All Criticism is not the Same

While writing last week’s column on “progressive” Jewish intellectuals who call openly for the destruction of the Israel, a thought crossed my mind (hopefully not for the first time): Why am I writing in Yated Ne’eman as if being anti-Israel were the greatest possible betrayal of one’s Jewishness? After all, wasn’t Agudath Israel once labeled an “anti-Zionist” party? And did not most gedolei Yisrael oppose the creation of a non-Torah state in Eretz Yisrael?

In his Ba’ayot Hazeman, which remains the classic exposition of the halachic parameters of participation in the Israeli government, Rav Reuven Grozovsky, zt”l, begins by describing the baseline position that “participation in the government is forbidden.” And even if various practical considerations necessitate participation, he writes, participation remains “in the nature of a transgression for the sake of Heaven,” [and] must be done without giving more respect to [anti-Torah leaders] than necessary.”

Many of the Jewish “progressives” quoted in Alvin Rosenfeld’s “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism” claim that Israel represents a betrayal of Jewish values. And the chareidi world also frequently criticizes the state for its many deviations from Torah values. So why did I shower contempt on the “progressives,” as if it quoting their views were tantamount to refuting them?

IN TRUTH, the criticisms of the state advanced by “progressives” and chareidim bear no resemblance to one another. I found the most clearly articulated expression of why not at a website devoted to Rosenfeld’s article. One of the discussants offered a simple question to distinguish the two groups of Jews. Ask them: Why is the continued existence of the Jewish people necessary in the 20th century?

“Progressives” will have no answer to that question. George Soros, who told a New York Times reporter last month that the United States will have to undergo a period of “de-Nazification” after the Bush presidency, is perhaps the best-known and by a wide margin the wealthiest of the Jewish “progressives.” (At some future date, we will discuss, imy”H, the congruence of anti-Americanism and anti-Israel sentiment.) Soros, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, once famously told Connie Bruck in The New Yorker, “I don’t deny the Jews their right to a national existence – but I don’t want to be part of it.”

That is, I would guess, putting it too mildly. What really gripes the “progressives” is that as long as there are those who assert a Jewish national identity, they will find themselves identified as Jews and grouped together with Jewish “nationalists.”

To declare that one has no wish to be part of Jewish national existence is tantamount to declaring that one sees no particular value in the continuation of that national existence. The extreme nature of the “progressive” attacks on Israel surveyed by Rosenfeld, the way in which Israel’s actions are judged on a scale of moral absolutism applied to no other state in the world, including her closest neighbors, reflects a profound discomfort with being identified as a Jew. That discomfort is, as Leon Wieseltier has pointed out, a perverse form of acceptance of the anti-Semites’ view that all Jews are alike and that the act of any Jew can be fairly attributed to all Jews.

Only by denouncing Israel and demanding its dismantling can the “progressive” free himself from association not only with the state of Israel but with all those who seek to preserve a Jewish national identity. It is the most public and dramatic way of demanding out of that identity.

Intermarriage is another – albeit more private and less dramatic – way of opting out, a way of stating, “I’m no longer one of them.” Admittedly, there are many reasons behind the high intermarriage rates. The wish not to be identified as a Jew and the feeling that it is a matter of grave indifference whether an identifiable Jewish people continues to exist is only one. But it is safe to say that those who believe that the continued existence of the Jewish people is vital to the future of mankind will be far less likely to intermarry. Thus the Jewish “progressives” only represent the most extreme example of a much wider phenomenon of denying any value to Jewish national existence.

There is one way in which the “progressives” do like to play up their “Jewish background.” They cite being Jewish or Israeli as if it gives greater credence to their jeremiads against Israel. Doing so also serves to build their self-image as lonely voices speaking truth to power, “prophets” in the best Biblical tradition.

