Friday, April 05, 2013

How to Lessen the Hatred

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett - Photo credit: Times of Israel
Jonathan Rosenblum asks a question in the title of  from his most recent column in Mishpacha Magazine  (republished in  Cross Currents):  Can We Do Anything to Lessen the Hatred?

He is referring to a common theme I write about here -
the conflict in Israel between Charedim and non Charedim. Please note that I did not say Charedim and Chilonim (secular Jews). That would be incorrect. Datim - or Religious Zionists - are increasingly being lumped (by Charedim) together with Chilonim. But they don’t need to be lumped together by Charedim. Datim are actually siding with Chilonim against Charedim on many issues.  As in the one referred to as ‘sharing the burden’ - meaning subjecting Charedim to the draft.

I recently wrote about this very issue. And I made note of the fact that thinking Charedi writers like Jonathan have expressed the same thoughts I have on this issue. He does so once again.

What surprised Jonathan is the level of hatred that actually exists – even among Religious Zionists. He gives the following example:
I sent a national religious colleague my piece in Mishpacha on the chareidi draft issue. I consider this woman to be Israel’s finest columnist. She always writes in a measured style, building her argument block by block, like the engineer she is by training. I was sure she would approve of my pragmatic argument for allowing processes well under way to develop.
I was wrong. Perhaps she would have agreed five years ago, she wrote, but now she was fed up and fully behind Bennett. Even a statement by Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, that army service represents a spiritual threat to chareidi recruits – an unassailable sociological fact in the current IDF environment – elicited paroxysms of anger. The evident frustration coming from someone normally so temperate and with a number of chareidi friends clued me in to the depth of feeling in the national religious world.
In light of all that Jonathan concedes that their attitude is based on how the Charedi world presents itself to the non Charedi world… and suggests that it ought to change. He gives examples  of successful interactions where preconceived notions about Charedim were changed. Like the following:
Over the last decade, the Karlin-Stolin community, led by the Rebbe himself, has hosted between 10-15,000 Jews in small groups for Shabbos meals. Last week, one of the Torah flyers distributed in national religious synagogues on leil Shabbos included a letter from a waiter at Shabbos gathering of 370 Karlin-Stolin chassidim. He wrote of the warmth and respect the chassidim showed him, of how they saved a seat for him at the table and invited him to join them in their dancing, of how they washed so neatly so as to minimize the clean-up.
“Shabbos ended and so did all my stereotypes,” the waiter wrote. So moved was the waiter that he called the Rebbe himself, who cried with joy and exclaimed, “That’s how I educated them for decades — in ahavas Yisrael and mutual respect.”
He ends up saying that this is an example worth emulating. I agree. This is indeed the kind of behavior to emulate. But this is not enough. It isn’t only about PR. It is about actually sharing the burden of military service.

But even if we were just to follow Jonathan’s advice about PR – it will not happen. It is one thing to writing abot this issue to a sympathetic public. But as long as the rabbinic leadership continues their harsh rhetoric - changing their approach along the lines of this one Chasidic group will not happen. No matter how many times Jonathan - or how many writers like him say so.

Jonathan is not a rabbinic leader and neither are any of the common sense Charedi writers like him (R’ Yitzchok Adlerstein comes to mind). I think that in their heart of hearts, most Charedim would agree with Jonathan.

But as long as rabbinic leaders live in the past and insist on calling the idea of ‘sharing the burden’ a Shas HaShmad - comparing even observant Jews like Naftali Bennett that advocate it to what Czarist Russia did over 100 years ago - there will be no change in that paradigm any time soon. Especially when an influential Charedi publisher like Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter salutes his Rebbe and asks how high up the flagpole he should climb! ( honoring his directive to make sure  that the Charedi public understands that it is unequivocally a Shas HaShmad).

The trick is not for Charedi writers to recognize that the problem begins with themselves. I think they already do. The trick is to get their rabbinic leadership and their ‘soldiers’ to recognize it. Some would say that we have to start somewhere. I agree. But starting is not enough. Unless Jonathan and other Charedi writers can do that and at least change the rhetoric if not the paradigm, they are probably wasting their time. Lessening the hatred starts at the top.