Israel’s Bright Spot

letter-447577_1280

Writing laments for Israeli society is not hard. Declining educational achievements, youth violence, hedonism, materialism, and corrupt politicians all provide ample material for those wishing to up-date Lamentations. Over the last twenty years, I’ve probably written as many such lamentations as anybody.

But every once in a while, it is worth acknowledging Israel’s achievements as well. Over the last century it would be difficult to name one advance in any area of human endeavor coming from 22 Arab nations. By contrast, Israeli researchers make hundreds of lifesaving medical advances every year. The Israeli economy remains one of the industrialized world’s most robust, despite last summer’s war and the continued threats to Israel’s existence.

But I have something deeper and more fundamental in mind. The pintele Yid is still more easily discerned among Jews in Israel than among their secular counterparts in the Diaspora.

Western society today is characterized by a loss of belief in G-d, indeed by deep skepticism about all transcendent value. Those who advocate an ever-expanding recognition of individual rights in their own societies nevertheless show a remarkable tolerance for societies that deny all such rights to their own members – e.g., feminists who turn a blind eye to the subjugation of women in Islamic society.

Viewing all values as relative, Western elites attribute no special value to their own societies, certainly none that would justify defending those societies against external threat. Towards their own societies they offer a morally absolutist critique; towards the enemies of those societies an attitude of laissez-faire. The immediate reflex of Western intellectuals to external threat is first denial of the threat and then appeasement. Anti-militarism is dominant, and the resort to force to defend one’s way of life beyond the pale.

When it comes to childbearing, the general attitude is: Why bother? As a result, the current birthrate in every Western country besides the United States and Israel is well below replacement level. These countries are in a process of self-annihilation. Pope Benedict XVI, correctly observed last week that Europe is losing faith in its own future and “seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history.”

These phenomena are not unconnected. They are a direct result of the loss of belief. In the prevalent Western view, man is a pleasure-seeking animal whose life has no purpose outside itself and ends with death. That view is not only inimical to religious belief, but to patriotism and all sense of duty. If life is nothing more than the sum of its pleasures, war, with its attendant possibility of death, is always an irrational choice unless the threat is demonstrably immediate and unavoidable.

If death is the end of everything and one has no stake in the future through children, why worry about the future. Certainly to sacrifice oneself for someone else’s future, or so that one’s nation or values might prevail is nonsense.

Sad to say, these attitudes not only characterize Western intellectuals today, but Jewry in the Diaspora. Indeed Jews play a lead role in promoting these attitudes. John Kerry’s infamous, but highly revealing gaffe, in which he suggested that military service is the price one pays for being stupid — i.e., only a dummy would put his life on the line for his country.-revealed a pervasive attitude on the Left where opposition to any use of military force is automatic. And that is where most of American Jewry dwells politically.

Non-Orthodox American Jewry has basically signed off on its own future. American Jewish women have the second lowest birthrate of any group of Caucasians in America – and it is well below replacement level.

Secular Israelis share their Diaspora cousins loss of religious belief, and to a large extent their lack of interest in matters Jewish (though, contrary to the propaganda of the American Reform and Conservative movements, secular Israelis observe far more religious ritual than do most non-Orthodox American Jews.) But the consequences of that lack of belief have not yet hit in the same way. In particular, Israeli Jews have not yet concluded that there is nothing worth fighting for in the world.

Despite living with far more insecurity than their Diaspora cousins, they have not given up on the future. The birthrate for Israeli Jewish women – 2.75 children per women – is by far the highest among those in the advanced industrial world, and it is rising. (That figure is only partially explained by the high birthrates in the religious population.)

In international polls, Israelis express the highest levels of love for their country. Those sentiments have been repeatedly backed by actions. At the outset of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, and again at the beginning of last summer’s war in Lebanon, the number of reservists who reported for combat exceeded the number who were summoned. And the majority of these were men who bid farewell to wives and children before reporting. In every interview with wounded soldiers last summer, the first words out of their mouth were of their intention to quickly rejoin their buddies in the field.

Israeli society, like American, is driven by sharp divisions. But increasingly America seems to be divided into two different countries – Blue states and Red states. American politics are increasingly fueled by barely concealed hatred. Red America and Blue America pour as much scorn and contempt on one another as the English and the French.

Army service in Israel provides a degree of societal cohesion and shared experience increasingly lacking in America, where those who serve and those who don’t form distinct social classes.

