Monday, August 22, 2016

The Destruction of the Charedi World?

Will we be seeing more images like this? (VIN)
There is good news and there is bad news. First the good news: Charedim are joining the Israeli army (IDF) in greater numbers than ever. Now the bad news (See: good news).

What I of course mean is that this statistic is either good or bad depending on your perspective. If you think that joining the army is a ticket to destruction of your soul (which is the view of most mainstream Charedi leaders) than you will obviously see this as bad news. If you think that joining the army is an obligation to be shared by of all able bodied men no matter what their Hashkafa, then it is a good thing.

To the uninformed observer, it might be perplexing as to why anyone would see serving one’s country in the armed services as anything but patriotic. And certainly not as a path to the destruction of one’s soul. 

Well, there are some things to worry about in that department. Especially if you are Charedi. This was expressed recently by Rabbi Tuvia Schulzinger, one of the leaders in the fight against drafting Charedim. In a short Arutz Sheva article he said the following: 
(I)t's clear to everyone that those haredim who join the army do not remain haredi. "Whoever says otherwise is simply lying. In our city of Kiryat Atta, out of 10 graduates of the local school, 3 joined the IDF, 2 in the 'Nachal haredi' and 1 in the Givati brigade. Two out of the three became completely secular and one is semi-religious. 3,200 draftees in 2016 means 60 buses worth of lost souls." 
"This piece of data is sickening, the Kollels [post-marriage Torah study institutions] in the smaller cities are emptying. I think that all haredi public figures and Rabbis need to reassess things because it can't go on like this. 
Rabbi Schulzinger then lamented that none of the Charedi newspapers were talking about this ‘calamity’, claiming that if this trend continues there will be nothing left of the Charedi community.

I disagree with his assessment. Even assuming the numbers he cites  are accurate (which is far from clear) I do not think the Charedi community will disappear. I believe the opposite will happen. They will thrive. They will however have to readjust their paradigm of full time Torah study for all men for as long as possible without any distractions.

They will have to return to the glorious model of the past, where the best minds that are suited for Torah study will do so. And the rest will go where their innate talents lead them, while being Koveiah Itim - studying Torah in regularly established time periods. They will spend time studying Torah full time for a year or two prior to army service, do their army service, after which they will find jobs. For which they will get training. Hopefully there will be an additional adjustment in their educational paradigm. One that will lead to establishing a few Yeshivos that offer a secular studies program based on the American Charedi model. This will be the ideal. Charedim can continue living as they choose, serve their country, support their families and contribute to the economy.

But what about the Nisayon - where your faith and commitment to observance is tested - that Rabbi Schulzinger refers to? A Nisayon that one encounters when joining the army?

I think it exists to an extent. I know people to whom this has happened. But I don’t know how pervasive it is. I believe it depends on how committed one is to Yiddishkeit. A good education will protect most people from the pull of a secular lifestyle one finds in the army.

The best example of that is the Hesder student. Through their education as Religious Zionists they become highly motivated soldiers. They opt for a lengthy program that alternates periods of Torah study with army service. I tend to doubt that there is a significant number of them that go OTD – if there are any at all. They are committed to God and country.

And then there is Nachal Charedi, which provides a Charedi environment. Recruits have no secular lifestyle pull at all.

In his example of Charedim going OTD, Rabbi Schulzinger’s included someone that joined Nachal Charedi, implying that it does. I strongly doubt that serving in Nachal  Chaedi caused him to go OTD. That he found an example of that does not make it the rule. Anyone can go OTD at any time in his life.  There are tons of reasons someone will do that. Joining Nachal Charedi is surely not one of them.

There are those that might argue that the typical draft age of 18 is when an adolescent is highly vulnerable to Arayos – temptations of the flesh. A Charedi recruit not used to being around women, will come into contact with Chayalot, female soldiers. Making them highly  vulnerable to that type of temptation. I think that is a legitimate concern.

But Nachal Charedi doesn’t have women in their units. So that problem is solved for the most part. Besides, Charedim will be drafted at an older age. Since they will be spending some time learning in Yeshivos post high school they will be older and a bit more mature when they serve. Some of them may even be married by then, reducing the impact that coming into contact with Chayaolt might have.

So at the end of the day, I would tell Rabbi Schulzinger not to worry. Charedim will not disappear at all. Neither will Kollelim. They will still exist and they will flourish. There will be less of them, but they will be better Kollelim. Instead of elite Talmidei Chachamim (Talmudic scholars) being unfairly disparaged as parasites by far too many people, they will be respected as true rabbinic scholars and leaders of the future. By more people in more diverse segments of Judaism than ever.  And with greater communal acceptance and more people working, it will be easier to support them financially. Allowing them to earn a living wage. So the way I see it, it is a win/win for everybody.