Walden Ponder

letter-447577_1280

by Dovid Landesman

Last week, my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the induction ceremony of the Netzach Yehudah [a.k.a. Nachal Chareidi] brigade. Our youngest son is the brigade’s sergeant major and as such, was in charge of the event. This was no little boy playing soldier. My wife and I witnessed a mature, trained and dedicated chayal, cognizant of his responsibilities as an NCO and a ben-Torah, leading those under his command with the authority and presence that is a manifestation of the interdependence of those roles. We also attended in loco parentis for a young man from the US who is living with us and was one of the inductees.

The ceremony itself was typical of the IDF’s disdain for pomp and order; I can only imagine how your typical American drill sergeants would have reacted seeing the inability of the soldiers to march in even – let alone perfect – groups. Nonetheless, I was greatly moved and there were a number of elements that gave me much to reflect upon.

The main speaker was the commander of the I.D.F.’s Kfir division; Netzach Yehudah is a unit within that group. Although he was not wearing a kippah, the officer spoke of Netzach as being a glorious link in the chain beginning with Yehoshua, continuing with the shoftim and melachim, and on to the Chashmonaim and partisans. What makes Netzach unique, he continued, is the public statement that each chayal makes; am Yisrael’s real protection is a combination of safra and sayfa – the book and the sword. It is the brigade’s responsibility, through its service and the manner in which it conducts itself, to demonstrate these qualities to the rest of the army.

He was followed on the podium by Reb Yoel Schwartz, a talmid of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and one of the visionaries responsible for the creation of Netzach. Reb Yoel reiterated the special responsibility that these young men carried on their shoulders and concluded by advising them how he was convinced that Yehoshua bin Nun was looking down from Heaven and deriving enormous nachas from these soldiers who continued in the path he had charted. The ceremony ended with the soldiers singing ha-Tikvah followed by Ani Ma’amin.

For the ceremony, the brigade was divided into three platoons; each platoon facing their sergeant major and their immediate commanding officer. The officer of the group directly in front of me had a beard, peyot behind his ears and tzitzit with techelet hanging from his belt. Later, my son introduced him as Second Lieutenant M, one of the five young men recently dismissed from an IDF officer training course; he had quietly left an event because there were women singing. Ultimately, he was reaccepted into the training course and, after graduation, rejoined Netzach as an officer. I doubt whether he would be considered a chareidi by the Ichud ha-Kehillot, but wonder if his actions and deportment are in anyway deficient of a chareid l’dvar Hashem? I wish that some of the spokesmen and leaders of “charedi” Judaism would have taken advantage of the opportunity to spend some time with these young men. Not only might it change their perspective; it would provide enormous chizuk for these soldiers who deserve public respect and support. Just imagine how they would have felt had other major roshei yeshiva come to give them their berachot that they have hatzlachah.

To travel to the ceremony, I took the Jerusalem light rail. As we left the station near the old Sha’arei Tzedek hospital on Jaffa Road, an elderly woman frantically tried to attract the attention of the driver by pressing the emergency button. It turned out that when boarding the train, she had inadvertently left her walker on the platform. The driver patiently explained that he was not permitted to open the doors between stations and she would therefore have to wait until he arrived at the next stop, disembark, and take another train back to retrieve her walker. She responded that someone would probably take the walker in the meantime and she was helpless without it. The train was stopped at a light and despite the regulations, the driver left his compartment and used his emergency key to open the door to allow the woman to exit. In the meantime, a young man of perhaps fifteen or sixteen and, judging by his dress, a student in a Bnei Akiva high school, came running up to the door and told the driver that he would run back and get the walker. He suggested that the woman exit at the next station and he would meet her there. The driver thanked him and told him that he would hold the train at the next station until he returned.

I have no doubt that a student in a yeshiva or cheder would have done the same thing. Every student of Torah is imbued with the fundamental concept of v’asita hayashar vehatov and all are descendents of Avraham – the paradigm of chesed. But, I wish that the isolationists among us, afraid to allow their children to be exposed to young men whose kippot are not made from black velvet, would consider how beautiful are the tents of all the children of Yaakov.

