Is the haredi option, an option?

7 bShvat
In the wake of the Amona confrontation, the predicatment of the National Religious (NR) community was described on Friday in Haaretz when Meron Rapoport, in an article titled “Religious Zionism, without Zionism” interviewed NR Rabbi Avi Gisser, Rav of Ofra, the mother-settlement of Amona.
The interview was allocated almost an entire page in the Haaretz. A huge color photo (which would make both sides of the confrontion wince) accompanied the interview showing a police horse trampling a protestor (Haaretz photo reproduced on Arutz Sheva with video clip). Some NR friends interpreted this photo as a metaphor of the State of Israel trampling the religious Zionists.
Responses by R.Gisser (assuming Rapoport reports them accurately) describe his alienation from the haredi community. In describing the settlement youth R.Gisser says,
“I feel a crisis…primarily in the spiritual realm. What did this crisis do to [the youth after Gush Katif]? They had a process of mourning, repression, denial. And afterward they opened up and asked the questions: Why did we pray and God didn’t answer? Is our path even the right one? Were we right in this devotion? Does Israeli society even want us or is it kicking us?”

R. Gisser then says the haredi model is getting a foothold within religious Zionism .
R.Gisser:People say: What, the ultra-Orthodox don’t live in this land? They do. Even in Bnei Brak they fulfill the commandment of settling the Land of Israel. But the ultra-Orthodox don’t serve this government. They are not obedient. What does the ultra-Orthodox model say? It says no military service, or at least not wholehearted service. Limited participation. Bearing the religious burden, not the social and political burden. Stripping the state of the holiness we attributed to it.”

Rapoport: But the holiness of the state is one of the principles of your belief.

R.Gisser: “True. The disappointment and insult are so large that they allow this thinking, which is a kind of breakthrough in religious Zionist thinking. I don’t give it a good grade.”

Rapoport:It’s a different religious Zionism.

R.Gisser”It’s not religious Zionism. It’s not a Zionist society. It’s a type of ultra-Orthodox society, in which the motif of the holiness of the land is at the center of its religious existence, just as with the ultra-Orthodox the motif of keeping the Sabbath is at the center. A new ultra-Orthodox society with large woolen kippot. But it’s not religious Zionism. Because religious Zionism is a principled choice in that I go with this nation as it is. If this nation chose this leadership, then it’s my leadership. Whoever ignores this and says that from his perspective only those devoted to the word of God are the people of truth and the rest are, at the most, a marginal appendix, a footnote to the history of the Jewish people, is adopting ultra-Orthodox isolationist positions par excellence.”

Rapoport: This could lead to far worse clashes. Ultra-Orthodox society achieved the Sabbath closure of Jerusalem’s Bar-Ilan Street with violence.

R.Gisser:”Ultra-Orthodox society is a strong society. The state does not consider forcibly recruiting the ultra-Orthodox into the army, because it doesn’t want to enter into a frontal clash with ultra-Orthodox society. The mighty protest in front of the Supreme Court seared the consciousness of secular society, the Supreme Court and Justice Aharon Barak himself. He doesn’t want to be in that place again. The state wasn’t afraid of insulting and utterly humiliating religious Zionist society, because it knew that at the basis of this society there is a fundamental loyalty to the values of society and state.”

Rapoport: You’re in a type of trap.

R.Gisser: “Yes. Unequivocally a trap. We know and we knew how to establish communities in Judea and Samaria solely with the cooperation of the Israeli government. We don’t know how to establish communities against the state. The ultra-Orthodox option is not an option……

Here I will pause in my quoting of Rav Gisser. Why is it not an option? It seems to me a realistic, pragmatic, option.The haredi option today emphasizes Torah study and family life, but now includes:service in the army in Nahal haredi or other forms of national service if one is not in full-time Torah study; College studies and professional training in numerous haredi programs for higher ed; cultural endeavors that filter out the more degrading aspects of secular culture; and a cautious modus vivendi with a secular Jewish government.
R.Gisser goes on to explain why “the haredi option is not an option.” His answer is that the haredi option is not an option (according to R.Gisser) because…
“the religious Zionist public is very integrated: The evacuating soldier is religious Zionist, the GOC central command is religious Zionist. In ultra-Orthodox society, the evacuator is always the other, the minister is the other, the chief of staff is the other. We are not dealing with the other, we are dealing with ourselves.”
I submit that being the “other” is not always negative. In fact, it gives haredim a level-headed way to relate to governmental authorities and avoids the pitfall of idolization of the State, or attributing holiness to the State.
I think it is only fair to mention that R.Gisser seems to dissasociate himself, after the Amona evacuation, from the youngsters who led the struggle.
“We are finished with the brazen struggle. We’re out of patience for whoever leads such a struggle. Many parents will not send their children to the subsequent struggles… the ‘anarchists’ who ran wild in Amona should be left alone to face the police.”
Meanwhile, those in the National Religious sector should be left alone to face the question of whether their over-emphasis on the holiness of the land and the State has led to this conundrum.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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16 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    For those interested in more on this issue, take a look at an interview with R Meidan, the new RY
    in the Gush.

