Who’s Listening, Indeed?

letter-447577_1280

The JTA headline on the recent World Zionist Organization elections says “WZO Elections Send Pluralist Message – But Who’s Listening?” Perhaps the reason why no one is listening is because that isn’t really the message, at all.

The Reform movement is celebrating their win of 55 of the 145 total seats. The JTA points out that the non-Orthodox voices remain the majority: “Of the 145 delegates up for grabs in balloting for the U.S. slate to the WZO’s 35th Congress of the Jewish People, 89 went to parties representing progressive religious movements — Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist.”

This is, however, a shallow victory. Of far greater import are the trendlines to be followed by comparing this election with previous ones. In the last election, the Reform movement won 61 seats, over 40%, and in 1997 they took 70 seats, nearly half the total. This time around, the Religious Zionist slate won 35 seats, taking second place from the Conservative movement’s Mercaz for the first time — and more than doubling their 1997 tally.

Overall, one of the most interesting results is the fact that fewer and fewer people seem to care. While nearly 108,000 people participated in 1997, this year fewer than 75,700 bothered to vote.

And perhaps the loudest message of all is heard from one of the groups that cares most of all about the Land of Israel, yet refrained from voting — as they have every time. I am speaking, of course, about the charedim. Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote about this through Am Echad resources, and pointed out that over 100,000 people, mostly charedim, turned out for the Siyum HaShas, completion of the Talmud, last year. If half that number had voted, they would have formed the largest slate in the election — with all of the tremendous economic benefits to be had as a result.

Yet they did not vote, and that says a great deal. For those interested in reading Rabbi Shafran’s piece, I’ve enclosed it here.

Pride and Principle
Rabbi Avi Shafran

The Reform movement is proudly proclaiming its success in the recent elections for the American slate of the World Zionist Organization’s “35th Congress of the Jewish People,” having garnered the most delegates (although six fewer than in the previous election, in 2002). Reform Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, contends that the election result “demonstrates that our message… has become the dominant voice of American Zionism.”

Well, that depends on how one defines Zionism. Which, in turn, turns on a question that likely puzzled thoughtful observers of the WZO’s recent election: Where were American haredim?

Slates of candidates were fielded by a number of Jewish movements and organizations, including the Conservative movement, the Reconstructionist Federation and the Religious Zionist Slate.

But a slate representing the haredi community was nowhere to be found in the election results, and that was no accident. Although haredi events (prayer gatherings and major happenings like the Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas) have drawn tens of thousands of participants, and haredi voting blocs are a treasured prize to politicians in some of the largest Jewish communities in the United States, haredim chose, as always they have, to decline to participate in the WZO elections.

The reason might be hard for some to understand, but it’s worth the effort.

In order to vote in the elections, one must affirm a set of ideas known as “The Jerusalem Program.” It is the credo of the contemporary Zionist movement, and stresses the “centrality” of the “State of Israel” in “the life of the [Jewish] nation.” (Ironically, the very idea of Jews returning to the Jewish ancestral homeland was once vehemently rejected by the Reform movement – and still is by the Reform group known as the American Council for Judaism. Mainstream Reform, however, changed direction in the 1940s.)

There are no greater “zionists” than haredim, who pray daily and fervently for the Jewish return to Zion; who are so disproportionately overrepresented in the rolls of both those who make aliyah and those who visit Israel regularly; and who are so strongly supportive of ensuring Israel’s security. Yet, for haredim, Israel the state is one thing; Eretz Yisrael, the holy land promised by G-d to His people, another. And to a haredi, the “centrality” of the Jewish people can be only one thing: our Torah.

To a haredi, the laws and wisdom of the Jewish religious tradition are not only what defined our nation at its inception, and what allowed it (along, in fact, with its yearning for the Jewish ancestral land) to persevere for millennia in exile, but what alone can ensure its future.

Thus, while it might bring economic benefit to the haredi world in Israel and elsewhere were haredim to field and elect candidates for the World Zionist Congress, as a matter of honesty and conscience, haredim cannot in good faith subscribe to the credo on which such participation is contingent, a credo that subtly but objectionably places a country in the place of a divine mandate.

And so when, as a response to the broad pre-election Reform registration campaign, inquiries came in to Agudath Israel from its constituents, each caller was informed of what registering entailed, and advised to forego participation.

There’s something worth pondering here. When haredi citizens of Israel exercise their democratic privileges to advocate for their needs, they are all too often portrayed as pursuing lucre even at the expense of principle – even though all they are doing is what every constituency in a democracy does: endeavor to access government assistance to which they have claim.

A truer proof of the principle pudding, though, lies in the WZO elections example. By participating, haredim stood only to gain (and gain they would have; just think of how the votes of the more than 100,000 Jews who participated in the Siyum HaShas – the majority of them haredim – would have changed the election’s result). By not participating, not only was potential funding of projects forfeited but control of the World Zionist Congress’ American division largely relinquished to a Reform movement openly intent on undermining the influence of halacha in Israel, hardly a comforting thought to Jews who value traditional Jewish standards. Principle, though, is principle.

A timely coincidental contrast to the haredi distancing from the WZO elections was presented by another recent development on the American scene. On the very day the election results were announced, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that universities accepting money from the federal government must, as per a 1994 law, permit military recruiters on campus. Some universities had objected to such presence on principle, since the Pentagon bars open homosexuals from serving in the military.

