The number one problem of the Jewish people?

letter-447577_1280

8 bAdar

If you survey the front page headlines of newspapers in Eretz Israel and Jewish periodicals in the U.S., you would conclude that the most urgent problems of our people center around geopolitics and the Arab world. With parashat Zakhor coming up, and the mitzvah to remember and not forget Amalek, I brace myself for sermons about the dangers of Hamas and Iran in particular, and Muslims in general.

I would like to submit that those are not our most severe problems. Rather Jewish ignorance is the number one challenge today, followed by the widening socio-economic gaps in Israel.

Those are the major reasons that I wrote an explanation of why an Ashkenazi with an academic background (Stanford, Technion) like myself is voting for Shas. My reasons for backing this Sephardi haredi party were published today, Wednesday, in the Jerusalem Post opinion section.

I tend to agree with those medieval commentatots who suggested that “Amalek” was a little corner of each of us. Another explanation of the Amalek episode was given by Meir Tamari last Shabbat. He is an expert on halakha and business ethics, and pointed out that rather than focusing on blaming Amalek for attacking the nekhsholim, the weak stragglers among the Israelites, we deserved at that time to be punished for having a socio-economic class of weak stragglers. Ditto for today. Computer Use at Shas School

It isn’t only I who sees the virtues of Shas (there are also faults). A secular Haaretz reporter, Tamar Rotem, gave Straight A’s for Shas Schools in Haaretz 3 months ago in her series on the movement.

And a Princeton graduate wrote in response to my op ed,

“Yes, I agree completely. I voted Shas in previous elections for the reasons you cite – strong and effective social/educational agenda plus religious “family values” (hard to find that combination), and a moderate position on national politics.”

While Cross-Currents does not support any particular party, since there has previously been discussion by individuals about U.S. elections, I thought it appropriate to air views about another election that will even more directly affect the Jewish people.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She is on the board of the Charedi College of Jerusalem. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survved the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She s available to lecture in Israel and in the US.

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20 Responses

  1. mycroft says:

    One has to differentiate various MO positions on settlements. If one takes as a given that MO basically would not exist in the US without RYBS’s influence-not to say that he would have necessarily agreed with everything that every MO Rav has said or done-then RYBS is certainly an influence to the older and hence currently in general more noteable MO Rabbanim. In a nutshell RYBS stated he “would give back the Kotel Hammaravi if it would save one Jewish life”-it doesn’t mean that he persomaly advocated it. RYBS unlike many of Chareid Rabbanim did not claim any expertise outside of piskei Halacha. A decison on keeping territories would be a political, military, diplomatic one-RYBS claimed no special expertise in those areas. Thus, his talmidim in general tended to have a moderate viewpoint on settlements in the “territories”.
    It is probably also based on the Religious Zionism of RYBS-it was NOT a Messianic Religious Zionism a la many talmidim of Rav Kook.-it was a pragmatic Zionism. Note that his son-in-law and probable Talmid Muvhak R. A. Lichtenstein tends to have very modrate viewpoints about settlements also.
    I don’t want to get into a machlokes-debate of what people did or did not do in WW11-but suffice to understand what RYBS believed is that in 1940 he gave the memorial speech for R. Chaim Ozer in the Agudah convention-in 1946 he shows up as head of the Mizrachi-clearly WW11 and the tragedies there affected RYBS viewpoints.
    Thus, a lot of the apparent ambivalence of the RCA and to some extent the OU is not necessarily based on lack of concern-it is based on a difference of opinion with the current prevalent Mizrachi viewpoint of land being the most important value.

  2. Edvallace says:

    Steve,
    “The settlers could have but utterly failed over the years to explain their cause and the rightness of it to the RCA, OU,etc and wound up only cultiving an alliance with Chabad.”

