Friday, April 28, 2017

Better to Die than Serve

Yehoreg V'Al Ya'avor - better to die than serve in the IDF? (Arutz Sheva)
Why is there so much prejudice against Charedim in Israel? I for one do not believe it is warranted. At least not in most cases. The vast majority just want to be left alone to do their thing. Whether one agrees with them or not - their goal is for men to learn Torah full time without any impediment. 

My own personal experience with Charedim in Israel has always been very positive. The Charedim of Ramat Bet Shemesh have been nothing but very warm and accommodating to me. They do not care a whit that I wear a Kipa Seruga. 

I was even a Shaliach Tzibur (I led the services) in one of the Charedi Shuls there when I was in Aveilus - the 12 month mourning period for my mother a few years ago. One can find religious IDF soldiers in uniform (both RZ and Charedi) Davening in their Shuls. They are respected and treated like any other religious Jew. In short the Charedim I have met in Israel are some of the finest people I know.

And yet if one reads media reports, one would think there is a virtual war between – not only secular Jews and Charedim, but even Dati Leumi (Modern Orthodox) Jews and Charedim. 

Are there alternative realities in Israel?

Well yes and no. The truth is that even though Israel seems like one of the most polarized places in the civilized world – it is an oversimplification to say that. That’s because there are Charedim and there are Charedim.

Just like the US Israel has a mainstream moderate Charedi population and an extremist Charedi population. The differences between the US and Israel is that the poles at each end of the spectrum shift rightward in Israel. But it is still true that just like the US - there is a wide spectrum between the poles in Israel. And a center – that also shifts right compared to America. But this post is not about defining the parameters of each nor about comparing the center-point of each. I mention it only to show that despite the differences between American and Israeli Charedim the centers of both are far more tolerant of other Hashkafos even if they disagree with them.

And yet there seems to be a broad brush feeling on the part of some that sees the other side as evil – at one level or another. Why is that?

In my view it is all about the extremists. And in Israel the extremists comprise a large segment of Charedi Jews albeit a minority. On the far right you have the Meah Shearim types that behave in violent ways or support those among them that do. Behavior that feeds modern day journalism. Which is to record ‘man bites dog’ news, and ignore ‘dog bites man’ news. Those who do not come into contact with Charedim, see only those negative images of them. They therefore conclude that this how they all are. Which is the furthest thing from the truth.

But in the last few years, some of the more mainstream Charedim have taken on this approach. This was made abundantly clear in a recent protest by the ‘Jerusalem faction’ led by Rav Shmuel Aurbach. They see themselves as the new guardians of the faith… modern day zealots that will protect the Jewish people from the hands of the unrighteous. The very saviors of the Jewish people - standing strong against those that wish to undermine the Torah. To that end they are willing to die.

That’s correct. I said, ‘die’!

People that are willing to die for their principles is a noble thing to do. Certainly preventing Torah from desecration and the Jewish people from destruction is. The problem is in how the leaders of this faction define that.  The latest of which was a statement by one Jerusalem faction rabbis about serving in the IDF. Which was published in Arutz Sheva a few days ago: 
Rabbi Tzvi Friedman, a member of the anti-Zionist Yerushalmi Faction, spoke at a gathering of supporters in a makeshift yeshiva outside of Army Prison 6, near Atlit on the northern coast.
During his talk with supporters at the yeshiva outside of Prison 6, Rabbi Friedman espoused a hardline against service in the IDF, telling parents enlistment was a worse fate for their children than death, Kikar Hashabbat reported.
“Every mother in Israel needs to know that if her son or daughter goes to the army, death would be preferable,” Rabbi Friedman said. 
Let us examine the implications of that statement. If a Jew would be forced to serve the IDF under penalty of death, he should allow himself to be executed!

I’m relatively sure this is based on their views that the IDF is anti religious and a national brothel. Defending Israel and the Jewish people is apparently not worth doing if you have to live in an environment of sexual promiscuity in order to do it. Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor!  Better to die. This attitude is what generates the harassment of Charedi soldiers by the worst element among them.

What about the 6 million or so Jews that would surely be annihilated by Israel’s enemies that have sworn to do so if there was no IDF to prevent that? God will protect them without an army.

The fact is that the IDF is not a national brothel. But even if it were, there are religious units there that have existed since the founding of the State. Hesder programs are desgined for religious Zionist Jews that split their time between Torah study and military duties. Surely Hesder is not a brothel. And in recent times, there is Nachal  Charedi - army units that have been created to serve Charedim – respecting their religious values that exceed the basic requirements of Halahca. To consider the IDF a Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor is an inlsult to the entire IDF! Especially to the religious soldiers of Hesder and Nachal Charedi.

They will defend their position with the notion that Israel is not protected by the IDF in any case. That it is only by virtue of those who study Torah L’Shma – for its own sake that Israel is protected – not the oft heard claim made by secular Israelis  of ‘Kochi V’Otzem Yodi’ – the physical prowess of the IDF.

No matter how many times I see them doing or saying things like this, it is still shocking to me. The hubris of thinking that God will protect them without any physical human effort is breathtaking. I’m not even sure they believe it.

If anything causes prejudice against Charedim by the rest of Israeli society, this is it! That it is only the Jerusalem faction is lost on most people. That’s because despite being a minority, they are still a large number and most of them look no different that the Charedi mainstream in Israel does. It isn’t only about exempting themselves from army service even if it would be under strict Charedi conditions. It isn’t only about allowing others to die for them. It is about a grossly unfair characterization  of the army as being so bad, better to die than serve!

Not everyone gets to see the Charedim in Israel that I see. They reject this kind of thinking. They are tolerant of the IDF and realize that it is as much their efforts as it is Torah study that protects them. What most Israelis see instead is story after story like this. And that paints Charedim with an extremist brush so despicable that I can’t really blame them for their attitude.