Beyond the Cusp

December 18, 2013

Who Are Most Jewish or at Least Acceptable as Jews?

Of the entirety of the Jewish people are only the Hareidi and maybe the Orthodox the only real Jews or are the Conservative and Reform just as Jewish and how about Kabbalah or even Reconstructionist and other less popular forms of Judaism? The answer you will receive depends just as much on the individual as it does which particular branch of Judaism the responder belongs. Then there is a question as to whether one need be a Zionist to be a true Jew. This has become a pertinent question which will receive some coverage in the near future due to Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Reform movement’s US conference through a live video link. Hareidi leaders, who are quoted in Hareidi newspaper Hamevaser claimed that the previous Prime Ministers had resisted recognizing the Reform movement claiming, “It is too bad that Netanyahu is adding fuel to the raging fire and pushing the cart further into the abyss.” The Hareidi tied the Prime Minister’s apparent sin to the current political situations adding, “This is even more serious because these are very sensitive days, in which Hareidi Jewry is fighting for its life because of the decree for forcibly enlisting yeshiva students. On days in which the tension needs to be lessened, the prime minister elects to deepen the damage to the Hareidi public, and strengthen the Reform movement that has led to grave assimilation in the Jewish people.” And finally they accused the Prime Minister saying, “By so doing, Netanyahu proves that the struggle is not for ‘equality in bearing the civil burden’ or other clichés. This is a clear plot to destroy religion, Torah and the mitzvoth [commandments]. That is the true aim and there is no other.”


 Where the best answers would likely come from learned Rabbis there is a more political way to view this question, namely who will be determined to be Jewish should, G0d forbid, part or all of the world go off the cliff and once again decide the world would be a better place without any Jews populating the planet. Such an event is not as impossible as many had believed it had become as the memory of the horrors which gripped Europe under the hatreds of the Nazis. One need only look almost anywhere on the Earth and evidence points to a sharp increase in anti-Semitism. Iran regularly holds demonstrations with tens of thousands chanting “Death to Israel, Death to America” where by Israel they mean not only the nation but also the Jewish people and they do not mean just the United States when saying America as much as the entirety of the Western world. Then there are the leadership of the Palestinians such as Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Khaled Mashaal of Hamas will regularly speak of removing the Jews from residing in Israel as they claim that once they regain rule over the lands from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea their first order of business will be to remove, read that as murder, every last Jew so as to repurify the lands and remove what they see as a blight.


Throughout the history of Judaism there have been sects or divisions of Jews who strayed from the strict laws, mitzvah, commandments and rituals that the most strictly religious Jews hold to as the essence of being Jewish. Even the manners and practices for the most religious of Jews has altered over the ages. One obvious example are the restrictions on not eating leavened during Passover as the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi rule different items as forbidden during the holiday with rice being one of the most often used examples. Much of the disturbance between the different forms of Judaism comes down to the level of strictness regarding observance of the laws, traditions, mitzvah and rituals. What many do not take into account is all the different forms of Judaism currently are unable of completely following all of the commandments as there is not a Temple in Jerusalem to which many of the commandments and mitzvah require in order to be practiced. Rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, or elsewhere if that is the decision as before King Solomon built the First Temple there were other sites where the Tabernacle had been kept and where the mitzvoth pertaining to it had been held, should be one of Judaism’s highest priorities and that should be accepted as a foremost desire of the Jewish people. Still, there are some among the most religious of Jews who claim that Zionism is a wrongheaded cause and the Holy Temple must await the coming of the Messiah as that is who is to rebuild the Holy Temple. Just what the Jewish people need, another argument dividing us.

