The Complex Reality
Charedi attitudes to soldiers and the war
Rav Dovid Leibel - a very special person, who is trying to help charedim integrate into the workforce - published an article today about charedim and the IDF. He acknowledges that the lack of charedim serving is a problem that needs to be solved. He notes that Moshe Rabbeinu’s words, “Shall your brothers go to war and you remain here?” are equally resonant today.
However, Rav Leibel claims that the charedi opposition to army service is only due to the challenge of maintaining charedi values, and does not at all indicate any lack of identification with the rest of Israel. He says that charedim have been helping with the war en masse with various volunteer efforts. And he claims to be representing the mainstream approach:
This position is not my personal position only. It is the position that represents the general public. Apart from a few voices on the fringes, the charedi public made a clear voice: the fact that we are not mobilizing does not per se concern the question of our partnership and identification with the people who live in Zion. In Batei Midrash all over the country, they pray every day for the return of the kidnapped and for the success of the soldiers.
Rav Leibel further cites three prominent charedi rabbinic figures who have urged their students to express gratitude to soldiers - Rav Binyamin Finkel, Rav Dovid Levi, and Rav Chaim Feinstein.
Alas, he is overstating things considerably.
Yes, there are many charedi shuls davenning for the success of the soldiers. Vizhnitz Chassidim are saying a special tefillah for those in combat. The Mir, for the most part, continues its long tradition of davenning for soldiers during wartime. So do various modern/ American charedi rabbinic figures that you’ll find quoted in Mishpacha magazine.
But it’s not just R. Bunim Schreiber that’s a problem. Rav Asher Weiss indicates that the picture is more complex. He speaks about the importance of davenning for soldiers, but bemoans the fact that this has become something that needs to be said. And there’s a lengthy report about Rav Moshe Kirschenbaum speaking at a teacher’s conference and being horrified at how many teachers are opposed to davenning for soldiers. He condemns this as absorbing an attitude that is prevalent in the charedi press.
And it’s not just a bunch of teachers and the charedi press. There’s a very long thread in a Yiddish discussion forum about rabbinic perspectives on the war, featuring dozens upon dozens of statements, audio recordings and booklets from various rabbinic leaders, mostly chassidic but also including some Litvaks. I haven’t had time to go through them all, but the trend of the ones that I saw was to issue general statements about davening for all those who are suffering. Some of them specified hostages. But out of all the dozens of statements that I saw, the only one that specified davening for soldiers was a letter from the Sanzer Rebbe that was written for the staff of Laniado hospital rather than for his community.
The rest of them didn’t specify soldiers, and instead warned against identifying with Zionism. Satmar, naturally, were particularly strong about this, stressing that one must not show any support for the IDF or speak of feeling any connection with soldiers:
But while Satmar are the most strident, the position is normative among many branches of Chassidus as well as the more right-wing part of the Litvish charedi world. As we have seen from R. Yitzchak Meir Morgenstern and R. Aharon Feldman, this is precisely why they don’t want people davening for soldiers qua soldiers. If you specify that you are davvening for soldiers, for those who are moser nefesh to protect Am Yisrael, you run the risk of admiring them.
And so Rav Leibel is unfortunately far from correct that it’s only “a few voices on the fringes of charedi society” that are against identifying with soldiers and davening for them. It’s many, many groups. And the reasons of many for not serving in the IDF are not merely the threat to the lifestyle, but also an ideological opposition to any support of the heretical State.
And when it comes to the volunteer efforts that Rav Leibel claims to be happening en masse in charedi society, it’s also not as widespread as he claims. In fact, one of the three figures that he quotes as encouraging gratitude to soldiers, Rav Chaim Feinstein, is also emphatic that yeshiva students must not take out time to help in any material way at all. And this is the normative position in the Litvishe world; the amazing volunteer efforts are from charedim who are not in yeshiva.
There are some generalizations that can be said about charedi society, and some that cannot. As a generalization - i.e. something can have a small number of exceptions but is overwhelmingly accurate - it’s true to say that charedim do not serve in the IDF. It’s not true to generalize and say that charedim do not volunteer to help out with the war effort, because there are many, many that do, in all kinds of wonderful ways. But it’s also not true to generalize and say that the charedim are all volunteering to help, because there are many, many that do not, and the rabbinic leaders are opposed to yeshivah students doing it. And likewise, it’s not true to generalize and say that charedim either are or are not davenning for soldiers - there are many that do and many that don’t. It’s impossible to know the exact or even approximate ratio, but it’s certainly a significant number on each side.
We can only address a situation properly if we are honest with ourselves and others about what the situation is. And I’ll say it again: Revealing the non-existence of achdus is not harming achdus.
I would like to end on a positive note. So here’s a heartwarming video that I received just now from my daughter, Commander Tikvah, featuring a very special and famous chassid who came to her base. May his influence grow ever more powerful!
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