Sunday, April 06, 2014

Charedim and the Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl

Ceremony at Mt. Herzl military cemetery, 2010 (Wikipedia)
As I write these words, the comment thread to A Charedi Perspective lists 421 comments. I’m sure that number will be exceeded in very short order. Judging by the number of comments and the amount of ink (both virtual and real) spilled on this issue by the media - it would seem obvious that the issues discussed by Menachem  Mordechai Frank* are among the biggest and most hot button issues of the day.

Here are the questions. Should Charedim should serve in the Israeli army? What is their justification for avoiding it?  …even boycotting it to the extent of serving time in jail for that cause? 

Menachem’s explanation centers on two points.

One is the Desslerian requirement of rebuilding the Torah world and producing Gedloim even at the expense of 999 out of 1000 going OTD. But he personally rejects it as a legitimate reason and explains why.  If one is going to use Rav Dessler to make his case. Then one should read what Rabbi Shalom Gold said in a ‘letter to the editor’ that Hamodia refused to publish: 
Three months after the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, Rav Dessler wrote that he who does not see the dramatic change and the complete reversal of the fate of the Jewish people, "min hakatzeh al Hakatzeh, "from one extreme of six million slaughtered to the other extreme end "the settling of our people in their own medina in our Holy Land" is blind. "Woe to one who will come to the Day of Judgment still blind and not having been able to see something so real." (Michtav M'Eliyahu, Volume 3, page 352) 
The other point Menachem s makes is regarding the Tznius issue.

To a Charedi who has been infused with a sense of heightened sensitivity to violations Tznius (as it relates to the sexes) - any situation that compromises it even in the slightest is - is to be avoided at all costs. The army, he notes, under the best of conditions (e.g Nachal Charedi) will perforce be a compromise.  And that is why Charedim reject the army. He says this in the form of an explanation, not an excuse - and asks us to understand the issue in that context.

For me an obvious response to can best be summed up in an old Yiddish phrase, ‘A Tzadik in Peltz’. Which means  ‘A holy man in a fur coat’. This term was coined by the Kotzker Rebbe and it refers to keeping warm in ones own coat and not worrying about anyone else warmth.  Being a Tzadik without caring about your brother is what Charedim are asking for.

This represents a profound lack of Arvus… and sense of priorities.  Using Tznius as an excuse for avoiding service to one’s fellow Jew in the act of protecting them from harm via the army is kind of like being a Chosid Shoteh.  A Chasid Shoteh (foolishly religious)  is described as who sees a naked woman drowning and refuses to save her for Tznius reasons.

If a man sees a naked woman drowning, Tznius issues are to be completely ignored. There is a life to be saved. Even if there are other Jews standing around that could do the job, you are obligated to save that life. That is what the army is asking of you.  If you do not want to sacrifice your high standards even in Nachal Charedi for that purpose because of a slight possibility of lowering that standard, there is something terribly wrong with the Chinuch you received.

How valuable is the army to the Charedi mindset? The continuous vilification of it as a den of iniquity calling the draft ‘Shmad’ …tells you what one segment of the Charedi world thinks.  But not all Charedim view the army that way. There are some that actually believe the army does have value.  Nonetheless that idea that it is Shmad is reinforced by their silence. They have been focusing only on their own special needs… and joined forces with the extremists on the right who have been yelling ‘Shmad’ every chance they get.

Which brings me to an editorial by Rabbi Moshe Grylak in this week’s Mishpacha Magazine. He says that had the government not imposed the ‘jail’ penalty and instead had a financial penalty, they would have accepted the new legislation. That’s because Charedim could have ‘bought’ their way out of service by paying  the fine. The problem with that is that no one else can buy their way out of the army. Jail is the ‘across the board’ penalty for all Jewish citizens in Israel who defy the draft. If a financial penalty was extended to all draft resisters, then everyone would be able to buy their way out. Of course that would unfairly favor the rich, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

That said, Rabbi Grylak has taken a truly courageous stand against those who vilify the army. And the utter failure of the recent prayer rallies to convey a message that it was not about the rejecting army.  That in fact the army is a vital part of Israel’s existence. And one that outght to be  praised, not condemned. He uses words from previous Gedloim to make those points. Points conspicuously absent from even the moderate members of the current Charedi leadership. From Mishpacha:
(T)here is one attitude that we absolutely must preserve, and no one described that feeling better than Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz ztz”l, the rosh yeshivah of Mir. The following passage is from a sefer published in his memory: “Regarding Chazal’s statement in Bava Basra 10 that no one could come close to the level of the Eser Harugei Malchus [the Ten Martyrs put to death al kiddush Hashem by the Roman rulers] because they died for the Jewish People: I say the same of the soldiers who give their lives to save us. No one else can come close to their spiritual reward. Our obligation to thank them is boundless.”… 
“I must tell you about a talk I heard from the mashgiach of a large Sephardic yeshivah in Jerusalem, just before the talmidim went out to take part in the rally. This mashgiach is a personal of extraordinary refinement. He began by speaking of the constant, dreadful angst felt by the parents of soldiers in combat units. Then the mashgiach burst into tears as he described the feelings of a mother whose son is returned home in a coffin — how the pain of bereavement will be lodged in her heart forever.
‘There’s no doubt,’ the mashgiach cried, ‘that this rally, important as it is, will cause further pain to the crushed hearts of bereaved parents, especially if there will be placards with anti-army slogans [which there were]. Still, we are faithful to the order of our rabbis to take part in the rally. This, however, I ask of you, my dear talmidim. On your way to the rally, pass through the military cemetery on Har Herzl.
See the thousands of gravestones. Look at the gravestones, and then look at yourselves, and ask yourselves if you really feel you are learning Torah at such a level that you could look those parents in the eyes and say to them with a clear conscience, “Yes, I learn Torah. I, too, sacrifice myself day and night for the holy Torah, just as your son sacrificed himself.”
Then go to the rally, and shout with a clear conscience that the Torah is what upholds the Jewish nation, and bnei Torah engaged in its study must not be drafted. But if you feel yourselves lax in Torah learning — then, if you are men of integrity, go back to the yeshivah, for you have no right to cause pain to those bereaved parents.’”
I was studying in Ponevezh during the Sinai Campaign in 1956. I remember how the whole yeshivah, shtenders and all, moved down to the bomb shelter when war broke out. I’ll never forget the words of the Ponevezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who — after describing Chazal’s picture of a truly Jewish army, divided into fighters and lomdei Torah — cried out, “Dear ones! The whole nation is now enlisting for battle. We must also enlist; we must devote all our strength to Torah learning as our task at this time. Anyone who can’t be more of a masmid than usual should know that he is endangering my yeshivah, and I ask any such person to leave the yeshivah immediately.”
Why wasn’t this attitude expressed at either prayer rally? Where are the  R’ Shumlevitzes and R’ Kahanemans of today? He may deny it publicly, but I think that in his heart of hearts, Rabbi Grylak realizes that they do not exist. And indeed those prayer rallies have done more harm than good.

*Not his real name