A final incident, really the cherry on top! On motzaei Pesach, one of my daughters was suffering greatly from an abscessed wisdom tooth. Because of Yom Tov, all of the dentists were off and none of the emergency clinics were open. The hospital emergency room could offer her nothing more than a pain killer and her regular dentist was gone on vacation. My mechutan heard about the problem and asked his neighbor, a prominent Jerusalem oral surgeon, if he knew of any place where she might get treatment in the morning. The dentist answered that she should come into his office immediately, which meant at 11:00 P.M. When she arrived, he took x-rays and then removed the tooth. My daughter was extremely grateful, but her gratitude was transformed into open admiration when the dentist categorically refused any payment. He explained that he did not work on chol ha-Moed because he really did not need the income. He was always willing to deal with emergencies; however, he felt that there were absolutely no grounds to accept compensation for these services. My son-in-law argued that he was entitled halachically to payment, but the doctor stood his ground, adding that he was more than satisfied by the s’char of having performed a ma’aseh chesed for another human being.

Makes me wonder if we recognize some of the real chareidim.

Rabbi Dovid Landesman resides in Ramat Beit Shemesh and teaches at Tifferet Yerushalayim. He is the author of THERE ARE NO BASKETBALL COURTS IN HEAVEN and FOOD FOR THOUGHT – NO HECHSHER REQUIRED.

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27 Responses

  1. Moshe Schorr says:

    I was ammused at the discussion of “pomp and ceremony” in the IDF. I sustained a wound to my right arm shortly after making aliya (a soda bottle exploded and tore the nerve in my right arm) so when conscripted, I was not fit for active duty. I was sent to “lite” basic training. Many of my collegues there were Russian olim who spoke little to no Hebrew. We did have a few exercises in marching. The marching was such that the lines changed order many times. I still recall the harried order given by the frustrated drill sargeant; “A Hebrew speaker to the head of the line, now!”.

  2. David F. says:

    “but it still only prints critiques that have been softened, sugar-coated, and never include critiques of rabbinic leadership.”

    Debatable, but irrelevant. Your claim was that they wouldn’t print Rabbi Landesman’s article and you acknowledge that they would. Both Mishpachah and Ami have taken strong positions that are unpopular in the Haredi world and your allegation that they operate under a siege-mentality that resists self-critique is factually incorrect.

  3. Natan Slifkin says:

    “I have no doubt that Mishpachah and Ami would both print it. Both of them regularly print critiques of Haredim.”

    Mishpachah is indeed light-years ahead of Yated, but it still only prints critiques that have been softened, sugar-coated, and never include critiques of rabbinic leadership.

  4. David F. says:

    “And do you think that Mishpachah or Ami, let alone Yated or HaModia, would be willing to print Rabbi Landesman’s article?!”

    I have no doubt that Mishpachah and Ami would both print it. Both of them regularly print critiques of Haredim. The fact that they don’t do so with the degree of regularity that some here might prefer doesn’t mean that criticism is unwelcome or hard to find.

  5. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Many Charedim can take a critique – when it is said to Charedim. But in this forum, as well as the overwhelming majority of blogs, it, by and large, is not to them, it is simply about them.

    Although I have no firm proof, the very significant amount of feedback I get indicates that the majority of readers of Cross-Currents are haredim (OK – they are haredi-lite), unlike commenters, where non-haredim may have the edge. Live and learn, I guess.

  6. Natan Slifkin says:

    “Many Charedim can take a critique – when it is said to Charedim. But in this forum, as well as the overwhelming majority of blogs, it, by and large, is not to them, it is simply about them.”

    And do you think that Mishpachah or Ami, let alone Yated or HaModia, would be willing to print Rabbi Landesman’s article?!

    As Rabbi Aharon Feldman once wrote, charedim suffer from a siege mentality. There may well be legitimate reasons as to why that developed, but the bottom line is that there is strong resistance to self-critique.

