Letter From a Netzach Yehuda Graduate

letter-447577_1280

What follows is an excerpt (with permission) from a letter I received from a recent “graduate” of Netzach Yehuda, known colloquially in the US as Nachal Haredi. (For the purists, Netzach Yehuda is the name of the battalion; Nachal Haredi is a non-profit organization that supports the soldiers of Netzach.) The writer was raised in the American haredi community, and made aliyah after marriage. He earned high marks for sharpshooting. His IDF experience will allow him to take advantage of educational opportunities that he could not afford in the US. He is considering a career in law.

Depending on your view of Israel and the IDF, you will either be encouraged by his words (as I was!), or agree with those who see even a haredi-friendly service in IDF as a threat to the Israeli haredi way of life.

I was always inculcated with a love for Israel , for as long as I can remember, though I did not necessarily know what it means to be a (religious) Zionist. I began learning about the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz soon after I got married; I studied the writings of the Rambam and other Rishonim and then studied the modern writings of HaRav Kook, and just to see the various understandings, I also studied a bit from both the Satmar Rav and Rav Kahane (obviously very very different understandings). That was a huge part of my original decision to move here.

Once I got into the army, my love for the Land and Jews increased dramatically, for many reasons. What was interesting was that many Rabbonim from all camps would come to the base to give us shiurim. We had ashkenazim, sephardim, dati leumi, charedi, chabad rabbis all come to give us chizuk. What they all had in common was that all of them, even the mainstream charedi rabbonim, believed that there is nothing holier than protecting the land and people. Even the charedi rabbonim (we had some big names come) constantly spoke about how we need to view every second of our service as an active mitzvah. So even though most charedim still don’t send their kids to the army, for various reasons, my personal feeling is that most mainstream charedim today do believe in some form of Religious Zionism. This doesn’t mean waving the Israeli flag and and shouting Hatikvah; it means believing that the miraculous creation of an independent (somewhat) Jewish state after 2000 years of exile is not an accident or mistake, and that we have an obligation to ensure the continuity of that Jewish state. The Neturei Karta and Eida Charedis are not mainstream.

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35 Responses

  1. cohen y says:

    The source was Ha’aretz (2008),although anecdotal evidence is that the situation has indeed gotten a little better.

  2. Tal Benschar says:

    “As a constant reader of Cross-Currents, I never find Charedi Leumi anything but intelligent, rational and respectful.”

    I agree, that is why I addressed his comments, not those of others.

  3. Pinchas Steinberg says:

    “Is MM”D education so weak(2008 stats 25% leave the army non-religious ,a further 18% leave less)or is the army (or the forces behind it)inherently the problem ?”

    I would very much like to see what the source for those statistics is. All evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. The IDF of today is not the IDF of 30 years ago. As a recently discharged soldier, allow me to enlighten you as to what today’s IDF looks like. In the IDF of 2011, it is unheard of for non-kosher food to be found in mess halls. A soldier who brings non-kosher food into the kitchen faces a court martial and even jail-time. Every base has signs warning that it is illegal to use a cell phone or smoke cigarettes in public places on shabbat. Every base has a shul with 3 minyanim a day. When embarking on a mission, the commander, whether he is religious or secular, leads his soldiers with “tefillat haderech.” In most IDF combat bases today, the secular soldiers have become a minority. Even in the non-combat bases, such as “tzrifin,” where the secular are still a solid majority, there are a sizable number of kippah-wearers. Every combat battalion has its own rabbi permanently attached to it. The rabbi must be consulted before any orders are given to violate shabbat or any other mitzvot. Believe me, college campuses in Israel and the USA are MUCH greater threats to the religiosity of our boys than the army is. So do some boys become less religious in the army? Absolutely. Just as some boys become less religious in college or yeshiva. Unfortunately, the kids-at-risk issue is an issue everywhere.