Now we can get to the opinion section where whatever I write I will likely receive a ton of grief for every ounce of kudos. My belief is that even the most secularized and unobservant of Jews is still a Jew even if they have completely sworn off their religiosity as there is still that remote glimmer of hope that something will awaken the spirit within them and they will return to the fold and recommit to Judaism. I would ask of those who are most observant and who have great difficulty with those Jews who only practice some of the Jewish rituals and commandments to keep open arms readied for any Jew who desires to rejoin and to remember that even after choosing to return and fully practice Judaism the wayward Jew must be walked at their own pace and care taken not to overwhelm them with changes expecting them to miraculously transform overnight. Were that it was that easy. Many Jews today are not observant because their parents were not observant and they were never taught what is required of an observant Jew. Many of these Jews do not read Hebrew and even more do not understand more than a smattering of Hebrew though they can read the Siddur and say many or even all of the prayers exactly as they are to be chanted. The lack of speaking and understanding Hebrew can pose a very high and difficult hurdle to returning to the fold and becoming a practicing Jew. Remember that even at the worst of times when many if not most of the Jewish people were Hellenized and spent more time practicing the Greek religions and philosophies than they did observing Torah yet still the Greeks were cast out and the majority of those lost Jews found their way back or their children returned to Judaism. The Jewish people are very likely on the leading cusp of such a change in these perilous times. The Jewish people have always bound together in the face of adversity and adversity is coming and very few even see it, let alone prepared for the evils approaching. When the problems strike it will require the religious members of Judaism to embrace their less observant Jews and teach them patiently Torah and the Commandments. They will need guidance and comforting and will stumble many times and will require understanding and support as they climb slowly back to the heights of Torah observance. Many will not understand what is happening to them or even why or how they were condemned for being Jews as their parents were not practicing Jews and held no ties to the family that are the Jewish people. There is a claim that almost every Jew alive today is no more than four or five generations removed from a religiously practicing Jew. Let us pray it will take less generations to bring them back home and that can only happen if those Jews who hold true to Torah are willing to take the time and live by example showing the joys that come with Jewish observance.


Beyond the Cusp


May 28, 2013

The Hareidi Share the Burden Puzzle

Among the most contentious of issues in the last Israeli elections was whether and how to integrate the Hareidi into IDF or public service in an equal manner as the rest of those Israelis who are required to serve. Some of the debate was whether it was fair to demand such of the Hareidi while continuing not to require the same sacrifices from the Israeli Arab and other non-Jewish minority populations. Obviously in a perfect society all of the peoples would share equally in all State functions and face the same obligations and requirements while receiving the same benefits. No group would be exempt from service and no group would be denied the privileges which go with citizenship. Unfortunately there are no perfect societies though mankind over the millennia have strived and made strides towards that society. The Israelis are currently debating such a change in the requirements of the various and different sectors of their society in order to make all carry an equal share in the burdens.


The first point of contention which has to be conquered is how to integrate the Hareidi while also permitting the continued Torah study, a service to Israel and to Hashem which is of particular concern and the primary of importance to the Hareidi society. Previously the Hareidi had been exempt from performing mandatory IDF or public service as long as they were engaged in study of Torah and other religious disciplines. Yair Lapid leads the Yesh Atid Party, the second most numerous in the coalition, which is a secular party which has promised during the campaign to force all Hareidi to serve in the IDF or face heavy criminal penalties. They are facing the head party of the coalition with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as their primary partners in the Bayit Yehudi lead by Naftali Bennett who both agree that the Hareidi need to be included in service but do not believe they should face as serious criminal punishment if they choose not to serve. They believe that the Hareidi should be treated more like conscientious objectors if they should choose not to be drafted into IDF or public service. The question that will now play out is can some compromise be found which will be acceptable not only to the two political camps, but even more difficult, one that the Hareidi will accept which finding such a solution would solve the entire disagreement returning tranquility to the Israeli public.


So, the first step to finding a solution is to properly define the problem, the entire problem and not just the talking points which the two sides use to stir up their supporters. The problem is not honestly finding how to integrate the Hareidi into all sectors of Israeli society, not just into primarily IDF service. Up to now the Hareidi not only enjoyed a permanent deferment from military service but were also left apart from all of Israeli society which included most areas of employment. The public call for the Hareidi to be made to carry an equal share of the burden of IDF and public service must also include equal opportunity in all areas of Israeli society for the Hareidi including in employment. One of the other complaints which have come to the fore is that the Hareidi are subsidized by the government to a larger degree than any other sector of the society. This is simply a symptom of their not being integrated into the workforce, something that was not entirely their preference. Of course the rest of Israeli society gave a reason that the Hareidi were facing such reluctance in gaining employment was due to the fact their education was so focused on Torah that they were unemployable. That excuse was not completely true as many Hareidi have studied subjects outside of Torah plus not all employment actually requires any specific or special education beyond a solid morality combined with a work ethic and an ability to learn, traits very strong within the Hareidi community. Add to that the logic and discipline mastered as a necessary byproduct of learning, understanding and interpreting Torah and related commentaries. So, the real problem is not so much forcing the Hareidi into IDF and public service as it should be making society more accommodating and acceptive to the members of the Hareidi community.


