Beyond the Cusp

July 25, 2018

Modernizing the Israeli Haredi Community

 

The modernization of the Israeli Haredi community is not simply an objective but an absolute necessity. The problem comes down to simple mathematics. As the Haredi community has grown, they have become a larger and larger percentage of the Israeli population. If there is one thing we have learned, it is that there is a critical point beyond which the rest of the population becomes unable to produce sufficient wealth that they can take care of another portion of the community. Those numbers differ depending on numerous variables, but once the dependent populations clears 40%, let alone reach 50%, they become an overt and unbearable burden on the remainder of the population and other government services such as defense begin to suffer catastrophically. For this reason, the Haredi community needs to be pulled, voluntarily or kicking and screaming, into the mainstream working population. For a model of such one need look no further than the United States where the Haredi communities not only work, pulling their own weight, as well as studying Torah and are amongst some of the wealthiest and most productive Jewish communities. The same model can be duplicated in Israel and still permit for the top and most promising Torah scholars to study Torah as their work financed by the charity of others or the government, something which can be hammered out once the Haredi show their promise to have the majority join the normative society.

 

The initial step in this direction comes by including the Haredi in military service. This would begin by passing a draft law which would make Haredi men eligible to be drafted with a small but relatively sizable percentage allowed being exempted as Torah scholars. This percentage should not exceed 10% though initially it could be set as high as 25% and brought down from there. For those Haredi not exempted but adamantly opposed to service in the IDF, they can be given the standard option of National Service. This will require the IDF remain hospitable to religious soldiers and reverse the somewhat recent trend to impose secular standards upon religious soldiers. This has apparently come about as the high command appeared to be attempting to break the will of the more religious soldiers, something which should never happen within the Jewish Army. There could be combined religious-Haredi brigades or even a complete division. The catch is currently the religious Zionists when enlisting often request longer service periods in order to serve in the most prestigious special brigades such as the Nahal Brigade, the Paratroopers Brigade and the Sayeret Matkal as well as the other Special Forces units. It is unlikely that the entirety of the Haredi would desire to enter such units and their percentages in each area of service are more likely to mirror the rest of Israeli draftees.

 

Five beautiful, glorious and holy Torah Scrolls which carry near infinite wisdom and are the foundation of all Judaism and their culture and civilization is built around the Torah and the teaching of Torah

Five beautiful, glorious and holy Torah Scrolls which carry near infinite wisdom and are the foundation of all Judaism and their culture and the Jewish civilization is built around the Torah and the teaching of Torah

 

The difficulty in bringing this concept to fruition has been the simple political fact; the Haredi Parties within the coalition have the numbers to bring elections and thus can resist any draft law which requires Haredi service. This is one of the difficulties with parliamentary coalition governments; they are only as strong as their most disruptive link. The coalition system has presumed advantages though when scrutinized, the disadvantages appear to crop up far more prominently than any advantages. The Haredi parties demand as their entry into any coalition that their population remain deferred from service in the IDF or National Service because they must be free to study Torah twenty-four-seven otherwise peace will never come to the world. We really hate to break this to them, peace does not appear any closer with them pursuing only Torah study, perhaps some of them might be going about their studies with less than the required serious concentration necessary to bring world peace. This has been the problem as some of the Ministers of the Knesset have pointed out, they can drive through the Haredi neighborhoods, largely in Tel Aviv, and they see tens to hundreds of young Haredi men standing around on street corners smoking cigarettes and not apparently pouring over Torah manuscripts and the related commentaries deep in study and thought. The claim is these numbers are too large and persistent and are found almost any hour of the day to be laid on the excuse that these young men were taking a break. This may weaken the Haredi parties’ arguments, but it does not dilute their ability to force elections.

