Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Working Charedim

Shmuel Chaim Pappenheim
The denial came very quickly. Former Eida HaCharedis (unofficial) spokesman Shmuel Chaim Pappenheim is featured in a Yesh Atid ad (viewable below) promoting the idea of Charedim learning secular subjects (English and math) and getting jobs. He laments the fact that a typical 45 year old Charedi doesn’t even know the English alphabet!

Mr. (Rabbi?) Pappenheim denied that he has anything to do with the Yesh Atid ad and claims this was an unauthorized use of a video he was involved in for an entirely different project. I don’t really blame him for his quick disavowal of anything to do with them. I’m sure that he doesn’t want his head handed to him. Rafi Goldmeier made note of this ad on his blog, Life in Israel and adds that if what Mr. Pappenhiem said is true, he should sue. Perhaps.

But one cannot get away from the fact that the message he sent in the video was exactly the message that Yesh Atid sends. And yet when Yesh Atid sends that message they are called Amalek. Now it’s also true that Yesh Atid was able to legislate their views into law. In effect that forces a core secular studies curriculum upon them if they want continued government funding. But the idea behind the law is identical to what Mr. Pappenheim advocates: educating Charedim out of ignorance about anything besides Torah - so that they can get better jobs.

How ironic it is that the hated (by Charedim) Yesh Atid is on the same page about working Charedim with someone like Shmuel Papenheim, a man of Meah Shearim who was weaned on the Hashkafos of the Eida HaCharedis for whom he once was spokesman. There is no greater animosity between  2 Jewish groups than there is between the Eida and Yesh Atid.

The view expressed by Rabbi Pappenheim in that video is why I still believe that Yesh Atid founder and party head, Yair Lapid is not the Rasha the Charedi world makes him out to be. Yes, he is a secular Jew with secular values. Values that are sometimes at odds with those of us that are observant. It should be no surprise for example that he endorses something like gay marriage. In this he is no different than many other liberal secular Jews. But in areas that affect Charedim the most, he wants for them the same thing that Shmuel Pappenheim wants, a Charedi community that can support themselves, their family, and contribute materially to the general welfare of Israeli society.

Despite Lapid’s past heated negative rhetoric on his Facebook page (and perhaps elsewhere) about the Charedi world (which is cited by them as proof that he is anti Charedi) I tend  to believe what he said to students at the Charedi college program at Kiryat Ono during his first campaign for the Knesset. I think that is who he really is. When a man is constantly attacked by a community that calls him the vilest of names, it shouldn’t be surprising that he ‘hits back’. He is human.

I truly believe that he does not want to hurt Charedim. He wants to help them support their families. But he also wants to equalize their obligations to the country with everyone else. He calls it ‘sharing the burden’. And that means some sort of service to country. Either via the army; or some sort of alternative ‘Sherut Leumi’ type service.

These are not the words are acts of someone who wants to destroy them. This is not someone who wants to disabuse a single Jew of his Yiddishkeit. Or a single Charedi of his values. Despite claims by Charedi leaders and politicians to the contrary.

He is not anti Charedi at all. He is pro-Charedi in his own way. He wants them to flourish. He even wants secular society to be more involved in what they do: Talmud study! Did he not publicly say that the Talmud belongs to all the Jewish people and not only Charedim?  

He even chose two religious Jews to be on his list. One of them a former Rosh Yeshiva of a Hesder Yeshiva in Petach Tikva, Rabbi Shai Piron. He is high on the Yesh Atid list and will surely be in the next  Kenesset – if the polls are anywhere near accurate. The other is Charedi and one of my favorite people, Rabbi Dov Lipman.

I am disappointed that it is unlikely Rabbi Lipman will be in the next Kenesset. The polls project a loss of seats by Yesh Atid and Rabbi Lipman has one of those seats. This is too bad. He is an asset to Yesh Atid and  to Charedim (even though they vehemently deny it). Unlike many Charedi cynics who saw Rabbi Lipman as a willing fig leaf for Lapid’s nefarious agenda, I saw him as fighter for improving the financial lot of Charedim whose grinding poverty seems to be greater than ever - and getting worse by the day. But Charedi leadership rebuffs him and rejects his agenda. Instead they ask for increased charity from abroad so they can continue as before without the need to learn how to support themselves.

I can understand why Charedi leaders do not want others to make decisions for them.   They believe that their own decisions are the only ones that are Torah true. The problem is that their decisions are not helping them rise out of the poverty. Their decisions are in fact doing the opposite. Increased charity from abroad is not a plan for the future.

The truth is so do the grass roots members of the Charedi world. They seem to be increasingly embracing the idea that a secular education is needed in order to improve their lives. That’s why the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev), which has a Charedi track produced a humorous video (viewable below) that shows the truth about the value of a working Charedi.  And that’s why the Charedi parties might lose a seat in the next election despite their increased numbers. Working Charedim are looking elsewhere for representation of their interests. 

Interestingly, Charedi MK Rabbi Moshe Gafne denies the very existence of a classification called working Charedim. And thus does not see his mission as representing them in the Knesset. (You can’t represent people you say don’t exist.)

Perhaps things are changing. (Albeit if you ask me, far too slowly.)  And if enough Charedim become working Charedim, they may actually end up valuing an education for their children that includes a core secular studies curriculum… along the same lines many Charedi schools in America operate. If that happens, and there are enough schools that offer it - then the primary political party to thank for that will be Yesh Atid.

I have been informed by Menachem Lipkin who is a close friend of MK Rabbi Dov Lipman that he received the following note from him :
"Shmuel Poppenheim signed a document saying that he was aware that the video was being used for the Yesh Atid campaign.The video was filmed by a Yesh Atid crew and Yesh Atid representatives were there."
Doesn't that speak volumes?