Perhaps what is needed most is reconciliation between the majority of Israeli society and the Hareidi community. It would be beyond unfair to expect the Hareidi community to only carry an equal obligation to serve without also providing them with an equal opportunity to be integrated into the whole of Israeli society. Full service has to go hand in hand with full integration and full opportunity. This will need to be a two way street. The rest of Israel has to learn to appreciate and understand the Hareidi dedication to Torah learning and performing mitzvah before Hashem. I would be willing to bet that the Hareidi already possess some level of understanding of Israeli society outside their communities but also that they may need to soften some of their misgivings and might be surprised that the differences between their communities and Israeli society are not as dire as initially perceived. It would be understandable if there were some misunderstandings and misgivings between the two groups but that with time and familiarization there would come some level of comfort between the two societies, after all we are all members of the same family. The one thing that Yair Lapid is going to have to come to understand is that the new arrangement he wishes to implement with such great urgency could be made far smoother and with less calamity provided patience and understanding replace urgency. On the other side, the Hareidi will need to make the effort to accept that their strict regimented rules will never be accepted or even tolerated by the most militant secularists in Israeli society if they refuse to educate them and allow for a period of adjustment and acclimation on both sides. There are going to be those among the Hareidi and among the secularists who will never interact well and will refuse any interactions. Those are the lost souls who simply should be left to go about their particular ways and excluded from having to tolerate as long as they also do not impede everybody else or impinge on any cooperation or interaction. Tolerance must be the byword and theme behind everything in this period of adjustment. Impatience and demanding that one side’s view be dominant and superior over the other side’s comfort must not be acceptable. Time, patience, understanding, sympathy and even possibly empathy are the essential requirements in finding a path which will have the best possibility of success while causing the least damage and hardship on all of Israel. Hopefully the Knesset Ministers will recognize such and for those exceptions, they must be muted before they cause damage which will be irreparable.


Beyond the Cusp


July 11, 2012

Will Room for Torah Remain in Israel?

The idea that Zionism is no longer a part of the ideals within Israel has been discussed with the split defined as the Zionists and the Post Zionists. The Post Zionists claim that once Israel was founded Zionism had realized its goal and was no longer necessary. The Zionists answer that until all of the Biblical lands of the Hebrews are reclaimed and peace and security rule over the land, Zionism has not accomplished its goals. Then there are those, myself included, who simply define Zionism as those who love Zion and Yerushalayim, Israel, all of her even to include the areas held by the original twelve tribes where two and a half had lands east of the Jordan River, and Jerusalem, again all of her unshared with an imposter people. This disagreement is one that can be bartered politically and settled by elections and the will of the people.

There is another divergence of the Jews in Israel that is far more sinister and damaging. That divide is between those who believe that Israel is the land of the Jewish people and that Judaism is an integral part of Eretz Yisroel and those who are secularists and believe Israel should be a modern multiethnic country and that Judaism has no place in the governing of the country. This divide cannot be debated as a political issue as it is an issue over the definition of the nation and her people, not a disagreement over whether a goal has been attained or is still incomplete. This is an issue which will tear Israel asunder. This is the issue at the heart of the overturning of the Tal Law and the bitter and viscous debate being waged against Torah study and demanding that all Hareidim must serve in the IDF or do public service without exception and if Torah study must be compromised and rationed, then so be it. The battle lines for this have been drawn between the secularists and the religious communities with the rest of Israel now being drawn into choosing a side. This is a defining moment for all Israel and for Judaism as well. How it is resolved will have effect far into the future with ramifications which are unable to be discerned by even the wisest among us. This issue may very well be the decision that determines whether Judaism will have a future place in the world or become a memory that a small nucleus of people will struggle to keep lit the flame of Torah.

Before anybody decides that this is just another Haredi calling for special treatment for all Hareidim replete with exemptions from service beyond Torah study, let me dispel that illusion. I am spiritually religious but my life is secular in nature and I have great difficulties with most of organized religious institutions I have dealt with. Most of the problem has been my lack of a solid Jewish upbringing along with a political outlook which has me at odds with the vast numbers of Jews in Synagogues here in the American Diaspora. I hope the fact that I have yet to return home will not eliminate my right to an opinion on this issue in Eretz Yisroel as well as outside in the Diaspora. I have had some serious and disturbing thoughts which I am at a loss to know from whence they came, but they are what are driving this article. It is almost as if I have no choice and simply must.

