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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Demonstration Without Comprehension

The Hareidim*, in Israel as well as the United States apparently, have no understanding of the proposed new law drafting the Ultra-Orthodox into the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). In their thinking, it will mean a cancellation of Torah study and a secularization of their bochurim*. They seem to forget, ignore--or are totally ignorant of--the current system which includes what is know as "Hesder Yeshivot," which combine Yeshiva Torah and Talmud learning with service in the IDF. But that system was for the Dati Leumi - the "National Religious" Israelis, or the "Modern Orthodox." It wasn't for the so-called "Ultra-Orthodox," who learned Torah full-time, excluding army service and even working for a living.

The way it stood until now was that the Hareidim were exempt from military service until the expiration of the Tal Law. This exemption dated back almost to the founding of the State of Israel, when then Defense Minister David Ben Gurion adopted the military draft deferment for full-time Yeshiva students. The reasoning, originally--with a total only of several hundred deferments nation-wide, was to preserve the Torah study that had sustained the continuity of Jewish tradition and the "soul" of the Jewish people over the centuries. This was especially crucial after the Holocaust, which decimated the Yeshivot* and Torah scholars of Europe.
Ben Gurion probably did not envision the increase in the draft-deferred Torah-learning population to be as high as 61,000 by the year 2010.  In 1998, the decision on student deferment of Supreme Court President Aharon Barak was explained thus:
The original reason for the arrangement was the destruction of the yeshivas in Europe during the Holocaust and the wish to prevent the closing of yeshivas in Israel due to their students being drafted to the army. Today this objective no longer exists. The yeshivas are flourishing in Israel, and there is no serious worry that the draft of yeshiva students, according to any arrangement, would bring about the disappearance of this [yeshiva] institution.
This unofficial deferment was signed into law in 2002 and became known as The Tal Law, named after former Justice Tzvi Tal who headed the Tal Commission. This temporary law provided legislated military exemptions for full-time Yeshiva students who studied Torah instead of going into the job force.  The constitutionality of The Tal Law was challenged in 2006, and it expired in July, 2012.

On Sunday, March 2nd, hundreds of thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews massed in protest of their draft eligibility in Jerusalem, effectively sealing off the Northern entrance into the city. Many carried placards stating that they would 'never submit to a Knesset* bill which would increase the numbers of Ultra-Orthodox youth serving in the IDF.'  Yet, they live in the state of Israel, receive the benefits of citizenship including government child subsidies.  I have a problem with this: if you live in a country, and reap the benefits of being a citizen of that country, you have to serve your government in some way, either by military or some other national service, as do the religious young women of the Dati-Leumi demographic, who volunteer in hospitals, schools, or work with special-needs children and the like--instead of military service which is mandatory for women as well as men. Most of the Ultra-Orthodox do none of that**.

And then, thousands of the Ultra-Orthodox rallied in Manhattan on Sunday, March the 9th.


Reprinted below is a pointed article by Yori Yanover, a journalist, first published in The Jewish Press before it was summarily removed and he was fired for writing it.  Read it in full, below (with full permission by the author).  And if you are so inclined, like his Facebook page.
 

