The inaugural conference of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute convened last week in Jerusalem. Academics, philanthropists, and Jewish educators from around the world gathered to discuss threats to Israel ‘s security, anti-Semitism around the world, Israel-Diaspora relations, and issues of Jewish continuity and identity.
Only one group was not represented: the chareidim. In the four years of planning leading up to the conference, it apparently did not cross anyone’s mind that it might be a good idea to seek figures from the chareidi world to participate.
When challenged about the lack of any chareidi representation on the working groups, a French delegate explained that there is “a nearly unbridgeable cultural gap between the types of people attending the conference and members of the chareidi community” and that it is impossible to find a chareidi representative with “a good grasp of geopolitical realities.” For good measure, he added, that chareidim tend to use violent language.
This conscious exclusion of chareidim is an old story. I cannot remember a single member of the chareidi community ever being asked to address the biennial General Assembly of Jewish Federations or even to participate in one of its panels. About a decade ago, Commentary magazine published a survey of the state of Jewish belief in America, in which around fifty Jewish “theologians” were asked to respond to a series of questions. Yet even when dealing with matters of Jewish belief, the editors of Commentary apparently felt no need to invite any of dozens of possible chareidi contributors to participate.
Today the chareidi community both in Israel and chutz l’aretz is by far the fast-growing segment of the Jewish community, while the overall Jewish community outside of Israel is experiencing a net population loss. A study published this past week projected than just under a third of the elementary age school children in Israel will be studying in chareidi schools within the next five years.
(That figure, incidentally, guarantees that battles over state input into the curricula of chareidi schools will continue to intensify. So long as the chareidi school population was less than 10% of the total, we could hope that the state would take little interest in what was taught in our schools. But that day is long past.)
The Orthodox community abroad is the one community that does not feel increasingly estranged from events in Israel, and that is true whether one is describing the modern Orthodox community or those communities that specifically define themselves as non-Zionist. Orthodox Jews follow events in Israel closely; they tend to vote to a large degree based on their perception of a candidate’s support for Israel; they send their children to study post-high school education in Israel; they visit frequently; they tend to give a great deal of tzedakah to individuals and institutions in Israel; and large numbers of them come to live permanently in Israel.
The failure to invite chareidim to last week’s conference had nothing to do with the community’s lack of suitable representatives or its lack of relevance. Rather it reflects a continuing unwillingness to confront the message of the chareidi community. Just as neither the Israeli nor American governments can let go of the fantasy of a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so can the collective Jewish leadership around the world not give up its search for some gimmick that will ensure Jewish continuity and survival without a connection to Torah.
Philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, for instance, has spent millions of dollars on projects connected to Jewish continuity. He seeks to pass down to his children’s generation both his fierce Jewish pride and his self-professed atheism. But it cannot be done. Ethnic pride detached from Torah has never proven capable of sustaining itself for more than one or two generations.
Steinhardt hopes the next generation of Jews will be as concerned with Israel as his own, but he cannot provide a coherent account of the Jewish world mission or why it is important that the Jewish people continue to exist. But without a vision that encompasses Sinai, he cannot explain what connects the Jews in Israel to those in the Diaspora.
Steinhardt has thus invested in an illusion. But the last thing that the savvy hedge-fund investor and many others like him want to hear is that they are throwing away their money. Anyone delivering that message, be he ever so articulate, educated, and calm, is not invited to the party.
THE ISRAELI CHAREIDI community got another sharp reminder of its place in Israeli society this past week. Justice Ministry attorney Amnon De Hartoch slugged United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Cohen, after a heated exchange between the two in the Knesset corridor over further budget cuts to Chinuch Atzmai schools ordered by De Hartoch.
The most astounding thing about this incident was the reaction of the Israeli media and leading public figures. Maariv columnist Ben Caspi went on air the same day to say “he could have hugged De Hartoch” and to express regrets that he had not broken any of MK Cohen’s bones. Former Supreme Court Mishael Cheshin proclaimed that Cohen’s words were far worse than De Hartoch’s physical assault on a Knesset member. Shlomo Cohen, the outgoing bar association president, followed suit.
None of these figures had any first-hand knowledge of who said what to whom – a matter in hot dispute. And we can be sure that had a Jew punched former MK Azmi Bishara, after one of his frequent celebrations from the Knesset podium of attacks on Israel by Syria or Hizbullah, the reaction would have been a horrified condemnation of the resort to violence. When Rabbi Yisrael Eichler referred to former Meretz Party head Shulamit Aloni as a Nazi, he was hit with a libel judgment of hundreds of thousands of shekels. When Aloni referred to Binyamin Netanyahu and others as crypto-Nazis and fascists, she was awarded the Israel prize.
What emerges from the remarks of Caspi and the others is that punching a chareidi MK in the nose is a cherished fantasy of many Israelis.
The Chazon Ish once told Moshe Shonfeld that the hatred directed at the chareidi community can be a badge of pride for one’s adherence to Torah. But the exclusion of chareidim from the councils of the Jewish people and hatred directed at us is nevertheless a tragedy for Klal Yisrael.
As we mourn the destruction of the Temple in these days leading up to Tisha B’Av, it behooves us to ask if that hatred is solely a result of what we are doing right – i.e, our faithful adherence to Torah – or whether some of it is a result of what we are doing wrong.
Appeared in Mishpacha today.