Perhaps it’s too early to judge, but at least at this writing, none of the universities objecting to the presence of military recruiters has taken the step of announcing that it will forego its federal funding in order to maintain its commitment to what the schools have framed as a civil rights issue. Perhaps it’s cynical to predict that few, if any, will ever actually do so. But betting men might well lay odds.

Because in most of contemporary life, ideals are often put on splendid but flimsy pedestals. As Groucho Marx famously said “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them – well, I have others.”

Well, some don’t.

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47 Responses

  1. Beverly Gross says:

    IT’S THE POLL TAX! The required fee to participate in the election has deterred me–for one–from voting. No matter how small the fee, it would be too much for some to spend; and furthermore, it has risen recently! (Yes, $7.00 is still real money, on my planet. It can buy a meal or 2 or a little fuel or something else. And how is life on your planet? Sure wish I lived there!) No doubt this fee has made many think twice about participating in the election. Therefore, even though said election’s results are alleged to represent the views of all Zionist-oriented Jews, they don’t. Instead, the results represent the views of those who can spend $7.00 without thinking about it. Can you say “poll tax”? Do you know why any such fee or tax is banned from the elections of all truly democratic nations? Because it makes voting difficult or impossible for those with fewer resources. A poll tax (by any name) in effect deprives some of the right to vote. What may be even worse, it can skew election results in a particular direction–whatever direction is favored by those who have more disposable income! How, if at all, the poll tax may have affected the political outcome of this particular election I won’t hazard a guess. In fact, for all I know, those with higher incomes may even tend to vote the same way I would; so maybe my own political cause/s are actually well-served by the poll tax. But I still think it’s wrong. Surely there is a better way to finance an election. Almost any way would be more just–and would produce election results that more accurately represent the will of the Jewish people all around the world–than does the poll tax.

  2. Edvallace says:

    Steve,

    “It is interesting, but many people seem to view Sefer Chafetz Chaim not as a sefer halacha by which to improve themselves, but as a weapon which is to be used to thwart discussions on hashkafa and issues which affect every Jew.”

    Sorry but this one won’t work. I’m all for discussion, when it’s rational and not unceasingingly critical. I have no need to examine the archives of other blogs. So far the bulk of what I’ve seen from you here is just that and rarely is it described as a rant against the “extremist elements” on the fringe. I can’t speak for others but I quote the Chafetz Chaim the same way I try to use him in my daily life: As a guide to help me gauge whether there’s any productive purpose in engaging in criticism of other Jews and unless I’m positive that there is, I try very hard [albeit sometimes unsuccessfully] to refrain.

    I have no doubt that you’ve been a dedicated activist and far be it from me to question your record on that point. Still, I don’t think I’m overextending myself by saying that your name and reputation will not convince others to change their mind the way some others might [think RJBS, Rabbi Salomon, Rabbi Lichtenstein, Rabbi Frand etc.] I therefore question your assertion that your criticisms can serve a useful purpose.

    I can’t give you a theory on why the RZ fared so poorly because I don’t know that movement well enough to venture that. I was very surprised to say the least. THe UTJ is also somewhat of a puzzle to me but I’m not as surprised by that because there’s been so much shifting of the party over the years in position and leadership that may have played a role. Also, I think that since UTJ doesn’t take much of a position on matters of security, that may have trumped the other issues and actually caused UTJ fringe voters to vote for Kadima or Likud. Just random thoughts, not even theories but since you asked.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    Edvallace-Since we seem to be discussing these issues too often, please feel free to email me off the blog if you would like to discuss the issues.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    Edvallace-Please allow this response re your comments re MO and Negiah. I encountered the infamous phrase “shomer negiah” once and my daughters explained it to me in the sense that in some MO circles, keeping negiah is viewed as a hanhagah, as opposed to a halacha. Your comments are well taken in that regard.

    I am interested in the discussion on the merits. Your comments that one has to be a recognized Magid or communal activist in order to have an opinion are interesting, but quite wrong factually. I know what a Maggid is, but your term “recognized communal activist” is slightly vague. I hope that you didn’t mean the biggest gvir or the person with the most plaques in his house. Can you show me where Klal Yisrael has ever employed such a category as entitling anyone to an opinion? I am not a magid, but I have been active in communal affairs as a layperson for a very long time on the local and national levels. My perspective is that both the MO and Charedi worlds have much to offer many Jews. OTOH, I am sure that I am not the only person who is more than slightly uncomfortable with the extremists who inhabit the fringes of both camps.

    It is interesting, but many people seem to view Sefer Chafetz Chaim not as a sefer halacha by which to improve themselves, but as a weapon which is to be used to thwart discussions on hashkafa and issues which affect every Jew. These same people quote from it selective;ly about supporting and not insulting communities, especially and alarmingly exclusively their communities. AFAIK, the mitzvah of tochaca
    , which the Sefer CC discusses extensively, always had an element of constructive criticism built into it. It seems like the height of irony that a sefer that provides a halachic definition and ground rules for such discussions, would be used to ban such discussions. I suggest that you read some of the Archives at Hirhurim. Arevim and elsewhere where I discuss at length my respect for both the Charedi and MO worlds and my lack of respect for their respective extremes.

    Just curious-do you have an explanation or theory why Shas did so well and UTJ and RZ did not fair so well in the elections? Based upon R Rosenblum and Mrs. Schmidt’s columns-the answer is simple. Shas went out and campaigned for votes American style and did not view itself as a one issue party. I suspect that we will see evidence that many Charedim and RZ both voted for Shas.