  2. mycroft says:

    The post implicitly assumes that the only Religious Zionism possible is the variation of the Kookian Zionism which makes an avodah Zarah out of the land and the state. To be fair it is a fair question how much Rav Kook would have agreed with this Zionism advocated by his son but that is not the point. The other Religious Zionism is the Soloveitchik type a la R. J.Soloveitchick ZT”L — who did not make the state the ideal. Note before the 6 day war the last Cabinet member to approve going to war was Warhaftig of Mizrachi — how Mizrachi has changed — now Mafdal would be happy to merge its lists with Netanyahu’s.

    On the other hand I find at times insufficient hakarat hatov to the fact that there is a State which treats Jews well and would let anyone in as a refuge. Think that is not important-think 1933-1945.

    By the way–no government in the world would accept seditious behavior. There was an ad in last Fridays Hazofe–9 days ago looking for people to go to Amona–what is most striking is the word milchama used in the ad. No state could tolerate such mored bmalchut.

  3. Eliyahu from Philly says:

    I think Mrs. Schmidt missed what R’ Gisser was trying to say. He is not haredi, but I don’t see where his responses indicate that he is ‘alienated’ from the charedi society. If anything he finds much to admire among the charedim and in part is arguing for a something similar to the charedi concept of daas torah. R’ Gisser sees a tragedy unfolding in front of his eyes. This tragedy is leading to alienation and crisis of faith in his community and quite possibly in his extended family. He sees that with greater marginalization and demonization of the settler, there is a loss of trust by the young in the old leadership, including the NR rabbis. For some this will lead to secular life. For others, this will lead to anarchy as many 13-18 year olds will act according to their understanding of the Torah and will not listen to the rabbis. And just like the first category will say that democracy is more important than Shabbos, so too the second category will say that land is more important than the Torah. This will lead to lack of respect for parents and talmidei chachamim. Both of these are very bad from religious (including charedi) point of view. It is 100% understandable why some of the protesters (some of whom were already thrown out of their homes in Gush Katif) at Amona threw rocks at the police. Seeing your friends being brutally beaten by police, it is very hard to refrain from trying to hit them back. At the same time it is at the very least not clear if throwing rocks at police is permissible according to halacha, and it is also hard to see how yelling at and insulting people who are 20-30 years older than you are and who are on your side anyway, is anything but assur. This hefkerus (anarchy) is what R’ R’ Gisser is very much against. He is worried that the undeniable and beautiful idealism of the kids who braved the police brutality will be channeled into wrong and anti-Torah behavior (chutzpa, bizui chachamim, etc.) I think this is what he meant that he is against the “brazen struggle”. My mother’s family is from Ofra, and I spent a shabbos there three weeks before the disengagement. In his drasha, R’ Gisser said that one must follow the leadership of the rabbis in the struggle against the disengagement and quoted the Chazon Ish about the need to bring the tinokim shenishba closer to Torah with love. If anything his position on this is very charedi.

    Realistically, charedi option of separating is not an option for many NR people who are very integrated. Also, R’ Gisser believes that there is a benefit from a presence of a religious society which is somewhat integrated into the general Israeli public. He may decide if things chas’vshalom keep getting worse that separation from general society is warranted. But it would be a b’dieved not a lchatchilo. Just like when the torah im derech eretz jews came to america, many of them decided to drop the derech eretz, because there wasn’t so much derech eretz to connect to in the US. But they weren’t happy about it. R’ Gisser is not against the haredim. He just thinks that his path has something to contribute as well.

    Finally, I am sure that Mrs. Schmidt’s intent in writing her article was not to promote divisions withing the Jewish world. Nevertheless, the way it is written right now it is an excellent example of the more negative undercurrents of charedi feelings toward the NR. Summarized as: you srugies made this mess with your idol worship of the state, you fix it alone. Again, quite likely this was not what Mrs. Schmidt wanted to express. But this is exactly how it comes across the way that it is written right now. It is hard to see how public expression of such sentiments will have positive effects.

