I am not an alarmist. Anyone who has read my column over the years knows that, at least when it comes to the State of Israel, I am supremely optimistic about our future. We have a marvelous, miraculous country that grows larger and more successful each and every year, eagerly gathering the Jews of the world back to their natural habitat.
Even in times of war, God forbid, we band together and bravely meet whatever challenge is hurled at us. But the menace that now faces us may be the greatest threat we have ever encountered.
We are on the verge of a civil war in this country, between a large and growing segment of the haredi population and just about everyone else, from the outright secular to the moderate Orthodox. Anyone who had the misfortune of going to Jerusalem last week during their massive anti-draft demonstration – one of several held throughout the country – saw first-hand the venom and the vitriol directed against the government and, by extension, the nation.
Not only was traffic illegally disrupted, inconveniencing thousands of travelers for hours, there was a palpable air of hatred permeating the event. Signs held up with slogans like, “Zionism equals Amalek” and “We will die rather than serve” indicate just what this war is all about. It is a direct challenge to the authority of the state and to the rule of law and order, a demand for a “state within a state” that would set its own rules and essentially answer to no one.
Ostensibly, the protest was over the arrest of two yeshiva students who – despite their having been generously granted release waivers from serving in the IDF – refused to appear at the induction center to sign those releases. But in reality, this was a declaration of defiance that they will not abide by many of the same laws which bind everyone else – serving in the army, studying the basics in school, joining the work force, etc. – and they will not recognize the government’s authority.
In the supposed name of Torah, they are fomenting a revolution. This is against an Israel that has advanced the cause of Torah learning, politically and financially, more than any other country in history.
This is not to say that every ultra-Orthodox Jew, appearances aside, is cut from the same cloth. The haredim I know – both rabbis and the rank and file – are for the most part gentle, polite, law-abiding, peaceful people with high moral standards and respect for others. I have no doubt they share many of my same sentiments and are embarrassed by their aggressive colleagues.
But a violent, vocal minority has the unfortunate ability to taint a whole community, unless and until that same community – particularly its leaders – come out strongly against them.
Sadly, we are not hearing words of condemnation from the rabbinic leaders of the haredi world. I haven’t seen any public proclamations by those who head yeshivot or sit in the Knesset condemning unequivocally, and banning from every yeshiva, any person who attacks an IDF soldier in uniform, as has happened numerous times in Mea She’arim and Bnei Brak.
I haven’t seen the call to the haredi public to disassociate from any protester who calls policemen Nazis, or young women whores or shikses. Lots of shoulders have shrugged and lots of lips have remained closed, as the threat intensifies daily.
One the greatest casualties of this crisis is that the Torah and the name of God become irreparably sullied. Why would hard-working, secular parents of soldiers want to come closer to a religion that seemingly divides people into the elite and privileged few, and the “worker bees” who hold the country together?
Are these the “ways of pleasantness” which the Torah espouses, the derech eretz (good-mannered behavior) which precedes mitzva observance? Or is it an obscene act of Hilul Hashem (the desecration of God’s name), which is one of Judaism’s four cardinal sins?
Israeli prime ministers have always had a soft spot in their political hearts for the haredim. Why not? They make ideal coalition partners. Basically “one-issue” parties, they are willing to go placidly along for the ride on economic, defense and foreign policy matters, as long as they receive funding for their institutions and are “left alone” to pursue their lifestyle.
And so they sit in virtually every Knesset, literally minding their own “business” and separating from the general public. But, like an untreated sore, eventually the wound bursts forth and threatens the entire body. Unless this problem is addressed, and discipline returns to the dispute, the schism will only become worse and engulf the entire country.
Of all the many wars fought in American history, the worst by far was the Civil War, in which almost twice as many Americans perished than in World War II. We Israelis have no shortage of enemies surrounding us; to see brother fighting brother is a sight I fear more than Iran, North Korea and the Palestinian terrorists combined. As Abraham Lincoln famously warned, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The Talmudic statement that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam (baseless hatred of others) adds that this occurred in a generation that was “engaged in Torah, mitzvot and acts of kindness.”
How is it possible, you may ask, for those who excel in spiritual matters to exhibit hatred so pervasive that it sent us into exile for 2,000 years?! A complex question, indeed, but the answer is as obvious as the difference between black and white.
(Ed. Note: Since this article was written, haredi leader Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky has publicly condemned the actions of the “Jerusalem Faction.”)The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; firstname.lastname@example.org
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