  5. Edvallace says:

    Steve,

    Clearly you missed my point. I was/am not interested in debating the de/merits of OU/YU/NCSY or RZ. I was simply pointing out that there is much to discuss and criticize should one truly be seeking the Emes. Believe me, if you want that debate I could go on for hours and provide more than anecdotal evidence [I could do the same for Hareidim as well] but I don’t see why I should or would. The fact that I have rarely seen you offer any such criticism which leads me to believe that you are not as virtuous in your motives as you may believe. I can’t help but wonder whether your unceasing criticisms of the Hareidi public are not motivated by something other than Middas HaEmes, possibly even Sinas Chinam? You wouldn’t be the first MO person to engage in that toward Hareidim but I thought I’d bring it to your attention that even if my perception is untrue, you’re doing a terrific job of making me [and a whole lot of others] think so.
    I can assure you that there is no Hetter whatsoever to criticize other religious Jews and movements indisciminately. Yours is not a voice that people recognize and pay heed to. You are not a recognized Maggid, communal activist or anything else that would lend a constructive label to your criticisms. Thus, I believe that what you’re engaging in is Lashon Harrah.
    You seem to be a learned person. Take a look at the Sefer Chafetz Chaim and you’ll see that my point is a valid one.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    Edvallace-I take exeption to your claims re NCSY. The OU and NCSY ( along with Chabad) were long into kiruv all over North America way before the Charedi world decided that kiruv was important. Although R Stolper was encouraged by R Y Hutner ZTL to stay in NCSY early on, R Stolper also sought the guidance from all of the Gdolim in the USA. One (well-known) mistake does not constitute “many stains on its record.”

    The RZ crowd elevated settlement over all other mitzvos in terms of importance and improperly utilized Holocaust rhetoric. It also utterly failed to develope a single ally within the Israeli establishment and was knifed in the back, if I can use R Meidan’s phrase-by its secular Zionist allies who it always sought alliances as opposed to the Charedim. It then ceased being a bridge to the secular world. I think that RZ always has ignored even temporary, one issue alliances with Charedim-look at the huge Tefillah rally-zero RZ participation, etc. OTOH, if R Menken is correct, there are Charedim such as Slonimer Chasidim and others who realize that the Charedi world could have been more supportive during the disengagement, as opposed to raising funds now.

    As far as negiah and MO are concerned, I am not sure exactly what you mean. Here is a stab at a response. NCSY never has had social dancing. I think that most MO organizations have long ceased having mixed dancing, etc. Mixed dancing also seems to have died a natural death in mainstream MO circles. Those MO oriented places that still have mixed dancing are just not MO by any definition of the term. More women in the MO world are adhering to Tznius ( i.e. attire, hair covering,etc) than in the past. OTOH, too many MO families still have no problems with social interactions of teenagers of the opposite genders on a non tachlis basis. That is a problem, but I think that the real issues in MO are the singles crisis and the general future of MO’s next generation , about which I haven’t seen MO leadership come up with a meaningful solution . Too many MO are more interested in railing against the”move to the right” as opposed to their kids dropping observance altogether after attending a secular college in the middle of nowhere with no meaningful Torah presence either on campus or nearby. It is nice that the OU has a Torah initiative for college students in this predicament, but noone in the OU world dares to raise the issue of whether exposing one’s neshamah to such an atmosphere is proper.

    With respect to YU, I think that RIETS has a fantastic gallaxy of Roshei Yeshivah with a valid Mesorah. The Batei Medrashim are packed and the kolleleit there can learn with the best of any yeshiva. Obviously, though, neither Lakewood nor RIETS are the only places where one can learn Torah on a high level.

  7. Edvallace says:

    Steve,

    If it’s Middas HaEmes you aspire to, you just might consider admitting that the RCA/OU/YU crowd have a long way to go when it comes to having met that standard.
    1] NCSY is a fine organization with many stains on its record
    2] Leaving the RZ crowd out to dry when push came to shove by the disengagement. Instead you rewrite history to the effect that the RZ movement didn’t explain it’s case well enough to them and instead blame the Hareidi’s for not expressing enough anguish over their plight! What a bunch of nonsense and you know it.
    3] While being modern is a nice ideal to strive for, it’s no excuse for the rampant trampling of the laws of Negiah that’s so widespread in the circles of MO. Have you ever written about that? Not that I’ve seen and I’ve seen alot of you because you’re everywhere on the internet.
    I could go on but I won’t because my intent is not to bash the MO. I love every Jew and rather than “placing my head in the sand and liking apple pie” I actually try to see the positive even in the movements that I disagree with on certain ideological points instead of simply blogging the “truth” all day about a sect of Judaism that arouses my ire. If Middas HaEmes is your goal, you’d apply it equally to all sects of Judaism. As it stands today, your unmitigated dislike of all things Hareidi is not offered in the pursuit of Middas HaEmes but rather in the name of Sinas Chinam.
    I’m sorry if my tone is harsh but it’s hard to sit and watch you pound at a vital segment of our community on a daily basis and say nothing. Middas HaEmes will only get you so far. At some point Lashon Harah kicks in and what you write and say more than meets that criteria.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    EdWallace-Some people like apple pie and pretending that everything is fine in our little world. I think that there is a midas haemes that is paramount and must be pursued at all costs, even if it forces all of us, regardless of our orientation, to think about some of the issues in our communities.

