"What's it got to do with us?"
A furor when a rabbi said the quiet part out loud
“HaGaon” Rav Yisroel Bunim Schreiber is Rosh Yeshiva of Nesiv HaTorah in Jerusalem, appointed to the position by Rav Steinman, and Av Beis Din and Rav of a community in Ashdod. A product of Brisk as well as Ponovezh, he is definitely towards the extreme end of the spectrum in the Israeli charedi community; however, he is nevertheless widely respected and involved in mainstream charedi organizations. He is also invited to give guidance to thousands of yeshiva students at major events.
During a recent talk to a group of yeshiva students in Jerusalem, apparently mostly or all from Mir, Rav Schreiber was asked what their attitude should be towards soldiers in the IDF, and whether they should express gratitude. Note that while many charedi shuls in Israel are saying tehillim for “the situation,” very few will actually specify the IDF. Rav Schreiber explains why one need not feel gratitude to the soldiers or even concerned for the injured.
The full video of Rav Schreiber’s talk is at the end of this post, along with a transcript that you can download. If I summarize it, some people will accuse me of distorting his words. So here is a translation of some extracts:
“There’s no need to express gratitude to soldiers fighting in Gaza any more than to street cleaners.”
“The soldiers who draft are nebuchs. I don’t think anyone drafts willingly… if there was no obligatory draft, nobody would join, other than perhaps a few crazy mizrochniks…. They do it because they have to do it…. Why is there any need to have appreciation any more than with a plumber? …If a doctor heals you for free, then you should certainly thank him. But if he charges money? Then very nice, that’s his job! And if he’s forced to heal you, you don’t thank him.”
“ ‘Our relationship to the injured?’ Who says that there needs to be a relationship? What’s your connection to them? Why do you need to have a relationship with them?”
“A ‘community tragedy’ is not if 1200 people were killed… A community tragedy is one that affects everyone.”
“ The Meron tragedy? Lehavdil! Lehavdil! You feel connected because they were your friends, they were your family, they were your people.”
“Acknowledgment of good? For the entity called ‘The State of Israel,’ regarding which it is superfluous to talk about our opinion, there is no ‘acknowledgement’ and no ‘good.’”
Some of his audience, to their credit, were apparently shocked and pushed back. Nevertheless, Rav Schreiber forcefully stood by his position.
Nothing would have happened were it not for the fact that this talk was filmed for the Kol HaLashon website and seen by others. Naturally, there was an uproar. Kol HaLashon quickly took it down, but the video had already spread.
Still, it seems likely that nothing else would have happened beyond a lot of complaints, were it not for the practical ramifications that seemed likely to result. Venture capitalist Michael Eisenberg wrote a letter to various Knesset members, noting that the State of Israel gave 6,554,767 shekels to Schreiber’s yeshiva over the past three years. He demanded that the state cease funding for the yeshiva and for Schreiber’s associated institutions. Especially in light of the great financial strain caused by the war, he said, it is utterly wrong to fund those who take such an approach to the holy work of the IDF and to the State.
There was a panic. Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, one of the leaders of the charedi world, ordered Rav Schreiber to make a public statement. And so the following appeared in Yated Ne’eman:
“CLARIFICATION: The extract of my words regarding the war, as publicized in the media, distorted their meaning. And there was certainly, forfend, no intention of hurt. Yisroel Bunim Schreiber
In the entire history of weaselly non-apologies, this is the weaseliest non-apology of them all. Contrary to his claim, there was no distortion of the meaning, there was no taking out of context. And while there might not have been any intent to hurt - after all, he didn’t even think that any non-charedim would hear his talk - there was certainly intent to disparage.
It’s important to stress that many, many people in the charedi world were utterly horrified at Rav Schreiber’s words. Few, unfortunately, have publicly denounced them. One notable exception is the remarkable Rav Dovid Leibel, who was recently denounced in the chareidi world for saying that it’s legitimate to work for a living and to give your children secular education. He issued the following condemnation:
Note that Rav Leibel also has two grandchildren in the IDF, and he was spotted joining the families of the hostages in their march to Jerusalem:
Both Rav Schreiber and Rav Leibel represent sectors in the charedi community. It’s difficult to gauge the size of each one. But Rav Schreiber definitely represents the perspective of tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people. You won’t see Mishpacha magazine talk about this, because they try to pretend that it doesn’t exist. But it is wrong and dangerous to blind ourselves and others to this.
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