Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Throw Them in Jail!

Deputy Defense Minister, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan
I get it. I really do. These students are protesting the draft. Much the same way American students did during the 70s. In both cases the students protesting do not want to be drafted into the army. But their reasons are different. And although the right to protest the government in a free and democratic society is one of its hallmarks, I can’t really place the same value on them. In the 70s young people were protesting an immoral war. This is the way, Rav Ahron Soloveichik characterized the Viet Nam War to the entire student body of HTC from a lectern in the Beis HaMedrash - long before it became popular for the Jewish establishment to do so. 

In the case of the Charedi students they are protesting against the very people that protect – not only their right to protest in a democracy - but protect their very lives. And that just does not sit well with me.

It would be one thing to have peaceful protests. But what happened recently was anything but peaceful.

This is not a new phenomenon. There are 2 factions led by 2 Charedi leaders. They both oppose drafting Charedim into the army. But their approach to that opposition is radically different. This has deteriorated into one of the most divisive disputes between Charedi factions in my memory. Some of which has resulted in violence between the factions themselves! (There are some Charedim that refuse to send their children to Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak which is a hotbed of contention between the 2 factions.)

R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman of Bnei Brak has agreed to comply with the law which requires students to register for the draft. They then remain exempt until such time they decide to leave the hallowed halls of the Beis HaMedrash. At which time they will have to do some form of national service to fulfill their obligations. Charedim that do not spend their time studying Torah will be subject to service right away. The Israeli  government has created special units for Charedim that will honor their religious sensitivities.

R’ Shmuel Auerbach (the Yerushalmi Faction) has taken a more militant approach and exhorted his followers to not register for the the draft at all – resisting it by all means necessary. This has resulted in protests some of which have turned violent. From Arutz Sheva
Rabbi (B)en-Dahan criticized the ‘Yerushalmi Faction’, a Litvish movement led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach that is staunchly opposed to haredi enlistment in the IDF, for instigating the protests and riots, which have blocked roads, led to the injuries of several police officers, and led to dozens of arrests of rioters.
"There is no decree of recruitment," Rabbi Ben-Dahan told Army Radio. "Everyone who wants to study Torah can study Torah. We are talking about those who walk around the streets and do not study Torah."
Rabbi Ben-Dahan expressed his disgust with the violence at several of the demonstrations, including an incident in which a haredi soldier was attacked. "It's an attitude that shows real ingratitude. There are people who do not sleep day and night to protect you. And this is you're attitude towards them]? This is the thanks?"
"They are using the Torah to act [in a way which is] contrary to it. They are trying to sanctify God's name, but they are really desecrating God's name. [They are turning] the Torah into a tool for hurting others," Rabbi Ben-Dahan continued. 
I could not agree more with Rabbi Ben-Dahan. It is one thing to protest against the government when you disagree with one of their polices. But it is another to do it the way it happened here. It is especially outrageous to me when a Charedi soldier is attacked.They must see him as a traitor to their cause. That he retains his religious standards in the army due to government sensitivity to it - is of no consequence to them. 

And yet that is one of the chief reasons Charedi leaders reject the army. They believe its purpose is to turn Charedim away from Judaism by assimilating them into becoming an Israeli prototype soldier. Whose goal they believe is to make observance of Halacha at best secondary and often non existent. 

Clearly this is not the case for Charedi recruits anymore. But the resistance to the draft remains the same as though it were. That R’ Shteinman still opposes it is his right even if I don’t agree with him. He has the right to speak out against it - even as he exhorts young Charedim to comply with the law. It is even the right of R’ Auerbach to protest it. It is just not his right to allow his followers to do it the way they are.

The one thing I can’t understand is why these leaders do not see the army for what it really is? The army’s primary reason for existence is to protect the Jewish people in a Jewish country. Even if what they believe be true about a purpose to  assimilate Charedim out of observance, that is clearly secondary to the real task. Which is to protect and defend the Jewish people. They know the risk to life and limb that these soldiers go through every day while in uniform. And yet despite what is the obvious primary purpose of the Israeli army - it does not seem to rate even a mention!

Where is the Hakoras HaTov? Where is the kind of gratitude given to the army that was expressed in public so eloquently by R’ Chaim Shmulevitz after his Yeshiva was nearly destroyed in a near miss of a rocket attack in one of Israel’s wars?  We have gone from that to Charedi violence in the streets against that same army – seeing increased opposition even as new accommodations for Charedim have been established.

There are some people that want to separate themselves from these Charedi gangs by saying that every group has its extremists. This may be true. But these extremists have a respected Charedi leader in R’ Shmuel Auerbach. He is the one generating this behavior by his rhetoric! They are inspired by his words and believe that they are simply acting on them.

I am not qualified to judge R’ Auerbach’s authority as a religious leader. But I am qualified to judge evil when I see it no matter what the evil doer looks like. I therefore have absolutely no mercy on these violent protesters. They belong in jail. If that happens I shudder to think of the protest that will follow. It will massive and make the current ones look like child’s play.

But it is the right thing to do. There has to be a price paid for such behavior.