Friday, December 20, 2013

Protesting a Kiddush HaShem

Nachal Charedi soldiers during their morning prayers
I am saddened by the following development.  From Matzav
 The trip was decided upon as the Moetzes of Agudah met in Yerushalayim yesterday. 
The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah has signed a kol koreh together with the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel calling on the government to do away with the draft law and threats of incarceration, and asking Yidden to beseech Heaven for Mercy.
The desperation on the part of the rabbinic leaders in Israel is clear. Even warring factions like those who support either R’ Aharon Leib Steinman or R’ Shmuel Auerbach are one in their opposition to drafting Charedim. The war is only about tactics. The same is true about the Yeshiva world and the Chasidic world. They too are so divided that it has caused them to split into 2 political parties. But they are united in that same opposition to the draft.  So much so that rabbinic leaders representing all factions are planning what I believe is an unprecedented trip to the United States to lobby the American Charedim in support of their cause.

I find this trip to be a bit curious since the American Moetzes is already on board with the Israeli Moetzes.  I suppose the Israeli leaders feel the threat more acutely and do not believe there has been enough done by the Americans to fight it. But I’m not sure what they will accomplish. What do they expect the American leaders to do? They have no more influence with the Israeli government than the Israelis do.

Are they going to call for more protests and demonstrations? I don’t see that influencing anyone. Are they going to petition political leaders in America to intercede on their behalf? I don’t think Senator Schumer or any other government official will be all that sympathetic to people they perceive to be shirking their military duty. Especially with the kinds of stories coming out of Israel where Charedim are perceived to be misogynistic. Even though they will deny it, and say that it is all about separating the sexes for moral reasons, it won’t matter. Perceptions are reality. Ask former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who famously condemned what she perceived was discriminatory behavior on the part of the ultra Orthodox in Israel.

Do they believe they can threaten them with their bloc voting capabilities? I do not see Senators Shumer of Gillibrand who will both likely win future elections overwhelmingly - caring all that much about how Boro Park, New Square or Kiryas Joel votes. The majority of Jewish voters are not religious in any Orthodox sense and would probably oppose what these rabbis are asking for, anyway. 

My guess is that ‘the evil decree’ by the government  will go forward as planned. No matter what they do here. The only thing to work out will be the details of service. And as time goes on it is becoming clearer that a certain amount of favoritism toward Charedim will still prevail. Charedim will be given a choice to serve in a Sheurt Leumi (national service) type structure that basically does Chesed. The rest of Israel citizens do not get that choice. When they enlist, profiles are done and they are told how and where they are going to serve. Sometimes that means combat where they put themselves in harm’s way. Those who do national service won’t have that problem.

And yet Charedi leaders want to tear Kriya over this. It is as though their entire world will collapse if even one of their Bachurim (young unmarried students) is forced by the government to do Chesed for them. They are willing to go to the ends of the earth to prevent this. They see it as social engineering and fear that their Bachruim will no longer be religious if they become subjugated to the authority of the secular army.

I wonder sometimes just how impervious to reality these leaders are. The army is bending over backwards to insure that any Charedi serving their country will be fully accommodated to their Chumros.  This has been made clear time and again - as it was in a Cross Currents post from about a year and a half ago. Although there are times where a Charedi recruit is somehow mistreated by a superior officer, I believe that is the exception rather than the rule. If it were the rule, the following two stories would not be possible:

From the Jewish Press
Nachal Chareidi, the Ultra-Orthodox combat unit, has won the prestigious General Staff Award for their exceptional operational performance. 
And from Matzav
Nearly 1,000 people attended a Yerushalayim ceremony on Wednesday honoring charedi civil service volunteers. During the ceremony, five volunteers were awarded with honorary plaques for their outstanding service. 
If the government is so anti Charedi and out to ‘get’ them, how are they presenting awards to them for outstanding service? How are either of these two stories indicative of ‘Gzeiras HaShamd’ (forced conversion to another religion) or similar appellations?

I think their opposition is about something else entirely. There is nothing Halachicly or Hashakficly wrong with what anyone in either of these two groups are doing. In fact I believe both groups are making a tremendous Kiddush HaShem.

I also believe these two stories speak volumes about the government’s intent… or at least what it is not: anti Charedi. Instead of pointing to these two events and Shepping Nachas from their own, rabbinic leaders are off to America to see what they can do to prevent their people from participating in any of this.

The problem is that when Charedi rabbinic leaders in Israel speak, that is the end of the conversation as far as the vast majority of Charedim are concerned. They will tell you that since every rabbinic leader is against it, they must be right.  Therefore no argument to the contrary will be listened to. It will instead be characterized as either naïve or outright prejudice against Charedim.

This is not anti Torah. It is pro-Torah. It will not destroy Limud HaTorah if most Charedi Bachruim (but not all since about a third of all annual Charedi draftees will be completely exempt) have to give up a couple of years doing Chesed as part of their day. And the legislation the government is looking to pass will even allow them to defer service to age 23 if I understand correctly. This is anti-Charedi?!

Wouldn’t it have been better if the rabbinic leaders would have all attended those two ceremonies with pride instead of flying off to America to protest them? What a Kiddush HaShem that would have made!