 

There is another means of slowly forcing the incorporation of the Israeli Haredi to join into the workforce, which is the actual reason for including them into the IDF and having required STEM and other basic courses be taught at the Yeshivas. As stated above, such is the norm for the Haredi in the United States and they support their own Torah greats in their studies from within their community and do not demand that the United States government support their Torah studies as the Haredi have done historically here in Israel. The other persuasive means is to not increase, or actually decrease, the amount of government support provided to the Haredi communities thus eventually forcing them to realize that their game is up. Again, this will run afoul of the Haredi parties who can threaten to force new elections. Eventually there will be a government coalition not requiring the Haredi parties to reach the required sixty-one Ministers, a majority of the one-hundred-twenty in the Knesset. For the Haredi’s sake, they had better pray during their Torah studies that such a coalition not be made up of the secular-left as they will have no pity and feel absolutely no guilt in cutting the Haredi communities off their support leaving them to beg and scratch to survive. At least if such a coalition is from the right-Zionist-religious-nationalist parties, then the Haredi will be cared for more gently but the writing is on the wall and they are going to by necessity be joining the normative society. Of this need there can be no rational argument as their numbers and percentage of the Israeli population continue to increase.

 

The truth is there are some very successful Haredi run companies within Israel. What makes these companies all the more outstanding is that they have nary a man in the building. These are companies started by and populated with Haredi women. To read about a select group of these companies we would like to provide links to the following this article, this article, this article, this article, this article, this article and this article. These are proof that the Haredi believe in working and if the men desired, they could very probably follow their women’s example while adding a difference where each department within the company was given special time in which to devote themselves solely to Torah. This would serve two purposes. The first is that it would permit every Haredi with time to study Torah and second, we would not be deprived of a miraculous contribution to the commentaries on Torah coming from the most unlikely of former students. People always bring up the fact that Albert Einstein did not do well in his early studies, especially where speed was required in answering any question. Thus, the claims that even the most brilliant diamond is but a lump of rock when pulled from the earth is an analogous comparison. The countering argument is equally valid in that not every Haredi is a real and treasured brilliant Torah scholar and thus every Haredi is not necessary for the advancement of Torah and the Law going forward, a percentage including the most promising students should be permitted deferment from IDF and even joining the workforce and possibly receiving a stipend from the government. But the teachers at their Yeshivas and their participants in immersive Torah studies should ideally be supported by the Haredi community just as they are in other countries. Most of the synagogues and especially those attending regular services provide sufficient charity to the Haredi to pay for much of this work being performed in a most serious manner. Finally, working and supporting oneself was ideally meant to provide additional insight into the human condition and thus deepen one’s ability to understand Torah and the Commandments and allow for a deeper interpretation of Torah relevant to the lives of the people.

 

This is all well and good but it does not get us past the Haredi parties blocking, or attempting to block changes in the current system by threatening to force new elections. The Haredi parties do not fear elections because their voting block supports their candidates because their rabbis tell them to do so and thus their representation remains rather constant between nine and thirteen seats. This often makes them the kingmakers as their numbers can make for a stable coalition capable of having four or even seven Ministers not vote with the coalition and still have their legislation be passed and prevent new election crisis. Often they are required to form a coalition and in these instances their power is greatly increased, making changing the rules very difficult. This requires that the Haredi be persuaded to accept these changes which lead to painfully slow progress in these areas. One can only hope that the Haredi leadership, preferably their leading most rabbis, will simply state what is true; Torah scholars are meant to also work as a means of remaining humble and appreciative of how those who depend on them to interpret Torah such that it is made meaningful for them are served. Even the prophets of old were required to work for a living with only the most brilliant and righteous having as their position to advise the Kings. Otherwise, the prophets in antiquity would have starved to death and along the way become too weak to think straight. We understand that some of them did not particularly think straight all the time even with food and good employment. The fact they were required to perform something of monetary worth in addition to their relating the desires of Hashem is the important point. Surely, the Haredi do not place their Torah study above the revelations which came from the prophets, or do they?