  9. Edvallace says:

    Suddenly everyones a critic! :-)
    I’m not sure what “good company” you’re referring to [if its then endless number of malcontents who blog daily about the weaknesses of whatever person/party they’re against I’m not sure that’s really good company] but I’m far more impressed with someone who can find good things to say about each camp than someone who makes a career out of criticizing all parties. Maybe it’s just me but I find that criticism ceases to be constructive when you know to expect it with regularity.
    For the record, I think you’re knowledgable and insightful but I take issue with self-appointed critics at large.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Edwallace- I stand by my posts-which at times criticize the fever swamps of the Charedi and the MO worlds-IOW-the extremes. I have been criticiazed for bashing both POCs. I think that my iconoclastic posture places me in very good company.

  11. Edvallace says:

    Steve,

    “Some MO types think that I bash MO too harshly.”

    Lord knows that I don’t follow you around the various blogs you populate so I claim no experetise in this area, but from what I’ve seen here and elsewhere, that statement leaves me scratching my head. Any criticism I’ve ever seen you level against the MO seems of the “Boy are they amazing, I just wish they’d realize it” kind. Maybe the MO’s are just really sensitive. ;-)

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    Michoel-Join the club. Some MO types think that I bash MO too harshly. The fact is that I love the best of the Charedi an and MO worlds . They both enhance my Avodas HaShem. I reject the extremes of both and completely comfortable in saying so.

  13. Michoel says:

    “You seem to have missed my overall point.”
    If you say so. But I don’t entirely blame myself. You seem to find a lot of enjoyment in Charedi-baiting. Maybe I am being too sensitive but that is my perception.

  14. BobF says:

    There are no greater “zionists” than haredim, who pray daily and fervently for the Jewish return to Zion; who are so disproportionately overrepresented in the rolls of both those who make aliyah and those who visit Israel regularly; and who are so strongly supportive of ensuring Israel’s security
    >>>>>>>>
    As long as you don’t serve in the army, you cannot consider yourself zionist. You certainly aren’t supportive of ensuring Israel’s security. I know thats not you main point but had to say it.

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    Michoel-ever hear of the Chaftez Chaim or R Elchanan Zicronam Livracha. They certainly believed that the Holocaust was enroute because of assimilation, etc, The Nazis murdered 6,000,000 Jews, many of whom were Shomrei Torah uMitzvos and all of whom died Al Kiddush HaShem. The Communists destroyed Jewish souls, but never made genocide as devised in Mein Kamph a state policy. Despite all of the horrors of the Gulag and the Siberian camps, nothing that the Soviets did matched the Nazis. That is simply a fact of history.

    You seem to have missed my overall point. It is not an issue of liking or disliking other frum Jews. The issue is whether one can discuss how Daas Torah has functioned on a practical level without the entire discussion being barricaded by an assertion that Daas Torah bars such a dicussion. There is no question that such an assertion is raised routinely on the issues of the relationship between the leaders of Torah Jewry and many of the forces that interacted with their lives in the 19th and 20th Centuries and how the stances of the Gdolim affected their communities. I am not saying that we can indulge in 20/20 hindsight, but we should be able to discuss what happened in the past so that we learn from it and never allow it to happen again. Claims that frum Jews do not like other other Frum Jews or that are based in historical revisionism hardly aid the discussion.

  16. Michoel says:

    …Charedi world insists that its Gdolim “knew” that the Holocaust was enroute for a variety of reasons… I am aware only of Rav Shimom Schwab’s encounter with the Chafetz Chaim. Please provide a makor to substantiate this statement.

    ..One should add that certain Gdolim and communal leaders even viewed Nazism as preferable to Communism… And even now, prove to me that it is not so.

    …When you read enough arguments like that… Steve, when I read your many argumets, I am reminded that there are some frum Jews that seem to not particualry like other frum Jews.

  17. Steve Brizel says:

    Charlie B Hall-The WZO definitely has an impact on funding RZ and MO mosdos in Israel-whether Yeshivos hesder, some seminaries NCSY programs or such seemingly benign groups as Amit or Emunah. A poor showing would have put these programs at risk or caused them to raise tuition even higher than it had already been raised because of cutbacks to the religious sector by Sharon & Co.

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    Michoel-You may be right re the long term. Yet, despite the Reform’s tooting their horns over the results, the Religious Zionists did quite well and finished quite respectably. In any event, the R and C walked out of the Synagogue Council of America, because they knew that either the OU or the RCA would veto or threaten to veto anything that remotely smacked of “pluralism.” Although the SCA died back in the early 1990s, I see no effort whatsover to effecuate a revival of this group. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which also used to be fairly anti-O, has even retreated from O bashing because of the OU’s very skillful participation therein.