    Ultimately, I believe there is a far larger number of secular soldiers who become more religious than there are religious soldiers who become less religious. I have witnessed secular soldiers from the kibbutzim, who have never set foot inside a shul in their lives, wander into the base shul on Friday nights and learn to daven for the first time.

  4. mycroft says:

    “Is MM”D education so weak(2008 stats 25% leave the army non-religious ,a further 18% leave less)or is the army (or the forces behind it)inherently the problem ?”

    Or is it the age of freedom. What is the percentage of MO Jews in the US who go away to college who come back non-religious or less religious than when they left home.

  5. sima irkodesh says:

    “usually avoid arguing with Zionists, because I find thay they are so emotionally attached to the issue that there is nothing to say that will not ignite insults and irrationalism.”

    As a constant reader of Cross-Currents, I never find Charedi Leumi anything but intelligent, rational and respectful.

  6. Raymond says:

    The issue as to how religious the Israeli government should be, is an issue I feel is beyond my ability upon which to form any kind of intelligent view. Part of me is weary of the tremendous damage done when any government has been a theocracy, but on the other hand, isn’t the spiritual nature of Israel its real essence and value, that it is more than just a relatively safe physical haven for our Jewish people?

    Tentatively, I come to this conclusion: that the Israeli government needs to be as hands-off and non-intrusive in people’s private lives as possible. Leave it up to each individual citizen to choose how religious they wish to live their lives. If the religious Jewish community wishes to make the general populace more religious, then do it the traditionally Jewish way, that is, through the gentle approach of Jewish education, rather than through the force of the law. Better that Israel get to the point of being dominated by Torah values, through the mechanism of free choice and persuasion, rather than through compulsion.

  7. L. Oberstein says:

    L.oberstein-Is MM”D education so weak(2008 stats 25% leave the army non-religious ,a further 18% leave less)or is the army (or the forces behind it)inherently the problem ? I have no personal knowledge, I was uoting Rav Eli Sadan who is the founder of Bnai David Pre Army Academy in Eli. He said that the problem is that although many religious kids know text, they are clueless on issues of faith and belief. Ask an 18 year old this question: If you prayed yesterday, why are you praying again today, do you think G-d forgot? He asked this and many had no clue how to answer. That is just an example and it is why his academy devotes half a day to hashkafah-emunah and half a day to text.It helps greatly to keep them frum in the army and gives them the answers to other soldiers’ questions.

    Now, to another comment:
    “usually avoid arguing with Zionists, because I find thay they are so emotionally attached to the issue that there is nothing to say that will not ignite insults”
    I think that the insults go both ways. I agree with Rabbi Berel Wein that the previous generation’s gedolim were much more appreciative of Medinat Yisrael because they went through churban. Some of the most vocal of the younger generation talk out of both sides of their mouths. They espouse views of Zionism that rival Neturai Karta while taking the Medina for granted. The existence of the State and its environment is helping create more bnai torah than in many centuries.
    They really lack a deep appreciation of how much having our own little country has done for the Jewish People, they also don’t grasp how much the government they don’t like supports their lifestyle, it is mamach “kofui tova”, ingratitude to live on the dole and speak ill of your benefactors. There is plenty to criticize, but plenty to praise.

  8. chareidi leumi says:

    >Your first point is really surprising given that this is an Orthodox forum. In any event, was the State of Israel founded by Karaites or Sadducees, who have some alternative view of “the Bible?” Or was it founded by secular atheists who pick and chose what they please.

    It was founded by many people, ranging from socialists to traditionalists to orthodox. The very strong secular zionist element had its own subdevisions from the territorialists who did not care if the state would be in EY or Uganda to the mainstream zionists who did. These people were neither orthodox nor karraite but viewed the Bible in what would best be described as a secular/historical national document. In any case, there is little that is internally inconsistent in them invoking it while not submitting to the halachic messorah as such.