The ever present threats to our existence in Israel force us to live in the real world, not some theory driven fantasyland. The New York Times, the Bible of American Jewry, felt it necessary to expose Bush administration efforts to monitor terrorist money transfers and phone calls. No Israeli paper would have done so. An 80-year grandmother from Iowa is as likely to be selected for special screening as a visiting Saudi student at American airports; at Ben-Gurion Airport the common sense observation that Arabs and foreigners are more likely to want to blow up or hijack a plane than Israeli Jews still rules.

Why do I choose now to sing these praises of Israeli society? Because no matter how long the distance, a society which still recognizes a collective identity larger than the individual, in which concepts of duty and sacrifice still exist, which entertains the possibility of values worth fighting and dying for, which can overcome its own selfishness to bring new life into the world is still one step closer to finding its way back to Hashem than one in which these qualities are absent.

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34 Responses

  1. HILLEL says:

    Dovid:

    Heaven forbid that I should malign the Jewish People–“Yisroel Kedoshim Heim.”

    My comments on the IDF are aimed at the secular elite who control policy, beginning with Ben-Gurion, Yitzchok Mordechai…all the way to anti-Hareidi Dan Halutz.

    These people had no patiennce with “mideival” Orthodoxy, and did everything they could to “bring backward Hareidim into Modern Times.”

    The rank-and-file officers and men are mostly good people who are subverted by the hard-secular-immoral ideology of the elite leadership.

    Here is an example of a world-class human being in the IDF:

    http://lazerbrody.typepad.com/about.html

  2. dovid says:

    re: Comment by HILLEL — April 18, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

    Everything you wrote is true. But it’s not the entire story. If you leave out the rest, it leaves one the impression that the IDF is an immoral organization run by immoral people. This is simply not true. For every immoral act committed in the IDF, I could show you twice, three times as many acts of greatness, of decency. Your post would reflect truth more accurately if you added links like Aish HaTorah’s http://www.aish.com/holidays/israel_memorial_day/holiday_page.asp. Even that is not the entire story. My commanding officer (a secular Sefardi whose parents came from Tunis) urged us to keep in mind that we are human beings, that we are Jews, that we must act with human dignity and maintain our humanity regardless of what we witness around us. And that’s the way he acted. This is Gadlus HaAdam. The Alter of Slobodka would have been pround of him. By the way, his last name was Hillel.

  3. HILLEL says:

    To: Charles B. Hall

    Here is a broad survey of Europe’s atheist/demographic demise:

    http://www.donfeder.com/
    ATHEISTS WON’T SAVE EUROPE

    By Don Feder
    Posted April 22, 2007

    Not coincidentally, the continent is in a demographic tail-spin. Of the 10 nations with the lowest birthrates, nine are in Europe (the 10th. is Japan). Currently, 1.5 children are born for every woman in the EU. In some countries, the rate is as low as 1.1.

    It takes 2.1 births per woman merely to replace current population. If present trends continue, Europe’s population could decline by 88 million in the next 15 years – a loss of 23% of its 2000 population.

    Why not coincidentally? From religion comes hope for the future and a sense of societal obligation (i.e., a non-hedonistic worldview). No faith, no hope. No hope for the future, no sense of obligation – hence, no children.

    The United States has both the highest birthrate (2.11) and the highest church attendance in the industrialized world. Domestically, demographic differences parallel religious observance. Salt Lake City and Tupelo, Mississippi have higher fertility rates than Manhattan and San Francisco.

    It makes perfect sense (in a cosmic sense). Consider: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,” Deuteronomy, 30:1.You choose life (God), you get life (descendants). You choose death, you don’t.

  4. dovid says:

    “since the IDF isn’t really going to change until the influx comes, and the influx won’t come until there is real change”

    Where there is a will there is a way. Since neither the Charedim nor IDF are really interested in Charedim serving in the army, the “influx” is not likely to take place.

  5. Charles B. Hall says:

    “The imigration you refer to that will “save” Europe’s demographic demise is mostly from Moslem countries. That effectively is turning demographic suicide into demographic murder. That last thing the world needs is a Moslem Europe.”

