The Charedi Response to the IDF in Gaza
It's time to take a look at the charedi response to the IDF operation in Gaza. There isn't enough information available to perform a proper analysis, so this post will be limited to surveying some reports that are available.
It's important that people evaluate the charedi response accurately. There are many claims that are being exaggerated, while other stories are not reported. Still other stories appear to be fabricated; one of my mentors asked me to include the story of Rav Steinman crying over the soldiers at his grandson's barmitzvah. However, while this story received much publicity in Commander Uri Schachter's victory report, I could not find any corroboration of it (and surely Rav Steinman's grandsons celebrated their barmitzvahs many decades ago!). Instead, it seems to be a distortion of a different and not very relevant story about Rav Chaim Kanievsky.
In documenting the various responses, note that I am only counting responses that genuinely represent the charedi world. Neturei Karta is not counted, since they are completely off the spectrum, have no wide following, and are despised by the rest of the charedi world. Likewise, I saw a claim for evidence of charedi concern from a certain "charedi" shul in RBS which sent care packages to soldiers - but almost every person in this shul grew up in a Zionist home and went to YU (and the people who initiated the campaign even have a son in the IDF), so they are not remotely representative of the charedi community.
There are several diverse reports of different responses that I found, each of which represents a fairly large group of people. Here they are, ordered from most abhorrent to most amazing:
Abhorrent - Hundreds of yeshivah and kollel students gathered in Bnei Brak to hear Rabbi Yisroel Yitzchak Kalmanovitz. He spoke about how during this war, it is important to remain vigilant not to join with secular Israelis on either a practical or emotional level. He also said that one should not pray for soldiers (except religious ones), and that it is perhaps better that secular soldiers die al kiddush Hashem than return home irreligious. (Sources: Here and here).
Disappointing - Here is a letter that I received: "My son was injured in Aza a few days ago (Baruch Hashem, he is fine and home and resting and recuperating). We spent the day in Soroka hospital yesterday with him. There were literally thousands of people who came by to visit the soldiers – bringing food, candies, gifts (backpacks filled with clothes, shampoo, shaving needs), toys, iPads!, ad bli di. People came from the tip of the North and from Eilat, celebrities and singers, chavrie Knesset, mothers and little children - you name it. However, with the exception of some Chabad and some Breslov, not one Charedi was among them."
Unclear - Most Litvishe yeshivos followed a declared policy that yeshivah students should not take pleasure trips, on the grounds that it would be a chilul Hashem. It is unclear as to whether this was about genuinely identifying with the plight of the soldiers and sincerely putting into practice the much-vaunted belief that yeshivah learning protects, or whether it was about PR in light of the government plan to enlist yeshivah students - there are statements in both directions.
Praiseworthy (to some degree) - Chassidic yeshivos and some Litvishe yeshivos said that they would cancel summer vacation while the soldiers were fighting in Gaza, which is a good thing - although, of course, still not equal to actually serving in the army.
Praiseworthy (to some degree) - The huge Mir yeshivah was davenning, learning, and making tzitzis for the soldiers, as well as sending food. I classify this as "somewhat praiseworthy" because, as fine as it is, some people are presenting it as equal to actually sharing the burden of military service - which it isn't. When my sons go into the army, I don't want other boys their age to be learning for them and tying tzitzis for them; I want them to be ALSO serving in the army, so that my sons don't have to put in double time, double sacrifice and double risk! But it is nevertheless a praiseworthy act that is hopefully a sign of great things to come.
Praiseworthy (to some degree) - Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Rav of Agudath Israel of Madison, reported on many charedi women in Arzei Habira who prepared food packages for the soldiers, even if it meant using the chicken that was supposed to be for their own poor kollel families. I classify this as only somewhat praiseworthy for two reasons. First, as above, it still does not equal actually sending your sons to the army. Second, the report heaped praise on the "sacrifice" of the kollel families who are eating tuna instead of chicken, showing little appreciation of the infinitely greater mesiras nefesh being performed by the IDF. It said that "although we do our part in the ‘war effort' through Torah and Mitzvohs; we have not forgotten them who do their part on the front lines," giving the message that "We are so holy and special, but remember that the soldiers ALSO do their part." Whereas the reality is that the soldiers are doing vastly more, and at vastly greater personal sacrifice, than the people in Arzei HaBirah. Still, kudos to the women for doing this, even if their efforts are not being described appropriately.
Amazing - Hundreds of yeshivah and kollel students signed up for an initiative to volunteer for the IDF in combat roles. According to the organizer, "The volunteer position must be significant, otherwise it’s pointless. It’s not just something symbolic for us to check off and say, ‘Look, we came to serve in the army.’ People really want to contribute, and not simply as watchdogs in some remote installation." (Source) This is absolutely fantastic, and hopefully will translate into a serious change in attitudes to army service. Will Mishpacha and Ami report on it? (I'm guessing not.)
Conclusion: I think that the most striking aspect of all this is how diverse the response is. Normally, the charedi community is pretty homogenous. But here there is a tremendous range of responses. I would welcome suggestions as to why this is. The general trend, however, appears to be small steps towards a true realization of how much we need to value the IDF. Something is changing.