    >What interpretation of “Keep the Sabbath,” the fourth commandment, is followed today by the government of Israel? None

    Not true, the government is shut down on Shabbat except for essential functions. Also, in the vast majority of cities, public busses shut down. This is part of what was known as the great compromise in the early years of the state. Its not as you or I would like it, but its better than nothing.

    >As for alternative justifications, I personally find them singularly unimpressive

    Contratulations. But there are people who find them impressive. I agree with you that the main claim to the land is spiritual but we are not talking about you or I.

    >It was Ben-Gurion who stated that the Bible was the Jewish people’s deed to the land.

    Yes, but trust me when I tell you that he meant it as a historical document … not as a religious one. He and most of Mapai did not see the bible in the same way you or I see it. Just like christian zionists, for example, don’t see it the same way yet still support zionism based on the Bible.

    >The Jewish people have a connection to Eretz Yisrael that long pre-dates Zionism and the State.

    No argument there. But the developments of the past 130 years have been much more impressive than what these earlier efforts were able to achieve.

    >The State imposes itself on all aspects of life — it controls much of the economy, it has high taxes (no opt out), it controls the holy places — and no one ever asked the Charedim whether they want that situation.

    It would not be much of a state if it did not do these things. And the chareidim are involved exactly to the extent that they allowed themselves to get involved. No one asked them to opposed the zionist program from a very early point in its development.

    >So, contra to Shlomo Zalman, I see no intellectual dishonesty in adapting to the situation that is there.

    That much is clear… but many chareidim here seem to feel some guilt for taking more than they contribute and the party lines justifying this status quo … are much less convincing than say. … the historical argument for the Jewish people’s right to the land.

  9. Tal Benschar says:

    CL:

    I usually avoid arguing with Zionists, because I find thay they are so emotionally attached to the issue that there is nothing to say that will not ignite insults and irrationalism.

    Your first point is really surprising given that this is an Orthodox forum. In any event, was the State of Israel founded by Karaites or Sadducees, who have some alternative view of “the Bible?” Or was it founded by secular atheists who pick and chose what they please. What interpretation of “Keep the Sabbath,” the fourth commandment, is followed today by the government of Israel? None. The bottom line is that there is a basic contradiction between saying “the Bible entitles me to this land forever (never mind who was there before)” and “the Bible is an outdated document, and I can chose to follow those parts I wish and discard the rest as antiquated.”

    As for alternative justifications, I personally find them singularly unimpressive, and if you debate most Israelis they will come to the same conclusion. It was Ben-Gurion who stated that the Bible was the Jewish people’s deed to the land.

    Your use of the term oness is an apt one. The Jewish people have a connection to Eretz Yisrael that long pre-dates Zionism and the State. The Talmidei ha Gra and the Chassidim, not to mention many Sephardim, settled in EY long beforehand. They dealt with the power that be at the time — the Ottoman Sultan — and someone who wants to live in EY today has to deal with the power that rules the land today — the secular State of Israel. The State imposes itself on all aspects of life — it controls much of the economy, it has high taxes (no opt out), it controls the holy places — and no one ever asked the Charedim whether they want that situation. So, contra to Shlomo Zalman, I see no intellectual dishonesty in adapting to the situation that is there. That includes participating in elections and political dealings — that is the system set up by the State. (Charedim in America do the same thing. For example, they participate in elections both at the local and national level, and Charedi askanim are invovled in politics. No one asked the Charedim whether America should have its political system, it just is that way, and they deal with what is. If we lived in a country with a king, we would have our representatives at court as we did in the medieval period.)

