Thursday, April 19, 2018

It’s Time

ZAKA founder and head, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav (YWN)
Tomorrow (April 20th) is the 5th of Iyar. That is the day in 5708 (May 14, 1948) when Israel formally declared its independence – Yom Ha’atzmaut. (For reasons beyond the scope of this post, Israel’s Rabbinate has moved up its observance to today). But tomorrow is the actual date.

This is the day every year that my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik said Hallel. And it is the day that the Ponevezhe Rav, Yosef Kahaneman did not say Tachanun (a daily prayer of supplication that is to be omitted on days where there is a religious holiday or celebration).  Both of these Gedolim from yesteryear recognized the significance of this day.  It was the first time since the destruction of Bayis Sheni (the 2nd Temple) that the land of Israel was back in Jewish hands.

They were not alone. Many of the Gedolei HaDor of that time understood the that significance as well. It was a time of rare unity in Klal Yisroel. All of the religious factions in Israel united under one banner:  The United Religious Front.  A political party that consisted of Agudat Yisroel, Mizrachi, Poalei Agudat Yisroel, and HaPoel HaMizrachi.

I was recently sent a list of some of the distinguished Gedolim that signed a document* that contained that party’s platform. Which read: 
We thank Hashem that through his mercy we have been privileged to see the sparks of the beginning of the redemption with the creation of the Jewish state. 
Among others were the following signatories:

R Yechezkel Sarna - Rosh Yeshiva of Hebron
R Yaakov Sanktvitz  - Rosh Yeshiva of Sfas Emes
R Zalman Sotozkin  - Head  of the Vaad HaYeshivot
R Yechiel Tuchashinsky  - Rav of Etz Chaim
R Eliyahu Ram  - Rebbe in Yeshivat Meah Shearim
R Yechiel Shlesinger - Rebbe in Kol Torah
R Yaakov Landau - Rav of Bnei Brak

I believe it was Chazaon Ish changed all that. His philosophy is that which Charedi leaders follow today. In fact the anti Israel rhetoric has today become so vile in some cases, that even the Chzaon Ish would be appalled. If one would listen to some of it - they would think that Yom Ha’atzmaut was not only NOT to be celebrated, but is to be seen as a tragedy! The anti Israel rhetoric is alive and well in most of those circles. Some of it so bad, if one didn’t know better, they would think it were Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iran talking.

Even those whose rhetoric is not so acerbic, are still of the opinion that the State of Israel has no religious significance whatsoever. And use very opportunity to make that clear. They consider Israel’s founders Reshaim – evil people out to destroy Torah.  Although there are some that do recognize what the State of Israel does for them (most famously the late R’ Chaim Shmulevitz and the late R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel), there are others that see the State mostly as a cash cow. Which is the primary reason that there are Charedi political parties in Israel today. They serve in the Keneset mainly to protect their own interests. None of them would dare skip Tachanun on Yom Ha’atzmaut, let alone say Halllel.

When confronted with the very real benefits bestowed upon them by the modern civilized state Israel has built, they chalk it up to selfishness… using a passage in the Gemarah as a parallel. The Romans didn’t build their roads for the jews. They built them for themselves!

This attitude permeates much of Charedi thinking. Reactions to any event related to the state is usually negative. Charedi leaders tell their people not to participate in them. Often explaining that the Zionist method of observance is not the Jewish way. So for example when a moment of silence for fallen soldiers was established on Israel’s memorial day, Charedim ignore it. Those with smoe compassion in their hearts for bereaved will stand silently in public when the siren blows.  But not in private. And some don’t even do it in public to show just how much disdain they have for the State. Yom Ha’atzmaut means less than nothing to them. They would probably be just as happy (maybe even happier) if the British mandate was still in place. Surely Satmar and Neturei Karta would be.

That said, things are beginning to change. There are Charedim in Israel that are beginning to recognize the value of a Jewish State. Even a Zionist one. There are now Charedi schools that impart a more positive attitude toward the State. There are now Charedim serving in the military. And there are even former hardcore members of Neturei Karta that have come around. All anyone need do is open their eyes and then their minds. By doing that they will realize that all the anti-Israel rhetoric they have been indoctrinated to believe is either grossly exaggerated or entirely untrue.

Sure, some of their complaints might be legitimate. But the fact is that without the Zionist founders, there would probably not be much Torah learning there. I don’t think that is even arguable.

I recall a story told about Rabbi Oscar Z. Fasman, founding president of my alma mater, HTC (back in the 20s). In seeking support for the Chicago Yeshiva, he traveled to Europe to meet with as many Gedolim as he could - seeking their advice. One of them was Rav Yosef Rozen, better known as the Rogatchover Gaon.  

After their meeting as Rabbi Fasman was about to leave, the Rogatchover asked him where he was going next. Rabbi Fasman said Eretz Yisroel. With a wave of his hand  the Rogatchover said,  Eretz Yisroel? They don’t know how to learn there! Today Israel is the largest Makom Torah in the world. Today one might say the reverse of what the Rogatchover said: America? They don’t know how to learn there (compared to Israel).

One of the primary reasons Torah study is flourishing there is because of a country that was made habitable for  people used to the amenities of a civilized world. Not to mention all of the subsidies provided by the government. Including protection from a military that they are exempted from.

No one says it better than ZAKA founder and head, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav in a letter to his uncle - published at YWN. His uncle is Neturei Karta founder, Amram Blau. Meshi-Zahav was raised on the knees of his uncle, bought hook line and sinker into his anti Israel rhetoric, and became a soldier for Neturei Karta’s war against Zionism. His message: His uncle was wrong! He explains why in great detail. His missive should be read n full. Here is a small excerpt: 
Who would have believed that 73 years after the terrible Holocaust, when the people of Israel were almost extinct, and there was hardly any trace of Torah and Chasidism, we would have a Jewish state of our own. The State of Israel. A state in which the world of Torah will reach prosperity unparalleled in the history of the Jewish people. 
It is time. Its time for the entire Charedi world  to let go.  Its time to discard all the old rhetoric about how Israel’s founders tried to destroy the Torah and whose political heirs – today’s leaders - still have that mission.

It is time to instead have Hakoras HaTov – gratitude for all the State has done for them, and for the entire Jewish people. It is time to recognize the significance of a strong Jewish State where Torah now flourishes. It’s time to reignite the Ahavas Yisroel of their spiritual forbears and reject the Sinas Chinam of today. 

They don’t have to say Hallel. Nor do they even have to skip Tachanun. All they need to do is recognize the reality that Yehua Meshi-Zahav does. If they do that, who knows…?  Maybe next year we can all celebrate in Jerusalem.

*There is apparently some controversy about validity of this document.