A Post Hareidi Election: Can We Achieve Freedom?
Rabbi Yehuda Oppenhiemer
Well, it has finally happened.
It looks like the dust has settled, and the new government in Israel is about to form. Contrary to all the trumpeting self-congratulatory talk following the last election – when the Hareidi parties boasted that they had gained more power than ever with 18 seats between UTJ & Shas, based on which they were in a great position to influence the Israeli politic to their desires – they have been left out of the coalition to lick their wounds and fear what is in store the Hareidi sector. And it was so pathetically predictable.
We have been, and will be treated to more and more talk about how everyone else is to blame for this turn of events: Shas head Aryeh Deri placed the blame on Binyamin Netanyahu, Netanyahu placed the blame on Naftali Bennet, and so on and so forth.
But the greatest amount of blaming came from Hareidi spokesmen against Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid. The invective and vitriol was intense. Bennett’s Bayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party is “a party of Gentiles” , and anyone who votes for them “denies the Torah”, according to a major Hareidi Rabbinic figure. Yair Lapid and his party Yesh Atid are “haters of Torah”. Submitting to the plans for drafting many of those now learning full time must be resisted “at pain of death” (Yehoreg v'al Ya'avor), according to a leading Hareidi Rav. The “Sitra Achra” (Mystical Dark Side) has overtaken Bennet according to another Hareidi leader. Calls for a boycott of anything produced in the yishuvim of Yehuda and Shomron are being made to exact revenge against Bayit Hayehudi. In short, it is a conspiracy against the Torah, whereby the various parties are trying to destroy the Hareidim, and it is nothing less than an existential crisis for the future of Hareidi Jewry. There is endless self-righteous self-pity being expressed, as they play the part of the victim of anti-semitic hatred of Torah and religious Jews.
I don't know about you, but I find this all very uncomfortable at best; while maddening and disappointing are better words to describe my feelings. After all, many people might classify me as Hareidi. I wear a black hat, identified as a member of Agudas Yisroel, went to “Black Hat” yeshivos, looked to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah as the voice of Torah Authority, do not say Hallel with a bracha on Yom HaAtzmaut, have several brothers in law and a son who learn or learned in Kollel, and so on and so forth. Most of my family in Israel now consider themselves Hareidim.
At the same time, I am proud of the State of Israel, and consider it among the greatest blessings that Hashem has given our people in the last 100 years. I stand in awe of the accomplishments this little country has achieved against incredible odds, feel deeply appreciative to the soldiers of the IDF for their heroic protection of my people, and would consider it an honor to be a citizen of the State of Israel. Furthermore, it seems self-evident that the predicament which most young Hareidim in Israel face, whereby they must learn after marriage for many years whether or not they show particular promise as future scholars or Rabbonim, living in poverty while being supported by a combination of overburdened wives, overextended in-laws and government welfare, is insane, unsustainable, and in fact cruel to those forced into the system. I am proud of those who are serious about Torah learning and Mitzva observance while working in a profession or business to support their families. I feel totally distanced from most of the pronouncements of Hareidi spokesmen, both Rabbinic and political.
Furthermore, I daresay that there are, at least, tens of thousands of people who feel similar to me hashkafically, both in Israel and the Diaspora, certainly here in Queens, whether or not we say it out loud. So I ask you: are we Hareidim? Do the parties presenting themselves as Hareidi represent our points of view and those of the Rabbonim that we have always looked to for guidance?
But there is more that troubles us. Not only do we find the statements and positions of the Hareidi parties distasteful, but we are aware that these positions have created enormous animosity against Hareidim, where recent polls indicate “ that 76% percent of the Israeli public support a coalition made up of the Likud, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi” without Hareidim, and only “four percent of Israelis want a new government that would include the Likud together with the Hareidi parties”. This points to an abysmal failure on the part of the Hareidi public to persuade fellow Israelis of the beauty and integrity of their way of life – the exact opposite is true. It is a Hillul Hashem of epic proportions.
