Sunday, May 04, 2014

Who is to Blame for the Divisiveness?

Charedi MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman
The Charedim are at fault. That statement coming from me should not be too surprising to those who constantly accuse me of Charedi bashing. They will cite it as further proof of that. But as I always say, I do not bash Charedim. I simply observe - and comment.  So how do I reconcile that with my opening statement? It’s quite simple, unfortunately. Anyone who read the latest edition of Mishpacha Magazine would come to the same conclusion.

In its cover story Mishpacha reports on the survey that it commissioned (originally reported in their Hebrew edition). They wanted to know what secular Jews in Israel really think of Charedim. The conclusion was quite revealing to its editor, Rabbi Moshe Grylak. The fact is that most secular Jews do not hate Charedim. 

Additionally many other negative assumptions by Charedim about secular Jews in Israel are untrue… as I wrote about in an earlier post. His conclusion was that we should throw away all that misinformation and try to reach out more in the spirit of harmony and Achdus.  To paraphrase the immortal words of Rodney King, why indeed can we not all get along? We should.

Unfortunately Rabbi Grylak is part of the moderate Charedi world that does not reflect the current views of the rabbinic leadership there. Instead we keep hearing the same thing we have always heard. It’s almost as if these are pre-selected talking points. Old notions about secular hatred of Charedim still prevail. And that of course generates Charedi hatred of secular Jews in return.

In Mishpacha’s section on responses to the survey of both Charedim and secular Jews, we find stark differences.

In the very first interview we find a clean shaven young man, Dr. Chaim Zicherman who says that the solution to the problem is better Hasbarah (PR). He says that Charedim need to do a better job of showing the secular public what Charedim are all about… and not allow the negative images of them spun by the secular media to be their only source of information about them.

I agree. Charedim do need to reach out and make a better presentation of themselves. But then he falls into the same pattern of blame that many – even moderate Charedim fall into. He casts Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party as anti Charedi - equating it to his father Tommy Lapid’s Shinui party and all previous anti Charedi political parties. 

Why can’t he realize that Lapid is not anti Charedi? There is no possible way that MK R’ Dov Lipman would belong to a party that is anti Charedi! Lapid’s political and media critics do not have the same access to Lapid that R’ Lipman does. He knows him and says unequivocally that Laipd is not anti Charedi.

But they don’t care. They accuse R’ Lipman of selling out. But -as R’ Lipman has shown - there is ample evidence of Lapid’s desire to help Charedi get out of their poverty is his primary goal. That - and the idea that Charedim should be no more exempt form the draft than anyone else. Charedim counter that Lapid is anti Charedi because of some angry rhetoric they’ve heard him say or seen on his Facebook page. Or more recently the fact that he insisted on a criminal penalty for Charedi draft dodgers.

They always frame the issue this way: Lapid wants to throw Yeshiva students in jail because they want to learn Torah. That is patently false. Why can’ they frame it the way it really  is? …that Lapid simply wants to equalize the penalty for all draft dodgers?! Not that he wants to penalize Limud HaTorah! The oppsosite is true. He wants to install some Limud HaTorah into the secular schools!

But the real kicker is the response of the2 Charedi politicians.

MK R’ Yaakov Litzman rejects any attempt at integration between secular and religious Jews. He claims that Halacha forbids any change from the current isolationist status qou.   

MK Yaakov Asher says pretty much the same thing. For Charedim, the isolationism is intentional, he says. Charedim dare not be exposed to what he calls ‘ the defilement of Israeli society’! And he too blames all the Charedi woes on Yair Lapid.

As recently as today on Rafi’s blog, Life in Israel, we have R’ Moshe Sternbuch endorsing that view!

The secular interviewees are on the exact opposite track. They want to integrate Charedim into their world and value their contributions. They point to Charedim who have made the jump into the workplace and note that they are among the most reliable and ethical workers and have a very strong work ethic.

So there you have it. I wish it weren’t so. But I don’t think there is any other way to see it. The blame for lack of Achdus can be placed squarely on Charedi shoulders.  They view of the secular world as one of ‘defilement’ - as though they worship sexual immorality thus requiring them to be isolated form it.

While it is true that some of this exists – as it does in every society, my guess is that there is a silent majority of secular Israelis that abhor such behavior as much as Charedim do.

But because of this erroneous view and their desire to stay pure, they completely ignore their secular brethren as hopelessly ignorant of Jewish law. They treat them as though they don’t exist except when they get in their way. As in what they see Lapid as doing.

That there is no Achdus will therefore be perpetuated by the Charedi world’s insistence on isolationism.

Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt knows better. He is a former Lakewood Avreich who had these same assumptions. Until he moved to Texas and went into business there. He now realizes that secular Jews are not the enemy. He found this out by leaving the cocoon of Lakewood  and moving into a more integrated world. He believes as I do. Contact with fellow Jews is worth the challenges one faces outside of the sheltered cocoon. 

Many secular Jews hunger for a Judaism they  have little to no knowledge of. They want to learn. What is true in America is true in Israel. Except that in Israel you have the extra incentive of living in a Jewish country with a Jewish culture. The barrier to the language of prayer (Hebrew) does not exist and the country celebrates Jewish religious holidays instead of Christian ones.

I think it behooves the Charedi leadership not to ignore this now poll… and not to just talk about better PR. Better PR is important. But it is not nearly enough. Charedim have to jump in head first and start treating their fellow secular Jews like the brothers they are. They need to do something dramatic and do it now.

Tomorrow is Yom HaZikaron. Israel’s Memorial Day. This is the day when Israel mourns its soldiers lost in battle serving their country. A country that includes Charedim.  Instead of blasting the draft of Charedim, they ought to go to Har Herzl and participate in ceremonies honoring the dead. There is no excuse for not doing so. There is no better time than right now to express their gratitude publicly; in a place where people will be paying the most attention. The Prime Minister will be speaking there. So too should prominent Charedi leaders. Not politicians. But Roshei Yeshiva.  Let a prominent Rosh Yeshiva go there.  

Can anyone even begin to imagine the huge impact if for example Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman would speak at such an event? If this were done, it would be a major step towards Achdus. I will go out on a limb and say that unfortunately, nothing like this will happen.

What about the survey just conducted by Mishpacha? I hope I’m wrong but my guess is that after a lot of public discussion of this - the Charedi leadership will not budge and this survey world will be put into the circular file.