  7. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    Many Charedim can take a critique – when it is said to Charedim. But in this forum, as well as the overwhelming majority of blogs, it, by and large, is not to them, it is simply about them.

    When Yeshayahu said “Woe to me, for I sit among a nation with defiled lips,” he was severly punished. You can’t even speak badly about other Jews to Hashem, never mind to people who rub their hands with glee every time they read critiques of the hated “other.”

  8. Mr. Cohen says:

    The Hesder Yeshivah students who spend half their time studying Torah
    and half their time defending Jews, they are the very best Jews in the world;
    I salute every one of them; may HASHEM grants them all good things.

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    What Rabbi Landesman somehow fails to understand is that if a patient has cancer which has metastasized to the thyroid, calling it simply a thyroid problem and treating it as such is malpractice. My point (and I don’t understand how cvmay missed this) is that lack of communication between groups is an Israeli phenomenon, rather than a uniquely charedi problem deserving criticism as such. The fact that American charedim (including second-generation American Israeli charedim) don’t have this problem is exactly the point.

    Nor has he proven that he understands the problem. Before speculating as to whether a particular young man “would be considered a chareidi by the Ichud ha-Kehillot,” why not ask some of the Gedolim opposed to Nachal Charedi instead — and inquire as to whether that is relevant to their opposition? It wouldn’t be the first time that Rabbi Landesman changed his mind after further research.

    And as I said at that time, given our mixed readership, honest self-examination can easily become something Rabbi Landesman didn’t intend. “Cross-Currents is not Mishpacha, with a readership appropriate for internal self-improvement. Here, as Rabbi Landesman has already seen, a host of voices from outside our community, who do not share our values and our priorities, will happily cheer him on — not to effect the improvements he seeks, but to pursue agendas we would both call destructive.”

  10. dovid2 says:

    Avi: “Nice stories, but they could have been told without making judgements about the real vs. fake Charedim!”

    What R’ Dovid Landesman did was to hold a mirror in front of us to take a good look at ourselves. We saw some “real” Charedim, as well as a few “fake” ones. We didn’t question the reality of what R’ Landesman described. We knew it’s true. We only objected at being reminded of our failings. And we didn’t like that. So, we smashed the mirror. We felt the problem is not our not changing our ways to get rid of our failings, but R’ Landesman who is rocking the boat. How pathetic!

  11. dovid2 says:

    Rafael Araujo: “By getting in some digs at the chareidim while relating some inspiring stories, you have become part of the problem, not the solution.”

    Rabbi Landesman is a problem, but only to those in the charedi world who believe that nothing is rotten in the state of the charedi world.

  12. dovid2 says:

    Mrs. Katz, where you see “the little digs at charedim”, I see Rabbi Landesman’s concern that we charedim fail to see the humanity in the other person only because he is just ‘the other’, he is not a member of my faction, and as such, he is nogoodnik. This is a major failure of the charedi world and I share Rabbi Landesman’s concern.

    A quick question to Mrs. Katz and R’ Menken. You’ll call it a little dig. Do you daven and / or say tehilim for the Israeli soldiers? Do you know that Rabbi Yecheskel Levenstein, Rabbi Chaim Shmulewitz, Rav Schach, and Rabbi Israel Zeev Gustman, all davened and said tehilim for our soldiers, and urged the frum world to do the same. How can explain that the majority of the charedi world doesn’t find it proper to follow the example and listen to the exhortations of the g’dolim of yesteryear? Are they not good enough for us? Do we know better? Is our iras shomayim greater than theirs? Do you know that the page with the tefilah for Tzahal was ripped out of the sidurim by the Kosel? Who did it? I don’t remember who commented (it might be R’ Wein) that Jews dutifully used to say prayers for the safety of the soldiers in the Tzar’s army and the Turkish army, notwithstanding the fact that they were sent at times to raid and loot the Jewish communities, but they don’t find it fit to do the same for their own kind. We must be sick in our head.

  13. shaul says:

    Reread the post twice and did not see any Charedei digs or pies thrown.
    Is it possible that there may be guilty feelings expressed by commentors?

