Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Shmad Begins. Or Does It?

Placard expresses the views of far too many Charedim
How will Charedi leadership react? I am talking about the upcoming permanent exemption of  approximately 28,000 Charedi men in Israel from serving in the army. According to the Jerusalem Post, exemptions are scheduled to take place immediately after Pesach. If they so choose Charedim will be able leave the Beis HaMedrash and enter the workforce. Training centers have been set up in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, and are being set up elsewhere. Among other things Charedim will be evaluated in various ways and given job training accordingly.

The question remains whether the Charedi community will take advantage of this program. And what is the reaction of the Charedi rabbinic leadership to this?

We already know what their reaction is to the new draft law as a whole. For the most part they consider it Shmad. At least that is the kind of rhetoric heard by many rabbinic leaders, Charedi politicians and media. They see army service of any kind as a disguised attempt to rip the fabric of Charedi life apart. They are calling it social engineering. They accuse the creators and supporters  of this law of seeking to assimilate Jews out of Torah observance and  into Israeli society and culture. A culture they see as immoral.  Hence the vehement opposition and vile rhetoric.

But let us look at this one element.  28,000 Charedim will be released from their obligation to serve in the army – an obligation that applies to every Jewish Israeli citizen before allowing them to enter the workforce. Do the Charedi rabbinic leaders consider this a good thing? Or do they consider this an aspect of the overall Shmad of Torah Jewry?

I can’t really answer the question since the Charedi world has not separated this from the overall changes being sought by the government for them. But if I had to guess, I would say that they are probably opposed to this too. And it wouldn’t surprise me if these rabbinic leaders will discourage their students from doing taking advantage of this. It does not fit their paradigm. Which is to not allow anyone to have any say about what goes on in their world. A paradigm that encourages Torah study over working for a living. A Paradigm that encourages staying in the Beis HaMedrash as long as possible.

They do not want any enticements away from that.  It would not surprise me if they even come out publicly opposing this – calling it a deceptive and  cynical attempt by the government to destroy the Torah world.

Why am I so pessimistic? Because I will never forget what a friend of mine told me . He was a former member of a Charedi Kollel in Israel. He was there for nine years and essentially living on poverty wages… as are the majority of Avreichim in Israel. He started to have Shalom Bayis problems. When he approached his Rosh Kollel about leaving the Beis HaMedrash, he told to stay put despite his personal family situation. He ended up leaving anyway choosing eh welfare of his family first. He is doing quite well now and has remained loyal to his Charedi values (I would call him a Moderate Charedi).

He also told me about another Avrecih in that Kollel who was educated in America. He had a degree in engineering, if I recall correctly. But he chose to put all that aside for a career in Torah study. Eventually he too had Shalom Bayis issues. He decided to stay. I believe he is now divorced and most of his children are OTD. I am not saying this is always what happens. But it is probably a lot more prevalent that that community is willing to admit. At least publicly.

I was also told that the Rosh Kollel was upset that there were advertisements being hung up that would offer training by master Mechanchim – during Bein HaZmanim – to prepare for being Mechanchim.

If training for Chinuch is forbidden, certainly training for other vocations is!

The Charedi community does not want to be tampered with. Any tampering at all upsets their apple-cart. Their leadership does not want anyone but themselves to call the shots.  I therefore suspect that any kind of program that will entice their students out of the Beis HaMedrash even for the best of reasons - cannot be looked at favorably. It wouldn’t even surprise me if they refer to this as Shmad too.

This  attitude was reflected recently by their reaction to how deferments would work in the future when the draft law kicks in 3 years from now. When they reached draft age Charedim will have to register for the draft and ask for deferments. They will be granted. Originally, however, they were obligated to view a video about what the army has to offer Charedim specifically. Programs about job training and other benefits.

 This was protested by the Charedi leadership. The government said OK and that requirement was dropped. God forbid that Charedi students see anything good about army service. Now they will just be required to show up, register, ask for an exemption, and it will be given. They called these videos an indoctrination with lies disguised as helping them. But that it was really a reformist ploy to disabuse them of Torah Judaism.

I can only assume that they will see these vocational centers the same way.  

Is this really what Israel is doing here? Is it impossible for a Charedi rabbinic leader to view anything the government does for them as anything other than Shmad? Are there no Charedim that will speak up and say how good this is for the Charedi world?

Israel is providing an opportunities for Charedim to pull themselves out of poverty… to  not rely on Tzedaka, or government largess.

It is true that subsidies that effect Charedim the most have been cut. Charedim see this as part of government conspiracy to push their people out of the Beis HaMedrash… forcing them into the workplace.

But even if that’s true, Is that such a bad thing? Is it unfair to ask people to support themselves rather than to rely on welfare? Are incentives to work really an evil ploy to destroy  the Torah world?

Are there no voices among the Charedi rabbinic leadership that will see this for what it really is – an attempt to genuinely help them? And not automatically assume the worst about the Israeli government? Can we hear at least one Charedi leader – even in America - say something positive about this?

Realize that not a single Charedi will be forced to leave the Beis HaMedrash. This is all voluntary and made possible by a mass exemption from the army.

I haven’t heard anything yet. This is why I am pessimistic about Charedi support for this program. I would love to be proven wrong. But I just don’t believe that is going to happen.