    I haven’t seen Mr. Steyn’s book, but I am highly skeptical that Western Europe is going to go from having no country with more than a 12% Muslim minority (France), to having an overall Muslim majority, within the lifetime of anyone reading this. (There are indeed a few Eastern European countries that already have Muslim majorities: Turkey, Albania, and Bosnia.) In the case of Britain, many of its immigrants are from Christian countries in the Western Hemisphere or Africa. Most European countries have tiny immigrant communities and aren’t well-equipped to accept large numbers of immigrants. I will check out his book, however.

    “comments about Eastern Europe, while accurate, relate to Rabbi Rosenblum’s point about the west.”

    My point was that while all of Western Europe is below replacement (except Iceland, which as you correctly point out has a tiny population), almost all of Eastern Europe has far, far fertility. AFAIK, Eastern Europe has not been affected by the perceived demise of faith that has characterized Western Europe — reports are that Church attendance and affiliation is strong in Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia, for example, but that hasn’t stopped a fertility collapse. And poorer health outcomes in those countries combined with emigration make that region of the world, along with sub-Saharan Africa, the true sites of demographic disaster.

    “Perhaps the true error was imagining that the US was replacing itself—at 2.0 fertility, it is not.”

    True. But with immigration, the US projects continued population growth for the forseeable future. The largest contribution to that immigration is Christians from the Western Hemisphere.

    “the low birthrate is accompanied by high levels of abortion and homosexuality, which depress the replacement rate even further.”

    Actually abortion rates vary tremendously across Europe. The Netherlands, for example, has the lowest abortion rates in the world, despite the fact that abortions there are free. In general, abortion rates in Western Europe have been the lowest in the world among countries with reliable statistics, while they have been highest in Eastern Europe and parts of East Asia (in particular, Vietnam). HILLEL’s comment may therefore be correct, but applied to the wrong region.

    Regarding HILLEL’s other comment, in no country has homosexuality ever been very common except for ancient Greece; in our times it just isn’t prevalent enough to affect demographics.

    Demographics can indeed be used to support political and moral arguments, but we should be careful to make sure we have the correct data.

  6. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Hershel Brand: the politicians from most points on the spectrum are satisfied with the status quo (Chareidim marginalized),

    Ori: There is another reason for Chiloni politicians and generals not to press this matter. Charedim’s chief allegiance is to Halacha, which according to Charedi Rabbis does not lend authority to the state of Israel as currently constituted.

    The army is set up to deal with one or two soldiers who disobey their orders out of personal reasons. It is not set up to deal with a large number of soldiers who disobey them for ideological reasons and believe they are right.

    As Charedim, you might say this is an insult to your loyalty to the state and that such a conflict will never happen. You might even be right. But would a Chiloni politician who doesn’t understand Charedi society and how Halacha is decided be certain enough of that to take the risk?

    Another reason not to draft Charedim is the cost. Charedi men marry earlier and have children earlier. This means the army would have to pay them more than the measly salary they pay normal draftees.

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Hershel Brand: That there remain serious impediments for integration of Chareidim into the army is reality. I could relate many horror stories of the immorality, and problems with even such basics as Kashrus, all witnessed firsthand.

    Ori: What did Charedim do in the US when there was conscription? In the US military even the combat rations were not Kosher.

  8. HILLEL says:

    To Yaakov:

    It’s even worse than what you say, because the low birthrate is accompanied by high levels of abortion and homosexuality, which depress the replacement rate even further.

    It is truly the “Suicide of the West.”

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    I’m not sure how Charles Hall’s comments about Eastern Europe, while accurate, relate to Rabbi Rosenblum’s point about the west. Nor do I think the exceptions of Iceland and New Zealand are sufficient to declare that the statement that “the current birthrate in every Western country besides the United States and Israel is well below replacement level.” Perhaps the true error was imagining that the US was replacing itself — at 2.0 fertility, it is not.

    The average fertility rate in the Western world, as found in those world population reports, is 1.7 (in Western Europe, 1.4). Iceland’s total population is 0.3 million, and New Zealand’s 4.1. These blips on the radar do not rebut the conclusion that “self-annihilation” is underway.

  10. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Charles,you should read Mark Steyn’s book “America Alone”. He delves into the demographics of Europe and the US. The imigration you refer to that will “save” Europe’s demographic demise is mostly from Moslem countries. That effectively is turning demographic suicide into demographic murder. That last thing the world needs is a Moslem Europe. Yet that is exactly what’s happening. The ramifications are terrifying.

    Steyn actually agrees with you in that America is a bright spot in the demographic nightmare. (Hence the title of the book.)

  11. Charles B. Hall says:

    Two points: I neglected to mention that there are several other Western European countries, such as Italy and Spain, that are expected to have small population declines over the next few decades. But they are dwarfed by the declines expected in Eastern Europe. And some, such as Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are projecting major increases. regret the error.

    Second, I disagree that all of Western society is characterized by a loss of belief. That may be true in Europe. It is definitely not true in the United States. I live in Bronx County, which was Al Gore’s best county in America and John Kerry’s second best — you can’t get much more “blue” than that — and there are huge numbers of storefront churches and mosques all over just about every neighborhood except my own — which instead has a proliferation of home minyanim because the shuls are jammed full. And this is in an allegely less religious “blue” area. I do hope that the next President, whoever he/she may be, will pursue less divisive policies; the current administration’s willingness to pursue “wedge” issues is a major reason for the acrimony Rabbi Rosenblum discusses as well as for the lack of support for the war in Iraq.

  12. Hershel Brand says:

    With all due respect, it’s really hard to take defenders of the IDF seriously. Those who do so tend to either view such a defense as an ideological imperative, or have simply talked themselves (and been talked into) into an extremely rose tinted view. Yes, the IDF, with the help of G-d, protects Israel. But it seems pointless to deny the fact that the IDF is a bureaucratic monster that cares little for the religious sensibilities of its soldiers. That there remain serious impediments for integration of Chareidim into the army is reality. I could relate many horror stories of the immorality, and problems with even such basics as Kashrus, all witnessed firsthand.

    More realistic defenders of the IDF admit the severity of the problems, but turn the tables by claiming that a massive influx of Chareidim would “change things.” All I can say is: perhaps. But since the IDF isn’t really going to change until the influx comes, and the influx won’t come until there is real change, and the politicians from most points on the spectrum are satisfied with the status quo (Chareidim marginalized), it’s not likely to happen in the forseeable future.

    But please, spare me the perversely optomistic view of the IDF. It’s nothing but a distortion. This is one Chareidi who has been to the army, and knows better.

  13. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Baruch. Call me the Man of La Mancha, but I thought this forum was at least an attempt to express ideas that might foment positive change.”

    I agree with that as a goal of any discussion, and in my opinion, halevai the charedi community would allow for more options and flexibility in terms of educational and vocational paths for even “good bachurim”, as well as for participation in Israeli society in ways other than exist presently. I just see that happening very slowly, so I interjected a note of practicality as far as the charedi-secular relationship is concerned.

  14. Jewish Observer says:

    “Chareidim need to understand how their wholesale abdication of army responsibility is perceived by the rest of the nation”

    – you are assuming they care about this perception

  15. Ahron says:

    “They tell many stories of the difficulty of staying religious, of the pressure put on them to “be like everyone else” (ie secular), of their friends who lost their observance in the army. One told of having to kasher the kitchen each time he left base and wasn’t there to make sure it had stayed kosher. He actually learned to cook and volunteered to cook for the base – in addition to his regular duties- so he could eat there at all. I think these are enough examples.”

    Well heaven forfend! We certainly wouldn’t want our precious flowers to experience “difficulty” now would we? That would be almost as bad as….asking them to live in the same world as everybody else! In addition to the horrors of learning how to cook, they might actually have to learn the HALACHA (!)–the voluminous Halacha!–that has been learned for centuries about kashrus and how to deal with non-ideal kashrus situations.

    Or perhaps a large influx of religious soldiers would finally provide the manpower to have mashgichim in the kitchens who could maintain kashrus standards for the entire Jewish military population. But, uh oh! That might involve “difficulty” and we can’t have our little darlings dealing with that.

  16. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Shalhevet. I know there are horror stories. Then again there are horror stories in the Yeshiva world. But stepping back and looking at large numbers of Hesder boys one sees an overall positive outcome.

    Baruch. Call me the Man of La Mancha, but I thought this forum was at least an attempt to express ideas that might foment positive change. Ironically, the negative that Shalhevet’s cousins have seen in the army could be largely rectified with greater Chareidi involvement.

    As for Yeshivas with secular studies. My son attends one of these Yeshivas. While the Chareidi elite my not be thrilled with it, this Yeshiva is considered to be one of the top high schools in the country. Applicants outnumber available slots by 3 to 1. There are more of these types of Yeshivas coming online. Sometimes the leaders need to be led.

