Thursday, April 18, 2013

Insanity Averted - For Now

Here is an email that was sent out a few days ago by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice-President of Agudah: 
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...


  1. One theory is that the Agudah were afraid the gathering would be co-opted by Satmar/NK types with their designed-to-shock signs equating Zionism with Nazism and the like.

    Btw, you're so right about mbp. I know that you have already written about this issue, but it deserves more attention, because it is a classic case of rationalism vs. mindlessness. The pro-mbp crowd refuse to accept the science because they believe that Chazal (who mandated mbp)were infallible, and that mbp has great mystical benefits.

  2. The link to the cancellation notice suggests that R' Shteinman was against it. Someone I know very well has been going to R' Shteinman for policy issues for many years now. From what I understand, he is pretty well balanced. If I'm not mistaken, he has even said that higher education is a fine thing to pursue, at around the age of 22. Hmmm... we might see a more practical Chareidi society yet ... let's do our best not to jeopardize that with extreme rhetoric from our side.

  3. Kudos to you Rabbi Slifkin for continuing to point out the absurdity of the Charedei positions. I know that many would prefer that you just stick to positive topics but if people like you don't continue to point out how the current Charedei positions are anti-Torah, then my kids and grandkids will never know that that it's a complete perversion of yiddishkeit as it was practiced for centuries.

  4. "From what I understand, [R' Shteinman] is pretty well balanced."

    I also heard that he wasn't completely against Nachal Chareidi.

    I hope he can influences things before it's too late - he is 98!

  5. I'm sorry, but although I will at times criticize something the Israeli government does, I will never, Never NEVER take part in an anti-Israel demonstration here in America. Not now, not in the future, not ever.

  6. A friend of mine who also happens to be a well respected Rabbi just sent me this:

    The solution of course is simple – it’s called the three state solution.
    1) The Palestineans get their own state.
    2) The Chareidim get their own state.
    3) The rest of the Israelis get their own state.

    Each state gets to make its own internal rules and each has to pay its own way. Would you like to guess how many members of group 2 would opt to be part of state 3 rather than state 2?

  7. No doubt, a voice of sanity prevailed.

    But whose?

    I suspect it was the NY Police Dept, who did not want to issue the permit in light of the Boston bombing.

  8. Are you absolutely certain this email came from David Zweibel? As we know from other recent events - which agav I'm wondering if you are going to comment on - you have to make sure emails coming from X really are from X.

    I would only question it because, precisely as you say, it would be insane to have such a rally. For all the reasons you said, plus this: it would expose the fissures even within the orthodox community, because a great many orthodox Jews, including in the black hat crowd, disaprove of the charedi way of life. What would be the hava minah to have such a rally? Thus I ask if you've verified the email.

  9. "broad cross-section of the American charedi community"

    hahahahahaaaaaaa im dying from laughter

  10. Interesting that Rabbi Zweibel doesn't even bother explaining why it's necessary to ask for rachmei shamayim in downtown Manhattan. Especially since the idea wasn't to convince anyone but our fellow yidden of the danger facing them.

  11. This is just a guess from an outsider to these happenings (except from reading various news sources).

    Hopefully, a small but significant percentage of Haredim will start to serve in the IDF, say about 10%. I think this would create a shift - even if small - in the outlook of these Haredim towards the state of Israel. This can have the effect of beginning to shift the outlook of the entire community. Let's just hope that those who serve are not ostracized by the rest of the community.

    The Satmar have a big motivation for a protest like this: if the other Haredim become more pro-Zionist, the Satmar will become even more marginalized.


    you mean rashi the egg merchant?

  13. From what I understand, he is pretty well balanced. If I'm not mistaken, he has even said that higher education is a fine thing to pursue, at around the age of 22.

    that is not the opinion that he voices in public at all! all of his support for the nachal chareidi or any type of college is what he calls "b'diavad shel b'diavad".

  14. I love the idea of the charedim having their own state. I wonder if they would start collecting the chalukah from chutz la'aretz once again. I wonder how many American Jews would give money to support such a new-old yishuv.

    I bet the charedim would be blasting their American counterpparts for not throwing money at their feet. If only we could actually enact experiments like this. It would be so much fun/tragic to watch unfold.

    Oh, and all the heterim charedim would give themselves to temporarily live in the Zionist state instead of their own state. I would love to see the pretzel-like justifications.

  15. AbsolutePowerCorruptsApril 19, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    Kira I must object.
    While R Shteinman is noted as having shown moderation on some issues, this isnt the case across the board.
    Unfortunately the "younger" leadership who will be around in years after R Shteinman passes on (he should be healthy and have a long life!), have not exactly shown themselves to be moderate or forward thinking by any means.

  16. The controversy about metzitza b'peh isn't just about that but whether Nanny Blomberg can force his health views on the public (e.g. soft drinks) even against religious freedom. B"H he will leave office soon but if this is allowed to continue there will be no limit to similarly totalitarian inclined mayors.

  17. If I remember correctly divinity students were not exempted from the Vietnam-era draft but rather given a deferment so they could finish their studies and then serve as chaplains.

