Rabbi Grylak’s Argument Doesn’t Do It For Me


Moshe Grylak, Mishpacha’s editor-in-chief, holds an honorable position on my A list. He wisely knows the limits of his readers, but often strains against them to challenge them with new ideas. His piece in last week’s issue (Feb.1, #395), however, left me disappointed.

Entitled “This Is What You Call Iran?,” the article was two weeks in the making. His contribution a week earlier simply set the stage for the main character to appear on the middle of the stage and proclaim, “If you only knew a bit of gemara! Once you see how difficult it is to gain a capital conviction in a Jewish court, you will never fear haredim again.” The idea has some merit, but won’t work without much more that Rabbi Grylak did not say, and perhaps cannot say.

Rabbi Grylak quite correctly makes a point about inflated hysteria concerning haredim in Israel. We can also appreciate his argument that face-to-face encounters between people who rarely, if ever, speak to each other might be a good thing. His next point, however, doesn’t sit well. He wishes us to believe that what secular Israelis fear most about “the demographic trend that clearly forecasts a Chareidi majority within a few decades” is that they will be summarily executed by Jewish courts for their chilul Shabbos and for flings with their paramours. Rabbi Grylak then reports the success he has had with secular groups by explaining all the details in halacha that make it well-nigh impossible to ever execute a perpetrator. The response of students: “Why didn’t anybody ever tell us this before?” We are to believe that fear of haredim then evaporated, and everyone lived happily and harmoniously ever after (they in olam hazeh, and we in olam haboh).

I hope that secular Israelis are not that stupid, because then no one at all is running the country. The ones I know might find his point enlightening and interesting, but hardly reassuring.

One fear, of course, that he does not address is that a country with a haredi majority whose members are overwhelmingly unemployed or underemployed is simply unsustainable economically. The more haredim, the fewer working Israelis paying the taxes that pay for social services to those who don’t work or don’t get paid enough. After a while (not so long) secular Israelis get tired of footing a bill that grows larger and larger, and they leave. Even fewer taxpayers are left. Israelis are shooting themselves in the foot, reloading, and shooting again. This is the issue one hears time and time again from secular Israelis.

But let’s leave economics aside, and just focus on whether or not secular Israelis ought to fear that Israel in a haredi majority might start to resemble Iran just a tad. Personally, I don’t think so, but I understand why chiloni fears are real. And I am not so sure that Rabbi Grylak would agree with my reasons not to fear.

Rabbi Grylak only addresses the issue of capital punishment. It is, indeed, a straw man. I don’t know why he elides the most striking detail of Jewish criminal law. That is the requirement of forewarning. The beis din only metes out capital (and even corporal) punishment if the perpetrator is warned by two witnesses just prior to the commission of the crime, and verbally acknowledges that he understands how he will be punished by the court, which is just fine with him. Want to avoid the death penalty for that extramarital tryst? Just keep mum when accosted by the two (kosher) witnesses.

Capital punishment is not the issue. Two other issues are far more important in addressing concerns that Israel could become Talibanized. The first is that not everyone listens to Moshe Grylak – or his gemara. You can argue that the community should not be held responsible for the escapades of kano’im and Sikrikim – but they aren’t doing a very good job holding them in check either – or even speaking out against them. Why wouldn’t a chiloni Israel look at their activities with concern that as the Chareidi community grows, there will be more on these zealots, who will become even more brazen in time?

More important is the gemara that Rabbi Grylak does not quote: Rosh Hashanah 6, and elsewhere, which establishes the authority of the Jewish court to compel people to perform mitzvos. The plain meaning of the text is that people who are reluctant to perform mitzvos can be compelled through grievous bodily force to obey the law. Couple this with the authority of beis din to act le-afrushei me-issura/ to distance a potential sinner from his ability to sin, and you have a license for batei din to compel full observance of the Torah, both affirmative and proscriptive obligations. No witnesses, no forewarning, none of Rabbi Grylak’s niceties that calmed his secular friends. Why should they not anticipate groups of people jumping out of vans, forcing tefillin and tzitzis on their bodies, and bulldozing their soccer stadiums?

I grew up believing (i.e. hearing from rabbeim, when they got in the mood to speak about such things) that if we ever “took over” the Jewish State, all the above would certainly occur. Now, I don’t believe that this is so anymore. I would point to a teshuva of the Mahari Tatz (cited in Ohr Someach, Geirushin 2:20) that forcing people to comply with Torah law (at least in regard to affirmative obligations) rests on the assumption that the person does have significant regard for Hashem and His Torah, and nonetheless strays. A person who completely rejects the mitzvah system as foreign and irrelevant to him cannot be compelled to perform mitzvos by the court, says the Mahari Tatz. I would think that this might apply to the 10% of Israelis who are hard-core secular and/or atheist. (I don’t know what to say about the many, many Israelis who flout every law in Shulchan Aruch – except for a few, for which they have much regard. I can see room for opposing arguments about them.)

I cannot say that I have worked out the sugya to any decree of satisfaction. Readers, hopefully, will point us in the right direction. Whatever the outcome, I would be very careful about whom I would give Rabbi Grylak’s article with the hope of inspiring confidence that there is nothing to fear in a Chareidi majority.

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3 years 7 months ago

Amen to Chaim Saiman and the Serashot Haran reference, would also note that i believe the great R Chaim Ozer is quoted in a teshuva of R’ Herzog with respect to relying on the Ran as a basis for establishing a secularist jewish state with classic laws of a commonwealth and without the “higher law” of the Torah, as the Torah allows the ruling class (whether a beit din, judge or king) to establish a basic law necessary to keep the peace.

cohen y
3 years 7 months ago

Bob, clearly both factors were at work, and one or ther other may have been stronger depending upon the exact time and region. But as to my point, that forced religious observance existed in Europe on a wide scale only to come a crashing halt, there are entire libraries full of evidence. Read any of the novels from the great Yiddish writers (in English.) As Rabbi Wein always says, paraphrasing Mark Twain, the committment of Jews in Europe was like the Mississipi – a mile wide, but an inch deep. With the gradual spread of enlightenment in Europe, the autonomy of the Jewish community lessened and as a result, the power of the rabbinate weakened. Concurrently with this came growing numbers of non-observance. And I think the tens of thousands of erstwhile religious Jews who ceased observance the moment they left their community behind is already well-documented.

In the Near East and North Africa it worked rather better.

3 years 7 months ago

Um, did Rabbi Grylack just hope that no one he talks to about this will have ever read Choshen Mishpat siman 2?

Baruch Gitlin
3 years 7 months ago

To Bob Miller – you asked DF, not me, but I would like to chime in. I think you answered your own question – “through example and persuasion.”

I think there is a great desire to know more about Judaism among secular Israelis. If they would see a better example from those of us that hold ourselves out to be religious, I think this would have a tremendous effect. A fairer distribution of the burden of serving in the army wouldn’t hurt anything either.

In any case, force sure as heck isn’t going to accomplish anything. The only area in which I support force, so to speak, is in the area of Shabbos observance, and that’s because if there aren’t laws to enforce closing on Shabbos, the pressure of competition might force people that want to observe Shabbos to open their businesses on Shabbos.

Bob Miller
3 years 7 months ago


What is your model of an effective way to enhance Jewish religious observance in Israel through example and persuasion, and not force?