Monday, March 17, 2014

An Unreasonable Attack

No prayers for the safety of the soldiers at the prayer rally - Photo credit: Ha'aretz
One thing Eytan Kobre is not - is a moderate Charedi. He might seem to be since he actually attended law school and became a lawyer, but that does not make him a moderate by any stretch. On an almost weekly basis he espouses the extreme right wing position on all matters Jewish. Usually in a ‘not so nice’ way (to say the least). This week is no exception. The issue once again is the draft of Charedim in Israel. And true to form he bashes any view that does not coincide with his own. Or more correctly with the views his rabbinic leaders told him to have. From his Mishpacha Magazine  article: 
It is about what maranan v’rabbanan, the leaders of our generation — those about whom we beseech Hashem with the words v’ruach kodshecha al tikach mimenu, please don’t remove ruach hakodesh from our midst — have said and done… 
This issue just won’t go away. I would normally not have responded to Mr. Kobre’s  predictable polemic. I’ve already addressed in past posts many of the points he makes - by using simple logic and common sense. And yet he seems to ignore all that because of what he was told by his rabbinic leaders to believe. He also apparently believes that they have Ruach HaKodesh. Something none of them have ever claimed to possess. So for him, that is the bottom line.

Once again I want to make clear (as I always do) that my disagreement with these rabbinic leaders should not be taken in any way as a denigration of them. I have the utmost respect for them even when I find their views troubling. As I do on this issue.

Eytan Kobre has not even come close to addressing the issues that trouble me and many other sincerely observant Jews. Although that was supposedly what his article was about. Which is probably why he titled it, ‘Aren’t you Scared?’ ...scared to tamper the status quo of Torah study in Israel? ...which is what the rabbinic leaders want to maintain? Scared to ‘go against’ people with Ruach HaKodesh?...scared because of the existential threats facing Israel? Is now the time reduce the  massive numbers of Lomdei Torah whose Torah study surely provides protection for all of Israel, army included? Why reduce those numbers now? For Mr. Kobre, this is a slam dunk... a bottom line which trumps all else.

Did it ever occur to him that learning Torah is not a numbers game? And that perhaps what God wants is quality, not quantity? ...that maybe, just maybe God does not consider it the ideal to have every single Jew on the planet learning Gemarah, Rishoinim and Acharonimn all day long for the rest of their lives? But even if he does consider this the right approach - it does not answer any of the concerns that trouble so many non Charedi observant Jews. Again - these questions have never really been answered. 

The obvious inability to answer these legitimate questions by anyone so far is why I would have ignored yet another failed attempt to do so now. But it is the way he did it that causes me to react.

Instead of just trying to explain his perspective, he decided to attack Gershon Distenfeld who dared to question Mishpacha’s editorial stance (which is the same as Mr. Kobre’s) in a letter to the editor.  Reb Gershon is a reader of  this blog and comments frequently.  Some may recall a recent guest post by him that reflected views on this issue that are similar to my own. He is an Ehrliche Jew who is active in Jewish education and an innovator of sorts. A dedicated Eved HaShem. It is the kind of view he expressed in his guest post here that generated his critical response to Mishpacha.

To their credit Mishpacha published his letter. I was surprised - but happy to see it. But when I saw Mr. Kobre’s article, I realized why they published it. They did so to allow their weekly columnist to knock him down. Which he did in a misleading way by first twisting R’ Gershon’s words - and then doing what Charedi apologists always do when they speak about this issue. They change the subject.

Mr. Kobre ‘answered’ questions about fairness by saying how important Torah study is and the fact that no one realizes it but Charedim. He ignored the very real point made indelicately last week by Yori Yanover in the Jewish Press…  a point that got him fired. His point was that in the view of many Frum Jews - the Charedi world wants to maintain a status quo where no Charedim are ever asked to risk their lives for their country, while others are.

For Charedim to scream at the top of their lungs that all they really want is to be left alone to dedicate their lives to Torah study - does not address that issue at all.  To say that people like R’ Gershon (or I) do not understand the value Charedim place on Torah study is to completely avoid the issue.  

Mr. Kobre ought to know that most Orthodox Jews do understand the value of Torah study. It’s just that we do not think that every single Charedi male should be doing it full time. For many of us - full time Torah study should be reserved only for the best and the brightest. And they should be fully supported. Morally and financially.

The difference we have with him is not in how much we value Torah study. It is in whether all Charedim should be steered into doing it. It is also about whether the desire by an individual to do so is enough to justify his doing it at the expense of others. That desire is no doubt embedded into their psyche at their earliest ages. Learning Torah full time is the highest calling a Jew can have - and they should therefore strive to do it full time for their entire lives. Individual talents and strengths in other areas are negated. But the truth is that not everyone who wants to learn full time should learn full time. This is where we disagree. Not about how valuable Torah study itself is.

And it isn’t just non Charedi Orthodox Jews who value Torah study. Even the ‘evil’ Yair Lapid values it and supported the law that will exempt 1800 Charedim per year from the draft. One can quibble about the numbers. Maybe there should be more exemptions. But one cannot call anyone that believes in exempting that many students someone that does not value Torah study. But that doesn’t stop Mr. Kobre and many others in his world from saying so.

Mr. Kobre lambastes R’ Gershon by ridiculing his comparison of Torah study to basket weaving. The problem is that Gershon never equated the two. He was just pointing out the flaw in an argument that says that the government is criminalizing full time Torah study by arresting those among them that resist the draft. That is the same as saying the government criminalizes full time study of basket weaving by arresting those among them that resist the draft.  That is a reasonable comparison to make. It demonstrates that the  government does not criminalize either basket weaving or Torah study. It says nothing about their comparative value. But that doesn’t stop Mr. Kobre from saying that Gershon equates the value of Torah study to the value of basket weaving – even though Gershon clearly says in his letter that he doesn’t.

And thus he denigrates a sincere observant Jew who dares to ask questions  that cannot be answered. Add to this that there seems to be a widespread belief (privately expressed) that the new draft law is something that Charedim can live with, and it makes Mr. Kobre’s diatribe nothing more than a de-legitimization of anyone who dares to ask these questions publicly. And why are they attacked? Not because of the merit of any argument they put forward. But because  of what ‘maranan v’rabbanan… have said and done’. 

The questions asked by sincere Orthodox Jews, like R’Gershon  remain unanswered. I guess when you can’t make any rational arguments, then your best defense is a good offense.  The problem with their offense is that it is so offensive!

Now, I understand the pain Charedim are now feeling. Their world is being turned upside down. They believe in what they say... that this is some sort of evil decree that they must fight against.

The problem is that they do not see the pain on the other side. The pain of the mother whose son was drafted and died or was maimed serving his country. They ignore the question that every grieving mother like that asks the Charedi mother: Why is it only non Charedi sons that are put in harm’s way?

And their pain is exacerbated by curses from venerated Charedi rabbinic leaders at those who have tried to rectify that situation.  

One more thing. Despite some Charedi protestations to the contrary – that this isn’t about being anti army but about being pro Torah - their actions (or lack of them) speak louder than words. The lack of any prayers at either prayer rally to protect Israeli soldiers whose lives are on the line everyday tells every grieving mother that they don’t really value the sacrifices their sons made at all. Their take away is that the only thing Charedim care about is getting out of the army. Think about that for a minute, Eytan!

For those inclined to convey their views about Eytan Kobre's article to Mishpacha Magazine, their e-mail address is: