Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Charedim That Are Closet Centrists

Yakir Hexter and David Schwartz learned together and died together (Mishpacha)
One of my closest friends was Charedi. Although he passed away just over a year ago, I think of him often. His Hashkafa was decidedly Charedi and he sent his children to Charedi schools. Some of whom ended up in Lakewood. But he often privately described himself as a ‘reluctant’ Charedi’. I understood what he meant. Despite our Hashkafic differences which we often debated, we were kindred spirits in many ways. Which included having similar criticisms of the Charedi world. After reading Jonathan Rosenblum’s latest column in Mishpacha, I thought of him again.  

Now I’m sure Jonathan would not describe himself that way. But his recent column was far more Centrist in tone than it was Charedi. Here is an  excerpt from that column that demonstrates what I mean: 

Nearly 50 percent of the casualties to date are religious soldiers, many of them reservists with wives and children. On a recent segment of the Halacha Headlines radio show, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, rav of Gush Etzion, rosh yeshivah of Machon Lev, and the author of numerous halachic seforim, used the sh’eilos asked of him by soldiers in combat to convey his own awe at the quality of those serving in the IDF… These soldiers were not just religious, but serious lomdei Torah. 

First of all, how many of us even knew that 50% of the casualties were observant soldiers? That in and of itself is at one time admirable and tragic. Tragic because of their death and admirable because of what it says about a group  whose percentage of the population is a lot less than 50%.

With respect to the rest of Jonathan’s comment  - the idea of placing such high value on Hesder soldiers is not something you tend to hear in Charedi circles.  In fact the Charedi world pretty much dismisses them as - at best irrelevant or at worst as collaborating with the ‘enemy’. The ‘enemy’ being Zionism even in its religious form.

This is not to say that the Charedi leadership wouldn’t mourn the deaths of a Jewish soldier killed in action. I know for example that R’ Shach would be brought to tears upon hearing of the death of any soldier. Even if he was secular. But at the same time, I doubt that he ever talked in such glowing terms about the religious component or the high level of Torah study of Hesder students. 

Here is yet another excerpt that indicates Jonathan’s departure from the typical way the Charedi world looks at things: 

THE PRIDE I FEEL in being part of a very special people has only grown and grown since October 7, and I would guess that feeling is almost universal among identified Jews. Though I have focused until now primarily on religious Jews, that pride is not confined to them. Historian Michael Oren’s description of Israeli society as the strongest and most resilient in the world, upon the hundredth day of the war, strikes me as true. 

What other country could continue to function with hundreds of thousands of citizens uprooted from their homes on the northern and southern borders indefinitely, and hundreds of thousands more reservists away from their families and jobs for that entire time? One hundred percent of reservists answered their call-up notices, including tens of thousands who returned immediately from abroad. And in many units, 50 percent more than the number of those called up reported for duty, which they knew in advance would be dangerous and arduous. 

I feel the same way. And yet I would be shocked if  these words were ever uttered by any of the Charedi leadership or their representatives in the Knesset. It is far more likely to hear Charedi leaders saying that praising anything other than learning Torah full time as a the way to win is a Chilul HaShem. As one might hear them say about the following: 

The amount of private philanthropy and volunteerism needed to maintain some modicum of normalcy has been remarkable. One of my daughters-in-law shared with me yesterday the inspiration she had from preparing meals together with Mrs. Devorah Ebbing and Mrs. Laiky Lehrfeld, her neighbors from Ramat Beit Shemesh. Since just after Simchas Torah, their Mazon Campaign has been sending approximately 300 gourmet meals a week, made from whatever ingredients are on sale, to soldiers stationed on the northern and southern borders. Recently, their meals added to the joy of a siyum held by a unit in Gaza itself.

There is a lot more of this in Jonathan’s Mishpacha column. Which should be read in its entirety by everyone. 

If I didn’t know better, I would describe Jonathan as a Centrist. But he self identifies as Charedi and is a favored author of many ‘Gedolim biographies’ for ArtScroll. 

I wonder though how many other Charedim feel the way he does. Is he the exception that proves the rule whose outlier views are tolerated because of his literacy? Or are there a lot more like him?

I have a feeling that among the Charedi masses there are a lot more like him. What I refer to as  moderate mainstream Charedim. I just wish they would speak up more and demonstrate to the world that they do not subscribe to the extremism expressed by Charedi leadership. That would - in my view  bring unprecedented unity to the Jewish people. What better time to do that than now?