  17. HILLEL says:

    Correction:

    Here is the correct information on former Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai (the link provided was wrong).

    Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordechai took a temporary leave from office in early March in the face of sexual harassment charges filed by an unnamed female on his bureau staff. The story broke just as the country marked International Women’s Day, adding to the sudden public focus on the former IDF chief-of-staff. Leaked details of the sex scandal said Mordechai made unwelcome contact with the staffer on several occasions. Several other women soon came forward with similar allegations, some dating back to his army days. Police eventually advised charging Mordechai on three counts of committing indecent acts by force against three women within the last eight years.

  18. HILLEL says:

    To: Menachem Lipkin and Shalhevet

    I guess your friends and relatives in the IDF don’t get around much.
    Here are some articles from secular Israeli sources that clearly indicate that sexual immorality is well-entrenched in the Israeli army.

    Among other things, Homosexual behavior is openly and officially accepted.

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3245593,00.html

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3362505,00.html

    …And here is the Defense Minister himself, Yitzchak Mordechai. So the fish stinks at the very highest levels.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/345146.stm

  19. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “The fact that there exists a Nachal Chareidi unit to which, at least privately, some Rabbanim direct a few young men puts the lie to the idea that army service is “non-negotiable”.

    I meant for the mainstream. If I understand correctly, Nachal Charedi is considered an alternative in the charedi world only for those “at risk”. I link below to an interesting discussion on Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz’s site about Nachal Charedi. One parent of a boy in Nachal Haredi commented:

    “Beware of messages from your friends. Someone once told us that if our son went to the army they wouldn’t let their children play in our home. Is that a friend? Your real friends will understand your situation and be supportive, and even admire you for your sincere desire to do what’s best for your son, even in face of social pressure…. My advice would be to try to convince your son to go with you to Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman (or any another gadol who is open to giving advice for some young men to have alternatives to full-time Torah study) and see what he will say.”

    http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/PYes/ArticleDetails.cfm?Book_ID=854&ThisGroup_ID=261&ID=Newest&Type=Article

    On a related note, there was an NPR interview this week which I sent to Cross Currents, which discussed the perceived reaction by the community to a charedi boy who particpated in the (regular) army. There might be differences between the situation and reactions described and the typical Nachal Haredi situation , and I was wondering if Jonathan Rosenblum can comment on the fairness and accuracy of that report, perhaps on a separate thread.

  20. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Being that this is a Chareidi forum your statement only reinforces the Chareidi-centric view… Chareidim need to understand how their wholesale abdication of army responsibility is perceived by the rest of the nation”

    I agree that such understanding is necessary from the charedi side, and probably there are those on both sides who in general, can understand others’ positions. I was simply stating what I thought would need to be the result after all arguments were made pro and con. On a different issue, I wrote a letter printed in the Jewish Press, that even if the charedi world can not legitimize a particular intellectual point of view, they at least need to put themselves in the shoes of those who think and feel differently.

    There is no point in “tilting at windmills” and trying to change the charedi world, as someone termed it on a different Cross Currents thread. Even the attempt to create a yeshiva with secular studies has been meant with very sharp resistance, and in the words of one gadol: ” all who introduce changes and who wreak damage and all those who abet them, are in a weak position and will be called to account in the future; their fate is stated by the Torah explicitly in parshas Re’ei.” We see that any necessary change in the charedi world , can only be gradual, come from within, and be supported by Torah leaders.

  21. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    “the current birthrate in every Western country besides the United States and Israel is well below replacement level. These countries are in a process of self-annihilation.”

    This is simply not true, at least based on the most current statistics:

    http://www.prb.org/pdf06/06WorldDataSheet.pdf

    The replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman per lifetime.
    Based on the most recent statistics, Israel comes in at 2.8 (less than all its neighbors except Lebanon), and the US comes in at 2.0.
    Iceland is at 2.1, New Zealand at 2.0, France and Ireland at 1.9, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Britain are at 1.8. Many of those countries now have significant immigration so there is little chance of demographic suicide there. Of the countries we think of as “Western”, only Germany and Switzerland are projecting population declines from 2006 to 2050, and only small ones at that, which could be ameliorated by small changes in immigration policy. The real demographic disaster will occur in Eastern Europe; fertility rates of 1.2 to 1.4 combining with shortened life expectancy and emigration are expected to produce substantial declines in population in much of the former Soviet bloc.

