Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Rebbes Are Coming

Satmar Chasidim protesting Israel on Christmas Eve
The Belzer Rebbe, the Gerrer Rebbe, the Sanzer Rebbe, the Vizhnitzer Rebbes, Rebbes of Biala, Modzitz, Sadigur and Boyan… all these Chasdic Rebbes are coming to America on January 7th.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But the current so-called crisis facing the Charedi world in Israel has motivated the Chasidic Rebbes of the Israeli Agudah Moetzes to come to America and protest what is happening there.

Based on my cursory understanding of the dynamics, this is being supported by the non Chasidic rabbinic leadership too. Both here and in Israel. But I sense that support of this event is at best lukewarm and not entirely universal . Not that they disagree with the motives. They too strongly oppose what the Israeli government is doing to the Charedi world. But I sense that even though they do not buy into this tactic… because of the respect they give to leaders of great masses of Chasidic Jews and the fact that they do agree with their goals, they have lent their support to this event.

The primary focus in this visit is their opposition to drafting Charedi Yeshiva students.  This is universally opposed by every Charedi rabbinic leader. But I don’t see how coming to the US and protesting Israel here will help them.  They plan a mass gathering in Brooklyn on January 7th and are reserving Brooklyn’s  Floyd Bennett Field. They are also constructing a tent for 50,000 attendees. I predict they will get an overflow crowd of mostly (but not exclusively) Chasidim. How they think this will get Israel to change their minds about the draft is beyond me.

Perhaps they believe that they can pressure government officials in the spirit of American democratic values. They may make the argument that just as when America had a draft, divinity students were exempt, so too should Israel have the same draft structure – one that they had up until now.

But I don’t see how they can make the argument that the entire Charedi population base should be exempt. This is not the same as a divinity exemption where an individual decides he has a calling and joins a seminary to become a member of the clergy. This is an entire class of people indoctrinated to believe that they must attend Yeshivos and Kollelim for as long as they possibly can. America’s divinity exemption was never meant for an entire class of people.

Now it’s true that American government officials have a great deal of respect for religious figures. Including Chasidic Rebbes. If they ask for an audience with a Senator or any government official, I’m sure that the Agudah will get it for them. I would love to have Rabbi Zweibel’s Rolodex (or his speed dial list - in 21st century terms).  He has access to a great number of prominent politicians. He will no doubt do his best to secure meetings for them. But once they get there, what are they going to argue?

Most of congress supports the State of Israel. And they love Netanyahu – as was evidenced the last time he addressed them. I don’t see them agreeing with these Rebbes that Israel is discriminating against them. There is also the perception by many government officials via media reports that the ultra-Orthodox in Israel are religious extremists. Which is easy to understand when they read the stories about the harassment of 8 year old girls and calling them whores because they dress they way most children in America dress. Or beating up women on a bus because they won’t move to the back… and other such incidents including one former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly criticized them for.

Just  a few days ago, mainstream Satmar Chasidm from Kiryas Joel protested on Christmas Eve carrying placards accusing Israel of hating authentic Jews and being anti Semites. These Rebbes, I’m sure, are sympathetic to these messages. But even if they are not, these are the images that they are associated with. I cannot imagine them saying anything that will counter it.

This trip will surely not help them. I do not see them addressing anyone at that gathering on January 7th who does not agree with them in the first place. They will be preaching to their own choir.

These Rebbes are hoping for participation from the non Chasidic Yeshiva world. I’m sure they will get some. But I hope they don’t get any. In my view any Agudah Moetzes participation in this event will surely lessen their influence in other matters important to American Jewry.

This entire ‘crisis’ is a non issue for me, as I have said many times. It is a ‘crisis’ based on a mistaken view of what will really happen… or worse - a mischaracterization of it. They say the draft and other ‘negative’ acts against the Charedi world by the Israeli government will destroy it. But other than yelling that at the top of their lungs they have yet make their case. All the so called indicators for them that this is all a ruse to secularize the Charedi world just does not hold water in face of the facts

Yes their world will be altered. But it will be altered for the better. It will not be destroyed. Not any more than the Torah is destroyed by the Hesder program. Torah will still be learned. There will be divinity exemptions for the truly elite that have the potential for greatness. The only change will be that young Charedim that are not the most elite will have to take a couple of years off to serve their country in some way. And in many cases receive some valuable training for the workplace along the way.  

And their service will not be at the expense of their Charedi values. This will be written into law. That it seems unaffordable is a technical issue that can in my view be worked out by people of good will on both sides. The bottom line result will look something like the American version of the Charedi world. How all these rabbinic leaders can say that this result is the destruction of the Torah world is beyond all reason.

What about the fear that once they are out of the Beis HaMedrash they will never return? All that means is that they are not really of the caliber to do that in the first place.  That the only reason they would have stayed is because of inertia and peer pressure.

Is this what the Charedi rabbinic leadership sees as the will of God? psychologically force them into a life of poverty, mediocre Torah study, and the shirking all responsibility to the state?  Is exempting them from learning how to provide for their families which often results in family dysfunction really a Godly mandate?

This is not in my view what God wants of His people.