  18. You wrote:
    A "devastating body blow against Klal Yisroel's lofty status as the Am
    HaTorah"? But what about the Religious Zionist community?

    You haven't noticed until now that the Agudah and all its publications NEVER acknowledge
    the Religious Zionist community in any way?

    To them, all Jews are either Chareidi (="religious") or

  19. > …and to daven forrachmei Shamayim in the face of this impending gezeira.

    Seeing this makes me wonder how some of the “terrible gezeiros” we hear about historically were perceived by those living at the time.

    Yehudah said...
    > I bet the charedim would be blasting their American counterpparts for not throwing money at their feet.

    Why shouldn’t they? Everyone else does. Whenever there’s a natural disaster or a civil war anywhere in the world, there are locals complaining that the US isn’t doing enough to help. As if we’re responsible to take care of the whole world.

  20. Avi Keslinger said...
    The controversy about metzitza b'peh isn't just about that but whether Nanny Blomberg can force his health views on the public (e.g. soft drinks) even against religious freedom.

    No. It's about whether ignorant fools can be allowed to slaughter little children with impunity. The Charedim have been coddled, bowed down to and treated as if they are above the law. No sane society would allow such a disgusting, unsanitary and deadly practice.

    The Charedim vote as a bloc and have learned to scream "Antisemites!" whenever they don't get their way, so it has been easier for politicians to give them what they want. But even indulgent neighbors can only take so many murdered babies before they take notice.

  21. Despite the logic of Rabbi Slifkin's arguments, it would be better if the new government in Israel would try to defuse the situation and tone down their rhetoric about "sharing the burden".

    The charedi press in Israel paints Yair Lapid as radically anti-religious (like his father was), with a nefarious intent of trying to weaken the ranks of charedi Jews. (Even Rabbi Slifkin wrote on his blog before the recent elections that "I don't trust Yair Lapid one bit".)

    If they could convince, rather than coerce, more Charedim to enter the work force, by telling them that ultimately they and their children will benefit, the Charedim would not call the new legislation "gezerahs"--something they would expect from Haman.

  22. Things don`t change .

    In last week`s Torah Tavlin , they related the asifah of 1937, n Europe. At that time, Britain was debating whether to grant us a state . It was, I believe , the Peel Commission.

    The Rabonim gathered , and debated. One argument against the State was the denial of Moshiach . This is an argument in its own right.

    A scond point was that forming a state would require bloodshed, and this was decreed to be totally assur. No way would Jews be allowed to die for the sake of their own homeland.

    Imagine. Russia still had pogroms . Poland had them as well. Germany was well on its way to implementing the final solution. Plus, you had the insane way Russia prosecuted WWI , by sending millions to a hopeless cause . To die there was okay, but not to die for own`s own cause.

    A while ago , I saw some CD about Reb Mechoel BerWeismandel`s idea to bribe the NAzis to release the Jews. One scene showed a shul , with people inside davening . All the mispallelim were elderly.

    Another scene showed the zionist`s , on some march or other. All of their members were kids.
    And they wonder why .

  23. Im glad this rally was cancelled, it could have been a chillul hashem.

    While I would like to see more haredim serve in the army and in the work force, I don't think the gov't is taking the right approach. Its not like you can change this community overnight. Why not make agreements such as "We will only fund you if you provide vocational training". If we want to integrate Haredim into the work force, try to think of ways to help them, rather than just cut funding and say "good riddance".

  24. Eric said...
    The comment about American Jews being asked to ante up more is the most astute comment. The author seems to forget what a significant part of Haredi population in full-time learning are American transplants bringing an aliyah where many Israelis are leaving the country and foreign capital with them. American Haredim are already financially strained enough supporting who they do. Yes, I think Agudah America is very afraid of having to kick in more, especially because of the massive unacknowledged financial contribution they already make in supporting Israeli institutions. It's not as "black-and-white" an issue as the author wants it to be.

  25. Yehudah, they've tried "convincing instead of coercing". They've tried making education available. They've catered to Charedi sensibilities by giving them their own military units, alternative service and a thousand other things.

    It hasn't worked.

    The Charedim as a group are completely opposed to real education. They are unwilling to contribute to society the way that everyone else does. They are disproportionately unemployed, underemployed, without marketable skills and recipients of charity. Their social welfare requirements have drastically cut into the needs of the sick, the elderly and even military preparedness.

    And what are the horribly "anti-religious" (aporikosim, worse-than-Nazis, Amalekite) secular and Zionist Orthodox Parties demanding? They want the Charedim to be treated only slightly better than all other Jews. Slightly less national service years later than everyone else. Only a few hundred or thousand special exemptions from the duties of supporting a family instead of a universal free pass. And maybe, if it isn't too much trouble, to stop mob assaults with deadly weapons on people whose views and practice are slightly different.

  26. Dan said: "They've tried making education available. They've catered to Charedi sensibilities by giving them their own military units, alternative service and a thousand other things."
    I understand that there has been a steady increase in the number of soldiers in Nahal Charedi, as well as the number of people taking vocational courses (just check any of the free charedi newspapers they give out here in Israel--so many places are advertised that offer courses now, and they're not just for women so that they'll work and support their husbands' learning).


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