Chareidim Arois

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The inaugural conference of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute convened last week in Jerusalem. Academics, philanthropists, and Jewish educators from around the world gathered to discuss threats to Israel ‘s security, anti-Semitism around the world, Israel-Diaspora relations, and issues of Jewish continuity and identity.

Only one group was not represented: the chareidim. In the four years of planning leading up to the conference, it apparently did not cross anyone’s mind that it might be a good idea to seek figures from the chareidi world to participate.

When challenged about the lack of any chareidi representation on the working groups, a French delegate explained that there is “a nearly unbridgeable cultural gap between the types of people attending the conference and members of the chareidi community” and that it is impossible to find a chareidi representative with “a good grasp of geopolitical realities.” For good measure, he added, that chareidim tend to use violent language.

This conscious exclusion of chareidim is an old story. I cannot remember a single member of the chareidi community ever being asked to address the biennial General Assembly of Jewish Federations or even to participate in one of its panels. About a decade ago, Commentary magazine published a survey of the state of Jewish belief in America, in which around fifty Jewish “theologians” were asked to respond to a series of questions. Yet even when dealing with matters of Jewish belief, the editors of Commentary apparently felt no need to invite any of dozens of possible chareidi contributors to participate.

Today the chareidi community both in Israel and chutz l’aretz is by far the fast-growing segment of the Jewish community, while the overall Jewish community outside of Israel is experiencing a net population loss. A study published this past week projected than just under a third of the elementary age school children in Israel will be studying in chareidi schools within the next five years.

(That figure, incidentally, guarantees that battles over state input into the curricula of chareidi schools will continue to intensify. So long as the chareidi school population was less than 10% of the total, we could hope that the state would take little interest in what was taught in our schools. But that day is long past.)

The Orthodox community abroad is the one community that does not feel increasingly estranged from events in Israel, and that is true whether one is describing the modern Orthodox community or those communities that specifically define themselves as non-Zionist. Orthodox Jews follow events in Israel closely; they tend to vote to a large degree based on their perception of a candidate’s support for Israel; they send their children to study post-high school education in Israel; they visit frequently; they tend to give a great deal of tzedakah to individuals and institutions in Israel; and large numbers of them come to live permanently in Israel.

The failure to invite chareidim to last week’s conference had nothing to do with the community’s lack of suitable representatives or its lack of relevance. Rather it reflects a continuing unwillingness to confront the message of the chareidi community. Just as neither the Israeli nor American governments can let go of the fantasy of a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so can the collective Jewish leadership around the world not give up its search for some gimmick that will ensure Jewish continuity and survival without a connection to Torah.

Philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, for instance, has spent millions of dollars on projects connected to Jewish continuity. He seeks to pass down to his children’s generation both his fierce Jewish pride and his self-professed atheism. But it cannot be done. Ethnic pride detached from Torah has never proven capable of sustaining itself for more than one or two generations.

Steinhardt hopes the next generation of Jews will be as concerned with Israel as his own, but he cannot provide a coherent account of the Jewish world mission or why it is important that the Jewish people continue to exist. But without a vision that encompasses Sinai, he cannot explain what connects the Jews in Israel to those in the Diaspora.

Steinhardt has thus invested in an illusion. But the last thing that the savvy hedge-fund investor and many others like him want to hear is that they are throwing away their money. Anyone delivering that message, be he ever so articulate, educated, and calm, is not invited to the party.

THE ISRAELI CHAREIDI community got another sharp reminder of its place in Israeli society this past week. Justice Ministry attorney Amnon De Hartoch slugged United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Cohen, after a heated exchange between the two in the Knesset corridor over further budget cuts to Chinuch Atzmai schools ordered by De Hartoch.

The most astounding thing about this incident was the reaction of the Israeli media and leading public figures. Maariv columnist Ben Caspi went on air the same day to say “he could have hugged De Hartoch” and to express regrets that he had not broken any of MK Cohen’s bones. Former Supreme Court Mishael Cheshin proclaimed that Cohen’s words were far worse than De Hartoch’s physical assault on a Knesset member. Shlomo Cohen, the outgoing bar association president, followed suit.