They would have us believe that it is so difficult for a Jew or an Israeli to criticize Israel that only the very bravest would ever do so. That is another typical foible of intellectuals – making themselves out to be far braver than they are. In response to Tony Judt’s statement that the cancellation of his speech at the Polish consulate in New York on “The Jewish Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” showed that “the public space for non-conforming opinion in this country is closing down,” Leon Wieseltier aptly observed: “He [Judt] is one of the least suppressed, repressed, and oppressed intellectuals who ever lived. If there is life on Mars, it knows what he thinks.”

Even those who claim to attack Israel from the vantage point of “Jewish values” do not necessarily view the continued existence of the Jewish people as necessary to the fate of the world. For one thing, those alleged “values” are rarely derived from serious study of classical texts, and therefore do not depend on the continued existence of those with an intimate command of those texts. Nor are those texts viewed as in any sense binding.

Moreover, those “values” are inevitably expressed at a level of generality – e.g., the Jewish concept of justice – that remove them from any particular Jewish context. In this sense, the Jewish progressives resemble recently retired president of the Israeli Supreme Court Aharon Barak. Barak famously argued, in a debate with the then vice-president of the Supreme Court Justice Menachem Elon, that there can be no contradiction between the words “Jewish” and “democratic” in the Basic Laws’ description of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” Though the term “Jewish” appears first in that formulation, Barak insisted that no Jewish legal materials could ever modify or limit his modern understanding of the term “democratic.” To avoid any possible contradiction, he advocated interpreting the term “Jewish” at a level of abstraction that removes any possible contradiction between the two terms.

Of course at that level of abstraction, any so-called “Jewish values” have already passed into the realm of general universalistic “human rights” that are now the patrimony of all enlightened modern men. As such, their preservation certainly no longer requires the preservation of the Jewish people. At best, Jews brought these concepts into the world. But that is no reason for the continued existence of an identifiable Jewish people.

CHAREIDI MISGIVINGS ABOUT MODERN DAY ISRAEL are an altogether different matter. Truth be told, the chareidi world has long since made its peace with Israel, in one way or another – and for a reason that highlights the differences between the chareidi critique and that of the progressives.

Israel is today home to almost half the world’s Jews and over half the world’s Jewish children. For that simple reason alone, chareidi Jews worldwide are deeply concerned about Israel’s security however dismayed they may be about the internal direction of the country. Precisely because they do not doubt for a minute that the entire world depends on the existence of the Jewish people are they ardent defenders of Israel’s security.

In this respect, I have found little difference between the 16th Ave. Telshe minyan in Boro Park and the average Modern Orthodox shul in Teaneck. The latter may have a few more members convinced that they have security expertise worth sharing with Israel’s prime ministers and generals and the former may worry a bit more about kiruv in the Holy Land, but, in general, the sense of involvement in Israel’s fate does not differ greatly between the two.

Chareidi Jews can acknowledge that the creation of Israel was not without moral taint and caused the suffering and dislocation of tens of thousands of Arab residents of what would become the new state. But in that respect, Arab refugees were no different than the other 38 million people dislocated in various ethnic conflicts around the world in the 20th century. With the sole exception of the Palestinians none of those millions still enjoy refugee status today.

No moral absolutism will cause chareidim to undermine the legitimacy of the state of Israel and thereby increase the danger to its Jewish residents just because Israel, like every other nation state in history, was born in war. If the Jewish people is to fulfill its world mission, it must first survive. And because Torah Jews believe in that world mission they urge Israel to follow the principle of “the one who comes to kill you, rise up and kill him [first],” towards those who remain committed to expelling all the Jews of Israel from their homes. And it does not matter, at this point, that those who come to kill us may have real grievances so long as they cannot reconcile themselves with Jewish existence in any part of Eretz Yisrael.

Precisely because all Torah Jews view the Jewish people as a nation, not just an amalgam of individual believers, have chareidim over the years become far more involved in internal Israeli issues that might at one point have seemed to be primarily of concern from a religious-Zionist perspective, which imbues the state of Israel with theological significance.