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    Michoel-My point re El Elamein was that the threat to the yishuv ended for any and all purposes at that point. I am sure that I am not the only person blogging here who believes that an independent Jewish state that was supported by all factions of the Jewish community would have had an open door policy in a manner similar to the Law of Return. Of course, Charedim complain about the pre war dominance of the quotas by the secular Zionists. Yet,despite the genuineness of that complaint, participation, as opposed to boycotting the same, might have led to a far greater quota for Charedim. Obviously, one cannot pass judgments on Gdolim, but the fact that R Neuberger ZTL participated in non-Charedi governed groups and was able to increase respect for his yeshiva shows the benefit of doing so.
    It really all boils down to the same issue-the Charedi world insists that its Gdolim “knew” that the Holocaust was enroute for a variety of reasons, yet opposed participation with Zionist groups and then after the war blamed the Zionists for the Holocaust and claimed that noone really took Hitler Yimach Shmo vZicro seriously. One should add that certain Gdolim and communal leaders even viewed Nazism as preferable to Communism ( see the letters in the back of D M Shapiro’s bio of the Seredei Aish). On top of that, the Charedim claim that despite the fact that 6,000,000 Jews died, they succeeeded in rescuing some of their leaders. When you read enough arguments like thatm you can’t help but reminded of an old movie title which sort of describes the historical spin placed by the Charedim on that entire historical epoc-“How I Won The War.”

  20. Michoel says:

    Getting back to WZO… There is lots of good practical reason to completly ignore this election, aside from shitos. All camps in Israel agree that most of the societal animosity between the differnt camps is a result of one party percieving that the other party is abusing the democratic process to acieve its selfish ends. (That is not to say that there shouldn’t be charedi or religious parties in the elections. I think there should be but that is another discussion.) But we need to think very carefully before bringing the intensified strief of EY to the US. What do we need it for? Just let the WZO fade into irrelevance and die a slow death, as it is doing. If 100,000 charedim would up and vote tomorrow, Eric Yoffee will screaming at the top of his lungs to get out the Reform vote. We don’t need it.

  21. Michoel says:

    Mycroft,
    You are a kind person. In point of fact, they repeatedly blame the Charedi Gedolim for being a major factor in the Holocaust accuring and they often attach malicious intent. “They saved themselves while their followers perished.” They were only concerned about saving the Yeshiva talmidim but couldn’t have cared less about the rest of the Jewish people.” This is standard fare in come circles. It is rishus.

    Steve,
    “any threat to the Yishuv ended in 1942 with the British victory at El Alamein” V’ al ken?
    And therefore the Charedim gedolim should have to told the Yidden in Europe to pack up and take an El Al flight in 1942..

  22. Jewish Observer says:

    “When a massive rally in support of Israel was held in Washington, no one was asking any group to sign on to any statement of beliefs. And yet the Agudah somehow managed not to endorse it.”

    you can’t fault the agudah for that. it could be the agudah felt uncomfortable because the idea was conceived by non bnei torah.

  23. mycroft says:

    “the Damascus one of 1840 for example’

    was started by French monks, not Arabs. Give blame where blame is due.”
    True but who did the rioting Frenchmen or Arabs?

  24. mycroft says:

    “We mourn the destruction of the bayit, not the medinah.”
    Probably a debate of Rishonim of whether we fasted on Tisha Bav in the time of the 2nd Beis Hamikdash

  25. Boruch Horowitz says:

    While I don’t think that there is much purpose in engaging in theoretical speculation, I am wondering if the Charedi community would be able to modify part of “The Jerusalem Program” in order to recognize the reality that the State of Israel plays in Jewish life, how such a text would read.

    R’ Sadiah Gaon has famously observed that we are a nation only by virtue of the Torah. However, the State of Israel, while perhaps not “central” in terms of its spiritual accomplishments , certainly plays an important role in Jewish life, similar to the role played by the government during the period of the Bayis Sheni(Second Commonwealth). This is despite the fact that the Israeli government, like its predecessor during the Bayis Sheni era, is by no means an ideal Torah government, or even a true political Zionist government (hence, Amona).

    Thus, I believe that R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky, as well as others, has stated that the 1967 victory could be viewed as a positive occurrence in our history. Indeed, I was at a lecture where I witnessed a charedi kiruv professional using the above approach to show the guidance of Hashem in recent times. Assuming that there is nothing intrinsically objectionable in participating in the vote, and if the Charedi community could have a substitute text for the Jerusalem Program(which would also need to be accepted by the broader Jewish Community), what might such a text read?

  26. Edvallace says:

    Joel,

    It’s a tough job [proving you right] but someone’s got to do it. :-)

  27. Charles B. Hall says:

    Minor points:

    ‘Mainstream Reform, however, changed direction in the 1940s.’

    Actually they changed in 1937 when they adopted the “Columbus Platform”.

    ‘the Damascus one of 1840 for example’

    was started by French monks, not Arabs. Give blame where blame is due.

    ‘Chazal mourned the loss of Jewish sovereignty’

    I have never seen anything in Chazal that mourns the loss of Jewish sovereignty, which occured in 63 BCE when the Roman general Pompey marched his army into Jerusalem. The next time there would be an independent Jewish state would be 1948 CE, unless you count the few years of Bar Kochba’s revolt. We mourn the destruction of the bayit, not the medinah.

    Major points:

    1) Would someone please explain exactly what is objectionable in the Jerusalem Program? I see absolutely nothing in it that conflicts with the priciples of rabbinic Judaism. While it does not replace the 13 principles of the Rambam, there is nothing that is inconsistent with them. That the State of Israel is central to the Jewish people is a statement of fact, not a theological position. Here is a link to the Jerusalem Program:

    http://www.azm.org/jprog.shtml

    2) How much does the WZO really matter today? For three consecutive elections, the Reform movement won the most votes (they did much less well pre-1997), yet I see no evidence that it has made any difference to any policies in Israel.