  10. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >It is also intellectually dishonest to live in a country whose leadership claims its right to the land based on the Bible, even as its government constantly tramples the principles of the Bible underfoot.<

    If you want to be intellectually dishonest, then you should write "tramples the principles of the Bible as interpreted by orthodoxy underfoot". It is not wise to lump together our understanding of the normative instructions of the Bible together with the Bible as a document which testified to our historical rights to the land. For one thing, on a pragmatic level, you then undermine pretty much the entire basis for christian Zionist support of Israel and secondly … you are presenting secular Israelies with a binary approach to the Bible – either be orthodox or become totally secular humanists with no connection to your roots. The majority are neither and are quite traditional when you compare them to pretty much any other non-orthodox community in the world. These are people who respect the Tanach even as they don't live a completely halachic lifestyle – and you gain nothing by presenting such an ultimatum to their psyche.

    Further, your entire assertion is a non-sequiter. It is not "intellectually dishonest" because the biblical argument is just one out of many that most Israelis have for the legitimacy of their country. The entire legitimacy of the country does not rise or fall in their eyes based on whether or not every principle in the Bible is adhered to by the government. Their intelectual position is not nearly as problomatic than the mainstream chareidi one. At least the Eidah makes an attempt to seperate itself from goverment institutions and money – the roads, water, etc are legitimasly an Onnes to them. The mainstream ashkenazi parties are often in a peculiar situation of saying that the very establishment and nature of the state was wrought in sin and yet, we can be partners to this sin when its convinient.

  11. cohen says:

    binyomin Eckstein- interesting point

    L.oberstein-Is MM”D education so weak(2008 stats 25% leave the army non-religious ,a further 18% leave less)or is the army (or the forces behind it)inherently the problem ?

    raymond -The (state’s)mechanism has been as much of a hindrance or bystander as a help in terms of learning torah

  12. cvmay says:

    Tal – Do two wrongs make a right?

  13. dovid 2 says:

    Tal Benschar writes: “… intellectually dishonest to live in a country whose leadership claims its right to the land based on the Bible, even as its government constantly tramples the principles of the Bible underfoot.”

    So now the 5 million plus Jewish residents of Eretz Israel found out that they are “intellectually dishonest”.

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    What a wonderful and inspiring article. This article proves that one need not be either a secular Zionist or a RZ to serve in the IDF and realize the vast importance of why one is doing so. I would add that RHS has also spoken to Nachal Charedi as well, and that the Hashgacha of the Eidah Charedis is hardly extreme, and that the OU works with the Eidah in dealing with Kashrus issues that eminate in Israel, but which affect those of us in Chutz LaAretz.

  15. Raymond says:

    After not being in control of our own little Jewish country for almost 2,000 years, the least we Jews can do is be appreciative of the fact that we now have it back. Of course Israel is not perfect; I despise the way the Israeli government compromises the security of its Jewish people for the sake of being more loved by the world. But such imperfections are no reason to reject Israel; on the contrary, it gives us incentive to do whatever we can to improve the situation for our fellow Jews living in the land promised and given to us by G-d Himself.

  16. Tal Benschar says:

    “It is intellectually dishonest to deny the validity of the modern State of Israel while doing the following:”

    It is also intellectually dishonest to live in a country whose leadership claims its right to the land based on the Bible, even as its government constantly tramples the principles of the Bible underfoot.

  17. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    charedi leumi and sima irkodesh,

    Saving Jewish lives and Jewish sovereignty are not the same thing. In the current geo-political reality, yes. But as a constant correlation, no. And when speaking of the ideal one is fighting for, it is important to have a clear focus on exactly what that ideal is, because they can easily and quickly come into conflict.

  18. dovid 2 says:

    “… we talk openly about our sons serving — because we trust them …”

    You trust them? Then you don’t know what you are talking about. If the Tanna exhaurts us not to trust ourselves in such matters (al taamin b’atzmecha), even more so you shouldn’t trust your children, given their age, lack of experience, and heightened level of hormones, UNLESS they are truly among others whom share their ideals and who will act as shomrim for one another.

  19. dovid 2 says:

    “Zionists expand the definition of the term to include nearly any Jew living in EY.”

    Mr. Ben Torah, do you hold it is a disgrace to love Zion? I can name 10 bnei Torah on one foot considerably greater than you who do love Zion.

