Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Letter

Rav Aharon Feldman
Yet another troubling missive. This time from 2 prominent Charedi leaders: Rav Aharon Feldman and Rav Shlomo Miller. They have shown their  disdain for the State of Israel in a letter to students that will be spending time in a Yeshiva in Israel. This letter which has been published in the Baltimore Jewish Life - explains in detail how to qualify for deferments from the Israeli army.

I don’t really have an issue with telling American students to be careful about that. They have a right to know how to legally qualify for a deferment and to be careful not to make any mistakes. What is troubling to me is how they end the letter.

They call the Israeli army dangerous to one’s Mitzvah observance and spiritual health. They include Nachal Charedi in that warning. 

I don't know that much about Rabbi Miller other than the fact that he is a highly respected Rosh Kollel in Toronto, a Kanoi who has in the past been a zealous defender of Charedi values. But I know a bit more about Rabbi Feldman who is the main subject of my complaint. 

How sad that an American educated Rosh HaYeshiva who has in the past published some fine Jewish literature for the English reading public… a man who is the head of a Yeshiva known to facilitate their students attendance at a fine University in Baltimore - has such animus towards the institution responsible for the safety of all Israeli residents. Including the very students he urges to avoid going into that same army.

All Jews living in Israel for any length of time - or even those of us that don’t - should have an immense degree of Hakoras Hatov (gratitude) to the army. Gratitude for the sacrifices that even the most secular of soldier offers. Let alone the thousands of Hesder boys who both now give - and in the past have  given - six years of their lives alternating Torah study with army service (often taking the most dangerous assignments in groups). Does he really believe that the Hesder boys are endangering their spiritual health and dropping out of observance?!

Furthermore, to say that Nachal Charedi is included in this warning is truly mind blowing. How can he say that about all the devout Jewish soldiers serving in those units now? By saying something so outrageous he has unwittingly justified all of the verbal and sometimes physical attacks heaped upon religious soldiers in certain Charedi circles.

Even if I were to concede that every thing he says is true (which I absolutely reject!) where is the recognition of what the IDF is all about? Protecting not only these Yeshiva students but his own grandchildren living there? 

I suspect that having lived in Israel for so many years prior to his return to the US has something to do with his attitude. There is little doubt in my mind that this is how most Charedi leaders in Israel think. Israel is the devil. The army is the devil’s lair. Stay out!  Rabbi Feldman surely absorbed this mentality during his years there and brought it back with him when he returned to  Baltimore to become the Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Israel. It remains unchanged.

To be clear, I have no illusions about the secular nature of the IDF. It is not a Yeshiva. Nor do I question the fact that there are influences there that can negatively impact one’s observance. But the fact is that there are two very clear options that cater successfully to observant Jews: Hesder and Nachal Charedi. 

Nor is it true that the regular army will necessarily hurt your spirituality. There have been countless idealistic religious American enlistees into the regular IDF that have served admirably. Their spirituality was not negatively affected at all. I strongly suspect that those whose religiosity is negatively affected already had issues with their observance and spirituality long before they ever set foot into the army. 

I wish I could say I’m surprised. But I’m not. This is not the first time Rabbi Feldman has bashed the state. Or in this case one of its important components.  He did it in a book published 7 years ago entitled, Eye of the Storm. Therein he engages in a polemic against the state that is little more than an angry one sided rant characterizing it as having no redeeming value.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein took him to task for it at the time: 
(W)hen we note that the source and precedent cited (by Rabbi Feldman) had not merely sought to justify criticism but to be stirred to hatred; that “the parts which are not Jewish” did not allude to unhalachically converted pseudo-Jews but to presumed ideological aberrants; and when we realize that these include a very significant segment of the Israeli yishuv, as well as its Diaspora supporters–many of us will, understandably, be shaken. 
Rabbi Feldman’s lack of any expression of gratitude to the Israeli army reflects the mindset of far too many Jews on the right. It is certainly OK to criticize when appropriate,. If one believes there is something wrong, they have not only a right - but an obligation to say so. Especially if they are a public figure like Rav Aharon Feldman. But to do so without expressing the legitimate gratitude the army deserves is to slight every single soldier in Israel that ever gave life and limb to protect the Jewish people. It is also a slight to their families. And I protest it.