  22. Shalhevet says:

    Whether or not Ben Gurion wanted to use the army to secularize Israeli Jews is irrelevant. That’s not the reality of what is happening. The IDF is kosher and as much as possible religious needs are met. Soldiers from hesder are disproportionately represented among officers. If anything the presence of religious soldiers has a de-secularizing affect on non-religious soldiers.

    Comment by Menachem Lipkin — April 18, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

    My Dati-Leumi cousins who proudly fight in the Iaraeli army apear to disagree. They tell many stories of the difficulty of staying religious, of the pressure put on them to “be like everyone else” (ie secular), of their friends who lost their observance in the army. One told of having to kasher the kitchen each time he left base and wasn’t there to make sure it had stayed kosher. He actually learned to cook and volunteered to cook for the base – in addition to his regular duties- so he could eat there at all. I think these are enough examples.

  23. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Hillel,

    Hesder was not meant for chareidim. Nachal Chareidi is, but it’s treated as a poor stepchild by them.

    I’m at the age where many of my friend’s children are going through the army. We have a Chayal Boded living with us. What you describe does not reflect their experiences. It’s not always easy but they do fine and generally come out as stronger Jews and better people.

    Whether or not Ben Gurion wanted to use the army to secularize Israeli Jews is irrelevant. That’s not the reality of what is happening. The IDF is kosher and as much as possible religious needs are met. Soldiers from hesder are disproportionately represented among officers. If anything the presence of religious soldiers has a de-secularizing affect on non-religious soldiers.

  24. HILLEL says:

    To Baruch:

    The IDF army in Israel is not simply a defense organization, as you appear to think.

    Ben-Gurion laid it on the line bluntly in the 1950’s when he stated openly that the IDF is the “Bais YotZer HoUma”–the main vehicle of assimilation into the secular lifestyle and belief system.

    Religious Jewish immigrants–especially from the Arab counries–were systematically stripped of their values, and young men and women were purposely thrown together in close wuaters to destroy their sense of Tzenius–modesty.

    So, you see, the IDF has traditionally been a vehicle for tearing down the moral and religious values of religious youth.

    The Hesder system and the Nahal Hareidi are an attempt to moderate this system and make it more acceptable to Hareidim. However, the repeated scandals of rape and sexual harrassment in the IDF–even among its highest-ranking officers–indicates that the old amoral lifestyle is still alive and well.

  25. Menachem Lipkin says:

    “Practically, the best current option for people of good will is to look beyond the polarization factors caused by the army and other issues, and to interact with the charedi world on its own terms.”

    Baruch, I think this would be more appropriate if you were writing it in a Chiloni forum discussing this subject. In the spirit of a classic Shalom Bayis shiur one should tell the each partner what he/she should be doing for the other. Being that this is a Chareidi forum your statement only reinforces the Chareidi-centric view. It’s like telling a group of men that they are the center of their wives’ universes and the wives should fulfill their every whim.

    Chareidim need to understand how their wholesale abdication of army responsibility is perceived by the rest of the nation.

    The fact that there exists a Nachal Chareidi unit to which, at least privately, some Rabbanim direct a few young men puts the lie to the idea that army service is “non-negotiable”.

  26. Baruch Horowitz says:

    ” To the extent that Chareidi society has turned the army deferral into a de facto exemption, they are fomenting yet another avenue of alienation between them and the rest of the country. Were Chareidi society to find the ideological will to increase “cohesion” via army service they have certainly proven themselves to be resourceful enough to find a way to make it work religiously.”

    In theory, it’s true that if there is an ideological will there can be a practical way, but the fact is that army service, like introducing secular studies in high school, is viewed as non-negotiable, and is a defining point of the charedi community. Practically, the best current option for people of good will is to look beyond the polarization factors caused by the army and other issues, and to interact with the charedi world on its own terms. For example, charedi chesed and kiruv organizations interact with the broader society, so there can be joint volunteer efforts or similar types of activities which transcend the dividing points.

  27. Bob Miller says:

    I’m just probing a bit for details. Jonathan is on the right track.

