Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hakaras HaTov to the State of Israel

I am not a Religious Zionist. In fact in matters of government policy with respect to issues of “land for peace” I generally side with the Charedi view. I am a strong advocate for protecting the lives of Israelis over retention of land and if giving up land saves lives... I am all for it. Religious Zionists by and large want to hold on to land at all costs.

This being said there is an aspect of Charedi behavior which is very troubling and which is, in my opinion causing much harm to the fabric of Israeli society.

The story is told that when a member of Mizrachi (Religious Zionists) asked Rabbi Kahaneman if he said Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut his reply was, “My Minhag is to do what (Former Prime Minister) David Ben Gurion does. I don’t say Hallel… I don’t say Tachnun. And… on Yom HaAtzmaut, back in the 1960s (when Rav Kahaneman was the Rosh Yeshiva) the Israeli flag flew from Ponovitch's roof on Yom HaAtzmaut. There were detractors then who did not agree. One was Rabbi Menachem Man Schach, Rabbi Kahaneman’s successor who sat down and said Tachnun by himself.

One of the problems I have with Charedi leadership is their penchant for selective truth. Their Bnei Torah are influenced to believe that present day thinking on various controversial subjects is monolithic. Charedi Hashkafa is anti Medina. The founding Zionists are considered anti Torah whose agenda was to make the State of Israel free of its bonds. Of course, that was never completely true but it was truer back in the pioneer days than it is now. Now, only a few groups of people in government want to completely route out the Torah from the state and certainly not most secular Israelis. Most of them just want to be left alone and do not have anti Torah agendas.

Back in the founding days, there were Charedi leaders that understood the importance of Hakaras HaTov to the Medina and no less a figure than the Chazon Ish made accommodations with them. And the famed founder of Ponevitch Yeshiva in Israel, Rav Kahaneman thought enough of the Medina to not say Tachanun on Yom HaAtzmaut and fly the Israeli flag. But you would be hard pressed to find a Ben Torah of a Charedi yeshiva that knows this.

The myth of uniformity should be exploded. It does not bode well for a Torah society to follow only one narrow Shittah. Besides stifling intellectual honesty there is great sociological damage in denying facts of history. That some of Charedi leadership is anti Medina is well known and cannot be avoided. They will never be convinced otherwise. But for them to insist that their way is the only way is wrong. Historically, religious figures greater than they have proven otherwise.

Absolutist rejectionist attitudes are wrong and create unnecessary hostilities between the secular and religious populations. Displaying an Israeli flag is anathema to Charedim today. But it wasn’t for Rav Kahaneman. Displaying the Israeli flag which shows at least a modicum of support for the State, would dispel the notion of complete disdain by Bnei Torah for anything even remotely connected with the State. There should also be a sense of HaKaras HaTov even for the early pioneers (irreligious though most of them were) for the physical development of the land and the creation of a modern civilization, which paved the way for the virtual explosion of learning Torah that takes place in Israel today. There is no greater Makom Torah. This would not be the case without the efforts of those early pioneers. Yet... most yeshivalite have virtually no understanding or recognition of that fact. Charedi efforts are to the contrary. Most Bnei Torah that I speak to, have nothing but evil to say about Medinat Yisroel.

It is true that the present leadership does deserve criticism or even condemnation sometimes. And when deserved it should be offered freely. But it shouldn't be... all criticism all the time. And where they deserve it, the praise should flow as freely as the condemnation does when they deserve that. A little praise would go a long way towards improving relations between the secular Israelis and the religious. Much of the anti-Charedi rhetoric is based on complete ignorance of Torah Hashkafa by Tinokos SheNishbu and have little if anything to do with "agendas".

I will end with this anecdote. Yeshivas Mir was attacked during the six day war. No one was hurt. After the war Rav Chaim Shmulevitz gave a Sicha (talk or speech) to the Mir Bnei Yeshiva. Rav Chaim was one of the Gedolei HaDor, so a lot of Bnei Torah outside of Mir attended that Sicha. The point he wanted to drive home was his Hakaras HaTov to the Bnei Torah, the spiritual army whose Torah learning contributed to the safety of the Yeshiva during the six day war, and to the Israeli Defense Forces for the physical protection they provided. He said both were necessary.

The reaction of Briskers who attended was total rejection of this point of view. They could not countenance any HaKaras HaTov to the Medina and disparaged Rav Shmulevitz because of it. In other words their contempt for the Medina was so great that disparaging a Gadol was justified.

Unfortunately the Brisker attitude of yesterday has become the attitude of most Charedi Bnei Torah today.

It is an outrage and it must change.