    Irrespective of one’s views on Rav Kook’s ideas, it is clear that what is going now is a tragedy, an eis tzora l’yakov, a time of pain and trouble for the Jewish people. Now is not the right time to say, i told you so. If for no other reason that this only drives the NR further away from yiddishkeit in general and charedim in particular. We are all in the same boat. If it is ok in the eyes of the secular Israelis to beat up the NR kids, it is even more ok to beat up charedim. To increase his popularity Olmert may for example decide to open up Bar Ilan street on Shabbos using the same police as in Amona. Or interfere with charedi chinuch (see would be education minister Uriel Reichman), chas’vshalom. The people who calmly order a 1900’s Russia-like beating just to increase their ratings have no conscience and restraints. It’s a scary time. What can we do, I don’t know. But at the very least we should say tehillim and strive for more unity.

  4. Shira Schmidt says:

    7 bShvat
    To #2 Eliyahu – a) Thank you for your feedback. My intention was not to increase dissension (has v’shalom) but to say something like this to the National Religious and Religious Zionists: I have found that there is a somewhat better balancing of national and religious concepts in the haredi schools,environment, ideology. We have our own (severe) imbalances to deal with in certain areas, but on the issue of the State we have a cautious approach which might be helpful to you during this “es tzara l’Yaakov.” We are not that far apart in observance and hashkafa. Perhaps consider sending your children to our schools, living in our neighborhoods, reading our newspapers, etc. We can learn from you, and you from us.
    b) You used the word “sruggies”. What does that mean?

  5. Chareidi Leumi says:

    Do you realize how condescending this post sounds? Would you enjoy such an post being written about chareidim if and when the whole kollel system in Israel becomes financially un-sustainable? Would you like such a post to be written when 40,000 chareidim might get kicked out of beitar illit and kiryat sefer? Do you realize that after the settlers, you are part of the second most hated sub-group in Israel? It could be chareidi kids who are disillusioned next year when the government decides to cut off all support and they turn to their parents and ask what they can do with their lives. Would you like some RZ person at that point to post how they should adopt the RZ model of Torah and Avoda???

    Chareidi ideology is not an option for the vast majority of RZ Jews not because it does not support the state but because it has never been idealistic regarding anything having to do with the national mission of the Jewish people. It has never exhibited messirut nefesh regarding either the physical defense of the national building of the Jewish nation and therefore is not an option. What is likely to occur now is not a move towards chareidi ideology but rather a move towards a more right-wind RZ ideology with many kids going towards non-mamlachti streams of RZ and others going towards Kach ideology (they are not that far apart).

  6. Menachem Lipkin says:


    You asked why it’s not an option for Religious Zionists to become Chareidi. First of all I think that the image you are conjuring up of Chareidism in Israel is a fanciful illusion of how you would like things to be. The examples you gave of army service, college degrees, and cultural activities only exist on the far left fringe. One can hope that these will eventually work their way into the mainstream, but that will be a long time in coming. The face of Chareidism that I see now is of closure, censorship, bans, control, and exclusiveness. While you are “graciously” inviting us into your world, many of your compatriots are actively trying to spit us out.

    Not all religious Zionists are messianic fanatics who have/had a unrealistic view of the capacity of our government. While I believe that the founding of the state of Israel was the product of divine intervention I also accept the limitations of a secular democratic government. I see the current situation much more as a failure on our part to properly integrate into society and bridge the gap. While we profess to be more open, in reality we live in religious ghettos, send our kids to different schools, and even have segregated army units. But while we have done this inadvertently, Chareidim do it by design. So the answer is not to run away into deeper, more isolated ghettos with you, but to try to figure out where we went wrong and correct it.

    In the process we may very well have to accept the loss of some of our precious land as a consequence of our actions. Of course the violent us v.s. them behavior we witnessed by some of our youth in Amona is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.

    To run away and become Chareidi, to my mind, would be to abandon my ideals and even G-d himself. If I believe that G-d extended an invitation to us to return to his land via the founding of the State, to then accept Chareidi, anti-state ideology would be to figuratively slap Him in the face. It would be to look upon the numerous open miracles the He performed to enable us to be here now and nullify them. It would be heresy.

    As much as you want us to think that there’s room in Chareidism to be secularly educated. That’s not your ideal. Secular knowledge is at best a necessary evil. Whereas I believe that attaining knowledge of physics, math, biology, music, etc. are not only acceptable, but even necessary to truly understanding and coming closer to G-d and his Torah.