Issues like the recognition of heterodox conversions in Israel, for instance, have greatly exercised the Israeli chareidi leadership, though such conversions will have little immediate impact upon the chareidi community itself. Similarly, Rav Shach, zt”l, in his time, refused to permit Degel HaTorah to join a Rabin government with Shulamit Aloni as Minister of Education, even though she would have left chareidi education alone and the substantial financial inducements were offered to the chareidi community. Rav Shach would not entrust a woman who so frequently heaped scorn on mesoras Yisroel with the education of any Jewish child.

The battle over El Al’s Shabbos flights, despite the fact that El Al is no longer a national carrier and is well known to do preparatory work on Shabbos and to fly planes of its wholly owned subsidiary on Shabbos, shows a keen sensitivity to the messages conveyed to Israeli and world Jewry. Israel may not be in our eyes “the Jewish state,” and certainly not “the first flowering of the Redemption.” But it is perceived as “the Jewish state” by many Jews around the world. And so long as El Al is still perceived by many as Israel’s national airline, its flights on Shabbos convey a negative message about the sanctity of Shabbos to world Jewry. And over those messages the gedolim went to battle. That battle itself demonstrates the strong sense of Jewish national existence and collective responsibility at the heart of Torah thought.

In short, chareidi and progressive critiques of Israel start at diametrically opposite points and will never meet.

Appeared in Yated Ne’eman.

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25 Responses

  1. shmuel says:

    A friend who was a vice-president at George Soros’ company for years discussed the topic of Jewish identity with him privately. He explained Soros’ position to me as follows(at least as much as Soros was willing to share with the VP of his own co.):

    Soros believes that the world’s problems are caused by those who hold strongly “national” identities; these, he belives, are what exacerbate the world’s conflicts. Only an “internationally minded” (could this be Socialist?) world can help bring any sense of peace to hopelessly fractured man.

    My friend felt this was a sincere, if not complete, explanation on his part to explain why he would not tone down the anti-Israel rhetoric.

    This also helps us understand why he is so staunchly against those who are deeply conservative, old-style patriotic and pro-Bush. His anti-AMERICAN stand is related in this way to his anti-Israel stand. Of course, as a very secular (and woefully uneducated) Jew he is undoubtedly tied up in other knots as well.

    As for calling him a “Holocaust survivor” I believe a different term might be appropriate. As far as I understand (if my knowledge from from a 60 minute interview I saw years ago is correct) he never saw the entrance to Auschwitz as the masses of Hungarian Jewry did.

    Soros was “hidden” by non-Jews who, in fact, forced him to raid and confiscate the property of already deported Jews. This is not to suggest this is insubstantial. But this is experience is quite different from one who saw the smoke of his fellow Jews rising in a red-hue over the horizon and felt the whip over his very Jewish back.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Professor Rosenfeld’s articles are must reading for anyone interested in the growth of anti Semitism on the left, and especially Jewish anti Semitism. Once you read these articles, it is easy to why the liberal/left media jumped all over the AJC.

  3. mmbbhk says:

    This was essentially true even in the pre-state days, when the Agudah was much more actively anti-Zionist. Consider the famous story of the Mufti of Jerusalem proposing to Rav Sonenfeld z”l that, since they had a common opposition to the Zionists, they should cooperate against them. Rav Sonenfeld refused, saying that he had nothing at all in common with the Mufti, as one of them opposed Zionism because of the Jewish elements in it and the other opposed it because of the non-Jewish elements in it.

  4. Moshe P. Mann says:

    Your statement “Chareidi
    misgiving about modern day Israel are an altogether different matter” is simply incorrect. Chareidim have often joint forces with irreligious Jews and even antisemites when the alliance would benefit them. For example, the chareidim in England joined with Reform Jews in opposition to the Balfour Declaration. In our times, the Agudah party had unfortunately stooped to the level of forming an alliance with the vehemently anti-Zionist (and antisemitic) Arab parties in the Knesset to receive child allowances for large families.