  28. mycroft says:

    Steve:

    “Those critics of Zionism should ask themselves the following question-can any Israeli government be deemed to be as anti Torah as the ruling kings in Bayis Rishon?! ”
    Very important theological point-Chazal mourned the loss of Jewish sovereignty-Yet it is clear that during the vast majority of time during both Bayis Rishon and Sheini the Jewish authorities were much less pro Torah than any modern Israeli government has been. It is not even in the same ball park.

  29. mycroft says:

    “R Hutner ZTL was a great RY-However,one can disagree with his wel known article on Zionism as a cause
    of the Holocaust”

    To paraphrase Prof. Kaplan who wrote circa 1980 about “Daas Torah” which was in reaction to R. Hutner ZT”L writing that there was no Arab pogroms before modern Zionism-and clearly not true-the Damascus one of 1840 for example. Rav Hutner knew more in his fingernail than I will ever know-but that doesn’t mean that he is correct in that matter.

  30. mycroft says:

    “Mycroft, this thought, in various forms, is expressed over and over again (often) with intent to bash the charedi leadership during and since the Holocaust”
    Michoel on the substance of what Israel and the Holocaust I’ll quote Nachum “It’s just a historical fact. As it happens, the Germans did not reach Palestine, thank God. Had the gates been open, Jews would have gotten in”
    But most important no one seriously denies that all including Chareidim believed in good faith that their advice was for the best. Great Gdolim eg R. Elchanan Wasserman ZT”L gave their lives because of miscalculations-BUT that is not bashing a Gadol bYisrael. Similar to Rabbi Akiva the greatest of Tannaim-he was wrong about Bar Kochva-that does not take away from his Zidkus and authority. No one perceived the enormity of what was going to happen.
    On a less chareidi level R. Yechiel Weinberg ZT”L advised talmidim not to leave Germany after Kristallnacht. Even in Germany a Gadol couldn’t perceive what was going to happen-so how can one blame the East European gdolim for not seeing the future.

    Mir was prudent in ensuring that all Talmidim must have passports.

  31. Joel Rich says:

    Dear Edvallace,
    Thank you for being mkayem my nvuah “(and of course others will disagree)” :-)

    KT

  32. Shira Schmidt says:

    23 bAdar
    I was curious about what US citizens who live in ISrael do vis-a-vis voting in the WZO election. I was told that all Israelis vote in the WZO via their vote in the national election here. I do not understand exactly how this works – I guess there is some proportionality. In any case, it seems that the outcome of national elections in Israel are used as a key to assigning the Israeli representatives to the WZO.

  33. Steve Brizel says:

    I side with Mykroft and Joel Rich against the Neturei Karta ( “NK”) sympathizers who seem to have applauded R Shafran despite NK’s dislike for all things to the left of NK, including Agudah.I think that R Shafran would be the first to admit that his article would not convince any of the Maamaminin uBnei uBnos Maamanim who voted that they erred. OTOH, I think that even a Baltimore based blog would admit that Yeshivas Ner Yisrael, a wonderful Yeshivah, accomplished much by having R Herman Neuberger ZTL serve both on the Board of the Baltimore Federation, a clearly mixed board and on the Board of the OU, a clearly not Charedi institution. I think that it is fair to say that Charedim seem to care about their community’s welfare without recognizing the fact that there is a sovereign Jewish state on the ground in EY, regardless of whether it is run according to the dictates of the Torah and the Gdolim. Those critics of Zionism should ask themselves the following question-can any Israeli government be deemed to be as anti Torah as the ruling kings in Bayis Rishon?! We just celebrated Purim, yet we seem to forget that Esther lived with a non-Jew for the rest of her life and
    had a child who became the King of Persia who allowed the Jews to return to EY.

    On the issue of Zionism, the Holocaust and the Torah world,I previously blogged on this issue here in response to the comments of Mrs. Schmidt re Charedim and the Holocaust. I see nothing that any of the Charedim who have blogged on this issue that would cause me to rethink my comments in any form. Their views echoe those of R Hutner ZTL I will add one fact-any threat to the Yishuv ended in 1942 with the British victory at El Alamein. R Hutner ZTL was a great RY-However,one can disagree with his wel known article on Zionism as a cause of the Holocaust.

  34. Edvallace says:

    Joel,

    “However, if I were grading the debate not on debating points but on content, I (and of course others will disagree) would say the distinction between the position and involvement regarding the State versus the WZO is strained at best.”

    It is only strained for one who doesn’t experience the feelings toward the WZO that some feel. I personally have an issue with both of them but I can see why there is a difference. The State exists and we live in it. Thus, it becomes crucial to interact with it although that interaction must also be limited in its scope to the areas in which a regular citizen would do so, no more than that. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve managed to do so and so have many others. I care deeply for the Jews who comprise the state and I care its governement the way I do for the USA: I’m a loyal citizen but disagree on certain points.
    The WZO is an independent organization whose most basic platforms I categorically reject. Joining them is not an option for me and many others who feel like I do. The fact that I can derive a beneift from interacting with them is irrelevant. Without making an actual comparison [because there are MAJOR differences obviously] I don’t have any more inclination to derive benefit from them than I do from Christian evangelicals.
    I don’t believe that’s very strained.

  35. Seth Gordon says:

    It is a tremendous overstep to assert that any charedi Jew willing to assert “the centrality of the State of Israel in the life of the [Jewish] nation” is committing “fraud.”