    In your response you asked that we consider sending our kids to your schools, living in your neighborhoods, and reading your newspapers, etc. I can’t send my kids to your schools unless I totally conform to your ideology and your litany of invasive rules. Similarly you don’t want me in your neighborhood if I don’t dress, act, and think like you. And I do read your newspapers and I find them to be condescending, close-minded and quite unprofessional.

    I did not mean for this to be a critique of Chareidi society. It is a necessary, spiritual, and vibrant part of our religious culture. While I can’t join it, I respect that many of our people need this type of environment to thrive religiously. I must say though that I do find your “invitation” at this time to be insensitive and demeaning. It brings you down to the level of an ambulance-chasing lawyer.

  7. mycroft says:

    Addressed to Mrs. Schmidt’s comments of February 5, 2006 221 AM : Why not have hareidim live in
    non-Chareidi neighborhoods-both NR and Chiloni. To quote Jonathan Rosenblum in a recent post “That lack of sympathy results, in part, from the residential separation of the chareidi population, as a consequence of which secular Israelis never have to confront what the cuts mean in human terms” I’m not saying Mr. Rosenblum would advocate what I suggest-but I believe it follows
    By the way-it may have been a mistake for the NR community to set up separate Hesder units-it separated them from
    the rest of Klal Israel also. Torah is something that should and could be sold by the way it is lived. We have a good product-people must be aware of it to buy it.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    Just curious-we recently have seen two instances of police brutality in Israel-ome directed against Charedim and the most
    recent instance in Amona. However, I have seen nothing in either community’s media that expresses sympathy or solidarity with
    the other. IOW, Arutz Sheva, etc had zero on the incident involving the pathology lab and the autopsy. OTOH, the Charedi media
    and its representatives here have shown what I think is crocodile tears to the RZ public that can largely be characterized as
    “I told you so” style views that RZ has failed, etc. I think that the disconnect between the Charedi and RZ worlds is very
    troublesome because at least they share the same SA, the same mitzvos, etc. It is a tragedy that a hashkafic dispute has
    created such polarized views which IMO has a lot to do with why American frum Jews don’t really think about aliyah.

  9. mycroft says:


    “It is a tragedy that a hashkafic dispute has created such polarized views which IMO has a lot to do with why American frum Jews don’t really think about aliyah.”

    I doubt that is the reason–sadly the reason in general has to do with personal materialism–it was that way in Ezras
    time-it is that way today. I don’t live in Israel–I can’t cast stones–hint my last time there I was leaving in a tax to the airport when two of thc commentators in this blog were going to be on the same symposium–Mrs. Schmidt and Mr. Rosenblum.

    Howver sadly I agree with your basic point that unfortunately both Chareidi, RZ and I will add MO worlds really unfortunately have nothing to do with each other. It is sad that at times it appears they despise each other more than they dislike the non frum world or non Jewish world. In America I’m not sure it was like that until the late 30’s.I think a dispassionate history of the period rom the 30’s to the 60’s could explain why–but I’m not sure it is worth discussing–see how discussion of the Shoah has brought a vituperative debate to our communities.

    If careful and they usually are a blog like cross currents can be a source of polite discussion of issues where respect for others is shown. With exceptions I think they have succeeded. They have to endeavor to avoid condescending, insensitive and demeaning comments. In general I believe they do succeed–some writers more than others.

    But at least a B+.

  10. David says:

    Do you have link to article by Rav Medan?

  11. Chareidi Leumi says:

    The post implicitly assumes that the only Religious Zionism possible is the variation of the Kookian Zionism which makes an avodah Zarah out of the land and the state.

    Did you just implicitly call Rav Zvi Yehuda an Oved Avodah Zara??? I wonder if I wrote such a thing about a chareidi Gadol, if it would make it through the comment screen.

  12. Shlomo Har-Tov says:

    If I believe that G-d extended an invitation to us to return to his land via the founding of the State, to then accept Chareidi, anti-state ideology would be to figuratively slap Him in the face. It would be to look upon the numerous open miracles the He performed to enable us to be here now and nullify them. It would be heresy.

    This attitude is so destructive. It allows the State any crime, any evil, and it will be supported because it is a vehicle for kibbutz Galuyot. They could Shmad up the Sefardin. mercilessly beat up the religious just because they are religious (don’t kid yourself otherwise), give 50 million Shekel to suicide bombing governments, and they still do not lose their Teudat Hechsher. So, what will it take? When they drop bombs on Yeshivos? When they load the settlers on to busses at gunpoint and drop them on to the streets of Nahariya to fend for themselves, in order to implement some insanely misguided plan to bring Hamas and Iran to within spitting distance?