  14. DF says:

    Listen, I know for sure though that marching, while it may (I’m taking you at your word, I’ve no idea) be criticized by some, is absolutely stil practiced in the US military, and based simply on observation, its obvious its practiced in other armies around the world as well. That doesnt mean all they care about are parades.
    I made no assertions about the Israeli army. R. Landesman says the IDF disdains “pomp and order.” These are two different things. I can understand if the IDF disdains pomp. But I’ve never heard of an army tolerating disorder, and so I questioned R. landesman’s statement.

  15. Nachum says:

    “a consequence of large subgroups, political differences, and perhaps simply the lay of the land. In communities like Baltimore, which Rabbi Oberstein and I both call home, one cannot avoid extensive contact with Jews not exactly like ourselves, and the picture is very different”

    R’ Menken, you should get to Israel more. :-) When you live in a country the size of New Jersey with about seven million other Jews, it’s impossible to “avoid extensive contact with Jews not exactly like” yourself. A lot more so than Baltimore.

  16. Ben Waxman says:

    When I first came to Israel, back in 1987, I happened to see some IDF soldiers doing some sort of ceremonial marching. I was impressed by how poorly they did it, especially since I had recently viewed French soldiers marching, and the French REALLY know how to march.

    Give me the IDF over the French army any day of the week.

  17. Rafael Araujo says:

    Rabbi Landesman,

    By getting in some digs at the chareidim while relating some inspiring stories, you have become part of the problem, not the solution.

  18. Mordechai Y. Scher says:

    DF, I have no way to address you privately, so I must say here that your observation about marching (in “lockstep” no less!) is simply wrong. I am a veteran of Tzahal. Your assertion that “an army that cannot march in lockstep cannot carry out special operations” is simply ludicrous. I believe that my comrades in arms (lastly on an operational armored reconnaissance team) would laugh hard at your words. During regular service we didn’t practice marching much at all (this is in the early eighties); and as reservists I can assure you that it never ever again entered our minds. Yet our operations over the border and elsewhere were usually quite successful in achieving their objectives and getting our soldiers home safely. If anything, the IDF’s lack of pomp was a proud trademark for many years.

    BTW, the attitude expressed in your above assertion is loudly criticized by many special ops soldiers in the US military. They see this attitude being promoted by the General staff of the coming ‘peacetime army’ and deride it as having exactly the opposite effect you claim. To wit, that overemphasis on ceremonial issues weakens a fighting army’s ability to succeed in the field of combat.

  19. cvmay says:

    Rabbi Menken,
    As much as AMERICANS try and try they are never ‘Israeli Charedim’…

  20. dovid landesman says:

    What Rabbi Menkin somehow fails to understand – and I assume that I am at fault for not being as clear as I should be – is that as an avowed chareidi, I see no point in commenting on the failings of other communities. They do not represent my hashkafat olam and I feel no compulsion to point out shortcomings that I might perceive. On the other hand, I am extremely concerned by the attitude within my camp that all is o.k. and there is no need for dialogue, self-examination and honest, constructive criticism.
    I am truly sorry that Ms. Katz – whose father I consider to be one of my mentors – feels that there were unnecessary digs against chareidim. I was engaged in some wishful thinking when I wrote that it might have been extremely meaningful if a major rosh yeshiva could have attended the ceremony. Is that a dig or a criticism?
    As regards DF’s comments – as a reserve officer in the IDF, I feel confident in saying that the army – thanks to constant siyatta d’shmaya – has demonstrated that it is quite competent in carrying out special operations.

  21. joel rich says:

    With that said, I, like Toby Katz and Avi, believe it to be a subjective view that drives Rabbi Landesman to uniquely turn his attention to the Charedi community whenever he wants to criticize this relatively common lack of inter-communal understanding.

