Thursday, May 15, 2014

'We Must Kill Them!'

The Beis Yeshaya building on the Mir Campus in Jerusalem
This morning I downloaded a Shiur (in English) by a popular Magid Shiur in the Mir, by the name of Nissan Kaplan. And what I heard was shocking. Not so much by the hyperbole of his statements, but by the fact that this seems to be becoming the mainstream thinking in Charedi Israel. It is no longer considered radical. 

The Mir is not known for radicalism. On the contrary, it is known for moderation. It is the Mir whose famous Rosh Yeshiva of the past, R’ Chaim Shmulevitz, ZTL publicly praised the Israeli army – saying that it was one of the two necessary armies (one spiritual and one physical) that save Israel from its enemies. It is the same Yeshiva whose late Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel, ZTL was one of the few Roshei Yeshiva in Israel who publicly thanked the government of Israel for at one time funding up to 50% of its 12 million dollar annual budget.

What is shocking is what this very popular Magid Shiur said in a lecture to his American students. I heard it myself  just to make sure that he wasn’t somehow misquoted. Here are Rabbi Kaplan’s words as quoted on Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s Rationalist Judaism blog: 
On Shabbos I spoke to my kids, and I said that Rav Steinman spoke that lemayseh, we have today Haman and Amalek, all this [Israeli] government, and really the way is to take knives and to kill them, just as with the Yevanim. This is what Rav Steinman said. You have to take a sword and to kill them. So why are we not doing it? Because, he said, I don't know yet who is the general who could run the war. But if I would know who's the general, we'd go out with knives. This is what Rav Steinman said. There's a war against religion... I explained this to my kids... then, in the middle of the meal, my kid, five years old, says, "Aba, we don't have a sword in the house, I'm looking... maybe a hammer is also good?" I was very happy, I gave him a kiss... I was so proud of my son, he's looking for a sword to kill all these government ministers...  
Rabbi Slifkin is right. There is a lot of hyperbole on this subject especially from the Charedi media and politicians. Even some Charedi rabbinic leaders have made these hyperbolic  statements. But when a popular Rebbe in a large mainstream Yeshiva gives a Shiur to young impressionable minds that come to learn in the Mir from America, it becomes more than hyperbole. It very likely becomes a Hashkafa in their minds.

In essence Rabbi Kaplan told his students that if not for some technicality, they should pick up their swords and kill their government leaders in the manner of Amalek.

Now I’m sure he didn’t mean it. He too was probably participating in hyperbole. He just wanted to impress his students about the seriousness of the situation for Charedim in Israel. He sees it as R’ Shteinman does – as a full out attack against the Torah. One which requires us to oppose with all of our might. And that there be no doubt about that.

I think that he does this counter the very real doubts that he must feel his students – especially the Americans have about the government’s evil intent. He probably realizes that this cause is not so black and white for them. So he spells it out for them in hard detail to the point of comparing even some religious government officials to Amalek and deserving of death – if not for that technicality he speaks of.  But he does not really want anyone killed. I’m sure that if one of his students became a ‘Yigal Amir’ (the religious Zionist fanatic who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin) and assassinated Prime  Minister Netanyahu, it would shock him to the core.

But it doesn’t matter if he didn’t mean it. He said it and he was dead serious in his tone.

There are people calling for Rabbi Kaplan’s head. That the police should be informed and that he should be arrested for incitement to commit murder. I must admit that I sympathize with that. But I don’t think it will do any good. Because that is only treating the symptom and not the cause. Which – as I have said many times - is a gross misunderstanding of what the government is doing in my view. Besides - if a popular Magid Shiur is arrested for incitement to commit murder, well... if you think you've seen Charedi protests in Israel before - you ain't seen nothin yet! 

There are many Charedim (like Rabbi Dovid Landesman for example) who say that the government is wrong in forcing the issue - which was in essence taking care of itself. But they cannot possibly believe that the current government leaders are worthy of being killed in the manner of Amalek. At worst they will say that they are misguided and wrongheaded in their approach. But these Charedim actually agree that the goal of getting more Charedim into the workforce is a good one.

As for drafting Charedim - even though most of them are opposed to it for various reasons, they at least tacitly approved of the natural increase in Charedi participation that was happening before the government got involved. Especially those who chose units that catered to Charedi needs. One thing I am relatively sure of is that none of these moderate Charedim believe that the government is a metaphor for Amalek and deserving of an equal fate. A fate which we are obligated to actively pursue would it not be for a technicality.

I don’t know what to do about this. Or what kind of action those of us who are upset by this should take. I still have faith that most Charedim – even those who live in Israel - are moderate and do not hold these views. But when a poplar Magid Shiur of a mainstream Israeli Yeshiva populated with many American students starts talking murder – even in a theoretical sense -  I’m lost. I have no words.

Is there no Charedi leader in Israel that will stand up and say, ‘No way!’ to this kind of rhetoric?