More on the Charedi Draft

I had this as a comment to Rabbi Landesman’s post, but Rabbi Adlerstein encouraged me to elevate it to a post unto itself. He did say that Rabbi Landesman may go “a second round” as well — so let me say now that much as I might wish to continue, it is already known in the Menken house that my study, which is the one room that is my sole responsibility to clean, is also the last to be ready for bedikas chametz. Should Rabbi Landesman wish to have it, I’ll have to surrender the last word.

Nonetheless, what Rabbi Landesman appears to have overlooked is that the problem of the day is neither motzi dibat ha’Aretz nor motzi dibat ha-medinah, but rather, motzi dibat ha-haredim l’dvar HaShem, the bad-mouthing of the Charedim who, on advice of their Gedolim, continue not to go into the Army. Rabbi Landesman seems to level no criticism against those who reside outside our world yet critique it (often in the most bizarre fashion) at every occasion, including the present one — on the contrary, he only seems to find fault with those of us in Chutz L’Aretz who presume to defend the position of the Gedolim (and the members of the Moetzos in question, at last count, do all reside in Eretz Yisrael).

Based on interaction between Rabbi Landesman and myself, I believe it reasonable to conclude that, in both appearance and in fact, I was one of those criticized for playing armchair quarterback — residing in Chutz L’Aretz (a decision made due to the needs of my Kiruv work) yet commenting upon situations in Israel based upon “hearsay evidence, isolated incidents or the agenda driven reporting of the chareidi and non-chareidi press.”

I’m sure Rabbi Landesman recalls that he and I disagreed on the situation in Emanuel — up until the government sent a Yemenite Rabbi to jail for racism and the farce of the entire enterprise was revealed. By that time, the sources for my research and the first-person accounts were well known. In this case, let me just say that Rabbi Landesman does not know my sources, what I know, or how I know it — but none of “hearsay,” “isolated incidents” or “agenda-driven reporting” apply.

Rabbi Landesman writes that he is “deeply troubled by the total self-denial characteristic of many elements in the yeshiva world that we – the chareidi world of which I consider myself a member in good standing – may well be at least partially at fault for the success of Yair Lapid and his cohorts.” I’m going to return to something I wrote in reply to Rabbi Landesman almost precisely four years ago:

One thing I can tell you with certainty: we are not viewed with antipathy because of our failures; we are viewed with antipathy because of our successes. How do I know? Simple: 25 years ago, today’s problems were barely on the radar, yet the antipathy was much the same. If anything has changed, it is that the Chinuch Atzmai schools are blossoming, attracting ever more non-religious Israeli families to “abandon” the secular system. It is that the Rabbi of the Western Wall is now able to preserve Jewish practice at our holiest site. It is that the number of those serving the Jewish people in the halls of a yeshiva rather than on a military base increases every year, rather than dying on the vine as the Zionists expected (Despite the Charedi Nachal units, with their apparently very positive history of discipline and performance).

The supporters of Lapid are not a new breed. His father, Shulamit Aloni, and others were decrying charedi parasites a generation ago. And people of good will in both the IDF and the charedi community were trying to find a mutually-acceptable solution — thus the start of Nahal Charedi, despite all its problems and rough patches.

We seem to agree that Nachal was designed with “young men who did not find their place in the olam hayeshivot” in mind. A close relative (whose son contemplated joining Nachal) put it that the program attracts the same sort of yeshiva dropouts being supported by yeshiva-work and other study programs in America which help yeshiva boys to not drop out completely. This matches closely an article in Times of Israel which appeared after several MKs invited a cluster of reporters to observe the “largest-yet draft of ultra-Orthodox soldiers.” The reporter dryly observed that “those glimpsed entering the base… did not appear to have left a very observant yeshiva in the recent past” [the accompanying photo explains nicely], and quoted another as having told the MKs that “The army is running a program that brings (wayward ultra-Orthodox) back into a fold, and that’s very nice, but there were no ultra-Orthodox drafted today.”

I know where I’ve done my research, and where I haven’t. But it is my understanding that the past draft to which Rabbi Landesman refers, “wherein Netzach was forced to create a second battalion,” preceded the current draft law, which only passed a month ago. But even so, we seem to be in agreement that due to rough language and other influences, even the Nachal Charedi program is not a great environment for “good” yeshiva boys.

Has there been another Kol Isha incident, of the kind that caused the Chief Rabbi of the IAF, Lt. Moshe Ravad, to resign from the Shachar IAF program due to its broken promises? Perhaps not. But Tzippy Diskind Yarom has documented thirteen recent incidents which, in her words, indicate that “the Army is not prepared for Charedim, does not want Charedim, and does not want them [to be] Charedim.” The list has been translated by Israel Matzav, and I suggest a careful perusal by anyone who believes I was relying upon hearsay or isolated incidents. Soldiers of Nachal Charedi were taken to observe a baptism and an all-day “educational seminar” in a church, placed in courses with women, and required to choose between making a kitchen kosher on their own time or eating treif. And in a throw-back to the good old days, several had their payos shaven off. Would Rabbi Landesman honestly have us believe that these are merely “problems” opposite “a great deal of good will and desire to remove all of the obstacles?”

All of the above explains the position of the Gedolim that, as HaRav Aharon Feldman shlit”a stated, IDF service is at present a situation of spiritual pikuach nefesh. I suppose his words, as well, could be set aside as those of a “chutz-nik,” as he is now the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel and member of the American Moetzes following some 5 decades in Israel — but I don’t think his words should be so cavalierly dismissed.

There were, and remain, many opportunities for measured and intelligent change — all of which cannot happen while under fire. There was agreement from the Gedolim that they could understand the State reducing financial support of yeshivos, but not criminalization of students. Shaked herself did not want the criminalization clause, outside experts on our community warned it would be counter-productive, and Lapid quite deliberately declared war against the idea of students sitting in yeshiva. Let’s agree that is what he did. Before you have a treaty, you have to have a cease-fire, and right now Lapid is up on the ramparts with guns blazing.

I’d like to polish this further, but Shabbos is also too close at hand!

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