    =============================================================
    I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the percieved difference is bshita (philosophically) is a major tenet of the group in question that there’s only our way to be chareid (run not shake) to do the dvar hashem (will of HKB”H)?
    KT

  22. Yaakov Menken says:

    I think the lack of inter-communal understanding that Rabbi Landesman has described is one of the downsides of factionalization in Israel — a consequence of large subgroups, political differences, and perhaps simply the lay of the land. In communities like Baltimore, which Rabbi Oberstein and I both call home, one cannot avoid extensive contact with Jews not exactly like ourselves, and the picture is very different. I think that’s true most anywhere that we would call “out of town.”

    With that said, I, like Toby Katz and Avi, believe it to be a subjective view that drives Rabbi Landesman to uniquely turn his attention to the Charedi community whenever he wants to criticize this relatively common lack of inter-communal understanding. Two examples come to mind that disprove the idea that any one community should be criticized in this regard.

    A woman I know grew up in the United States until high school, and then went to Israel where she was educated in a prominent non-Charedi Dati school (and I will deliberately not specify the stream, for reasons that become immediately obvious). She told me that she found the school tremendously hypocritical, as the teachers routinely and consistently badmouthed the Charedim for believing that they and only they know the correct derech, while teaching hashkafic positions which they stated were uniquely correct, in contradistinction to those taught elsewhere in the Orthodox world. This woman then went to a Charedi seminary, and lives on the West Bank while writing for Ami magazine — so she remains quite well-blended herself.

    A second, much more positive counter-example. While I was in the Mirrer Yeshiva I was a counselor at a Bein HaZmanim camp for Anglo children in Israel, who of course came from all communities. The counselors included several other bochurim from the Mir and elsewhere, one from Yavneh, and a cook from Yeshivat HaKotel. Most of us were American, although the two sons of Lieutenant Birnbaum grew up on Rechov Sorotzkin in Mattersdorf. Not only did we all get along as a closely-knit group, but everyone knew and acknowledged that the guy from Yavneh, who wore a knitted black kipah and davened in shirtsleeves, was the one who excelled in tefillah.

  23. DF says:

    Interesting post. The comon understanding of the word “charedi” refers to the litvishe yeshivah, United Torah Judaim political faction. But from the description you give (techeles strings, singing Ha-Tikvah) and your commentary, one gets the impression that these units are merely groups of particuarly religious men, rather than true “charedim”. Which makes me wonder if articles or speeches we see touting increased charedi participation in the army are actually real, or merely apologia.

    I also found interesting your observation that the soldiers were not marching in even groups. That is significant, because marching instills precision, teamwork, and discipline. An army that cannnot march in lockstep cannot carry out special operations either. Marching also creates a sense of unity, that the whole is larger than the individual. That is the (unstated) reason why armies of millenia have insisted upon it. I wonder if what you saw was representative of all Nachal Charedi units, and to what degree you are correct when you assert this is typical of IDF diddain for “pomp and splendor.”

  24. Avi says:

    Nice stories, but they could have been told without making judgements about the real vs. fake Charedim!

  25. cvmay says:

    Always look forward to the posts by R. David Landsman for a picturesque view of the Holy land. Much thanks.

  26. L. Oberstein says:

    Thank you Reb Dovid for your description of the Hashba’ah, swearing in ceremony of Netzach Yehudah. Our son Yoni is a soldier in Kfir and your son is his commander. Yoni called us the other day very proud that he has been selected to be a Mefaked Chulyah, the first rung on the ladder, he will be in charge of a small group of 5oldiers and guide them on missions. He is being trained right now in a special course for this purpose. In the charedi yeshivos that he spent years in , he didn’t learn conversational Hebrew, but in Netzach Yehudah he is learning it by total immersion.
    When we say the tefillah for Tzahal in our shul every Shabbos, I have a lot more kavana now.We are so proud of him and he is happier than he has ever been in his life, we greatly appreciate what is colloqually called “Nachal Charedi”.
    May Hashem watch over all of our soldiers and give them success in their efforts. By the way, anyone woh thinks Isrsael is not a “Jewish” country is just in denial. The way they treat Lone soldiers” is another example of the fact that we are all one family.

  27. Toby Katz says:

    I loved what you wrote here, it was beautiful and inspiring. But it would have been even more beautiful without the few small sour notes — the little digs at charedim.