Friday, May 19, 2023

Even Though They're Right...

Rav Gershon Edelstein 
I don’t know if it was the right call. But I get why they did it. A ‘grass roots’ Charedi boycott of Angel’s Bakery, perhaps Israel’s largest bakery took place in Israel last week. A bakery that has the Hechsher of the Eida HaCharedis. It sprung out of what seems like nowhere. and spread like wildfire. 

I say grass roots because not a single Charedi rabbinic leader or politician called for one. And certainly not Rav Gershon Edlestein, the 99 year old Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh who is at the center of the protest. Rav Edelstein is considered one of the Gedolei HaDor if not THE Gadol HaDor by the Charedi world.

The boycott was the spontaneous reaction by Charedim in Bnei Brak where the protest took place in front of Rav Edlstein’s home. The purpose was to a protest the automatic exemption of Charedi students from army service. It was attended by former Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, currently the Chairman of Angel’s board of directors. Hence, the boycott.

While Rav Edelstein surely supports. those exemptions, I do not agree that a mob of protestors should be out in what might be perceived  as threatening by a 99 year old gentle and kindly Rosh Yeshiva  - who does not have a mean bone in his body!.

I understand why the protestors are upset. It is the same reason that I am upset by it. Is their blood not as red as Charedi blood? The protestors (correctly in my view) believe that their lives are subjected to mortal danger in combat whereas Yeshiva students sit in their study halls without needing to worry about  ‘mundane’ things like being killed protecting their people.

Now it’s true that many, perhaps even most most army inductees do not participate in combat. And I’m equally convinced that the country does not need them to fill combat roles. Or even all the ancillary services that army requires. But that does not remove the possibility that a an inductee will serve in battle if he is qualified to do so, That Charedim never have to worry about that is indeed unfair. No matter how you slice it.

Charedim often counter that Torah  study is just as protective of Israel’s populace as fighting in a battle. If not more so.  That does not make a grieving mother who lost her son in battle feel any better. Making this attitude even more problamatic is the lack of appreciation to the those young Israeli soldiers that do put their lives on the line in battles so that these Yeshiva students can sit and learn without fear of being attacked.

I keep hearing from Charedi circles that they do appreciate it. And have expressed it publicly. Although I haven’t heard it myself. I will take their word for it. But in truth the real way they could express gratitude would be to say the ‘Prayer for the safety of the soldiers’ written by the Chief Rabbinate at the founding of the country. They do not. And they will not as a matter of principle. 

The principle being that by doing so they will recognize the validity of a secular Zionist state. Which in their view is considered an abomination. Their consider their refusal to say a prayer written by even a religious Zionist rabbi a religious imperative. In my view that is at best ridiculous.  And  worse it places religious politics over the lives of fellow Jews serving in the army. Many of whom are observant. (Not that makes any difference.)      

None of this is  new. I have discussed this subject many times. But in spite of my own views on this subject, protesting a 99 year old frail Rosh Yeshiva about an issue not of his pwn making that has been the case for over seven decades is both counterproductive and an unbelievable Chutzpah.  And an understandable affront to the community he serves. So I completely understand the boycott. And although I love Angel’s bakery products, I might have even joined that boycott had I been there.  

On a somewhat related note, the current controversy raging in Israel has generated some pretty mean caricatures of Charedim. That is just as wrong as when extremist Charedim did the same thing to Charedim that  joined the IDF. In both cases these images would have made Hitler’s chief Nazi propagandist, Josef Goebbels proud. That is sick and ought to stop.