  20. shlomo zalman says:

    “Zionists expand the definition of the term to include nearly any Jew living in EY.”

    It is intellectually dishonest to deny the validity of the modern State of Israel while doing the following:
    1. Using its infrastructure;roads, parks,water, etc…
    2. Benefitting by its police force and army
    3. Studying in its state-funded torah institutions
    4. Traveling back and forth with no restrictions
    5. Enjoying total freedom of religious practice
    6. Enjoying the unlimited and protected use of Jewish historical sites; Kotel, Me’ara Hamachpeilah, kever Rachel, etc…

    If one thinks that all of these are easier attained in another country, or think that when the Jordanians or Turks ruled they had all these benefits, then it is more than dishonest, it’s dillusionary.

  21. Ben Torah says:

    I find it mildly amusing how, in their zeal to increase their ranks, Zionists expand the definition of the term to include nearly any Jew living in EY.

  22. Bracha says:

    I just want my children to have choices — I want them to grow up G-d fearing and loving men who will choose their own derech in avodas H’ — we are very American and live in Beitar Illit and we talk openly about our sons serving — because we trust them and know we can’t tell them how to live and, most importantly, they need to have choices; we’re raising an incredible generation of young Jewish men who believe that they must sit and learn or disgracefully find mentally deficient work opportunities

  23. sima irkodesh says:

    “protecting Jews or protecting Jewish sovereignty”

    Not sure, there is a difference. Without Jewish sovereignty there is no way to protect Jews.

  24. cvmay says:

    Reb Shlomo, thanks for the clarification.
    I believe the Bostoner Rebbe of Har Nof zt”l spent many years of his childhood in Eretz Yisrael before residing in Boston and then subsequently in Israel. The Rebbe used to describe himself as a son of “settlers -pioneers” who were the first families to live outside of the old city or Yerushalayim.

  25. chareidi leumi says:

    >The Charedi Rabbis emphasized protecting Jews or protecting Jewish sovereignty?

    הַיְנוּ הַךְ

  26. another Nathan says:

    Any time a Jew sets foot in Israel, whether he thinks of himself in Eretz or Medinat Yisrael, he is involved with the IDF. Because if not for the IDF, they could not be there; the Arabs would kill them, as they have tried to do so many times. Before Medinat Yisrael the Arabs had a much easier time of it, such as in Hevron in 1929.
    Jews in Israel, whether in Bnai Brak or Tel Aviv depend on the IDF. True, it is Hashem’s hand that enables the IDF to succeed, but in all things God expects us to make our efforts.
    The Hareidim may feel that the IDF disrupts their way of life, but the same applies to the Hilonim. Army service is a sacrifice. If more Hareidim participated instead of letting others risk their lives, the IDF would of necessity have to adapt. Hareidi blood is no redder.

  27. Shlomo says:

    “cvmay”, just to clarify a small point; R’ Asher Weiss moved with his family to Israel when he was 12 years old. While that might technically be considered aliyah, I’m not sure that you can group him with the others.

  28. Nachum says:

    Very nice. But I’d like to register a wee bit of offense at this:

    “This doesn’t mean waving the Israeli flag and and shouting Hatikvah”

    We Religious Zionists aren’t jingoists. We wave the flag and sing (not “shout,” please) Hatikva with a lot of meaning.

  29. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    The Charedi Rabbis emphasized protecting Jews or protecting Jewish sovereignty?

  30. Raymond says:

    I think I have two foolproof reasons why any Jew proud of his or her heritage, should be a Zionist. One is to compare death statistics. In Europe just two generations ago, the chances of a Jew living there surviving the Holocaust was something like 33%. That means any given Jew had a two out of three chance of being murdered by the nazis or other antisemites. The highest casualty rate among Jews living in the Modern State of Israel, was during the War of Independence in 1948, when 1% of the population was killed. 1% of Jewry being killed is far too high of a number, but it is certainly a vast improvement over what happened in Europe. In other words, now that we Jews have our country back, we have the ability to defend our lives from the antisemitic murderers of this world. Being armed with weapons has been proven to be quite useful.

