Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is Open Orthodoxy More Tolerated in Israel?

Rav Chaim Kanievsky
The public discourse over Open Orthodoxy has driven home a very important point to me. The gap between Israeli and American Charedim is pretty wide. One may dispute that. But I believe that the differences are huge. And even though the American right wing looks up to right wing Israeli leadership in Israel and in some cases tries to emulate their Hashakfos, I don’t think they will ever catch up.

After speaking to some Modern Orthodox American expatriates living in Israel that support Open Orthodoxy that was made clear to me. It is only in America where the right is taking such  a strong public stance against them. In Israel things like Open Orthodoxy hardly make a blip on anybody’s radar screen. They say Open Orthodox innovations like ordaining women is happening a lot more frequently there – and nobody says a thing. People just seem to accept it. Life goes on. 

Even those on the extreme right aren’t saying anything.  And certainly don’t come out with condemnations like the Agudah Moetzes. Or the rejection of Orthodox female rabbis by the RCA. No comparable condemnations have been made in Israel - except by a Chief Rabbinate which they claim has become irrelevant to any segment of Jewry in Israel

Furthermore, Israel’s population of Jews has grown and now has more Jews living there than any other country, including America. They are now the center of gravity. Case closed.

But therein lies the error. Can anyone seriously make the claim that Israels right wing is more tolerant of deviation from the norm than America’s right wing as represented by the Agudah Moetzes? That is hardly the case. So why no public condemnation or even protests?

In my view the reason the Israeli leadership is so silent about it is because the divisions between the right and MO/DL are so great, that they have virtually nothing to do with each other. The Religious Zionism  that is so pervasive in Israel’s DL community is anathema to them. They consider Religious Zionism to be a bastardization of Judaism. It doesn’t even matter to them how observant the DL crowd is. They can wear the largest size Kippot; wear their Tzitzis out; have long Peyos and long beards; Daven the longest Shemonah Esrei; learn 24/7 in a Yeshiva… it doesn’t matter. The right barely acknowledges their existence - if at all!

I recall the massacre that occurred at their flagship Yeshiva - Merkaz Harav a few years ago. R’ Elyashiv attended the funeral saying that after all…. they study the same Torah that the Charedi world studies. The hidden message there was that if not for that massacre, they would have nothing to do with anyone that studies Torah at Merkaz Harav. They are religious Zionists. End of discussion.

This is why they don’t respond to Open Orthodoxy or the ordination of women. For them these rabbis may as well be Conservative or Reform. No need to comment on their current deviations ever since they made their major one of combining their Judaism with the ‘Avodah Zara’ of Zionism.

American rabbinic leadership does not think that way about Modern Orthodox Jews. As divided as Modern Orthodoxy is from the Charedi world (and the divide is increasing) there has never been the complete rejection by the right of MO as there is in Israel. There is a degree of integration here. We eat by each other. We trust the same Hashgachos. We even intermarry with each other occasionally.

But to an native Israeli Charedi, even American Charedi immigrants - although accepted and fully integrated - are considered modern; never to catch up.  Integration between Charedim and MO/DLs  in Israel is nonexistent and relationships with them are as contentious as they are with secular Zionists. Possibly even more so!

It isn’t only religious Zionsim that is the issue. The right wing in Israel doesn’t even trust the Kashrus of the MO/DL crowd because they rely on Heterim that are completely rejected by the right. Like the Heter Mechira that allows farmers to work their fields during Shmitah. The right will not trust many Hechsherim that MO/DLs use because of these issues.

There are Hashkafic issues that re extremely divisive like serving in the army. Or about how a Jew should spend his life. As an example of that I was sent me an e-mail stating recent comments made by Rav Chaim Kanievsky about how to best prepare for a Parnassa – Here in part is what he said: 
1. The best hishtadlus (preparation) for parnassa is to sit and learn
2. If you really learn with hasmada then you will be blessed with everything including parnassa
This of course fits well with the Charedi value in Israel that every male should pursue a life of full time Torah study without the distraction of preparing for the work place.

In America even the most right wing Charedi leader here knows that preparation for Parnassa means learning a skill or trade or getting an education in a field that will enable a good salary. 

This doesn’t mean that they think you should leave Kollel. They don’t think that. But they recognize that parnassa is not assured just by staying in Kollel. They recognize that Hishtdlus means learning a trade or profession. Because if they believed that learning with great Hasmada was enough, they wouldn’t be selling their best and brightest young men to the highest bidding father in law.

It is somewhat ironic that some people think right wing silence on the issue has means they tolerate it. The Charedi world in Israel is so segregated from the MO/DL world, that if they decided to stop being observant, the right would hardly notice. That is why they don’t protest it. But to think that the Israeli right wing is more tolerant of it because they don’t say anything is the height of naiveté, in my view.

One may then ask, why should anyone care what the right thinks? The answer is quite simple. Like it or not, they are outgrowing DL/MOs by leaps and bounds. They will eventually be the majority if they aren’t yet. And you cannot ignore them. They will not go away. And the more they grow the more power they will have. It is that simple.