Sunday, August 10, 2014

Will the Tide Change?

Soldiers in prayer - not as uncommon as one might think
I guess being attacked as Jews by our sworn enemies does not always produce Achdus.  At least not among some of the more extreme Charedi leaders and media.  I had hoped that the silver lining of the current dark clouds hanging over Israel was an increased sense of Achdus. An Achdus that would temper if not eliminate entirely the animus of the Charedi world feels towards the Israeli government in general - and the army in particular. 

Indeed, Charedi publications like Mishpacha Magazine have been featuring articles of praise about the army – highlighting a religious side that has been heretofore ignored by them. I don’t know whether ignoring the positives was intentional or not. But until the current war, all you ever heard about the army was how evil it was – and to be avoided at all costs.

One particular story about the army reported in Mishpacha (not available online) was both inspiring and informative. It is the story of IDF Givati Brigade Colonel Ofer Winter who is one of the more than one third of IDF officers that are Orthodox. He and his brigade were among the ground forces that went into Gaza in order to destroy the Hamas built tunnels into Israel for purposes of terror. 

Before he led his troops into harm’s way he addressed them, urging them to ‘raise their eyes heavenward' - recite Shema and beseech God for success in their mission. Lest anyone think this is unusual, Colonel Winter said that there is not a soldier in the IDF – even the most secular – that does not recite the blessing given by the Kohen Gadol to the army in ancient times before it went to war. So much for the anti Torah vilification of the Army by the right.

I believe that the Charedi public in Israel are now seeing this truth. Even if there are assimilation attitudes among some of their officers, there is also a religious side. But until the war, Charedi rhetoric focused only on the negative. Their purpose of course was to use any means necessary to discourage even the slightest thought of army enlistment… or submission to the new draft laws. 

While this rhetoric has been muted during the war, it has not disappeared from the psyche of some of their leaders. The fear has surfaced that the truth about what the army is really about will sway their people away from their anti Army approach. So even while rockets are being fired into Israel from Gaza, there are Charedi leaders and media that want to make sure that their anti army mindset remains firmly in place. There are 2 stories that demonstrate this. One is in the Ha’aretz
In a fanatical reaction to warm ultra-Orthodox support for the IDF in Gaza, Rabbi Yisroel Yitzchok Kalmanovitz preaches that it's better for soldiers to die in battle than to live as sinners. 
Rabbi Kalmanovitz is then quoted as saying the following:
 “How much does the soul of a son of Israel, especially a Torah learner, need to be disgusted in order to loathe the state and its army, [which] are the greatest haters of all of the whole of Israel, inciters and agitators.” 
That was followed by an editorial in the Israeli Yated Ne'eman as reported in the Jerusalem Post
“The unceasing efforts to change us became even greater during the war. The attempt to cynically exploit the emergency situation by digging spiritual terror tunnels must be rejected and expelled,” the editorial stated. It cited the haredi conscription law that passed in March as evidence of attempts to change haredi society.
“At this time when they are trying to coerce us, we must seal every crack and strengthen the weak who are more likely to be tempted,” the article read. “We must raise the walls.... Contact and connection between the haredi camp and the secular is treif [non-kosher], especially at a time like this.” 
The Charedi public has softened their views about the IDF in unprecedented ways.  I have not seen one negative article about the IDF in any of the mainstream Charedi publications. Only positive ones, like the one about Colonel Winter. To the chagrin of Charedi leaders like R' Kalmanovitz, there has been an increase in Charedi enlistment because of the war. 

The Charedi public now understands what the army is. They realize after over 60 funerals of soldiers killed in action that these young men are willing to die to defend their country.  They understand the inequity of refusing to participate in this great Mitzvah. They see that the army is not composed solely of secular anti religious army officers, but instead  fully one third of those officers are observant of the same Mitzvos they are.

This is what R' Kalmanowitz and the editors of the Israeli Yated fear. They see the reality of war exposing truths kept from their public instead of only hearing the virulent anti army rhetoric coming from them.

The question remains, will their words take the Charedi world back to square one, where there rabbis would like it to be? Or will the Charedi public have a grass roots change of heart now that they are aware of the truth?

This is not to say tat the army doesn’t have problems… or that some anti religious officers that will make life difficult for Charedi recruits. I’m sure that will continue to occasionally happen. Probably decreasingly so. 

But my hope is that that the Charedi public will no longer accept the anti army rhetoric of the past as the universal truth. And that they realize that ‘sharing the burden’ does not mean necessarily mean being coerced into becoming irreligious. Especially when the new draft laws have promised to accommodate the religious sensibilities of every Charedi drafted (...which we must assure is put into practice and upheld with sanctions for violations). If the result of this war causes a grass roots quiet rebellion by mainstream Charedim, then rhetoric like that coming out of Charedi leaders like R' Kalmanowitz will have to change, or they will have no adherents.

Will it happen? Only time will tell.