Monday, March 13, 2017

What Will it Take to Stop Them?

Charedi soldier hung in effigy in Meah Shearim (Forward)
Disturbing. Disgusting. Sickening. Despicable. These are but a few adjectives that came to mind when I once again read about what happened in Meah Shearim.  A dummy dressed in an IDF uniform was hanged in effigy. Once again.

This is nothing new. The Israeli Defense Forces has always been seen by much of the Charedi world as a den of iniquity to be avoided at all cost. An enterprise they saw as designed with the purpose of transforming every Israeli going through it into the kind of Jew that is antithetical to the traditional observant Jew. Whose values are Torah values. Charedim saw Israel’s founding fathers as a group of Godless Jews whose purpose was to socially engineer a change from the image of the ghetto Jew into the fighting Jew.

Passivity is how they perceived the Jew in Jewish history. Which culminated in the Holocaust. They saw Jews passively being led to the slaughter until 6 million of them perished. Many of the Zionist founders therefore placed little value on the Torah other than of historical value.

A social engineering experiment is how the Charedi world saw (and in some cases still see) the IDF. It didn’t help that women were drafted. Nor did it help that a casual attitude about sex dominated so much of the IDF culture. While I think this phenomenon is overstated, I do believe it exists.

They did recognize that it was also a defense force (as the name indicates) trained to protect all of the Jewish people living in Israel. Nonetheless it was shunned with a disdain usually reserved for our worst enemies because of the above-mentioned issues.

I understand the opposition on that level. But I do not understand focusing only on the negative while practically ignoring the positive. I hasten to add, however, that there are many Charedi leaders that do recognize IDF’s primary function and have publicly said so. But there are plenty that see only evil.

However, no matter how much they look at the army that way they do not generally make an issue of it. Unless their young are threatened with being inducted into it as was the case a few years ago under the last governing coalition. Then they had massive rallies in opposition. They objected on two counts. First because of the primacy of Torah study they believed that every young Charedi should continue to be exempt from Army service. Especially since that was granted to them during the early years of Israel’s existence. And second they feared all the above mentioned consequences in any case.  While I was in profound disagreement with them, I understood their perspective.

(As far as I am concerned every Shul, Yeshiva, or Beis HaMedrash – Charedi or otherwise - should be saying the prayer to protect the IDF. This practice was instituted in Yeshivas Brisk by Rav Ahron Soloveichik. But that is a subject of another discussion.)

In recent years, things have changed considerably in the IDF with respect to the Charedi world. The army now has Charedi units that try to accommodate – not only basic religious observance, but even the special needs of Charedim. The IDF considers them to be a vital component of the army. That takes care of their 2nd concern but not their first. 

The first has been taken care of recently too by the new governing coalition. They have bascilly restored the status quo ante where Charedim were pretty much left alone. Although they do have to register for the draft.

Most Charedim under the leadership of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman  are now satisfied with this new arrangement. Young Charedi Jews are advised to register for the draft and then continue in their full time Torah study. Unfortunately there is still a Charedi faction under the leadership of Rav Shmuel Auerbach that tells young Charedi students not to register even if they are jailed for failing to do so. That there are now Charedi units are of no consequence to them. The IDF is Treif/Pasul. Period.

I should add that even those that see positive value in Charedi IDF units see them only for Charedim that are weak in Torah study or in their Yiras Shomayim (fear of heaven). This is how Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman put it a few years ago. But neither side supports hanging a Jewish soldier in effigy.

Which brings me to a 3rd faction. Whose leadership  tends toward the Eida HaCharedis. Those that hung an IDF  soldier in effigy oppose the Charedi units just as strongly the regular IDF. This has become evident in a number of ways in the last few years. Such as hanging up posters depicting caricatures of Charedi soldiers in the IDF that would make Nazi Germany propagandist and publisher, Julius Streicher proud! Not to mention incidents where these soldiers were physically attacked when coming into these neighborhoods in IDF uniforms. Hanging a Jewish soldier in effigy is just more of the same.

Even if they are a renegade bunch of so-called delinquents that is unsupported by Eida leadership - that it keeps happening strongly suggests that are at least in sympathy with their message if not their methods.  Because if they weren’t we’d know about it. Their leaders have a bully pulpit in the Eida HaCharedis. I do not recall any condemnations by them. Certainly not strong ones. If there were strong condemnations, I missed them. Nor have they done anything to prevent it from continually happening.

I would never suggest not protecting a fellow Jew, no matter how much they hated their protectors. I would therefore still defend their borders against any assault by our enemies. But I admit that the thought has crossed my mind. If the IDF actually withdrew and decided not to protect them against an attack, since they don’t see the IDF as protectors anyway - that might just wake them up if God forbid it ever happened.

I think that in their heart of hearts they must realize that the IDF will continue to protect them no matter how much hatred they express toward them. Which allows them to act in this despicable manner.

Short of removing IDF protection, I don’t see them changing their colors. Throwing them in jail (if they are ever even caught) will just embolden them and make their resolve stronger. Surely their leaders will intercede on their behalf if they are thrown in jail.

So it seems that they will continue to behave this way with impunity. Which impels me to speak out and condemn them with every fiber of my being. And so too should the rest of the Charedi world. Including the Eida. Without even a hint of apologetics. Because that will surely undermine any condemnation no matter how strong. Alas, I doubt that will ever happen.