 

When the day arrives that the Haredi see the light of day or are not required and a coalition is formed without their participation, then the Haredi will know what it feels like to be depending upon the kindness of others exclusively. On this day, the future of the Haredi community will be decided free of their input and this fact alone should place the fear of Hashem into the leaders of these Haredi parties. They would be far better served to be participants in a logical, acceptable and understandable transition towards reaching a final goal and in defining that final goal. Should the Haredi continue to endlessly demand that the system not be altered, they run the risk of when the system is altered that they will receive absolutely no special privilege from the government. Would it not serve them far better to receive support for 10% or at most 20% of their adult population being permitted to spend their time as Torah scholars producing the standards of Torah for the whole of the community? This is the overbearing question which they should be thinking and not plotting to force no change taking place because doing so will soon lead to their being resented by the population at large, and that would spell danger for the Haredi as a whole. There is a final bit which requires addressing, and it involves the fanatics within the Haredi community. They must be brought within control of the greater Haredi community. Their attacking other Haredi because they serve in the IDF is behavior which should be treated as being beyond the pale and unacceptable. The same goes for their riotous reaction when people not meeting their ideal dress code for modesty are seen within their neighborhoods. The Haredi need understand that other people with different standards exist and have equal rights to be respected and not become the victims of a self-professed modesty police. Such actions are part of societies which are ruled by a theocratic dictatorship. This is nowhere near the ideals of the State of Israel where we cherish equality and that there are differences between people. The principle problems concerning the Haredi community and its incorporation into mainstream Israeli society will come at some point in the not too distant future. The final reality strike will come when there will be no means of supporting the Haredi within Israel and also budgeting for the IDF and other necessary government services such as road repair, utilities and all the other necessities which people rely on the government to provide. This brings up the concept that perhaps everyone need be reminded that the government should be limited and not providing services to the people which the people can provide for themselves, and that goes for all people.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

June 26, 2018

There are Correct and Incorrect Means to Haredi Enlistment

 

The IDF is in a bit of a jam and the political arena is not being helpful. The bit of a jam is over the IDF refusal to promote Brigadier General Ofer Vinter, a Kippah wearing, religious Zionist officer. Those in the religious Zionist community are left wondering if perhaps his religious observance and Zionist philosophy were behind this refusal. On the other side of the equation is that Brigadier General Ofer Vinter was not exactly a normal officer in some critical ways. He was not much of a supporter of the containment mentality of the official brass in the General Staff and was more of the kind of personality that when given an objective would clear a path by cutting a wide swath to his goal. Where this philosophy is to be lauded on the battlefield and much endeared him to his troops, it does not fit well with cool-headed planning of distant goals. There was also the pressure from the left in Israel who became enraged when it was revealed that when commanding the Givati Brigade during 2014 Protective Edge engagement against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Vinter wrote in his battle orders that his unit “was fighting an enemy which defiles our God,” words used by David against Goliath, and ended with the Jewish Shema prayer. None of his officers or enlisted troops was upset by this including the secular soldiers and all stated that this gave them greater strength of purpose and was quite uplifting. I was an infantryman and being given spiriting and uplifting words before an engagement is exactly what one desires from their commanding officers, but that was lost on those desiring making political hay. Still, Brigadier General Ofer Vinter was also seen as not having the best managerial style and was said to even have shortcomings and though he was a creative warrior, he left behind a disorganized staff headquarters. This was likely what weighed heavily in this decision but that is likely to be ignored by those who supported his promotion from the religious Zionist community. After all, it is not like there have not been Kippah-wearing officers in command positions before as the picture below from the taking of the Western Wall during the Six Day War depicts.

 

IDF Rabbi with Celebratory Cigar and Torah Scroll Entering Old City

IDF Rabbi with Celebratory Cigar and Torah Scroll Entering Old City

 

What does this have to do with Haredi enlistment will soon become evident. The Knesset is once again wrestling with writing a new draft law as the Supreme Court has set aside the last law claiming it was discriminatory. The Supreme Court has apparently been attempting to force the Knesset to draft Haredi youth in the same exact manner as they do everybody else. That is all well and good except that has not been the law in the past and Haredi has, for the longest time, been completely deferred from being drafted. We applaud the efforts to move the Haredi community to become more engaged with normative lives within the Israeli community if for no other reason than because they are an increasing percentage of the population and it has become necessary for them to lead more normative lives as it will soon be impossible to provide for them entirely as they rise in proportion to the rest of the society. The thought is if they are drafted, they will become more exposed to the remainder of Israeli society and more of them will find work and lead what is a normal life rather than spend all of their time studying Torah. Leaders in the Haredi community have largely opposed any attempt to take away what they believe is their special character as the new priesthood representative of the Kohanim in ancient Israel. They ignore that they already present a higher percentage of the total population than the Kohanim ever were in ancient Israel and as such are becoming too large a strain on the economy. The problem is changing the rules from the former extreme to the other extreme is not exactly the most efficient or productive means of making this change and there are other factors as well.

