Good Questions To Ask Ourselves


Even as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to put together a coalition founder on the issue of inclusion of charedi parties, the acrimonious debate continues. Doubtless, readers have had their fill of both attacks on all things charedi (not just draft exemptions), as well as all kinds of defenses.

The piece that follows is different, both in style and in its source. It doesn’t conclude anything. It just asks questions of charedim. Put simply, it asks charedim to apply the same standard to themselves that they do to others. The same technique could easily be flipped. DL and secular Jews could be similarly asked to look at their own behavior with the same critical eye with which they look upon charedim.

The bottom line is that no possible meeting of the minds ever takes place without each party putting themselves in the position of the other, and trying to understand things from their perspective.

The source is unusual in that is a call for soul-searching coming from within the charedi world. The author learned in Ponovezh, is a Rosh Kollel in Yerushalayim – and is also the Rav of Netzach Yehudah, the charedi army battalion. Furthermore, the original Hebrew version appeared in Kikar Shabbat, a charedi outlet. It is much to their credit – and perhaps a sign of changing times – that they published it.

The English language version of the article by R Dovid Bloch appeared in the Jewish Press.

1. We’ve chosen, for understandable educational reasons, to withdraw and live in exclusively Haredi cities and neighborhoods, avoiding as much as possible any social contact with the secular.

This is legitimate and understandable, but as a result they don’t really know us, amd so they naturally view us as bizarre, in our manner of dress, our behavior, and our language. This creates aversion and alienation. Why, then, we are angry at them for treating us this way?

2. We chose, for educational reasons—although some of us really believe it—to teach our children that all secular Israelis are sinners, vacuous, with no values, and corrupt.

This could possibly be a legitimate view, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular, in return, teach their own children that the Haredim are all primitive, with outdated and despicable values?

3. We have chosen, for the sake of the preservation of Torah in Israel, to prevent our sons from participating in carrying the heavy burden of security, and instead tasked them with learning Torah.

Of course we could not give that up, but why are we outraged and offended when the secular, who do not recognize nor understand this need—or rather most of them are familiar with the issue, but argue that there should be quotas—see us as immoral, and some despise us as a result?

4. We chose for our sons who do not belong, by their personal inclination or learning skills to the group of Torah scholars (Yeshiva bums and worse), to also evade enlistment—including into perfectly kosher army units. And when it comes to the individuals who have joined the Haredi Nahal, we do not praise them, but despise them instead, and we certainly show them no gratitude, while the Haredi press ignores them—in the best case.

Why, then, are we outraged when the secular don’t believe our argument, that the purpose of keeping yeshiva students from enlisting, is to maintain Torah study and not simply the Haredim’s unwillingness to bear the burden?

5. We chose to teach our children not to work for a living, and to devote all their time to Torah study. Clear enough, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular—who do not consider Torah study an all encompassing value—feel that we are an economic burden on their necks, as a mere 38% of us take part in the labor force, and they hate us for it.

6. We chose not to teach our children any labor skills, and we condemn those who do pursue a profession. As a result our kolelim include all of those who do not belong among the scholars and still prefer not to work for a living.

Why, then, do we complain when the secular feel, and say so with an increasing volume, that we are parasites, living off of their efforts?

7. We chose (for educational considerations?) not to educate our children to show gratitude to the soldiers who risked their lives and were killed or injured for our sake, too. So we do not mention them in any way by any special day or prayer or special Mishna learning that’s dedicated to their memory. Moreover, not a single Mashgiach or Rosh Yeshiva ever talks about it in a Mussar Schmooze, and you’ll find no mention of it in the Haredi press.

Why, then, are we surprised that the secular feel that we are ungrateful and despicable, and that the reason for our not enlisting is simply because we are parasites, living off the sacrifices of others in society?

8. When extremist, delusional groups behave in ways that besmirch the name of God—e.g. the spitting in Beit Shemesh, dancing during the memorial siren, burning the national flag—our rabbis chose not to condemn them, clearly and consistently ( except for a few faint statements here and there). Why, then, are we explaining away the fact that the secular believe we all support those terrible acts? Why do we insist that their hostility stems from their hatred of the scholars?

9. We’ve opted to allow our public officials and pundits to curse out all the secular all the time. Why, then, when the secular media treat us the same way, are we offended and cry out that they’re persecuting us?

10. The Haredi press will never offer any praise of or express support for secular Israelis who perform good deeds. Why, then, do we jump up and down when we are rewarded equally? And, in fact, while Haredi spokespersons rarely point anything positive about secular society, the secular media often gives positive coverage to Haredi organizations like Yad Sara, Hatzala, Zaka, etc.

11. We would not agree, under any condition, that secular Israelis turn up in our schools to teach our children heresy, and we would have kept them from putting up stands with books of heresy in our areas. Why, then, do we not understand when the secular do not agree that we seduce her children into denying their parents’ heresy?

12. We do not agree—in my view, rightfully so—that secular people move into Haredi neighborhoods. So where do we get the arrogance and audacity to call anti-Semites those secular who don’t agree that Haredim move near their homes, in secular neighborhoods?

[Hat tip to a slew of readers. Dr Arnold Lustiger led the pack.]

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Charlie Hall
2 years 6 months ago

“Why is it that when a deeply religious person becomes a national figure in the US, it is major news?”

The most powerful Orthodox Jew in America — until Jack Lew’s recent appointment as Secretary of the Treasury — was Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the New York State Assembly for the past 19 years. I can only recall one time when his observance became a big story, when he refused to participate in budget negotiations on Pesach.

