The Volume That Speaks Volumes

What could be the connection between intensified Israeli media incitement against haredim and the appearance of a new Yom-tov prayerbook designed exclusively for Israeli Jews? On the surface, none. But let’s glance beneath the surface.

Media incitement against haredim is old hat, an automatic Pavlovian reaction against their favorite bête noir. Were there no haredim, they would have to be invented for the benefit of the secular elites and their servile media. Whipping boys are hard to find.

Recently, however, the incitement has become unusually shrill. Granted, haredi society is far from perfect, and the behavior of some of its adherents far from exemplary. But even though one expects higher standards from those who defend Torah values, the fact is that whenever a haredi commits a wrong that would normally be reported on the page 15, the anti-religious media, religiously faithful to the tradition of yellow journalism, pounce on it and create a media circus: screaming headlines, attack columns, admonishing editorials.

Certainly the ugly behavior of some haredi hooligans, such as those in Beit Shemesh, are abhorrent. They bring shame to the name of Gd, Torah, and Orthodox Jewry, trampling upon the pleasant dracheha darchei noam face of Torah. Still, one cannot help wondering: if, say, Israeli Russian hooligans — and not haredim — were committing such outrages, would the liberal media condemn the entire population of Russians?

Fast forward to the unique new Feldheim Yom-tov machzor. Until now, all machzorim were designed for Israel and for the Diaspora, because only in this way could they be commercially viable. But the need to produce one machzor for both communities created numerous opportunities for prayerful confusion. For example, Israelis celebrate only one day of Yom-tov instead of the normative Diaspora two days. And of course, on the day after Yom-tov in Israel, Diaspora Jews are still celebrating the last day of Yom-tov. Machzor publishers historically made valiant efforts to address everyone’s prayer needs within one volume, but with this new publication the wide net is no longer necessary.

Now to connect the dots: The fact that Israel now has enough Jews to justify the publication of machzorim for Israelis alone demonstrates that in Israel there exists today a critical mass of davening Jews — i.e., religious Jews, both haredi and non-haredi. This mass is constantly increasing in size — the haredim exponentially, and the non-haredi Orthodox at a rate far beyond the rest of the country. A leading demographer estimates that within one generation the haredi population alone will constitute fully one-third of the entire Israeli population, without even counting the other Orthodox Israelis. In effect, religious Jews , through numbers, political influence and economic strength are on the verge of becoming the dominant force in Israel.

Such a prospect terrifies the ideological secularists and the elite opinion leaders. [I refer here to the secular ideologues who are few in number but large in influence, and not to the majority of non-observant Israelis who are respectful of Torah.] Their vision of Israel as just another democratic state — kechol haGoyim, like all the nations — is rapidly evaporating. Fear and trembling has set in. Circle the wagons! The haredim are coming! Aware that they are losing the battle for Israel’s soul, the long knives come out. Opposition leader Tsipi Livni on December 28 says it openly: unless something is done immediately about the haredi school system, ”Israel’s character will change in ten years.” And another government official chimes in immediately that “families with 8-plus children (guess who that means?) are sinning against society.” On cue, their media flacks sensationalize every haredi misdeed into an international cause celebre.

But it is not only the black be-peyosed, be-caftaned, and be-shtreimeled Jews who ignite their fear; their apprehension and distrust extends to the full Orthodox spectrum, even to strictly observant kippah-serugah officers in elite units in the Israel Defense Forces. The secular future is gradually dissipating: one can almost sympathize with these unanchored Israeli Jews and their frenetic — and pathetic — exercises in irreligious coercion. Last flings tend to get out of hand.

Granted, it remains to be seen whether the Orthodox are inherently capable of handling a dominant role in Israel. In the interim, however, the Israeli-only Yom-tov machzor is a harbinger of huge spiritual tectonic shifts — a volume that speaks volumes.

This article first appeared in Mishpacha.

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20 comments to The Volume That Speaks Volumes

  • dr. bill

    Like most statistics, saying charedim will become 1/3 of the population needs an important caveat. Well before chareidim achieve 1/3 of the population they will by economic/political necessity cease being of the radicalized, Israeli (no education and no military service) variety espoused by the Eidah and the RW Lithuanian RY. Nothing becomes that large a segment of society remaining unchanged. Were change not to occur, it should terrify everyone, not just secularists.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    It seems that Israeli secular ideologues are afraid enough to libel and whine. But they are not afraid enough to take the rational conclusions and either try to convince their followers to have more children or decide it is hopeless and leave Israel.