    This is what I have a hard time understanding. I’m not a YU/MO so help out on this one if you can. Didn’t the RCA and OU etc. serve as the base for the settlers all these years? Did they need to make their case to them!? I’m not arguing but trying to understand this. I have always thought that the settler movement was most closely allied with the YI/OU/YU/RCA groups. If I was wrong on that, please explain if you’ve got a couple of minutes. thanks

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    Ed Wallace-Thanks for your point. I agree that the RZ world over the years was quite apathetic on the issues that you mentioned. There have been articles in Tradition and Jewish Action-just not in line with the Charedi point of view. There was far more sympathy in Mishpacha than in any other Charedi publication. On the other hand, I disagree with your comments re the disengagement. The settlers could have but utterly failed over the years to explain their cause and the rightness of it to the RCA, OU,etc and wound up only cultiving an alliance with Chabad.

  4. Edvallace says:

    Steve,

    “Those issues and the charedi -dominated kiruv scene are commendable and important. However, the bottom line is that the charedi world’s hashkafa towards Zionism and the State remains one which ranges from ambivalence to hostility.”

    That is only the “Bottom Line” for someone who is a staunch RZ, not someone who hails from the Chareidi camp to whom all of the aforementioned things are far more important. You are correct in your assessment of their feelings of ambivelence toward the state. That is why you are incorrect in stating that they were unjustified for not doing more to prevent the evacuation of the settlements. You can’t have it both ways.

    Yes, they fight about budget cuts and thank god fro that. But they’re about much more than simply ensuring subsidies. I don’t feel like arguing this point because it’ll take far too much time and I doubt that was your point anyhow.

    “I think that the issue of why the RCA, OU, etc wee not more active is far more nuanced than UTJ’s stalwartly anti Zionist position which it moderated only when necessary to be a coalition partner and thus received funds for Charedi mosdos.”

    That is certainly correct n the sense that the Chareidim really never were for the settlements. Hence, ambivalence about the plan. Hard to blame them for that. In fact, I was actually quite [pleasantly] surprised to see how much concern was displayed for them in the pages of the Yated, Mishpachah, HaModia and the Coalition. It’s far more than I ever saw in the Jewish Action, Jewish PRess, and Tradiition about the Kosher, Shabbos, Draft issues that the Chareidim fought.

    Whatver nuanced views and explanations one can have about why the RCA and OU failed to support the disengagement is irrelevant. The “Bottom line” is that they failed their base and that, in my opinion is unforgivable.

    In truth, as I stated earlier your post attempted to do the impossible. You can’t sum it all up in one sentence. It’s far too nuanced for that.
    Kol Tuv!

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    One other point-In my opinion, both RZ and UTJ suffer from a fixation upon their agendas to the exclusion of offering a point of view on “social issues.” For instance, the issues of a living wage, spousal abuse,adolescents at risk, yeridah after IDF service and white slavery should all be addressed from a Torah perspective. Instead, we hear at best some very left wing RZ voices and the Charedi world saying that these issues are the natural development of a secular Zionism. It is if Chas Ve Shalom, Torah Jewry, regardless of its hashkafa, has abandoned its role as a voice on social and moral issues so as to maintain its funding from the trough of the Knesset. In my opinion, the halacha has much to say on all of these issues in a way that is relevant and meaningful for all times and places. In other words, it is not enough to say that a life predicated on Torah and Mitzvos is the answer, but rather to state that Halacha has an opinion on all of these issues, and is relevant to all times and places-not just in the Charedi yeshiva, the Chasidic court or Gush Katif.

  6. Yeshoua says:

    Steve,
    You are correct in many things that you have said. We are in Israel for over 3 years now and this will be my first national election that I can vote in. I have a big dilemma who to vote for but unlike you I have a choice to vote or not. I am not totally Charedi at least the way it is defined here in Israel and I am also notcompletely in the nationilisticc camp. I like to think of myself as a proud jew and I dislike all the labeling hat goes on here. I can not vote for Degel hatorah who stayed in govenrment who did waht they did this summer and the problem is yet unsolved, to me wwhat they did was a tremdeous Chillul Hasehm they thought they would get money and no money was ever given it was thought the US government would bank roll Gush Katif it hasn’t happened and the Degel Hatorah did not receive any money and that was there main reason for staying in. We teach people they should have bitchon marry a kollel person everything will work out so where is there Bitachon that they choose to seat in a govenrment thatwas conray to everything they beleive in just for money? Shas was a cause for Oslo but now do you say they did teshuva? Eichud Leumi maybe that is a way to vote I don’t know I know that it is very important on a natural level for believing Jews that Kadima can not form the next government. Enough lecturing on my part. Let us pray for the miracle of Purim to take place very soon and all Jews will get a long a nd see the light of real torah Judasim and we should learn to be tolerate of our fellow religious jews and see the day of moshiach.