 

One would think that the IDF would be working to make selected units more accommodating for Haredi to serve while not forcing a lifestyle situation which is unacceptable to their teachings and way of life. Unfortunately, the IDF has been doing exactly the opposite. They have made some combat units which had been exclusively male into coed units, which is something which the Haredi will fight against being forced into serving. There have been a number of public events where women were presented and would sing, something that the very religious men are forbidden from attending, where the religious men were told they could not briefly leave the presentation until the women’s singing presentation was completed. These cases were brought to the attention of the General Staff who decided that these commanders were within their right to force these men to remain for the women’s presentation as to allow them to leave would be upsetting to the women. You can see where this is headed. There has been a growing suspicion that the General Staff are against making any allowances for the very religious at the same time as the political front is trying to force some of the most stringently religious into serving in the IDF. If you want to bring the Haredi into the IDF, might not it make sense to create an atmosphere where they would not be offended right out of the gate?

 

Where they could make a soufflé, the General Staff is making scrambled eggs and claiming it does not make a difference, they are still eggs. That will not go well and if the IDF cannot make room for the Haredi to remain within their comfort level, then their rabbis will advise refusal to serve, which some already have done. Should the Haredi refuse draft notice en-masse, the political class had better also make a budget for a very large prison in which to hold these draft resisters. Writing a draft bill which demands that all Haredi of draft age be enlisted into service will serve neither the IDF nor the Haredi community. There must be a deferment allowance for a number of Torah scholars whose study of Torah would provide benefit beyond esoteric benefits as described in prayers that they bring peace to the world. Even the idea that their study of Torah will bring peace to the world, thus far it does not appear to be working which means either they are not doing it correctly or something else is definitely wrong. One complaint we have heard is that should one drive through the Haredi community during the day, they would see numerous young Haredi males simply out and about and in coffee bistros and engaged in many activities which do not appear to be Torah study. We have not tested this theory, but have seen pictures which give it credibility. Perhaps there can be found a middle ground where those Haredi who graduate from their Yeshiva with exemplary grades and have shown a propensity for original thought and interpretation of Torah to be granted deferments. The percentage and grade expectation for this along with a requirement for letters recommending their deferment from at least three of their teachers could be arranged with the Haredi Rabbinate. But forcing the entirety of the Haredi to suddenly be drafted is completely untenable.

 

IDF Crest Insignia

 

There is another side to this as well, and it too has to do with the budget. The IDF takes a large slice of the budget which makes complete sense when we look at the rioting currently occurring on the Gaza border and the potential for threats from Syria and Lebanon. It is a well-established fact that Israel need be on a war footing at all times with a ready reserve to provide support and bolster the numbers of in uniform soldiers often at a moment’s notice. But the IDF is currently fully manned according to reports we have read and in some fields has more recruits than are necessary even during times of active conflict. Even the infantry ranks are well manned, especially in the most elite corps. Simply put, currently there is no crying need for additional forces, especially in the numbers drafting all Haredi would provide. Thus this does not need to be done as if there were some emergency requiring such an increase in manpower for the IDF. Would the effect of providing more reserves prove advantageous? Well, of course, but not to the effect that such a move would provide and one must also weigh the cost societally. Angering an entire sector of society which would also produce ripples through other areas is not exactly prudent. Yes, the Haredi need to be brought into the mainstream. This can be performed intelligently starting with having certain changes in their education system introducing additional STEM course requirements to at least introduce them to some of the more useful tools for joining the mainstream preparing them for having a decent chance for finding employment. To bring about radical change, there are two ways of doing so. There is the gentler and less likely to cause adverse opposition way or the way my uncle taught me to swim by throwing me into the deep end of the pool. Do the members of the Knesset really desire to take the sink or swim route or the coax and offer incentives route. The problem is some are using this political football to try and bring down the coalition and force elections. That is another side which has nothing to do with Haredi, Torah study or anything but the religion of the left to destroy anything which they do not control. But that is for another time with an issue which is not so socially charged.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