    It is a separate question whether they should be afraid. Would a primarily Orthodox Israel be a good place for secular Jews.

  • CJ Srullowitz

    Rabbi Feldman,

    Your eloquence is, as always, unparalleled.

    Your statements here echo a Tradition article you wrote in 1975, which I happened to read yesterday. The Yom Kippur War gave all Israelis a chance to reflect on the purpose and future of our State. Much has changed since then, and much has remained the same.

  • ChanaRachel

    Let’s be factually correct here. The Rinat Yisrael mahzorim are Hebrew only, and published for the Israeli user (no second day anything, though there may be a separate version for chutz la’aretz)and they’ve been around for as long as I can remember (and I’m a savta). The siddur I’m holding in my hands is copyright 1976. So, please find different dots to connect…

  • Jay

    Rabbi Feldman,

    We do you wonder or complain that the charedi hooligans make it on the first page while the Israeli Russian hooligans are ignored? The media know better than the charedi world that charedi hooligans is chillul Hashem iom iom. That’s why it gives it full exposure. Israeli Russian hooligans are business as usual. After 120 yrs, we will have to give din v’cheshbon. Do you really think it’s going to hold much water to say that, yeah the Israeli Russian hooligans, and the media, and it’s not fair, and Tzipi said, and Barak did?

    I would like to hear from you what the charedi world plans to do about the hooligans in its midst, or at the very least a call to action. Statements like “Certainly the ugly behavior of some haredi hooligans, such as those in Beit Shemesh, are abhorrent” count for little more than nothing. We need to clean the house. Do you have a plan? Meantime, stop kwetching about the media and politicians.

  • Yisrael Asper

    The whole secular vision has been destroyed. There was Secular Zionism with the Religious Zionists tagging along. Now Zionism is for the Secular elite all but a dirty word. The Religious Zionists are now holding the banner up high for the Secular Zionists to follow. With the collapse of the so called peace process, J Street and New Israel Fund and Peace Now and other groups like them, like the Misyavnim of old when the Yivanim made war and forced them to take sides, have had to show their true colors, as supporters of Israel’s enemies. All the positions of the Left had been put into one basket so that unless one accepted the whole creed being a member of the elite is beyond one. The Orthodox were put outside of the basket. Now with the collapse of the dream that having Israel would create a Jew less fearful and treated like members of any other nation through the peace process, ignoring some historical claims for the sake of peace, in the face of an enemy claiming history as important after all, not only are the Orthodox gaining in numbers but the alternative ideologies are increasingly tired and unattractive.

  • David S

    Media incitement against the Haredim? When you hold yourself out to be holier than others because of your impeccable adherence to “mitzvot” (read newly created chumros) you are basically asking people to judge you. Haredim have been weighed, measured and found wanting in the most basic Derech Eretz. Its a shame that you take up the mantle of victimhood rather than using the opportunity presented to the community to make itself better.

  • Mr. Cohen

    I believe that the Arab birthrate is even higher than the Chareidi birthrate.

    I once heard that the so-called “Palestinians” have the highest birthrate in the world, with 14 children in each family.

    May the G_d of Israel speedily save us Jews from the Arabs, the Muslims, and all those who hate us!

    אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ. בַּטֵּל מַחְשְׁבוֹת שׂוֹנְאֵינוּ
    אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ. הָפֵר עֲצַת אוֹיְבֵינוּ
    אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ. כַּלֵּה כָּל צַר וּמַשְׂטִין מֵעָלֵינוּ
    אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ. סְתֹם פִּיּוֹת מַשְׂטִינֵינוּ וּמְקַטְרִיגֵנוּ

  • cvmay

    “Granted, it remains to be seen whether the Orthodox are inherently capable of handling a dominant role in Israel”.

    GREAT LINE,,,volumes can be written on this alone.

  • Menachem Lipkin

    It’s hard to imagine that I didn’t misunderstand R. Feldman when he said, “Until now, all machzorim were designed for Israel and for the Diaspora, because only in this way could they be commercially viable.” As stated, this is false. There are numerous Machzorim published only for Israelis, most likely a larger selection than in the US. After all, the orthodox population in Israel dwarfs that of the US by at least a factor of 3 to 1. And that’s not the whole story. While it’s likely that, at most, only a third of US Jews even know what a Machzor is, the vast majority of Israelis own and use a Machzor.

