Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Million Shekel March

Prayer rally against the draft from June of 2012 - Photo credit: Times of Israel
This is truly astonishing. From Matzav
The “Million Man Atzeres” prayer gathering announced earlier this week will take place this Sunday,Rosh Chodesh Adar II, at 4 p.m., on Rechov Yirmiyahu, near the entrance to Yerushalayim.
Organizers expect a crowd of about 750,000, with the participation of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of both Degel Hatorah and Agudas Yisroel, as well as the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah of Shas, gedolei Torah from across the country, and members from the Dati Leumi community.
At the time of the gathering, in other Jewish locales across the globe, asifos tefillah will be held to demonstrate solidarity with acheinu Bnei Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel.
Initial arrangements were discussed at a meeting yesterday at the office of Bnei Brak Mayor Chanoch Ziebert. Logistics of this massive event - which will cost 1 million shekels or more - are still being worked out. These include transportation, security and the program.
The atzeres, it should be noted, will not be a political event, but a prayer gathering, with the focus on tefillah to Hakadosh Boruch Hu to annul the decree of the Shaked commission to require talmidei yeshiva to leave their shtenders and join the Israeli army. Sources indicate that there will be no speeches at the event… 
I wish I could say that I don’t get it - because it is so over the top.  But I do. The Charedi leadership sees the new draft law as a Divine decree along the lines of other Jewish tragedies. When they say it is a Shas HaShmad, they believe it. And to prove how seriously they take it, they are willing to tell their students to close their Gemarahs and show up en masse at the city’s main entrance during its busiest time of day. So serious are they that they are willing to spend over a million Shekel on this prayer rally. A million Shekel ain’t chicken feed! And this is at a time where Charedi poverty in Israel is at its peak!

When one looks at this kind of expense and the willingness, nay  enthusiasm!  … to spend it on a single event in the context of the admitted poverty so many of their members live in… one can see just how serious they are. They are in essence praying to God that He allow them to continue their ways as before. And at the same time they must wonder why He is doing this to them.  After all there has been no greater participation by the masses in Torah study than there is now in Israel. There has never been so much emphasis to the exclusion of all else in this Avodas HaKodesh. And yet God has seen fit to allow their government to destroy it all. This must be how they see it.

So I understand their motives and the beliefs that they are based upon. What I don’t understand is how they can actually believe all this in the face of so much evidence that it is not the case.  Even if one were to concede that the government has nefarious intentions (which I do not), the result of implementing this bill will hardly destroy Yiddishkeit.

What this is really about is not touching the Charedi status quo which they feel is the essence of Yidishskeit that holds up the world. These leaders apparently also feel that if Charedi youth were to begin serving in the army at any age, they will end up less religious because of army influences. They believe that no matter what the conditions are, any Charedi that subjects himself to army rule – an army that they see as anti religious – risks putting  his Neshama in harm’s way.

I believe this mistaken attitude is based on their collective historical memory where Jews in pre Holocaust Eastern Europe were drafted into long term army service. The vast majority of those Jews ended up no longer observant. And the fact is that there is evidence that army service in Israel can and sometimes does do the same thing.  And even if a religious solider will not entirely leave observance, he will at the very least lower his standards.

I don’t know how widespread this phenomenon is, but it is hardly a certainty that army service guarantees lowering standards even in the regular army. Let us look at the facts. Those that are plainly visible. There is a large Dati Leumi community that has served in the regular army. They all survived. They are observant. And are doing well.

While it might be true that some of them lowered their standards and some may have even left observance, this does not account for the vast majority that pretty much stayed the same as they were when they went in. Those that left observance were probably not all that observant to begin with. If the army truly destroyed Neshamos, there would be no Dati Leumi community since the vast majority of them serve. And yet they are a sizable proportion of the observant community in Israel.  

Then let us look at Hesder. Can these leaders really believe that the army will guarantee lowering standards when these young Dati soldiers (who are the cream of the military crop in many cases) joined a unit that allowed them to study Torah most of the time in that 5 year program? How likely is it that someone who chooses a 5 year program because of his commitment to Torah study - will go off the Derech at any level? Are Hesder boys more committed to observance than Charedi boys?

What makes matters even more contradictory to their fears is the creation and existence of military units that are specifically designed to accommodate Charedi religious sensibilities. These programs are by all measure a huge success.  Both for the Charedim who serve in them and for the army who has recognized their contribution and praised them for it… raising the stature of Charedi youth in the eyes of the military that was once skeptical of them.

If these Charedi leaders were truly fearful of the supposed ’Shmad’ of the army, they should be negotiating with the army to assure that Charedim will be able to serve in independent units along the lines of Nachal Charedi.  And when that is agreed upon, hold the military accountable for it.

If at any time they would not be accommodated as promised, that would be the time to protest. But doing it now? What do they gain? Do they really think God will just say, ‘OK, I was just kidding?!’ ‘I just wanted to make you spend a million Shekel to see how committed you are to Me?!’ And it is not like they haven't done this before with the same amount of devotion. They have as the photo above from 2012  shows. Do they really believe that doing it again will change things? I guess so...

Why not negotiate instead of calling for more prayer rallies and spending so much money doing so? Why not see that this is not about destroying Charedi life but about changing it for the better? Limud HaTorah will not be destroyed. It will improve in quality if not in quantity.

And yet Charedi rabbinic leaders seem to be blind to all of this and see it only as an evil to be destroyed. And another time for prayer to God in service to that goal.  And they are all willing to spend over a million Shekel doing it.

What a waste!