Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Existential Threat

Rabbi Dovid Landesman calls them museums. These are communities like Bnei Brak and Meah Shearim that want to preserve intact the insular European Jewish Shtetl. They believe that this model is the best way to prevent any outside influences from seeping in. But preserving the past like a museum and embellishing it is not the model for a vibrant Jewish future. The extreme lifestyles lived and attitudes expressed in places like Bnei Brak and Meah Shearim are unsustainable. If Orthodox Jewry were to follow this model in a major way our future would be in jeopardy. That brings me to an article in Arutz Sheva published last week.

Ephraim Halevy is at best ill informed about basic Halacha– despite his Orthodox upbringing. And his recent attack against Charedim –some might say - classifies him as a Rasha. This former head of the Israeli Mossad made headlines last week when he said: Israel’s hareidi Jews' radicalization is a bigger threat to Israel than Iran.

Normally I would just chalk it up as anti Charedi rhetoric that is so often heard in leftist secular circles. There is no shortage of animosity towards religious Jews there. The problem is that even though he is over the top in his criticism, he is not that far off in his perception of a demographic time bomb that - were it to continue - could destroy the State of Israel.

According to the article his problem was something a little less serious. He is apparently upset that boys and girls don’t dance together the way they did in his old Bnei Akiva days. I guess Halacha is not his forte.

But I would not sell short his underlying point that Charedi radicalization in Israel is a big problem. I have written about it many times. The biggest problem is not the laughable example mentioned in the article about the loss of mixed dancing.

It is the attempt at perpetuating an unsustainable economic situation that is. It is the Charedi refusal to allow the slightest amount of secular studies into their high school curriculum that is. This situation contributes mightily to their poverty problem and the economic burden on the government upon whose support Charedi Avreichim rely.

The radicalization of religious observance not only turns off secular Jews, it turns off Dati Jews. It even turns off moderate Charedim. On these issues – he would be correct. The existential danger is very great.

Some might say that defending a clearly ‘anti Frum’ bigot like Halevy puts me in the same category of Rasha. Well, I don’t think he is a Rasha. And I don’t think his statement can be so easily dismissed.

There is someone else who defends him. He is a Charedi Rav and Knesset member by the name of Chaim Amsallem (pictured above). He has the courage of his convictions. He has withstood tremendous pressure - going out on a limb many times to speak truth to power. For this he has been ostracized by Sephardi Gadol , Rav Ovadia Yosef. This perplexes me since Rav Yosef has actually made some of the same crticisms himself. Be that as it may Rav Amsallem remains undeterred.

Now he has done it again. From Yeshiva World News:

Amsellem explains that we must come to the realization that the chareidi community is moving too far to the right, citing a number of examples such as the stepped-up intolerance on buses, demanding total segregation, and the most recent incident, the minister of religious affairs disqualifying Tzohar rabbonim from performing marriages…

Ephraim Halevy is basically doing what I have been doing for some time. Take a mirror and place it in front of the chareidim and look. What do you see? The image in the eyes of a non-frum person is not a pleasant one.

How true. I’m sure he has now dug an even deeper hole for himself in Charedi circles. But I give him credit and hope he keeps on ‘telling it like it is’.

We need more voices like his coming from the Charedi world. Criticisms of him are unjust in my view. What he wants for his people is for them to survive and become a viable and vibrant community where extremism is discarded and moderation takes its place. He wants to see the tens of thousands of average Avreichim currently sitting in Kollelim get training and good jobs.

He does not want to destroy Kollelim. He wants to strengthen them for those who should be there – those with potential to be the Yechidei Segula. The rest who are ‘also learning in Kollel’ should instead be supporting their families by working. Rav Amsallem sees the handwriting on the wall - if Charedi families continue to increase at exponential levels and do not do anything to prepare themselves for the workplace their house of cards will collapse.

He understands that you can’t keep putting all Charedi men into the same full time ‘learning/non earning’ pot and expect this community to survive indefinitely. As the Charedi population increases and becomes a larger percentage of the whole, there will be less money to distribute to more people. It does not take a rocket scientist to do the simple math here.

What about the comparison to Iran? Iran’s nuclear capabilities are no joke. But a diligent world all working toward the same goal of preventing them from becoming a nuclear power will hopefully keep them in check. Add to this the fact that the biggest superpower in the world, the US, has not taken the military option off the table. And neither has Israel. So even though Iran is something very serious to worry about, there are things being done about it. The same thing cannot be said about the Charedi demographic time bomb.

Rabbi Amsallem understands that the world of Charedim is not a sustainable as is. He is fighting for change. And when he sees the truth being spoken by any source, he will defend it. More power to him.