    There is only one thing more important to Israel than its survival – that it be a secular State. They would rather be driven out by the Arabs than be a State run by Halachah. I can’t see how a religious Jew can support such a Chillul Hashem.

    If G-d sent you an invitation to a dinner, and at the dinner the speakers viciously beat his most loyal sons and speak out in blasphemy against Him, maybe G-d sent you an invitiation to see how vociferously you would denounce the blasphemers.

  13. Ori Pomerantz says:

    It seems that living in Israel makes people into fanatics. There are three major groups: Chilonim, Dati-Leumi, and Charedi. Members of each group seem to think that the other two are at best misguided and at worst actively trying to do the wrong thing. Why?

    The best theory I can come up with is that Israelies affect each other in ways we in the US (I grew up in Israel and make Yerida seven years ago) do not. If Charedi men stay in Yeshiva instead of getting jobs, that means more taxes and more military service for everybody else. If Mitnachalim (= settlers in the territories) build another settlement, it means the army, which is already stretched thin, will have another place to protect. If Chilonim open a mixed Falafel stand in Ramat Gan, then teenagers from Bney Brak can walk to it and spend time together with nobody to guard their Tzniut.

    It seems that if Israel is designed to promote sinat chinam.

  14. mycroft says:

    The post implicitly assumes that the only Religious Zionism possible is the variation of the Kookian Zionism which makes an avodah Zarah out of the land and the state. Did you just implicitly call Rav Zvi Yehuda an Oved Avodah Zara???

    I did not omplicitly call Rav Zvi Yehuda an Oved…I was using Avodah Zarah in the well known homiletical sense that even a good action carried to an extreme can be an Avodah Zarah. It may well be that the negative unintended affects of his pre-war 1967 Messianism and beyond may cause even more damage to Klal Israel than other contemporary Messianic figures.

    I wonder if I wrote such a thing about a chareidi Gadol, if it would make it through the comment screen.

    In case there is any doubt-not to many people would classify me as a Chareidi. Much to my pleasant surprise cross currents in general lets in criticism of the chareid world. That gives them credibilty — they are willing to let people answer eg E. Zuroff last week answered questions and asked them in cross currents.

  15. shloi says:

    “You asked why it’s not an option for Religious Zionists to become Chareidi. First of all I think that the image you are conjuring up of Chareidism in Israel is a fanciful illusion of how you would like things to be. The examples you gave of army service, college degrees, and cultural activities only exist on the far left fringe”.

    I think you are quite right. This is because the Israeli Chareidi world has adopted for historical and ideological reasons (justified or not) a stringent worldview and regulations in all areas(such as working in a non-religious office)thereby effectively making it very difficult to interact with the rest of the society.
    For example, in talks given by prominent Gedolim, professional training for Chareidim is seen as a plot by the secular society and some chareidim to destroy the Kollelim and the Chareidi way of life based on exclusive Torah learning.
    I have the impression that Mrs. Schmidt was thinking of the more open-minded (so it seems) chutz laaretz chareidi hashkofo or the Shas hashkof(see Chareidi Institude for Women in Jerusalem).

  16. Shira Schmidt says:

    9 b Shvat
    Several people asked for the website of RAV MEIDAN’S INTERVIEW- the COVER feature of Haaretz Friday Magazine 15 bTamuz, Parashat Pinchas,July 22,2005. It is no longer on Haaretz website. But you can read it at
    Rav Meidan is going to be a Rosh Yeshiva at Har Etzion HEsder yeshiva,in the Gush.
    Interview is titled: “Nobody is listening” By Ari Shavit and Yair Sheleg
    The key segment is as follows:
    Rav Meidan: “In order to forge an alliance with the secular elites, we neglected our more natural alliance with the Haredi public. Today I think that was a mistake. In the future we will behave differently. In the past, with all the disagreements, I thought there was also something we could learn from the secular elite. …there are no positive values I can get from them. I have a serious problem with them.”

    Haaretz: If so, your next dialogue will not be with the (secular) Democracy Institute but with the leader of Haredi Judaism, Rabbi Elyashiv.

    Rav Meidan: “Correct. Only then, when religious Zionism and the Haredi public stand together, will our place be different, will we be treated differently.”

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