Friday, November 12, 2021

Charedi Rabbis and Their Politicians

Charedi politicians: Gafni, Deri, and Litzman (TOI)
Rav Soloveitchik once said (during a lecture to Yeshiva University’s rabbinic alumni) that he could not care less what Agudah thinks. I have a recording of that lecture and actually heard him say it.

There are many Agudah type Charedim that would consider such a comment near blasphemous. That is because Agudah is the spokesman for the Gedloei HaDor that sit on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. Which they simply refer to as the Gedolim or Daas Torah. (As if there were no other Gedolim.)

If one listens to some of the many speakers addressing their annual conventions they will invariably hear one or more of them talk about bowing to Daas Torah. Never ‘God forbid’ questioning their decisions.

The corollary to that is: Refusal to follow Daas Torah is tantamount to rebelling against God.

It should therefore not surprise anyone that comment uttered by the Rav is one of the many criticisms they had of him – although not the only and by far not the primary one. 

The point I’m trying to make here is that, like the Rav, I do not consider everything the Moetzes says to necessarily be Daas Torah. Even though I respect their views which are based on their high level of Torah knowledge I sometimes disagree with them. There are other Gedolim whose opinions may differ with them which I also respect. In other words I reject the notion so often uttered by Agudah lay rabbinic leaders and activists that the word of their Gedolim is Daas Torah - never to be questioned.

I mention this in light the highly negative characterization by Charedi rabbinic leaders and politicians of Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and of late – Minister of Religious Services, Matan Kahana. Both of whom are observant Jews. From the Times of Israel:

The members of United Torah Judaism and Shas have spent the past months, as the new coalition took shape and then took office, attempting to depict Kahana, along with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and their wildly diverse coalition government, as constituting a grave threat to Jewish life in Israel, by which they mean their vision of Orthodox Jewish life…

 …they are doing everything they can to denounce Kahana, Bennett et al as Reform Jews who, in the words of some ultra-Orthodox MKs, should take off their kippot

I strongly object to this characterization. Even if you agree with their criticisms, to call observant Jews whose stated intent is to advance observance in Israel Reform Jews is an outrageous charge. It makes them look like sore losers in the lottery of budgetary allocations.

It’s not that I totally disagree with the Charedi criticism. I actually agree with them on some issues and disagree on others. But their attitude here does little more than make them sound petty and vindictive. It does not advance their cause. It does however increase the enmity of secular Israeli Jews who want nothing to do with Charedim and observant Judaism. 

There was a time where even secular Jews respected Halacha enough to keep the vast majority of shops and theaters closed on Shabbos. That has long ago ceased to be the case. Whether Kahana’s  tactitcs are the right ones or not - is up for debate. But clearly the coercive tactics of Charedim ever since they achieved a degree of power were not working. The secular reaction to those tactics was more rebellion against Halacha. 

Kahana’s motives are clear. They are not about turning Israel into a Reform Jewish state. He wants to end the sense of religious coercion felt by so many secular Jews. 

And for that he and Bennett are called Reform Jews?!

I wish I could say what the Rav said. That I could not care less what Charedi rabbis and their politicians think. But I do care. At the end of the day they have a lot of influence and power. Which keeps increasing as their population grows and gain more Keneset seats. 

It would be nice if instead of the heated rhetoric and name calling they could find a way to work together with Bennett and Kahana towards the worthy goals expressed by Matan Kahana. Compromise can go a long way to getting some of what they want – if not everything. 

Wouldn’t that be better than all the name calling going on right now? All that will gain them is more resistance by secular politicians to their needs and increased disdain for them by the secular public