January 10: Haredi privileges

Bennett must answer: Since when is there a requirement to devote the entire day to Torah study to the exclusion of other pursuits?

Sir, – With regard to “Allow Torah scholars to continue their studies, says Bayit Yehudi leader” (January 8), reporter Jeremy Sharon quotes Naftali Bennett as saying, “Whoever is learning Torah should continue to learn Torah.... Although it’s not always easy to explain this to our secular brothers, my way is to explain that the Jewish people have existed for thousands of years in exile because of the Torah, and in the State of Israel we need to strengthen this.”
In my opinion it is going to be even harder to explain this to our national-religious brothers, who have an inkling of what it means to both study and observe the Torah. Some of the questions Bennett will have to answer are: • Since when is there a requirement to devote the entire day to Torah study to the exclusion of other pursuits? • Since when is there not a requirement to defend one’s self and brothers in case of imminent danger (Numbers 32:6)? • Since when is one permitted to violate Torah laws in order to enhance a mitzva of one’s choice?
Later in the article, Bennett, in a nod to the moderate Orthodox group Tzohar, is said to have related to “the negative experience secular couples have when approaching their local rabbinate to get married,” and criticized the rabbinate as a “machine for doling out jobs.”
Tzohar is composed mostly of rabbis who have served in the army, whose understanding of the Torah’s approach is inferior (according to Bennett) to that of those who espouse full-time Torah study. Surprise! It was the latter who created and support and propagate the very system Bennett condemns.
I would like to seriously urge Bennett to reconsider his opinion on this matter.
Sir, – The debate concerning the draft of haredim must be brought into the realm of reality.
Most haredim are unfit to serve in the IDF or enter the workforce. It is unlikely that the army is really interested in functionally illiterate, physically unfit and negatively disposed recruits.
What really troubles normal people is not the dearth of haredim in uniform. Rather, it is the fact that taxpayers are being forced to underwrite the haredi lifestyle through direct handouts, child benefits, free healthcare, exemptions from municipal taxes and more.
IDF veterans are entitled to none of these benefits. Haredim reap this windfall not because they actually sit and learn (most do not), but because their political parties are courted for coalition purposes. In other words, it is all a payoff, blackmail pure and simple.
If parties like the Likud would bar Shas and Degel Hatorah from their coalitions, this extortion would stop. Once the blackmail spigot is turned off, haredim will find their way to becoming literate, productive and participating citizens.
J.J. GROSS Jerusalem
Getting personal
Sir, – Gershon Baskin calls his weekly column “Encountering Peace.” But his most recent column (“Travels in Morocco,” January 6) was focused on him.
The words I, me and my appear 39 times in the brief piece. A more accurate name for his column would be “Encountering Gershon Baskin.”
SHEM MENKES Beit Shemesh
Shmuley’s ‘hasbara’...
Sir, – The headline “Why Jews are so bad at PR, and how Israel can win” (No Holds Barred, January 8) is indeed fetching. However, in my opinion Shmuley Boteach’s conclusion is unconvincing.
I hesitate to be so critical of him. I’m a frequent reader of his column. I continue to be educated by his wisdom and appreciate his unceasing defense of Israel and the Jewish people.
And it’s not that he is wrong in praising Ron Dermer and Michael Oren for their outstanding abilities, nor in his valid recommendation to establish “an institute that selects great talent from a pool of students nationwide and trains them, over the course of a year and as part of a special scholarship, in the art of media and PR mastery.”
All well and good. But Boteach’s war-winning conclusion will not be found therein.
Permit me to recommend a business-like solution that is more likely to succeed.
First, it is necessary to accept that the job of countering and overcoming anti-Israel barbs and media reports is more likely to succeed by appointing a private company to handle the PR campaign. Private PR companies worldwide should be invited to tender their services.
Before any plan is developed and launched the government must conduct an investigation into the current situation by the best polling procedures.
The government needs to undertake an annual survey. If the poll shows satisfactory progress it should continue to use the company for a further year. If not, it should give the job to the next company in line. This is one of the advantages of using a private PR contractor.
...and interpretations
Sir, – The socially engaged Shmuley Boteach recently tried his hand at the Bible... and failed (“The dangers of favoring a child,” No Holds Barred, January 2).
He applauds that Hebrew scripture’s heroes and saints are flesh and blood, real people we can identify with, and then says that this is “unlike Jesus.” He forgets that the Christian Bible quotes its shepherd as saying just before his death, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” That’s as flesh and blood as you can have.
Boteach is also mistaken about Jacob being hurt by the favoritism toward him. The Hebrew text reveals that Isaac’s love for Esau was a persistent but shallow attempt, compared to the affection Rebecca showed for Jacob. Further, Isaac blessed Jacob twice, Esau only once.
When we Jews apparently needed to learn to forgo jealousy, Jacob boldly set out to train us in pure brotherly love.
Joseph was the best, and the others had to concede. When in Egypt, Joseph favored Benjamin and found that the other brothers now had mastered this. After that Jacob also proved that his older sons and Joseph’s oldest son had learned this lesson.
In these verses, preference for one child (or people) over the others is always about abilities and responsibilities, and never senselessly abusive or randomly unfair.
The bold Israeli
Sir, – While I appreciate Justine Borer’s admiration for Israelis (“Living with Israel,” Comment & Features, January 8), I must take issue with her misuse of Hillel the Elder’s words to support her arguments.
Yes, his famous quote does say, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? And if not now when?” But I would hope that Borer’s omission of the critical central tenet “And if I am only for myself, what am I?” was inadvertent.
This, more than the other ingredients, helps explain a lower level of shyness among Israelis and the fact that as a society there is a great sense of togetherness, community and responsibility for one another, something I believe must work to bring out the social side of more naturally shy individuals.
Middle Eastern culture in general encourages community and an outgoing, confident approach vis-à-vis the world.
While Borer seems to view us as a country of Ashkenazi immigrants, over half of Israel has North African and Middle Eastern roots. This might further explain “the bold Israeli.”
CORRECTIONS:• The Kinneret, as of midweek, was 210 centimeters below its maximum level, and not as stated in “Preparing for rain” (Editorial, January 9).• The lead letter under the heading “Fresh air...” (January 9) was from reader Abe Harpaz, and not as stated.