  28. HILLEL says:

    To Bob Miller:

    Jonathan was simply trying to demonstrate the brotherly love among the Jewish people, regardless of their degree of observance. He could have used any number of examples. The army example was the first thing that came to his mind before deadline.

    The truth is that most of the “secular” population in Israel are very close to Teshuva–returning to their traditions. All they need is a catalyst–a talented leader, like HoRav Amnon Yitzchak–to lead them back to their authentic Jewish tradition.

    The radical secular leadership understands this, and that is why they so desparately want to dilute the Jewish population of Israel with foreign workers from all over the world, who will eventually be granted citizenship and who will vote to keep the secularists in power.

    The low birth rates among the hard-left secularists and the prevalence of abortion and gay rights guarantees that they will go into demographic decline, hence the need for importing “new blood” from the outside.

  29. Menachem Lipkin says:

    “As one who favors student deferments within reason, I ask Jonathan to outline the deferment policy he would advocate to cover full-time bona-fide yeshiva students in Israel.”

    Bob, it’s called Hesder. Deferments for learning combined with shortened military service. Mr. Rosenblum is correct in that army service provides a “degree of social cohesion”. To the extent that Chareidi society has turned the army deferral into a de facto exemption, they are fomenting yet another avenue of alienation between them and the rest of the country.

    Were Chareidi society to find the ideological will to increase “cohesion” via army service they have certainly proven themselves to be resourceful enough to find a way to make it work religiously.

  30. Hershel Brand says:

    I wish I could be as sanguine about Israeli society as Jonathan Rosenblum. It seems to me that Israel is simply a couple of decades behind the (rest of the) West in its decline. And this is only true in certain aspects – a quick glance at the political scene shows that the decay may actually exceed the West. Yes, Israel went to war to defend its northern border. But in literally a matter of days, the country was sick of the war, and had clearly lost the will to fight. I doubt if I have to provide a litany of the rest of the signs of decay.

  31. Baruch Horowitz says:

    I like this post–it reminds me of Sheindel Weinbach’s “Israel’s Sunnier Side” column which appears from time to time in the Jewish Press.

    Speaking about the army, there was an NPR report yesterday on Morning Edition(linked below), which perhaps deserves a separate post. It was about a boy who apparently drifted somewhat from his former background to join Nachal Haredi and then feels “ostracized”, as in the title of the report.

    The reporter did a good job describing the boy’s point of view, but I think one needs to do an interview with his family and other communuity members to get a full picture, as in the different case of charedim who were chozrim l’Sheylah, which was discussed in R. Menken’s “Wonder’s of Leaving Observance” post last month.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=9598790

  32. Ahron says:

    >“No Israeli paper would have done so.”

    I must digress here from an otherwise important piece that deserves a great deal of consideration and rumination. The reality is that the Ha’aretz newspaper, for one, would have done so and regularly–in its news, not just opinion pages–advocates policies and perspectives that are irretrievably hostile to Israel’s national security and national future. The two other highest circulation Hebrew-language papers and a number of TV and radio stations do the same.

    Parts of the Israeli far Left have indeed edited themselves out of the Israeli national story–or have simply extirpated the Israeli national story from themselves. Other branches (perhaps we can hope that they’re just twigs) of the Israeli Left announce their hostility to most things Israeli–from Army to Land to life-saving security policies, and most vehemently to the country’s Jewish foundations. A large minority (or perhaps a majority) of Israelis supported, or willingly accepted, the expulsion and financial destruction of 10,000 fellow citizens last year in return for ostensible “security” benefits. And now that the intoxicating “security through retreat” magic mist has been dissipated by salvos of rockets falling on schools…few Israelis seem very interested, or even aware of the canyon between reality and their expectations. The profile of an engaged and responsible polity this is not.

    And it is also not clear that every facet of Israeli society (as implied by R’ Rosenblum) agrees on a common base of values or even the overall value of the Israeli enterprise itself.

    With those caveats–yes, the observations in this piece also suggest that things are perhaps not quite as bad as they often seem.

  33. Jewish Observer says:

    Very nice positive message displaying ahavas chinam.

    Shkoyach.

  34. Bob Miller says:

    “Army service in Israel provides a degree of societal cohesion and shared experience increasingly lacking in America, where those who serve and those who don’t form distinct social classes.”

    As one who favors student deferments within reason, I ask Jonathan to outline the deferment policy he would advocate to cover full-time bona-fide yeshiva students in Israel.