And I haven’t seen a lot of media coverage of Lew’s observance, either. Rather, there has been much more about his illegible signature that will now appear on our currency, and about how he is one of the toughest budget negotiators in memory.

“In which country are religious fundamentalists any more than tolerated by mainstream society, other than fundamentalist countries?”

Northern Ireland. Not a good country to use as a model. The largest political party there was founded by Rev. Ian Paisley, who can accurately be described as an anti-Catholic bigot.

“setting up the Nahal Chareidi battalion. You’ll argue that’s not enough.”

Hopefully there will be many more such battalions. While charedi soldiers will need to rely on the halachic rulings of the IDF rabbinate (there are indeed many kulot for army service), the IDF should try to meet them more than halfway regarding lifestyle. I hope that the Charedi equivalent of the pre-army prep schools and the hesder yeshivot will develop as well; they have greatly reduced the fraction of DL soldiers who come out of the army non-religious. (And the IDF should listen to its own rabbis in other areas as well.)

“one of the most positive characterists of the charedi world – or at least the small corner of it that I once inhabited – is the emphasis on constant self-critique and striving for improvement – for want of a better term, lets call it mussar”

I agree. I don’t know about the DL world in Israel but we in the MO world in America could learn from this.

2 years 6 months ago

Dovid2 also wrote the following: “Don’t tell the others also learn the same gemarot, Rambams, and Kethos. They just couldn’t hold the candle to the b’nei yeshiva of any of the above mentioned litvishe Torah centres.”

That too, is, if not a myth, but a common mistake in charedi circles. They define “learning” to mean the type of learning done in the yeshivish world, and then assert that the learning in charedi circles is superior to non charedi circles. With all due respect to him, I’ve seen R. Adlerstein make the same mistake on this blog. The reality is that they’re mistaking quantity for quality, but even beyond that, it’s a question of how you define real learning. I daven in a standard yeshivish shul, and every week I hear divrei Torah from visting roshei yeshivas that are all but gibberish. Unfounded assertions abound, the same themes over and over, antectodes used as proofs, etc. I gain virtually nothing from this. But there is also a Harvard-educated, YU rabi in town to whom people flock, and whenever I hear him I come away with a new insight. By the same token, I gain more from a one hour lecture from Dr. Sid Leiman than I gain from most rosh yeshivas I’ve heard.

The point is not to compare individuals. It’s just that what is considered learning in charedi circles doesnt cut it in the more modern world, and yes, absolutely, vice versa is also true. So it is simply not true to defend the charedi way of life on the basis of their superior learning. There are more of them in yeshiva, and they have a diffrent way of learning – but it is not better.

[YA – This is an important enough challenge to deserve a fuller response, which now has been posted.]

Baruch Gitlin
2 years 6 months ago

When did this discussion get sidetracked into yet another “who learns better than who” or “who’s more true to the Torah” discussion between charedi and dati leumi?

I have long felt that one of the most positive characterists of the charedi world – or at least the small corner of it that I once inhabited – is the emphasis on constant self-critique and striving for improvement – for want of a better term, lets call it mussar. What this article presents is what I feel is a long-needed mussar effort on the communal level. As an outsider, I’ll try to leave it there – God knows, we all have lots of room for improvement on both an individual and a communal level. I do hope, though – for the sake of the charedi community itself, and the broader Israeli public, neither of which can really separate from each other as much as they might want to – that there will be more people like the author of these 12 questions and those that have posted them – that will take the current political situation in Israel as an opportunity to look inward rather than lashing outward, in the best tradition of the mussar movement.

Yitzy Blaustein
2 years 6 months ago

Dovid2 wrote:

“The Yeshiva of Volozhin chose to close down rather than submit to the dictates of the Yair Lapids of the their day.”

This is a common myth. The real reason for the closure of Volozhin was the Netziv’s effort to install his son as Rosh Yeshivah. Read Shaul Stampfer’s *Lithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Century.*

2 years 6 months ago

Dr. E writes: “There is one thing that all of the Torah personalities have in common. They are no longer in this world. As they say, “hadra kushta l’duchta”, inasmuch as the contemporary state of affairs has not yielded anyone “willing to go out on (such) a limb”.

One way or another, you will find objections. I am charedi, daven and say tehilim for the Israeli soldiers. There are others like me. To that you will object that we ain’t no Torah personalities. Rabbi Steinman was instrumental in setting up the Nahal Chareidi battalion. You’ll argue that’s not enough.

With regards to the caliber of learning, the litvische yeshivot have been towering over the other yeshivot in an absolute and conclusive way for centuries. These yeshivos were moser nefesh to uphold the quality of their learning.The Yeshiva of Volozhin chose to close down rather than submit to the dictates of the Yair Lapids of the their day. There is no secret that anyone in the frum velt, with a good head, who wants to learn, whether he is Chasidish, Sefardi, Yekke, will head to Brisk, Ponevezh, Slobodka, or Mir. For the record, can you tell us how many non-DL talmidim learn in the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, the pre-eminent yeshiva of the DL community? I’m not say this to trash anyone. I am neither a litvak, nor an alumnus of these yeshivot. But recognize gadlut where you can find it. Don’t tell the others also learn the same gemarot, Rambams, and Kethos. They just couldn’t hold the candle to the b’nei yeshiva of any of the above mentioned litvishe Torah centres.