Thursday, April 4, 2013

Selflessness and Sacrifice?

With the electoral victories of Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Naftali Bennet (Bayit Yehudi), and the resultant plans to reduce financial aid to people in kollel, draft most charedim into the army, and withhold various financial benefits from those who refuse to serve, the charedi world is in turmoil. Representatives of the charedi world have made statements that are astonishing.

When I was in yeshivah, I was always taught that parnassah is strictly in the hands of the Ribbono shel olam. Only Hashem decides how much money you get. If you get less money than expected, it's not because of someone else's choice; it's because Hashem decreed such for you, based on your spiritual merits and so on. It has nothing to do with worldly endeavor, and certainly nothing to do with other people. (Of course, since then, I've adopted a perspective more in line with the Rishonim.)

But the charedi world doesn't seem to really believe that, considering all the screaming about the evils of Lapid and Bennet. For the most part, instead of wondering how their new fate results from their own actions - whether spiritual or worldly - they are focusing on how it is the result of the elections. Apparently, parnassah is not in the hands of Ribbono shel olam, but rather in the hands of Lapid and Bennet.

The editorial in the UK edition of HaModia, sent to me by a reader, makes this point, noting that the charedi community should be focused upon its own obligations rather than upon others. Unfortunately, these obligations apparently do not include the obligations dictated by Chazal and the kesubah, for a husband to work for a living and support his family. Still, at least they are talking about their own obligations. The editorial states that:
"The question now is what should our role as chareidi Jews be at this junction? ...It is clear that the order of the day for Am Yisrael is to increase our chessed in all areas:"
Great! Does this mean contributing towards the country, with military duty or national service, as non-charedim do? Unfortunately, apparently not:
"To judge one another favorably, to daven that sins - not sinners - be eliminated, to spread Torah and Judaism and, above all, to use use our resources to make our institutions of Torah and chessed independent or those who would seek to uproot Torah from Yisrael."
Okay, apparently increasing chessed doesn't mean actually doing anything tangible for the rest of the country, or starting to express hakaras hatov for what the country does for them. And they wonder why there is ill-will towards them!

But perhaps the last part of that quote is referring to becoming a financially self-sustaining community, and not requiring government assistance? Apparently not. The editorial continues to note that charedim are actually obligated, from a spiritual perspective, to demand funding from the rest of the country:
"Our Hashkofoh obligates us to demand state support for Torah and chessed mosdos, not out of concern that they won't be able to continue to provide vital services to the weaker sectors, but to provide a merit for the government, which is so in need of Heavenly mercy. Even if the government doesn't appreciate and understand the workings of midoh keneged midoh, its support for such institutions will serve its interests."
Ah, so all the talk about money is not motivated by an actual desperate desire for money and/or a belief that it is in the hands of others, but rather in order to help the non-charedim! It's all about a selfless concern for the spiritual and material wellbeing of others! How did I miss that?

Aside from money, the other big issue is military service, and the concept of sharing the burden. Another reader sent me a paragraph from HaModia written in response to these accusations, by Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, former Executive Vice-President of Agudath Yisrael in the U.S. and now at Ohr Somayach. (I have only seen this paragraph - if there is other relevant material in the article, please let me know.) He makes the following remarkable comments:
"Living as a Jew is much harder than dying as a Jew. Mesirus nefesh is a one-time giving up of one's life, and even people who weren't so great in their lifetime were willing to be burned at the stake for Hakadosh Baruch Hu, but to live one's whole life as a Jew is very, very difficult. The bnei Torah who are sitting in kollel and learning Torah are living their whole lives for the Ribbono shel Olam, and that's a much greater sacrifice than dying al kiddush Hashem."
I don't know whether this paragraph is just too mind-numbingly foolish to be classified as offensive.

Yes, it can take more effort to live as a Jew than to be killed as a Jew. But that has nothing to do with which is the greater sacrifice! It also takes more effort to drive a car than to be hit by a car, but that doesn't make it a greater sacrifice!

(Furthermore, it's not as though the only sacrifice made by soldiers is that made by those who are killed. There is also the fear of being captured or killed, the immense physical and psychological hardships often endured by soldiers during their service, and the annual reserve duty that takes them away from their families. I have seen too many charedi spokesmen and apologists who are apparently utterly unaware of the mesiras nefesh that the IDF soldiers and their families engage in on their behalf.)

Finally, there is the issue of who you actually sacrificing for - who you are actually helping with the way that you live or die. It's all very well to do something for your own spiritual growth, but what are you doing for the rest of Klal Yisrael? Not everyone is expected to place their life on the line, but everyone is expected to contribute towards the rest of Israel. However, I will leave that discussion for another post (and please withhold your comments on that topic until I write that post).