    The other foolproof reason to be a Zionist, is a more directly religious one: more Jews are learning Torah in Israel now, than at any time in the entire history of our Jewish people. This can happen only because Jews feel relatively safe to live in or visit Israel.

    When I have stated the two above reasons to even the most ultra-Orthodox of Jews, they had no refutation of my points, because there really cannot be one. After all, to us Jews, there is nothing more important than life itself as well as Torah learning.

  31. cvmay says:

    1 & 2 – I beg to differ. Those who imagine and subscribe to the Edas Charedeis as mainstream have zero inkling of who they are and what they stand for, besides the renowned hechsher of Badatz.

    You need to spend time in many frum Torah communities, outside of the tri-state area to get a full appreciation of what are the ideals, hashgafos, and torah outlook of klal yisroel towards Eretz Yisroel. In the 50s, 60s and even 70s, Israel was viewed as a miraculous and the most seminal event of Klal Yisroel of the 20th century. The years of 80s, 90s and early 2000, the tide reversed to the negative.

    BH, the aliyah of many prominent Rabbanim (to name a few) Rav Bulman zt”l, Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, the Bostoner Rebbe zt”l, Clevelander Rebbe, Rav Asher Weiss, Rav Zev Leff, Rav Shalom Gold, Rav Yitzchak Berkowitz, Rav Feldman, Rav Zuravin zt”l, and recently Rav Jacobs, Rav Freuer and Rav Breuer have reignited the passion and desire to make Eretz Yisroel home. “Reah B’tuv Haeretz”…..is a reality of today.

  32. L. Oberstein says:

    We had Rav Eli Sadan, the Rosh hayeshiva of the Bnai David pre Army Mechina in Eli visit Baltimore recently. He met with Rav Aharon Feldman and once they both agreed that Herzl was a kofer, they got along fine. Rav Sadan told me that Rav Feldman was the first person of his stature to actually listen to him and understand what he was trying to achieve. One fact that was very evident is that, the paar-the gulf between Israeli chareidim and Israeli Religious Zionists is not just wide, but they hardly know anything about each other. They live in different worlds, they don’t mix and both camps have a lot of misconceptions about the other. Rav Sedan thinks that economic necessity will make army service more acceptable and the nachal chareidi willingness to accomadate religious needs makes it less objectionable. It may not happen from above, but from below. As more men join the army, it will be less of a stain on the family . Chareidi Israel survives on strong social conformity and ostracism of anyone who dares to not conform. It is so strong because the fear of loss is real. Rav sedan said that a large percentage of religous youth lose any senblance of observance in the army adn all those years of dati leumi education don’t seem to help unless one goes to a pre army mechina. If this is os, who can blame frum parents for fearing for their child’s soul in the army.

  33. Daniel Wohlgelernter says:

    An inspiring and reassuring testimonial. Netzach Yehuda/Nachal Haredi is an indispensable element for the survival and growth of Am Yisroel b’Eretz Yisroel.

  34. Ben Torah says:

    “my personal feeling is that most mainstream charedim today do believe in some form of Religious Zionism… it means believing that the miraculous creation of an independent (somewhat) Jewish state after 2000 years of exile is not an accident or mistake”

    His personal feelings are sorely mistaken. Most mainstream chareidim may believe that the creation of a Jewish state is not an accident or mistake in somewhat the same sense they know that the holocaust was not an accident or mistake.

  35. Joe Hill says:

    It is quite peculiar to claim that a Chareidi IDF enlistee is mainstream while “Eida Charedis are not mainstream”. I am fairly confident in any poll of Chareidim in EY, Eida Charedis will win a popularity contest a lot lot faster than Netzach Yehuda.