Sunday, September 22, 2013

An Inspiring Event and Yair Lapid

Erev Yom Kippur at the Kotel - Photo credit: Arutz Sheva
As I have often pointed out here, Rabbi Dovid Landesman is one of those Charedim for whom I have much respect. That’s because he is honest about the reality of the Charedi world. He is troubled by many of the same things that trouble me. And he is not afraid to say so.  Not only do I respect him  I admire him as well. Having served in the Israeli Defense Forces - he understands what ‘sharing the burden’ means.  He is the prototype for what I believe should be every Charedi Jew in Israel.

Rabbi Lansedman is well known to my regular readers as he has written several guest posts and often comments right here on this blog. Sometimes in agreement with me and sometimes not. He may not even agree with me here. But either way, I respect his opinion. Which brings me to an article written by him in Cross Currents that should be read by every Charedi Jew in Israel.

He tells us the story of his visit to the Kotel on the Thrusday night before Yom Kippur. An inspiring story it is. But based on studies that report the high percentages of Israelis that believe in God and observe many if not all of the Mitzvos – it is not so much a surprising story.

He went to an event at the Kotel invloving his son's army service in the Charedi branch called Netzach Yehuda. It was held at the Aish HaTorah world center located near the Kotel. That apparently coincided with a Sephardi Selichos at the Kotel. According to Rabbi Landesman the crowds he encountered were estimated by police to be between 125 to 150 thousand people! The program was Selichos.

Rabbi Landesman describes what he saw that night: 
We were joined by hundreds, if not thousands, of people heading slowly toward the kotel, most of them young and by outward appearance not overly observant. Walking alongside us was a very pregnant young woman accompanied by a friend; neither of them dressed in a manner that would have suggested any fealty to the minimal halachic standards of tzniut.
As we strode slowly because of the crowds, we heard the friend ask: “Are you going to fast on Kippur?” The woman replied that she was not sure, she was in her 36th week and it might be dangerous, whereupon her friend responded: “You can’t make such a decision on your own! Ask a rav what you should do!” 
Slightly ahead of us, a young boy with his head uncovered walked with his mother who we had no reason to assume was in any way religious. She was leaning down to him and told him that when they reached the kotel they would recite hatarat nedarim which she then preceded to explain… 
I was struck – although not surprised – by the fact that the majority of the Sefardi audience knew both the words and the tune of the selichah of “chatanu l’fanechah” and enthusiastically joined in. Many in the crowd were teenagers and they were no less familiar nor were they in any way reluctant to be seen in public prayer.
After the presentation we went up to the roof to listen to selichot… When the chazan began to sing the familiar piyut of “aneinu”, the entire crowd joined in. Although my grandmother claimed that my veins are filled with ice water, tears came to my eyes when I heard the thundering “y’hei shmei rabbah” at the end of selichot.
Can there be a greater segulah to merit Divine grace in the coming year than to have been a voice in a assembly of “rivevot amcha beit Yisroel” accepting the yoke of heaven? 
Tears came to Rabbi Lansedman’s eyes. If I would have been there I probably would have felt the same emotion.  

We so often hear from the right that the Israeli government lead by Chilonim are enemies of Torah. They have been called vilest of names by Charedi politicians and the Charedi media. Prayer vigils have been held asking God for the utter destruction of the government. Some Charedi leaders have called this a Shas HaShmad (a time of forced conversion to another religion!) because of government initiatives seen as anti Charedi.  

Some have said that if there were ever a peace settlement between Arabs and Israelis, it would be followed by a massive civil war between Charedim and Chilonim. I don’t agree.  Not if this event at the Kotel last week is any indication. Chilonim do not hate Charedim. They just fear the extremism that is so increasingly prevalent in Charedi circles. I fear it too.

My only problem with Rabbi Landesman’s essay is how he ended it: 
A news item on Erev Yom Kippur reported that 75% of the Jewish population in Eretz Yisrael fasts. Even if that figure is off the mark by a third, we’re talking about three million people who find reason to fulfill a mitzvah that is far from easy. Maybe it is fear, perhaps its source is superstition. No matter; if I were Yair Lapid I would find the statistic far more threatening than the chareidi birth rate. 
I’m sorry. I do not see taking a swipe at Yair Lapid that way as necessary. Or even true - unless he knows more about him than the two religious members of his party now serving in the Kenesset. Which I doubt.  

It would not surprise me at all if Lapid himself fasted on Yom Kippur. (Nor would it surprise me if he didn’t.) Having parted ways with his atheistic father - he believes in God. And he accepts the reality of the Charedi world. He only asks that they be mainstreamed into Israeli society in terms of sharing the burden, and being more productive citizens... even allowing for full exemptions from  the army for 1800 young Talmidei Chachamim every year. 

This does not sound anti Charedi to me. He does not want to destroy Charedim. He just wants them to productive. He does not devalue Torah study. He in fact wants all Israeli students to be more involved in studying more facets of Torah. Lapid’s campaign speech to students in the Charedi track at Kiryat Ono College, should tell you that.

It is not the Charedi birth rate that he fears. It is the exponential growth of a dependency class of non productive Israeli citizens that he fears. I fear that too. And so do the two Shomer Shabbos MKs of his party.

Offhand negative comments about Charedim he may have made in response to Charedi attacks against him is not what he should be measured by. Nor do disparaging remarks about him help matters. Lapid is not the enemy. The enemy is the Charedi attitude about army service that Rabbi Landesman himself has criticized; a lifestyle that has brought extremism into its midst; and poverty with all its attendant ills.