    See Rabbi Berel Wein’s excellent critique of that behaviour in the Letters of the Fall 2001 Jewish Action Magazine.

  5. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “In this respect, I have found little difference between the 16th Ave. Telshe minyan in Boro Park and the average Modern Orthodox shul in Teaneck. The latter may have a few more members convinced that they have security expertise worth sharing with Israel’s prime ministers and generals and the former may worry a bit more about kiruv in the Holy Land, but, in general, the sense of involvement in Israel’s fate does not differ greatly between the two.”

    I think that there might be plenty of Telzers who also consider themselves political and military experts; the Yated and Hamodia, I think, publish as much political and military analysis as the Jewish Press, so the interest is universal. But more seriously, I think that emphasizing what different groups have in common is a good approach in general. I would like to see this done more often in Orthodox newspapers and publications of both groups.

  6. Nachum Lamm says:

    Hmmm. One wonders about the continued Agudah admiration of De Haan, who was dedicated to making a “separate peace” with the Arabs. Not, of course, that his murder can be at all justified, but facts are facts.

    That statement about different shuls was just nasty, and incorrect on all fronts to boot.

  7. Baruch Horowitz says:


    I understood that the emphasis was on what both shuls have in common, and the paragraph was expressing the differences which do exist in a light manner. I agree that it might not be perfectly accurate, but overall, I thought that it was refreshing that someone emphasized the commonality of different groups, and I think that we need to see more of that done.

    How would you express the exact dividing point between the charedi and MO approach to Israeli security today? The fact that there are different approaches to yishuv haaretz and participation in the army doesn’t affect the fact that both groups care about the security of Israel, so I think that it’s accurate to say that all Jews have this in common.

  8. David Farkas says:

    It’s a pretty good article. And I agree with the main point. But I would nitpick over the suggestion that, of a charedi shul and an MO shul, the former worries more about kiruv, while the latter worries more about Israeli security. In my experience, thinking Jews worry about both, regardless of political affiliation. Whether in Boro Park or Bergenfield, the type of Jew who worries about things other than himself will be concerned with both these issues and more. Their thoughts about kiruv may differ, but it is on both of their minds. Regarding security they both are probably hawkish.

  9. Nachum says:

    Baruch- Precisely. I just wouldn’t downplay the “different approaches to yishuv haaretz and participation in the army” (and related matters) as much as this article seems to. Nor, for that matter, do I agree that (American) charedim value kiruv in Israel more than others. The opposite may well be true.

  10. YM says:

    De Haan was a hero, 100%, a martyr to what could have been. I don’t understand how anyone could critisize him, or the Gedolim whom he worked with and for. There is no point in rehashing battles of years ago, but the comment by NL is frustrating considering the history of the past sixty years. NL, would you not admit that many of the misgivings of the charedi world have in fact been proven to be correct? That doesn’t mean that Israel shouldn’t be supported by all Jews, but is seems clear to me that Jewish history constantly repeats itself and only makes sense within a Torah ideology.

  11. Eliyahu says:

    this article is both obvious and misleading simultaneously. that chareidim share nothing in common with liberal Jews does not exactly seem like an earth shattering thesis. however to continue to say that chareidim share the same security concerns as the religious zionists is wishful thinking at best. recall certain segments of chareidi society’s gleeful reaction to the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif, not exactly ancient history.

  12. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    As the comment discussion opens up it is very interesting to see that the apparently “obvious” differences between the chareidi and RZ public are not clear at all. Eliyahu points out the satisfaction in some chareidi circles at the downfall of Gush Katif. Excuse me, but there were a considerable number of knitted-kippa-wearers among the participants, planners and supporters of the expulsion, such as Yonatan Bassi, Avrum Burg (who celebrated with a barbecue on Tisha B’Av as a sign of the Geula!), General Yair Naveh and others. After the catastrophes of Gush Katif and Amona I define myself as a mamla”sh tsala”sh (ex-nationalist ex-Zionist) waiting for somebody to give me a good reason to buy a hat, but none materialized.