    I realize that the Machzor discussion was just a wedge with which to talk about the larger issue of the so-called persecution of Chareidim. Even that is a bit of hyperbole. Critiquing is no prosecuting. And while, sure, Haaretz and Maariv have a liberal bent, The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom (the largest circulation) really don’t. R. Feldman asks, “if, say, Israeli Russian hooligans — and not haredim — were committing such outrages, would the liberal media condemn the entire population of Russians?” The simple answer is yes, but the real answer is more complex. Any editor given the choice between reporting the misdeeds of a population for whom those deeds are common vs. reporting about misdeeds from a population who hold themselves up to be the beacon of piety, had better choose the latter if he wants to keep his job. News about the unusual, not the usual. Frum Jews will have to really worry when their misdeeds are no longer considered big news. Much of the news I read and watch is less about generalizing about Chareidim and more about dealing with extremism emanating from that community.

    The error in understanding here also flows through to R. Feldman’s main topic. Yes, the religious demographics in Israel are rapidly changing. And sure there are a shrinking number of “secular ideologues” who are not thrilled with the prospect. However, to focus on them or the so-called “anti-Chareidi” media is to miss the point of what’s really happening here.

    The real issue is not the shrinking number of secular ideologues, it’s the growing number of religious ideologues. Just as the secular ideologues wield a “large influence” out of proportion to their numbers, so to the religious ideologues. Most Chareidim, let alone non-Chareidi Jews, don’t care to have modesty signs in their shops and streets or separate buses. They prefer to sit at an outdoor cafes or shop with their spouses. Yet the minority of religious ideologues, through intimidation and threats of violence, are more and more imposing their extremist ideology on the general population. This is what people, all good people: Chilonim, mesortiim, datiim, and Chareidim, are reacting to. This is why there is growing media scrutiny of religious behavior. This is the real issue for the future. And the fact that more and more Chareidim are realizing that Chareidi society must moderate as it grows is what is causing the ideologues to act out more and more. To the chagrin of many, especially US-based folks who really don’t get what’s going on, what you’re going to see more of is large segments of the population including people with very different political and religious outlooks working to address the issue the religious extremism. It’s going to painful at times, for all of us, but it’s a critically necessary exercise for our future. Especially a future that is going to include a “critical mass” of Torah-based Jews involved in running this country.

  • L. Oberstein

    If only the Israeli chareidim would respect and listen to the advise of people like Rabbi Feldman, they wouldn’t always be in conflict with the rest of the country. I think that sometimes fighting couples are so used to screaming at each other that they think that is the normal way to live. Rabbi Moshe Sherer organized Am Echad for this purpose,but it seems only those who are in chutz l’aretz or come from there appreciate that it doesn’t always have to be a circle the wagons battle.
    I think that the Israeli chareidim don’t really care what the rest of Klal Yisroel thinks and somehow hold themselves on a higher madreiga. Rabbi Feldman’s brother often says that a teenage boy in Israel knows more Torah than an accomplished scholar in America because he doesn’t have to waste his mind on secular studies, doesn’t play baseball,etc. Maybe that is factually true in some people, but why then do we have dozdens of them passing through our shuls each morning collecting dollars? Is that really what chazal had in mind?

  • Allan Katz

    When the focus of an article is on the volume of the chiloni message and not on the message itself, the legitimate concerns of both parties will not be heard and addressed. The chiloni community have legitimate concerns – the economic and military burden on them will become bigger and bigger as the chareidi community grows and avoids military service and prefering handouts and poverty to becoming economic contributors. The chareidi school system is not the problem. There are enough high profile people in education like Alfie Kohn and Deborah Meier who talk about being well educated primarily as the ability to think critically and creatively , problem solve etc skills which are trained by learning Torah and talmud.They also argue that kids should be taught these skills and achieve a competence which the average person needs to take his place in society. They note, that between 80-90% of people don’t need more than the first basic course in algebra and certainly not geom. , trig. etc . The so called tochnit liba ‘ core curriculum ‘ needs to be adjusted to be more in touch with reality. Learning in yeshiva should give boys at least an equivalent of a B.A , with maybe a few courses in english or basic computers.This should help the chareidi community get employment. The article lumps the orthodox into one group. It is true that the left wing have a problem with all the orthodox, however some of their concerns are more legitimate than others

  • Tzvi

    Judging by the way the charedim and their fellow-travelers and justifiers (represented by this and other articles in Cross Currents) are currently behaving, I would say that it does not “remain to be seen” whether the Orthodox are inherently capable of anything. The answer is no.