    Well, according to Rabbi Shafran, this assertion “subtly but objectionably places a country in the place of a divine mandate”. I don’t read the Jerusalem Program that way, but if I did, I wouldn’t want to vote in WZO elections, either. To do so would be representing myself falsely for the sake of financial benefit–in other words, fraud.

    So I honestly don’t see what’s worth praising here. If the Jerusalem Program is clearly inconsistent with your beliefs, then your abstaining from the WZO elections is merely not-fraud. If the Jerusalem Program is clearly consistent with your beliefs, then abstaining is merely stupid, for the reasons that Ezzie gave above. If it’s somewhere in between, I don’t see any point where the shadings of “merely not-fraud” and “merely stupid” meet in the middle to become “noble sacrifice on principle”.

    (I will state, in the interest of full disclosure and cheshbon ha-nefesh, that I ordered a WZO ballot and neglected to send it in before the deadline. I plead guilty to stupidity.)

    you have many other commenters wondering why that’s even called out of bounds—and pointing out that the declaration has a host of language choices objectionable to other groups, yet they all sign on anyway. ¶Yet you have accused none of them of fraud, none of them of lower standards.

    I personally don’t see anything objectionable in the Program–not even the “vision of the prophets” language. (I can appreciate the principle that we should distance ourselves from things that might be taken as tokens of heterodox belief, but I think rejecting the Jerusalem Program because of those four words is carrying the principle a little too far. Reform misinterpretation of the prophets invalidates Reform, not the prophets.) So I see no reason to accuse Orthodox WZO voters of fraud. I also haven’t seen folks on the other Orthodox blogs I read excessively patting themselves on the back for the mere act of voting in accordance with their beliefs.

    I haven’t run across anyone who says “I think all of Jerusalem should be given back to the Palestinians, but I voted in the WZO elections anyway” or “I don’t think Israel should be a democracy, but I voted in the WZO elections anyway”. If such people exist, then I hereby accuse them of fraud.

    …when it came to all of the groups that did vote, you have not leveled that charge. Anti-charedi animus does not lead to an objective understanding.

    I attended a yeshiva whose faculty and students represent a wide range of hashkafot within Orthodox Judaism. I learned a great deal from all the teachers there, including those whose hashkafot I did not agree with. There are many actions and writings by charedim that I appreciate. Rabbi Shafran’s essay here is not one of them.

  36. Bob Miller says:

    Those who want to influence WZO operations do so, by voting in its elections and by other activities, and those who don’t want to don’t.

    Reasons for not wanting to influence the WZO include:

    1. Not accepting that there should be a WZO
    2. Not sharing the WZO’s principles and objectives
    3. Not believing that the WZO can be made to alter its policies to one’s liking
    4. Not caring what the WZO does

    Any broad conclusions drawn from the breakdown of the latest WZO voting results or the number of ballots cast are very speculative.

  37. joel rich says:

    Anti-charedi animus does not lead to an objective understanding.

    ========================
    Agreed and if I were assigned that side of the debate in a class, I would make the same arguements R’ Shafran more eloquently makes. However, if I were grading the debate not on debating points but on content, I (and of course others will disagree) would say the distinction between the position and involvement regarding the State versus the WZO is strained at best.
    KT

  38. Michoel says:

    I would add on the Rabbi Menken’s words to Seth: It sounds like your parents did a good job raising you but you are actually proving that the concept of “fraud” is something that all those non-Torah groups should be sensitive too just as your parents are. No? And is there not lots of other ideological fraud that the non-Torah groups commit on a regular basis? Intentionally misrepresenting the Torah’s perspective on abortion, etc etc etc? So the consitency and dedication that Rabbi Shafran prides the charedim on, is not insignificant.

  39. Yaakov Menken says:

    Seth,

    You seem to have missed his point entirely, and then failed to read anyone else’s comments. It is a tremendous overstep to assert that any charedi Jew willing to assert “the centrality of the State of Israel in the life of the [Jewish] nation” is committing “fraud.” On the contrary, you have many other commenters wondering why that’s even called out of bounds — and pointing out that the declaration has a host of language choices objectionable to other groups, yet they all sign on anyway. You have accused none of them of fraud, none of them of lower standards.

    Rabbi Shafran was instead pointing out that the charedim aim even higher. I am moved to speculate that were the group under discussion not the charedim, you would never imagine to call it “fraud” nor critique the one applauding their withdrawal as having “lower standards” — because when it came to all of the groups that did vote, you have not leveled that charge. Anti-charedi animus does not lead to an objective understanding.

  40. Nachum says:

    Well, before crediting the Neturei Karta, there are other groups who act similarly without acting in concert with those who would kill Jews. (As it happens, the WZO is run by the government, not by the delegates.)

    Michoel- good point on the numbers. Of course a better effort could have been made. (On the other hand, those who believe in Da’as Torah might be easier to rally to vote.) Someone suggested that the problem is that Reform and Conservative synagogues can hand out forms on Friday night and have people sign them right there. In Orthodox places, the best you can do is bring it home and sign it later.

    However, on the Holocaust point: It’s just a historical fact. As it happens, the Germans did not reach Palestine, thank God. Had the gates been open, Jews would have gotten in. Sure, it’s useless to play games with history, but so it goes.

  41. Seth Gordon says:

    Let me get this straight: in order to participate in the WZO elections, you have to certify that you agree with a certain statement of principles. Haredim (in general) do not agree with those principles. Therefore they do not participate in the election, even though they might win some economic benefit for their communities if they did so.

