I’ll leave the abusive words to your imagination. They were delivered through clenched teeth, the anger seeming to drip from the telephone into a rancid puddle on my desk. The long, acrimonious voicemail message played on and on, laden with insults and threats.

Even more striking than the nasty tone, though, was the subject of the call: a statement issued by the Council of Torah Sages calling for prayers and good deeds on behalf of Jews in danger in Israel. No, the caller was no anti-Semite; he was a self-described “Centrist Orthodox” Jew. But yes, what had so exercised him was a summoning of Jews to pray for fellow Jews. Or, to be more specific, the broad nature of the summons: it had not specified soldiers.

The statement, of course, had made no explicit mention either of the Jewish cites and towns that have come under Arab fire, nor of Jews in countries around the world where they or their institutions have been attacked. There was no doubt in my mind that the distinguished rabbis who issued the call considered Jewish soldiers to be prime among the threatened Jews whose safety they asked Jews to prominently include in their prayers. Had the rabbis overestimated some readers, not realized that some might take the lack of specificity as evidence somehow of a lack of concern?

Perhaps. And if so, perhaps any future such summons – may it never be necessary – will make particular mention of the young men fighting on front lines. Certainly, concern for Israeli troops has been voiced by the head of the Council at large Agudath Israel-sponsored public gatherings.

The caller, though, had assumed that the statement implied an unconcern (or worse) about soldiers. After all, he may have reasoned, Agudath Israel does not fly a Jewish nationalistic flag. It must therefore consider the Jewish State’s soldiers to be unworthy. Needless to say, though – or not so needless, apparently – Agudath Israel is deeply invested in the wellbeing of all Jews in the Holy Land – and has special concern for those who, in a war, are most endangered.

But the caller hadn’t called to ask if what he saw as an omission had been intentional. He had assumed it so, and only wanted to share his strong feelings about his (mistaken) conclusion.

I had been here before, I reflected sadly,. Over the almost 15 years I have been privileged to serve Agudath Israel, there have been a number of times when I have witnessed the harshest of judgments passed on the movement by people who made ungenerous assumptions. And who considered us derelict, or worse, for not heartily and automatically endorsing whatever petition, rally or political stance they or others had unilaterally decided the times required.

The caller didn’t leave a name but he did give his telephone number. I dialed it.

He seemed surprised that I had actually called back, and I took advantage of his initial discombobulation to deliver my little speech about how he had assumed wrongly and how therefore his umbrage was ill-conceived. He wasn’t impressed. Finding his voice, he insisted he knew better, that he was absolutely sure the Council of Torah Sages didn’t care about Jews in the Israeli army. Then he launched into a somewhat more muted (though not much) litany of complaints against haredim – how dare we not recite a special prayer composed by the Israeli Rabbinate, how come a haredi rabbi he knows showed lack of concern (he claimed) for a woman whose son was an Israeli soldier, why do haredim (ditto) have such contempt for other Jews…

I tried to get a word or two in edgewise but he clearly considered his questions unanswerable. So I waited until he tired himself out.

Then, in the lull, I thanked him for sharing his perspective and asked him to please consider one final thought. He could accept it, I told him, or reject it, as he saw fit; but please, I implored, at least consider it.

Maybe, I suggested, a great merit for the safety of Jewish soldiers – and Jewish civilians and Jews everywhere, exposed as we are to so many who hate us – lies in our judging one another favorably and not harshly, in our good will toward those with whom we may disagree, even strongly, over some things, even important things.

I was taken aback by the silence that followed. I had read my caller wrong: His mind wasn’t closed shut. He was actually thinking about what I had said. Suddenly I felt embarrassed and, after a few more seconds of no response, thanked my caller for having cared to leave his message. He thanked me for calling back. I told him not to hesitate to call again. And that was that.

It was only when I had hung up that I realized something, and it dawned with a shiver: The majority of the Israeli army fatalities at that point (may there be no more) were the result of “friendly fire” – accidental shooting by their own comrades.