March 28, 2018

The Threat Israel Cannot Defeat Alone

 

If Israel has a mortal weakness, it is that she cares too much for the protection of innocents even if those innocents are trying to destroy her. That is the most serious threat she currently refuses to face and which will do everything to destroy Israel if only to prove they are correct. The current cases are the numerous NGO’s and the Left wing American Jews who support these insidious organizations working to destroy Israel. The leftists within Israel are also contributing to this situation and the potential of ending the Jewish homelands. Part of the attack comes at the religious in Israel who are also the main answer to allowing Israel to defeat the demographic threats. One of the demands made by many on the left is that Israel must forsake Traditional Orthodox Judaism and instead become a purely secular democracy which favors no religion and allows that all peoples of all religions, and particularly no religion, to live within in harmony. The proof Israel can provide for accepting these demands are to first accept the Two State Solution giving over to the Palestinians all the lands beyond the Green Line and secondly permit those Palestinians in refugee camps permission to return to their homes even if those homes are theoretically within the Green Line and would lead to the Jews being outnumbered by Arab Muslims. When Israelis claim that would be the end of Israel, they are told that this is an unfair accusation as how can Israelis claim that this Arab population cannot also operate within a multicultural democracy if they have not given them any opportunity to do so? They do not accept Gaza as having been a fair example and demand Israel again make the sacrifices and accept their promises that the Arabs will work with the Jews in harmony. When asked what happens if this proves to not be the case, their response is that the Jews can come to the United States or they simply reprimand such as naysayers who have no faith in the powers of Democracy. This is especially true of those on the farthest leftist Jews, even more so those residing in the United States.

 

There are many things which separate the American leftist Jews and their brethren in Israel and much of that have led to numerous misunderstandings. The leftist Jews believe that because Israeli mainstream Judaism is a collection of different Traditional Orthodox forms of Judaism including many Haredi and Hasidic branches, Chabad, numerous Traditional Orthodox congregations and, this may shake any number of American Jews so we advise you be seated, numerous Conservative, Reform and other nonconventional congregations of Jews as well as a fair number of purely secular people of Jewish extraction. The main Rabbinate is selected from the majority and several forms of Orthodox Judaism. There is a reason behind having the Orthodoxy as the prevalent form of Judaism in Israel, and that is because it follows the traditional laws and all the Commandments of Torah, the exact ideas and ideals that even the socialist Zionist founders foresaw as the true future for the State of Israel mixed with Socialism. Israel, politically, still has too much socialism practiced by the government but that is slowly evolving to a more functioning entrepreneurial nation based on the start-up concept allowing for investments to spur the movement of capital and thus leading to a stronger economy and providing higher wages in the future. But the religious base will remain Traditional Orthodox while permitting every other form but retaining the controlling religious administration with the Traditional Orthodox. This is why all marriages and conversions are required to meet the strict Rabbinate restrictions. These religious restrictions are actually sensible in many ways which become more readily obvious once you come and actually live in Israel.

 

First off, a confession, at least one of us is a long time Zionist but spent much of their life completely divorced of any practicing of Judaism. Even when returning to Judaism after a tragedy in the family, still attempted first to join a Reform Synagogue but there were personality differences with the Rabbi so we tried the other Synagogue which was Conservative and that Rabbi was wonderful. What was curious was that the Conservative was very similar services wise to the Reform services remembered from childhood. If questions had been thrown at us back in the United States, we would have been just as confounded by the insistence on only the Orthodoxy having the main levers of power within Israel and been somewhat upset about many of these demands. So, the question is what do we now feel?