None of these figures had any first-hand knowledge of who said what to whom – a matter in hot dispute. And we can be sure that had a Jew punched former MK Azmi Bishara, after one of his frequent celebrations from the Knesset podium of attacks on Israel by Syria or Hizbullah, the reaction would have been a horrified condemnation of the resort to violence. When Rabbi Yisrael Eichler referred to former Meretz Party head Shulamit Aloni as a Nazi, he was hit with a libel judgment of hundreds of thousands of shekels. When Aloni referred to Binyamin Netanyahu and others as crypto-Nazis and fascists, she was awarded the Israel prize.

What emerges from the remarks of Caspi and the others is that punching a chareidi MK in the nose is a cherished fantasy of many Israelis.

The Chazon Ish once told Moshe Shonfeld that the hatred directed at the chareidi community can be a badge of pride for one’s adherence to Torah. But the exclusion of chareidim from the councils of the Jewish people and hatred directed at us is nevertheless a tragedy for Klal Yisrael.

As we mourn the destruction of the Temple in these days leading up to Tisha B’Av, it behooves us to ask if that hatred is solely a result of what we are doing right – i.e, our faithful adherence to Torah – or whether some of it is a result of what we are doing wrong.

Appeared in Mishpacha today.

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60 Responses

  1. dochesed says:

    In a reply to Shira Schmidt’s post on the JPPI meeting, Avi Biti states: “Also I heard an organizer of the conference say on the radio that while they think they could have done a better job, several invitations were in fact sent to Haredi educators and communal leaders who simply never answered.”

    This article seems to imply the opposite (“Only one group was not represented: the chareidim. In the four years of planning leading up to the conference, it apparently did not cross anyone’s mind that it might be a good idea to seek figures from the chareidi world to participate.”)

    What are the facts?

  2. Loberstein says:

    R. Moshe Feinstein ruled that it was forbidden to give money to Federation.
    I am satisfied that Rav Eliashiv, who is a great Torah leader, clearly implied that DeHartog is attacking the Hareidi community. That’s enough for me.
    These 2 statements are very troubling. I have never heard of this psak by Rav Moshe and it certainly isn’t the norm in Baltimore, where many frum Jews are active in Federation. Could he have been speaking in a different context about a different set of circumstances?
    As one who has always been raised to respect gedolim, I do not grasp the phenomenon called “Rav Elyashiv”. It seems to me that we are not talking about one man here but a mind set that uses his name as its hechsher. Every day a new ban comes out and this man is used as the shield, is he really the instigator of all that is said in his name. Is it possible that others are misusing a great man’s honor in his extreme old age and creating a chilul hashem? I don’t know. Every godol I ever met was kind and tolerant and loved all Jews, I think RavElyashiv the man is like that too, but not the movement that uses his name.

  3. Loberstein says:

    Not all communities are identical. I gather from this discussion that the Baltimore model is not the norm.Here, due to the leadership of Rabbi Herman Neuberger for over half a century, we have achieved a level of respect and accomodation with the organized community i.e. Federation. Rabbi Neuberger was active not only on narrow orthodox isues but participated in the whole range of issues. Even those who disagreed with him, respected his integrity and the fact that he could not be “bought”. One case in point, he told the Baltimore Jewish Council that if they supported gay rights as a communal issue, he would have to resign. They tabled it and never passed it, even though the majority favored gay rights as a Jewish issue. In their constitution the made him a permanant life member of the board, an honor only given to one other man, a old time leftist.
    Over the years, this approach his not hindered the growth of our frum community and it is a respected segment of the overall community. You can be a team player without compromising your prinicples.

  4. Sarah Elias says:

    We have another discussion thread here about the use of English. Shouldn’t we settle on one correct spelling for Mr. De H.’s last name?

    Comment by Bob Miller — July 19, 2007 @ 2:39 pm

    I believe the correct spelling is De Hartog, pronounced Hartokh. De H.’s family is probably originally Dutch.