  • concerned

    “Granted, it remains to be seen whether the Orthodox are inherently capable of handling a dominant role in Israel.”

    Thank you for this thought, I believe your vision of the future of Israel is correct and I hope we can get our act together in time to make it work.

  • Jay

    After reading R’ Feldman’s article, I wonder how much thought he put in his closing line: “… it remains to be seen whether the Orthodox are inherently capable of handling a dominant role in Israel.” If the charedi world has not been able to address the issue charedi hooligans, how they came about, what steps to take to stop producing more such hooligans, how the existing ones could be neutralized, how does R’ Feldman envision the charedi world handling national socio-economic and political issues? I am consoled no one blamed the chilonim for the creation and perpetuation of charedi hooliganism.

  • Bob Miller

    “Granted, it remains to be seen whether the Orthodox are inherently capable of handling a dominant role in Israel.”

    Someone ought to think about what dominance means in the context of a democratically governed society. If dominance means “demonstrated ability to crush all opposition through brute force and intimidation, with no sincere attempt at dialogue and friendly persuasion”, it’s best that we and all others avoid dominance.

  • DF

    Rabbi Berel Wein has remarked before how easy it is to “learn” in the beis medrash the laws of malchus, or neighbors, etc; it’s much harder when you actually have to figure out in real life how to pay for the garbage removal.

    The issue focused on by commenters – are orthdoox Jews inherently capable of a dominant role? – was not intended by Rabbi Feldman as the thrust of his article, but it is rightly being seized upon as though it were. Because it poses a significant challenge that real thinkers must confront. Truthfully, I doubt very much whether contemporary orthodoxy can run a country. It has certainly never happened before. [Without getting into it, the practices of the Jews in First Temple times were vastly different than they are today, post-talmud.] The only places we see it are in small 100% homogenous towns like Kiryas Yoel, or cities like Bnei Brak, with large charedi super-majorities. Would a charedi majority provide for and tolerate the needs of the secular, in the same way chareim expect the secular majority to provide for them?

  • L. Oberstein

    Rabbi Feldman and I have one thing in common(wmong many others), we has a close relationship with Rabbi herman Neuberger. The yshiva community in the US has a number of such leaders who were and are able to interact with the government. I can’t imagine that there aren’t such people in the Israeli charedi community. I don’t know who they are but there must be some. In a democracy, the chareidim will increase their share of the Knesset. Interstingly, Jonathan Rosenblum pointed out in a past article that bsed on their numbers, there should be even more Degel Hatorah members than there are. He concludes that a lot of chareidim aren’t voting as instructed by the Gedolim. He also says that exceptg at election time, the Agudah/Degel Hatorah hardly exists. I don’t really understand the dynamcs of it,but at some point, a better level of leadership has to arise.
    I recently heard our Senator Ben Cardin say at the Ner Israel dinner that he considered Rabbi neuberger not only a friend but a major advisor. He meant it and there are many others who have said the same thing, including our other Senator Mikulski. I think Rabbi Moshe Sherer had similar relationships with New York politicians. Isn’t there someone like that in Israel?

  • dovid2

    L. Oberstein: “He concludes that a lot of chareidim aren’t voting as instructed by the Gedolim.”

    That’s a very interesting comment when it comes from L. Oberstein. There are some charedim on this side of the ocean who have a history of voting against the best interests of the charedim, of Israel, and Jews in general. Will L. Oberstein comment on the reasons such people had for voting for the current resident of the White House?

  • mycroft

    “Rabbi Feldman and I have one thing in common(wmong many others), we has a close relationship with Rabbi herman Neuberger. The yshiva community in the US has a number of such leaders who were and are able to interact with the government.”

    A classic example of Rabbis who were close to major politicians is apparently Rabbi Feldman who gave a benediction at the Democratic convention when Jimmy Carter was nominated. In those days the political conventions were covered gavel to gavel and thus benedictions were televised. Probably the only things Iremember from that convention were tos givers of benedictions Rev Martin Luther King Sr and Rabbi Feldman.