 

Star of David Ornate

 

Since moving to our little corner in Israel we have found how much easier it is to be completely Jewish in Israel. Keeping Kosher is as easy as shopping at the food store and only a couple in town needs to be avoided. Many of the restaurants are certified Kosher. Services are easier to attend as there is almost a guarantee that you will discover one within four or five blocks, if not several. With this all taken care of, being Orthodox, Traditional Orthodox, becomes fairly simple requiring even less effort than being any kind of semi-observant Jews in the United States. Given another few generations and while Traditional and other forms of Orthodox Judaism will be prevalent in Israel, other than Orthodox Judaism, mostly Hasidic and Haredi, one will be hard pressed to find other congregations in the vast majority of the United States and all but gone from Europe. This will be due to the rampant intermarriage which will quicken the exodus of Jews from their religious upbringing, assuming they ever received a Jewish upbringing. One quick way of determining the accuracy of our dire prediction would be to simply ask the few Jews you may know who are not Orthodox whether they attended and partook of a Passover Seder and whether it was held in English or Hebrew. Do not be surprised if the answer shows a lack of Jewish participation. Then ask them what does Seder mean and pray they do not say dinner or story or other wrong answer. When they surrender, the actual translation of the Hebrew word Seder is Order, as in structured or delineated. The main defining part of the service is the reliving of the leading events to the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and the initial part of the years in the wilderness.

 

Becoming a practicing Jew and following as much of the laws as possible, as we are still learning some of the rules as we go along, and some are likely obscure and will become obvious with time. One thing about Judaism is that everyone and everything is a work in progress, and some are going to take more time than others.

 

Finally, it is with sadness that we realize that once again so many of our brothers and sisters will become lost to us just as during the Exodus when it was claimed that a mere one-fourth, if that many, of the Jews from Egypt made the trip while the majority decided that they preferred remaining in relative safety and a life, though harsh, still did not require what the new life promised, challenges and the hard work of building a new land. Slavery was a hard life but the Egyptians provided for their food, shelter and other necessary needs. That is what life in the United States will promise, a land of plenty that is easy and there are very few threats in life while Israel is more of a challenge. Getting a job is more of a difficulty in Israel and as an American one need learn Hebrew, not the easiest language to learn. For the youth, there is IDF service which most American Jews would find as a threatening requirement. One of us did serve in the United States military in combat arms but very few of the Jewish kids we grew up with ever gave such the smallest consideration. Serve in the military, that was outside consideration and why so many Jews went to college. Yes, when drafted, they served and what is actually surprising is that Jews have almost always outperformed other peoples in their service in the military in the major wars in history. But the latest generation, such is not considered something a good Jewish boy or girl would want to do. So, having to move to Israel and face military service frightens many. Thankfully, and these youths are treasured and respected in Israel, there are Jewish kids from America who come to Israel with the intent of serving in the IDF and most desire to be placed into Combat Arms. These Zionist youths are a treasure.

 

Back to how to allow Israel to defeat their foes is easy. Step one; stop demanding that Israel surrender, conflicts are not won by the surrendering side. Israel must be permitted to be victorious and defeat every challenge and danger facing her and her people. Stop pretending that Israel need be more like the United States as Israel does not have Canada and Mexico as neighbors. Illegal immigrants in Israel are more likely to be terrorists aiming to murder Israelis than people seeking to make a better life and almost none are actual refugees. Step two; when Israel is forced to defend herself, kindly support her just as she supports the United States efforts in such conflicts. Finally, try to remember and understand that in Israel Judaism is not so much a religion as a way of life and Israel is the Jewish homelands where the religion, the people and society try to operate as one. Israel is also the only place where the Jewish people will be protected and cared for without question should any disaster or threat raise its ugly head threatening our fellow Jews. Israel is the Jewish safety fuse which will trip and give the Jewish People a home forever into the future. That should be sufficient reason for any Jew to do anything required to protect their safety valve. Lastly, whether they realize it or not, Israel is the homeland of the Jews and has been the Promised Land from over three-thousand years back and that only gets us back to King David, Abraham and Sarah were close to another thousand years further back. That is something which will never change.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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