The debate over Hareidim serving either in the IDF or in Public service is a valid discussion as the vast majority of the great Torah Sages agrees that life must be more than solely Torah study. They all say that study of Torah is a requirement for all Jews but that complete and total dedication to exclusively study Torah should be held for a select few who show the brilliance that both makes them worthy of such a blessing and that they will be of greater service through their Torah study to all the house of Israel. For the remaining students who wish to dedicate themselves to Torah, they may do so but not at the expense of Israel and her people. I seem to remember that even Maimonides declared that a man should also be able to support his family while also studying Torah. Torah study was not to be the sole life work but instead one should spend one third of the day in Torah Study, one third in pursuit of a living and one third with rest and family. One thing such a life would provide little time to stray from a righteous life. Even if this division of time is likely impossible for any normal human, still it gives the impression that even a Torah Sage should have an occupation beyond study of Torah. So, with all this in mind, where is the path of moderation with which both camps can agree and move forward, that is if either camp desires a compromise and not simply insisting that their way must be enacted to the letter which I suspect is true of the most strident proponents in this debate.

One item that seems to have escaped notice in the sound and fury of the ongoing debate, the fact that many Hareidim are already volunteering to join the IDF and mostly choosing combat arms units as well as the arrangement between the IDF and a number of Yeshivoth, known as the Hesder Yeshiva. This debate also appears to be taking place without anybody having ascertained whether or not the IDF either needs or desires the enlistment of additional Hareidim as they require certain arrangements from the IDF which might limit the numbers that could be easily accommodated. These are all factors which are completely aside from the possible damages to the fabric of Jewish learning should those who advocate the forced enlistment of every service age Hareidim with absolutely no exceptions or accommodations for even a minimal number of Torah students permitted. One would hope that some middle ground can be found and that neither side’s absolutists rule the day.

Where I agree that a complete blanket of deferments should not be automatically granted to every single individual who expresses a desire for a Torah study deferment as every segment of Israeli society must contribute to the safeguarding of Israel. On the other hand, not every Hareidim is necessary in the name of equality, justice or defense of the land. Furthermore, there is merit in the claim that Israel is protected by the study of Torah and such people are necessary in order to provide those who will fill the ranks of Torah sages in the future as well as giving us adjudicators who sit on Rabbinical Courts. What needs to be determined is where Israeli society draws the line between those whose study of Torah is so enlightened and desirable for the benefit of Israel and of Judaism. The Jewishness of Israel cannot be denied no matter how much the secular socialite elites strive to deny the importance of Torah study in the modern society they envision as Israel’s future. Such a view is no more valid or realistic than the Haredi view that every student of Torah must be supported and given complete deference by the remainder of Israeli society. Where to delineate a balance where the Torah and the study of Torah remains as an important and revered part of the institutions in Israel while assuring that all the many and varied segments of Israeli society contribute to the common defense and those support institutions which make up the public service, I am glad that I will not need to decide where this division is to be placed.

There is another problem hidden within this issue that poses a greater threat to both Israel and the continuation of Judaic customs, philosophies, and Judaism itself. The Diaspora is slowly losing its numbers and has but a few generations where the only remainder of the Diaspora will likely be the anti-Zionist Orthodox. The synagogues only fill the seats on the high holidays and for occasional Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Religious education is almost impossible to locate outside the major cities and even more so outside the United States. Israel will soon become the last refuge of Torah study and as such, Torah study must be preserved. Israel cannot fall to those who are Jews only in name and not practice. That is what is at the heart of this challenge. Those who are fighting to defend the need for Torah study must prevail in establishing the importance of Torah and the study of Torah to the future of Israel. Those who claim that Torah study is secondary to technology, missiles, guns, and a strong IDF forget that without G0d the IDF will prove insufficient. There is a recognizable reason the Six Day War results are called a miracle, because it very much appeared that the hand of G0d went before the IDF units. And if you only credit the expertise and superiority of training and personnel for that victory, that argument becomes more difficult to believe when you look at 1948 and 1949 with the wars for independence. If ever the hand of our L0rd was evident, it was then. If the long history of the Jewish people has proven anything, it is that without the L0rd our G0d there will be no Israel. Put in a slogan we might be able to remember, simply stated it is; Know G0d and Know Israel, No G0d and No Israel. That is the history we were taught and I, for one, would prefer not to test that theorem as the consequences are unthinkable to me. Torah study is essential to Israel, and that is a truism we forget at our own peril.

Beyond the Cusp

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