  13. Nachum says:

    “NL, would you not admit that many of the misgivings of the charedi world have in fact been proven to be correct?”

    No. But give me one misgiving they actually had at the time, and we can talk.

  14. a k says:

    “recall certain segments of chareidi society’s gleeful reaction to the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif, not exactly ancient history.”
    Comment by Eliyahu — March 20, 2007 @ 12:11 am

    With all due respect, certain segments of ANY society will always reflect views that are different, and indeed the opposite of the values of that society as a whole.

    In my humble opinion, the vast majority of chareidi society, supported and agonized over the fate of those expelled from Gush Katif, and many opened their hearts, homes and pocketbooks.

    Kol Tuv

  15. Yaakov Menken says:

    I share opinions with “a k” on this issue — I don’t know what “certain segmants” Eliyahu might be referring to, but perusing the Cross-Currents archives prior, during, and after the expulsion from Gaza bring up anything but glee at the entire process.

  16. a k says:

    “Excuse me, but there were a considerable number of knitted-kippa-wearers among the participants, planners and supporters of the expulsion”
    Comment by Yehoshua Friedman — March 20, 2007 @ 9:50 am

    Please see my comment # 14 above.

    It is quite disturbing that people point to obvious non-representing members of a group, as ascribe their actions to the group as a whole.

    Are you suggesting that ‘knitted-kippa-wearers’ in any statistically significant numbers supported the expulsion? Gimme a break.

  17. Phil Goode says:

    I think JR misses the key difference between the “progressives” and the “chareidim”.

    While the progressives critique the state of Israel as a betrayal of Jewish values it is the chareidim who actively participate in weakening the state.

    Some of the ways in which this happens –
    1) the voluntary under-employment in the chareidi community – while still collecting government welfare
    2) the under-representation of chareidim in the military
    3) the establishment of separate, segregated communities
    4) the lack of appreciation/acknowledgement of the contributions of non-chareidim

    While I think these lead to several damaging consequences – I just want to focus on one – the distaste (to put it mildly) for chareidim and their view of yiddishkeit engendered by this behavior. I have sensed this aversion in secular and MO communities, in Israel and America. Maybe these is some justification for these chareidi behaviors – maybe not; but the chillul Hashem generated by these behaviors is manifest. And so how can the state not be weakened – on a spiritual plane and on a mundane plane – when this kind of polarization is occurring,

    And to compound the issue – the remedy is so readily available and yet ignored. (Some of the following is from one of my previous posts) . Imagine, if tomorrow it became the norm for the chareidim to get jobs and join the army. And imagine if they volunteered for front line duty, claiming emunah as their shield, and even volunteered for the dirty jobs, claiming there is nothing humiliating when working in tzivos Hashem. Everyone would love them. And what a kiddush Hashem! Imagine the numbers of chozrei b’tshuva.

    This blog continues to harp on the foibles of the non-Chareidim – the secular, reform, conservative, the MO, and everybody else; it’s really time to look inward.


  18. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding “Comment by Phil Goode — March 20, 2007 @ 2:11 pm”

    One could just as easily argue from the Jewish point of view that concentrated Torah study sustains the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael, so all who shirk their duty to study Torah (or to support that study) weaken Israel.

    At some point, everyone will value each other’s genuine contributions and try to make up for their own actual deficiencies.

  19. Shalhevet says:

    “Are you suggesting that ‘knitted-kippa-wearers’ in any statistically significant numbers supported the expulsion? Gimme a break.”

    Are you suggesting that ‘black hat wearers” in any statistically significant numbers supported the expulsion? Gimme a break.
    I was in Israel at that time, and I sawe and heard.

  20. a k says:

    This blog continues to harp on the foibles of the non-Chareidim – the secular, reform, conservative, the MO, and everybody else; it’s really time to look inward. Comment by Phil Goode — March 20, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

    While I totally agree that the proper way to improve one’s character and thereby be Mekadaish Shaim Shamayim (sancity G-d’s name). is ‘to look inward’, that doesn’t logically lead to your recommendations.

