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A Small But Significant Change In The Charedi World
Amidst all the horrible, horrible news coming from Israel, there is something of particular relevance to this website's discussions that is small, but positive and of potentially great significance. I am referring to the charedi world's reaction to the current crisis.
The first significant phenomenon was when Eyal, Gilad and Naftali hy"d went missing. The charedi world was praying and reciting Tehillim for them, similar to their concern for the three yeshivah students that were imprisoned in Japan, but in marked contrast to their relative indifference to Gilad Shalit. (Some criticized the charedi community for not making prayer rallies and so on for the three teens, but I think it's understandable that they would show slightly less concern for those who are not part of their community, just as the dati-leumi community would have shown less concern had the boys been charedi.)
In the past, I had reasoned that the lack of concern in the charedi community for Gilad Shalit was due to their not feeling him to be part of the community. But the three teenagers were likewise not part of the charedi community. Perhaps the extraordinary horror of children being snatched enabled this to transcend divisions. Another possibility is that the charedi world would have expressed more concern for Shalit, except that his status as an IDF soldier made it harm for them to do so. One is reminded of an earlier war, in which the late Rav Elya Weintraub fiercely opposed a campaign for people to pray for specific soldiers, due to concern that people will ideologically identify with the IDF.
Yet as war broke out with Gaza, the charedi community seems to be displaying a great deal of concern for the IDF. I write "seems" as the precise focus of their concern is not absolutely clear. In previous conflicts, the charedi community has only prayed for the general situation, which threatened everyone, and not specifically for soldiers. (When there was a situation which only posed a risk for soldiers, such as the Battle of Jenin, the charedi community did not express any particular concern.) But in this conflict, the charedi media is reporting the Gedolim as calling on people to pray for the soldiers. It's not clear if this is charedi media spin; I have not seen any statement from charedi Gedolim which actually specifies soldiers, as opposed to the general population at risk. Still, even if it is just the spin of the charedi media, it is significant that the chareidi media wants to present it that way.
How are we to account for this development? I can think of a few possibilities. Perhaps the fact that the Gaza rockets can reach Jerusalem and Bnei Brak helps the charedi community realize how much it owes the soldiers. Perhaps the fact that many charedim are connected to the media via the internet helps them be more connected to the soldiers. Whatever the reason, it is a positive development.
Of course, it is still only a very small step. It is rather pathetic to have to praise a group of religious Jews for showing concern for people that are putting their lives on the line for them, when they refuse to share this burden and denounce those who try to enforce it as being evil. But even here, there is hope for change. If the charedi community is coming to realize the tremendous benefit and sacrifice that the IDF is making for them, they will hopefully also ask themselves why they should be exempt from making this sacrifice. A few months ago, we were hearing ridiculous claims that yeshivah students make a comparable sacrifice; after the events of the last few days, nobody is going to spout such nonsense.
Related to this, there is one small news item that is of exceedingly great significance. Rav Steinman was asked if yeshivah students need to flee from the danger - does not Torah protect? Rav Steinman's answer was that they do indeed need to flee, because perhaps Torah only protects when it is learned with a degree of lishmah (dedication) that we cannot presume to have attained. This, of course, leads to the obvious conclusion that since yeshivah students cannot assume that their Torah protects, there is no justification for their avoiding army service on these grounds. Hopefully, at least some people in the charedi world will realize this.
If you'd like to help the soldiers and people of Israel in the current crisis, then I strongly recommend my amazing local charity, Lemaan Achai. They are providing food, clothing and kids' activities for families from the south. They are also helping soldiers stationed in Bet Shemesh with Shabbat meals and such. Lemaan Achai has also set up an English language hotline, nationwide, in cooperation with Magen and Merkaz Rakefet, for people dealing with all forms of trauma due to the war. You can donate via Paypal at this link or via credit card at this link; just select "Emergency Response Campaign" in the drop-down menu.
May Hashem keep all our soldiers safe and help them be victorious, such that no family should ever have to mourn a loved one being lost in battle.