Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Casualties of War

Sign carried at the Israeli Atzeres typifies the Charedi view of the Israeli government
I was saddened to learn of the firing of Yori Yanover, former editor of the Jewish Press online as a result of an article he wrote. First let me say that I do not agree with his rhetoric. It was indeed over the top and incendiary.  His words can be found in a cached copy of his original essay which the Jewish Press has removed.

I understand why the editors of the Jewish Press were upset. They certainly had a right to remove any article they disapprove of or that violates their principles. Which is how they explained what they did. But I do not think he deserved to be fired. At most a reprimand and warning not to express his opinions that way should have sufficed.

The truth is that Yori was upset by the very same things that upset me and a host of other Orthodox and non Orthodox Jews. I have in fact expressed views that are similar to his many times.  But in Yori’s case the way he expressed them was particularly offensive. Especially shocking was the headline he used in an article about the Charedi prayer gathering:  50 Thousand Haredim March so only Other Jews Die in War.

It was indeed shocking. But it stems from the kind of legitimate question that I always ask and have never received a satisfactory answer to: What does a Charedi mother say to a Chiloni or Dati/RZ mother who lost a son in battle? …or whose son was permanently injured? … or blinded, …or paralyzed …or lost limbs, …or disfigured… all in their role as protectors of their people? Why do all Charedi sons get exemptions and are never put into the pool from which these soldiers are taken for dangerous assigments? Why  does a Charedi mother’s son automatically get to avoid being put in harm’s way while the rest of Israel’s sons do not get to automatically avoid it?

Like I said, I have never received a satisfactory answer to that. I’m not going to repeat and refute all the supposed answers I’ve heard. Been there and done that. All I will say here is (again) none of them truly answered the question.

I am truly depressed at the state of Judaism today.  A war has been declared against the Jewish people. Not by the Arabs. But by Jews. Religious Jews. It is religious Jew against religious Jew (and secular Jew).

To be fair I completely understand why Charedim are upset. I know what Hashkafa of ‘Torah only’ is. They see Torah study as the paramount endeavor of the Jewish people and any attempt to tamper with those who live this lofty goal is to be fought with all their might. I’m sure they believe that the government of Israel is on a slippery slope path to disabuse Charedim of their focus on Torah study - and even of their Judaism.

They do not see this as a ‘sharing the burden’ issue which is how those who are subject to the draft do. Many Charedim see it as social engineering. They see the Israeli government renewing their original ‘melting pot’ goal of putting in Jews from all background into the army and producing a prototype Israeli that does not view Torah and Mitzvah observance favorably… and in place of that the worship of Zionism. This is one reason they refer to this moment in time as a Shas HaShmad. I think they really believe it to one extent or another.

With that kind of mindset one can easily understand what all the furor is about. I of course do not agree with them at all. I think they do not have a realistic view of what is happening to them. (Explaining why I feel that way is beyond the scope of this post. I’ve been there and done that too. But if one wants to see a realistic explanation one should listen to a radio interview of MK, Rabbi Dov Lipman.)

The fact is that Charedi leaders are depressed and angry about this and they are lashing out. Which is why there is so much terrible rhetoric about it from their leaders, politicians, and media. For Charedim this truly is a war to retain their way of life. Which includes the ability to study Torah unfettered at the highest level. They believe that what they do is more protective of Klal Yisroel than what the army does. Whose values and way of life they abhor… and to be avoided by them at all cost.

On the other end of the Orthodox spectrum are people like me (and Yori) who see the negative attitudes and lack of Hakoras HaTov to the army as maddening… and an insult to those who lay their lives on the line every day. And and to their families. Instead of Hakaros HaTov they see condemnation and vilification. They see Charedi rabbinic leaders calling for prayer to remove ‘the evil decree’ of a draft which their sons are subject to and which they see as a Mitzvah!

These two perspectives are so incompatible that each side is vilifying the other to an unprecedented extent.

That’s where Yori Yanover’s firing by the Jewish Press comes in. The Charedi side has published at least two editorials at YWN expressing outrage at Yari’s heartfelt but explosive words – calling the Jewish Press out for allowing it to be published on their website. Understandably so from their perspective. 

But why can't they understand why Yari and other religious Jews like him (including me) are so upset at how they are reacting… even as they feel justified in doing it that way? How can they not be Dan L’Kaf Zechus? … and instead be the cause a religious Jew to lose his job? 

Yes- the way Yari expressed his views in unfortunate. But is it any worse than some of the rhetoric coming out from the Charedi side on this issue? ...calling good people Amalek? There are heartfelt views expressed by people who are hurt on both sides? Do the complaining Charedim not understand that what they are protesting as evil is what other Orthodox Jews consider a Mitzvah?

They may answer that they are not really as upset about the draft as they are at criminalizing Torah study. This is something I consider grossly inaccurate. But even if it were true, can’t they see that the perception by the rest of the Orthodox world is that they are protesting army service for their young people and vilifying those that do? I understand their perspective. Why can’t they understand mine?

I have to wonder how most Charedim feel about all of this at the grass roots level. Is this an instance of doing what the Gedolim say despite some misgivings on their part? Or do they actually believe the rhetoric? Do they feel that someone should be fired for expressing his heartfelt views – even if the way he did it was inappropriate? Does Yori Yanover deserve to be a casualty of this terrible war between religious Jews?