Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Divisions that May Take Us into Oblivion

Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz adressing the Mir (Matzav)
I could not believe what I was witnessing. Not that I didn’t know about the divisions going on in the Charedi world. I’ve dealt with them numerous times. The plain fact is that it is out of control. And getting worse.

On the first day of Sukkos I saw 2 people, both of whom were American Charedi Olim (immigrants to Israel), arguing heatedly about how to view the 2 disparate views about the Israeli government’s desire to have more Charedim serve their country in some capacity. Either through army service or in some sort of national service.

I have expressed my own views about this many times. The short version of which is that I do not believe that the entire male population of the Charedi world should automatically be exempt from army or national service – for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. 

Be that as it may, the Lithuanian Yeshiva world does believe that to a large extent. They have their own reasons (also beyond the scope of this post). And they are at least as entitled to their view as I am to mine. 

So if the Charedi world is united in opposition to army service for all their men, what was the argument about?

Unfortunately by now most people already know the answer to that. An answer that in my view is tragic. The issue is not whether it is OK to serve in the army. The argument is in how to oppose it. The issue is mostly relevant to the Lithuanian Yeshiva world.

The more pragmatic (and saner) approach in my view is to allow compromise that will in essence retain the status quo of Charedim not serving as long as they are learning in a Yeshiva or Kollel.

The government requires all Charedim to register for the draft and apply for a deferment or exemption. Which will just about automatically be given. The idea being that if at such time they want to leave the walls of the Beish Hamedrash and get a job, they would have to serve in some capacity. (Although I believe that law is in the process of being modified, it is currently the law.) 

The decision made by by two of its recognized rabbinic leaders: the late R’ Aharon Leib Steinman and R’ Chaim Kanieavky was to continue to accept the registration requirement, which allows their students to stay in Yeshiva as long as they wanted to and continue learning as before.

But not everyone believes in pragmatism. Some people are such ideologues that they will not compromise at any level. For them, registration was a no go - calling this Shas HaShmad’ (a time of forced conversion!) and therefore no room for compromise! Their rabbinic leaders - led by the Late R’ Shmuel Auerbach - urged their students to resist registering with all of their might. They apparently believe that results are not as important as upholding the ideal. (They also founded a political party called Peleg or Eitz and set up candidates in opposition to the mainstream Charedi parties.)

The Israeli government does not take kindly to law breakers and had arrested students that have refused to register. That caused major protests by Peleg's students - which often resulted in violence against the police and innocent bystanders. Peleg also seems to condone the disparagement of Charedim that do end up serving in the army – even in those units that are designed to respect Charedi sensitivities. 

In cases of the more extreme element like the Eida HaCharedis types (who didn’t need R’ Shmuel Auerbach’s imprimatur) - that disparagement comes in the form of posters that depict ugly caricatures of Charedim in uniform with texts that are insulting to the core. Such as young children to calling them Nazis! And the more zealous Meah Shearim types have actually physically attacked Charedi soldiers. I do not recall the any Eitz leader protesting that.

Not to be outdone, the Yeshiva students of Peleg have attacked both verbally (and even physically in at least one case I know about) the late R’ Ahaon Leib Stenoman for his pragmatic approach.  

R’ Chaim Kanievesky was so upset by R’ Auerbach’s ideological approach in opposition to R’ Steinman, that he referred to him as a Zaken Mamre, That is the Germara’s term for a rebellious judge that rejects his colleagues’  Halachic decision. In ancient times when the Sanhedrin was extant, that was a capital offense!

Making matters worse is that this fight has carried over to the United States. Some of the most prominent rabbinic leaders (Roshei Yeshiva) have actually sided with Peleg! R’ Aharon Shechter of the mainstream Yeshivas Chaim Berlin actually refused to eulogize R’ Steinman when he died. When R’ Auerbach died, he was profusely eulogized in his Yeshiva! There are some Roshei yeshiva in Lakewood who also followed R’ Auerbach!

The argument I saw was a reflection of all of this. 2 American Yeshiva students had an angry dispute about which side was right.

Which brings me to what happened in Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva on Chol HaMoead Sukkos. It was during their Simchas Beis HaShoeva celebration. It seems to have become an annual tradition to invite international philanthropist (and former Mir Student) Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz to address the Yeshiva at some point during the celebration. It should be made clear that he is a major donor to this Yeshiva and is a ‘card carrying’ Charedi. 

He has made controversial remarks in the past. Most recently in Lakewood. For which he was reprimanded. But to his credit this has not stopped him from doing so again. Which is described in some detail at Matzav. He has placed a huge caveat on all future donations: anyone that is involved in any way in the ‘Machlokes’ cannot benefit from his donations. To the extent that they do is to the extent that it will be considered stealing his money! The Matzav article should be read in full, But here are the opening excerpts of Shlomo Yehhuda’s address in that article. Which I think pretty much says it all. 
“Sheer Abuse When Child Says That a Nazi is a Frum Bochur or Yungerman Who Joins the Army”
“Go to the Army Rather Than Be Involved in Machlokes”
“Why Are We Letting The Vocal Minority Seemingly Represent Us?”
“Anyone Who Includes Themselves in the Ugliness of Outright Destructive Machlokes Cannot Be Neheneh from Money I Contribute”
“One of the Biggest Divides Klal Yisroel Has Faced”