Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jonathan at His Best

"a tragedy of the highest magnitude" 
In one of his most eloquent columns, (to be published in tomorrow's edition of Mishpacha Magazine) Jonathan Rosenblum - a self described Charedi; a widely read and respected columnist in both religious and secular media - has echoed much of what I have said in numerous posts about the current situation in Israel. I only wish it would have an impact on those who need it most. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will alter anything at all in how the more violent opponents of the Israeli government behave. But it should at least move most mainstream Charedim who read it that have not given this side of things any serious thought.

His heartfelt column is a response to the recent harassment of Charedi soldiers by Charedi extremists in Meah Shearim.  While other moderate Charedim like Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz jointly expressed anguish and frustration at the acts of hate being perpetrated by people who constantly lay claim to be the holiest among us - I think Jonathan has taken this attitude to a new level, expressing not only anguish, but a decent analysis of what it is and why it is. While I may not agree with every jot and tittle of his essay, I agree with the essence of what he said.

I generally do not like to quote this extensively from a published article. But I have to make an exception here. This kind of essay is why I have always admired Jonathan, even when I disagreed with him. Sometimes strongly. Jonathan Rosenblum is an intellectually honest man. He generally does not mince words or ignore facts.

I really believe in his essential goodness… and his legitimate concern for the welfare of Klal Yisroel. The words in this essay are important – especially since they are written form a Charedi perspective – a Charedi who lives in Israel. Following are some of the key excerpts from it: 
The phenomenon of chareidi soldiers in uniform, or even out of uniform, being verbally accosted and made to feel otherwise unwanted has spread far beyond Meah Shearim. Wallposters against "chardakim" (chareidim da'at kal) can be seen in chareidi neighborhoods around the country, with religious soldiers in uniform portrayed as missionaries…. 
If today we again find such bitter divisions within the chareidi community itself, can we really hope that the sinas chinam for which we entered this long galus will soon end. 
THOSE INTERNAL DIVISIONS are the result of a confluence of three trends within the Torah community. The first is the tendency to identify ourselves with ever more narrowly defined subgroups within the community, and to look askance at all those who are outside our sub-group. 
One unfortunate by-product of the phenomenal growth of Torah Jewry in the last fifty years is the luxury of making distinctions out of fine differences. A friend who has authored several lomdishe seforim commented recently, with evident nostalgia, of the Chicago of his youth, in which there were only two categories of Jews –shomer Shabbos and not Shomer Shabbos. Yes, there were differences in religious standards between one family and another, but being "shomer Shabbos" joined them all together. Today, we focus more on what divides us... 
True, there are wide variations within the Torah community. Those variations are not themselves a cause for concern. What is of concern is the tendency to view negatively all those whose ideas and conduct are not exactly like our own.  
A SECOND NEGATIVE TREND is a too ready assumption that the ends justify the means and the resultant coarsening in our speech and conduct. Too often we abandon the voice of Yaakov and act with the hands of Esav. When we do so, we not only make attainment of our immediate goals less likely, but also diminish the honor of Torah in the world. 
It is a tragedy of the highest magnitude that the most frequent images most non-religious Jews have of chareidim is of faces contorted in rage, like members of a certain religion whose adherents are easily aroused to lethal violence. 
On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, thousands of Bais Yaakov girls filled the women's section in front of the Kosel, as they davened and recited Tehillim. The image of so many pure young girls was overwhelming. The women and girls conducted themselves in perfect accord with Rav Aharon Leib Steinman's instructions: He explicitly conditioned the prayer gathering on the absence of violence of any kind. The impact of the women's prayer was marred only by the antics of some of their male counterparts screaming at the Women of the Wall. 
This past Rosh Chodesh, however, a small group of girls also found time to scream and insult those they identified as belonging to the Women of the Wall. Among those they cursed was one of the Jewish world's leading women teachers of Torah, and the two founders of WomenFortheWall, at whose initiative the mass prayer gatherings at the Kosel began. The girls had seen them speaking to the press two months earlier and embracing some members of Women of the Wall, in an effort to draw them close with "chords of love," and decided that they were Reform. 
The tragedy here is not one of mistaken identity, but of the damage to those girls' souls from acting in a way not befitting them. Even had the targets of their threats been members of Women of the Wall, their Tehillim – the Kol Yaakov – would have had more impact on the Women of the Wall themselves, on the world media, and certainly klapai Shomayim. 
FINALLY, WE MUST NOT BECOME an exclusively fear-driven society – fearful of any contact with the outside society, fearful of governmental decrees… 
(W)e cannot give in to hysteria. When hysteria takes hold, the most extreme elements in society, even if they are a minority, take over. That is what happened just preceding the Churban. Further, the more hysterical we become the more susceptible we are to being viewed as the Boy Who Cried Wolf, even in the eyes of our chareidi brothers abroad… 
To describe service in the IDF as ipso facto an act of shmad is to give vent to hysteria.(T)he IDF it is not only, or even primarily, an instrument of socialization. The IDF is also vital to the defense of the lives of six million Jews… It is ridiculous to think that a 26-year-old avreich, who can no longer feed his family and seeks advanced training and the possibility of steady long-term employment, is deliberately subjecting himself to spiritual destruction by entering the IDF's Shachar program. 
There is much more in this essay. I encourage everyone to read it in full.

I could have written these words myself. How much more eloquent are they coming from a prominent Charedi Jew in Israel. This is why I firmly believe that Jonathan should have a private meeting with Dov Lipman. They will probably end up still disagreeing with each other.

But I can’t help but believe that something very positive would develop – even if it is nothing more than emerging from that meeting with a new respect for the sincerity of the opposing view and treating it as a Machlokes L’Shem Shomyim. And at best it could produce a willingness to work together towards the same goals in ways that will improve the lives of all the citizens of Israel: Charedim, Datim and Chilonim. And that would be a major step toward true Achdus.