Sunday, October 31, 2021

Not Perfect - but Still Proud of Bennett

PM Bennett in prayer before meeting with President Biden (TOI)
When Naftali Bennett became the prime minister of Israel, I felt a sense of pride. This was the first time an observant Jew became the leader of the Jewish state. Which if you think about - if one defines Judaism as adhering to the laws of the Torah, it would seem surprising that a Jewish state could ever have a prime minster that was NOT observant.

I still feel a sense of pride in that. But that does not mean I agree with everything he is doing. But my mixed feelings about Prime Minister Bennett pale in comparison to how the Charedi world feels about him. His agenda to reduce their power has them near apoplectic!  So much so that the Rabbinic leaders of the American Agudah has issued a Kol Korei - a call for public prayer this coming Thursday for purposes of beseeching God to remove the ‘evil decrees’ from upon our brethren in the holy land.

If I understand correctly, part of what they see  as ‘evil’ is their tampering with the Rabbanut. Although I don’t like that either, I do not see it as the end of the world.

As is almost always the case, if one wants to know the source of most problems – follow the money. Perhaps their greatest fear is the reduction of stipends and other benefits  for Yeshiva and Kollel students unless they are working. 

I understand why they feel this way. But I would not classify this as any kind of tragedy. Studying Torah often requires sacrifice. If one is truly dedicated, they will find ways to do it on less government money. Even though what they get even now does not lift them out of poverty.

As I have always said, the idea of pushing all able bodied Jewish men into full time Torah study for as long as possible is not the best way they can all serve God. For those whose talents lie elsewhere their service would best be done that way. And not in the cookie cutter way it is now. So a reduction in government stipends might actually be a good thing. Those truly talented and motivated for Torah study will continue as they were and will get additonal support from fellow Charedim now earning enough money to help support them.

In the latest edition of Mishpacha Magazine Jonathan Roesnblum is a bit calmer than the Agudah Moetzes in his criticism of Bennett. His focus is on the following:

At a recent Jerusalem Post conference, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described breaking chareidi power as one of his government’s key imperatives. In the follow-up question-and-answer session, he was asked how he intended to achieve that goal. He responded that he seeks to elevate the status of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel. Those comments are fully consonant with the prime minister telling Rick Jacobs, the head of the American Reform movement, in a July segment on CNN, that there is a great thirst for Reform Judaism in Israel and that it might well become the dominant form of Judaism in Israel one day.

Instead of crying that ‘the sky is falling’, Jonathan makes a rational argument about why Bennett is barking up the wrong tree. An argument I agree with.

I get why PM Bennett is doing this. He wants to repair the ‘damage caused by his predecessor’ between Israel and the 90% of American Jews that are not Orthodox. Damage that has apparently reduced (or has the potential to reduce) their support. Which translates into loss of Jewish American dollars. (Again, follow the money.)

To blame former PM Netanyahu the reduction of American support is not accurate – despite those on the left claiming it to be. The painful truth lies elsewhere. It has a lot more to do with what Pew has shown us about - what I would call an American Jewish tragedy (to which heterodoxy actually contributed albeit intending the opposite). To put it the way Jonathan did: 

According to Pew, as early as 2030, half of Jewish children under nine will be raised by Orthodox parents. Professor Edieal J. Pinker of the Yale School of Management recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion a 50-year projection for the American Jewish community based on the findings of the 2013 Pew survey. He projects in 2063 a Jewish community in which Orthodox Jews are equal in number to the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements combined, with another third of “no religion” or “partly Jewish.” Over that period, there will be a decline in the Jewish population due to the departure from the Jewish people of many children of the intermarried and the substantial shrinkage of the Reform and Conservative movements, followed by a rise due to the rapidly growing Orthodox population. 

Nor is the declining support of American Jewry for Israel largely a function of the so-called Orthodox monopoly over religious affairs. It is ridiculous to think that Jews who rarely participate in religious services at home are terribly concerned about the size of the area set aside for egalitarian prayer at the Kosel. 

Not blaming the ‘so-called Orthodox monopoly’ does not make this sad but in my view fairly accurate prediction easier to swallow. Losing so many of our people to intermarriage and assimilation is nothing to celebrate – even as Orthodox Jews will continue to increase exponentially over the next few decades. 

But Jonathan is right. Pandering to a disappearing constituency will not make Israel’s future any brighter. Even if it does help in the short run time is not on side of Heterodoxy’s survival. Israel’s  greatest support will eventually come from America’s Orthodox community whose wealth is increasing. Despite the current cookie cutter trend among Charedim of being pushed into learning full time. 

First of all Charedim are not the entirety of the Orthodox world. And as I often say the mainstream (which is the majority of American Charedi world) is moderate and actually does work. Some of whom have gone on to earn professional degrees in various well paying professions. And this doesn’t even take into account the increasing number of highly successful Charedi entrepreneurs that are multi millionaires and already supporting Israel. 

At the end of the day, my pride in an observant prime minister is not about everything he does. I agree with Jonathan’s criticism.  As an Orthodox Jew who believes that heterodox movements are a false version of Judaism, I am opposed to giving them an equal say in religious matters. Doing so will at most only help in the short term and  in my view it will do damage to Israel’s character as a Jewish state.