34 comments:

  1. but to live one's whole life as a Jew is very, very difficult.

    I wonder what exactly he means? Isn't it pleasurable to observe shabbat and learn torah? Maybe he finds the sexual restrictions very difficult?

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  2. "but to live one's whole life as a Jew is very, very difficult."

    Yeah, this is taken so out of context that it's silly. It applies to places of active persecution (e.g, Germany in the 30s) or even America in the early 1900s where Shabbat & kashrut were very difficult to observe. But difficult in Israel?? Gimmeabreak. A chareidi man who learns Torah all day has one of the easiest "jobs" around. Now if they were to amend the statement to read

    "to live one's whole life as the wife of chareidi Jew is very, very difficult"

    I would have to agree!

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  3. Nice. So stealing from the rest of Klal Yisroel is OK as long as they have "good" intentions?

    As you write, they wonder why non-Charedim are starting to despise them? With spokespeople like that, Charedim don't need enemies!

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  4. I read that issue of Chamodia. I don't think the statements by the Charedi leaders helped their case. While we can argue about whether everyone should serve in the IDF or not, it bothers me to hear about the animosity towards army service. Some have been threatened to leave the country. If we are considered about the spiritual character of the country, why would one prefer to be in Ch'l? The torah world is not in turmoil. Even if there is will be Haredim drafted, there will be plenty of people learning. The community will just need to learn to be more self sufficient

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  5. There is also a proposal to raise the stipend for those chareidim who do exceptionally well in yeshiva.

    But for those who are better at something else, will have an opportunity to develop their skills in the army or in community service.

    This can be by all means is a blessing in disguise, and will give more meaning to their less meaningful lives.

    We hope with this blessing, they will finally discover that accomplishment and contributing to society is a very rewarding experience that one cannot live without, and will be rewarded in this world as well as in the world to come.

    Confucius once said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."
    o

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  6. maybe all he meant was Siz Shver Tzu Zein Ah Yid

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  7. He doesn't seem to realize that no soldier *wants* to die. Indeed, a soldier does his best work by *not* dying. As Patton said, "No one ever won a war by dying for his country. He won a war by making the other poor b*****d die for *his* country." In addition to the soldiers who die, yes, we're grateful to those soldiers who lived al kiddush hashem and who kill the enemy.

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  8. Bloom's statement, assuming the selection reflects the whole, is both understandable and riddiculous.

    1. Understandable, because why *shouldnt* the Charedim demand public funding for their lifestyle? There is no fundamental distinction between them and between fat people who want the public to fund bariatric medical needs, immoral people who want the public to fund their abortions, artists who want the public to fund their dubious projects, or a thousand other initiatives. The Charedim are just feeding at the same trough as every other special interest group. While one may not like this world we live in - I find it repugnant myself - you can't blame Charedim for playing the same game.

    2. Having said that, the rest of Bloom's comments are riddiculous, for all the reasons everyone else said. You might also add, RNS, that the guys sitting in kollel, at least here in America, are hardly sacrificing anything. There was an event here in town before Pesach where koilel guys and mechanchim were given heavily subsidized (practically free) food at a soup kitchen. Someone observed how interesting it was to see so many people driving expensive Honda Odysseys, none less than a 2010 model, pulling up to get what was coming to them.

    DF

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  9. The current Chareidi political leadership and its PR flacks are the worst thing for the Chareidi community.
    Sure they talk about emunah but only when things are going well. Recall the histrionics during the Rubashkin trial. Shouldn't they have had faith that God was doing this to him for a reason? It's the same thing here. We accept the good and the bad from God, until the bad actually happens and then we fight like hell against it.
    As the old Israeli saying goes, that's religion but this is business!

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  10. The concept of the proud beggar who insists that he is pursuing a high calling because he is affording the rest of Klal Yisrael the opportunity to do a mitzvah is an old one. For a treatment of this theme taken to a hilarious extreme, see Israel Zangwill's "King of Schnorrers."

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  11. Rav Slifkin,

    Great post.
    Consider: If you live outside Israel, Yeshivah tuition - unless you are extremely wealthy - easily consumes the biggest single share of your income. More than your mortgage, more than food.
    All Israelis - Chareidim included - can send their children for 12 years to a Jewish school of their choice for free!
    This fact alone should merit an enormous "hakarat hatov" towards the Government on part of the Chareidim.
    Instead, they are complaining?
    It's madness!


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  12. " (Of course, since then, I've adopted a perspective more in line with the Rishonim.)
    "
    do you care to explain what you are refering to please?
    Are there Rishonim that dont hold that hashem is in charge ?