Painful as it is to ponder, sometimes the gravest harm is what we unwittingly visit on ourselves.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

All Am Echad Resources essays are offered for publication or sharing without charge,
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Shades of Grey
6 years 8 months ago


I actually think a bit like you, but tried to word it respectfully.

The fact is also that the press is sometimes at fault, as I think happened regarding a statement disseminated, which I don’t think was intended for public consumption, following a tragedy last year in Israel.

I also note that Jonathan Rosenblum, in “Price of Disunity”(Cross Currents, 1/4/09), focused on the lack of professional staff of organized community life, as compared to the American Aguda:

“We totally lack a professional staff to help provide the gedolei Torah with the best possible information prior to their decision-making and with the ability to execute their directives”

6 years 8 months ago

Shades of Grey: Perhaps there also needs to be a greater responsibility on the charedi press; not every speech of a gadol needs to be publicized.

Ori: Wouldn’t the responsibility be on the gdolim themselves? Aren’t they supposed to be the ones with the best judgment?

Shades of Grey
6 years 8 months ago

The larger problem is how to deal with statements of gedolie Torah which, upon first glance, strike the listener as bizarre and puzzling. Since one can list a number of such statements over the past few years, it might make sense to form a general approach.

The first point would be to make sure that the statements are in the proper context, and are not misquoted by the secular press, or even by well-meaning Charedi sources. The second point is to try to understand them in context: I believe that this statement of R. Weintraub, shlita, can be justified in context, just as seemingly extreme statements of the Satmar Rav zt’l on the State of Israel.

It is interesting to reread the Mishpacha article by Jonathan Rosenblum, written in August, 2004(“A Disease In Search of a Cure”) concerning this type of situation, linked below:

“Those who make a business of providing the secular media with tips of piquant stories that place the chareidi world and its leaders in a bad light are a disease, but they are not a disease without a cure. Whether they operate from the courtyards of gedolim, or from the chareidi press, or independently, it is about time that we ferreted them out and exposed them to the public scorn they so richly deserve.”

I believe that the above has changed since the internet. In the post-internet age anyone can copy a “puzzling” statement of a gadol, or the latest Kol Koreh from Meah Shearim or Bnei Brak and disseminate it anonymously.

I think one can only appeal to people’s “yiras shomayim” to be responsible in how they choose to act, rather than the possibility of “ferreted them out”. Also, since there are no secrets anymore, one can try to publicly deal, head-on, with the “puzzling” statements in a sophisticated way, as some have tried to do on the thread here. Perhaps there also needs to be a greater responsibility on the charedi press; not every speech of a gadol needs to be publicized.

6 years 8 months ago


I am not questioning the concern for the welfare of the soldiers and people of the south. But it is the lack of ha’caras ha’tov – it is possible to delegitmize any act of chesed by saying , they were doing it for them selves. My Rov here in Israel commented – My Rov is R Chayim Smulevitz – he said bring me a soldier so I can kiss him. Hakaras Hatov should not interfere with the value of lomdei Torah. By emphazing doverning for soldiers and learning for them even more we can both show hakaras Hatov and acknowlege the war is essentially been fought in the beis Medrash. There is no s’tirah. Guilt feelings are good to inspire people to act on them , more hakaras hatov , more doverning , more learning. Getting rid of these feelings by delegitimizing the soldiers is not the way. he could say the battle is being fought both in the beis medrash and on the battlefield , every one has a part to play and every one must play his part. Of course there was also great kiddush hashem by the many frum soldiers as seen from the IDF Rav post , also hearing mincha being doverned while taking refuge in some building in the middle of the war. To describe the army as a pure ‘ chiloni camp ‘ not only disassociates one from many of klal yisroel but the many frum soldiers who fought and also died in the war. It is aquestion of chinuch.


joel rich
6 years 8 months ago

R’ Michoel(39),
1. anger – I assume this was a general comment not associated with my response?
2 It would be interesting to see how many of the listners to the shmooze read your nuanced interpretation into the shmooze can always differentiate (or not hold water), I’ll let those more knowledgable than me decide whether R’CS would have said the shmooze today.