In his op-ed piece [below], “The Looming Haredi Disaster” (The Jerusalem Post, August 1, 2007), Isi Leibler, who supported “disengagement,” has the audacity to bemoan the Haredim for their “anti-Zionism”!
Leibler’s article reveals many gaps in his knowledge of Haredi society, of Torah Judaism, and of Jewish history. A member of our Foundation for Constitutional Democracy pointed out the following shortcomings in Leibler’s article:
1) Mr. Leibler claims that the large population now learning Torah may lead to the collapse of the State. This claim goes against Jewish practice for 1,000 years. During the First and Second Temple, 1/12th of the nation was devoted to Torah study and served in the Beit Hamikdosh (Leviim and Kohanim), and they were not allowed to abandon their holy callings. Today’s Bnei Torah in Israel are far below 1/12th of the nation—hardly enough for a country to deserve being called Jewish. The fact that in every generation Jewry always pushed large numbers of its best and brightest into Torah scholarship is the secret of Jewish eternity and the reason why Jewry is the most benevolent, moral, creative, scholarly and productive people on earth.
2) When Jews fought wars, they fasted, prayed to G-d, and even had scholars learning Torah and praying on behalf of the warriors. (Moshe’s quota required one scholar per soldier.)
[In this connection, see Akiva Tatz, Worldmask: “During King Chizkiyahu, the Jewish people engaged in Torah study virtually exclusively; physical effort in the realm of the natural was not the mode of conduct employed. In fact, Chizkiyahu placed a sword over the door of the beis midrash, the house of Torah study, and decreed that anyone who left the intense study of Torah should be pierced with it” (PE)]. [Chizkiyahu deemed high levels of scholarship more vital than military strategy for countering the Assyrian invasion. G-d responded by wiping out the threatening Assyrian army with an epidemic.]
3) Throughout history, when Jewry was only religious, the entire population was Jewishly educated and, at the same time, maintained social obligations, fought when necessary, and ran their internal affairs in every way most admirably. They were never a “parasitic” society. [Read the eminent historian Salo Baron on this matter (PE).] Scholars were supported in recognition of their extremely important value to the people—just as research scientists and cultural institutions are supported today.
4) Mr. Leibler seems to be unaware that most Haredi families do in fact work. However, since they do not go to universities, the work they do is basically blue collar and low income. The Haredim shun the army and universities to avoid the brainwashing of the secular public. At the same time, however, they ardently believe that Israel’s security depends on our spiritual status and the state of Torah learning—as in fact every believing Jew (including possibly Mr. Leibler) declares twice a day in the Shema.
5) To his credit, of course, Mr. Leibler is genuinely afraid the State will collapse if the army is insufficiently manned to fight Israel’s constant battles. He doesn’t seem to realize that a large part of the Haredim oppose serving in the army because, as previously indicated, they fear the State’s overwhelming secular influence, which would have destroyed the Haredi society if it had opened itself up to the State’s influence. (Statistics show that 1/3 of religious Zionist youths who attend the army abandon religious practice by the end of their service.)
6) He also gullibly believes that the State’s educational requirements are necessary for Jews to become productive members of the country. He doesn’t seem to realize that many State rules and regulations, far from being inspired by time-tested principles of education, were created to denude the secular Jewish students of moral or Jewish consciousness as well as to harass the Haredi school system. Perhaps he is unaware that Haredi schools get among the highest grades? Perhaps he oblivious of the moral and intellectual achievements in Haredi yeshivas, of how their Talmudic studies produce razor-sharp, analytical minds? Or is he simply echoing the complaints voiced by many secularists and religious Zionists who seem to be fond of demonizing the Haredim?
7) He is artless when he suggests that the modern Orthodox serve as an example to the Haredim of how to make a living and integrate into the army. The Haredim look at them as pawns of the secular elite—used and discarded at convenience. [This may sound a bit harsh, but consider how the State treated religious Zionists in Gush Katif. (PE)]
8) No one disputes that making a living and defending one’s country are not admirable. These are fine values but they do not supersede a Jew’s calling to be faithful to his G-d, his teachers, his beliefs. The moment these values clash with a Jew’s fidelity to Torah, such values must give way.
9) Leibler’s article is one of many that have hit the press lately in the wake of several pointing out the immense growth of the Haredi community, which has the secular elites and others frightened for their future in the State. The real issue is not whether the State will be able to defend itself or remain economically viable. The real issue is that the elites controlling the country are frightened that they will lose their hegemony and power.
10) In the spirit of equity and in light of the upcoming Yom Kippur, I would like to suggest that Mr. Leibler write a positive article about the Haredim to balance out his fear-mongering one. He should not forget to include mention of the immense network of hundreds of charity and welfare organizations run by the Haredim. which brings relief and assistance to the entire Israeli public; the hundreds of schools where there is not a hint of violence or disrespect to the administration; the almost non-existence of Haredim in the state prisons and homes for delinquent youth; the relative low incidence of divorce and broken homes; the 20,000 Haredi youths from abroad who come to study in Israel every year, which outnumbers all university and religious Zionist students coming from abroad; and the cities run by Haredi mayors, which are all the model of fiscal solvency and non-discrimination, and consistently win government prizes for good management.