And it is not anyone's fault but their own. I do not have the space here to go into this at length, but it is clear to me that this happened NOT because the secular parties hate religion, or are trying to destroy Torah and the Yeshivos, but rather due to the fact that they are sick and tired of being what Israelis call “friers”. (A frier in Israel is what in America would be called a “sucker”, a naive dupe who is taken advantage of by others.) They feel that they are being taken advantage of by the Hareidim – that they have done so much to provide for the Hareidim financially, militarily, building the infrastructure that they use, etc. and receive no gratitude in return, but instead constant ridicule – they are sick and tired and want to stop being frier-im. They simply want the Hareidi public to contribute their fair share of the national burden and to stop looking out only for themselves and their interests, while pretending to believe that it is mandated by Halacha and necessary for the State for every single able bodied young man to be learning full time for many years.
But here is the rub – all of this angst that I bear is so unnecessary! Why should I, and others, feel that we need to carry the label Hareidi? Is that the only label that a non-Mizrachi oriented Orthodox Jew can bear? Is my only choice to self identify as a Hareidi or Mizrachi/Modern Orthodox? (Not that there is anything wrong with Modern Orthodox, but that is not where I and many others feel at home). Did there not used to be a large middle ground that proudly held the positions I described above, and clearly was not part of the anti-Zionist, anti-any-accommodation-with-the-secular-world of Satmar, Neturei Karta, Eida Chareidis? Where is our voice? Where is the voice of those who could come to a reasonable middle position, whereby a small percentage of promising scholars would learn full time, and others would take responsibility for their families relatively soon after marriage, as has ALWAYS been the Mesorah of Klal Yisrael until recent times?
Why do I, and so many others, have to continue to tolerate being associated with these views that make us so uncomfortable and exasperated?
The truth is that much of the problem has come about because of the most unfortunate adoption of the title “Hareidi” by groups that were always much more moderate in their views than those that originally were known by that name, i.e. the Satmar/Eidah Chareidis/extreme anti-Zionists. The world that I grew up in, that of Torah Vodaas, Lakewood, Mir, Breuers, was not called Hareidi, and held views that were clearly different. I cannot imagine the Gedolim that I grew up revering, such as Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and others possibly supporting the positions and statements cited above. They were not Zionist, but not anti-Zionist; supported Kollel learning but also strongly felt that husbands should support their families; did not say Hallel on Yom Ha'Atzmaut but were appreciative and supportive of Jews of all types in the State of Israel; believed in the importance of proper tznius standards, but were very careful to always honor and appreciate women and make sure they were treated with respect, dignity and caring . . . all this and more described a group that somehow has been swallowed into the large group known as “Hareidi” with all the negative baggage that goes along with it, much , in my opinion, to its detriment.
I have written about this in the past, and would ask anyone interested to please see that essay. But it is a lonely position. As a sense of how maddening it is, I could not get any of the various publications in the Hareidi world to publish that essay. Too controversial. Too out of touch with the way things are. But I know, deep down, that many agree with me, and wish that there was another way – a way in which the great majority of right leaning Orthodox Jews would feel that they are represented by reasonable and non-extreme views and personalities that bring honor and dignity to Torah and Torah Jews and their way of life.
We stand now after the great Yomtov of Pesach, in which we celebrate our freedom and independence from tyranny, and the liberty to serve Hashem without restraint. May we merit to be free of those who force us into extremism, so that we might serve Hashem with delight and joy, and be the positive example that we ought to be to our all our brothers and sisters here and in Medinat Yisrael. May leaders arise that have the courage to stand apart and proudly encourage thousands of serious Jews to live by the credo “Her Ways are ways of Pleasantness, and all of her Pathways are Those of Peace.” May we be able to stand with our heads held high, as we focus on Kiddush Hashem, and cringe no longer at being associated with the Hillul Hashem that is all too often being made by the group we are purported to belong to. May the coming changes in Israeli life proceed in a way that will help the many moderate people now trapped in the “Hareidi world” find their voice and help all to build a better and more respectful Israeli society for all of our fellow Jewish Brethren.