities would be self-evident to the Charedi community and its leaders.

It is our joint responsibility as Jews to make the Torah and its holy traditions beloved amongst all other Jews and respected in the general world. Following policies and mores that accomplish just the opposite of this goal is morally indefensible. In essence this makes a frier of all of us, Charedim included.