To Distinguished Rabbonim and Leaders of Agudath Israel of America:
I write to give you a "heads-up" on an important upcoming public gathering, which is not an Agudath Israel function but nonetheless enjoys the strong backing of Agudath Israel's rabbinic leadership.
As we are all aware, the newly formed coalition government in Israel, which totally excludes the charedi parties, has made clear that it intends to institute major changes that will have significant impacts on the charedi population. Among other things, the new government is poised to enact legislation that will impose a quota on the number of full-time yeshiva students who are exempt from the military draft. Stated simply, the proposed new law would tear away thousands of serious yeshiva-leit from their shtenders, and dramatically reduce the population of full-time lomdei Torah in Eretz Yisroel. Gedolei Yisroel, both here and in Eretz Yisroel, see this change in the longstanding exemption policy as a devastating body blow against Klal Yisroel's lofty status as the Am HaTorah.
In a series of discussions and meetings among a broad array of Gedolei Yisroel in America, including the Chavrei Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, and in consultation with leading Roshei Yeshiva and Admorim in Eretz Yisroel, the decision was made by these Gedolei Yisroel to call an Atzeres Tefila and Kinus Hisorirus here in America. The main purposes of the Atzeres will be to help our own community better understand the nature of the tzara facing our brethren in Eretz Yisroel if the proposed new policy is implemented, to express our deep concern about this development, and to daven for rachmei Shamayim in the face of this impending gezeira. What the Atzeres most emphatically will not be is a demonstration or protest against the State of Israel, or an effort to enlist the American public or the American government in a campaign to fight the proposed new law.
The Atzeres is scheduled to take place early Sunday afternoon, 11 Iyar / April 21, in downtown Manhattan, and is expected to attract a broad cross-section of the American charedi community. Additional details will be made public within the next few days, along with a "Kol Korei" signed by a distinguished array of Gedolei Yisroel, but in the meantime I felt that our leadership should be alerted to this upcoming event, and be given a clear understanding of its purpose and goals.
A guten Shabbos to one and all.
Chaim Dovid Zwiebel
Baruch Hashem, this insane rally, planned for Lower Manhattan (?!?!?!) has been cancelled. But why?
Was it because someone with sanity and influence realized that notwithstanding Rabbi Zwiebel's nervous and emphatic declaration that the rally would not be "a demonstration or protest against the State of Israel, or an effort to enlist the American public or the American government in a campaign to fight the proposed new law," it would undoubtedly be perceived that way by many people?
Was it because Americans - Jew and non-Jew alike - would not be sympathetic to those who evade sharing the burden of security, especially in light of the Boston attack? (And to those who mention the Vietnam exemption for divinity students - no American government would tolerate such exemptions for upwards of ten per cent of the population, in such a serious situation as constantly faces Israel!)
Was it because it would also draw attention to how these yeshivah students also refuse to participate in the workforce, and end up as a drain on economic resources, which might draw unwanted attention to certain people in America who excel at milking a welfare system that was not intended to provide for people who have no intention of supporting their large families?
Was it because in light of the ultra-Orthodox looking like barbarians with their protest against parents giving informed consent for metzitzah b'peh, they didn't want to make things look even worse?
Baruch Hashem someone with influence apparently realized that this rally would make Orthodox Jews look even worse in the eyes of the general public than they already do.
In any case, just in case the idea of such a protest is resurrected in this form or another, it's important to set matters straight.
A "devastating body blow against Klal Yisroel's lofty status as the Am HaTorah"? But what about the Religious Zionist community? They seem to manage being a Torah community (unless you contrive some peculiarly chareidi definition of "Torah" that has no basis in tradition). And why can't charedim go back to yeshivah after army? How on earth is our status as the Am HaTorah devastated when some people take time off their studies to serve in the army?
In any case, what is the nature of the threat being protested? Rabbi Zwiebel warns of the "decree" that will "tear away thousands of serious yeshiva-leit from their shtenders" - as though the military police will be forcibly dragging people out of the Beis HaMedrash and into the army, or throwing them in prison. In fact, all that is being proposed to take place in four years' time is that those who do not share the burden of military service, and do not participate in the workforce, will not receive government funding for their lifestyle.
The government is not denying the chareidi community its right to choose to devote itself to full-time, permanent Torah study, and not contribute to the IDF or the workforce. It's just saying that the State of Israel will no longer finance such a lifestyle. Is that really so shocking? (Or are American charedim afraid that they will be asked to finance their brethren instead?)
The Agudah wanted to daven for rachamei Shamayim that the government's plans will be cancelled. I'd say that rachamei Shamayim was issued, and the Agudah's plans were cancelled.
UPDATE: In contrast to the Agudah, who are afraid of the impending gezerah, the editorial in this week's Yated says that there is nothing to worry about: "We are the ones of yesh atid. Ours is the party of the past, present and future... as they stumble about in darkness, without the light of truth, we will be basking in the glow of Abaye and Rava, Rashi and Tosafos, the Rambam, the Ramban and the Rashba..." Right, it is the charedim who are following in the tradition of Rashi the wine merchant, Rabbeinu Tam the wealthy wine merchant and financier, Rambam the physician (who forbade being funded for Torah study), Ramban the physician, Rashba the financier...