    By definition, ‘looking inward’ is a process that can only be done by me to myself. If someone else short-circuits the process, by telling me what the results of my ‘looking inward’ should be, I will not have any meaningful change in my outlook.

    I think it is laudable that you point out to people how they are perceived by others, so that they can begin the process of introspection, that will hopefully lead to positive change.

    (btw, I trust that you follow your own advice, and look inward in analyzing how your actions and statements can be Mekadaish Shaim Shamayim and lead to shalom al yisrael, rather than divisiveness.)

    Kol Tuv

  21. Aryeh says:

    For some reason blogs tend to harping on foibles of people. What is it about blogging that creates this tendency?

  22. a k says:


    I think you misunderstood me. (unless I don’t get your point).

    In comment # 14 I clearly disagreed with the contention that chareidi society was pro the expulsion. I commented that the vast majority of chareidim agonized over the fate of those expulsed, and it is wrong to bring as an example of a group (e.g., chareidim), those who clearly don’t represent that group.

    In comment # 16 I took exception to the SAME principle – it is wrong to bring as an example of a group (e.g.‘knitted-kippa-wearers’), those who clearly don’t represent that group.

    Kol tuv and shalom al yisrael.

  23. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “This blog continues to harp on the foibles of the non-Chareidim – the secular, reform, conservative, the MO, and everybody else; it’s really time to look inward.(comment # 17)”

    This blog gets criticism from both sides, so I disagree with this specific point. However, I agree, in general, that it’s time to look inward. The bad feelings against charedim, including those expressed by other shomrei Torah umitzvos, is too significant to ignore, and looking inward is not a case of “blaming the victim”, unless one feels that the charedi world is perfect. I don’t think charedim can change core elements of their philosophy(eg, the army issue), but there can be a better sensitivity in communication, and an attempt to understand others, if we want ourselves as well to be understood by others of a different point of view.

    Sensitivity for concerns of others is in turn based on a serious attempt to understand the mindset of another person(see Ohr Rashaz in Shemos by the Alter of Kelm), or in this case a different group, and it can be done without compromising hashkafos. I do, however, detect a trend—perhaps a small one– towards greater sensitivity in some of the charedi media.

    There certainly are specific issues which deserve to be raised and heard, even if they can’t be solved immediately. My assumption is also that many non-charedim who criticize charedim do not actually dislike chardim , and are willing to live and let live. Rather, they are responding to specific concerns, often perfectly reasonable.

  24. Baruch Horowitz says:

    For communication to work, each group needs to admit to any possible weaknesses in their own positions, even if only as they are perceived by another group. If the attitude which is communicated, even unintentionally, is that “we are perfect and you are hopelessly krum”, then there can be no meaningful conversation. Deflecting attention from a problem, or minimizing it, is unhelpful; such strategies just result in people becoming more upset that they are not understood. Regarding this and similar points, perception is what counts.

    Groups also need to ask for clarification, as in any communication. If, for example, some people say that they agree with the basic message of a newspaper article , but its language and tone were “shrill”, then good communication mandates that the newspaper then ask for specific examples of “shrillness”.

    The Charedi community has strengths, which can at least partially help it solve problems, (R’ Y. Salanter said that its essential to acknowledge strengths), and these strengths should also be communicated when facing criticism(e.g., see R. Adlerstien’s recent “Wiki-Orthodoxy” post). Nevertheless, we need to give the impression that we care about others’ concerns, and I think that this needs to be better communicated. If our publications, for example, allow no letters to the editor from non-Charedim other than in online forums which officially do not exist and are not recognized by the community, then we need a different way to have this communication on a community level.

  25. dovid says:

    “certain segments of chareidi society’s gleeful reaction to the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif”

    Is this true? If the segments you are referring to are the same people who hugged and kiSSed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then don’t call them Charedi because they are not part of the Charedi world.

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