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  13. Thank you, Rabbi Slifkin, for your post. Thanks also to those who have commented. I have been trying to follow this issue and I appreciate all the insights. So many of the scholars from previous centuries had jobs. I wonder what those earlier scholars might say?

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  14. http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/1599/where-the-american-and-israeli-torah-communities by Jonathan Rosenblum is an astonishing, relevant read to the present discussion.

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  15. Rav Slifkin,

    I am new to this cite and followed a link to this article. I was raised in the American "chareidi" world and learned in kollel for many years. Subsequently, I went to college and became successful in corporate America. With my background, I find this post and the comments very insulting and difficult to understand.

    Although I am not the biggest fan of the chareidi system in Israel, where people are trapped into learning forever and avoiding army service, I also think that most "chareidim" and their leaders are good people and not the devils that you attempt to make them out to be. Why not stick to the actual issues and explain why you think everyone should serve in the army ( certainly legitimate and with basis)? What is the point of this post are you trying to change minds or smear?

    Additionally, comments like those made by zach are obviously just ill informed. Learning in kollel for those that are serious about it is certainly not an easy job. Zach obviously never sat and learned all day.
    Avi, Why is accepting a stipend that was approved by a democratically elected government stealing?

    This post and this comment seems to look to just smear a group of generally good people that may have some faults.

    Why dont we just stick to the issues and argue as to the benefits of the new government's policies. Instead of calling people names and insults?

    Mark Goldman

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  16. Adam (Manchester, UK)April 5, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    Mark: your comments are reasoned and civilised. However, as tiring as learning may be they are choosing this lifestyle. Not so the soldiers.

    Accepting a stipend is not stealing but one doesn't bite the hand that feeds it and the increasingly intransigent attitudes of the Chareidi community in Israel of recent years has done precisely that and, I'm afraid, they are now reaping the whirlwind of a response. This post of Rav Slifkin shows a glaring example of this: the comments quoted are so mind-numbingly crass and insensitive that they are bound to engender an extreme reaction (or, worse, retaliation).

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  17. Learning in kollel for those that are serious about it is certainly not an easy job.

    What is easy or hard? Hopefully the avreichim are putting in long hours. Learning torah full time for one's entire life time should indeed be the best job in the world. Why complain about it?

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  18. I also think that most "chareidim" and their leaders are good people and not the devils that you attempt to make them out to be.

    Nobody is claiming them to be devils. But it's possible to be a really, really nice person, who gives charity etc., and yet to be living a lifestyle that is immoral vis-a-vis larger society.

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  19. To echo Adam from Manchester, this whole debate would be different if the charedi community showed gratitude and solidarity with their non-charedi brethren who've been supporting them and putting their lives on the line for them.

    Instead what comes across is "magia lanu" and "we're the real protection", not to mention paranoia and sense of victimhood re: the State, and wanting to have as little to do with their non-charedi brethren as possible. THAT is the problem.

    People are much more willing to accept the lion's share of the burden if they get a simple but heartfelt word of "thanks".

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  20. @Mark

    My comment is about the quote which follows. Basically, the writer is saying that the Government should give Charedim money because Charedim say it's good for them (the Government). I realize that the theft is not literal, but demanding "protection" money is certainly akin to it. Either way, it's absolutely disgusting.

    Our Hashkofoh obligates us to demand state support for Torah and chessed mosdos, not out of concern that they won't be able to continue to provide vital services to the weaker sectors, but to provide a merit for the government, which is so in need of Heavenly mercy.

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  21. R' Bloom is merely quoting the great philosopher al'Lan Mandragoran, as quoted by Robert Jordan:

    "Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain."

    Who knew R' Bloom read The Wheel of Time?

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  22. Mark, I grew up in the yeshivishe world, and while you are right that most Chariedim are good people, the Chareidi community is insular, xenophobic, and condescending. Chareidim are good parents and friends, give lots of tzedakah, and go out of their way to help others. They also believe that the world exists solely for their benefit, that non-frum (really, non-Chareidi) = irreligious = amoral hedonist, and that non-Jews are a lower form of life. It is possible to be a good individual who is a member of a deeply flawed society.

    As for kollel, it’s “hard” in the sense that it’s long hours of intellectually demanding study. But it doesn’t compare to job. Learning in kollel has no pressure to produce anything, no irate customers to deal with, and it comes with the assurance that what you’re doing is the most worthwhile thing possible, indeed, the entire reason the world exists.

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  23. Mark Goldman - if your post is actually true, I'll eat my black hat. People who grow up charedi and go to kollel for "many years" rarely refer to "Rav Slifkin." Likewise, while I know the occasional kollel guy who went to law school after a couple of (but not "many") years, it is extremely rare for someone to go to kollel for many years, and then succeed in "corporate America." Plus someone from "corporate America" would not misread what R. Slifkin is saying so groutesquely.