    The version of the story that was published in the local paper is that Mr. Cohen asked De H. why the animosity to to the frum, to which De H. responded, “You’re an animal, like the Nazis.” So Cohen fired back, “And you’re worse, because the Nazis wanted our bodies while you want to take Jewish souls.”

    Yeah, it wasn’t nice to call De Hartog worse than a Nazi, but De Hartog’s language was certainly no nicer and having made the comment he did, what exactly was he expecting to hear in response?

  5. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Dr. Gewirtz:

    Please allow me to expand on my comments. I do not believe that using the Nazis a a point of comparison is desirable or, on an objective basis, acceptable. But it is still part of the fabric of Israeli political discourse. Chilonim use it regularly. But since I am not Chiloni, I do not consider it my place to tell them to stop. The religious Zionist movement has used it, especially since Oslo. I am not a member of that community, and I don’t consider it my place to tell them to stop.

    I am, however, nominally part of the Chareidi community, in my synagogue affiliations, where my children have gone to school, and in my other activities. I have written actively from the Chareidi viewpoint, including two articles in the Jersusalem Report. As such, I feel I am entitled to comment when someone from that community uses the Nazi language, and to say that it is inappropriate, no matter what anyone else does.

    In his original post, Yonason Rosenbloom wrote “When Rabbi Yisrael Eichler referred to former Meretz Party head Shulamit Aloni as a Nazi, he was hit with a libel judgment of hundreds of thousands of shekels. When Aloni referred to Binyamin Netanyahu and others as crypto-Nazis and fascists, she was awarded the Israel prize.” His implication was clear: It’s acceptable for Chilonim, why not for Chareidim? And that was what I was trying to answer.

  6. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Dr. Gewirtz:

    “Calling someone worse than the Germans over the issues involved constitutes a desecration of the memory of the Kedoshim. When that type of language is used purposefully, many would accuse the speaker of anti-semitism. In any case, referring to it as acceptable for a non-charedi politician is among the most intemperate comments I have seen”

    I am only observing what passes for acceptable language in Israeli political discourse. Ben Gurion used to call Jabotinsky “Vladimir Hitler.” In our time, Shulamith Aloni and Yeshayahu Leibowitz both used the metaphor with abandon. I can agree with you that it desecrates the memory of the kedoshim, but in the context of present Israeli society, it has become acceptable. If you want to get Israelis to stop using it, I applaud you. For my part, I’d just like to get Chareidim to stop using it first.

  7. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Hillel:

    One more thing. You note that “non-Hareidi institutions are being FAIRLY denied funds they are not entitled to.” Your list had better prove that Hareidi institutions were being unfairly treated as opposed to the others.

  8. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Hillel:

    You write that “MK Gafni submitted a very detailed bill of particulars to substantiate his claim that Hareidi institutions are being UNFAIRLY targeted and denied funds that they were specifically allocated for Jewish education.” I suggest that someone publish that bill ASAP so as to document Mr. DeHartog’s bias. It would certainly clear a lot up.

  9. dr. william gewirtz says:

    IN response:

    “but we must admit that MK Cohen’s was wrong to call DeHartuch “worse than the Germans,” even if it fit within what would be acceptable bounds for a non-charedi Israeli politician. If we keep using this kind of language, no one will ever take us seriously.

    Comment by Lawrence M. Reisman — July 18, 2007 @ 11:49 am”

    I pray that you want to reword that!!! Calling someone worse than the Germans over the issues involved constitutes a desecration of the memory of the Kedoshim. When that type of language is used purposefully, many would accuse the speaker of anti-semitism. In any case, referring to it as acceptable for a non-charedi politician is among the most intemperate comments I have seen. Let me be dan lekav sechus and assume MK Cohen (and De Hartoch) acted in a moment overcome by passion / shigayon. Perhaps blogging may have a similar defense??

  10. Moshe P. Mann says:

    YM, read my quote again: ” I am not condoning the slap.” That does not sound like an excuse to me. And my I ask what does Mrs. Rigler’s Holocaust story have anything to do with the subject?