    Regards from Yerushalyim,

    Y

  7. Anonymous in LA says:

    In the meantime, can we keep these traitors from ever returning to Eretz Yisroel?

  8. Marty Bluke says:

    What solution is Shas offering? Raising the kitzbaot yeladim (child payments) is not the answer (which is one of Shas’s main planks this election).

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    Edvallace- Many ,but certainly not all, within the leadership of the OU, RCA and others in the MO camp held differing views on the disengagement. I myself viewed the entire affair as a case of alternative reality. While I was against the disengagement, I strongly believe that the settlers’ movement consistently failed to make their case in the realm of public opinion and essentially backed RZ into a political desert. IOW, the inhabitants of Gush Katif never dreamed in their worse nightmares that they would be sacrificed on Sharon’s altar. The government never dreamed that they would be removed and be able to create family dislocations, etc with such ease. The settlers never thought that their tefilos would not be answered.

    That being said-UTJ reflects those segments of the Ltvishe yeshiva world. I am not sure what battles you are referring to but I am sure they include , the overly activist Israeli Supreme Court, draft deferments, sherut lami, autopsies, preservation of the status quo, autopsies and highway construction.( Although we hear about Kol Korehs re safe driving, we need more Charedi MKs talking about these issues, IIRC, a Shas MK served quite well in one ministry as a Minister of Health. IMO, that was a Kiddush HaShem.) Those issues and the charedi -dominated kiruv scene are commendable and important. However, the bottom line is that the charedi world’s hashkafa towards Zionism and the State remains one which ranges from ambivalence to hostility. I think that it is fair to say many Charedim view EY as just another place where they hope to be able to be as frum as they are in ChuL with as much “toleration” and government support at the expense of other sectors such as RZ. OTOH, one cannot deny the work of RZ vis a vis Yeshivot Hesder, and its role in the status quo. I think that the issue of why the RCA, OU, etc wee not more active is far more nuanced than UTJ’s stalwartly anti Zionist position which it moderated only when necessary to be a coalition partner and thus received funds for Charedi mosdos.

    I also take exception to your professed knowledge of my political feelings. I believe that both the Charedi and RZ worlds have much to offer Torah Jewry. However, I oppose the excesses of both. If I had a choice, I would be apolitical. I have posted here and elsewhere that we live in an era where the lack of empathy between Charedim and RZ is shocking. Your letter illustrates my point. I by no means deny that RZ missed the opportunity to build bridges and to work together with UTJ. Of course, one can ask whether the Charedim would have welcomed RZ support or merely viewed them as “having come home” to the yeshiva world as one ad proclaimed in the Yated after Gush Katif.

  10. Edvallace says:

    Steve,

    Not that I disagree with your overall assessment about the picture being rather bleak but I do take issue with the following statement:

    “UTJ is worried about further cuts to the Charedi world, but can be fairly accused of basically showing crocodile tears to the victims of the disengagement. (A recent Kol Koreh by haredi Gdolim calling on all to raise money for the victims of the disenagement is a very positive sign of empathy.)”

    I dare say the UTJ is worried about a whole lot more than that. They’ve been at the forefront of the battle to keep maintain Torah values in society for fifty years. They’ve waged so many battles on behalf of the Torah and its adherents that I find you characterization of them laughable. The only thing it tells me with any degree of accuracy is your political leanings. Why are their tears any more “crocodile like” than those of the OU, RCA and so many other in the MO camp who basically said and did nothing about an issue that was so dear to them?

    UTJ never claimed to be supporters of the settlement movement [and in may cases openly denounced it]. Why should their expressions of sympathy be held to standard any higher than the professed supporters of the settlements who did next to nothing?

    I could probably argue about some other characterizations you made about other parties but I doubt its necessary. It’s awfully difficult to sum up five parties in one short paragraph and your post did little to disprove that.

  11. HILLEL says:

    Dear Yehoshua:

    I share your Messianic vision, too.