[One last word. No less than that marvelous author Moshe Shamir wrote in The Jerusalem Post that the Haredim constitute our best Zionists! (PE)]
The Looming Haredi Disaster
Courtesy of THE JERUSALEM POST
Isi Leibler, Jul. 31, 2007
There is now a long-overdue recognition: the erosion of Jewish identity in the curriculum of the dominant secular school system is having disastrous repercussions. In their frenetic zeal to promote universalism, secular educators have diluted Jewish heritage to a minimum. Even the Bible, which once occupied a central place in secular Zionist education, has largely disappeared. Combined with growing hedonism and consumerism this has begun to undermine the faith of some youngsters in the sacred values of the nation.
This phenomenon manifests itself in the increasing brain drain of young Israelis emigrating to greener pastures. It is also reflected by a number of popular entertainers who shamelessly boast of having evaded the draft.
In spite of our minister of education who is besotted with post-modernism, many Israeli leaders are now conscious of the urgent need to restore Jewish and Zionist values in the school system.
BUT REGRETTABLY this problem among the secular is now being dwarfed by a more immediate crisis arising from the demographically exploding haredi sector, whose political leverage peaked simultaneously with a failed government willing to virtually sacrifice anything to retain power.
This was evidenced in the passage of recent legislation obligating municipalities to provide equal funding to haredi schools, including those affiliated with movements even more extreme than Shas and Aguda, who brazenly exclude obligatory secular core curriculum subjects. Nobody seems unduly concerned that the state is effectively financing the molding of citizens destined for a life of impoverishment and total dependence on welfare.
Paradoxically, the children of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Western countries are obliged and do take part in secular core curriculum studies prescribed by their governments.
The statistics relating to this problem signal an even more alarming phenomenon. Currently the high haredi birth rates (considered a boon for Israel) have created a situation in which children from haredi families today comprise 22% of all first Israeli first-graders. This is virtually double the proportion which prevailed 10 to 15 years ago. No society in which almost a quarter of its members are destined to become parasitical burdens and impoverish the majority can indefinitely sustain itself.
NEVER IN the history of the Jewish people has such a bizarre situation prevailed. In the past, exceptionally gifted Torah scholars were funded by philanthropists to lead a life of learning. But even in the shtetl, where poverty was endemic, religious Jews accepted earning a livelihood as a prerequisite to their well-being and dignity.
There is an equally frightening parallel to this. In 1948, in what was subsequently proven to be one of his greatest blunders, David Ben-Gurion agreed with Rabbi Avraham Yeshaye Karelitz – known as the Chazon Ish – to exempt all yeshiva students from conscription.
At the time only 400 were involved. This year that number – which obviously includes many who could never be considered serious students – has mushroomed to well in excess of 50,000 and will continue to rise.
The Tal Law was introduced with the laudable objective of reducing haredi draft evasion and encouraging participation in the work force. It failed abysmally. Over a four-year period only about 500 yeshiva students were drafted and minimal numbers opted for legal employment. Yet the government once again buried its head in the sand and without weighing the consequences, extended the law for another five years.
BUT THE worst has yet to come. Currently haredim account for 11 percent of draft exemptions. However, unless the system changes, when today’s haredi first-graders turn 18, they will comprise nearly a quarter of the entire draft.
Should that happen, aside from the additional physical burden on those drafted, the psychological implications for the nation will be devastating. Instead of representing a badge of honor, military service will be regarded as applicable only to hapless freiers or “lower-class people.”
What is now a marginal but growing phenomenon among secular elites, celebrity draft-dodging, could become infectious and lead to widespread efforts to evade the draft. That would surely be disastrous for the Zionist vision.
Who is responsible, and what can be done?
Setting aside a miserable political system which encourages politicians to prostitute themselves in order to retain office, the principal responsibility rests with haredi rabbis and heads of yeshivot. Many of them have yet to reconcile themselves with the obligations of living in a Jewish state.
There are no genuine halachic grounds to justify draft evasion. Far from promoting pacifism, Judaism is in fact explicit concerning the obligation to support a righteous war. Maimonides proclaims that even a groom at his wedding banquet is obliged to participate in defense of the nation.
BUT THE PRIMARY reason that haredi rabbis so vehemently oppose the draft is a fear of exposing their followers to the outside world. They even have the gall to proclaim that the role of haredim is to “pray for the nation” – a none too subtle attempt to rationalize why non-observant Israelis and religious Zionists (who also pray) should fight and die for them. Their attitude is reminiscent of the ultra-Orthodox European rabbis before the Shoah who urged their followers not to leave Europe. Their attitude today could ultimately bring about an historical disaster of equal magnitude.
The negative attitude toward earning a livelihood is equally bizarre. Our sages from the time of the Mishna consistently upheld the virtues of labor and maintaining a family livelihood.
There is of course a substantial minority of haredim who do earn livelihoods and a number who also serve in the IDF. Some of them initiated efforts to create training centers and colleges for training haredim for employment in the computer and electronics industry. Regrettably, few rabbis encouraged their followers to take advantage of such opportunities.
Moderate religious Zionists, who in the past served as bridges to secular Israelis, should assume a leading role in this matter. Their children all serve in the IDF, are highly motivated and renowned for exemplary conduct and contribute – far out of proportion to their numbers – in combat units and as officers.
In leading the campaign, they can demonstrate that far from conflicting with Halacha, army service and contribution to the defense of the nation is a mitzva. They can relate to the haredi Nahal unit, which has performed admirably and provide reassurances that the IDF will ensure that religious observance is respected.
They will avoid the haredi-bashing of bigoted anti-religious parties, like the now-defunct Shinui, and be constructive, even highlighting the positive aspects of haredi life which secular Israelis could emulate.
Hopefully they will also gain the support of the hitherto silent haredim who are fully aware of the catastrophe that will inevitably impact on them and the entire nation unless these trends are reversed.