By: Yori Yanover Published: March 10th, 2014

                                  Photo Credit: You Tube

They flooded downtown Manhattan with the anti-draft for Haredim message: everybody else is welcome to get themselves killed. What was even more astonishing was their honesty regarding the bankruptcy of their entire school of faith and study. For the record, I believe the new Shaked-Lapid-Bennett draft law is by far worse than the one it came to replace, the Tal Law. Most importantly, because the Tal Law was getting results, without the idiotic, needless, divisive rancor generated by the new legislation. Killing the Tal Law, or, rather, issuing an edict that it had to be replaced by something that worked faster, was the parting poisonous gift of Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, protégé of that beacon of light unto the nations, Chief Justice Aharon (evil genius) Barak.
Since then we’ve seen one demonstration of a few hundred thousand Haredim against the new law in Jerusalem (but not a single day’s work was lost!), and yesterday, in downtown Manhattan, another 50 thousand Haredim marched to condemn the evil decree.I went on the vosizneias.com website to check out the rally, because I expected them to bring the authentic stuff. I wasn’t disappointed, even though they just lifted the AP story without attribution: “We’re all united against military service for religious men in Israel because it doesn’t allow for religious learning,” said Peggy Blier, an interior designer from Brooklyn. “The Israeli government is looking to destroy religious society and make the country into a secular melting pot.”
Every single point made by Peggy Blier is a blatant lie. Of course the law allows for religious learning, it merely suggests that at some point—way past the age non-Haredim serve, and for half the time that normal Israelis give freely of their lives—”religious Jews in Israel” should participate in caring for the security of their country, or, if that’s too much, serve the equivalent time in vital organizations inside their own communities for their own neighbors.
That, according to Peggy Blier, is a conspiracy on the part of the Israeli government to destroy religious society.
Shmuel Gruis, 18, a rabbinical student from Phoenix studying at a Long Island yeshiva, said, “These kids, a lot of them don’t know how to hold a gun. They don’t know what physical warfare is.”
Are you kidding me? Have you ever been to a Shabbes demonstration? Those kids can throw a rock at police like born Palestinians.
“Their whole world and their whole lifestyle is peace and love and in doing mitzvahs,” he said.
OK, who can argue with that description of Haredi behavior? I’m sure non-Haredi women walking the streets of Beit Shemesh or boarding the bus in B’nei B’rak would attest to that pure goodness.
Some of the Hebrew prayers were led by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, a spiritual head of the Satmars living in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. If the IDF only enlisted the Satmar folks who ever participated in the clashes with the Satmar followers of the other spiritual head of Satmar, they could forge a most brutal and violent commando unit that would put to shame even the late Lee Marvin’s Dirty Dozen (and those included Telly Savalas and Trini Lopez).
Next Verena Dobnik, the AP reporter giving news content for free to Vosizneias, interviewed Yitz Farkas, a member of the Brooklyn-based True Torah Jews organization (step aside, all you False Torah Jews), who informed her that “The problem is, anyone who goes into the Israeli military becomes secular, and that would erase our whole tradition.”
I always enjoy that one. See, you and I are pretty sure the Haredi costume is just that – a costume, underneath which hides a regular Joe, with desires, even lusts, like you and me. The only thing that keeps Joe Haredi from going apecrackers is not the Torah he has learned and integrated into his personality as a shield against evil—it’s the long bekkesh, the velvet yarmulke and the shterimel. Take those away, and Joe Haredi will become a beast overnight.

That, essentially, is the main argument being advanced by the deans of Haredi yeshivas: We have no trust in the Torah we’ve taught our students. we know better. This is why the only means we have of keeping them in line are extreme social pressure and intimidation. You take those away and Joe will spring the trap and become a normal man, availing himself freely of the gifts of a modern society. We can’t afford that. If we do, as Yitz Farkas put it so eloquently, “that would erase our whole tradition.”

The word Haredim is based on Isaiah 66:5: “Hear the word of God, you that tremble at His word.” The “you that tremble” part in Hebrew is “Haharedim el dvaro.” Meaning that there’s urgency on your part to fulfill His word impeccably. It’s not about fear but about devotion.

But the post-Holocaust Haredi world is all about fear. Fear of new things. Fear of books. Fear of voices. And above all, fear that the education a young man receives during his 20 years in a Haredi yeshiva is worthless, because as soon as he encounters the outside world, those 20 years would vanish, melt away like Cholov Yisroel butter on a skillet.

What an astonishing degree of honesty regarding the bankruptcy of an entire school of faith and study.

You know, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked how come he’s not afraid that his Shluchim, the emissaries he was sending out into the farthest and darkest corners of the Earth wouldn’t be tainted by the unholy stuff that surely awaits them there. He responded by citing the laws of kashering-cleansing a vessel in preparation for Passover: k’bol’o ken polto—the way the vessel absorbed the substance so it would let go of it. Meaning that, had the emissary remained clean in body and spirit during his training years, he has nothing to fear “out there.”

I miss him very much. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his passing, and his absence today is felt more than ever before. He would have devoted a segment of a Shabbat farbrengen to the draft bill, and it would have set the whole thing straight: these guys are right on this and wrong on that and vice versa. now go and behave like dignified yidden and stop attacking one another.

What a strange, low-key ending to a piece that began as an exhilarated attack on Haredi IDF bashing. I guess I got tired of it. We’re not going to change the Haredi leadership’s position, we just have to rejoice in a merciful God who made them, like the rest of us, biodegradable. 


*Hareidim (variant spelling: Haredim, or Charedim): literally, the "trembling" ones, also referred to as "Ultra-Orthodox."
*Bochurim: young men learning Torah/Gemarra in a Torah institute of higher learning, called a Yeshiva or Beis Medrash
*Yeshivot: plural of "Yeshiva," an institute of higher Torah and Gemarra (Oral Law) learning.
*Knesset: the Israeli parliament

**There is a battalion of Hareidi soldiers in the IDF, which was formed in 1999. It originally had a total of 30 men, but by 2009 it had over a thousand.  It was formed to allow these Ultra-Orthodox men to serve in a unit where their religious values and convictions would not be compromised. This battalion is called Netzah Yehuda, or the 'Eternity of Judah.' They are among the bravest of the IDF.



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