    I dont believe a word you said.

    Careful Reader

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  24. Adam and David Meir= I agree with your point about hakaros hatov.

    Yitz Waxman = I agree that learning in Kollel is the best job in the world. I was merely disagreeing with zach's statement that it is the easiest job in the world. Some of the best things in the world and life are challenging and demanding.

    Rabbi Slifkin =While you didn't actually refer to chareidim as devils. You seem to be attempting to demonize them and just make them look as bad as possible (why I used the term devils).
    While I agreed with some of your points, I feel that we should be sticking to the actual issues and explain why we believe that someone's actions are immoral or wrong as opposed to just bashing.

    G*3 = I strongly disagree with the following statement of yours "Chareidi community is insular, xenophobic, and condescending...They also believe that the world exists solely for their benefit, that non-frum (really, non-Chareidi) = irreligious = amoral hedonist"
    Can you cite to something? prove this?
    These type of comments are exactly why I wrote. Just sounds like unfair demonizing to me.

    Anonymous = my statement is true. I prefer to speak to people with respect.
    You are clearly living with your head in the sand if you don't know of the innumerable successful people in corporate America (which by the way includes corporate law firms) that learned for many years in kollel.



    I still stand by my statement that I find much of the post and its comments to be for the purpose of demonizing a group of people as opposed to discussing the issues.

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  25. Adam (Manchester, UK)April 7, 2013 at 3:03 AM

    Hi Mark - Adam from Manchester again - shavua tov..
    There is a weekly publication called Peninim on the Torah. This is a parsha piece and widely distributed. The author makes it quite clear that he believes that someone who is not frum is a step away from drug abuse and moral hedonism. This very week he brings a story with this as its central feature.

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  26. Can I provide cites? Not offhand. I speak from experience.

    I learned in yeshiva as a little kid that the goyim exist only to serve us, that when Moshiach comes the goyim will all be our servants so that we can all sit and learn, a goy who does something nice is only doing it because he hopes for a favor in retun – as opposed to yidden who are truly altruistic, the order of life is plants-> animals-> goyim-> yidden… come on, this stuff is all through gemara and chazal, which most Chareidim believe is absolutely true. You know, it’s never “the gemara doesn’t make sense,” and certainly not, “the gemara is wrong,” but only, “we don’t understand.”

    Are you seriously suggesting that the average yeshiva guy or chassid would consider a Reform Jew religious? Most don’t even consider MO frum. And as you know, there are no questions, only answers. The only reason someone would not be frum is because they don’t want to be burdened by the ol haTorah and want to be free to indulge every whim.

    It may be demonizing, but It’s not unfair. Considering the invective I’ve heard directed at non-frum people from yeshivish rabonim, to say nothing of outright bigotry, I think that characterizing them as merely xenophobic and insular is bending over backwards to portray them in a positive light.

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  27. There are many "charedim" from schools like Ner Yisroel who learn in kollel for many years and then work in big law firms, or in the big four financial firms. Unfortunately, there are many more people who went to kollel for many years and are struggling financially. It's a question of percentages I suppose.

    Also, I don't think that Hamodia represents all charedim. Though it surely is representative of some of the attitudes found in the charedi community. Still, I think Mark's point is valid: Rabbi Slifkin extrapolated from an editorial to the entire "charedi world" which is unfair and somewhat disingenuous. This from a rationalist post-charedi.

    John

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  28. John, all I can say is:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

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  29. G*3, sometimes one has to take what one thinks they remember from childhood, and reinvestigate it as an adult. It's unfortunate how many people feel that what they learned of Judaism in 4th grade give them a deep understanding of its philosophy, and is sufficient to serve them their entire life.

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  30. Yitz: Learning Torah full time may be "the best job in the world", but it doesn't pay very well.

    The avrechim are voluntarily accepting serious financial hardship. They believe that the hours they spend learning Torah provides a major zechus for all of Klal Yisrael.

    From the Haredi perspective, the avrechim are sacrificing their own personal well being for the benefit of the community.

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  31. Stewart K, my point is that these are normative Chareidi attitudes, and they are taught to young as both social norms and Torah. Not that this is what I learned as a little kid, therefore that’s all there is to Judaism.

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  32. From the Haredi perspective, the avrechim are sacrificing their own personal well being for the benefit of the community.

    Cute PR. Does anyone believe it? Why?

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  33. It may be demonizing, but It’s not unfair. Considering the invective I’ve heard directed at non-frum people from yeshivish rabonim, to say nothing of outright bigotry, I think that characterizing them as merely xenophobic and insular is bending over backwards to portray them in a positive light.

    I agree. The double standard is blatant.

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