    OK, so tens of thousands of haredim passed up a chance to commit fraud. The way I was brought up (by parents who were not frum), that means they met a minimum standard of civilized behavior, but that behavior in and of itself is nothing to be proud of. Rabbi Shafran, apparently, has lower standards.

  42. easterner says:

    i don’t think haredi society would want to control the WZO any more than they want to control medinat yisrael. the medina is useful for supplying the lucre that greases mosdot hatora— but any responsibility of runnig a govt is bittul zman at best. one must give neturei karta credit– they do not join governments they dont believe in, take treyf money etc…

  43. Michoel says:

    According to the number cited by Rabbi Menken, around 18,000 voted for the Religious Zionist slate. Probably at least 1-2 thousand of those would self-identify as Charedim. Are there not at least 100,000 adult YUnik / regligious zionists in America? So if more than %80 of US Mizrachi community can refrain from voting from apathy, what is so terrible if %98 of the Charedi Community wants to refrain from voitng from principal?

  44. Michoel says:

    “But a Jewish State has very pragmatic benefits-think of what an imperfect State of Israel would have made a difference during the years 1933-1945.” Mycroft, this thought, in various forms, is expressed over and over again (often) with intent to bash the charedi leadership during and since the Holocaust. It is nonsense IMO. The Holocaust could have happend with a State of Israel. The Holocaust could have come to Eretz Yisrael, as nearly happened. One can believe that the state has the ability to save Klal Yisrael, but it is unreasonable to demand that others share that belief. Charedim do not. Hashem took 6 million kedoshoshim for His reasons. To think that this or that action, necessarily, would have changed the result is akin to avodah zara. And that really is the crux of the division between the Religious Zionist camp and the Charedi camp. IMO.

  45. Nachum says:

    Your argument fails on a number of points:

    1. The platform that one must sign on to in order to vote is full of objectionable stuff. For example, it speaks of “the vision of the prophets,” which (unfortunately) has become a code phrase for Reform Judaism and liberal politics (and began life as an anti-Semitic code word). It praises democracy as a fundamental of the State. There are various groups- religious, conservatives, Kahanists- who would object to these. And yet the wording is so vague that they all manage to rationalize signing. And the world does not end. I imagine some leftists have reservations about some of the language too. Again, it’s so pareve, people manage. I don’t see how you can say that the State of Israel is not “central,” at least in some ways, to the Jewish nation.

    2. When a massive rally in support of Israel was held in Washington, no one was asking any group to sign on to any statement of beliefs. And yet the Agudah somehow managed not to endorse it. Similarly, when a coalition of Orthodox groups held a tefillah gathering for the same cause shortly after, the Agudah for some reason blocked any tefillot- no matter how uncontroversial- mentioning Israel.

    3. Although no “pledge” is required, voting in an Israeli election implicitly validates the State. And yet the charedim of Israel seem to have no issue with it, nor with demanding a share of money, or with participating for the sole cause of obtaining that money. (I’m not judging- everyone does this- but I do find it odd that R’ Shafran reduces the whole WZO election to a question of money, much as charedi groups do with the Knesset.)

    4. There were 100,000 people at the Siyum. I daresay at least 10% of them were Zionists. Possibly another 40% may not have had the issue you have with voting. So why not hand out forms with that caveat? “Some of you may not want to vote for whatever reason. May of you may want to. Either position is legitimate; but if you are of the latter group, please do vote.” And the Orthodox slate would have gotten a clear majority. Is legitimatizing another point of view that hard, or that dangerous?

    Alas, I see here not principle, but a simple desire to avoid being labeled as supporting or legitimizing the state of Israel in any way, and cloaking that distaste in high-sounding principles.

  46. Ezzie says:

    Wow, this post bothers me. That’s not holding onto principles, that’s stupid. They are simply making it harder to keep halacha for themselves, by allowing the Reform et al to gain further control. They’re sacrificing principles by seeming to hold onto them. Furthermore, they wouldn’t be sacrificing anything: The State of Israel is what allows Jews to live and exist in E’Y, to learn there, to work there, and to serve Hashem and follow in the ways of the Torah. To pretend that the State of Israel is not central in the life of the Jewish nation is simply blinding oneself to reality. The disdain for anything Zionistic on the part of some segments of charedi culture hurts all God-fearing Jews who follow the Torah [the cute twist on how zionistic they are notwithstanding; that’s a meaningless attempt to throw dust at the issue to make it hazy].

    Mycroft said the rest of what I’d add better.

  47. mycroft says:

    In general chareidim care about AM Yisrael, Eretz Israel-BUT NOT MEDINAT YISRAEL. To most it is a msui rather than a rasui. My only objection is pragmatic-Torah is the essence and no means can take away from the essence. But a Jewish State has very pragmatic benefits-think of what an imperfect State of Israel would have made a difference during the years 1933-1945.
    Note Chazal were unhappy with Hashmonaem _KOhanim-taking the Kingship-of course it belonged in the DAvidic line-but they still celebrated the TEMPORARY SOVEREIGNTY of Hashmonaim and their victory with Hallel.
    For the past 57 years Jews have been able to go to Israel-it is not what Jews prayed for for 1900 years — BUT how can one not see the great advance over British and Arab rule. No guarrantees for the future–but right now it is at a minimum a miklat for potential ..vhamevin yavin.