    However, I would prefer to see this vision enacted by Moshiach, himself, rather than an Israeli political party.

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    Looking at the electoral situation in Israel, the adjective bleak comes to mind. The NRP has become a one issue party-settlements above all else. UTJ is worried about further cuts to the Charedi world, but can be fairly accused of basically showing crocodile tears to the victims of the disengagement. (A recent Kol Koreh by haredi Gdolim calling on all to raise money for the victims of the disenagement is a very positive sign of empathy.) Shas has a similar view, albeit not as hardline on certain issues such as training and careers for women. However,Shas is one of the parties responsible for the debacle and false messiah of Oslo.Kadimah is a post Zionist combo of Labor/Shiniui/Meretz that now has attracted a far left RZ thinker R Bin Num in the same manner that Labor sought the fig leaf of respectability from R Amital in the afermath of the Rabin assassination. Netanyahu’s failure to gain any real traction can be attributed to his past performance as PM and his role in implementing the budget cuts that adversely affected everyone except the denizens of N Tel Aviv, etc. All in all, I think that the term bleak is an apt description.

  13. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I will, IY”H, be voting for the National Union on election day. While I strongly identify with quality of education as an issue and do my best to help in this regard, I take into account national issues as well. We frum Jews should be getting together despite all our differences and preparing a leadership to run the country. The people who are supporting the NU are people who live kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles. We go to weddings at which the mixture of national origins are frequent. Our communities share meals together and mix and match customs. We are looking forward to the Sanhedrin which will make the judicial decisions that will allow all Jews to live as one community and eat and daven together. When that happens and not before, the leadership in Eretz Yisrael will be made up of G-d-fearing and decisive Jews who will lead us to the final victory of Hashem in the world.

  14. Yeshoua says:

    Hillel,
    I thought a smiley means that it is a joke. Like I wrote the main thing is to vote out kadima. I have no problem with Shas infact I might consider it to at least they were against what happpened this past summer and the problem has still not gone away

  15. mycroft says:

    Whether I technically agree with the following: “Rather Jewish ignorance is the number one challenge today, followed by the widening socio-economic gaps in Israel” is irrelevant-my only quibbleis that if there is an existential threat to the Jewish population of Israel eg nuclear weapons that may come first-but I am pleased with your emphasis.

    In addition I am very pleased by your quote “Another explanation of the Amalek episode was given by Meir Tamari last Shabbat. He is an expert on halakha and business ethics, and pointed out that rather than focusing on blaming Amalek for attacking the nekhsholim, the weak stragglers among the Israelites, we deserved at that time to be punished for having a socio-economic class of weak stragglers. Ditto for today.” I might add the basic viewpoint of unmitigated capitalism of what is mine is mine and what is your is yours is considered by our Rabbis as Middat Sdom-a characteristic of the people of Sdom who got destroyed by God.

    I would also like to paraphrase Mrs Schmidt to “Rather Jewish ignorance is the number one challenge today, followed by the widening socio-economic gaps in American Jewry”

  16. HILLEL says:

    My Dear “SKEPTIC”–

    What a silly argument you made!

    You mean to say that someone is disqualified from admiring wonderful, caring people, just because she has a relationship with them?

    I guess that disqualfies me from discussing G-D, since I pray to Him three times a day!

    The point is–your comment was mean-spirited, ad-hominym, and gratuitous. Shame on you!

  17. HILLEL says:

    This week’s editorial in the English Mishpacha magazine from Israel makes the same point: We needn’t focus on our enemies so much–we need to focus on our relationship with our Father in Heaven.

    If we get that right, the imminent threats to our existence will disappear.

  18. skeptic says:

    Does your voting for Shas have to do with your treaching at the
    Charedi College which is run by Rav Ovadia Yosef’s daughter :-)?
    The main thing is that Kadima should not be able to form the next
    government. We should hear good news!!!!

  19. mb says:

    Trying to get a short cut to heaven?

  20. Steve Brizel says:

    One can applaud Shas’s schools and still remember that its alliance with
    Labor is one of the reasons why the Knesset approved Oslo. Whether or not
    Shas was a victim of a selective prosecution is another issue that I would
    defer to another time and place.