Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hating Zionism

There is one area that seems to divide the Charedi world from the modern Orthodox world which seems almost unbridgeable. That is the attitude about the State of Israel.

Modern Orthodox Jews generally support the modern State of Israel. Religious Zionists are actually card carrying members of Zionism. They are the religious branch. But I think it is accurate to say that most modern Orthodox Jews – even those who are not card carrying religious Zionists - support the State. Of course we too would like to see a state that is run according to Halacha. But that is a specific criticism and not a condemnation of the entire enterprise.

To the Charedi, the State of Israel is a hated entity. Depending upon how deeply Charedi one is, this can vary between simply hating it benignly; …to doing the kinds of things the people of Meah Shearim do; …all the way to actually trying to dismantle the Zionist entity (ala Neturei Karta). But what virtually all Charedim agree upon is that Israel would be a lot better off had Zionism not existed.

This has led to some of the biggest fights within Orthodoxy in the last 100 years. An illustrative example of this is the conversion issue.

Modern Orthodox Jews understand the need for the State to try and preserve its Jewish identity. This requires that it retain its Jewish majority. The huge influx of non Jews from Russia -who immigrated with their Jewish spouses and whose children are not Jewish (if the mother was the non Jewish spouse) – threatened that demographic. Charedim couldn’t care less about that.

To try and solve this problem a project was created to try and convert as many of those immigrants as possible.

Both religious Zionists and Charedim agree that conversions have to follow Halacha. But the fight comes into play in its implementation. Thus Religious Zionist Rabbanim relied on the Kulos of a Daas Yachid - Halachic leniencies so as to maximize the number of converts. This caused these Rabbanim to be vilified by Charedim who declared such Kulos as completely unacceptable - thus rendering a multitude of conversions invalid. In the process they destroyed the reputations of serious Talmidei Chachamim and Roshei Yeshiva.

I am not here to re-hash the conversion issue. Only to point out how serious the repercussions of these differences are.

Why is there so much hate? Much of it is indoctrinated from the earliest of ages. It is implanted in the minds of young Charedim by parents and Mechanchim alike. Much the same way Charedi hatred of America is implanted into the minds of American children. Only in Israel where almost everything is seen in extreme and polarizing terms – the hatred is much worse.

This indoctrination is based on the history of Zionism as they see it. It is taught in the most negative way possible. If there is a negative spin to be made, that is the one that gets taught. If there are two ways to look at a historical event - only the negative side is taught. Over and over again! There is so much negative reinforcement in these communities about Zionism it is a wonder that all of them aren’t Neturei Karta members! It makes the kind of hatred taught by Charedim in America - about America - look mild in comparison!

Charedi Zionist hatred spills over into Charedi America too. Most Charedim here would say they are anti Zionist to at least some degree. If you are Satmar your hatred of Zionism is not that different than Hamas’s hatred of it. The only difference is that Satmar will not fire rockets into your living room. I’m not so sure about Neturei Karta.

I would ask the anti Zionist Charedim the following questions:

What if there were no Zionism at all? What if it never existed? What if the situation were such that only the Yishuv HaYashan – the original pre-Zionist religious Jewish settlements - existed and no Zionist ever set foot in Israel? What would Israel look like today? Would there be an explosion of Torah societies there - like Beitar Ilit and Kiryat Sefer? Would there be the numbers of Lomdei Torah there now (60,000 yungeleit just in Kollelim) had there been no Zionism? Would there be the high level of Torah learning there is now? Would there be an infrastructure of the type that exists now? …or anything even close to it so as to en able people to move there and live civilized and relatively comfortable lives?

I think we all know the answer to all these questions. The answer is no.

The Yishuv HaYashan was not into the physical development of the country. They were very spiritual people who immigrated to Israel despite the unbelievable hardships of life there pre-Zionism. And even if they would have wanted to improve their lives materially, they had neither the means nor the drive to do so. They were all about spirituality and sacrifice. Not into building cities.

It is easy to be anti Zionist if you are Charedi. There are lots of reasons they will give you. Chapter and verse will be cited about ‘crimes’ committed by the early Zionists - over and over again. But without Zionism there would be very little Yiddishkeit there. Certainly not as we know it today. True - the Yishuv HaYashan would have grown. They would certainly be a strong spiritual presence. But the numbers would be minuscule compared to what exists today. And yet very few Charedim are willing to acknowledge that.

Those that do understand it even slightly might pay some mild lip service to it and immediately follow it up by saying something like ‘But they are such Reshaim’ – evil people! …and then repeat some anecdote to prove their point.

There is no sense of Hakaras HaTov. No recognition of any of the good accomplished by Zionists – not the least of which are the lives sacrificed by so many Zionist children protecting the lives of all Israeli citizens – including Charedim. All there is - is hatred.