|R' Gershon Edelstein's interview about who to vote for (YWN)|
The idea of being Charedi is in and of itself not a pejorative if understood in the ideal. Which basically means having Yiras Shomayim (fear of heaven). And thereby living your life in accordance with God’s will. In the world of Orthodoxy this means a commitment to observe Halacha meticulously and to follow the long established traditions of our forefathers (i.e. our Mesorah).
In that sense I believe both Rabbi Adlerstein and I qualify as Charedi. But this is not the definition of a Charedi as defined by their leaders. In addition to the above, they define it as following the guidance of their religious leaders in all matters of public interest including who to vote for in any election. Not doing so removes you from their camp.
An example of that attitude was the recent comment made by Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s 30 year old grandson, Yanky. Just as a reminder, this is Rabbi Adlerstein’s description of what Yanky said:
Voting, he insisted, is an expression of essential identity. You state thereby who you are, and who you are not. Voting is not an exercise in determining the suitability of the various people vying for Knesset seats. It is not an evaluation of their performance, or a vision of how you would like to see different ministries perform their duties. No. Voting is a statement of your most essential identity. If you won’t vote Gimmel (the haredi parties), you are not haredi. You are something other. Your otherness will be noted by your children, whom you will impress with your wishy-washy, incomplete devotion to true Torah values, and they, too, will be incomplete Jews. No other consideration matters at a moment of truth like next Tuesday.
Rabbi Adlerstein rejected this comment in its entirety. I assume that was in part because it was made by someone speaking on his own and is not considered any kind of leader in the Charedi world. And that his comment was therefore a gross exaggeration of what the Charedi leadership actually believes. He then want about explaining why not voting for a Charedi candidate is justified. I agree with him.
The problem is that it isn’t only Yanky that believes this. It appears to be an across the board Charedi view. At least as far as their leadership is concerned. This is not the first time I heard comments like this. Similar comments were made about a previous election in Bet Shemesh by no less a religious figure than R’ Aharon Leib Steiman,ZTL – a Tzadik by any definition. This was not an exception. This is what the Charedi leadership all believe. It was reiterated by Rav Gershon Edlestein a revered Charedi leader whom many consider a moderate. Lest anyone think he was misquoted, his comments were recorded. From YWN, this is in part what he said:
“Voting for Gimmel (the Charedi parties) is a declaration, Hashem Hu HaElokim, Moshe Emes V’Toraso Emes. Not voting is saying that you’re unconcerned about making a Kiddush Hashem, you’re not sharing in making a Kiddush Hashem. They’re being oseik in Kiddush Hashem, and you’re running away from it.”
“If you don’t vote Gimmel, you’re preventing a Kiddush Hashem. You’re declaring: “I’m not a Chareidi.” (emphasis mine)
The question then arises about whether this is the view of the American Charedi leadership. Rabbi Adlerstien seeks to make that distinction in his attempt to retain his Charedi credentials:
I do regard myself as haredi (at least in the American iteration thereof)
To be sure, there are differences between American Charedim and Israeli Charedim. I have mentioned many of those differences in the past. With respect to American elections, I believe Rabbi Adlerstein meant the following. The Agudah surely has preferences as to which candidate they believe would serve the Charedi world best. Even though they can’t legally endorse them they somehow find ways to make their preferences more or less known to their public. But in no way would they suggest that not voting for that candidate takes them ‘Chutz L’Machane’ outside the camp of the Charedi world.
I’m sure that’s true. However, if the American Agudah was a political party that ran their own candidates for congress - is there any question that their Gedolim would consider voting against them much the same way their counterparts in Israel do?
I think I know the answer to that question. I think Rabbi Adlerstein does too.