Monday, July 02, 2012

Secular Jews - Contempt versus Gratitude

An article by Jonathan Rosenblum published in the Yated (re-published on Cross-Currents last Thursday) laments the fact that Charedim get so much bad press in the secular media. But as is often the case with Jonathan he has made an honest analysis about why that is.

He says that part of the problem is bad PR. The Charedi community does a terrible job in promoting the good things it does. I think that’s right. He goes on to describe many of the Chesed organizations founded by Charedim that cater to the entire Jewish community regardless of how religious they are. To the best of my knowledge these organizations have virtually no counterparts in any other segment of Orthodoxy.  Just to mention a few examples of these Charedi Chesed organizations in Israel from his article: 
Chareidim founded many of Israel’s largest volunteer organizations, which serve the entire population: Yad Sarah, the country’s biggest volunteer organization; Ezer M’Tzion, which maintains, inter alia, the largest Jewish blood registry in the world; Ezra L’Marpeh, a world class medical referral service, directed by Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer; Zaka; Chesed v’Zimra, founded by the grandson of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, shlita, which brings a little bit of music and joy to those confined to mental instititutions; and a host of organizations serving childhood cancer patients and their families. 
But then he mentions what I think is the far greater problem. These are the kinds of things I regularly deal with. But rather than paraphrase, I will let Jonathan do the talking: 
(T)here are other instances where we are sending the wrong message. A recent staple of Israeli journalism has been to send crews to Bnei Brak to interview residents on the Tal Law. They have invariably returned with full reels of chareidim expressing their contempt for the army.
That is wrong tactically, and more fundamentally, it is a failure of hakaros hatov. As Rav Hutner points out, few failures in middos are more self-destructive than a failure of hakaros hatov. Perhaps the habit of speaking as if the IDF has nothing to do with Israel’s security and chareidi Torah learning would alone suffice derives from a fear that glorifying the IDF will make army service more tempting for yeshiva students.
But if we want the secular population to respect our Torah learning, we must also learn to honor the tremendous mesiras nefesh (sacrifice)of so many young, and not so young Israelis, in defense of the six million Jews living in Israel, and that of parents who send their children into the IDF, only to spend the next three years experiencing a moment of apprehension every time the phone rings.
In truth, it is asking more from the secular population to respect the contribution of our Torah learning to the defense of the state than it is asking us to appreciate the sacrifices made by soldiers on our behalf. The Divine protection that results from limud HaTorah cannot be empirically demonstrated to those who as yet lack belief.
But we know from the Torah itself that an army is also a necessary component of national defense. At the beginning of parashas Mattos, we read three times “a thousand from each Tribe.” The Midrash explains the threefold repetition as referring to three different groups of one thousand from each Tribe – one thousand to fight in the battles, one thousand to form the rearguard and guard the supplies, and one thousand to pray. Each group was an indispensable part of a successful Jewish army.
A third aspect of a strategy to change our public image would be to more forcefully separate ourselves from those who resort to violence, and to make clear to the Israeli public why we reject their actions on Torah grounds. The zealots l’mineihem do us a double damage. As Rav Shach said many years ago, any time one elevates any aspect of the Torah above all others, he will inevitably distort the Torah. And we see where the anti-Zionism of the Sikrikim leads them to.
They have lost all concern with the image of Torah in the world. And their apparent obliviousness to the impact of their actions reflects a non-Torah belief that they alone can bring Mashiach and Mashiach will come to them alone. They have lost the connection to Klal Yisrael described above, which characterizes much of the chareidi community.
Second, the zealots add to the terror with which the general Israeli society views the growing chareidi population. For they convey the message that there can be no shared public space: Wherever we are the majority, we will seek to impose our norms at every opportunity. If we do not want the general population to view us with fear, and as a consequence act to limit the growth of the chareidi population, we must make clear our rejection of violence and our awareness that there are rules of mutual accommodation, without which a diverse population cannot exist without constant strife.
As we look forward to an uncertain future, our focus must, of course, be on making ourselves worthy of Hashem’s continued sustenance to the citadels of Torah – through our limud HaTorah, tefillos, and ma’asim tovim. But, at the same time, we should not lose sight of the practical steps that constitute our hishtadlus. 
If any of this sounds familiar, it should. I have said very similar things countless numbers of times.  And I have been called a Charedi basher for doing so. On virtually every one of these issues where I have expressed an opinion, there are certain Charedim who have no problem batting it down as though I didn’t know what I was talking about at best - or that I hate Charedim and find every opportunity to bash them.

The problems that  this community has to deal with will not entirely go away if they change their public attitude on these issues. There is still the problem of getting the kind of  education that will enable them to get better jobs. There is still the problem of all men being pressured to stay in the Beis HaMedrash full time for as long as possible. There is still the problem of resisting army or national service and a few other problems that will not be solved by a change in attitude. But it will go a long way toward better understanding between secular and religious Jews if religious Jews do as Jonathan suggests in his article.

I salute Jonathan for having the courage to write these words and to publish them in the Yated.  I wonder what the response of the readership will be.