When Many Are One

Some outsiders regard the Orthodox Jewish world as monolithic, but those of us within the community know well that quite the opposite is the case. Few religious communities are as diverse.

The Orthodox universe hosts a multiplicity of approaches to a multiplicity of issues: the inherent value of secular education, what goes by the name of “Jewish religious pluralism,” the theological significance of the State of Israel, the proper degree of separating the sexes, the application of the concept of “daas Torah” – to name a few.

Sometimes the differences in approach can appear quite prominent and, indeed, people who take their Judaism seriously can only be expected to feel strongly about issues important to them.

And so the various Orthodox bubbles, although they occasionally collide gently (as bubbles are wont to do), generally just float about independently. There are times, though, when the bubbles all merge, when distinctions simply disappear. The horrific attack on the Mercaz Harav yeshiva was one.

The March 6 murder of eight boys and wounding of ten others in a prominent yeshiva brought tears to the eyes of all feeling Jews, of course. And the victims of every terrorist attack on any Jews are kedoshim, holy martyrs, a term that our enemies have perversely pinned on those among them who seek to spill innocent blood.

But the recent massacre brought particular anguish to the Orthodox community, as the victims were so deeply dedicated to Torah study – and engaged in it – when they were martyred. As the New York Sun put it the next day: “The attack struck a special chord with Orthodox Jews in the way that an earlier attack on a Tel Aviv disco resonated with more secular or youthful observers.”

That the yeshiva was prominently associated with the “Religious Zionist” movement was of no interest; the sorrow swept over us all.

Heartrending reports and editorial eulogies for the murdered youths appeared in the Haredi press both in Israel and America. Haredi roshei yeshiva and communal leaders sent their personal condolences to the families of those so cruelly cut down in their prime, and wishes for a refuah shleima to the wounded. The Belzer Rebbe, who rarely leaves his house, attended one of the funerals and later visited the wounded at Shaare Tzedek Hospital. Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, who leads one wing of the Satmar chassidus, synonymous with theological anti-Zionism, wrote that “Yerushalayim is weeping over the fact that Jewish boys were… murdered in such a terrible way… the entire Jewish People weeps over such a bitter tragedy.”

Here in the United States, Torah Umesorah, the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools, whose rabbinical board consists of Haredi roshei yeshiva, asked the principals of the hundreds of schools it services to have their students recite Tehillim and study Torah in memory of those killed, and in the merit of a full recovery for those who were wounded. Also suggested was that principals have students send condolence letters to the families of the murdered, and good wishes to the injured; and that special memorial services be held.

Haredi rabbis and roshei yeshiva spoke publicly, with visible anguish, to their flocks and students about the depth of the tragedy and the pure-hearted dedication to Torah of those who were murdered.

No, differences in approach and theological outlook didn’t, and don’t, disappear.

Sometimes, though, they just don’t make a difference.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

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11 Responses

  1. litschack says:

    Absolutely true. As a “black hat chareidi” I can attest that our world was genuinely broken-hearted by the tragedy. My Rov broke down and cried while leading tehillim on that horrible Thursday afternoon. But I am puzzled as to why there was not a much bigger chareidi showing at the Mercaz levaya. Your few examples cited above show that these instances were the exception rather than the rule. I would think that the mitzvah to be melaveh these korbonos should have triggered as huge a levaya as Yerushalayim has every seen, with wide attendance migodol ve’ad kotton. I guess things just happened too quickly, before people had a chance to gather their thoughts. If this is correct we should realize that our initial instincts should have reflected a bit more ahavas yisroel.

  2. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Excellent article. It is Purim, so a piece of MO lore. First, a true story – the Rav ztl gave tzdakah to the neturai karta – the kindler, gentler sect of half a century ago. Second, when asked why, he replied a) they assured me that they would NOT use the funds to buy stones to attack me were I ever to visit israel, b) I know they will never cash the check, it is more valuable if they keep it to show to others, c) they need support and what divides us pales in comparison to what unites us – we are all torah learning shomrei mitzvos.

    The Rav said c) on an ordinary day. One learns more from the every day than the extraordinary. The opening paragraph in Tzidkas hatzaddik, teaches a similar point in differentiating the extraordinary Pesach mitzraim from the ordinary pesach Dorot.

    It is truly sad that the issues that you list in the second paragraph as well as many others (science/evolution, infallability of chazal on non-halkhic matters, etc) over which voices are yet more strident, issues debated for as long as they have been relevant, are not acknowledged as such. They need not and cannot be resolved – they need to be transcended.

  3. Moishe Weiss says:

    However, it is so very sad, that it takes such a momentous tragedy, a true slap in the face, to bring this sad point to the forefront.

    There is much Torah and Mitzvos in the Chareidi/Yeshivish/Chasidish world to be very proud of, but there is also just so much disrespect and Sinas Chinom to another Yid, just because he/she doesn’t follow the same…,

    If we would all focus on what we agree on, rather than what we disagree on, the Chareidi space would be a kinder gentler, place.

  4. Achdus says:

    Dear Rabbi Shafran,

    I appreciated your message in response to the Mercaz HaRav that we frum yidden must all get together and unite with a true achdus. I’d like to suggest practical ways to achieve this.
    We all give much lip service to achdus. But what does it mean practically? How do we make it real? Why is it that we find these achdus statements made when we face tragedy but not when things are rolling along fine? Do we really want achdus? If we do, we need to appreciate Mercaz HaRav, Yeshiva University , and the Mizrachi section of Klal Yisrael even when not facing tragedy.
    Whether we as Charedim agree with their shitos in everything should not make us feel distant from them. We agree on 98% of hashkafas HaTorah. I am not minimizing the importance of the 2% we disagree on but we should focus much more on the 98% of things we agree on. How else are we going to achieve real achdus?
    We should have more joint events with Charedi shuls and Mizrachi shuls coming together. Our leaders should embrace their leaders, despite the differences.
    If we want to live with achdus, the pesicha of the Netziv to Bereishis is required reading. He says the reason why the churban bayis sheini happened is because people called each other apikorsim even if they disagreed on a halachic or hashkafic issue that was nowhere near apikorsus. The Netziv says that the Avos are called Yesharim because despite having to deal with a Lavan, an Esav, a Pharoah, an AviMelech, etc. they treated them with respect. All the more so, he says, when it comes to fellow frum yidden (who agree with us on 98% of issues-additional point from this writer).
    We have to stop all the bitul, all the calling of each other apikorsim, all the negative vibes against frum groups one to the other. We must focus one what we agree on, and we agree on most things!
    Fellow readers, please try to organize activities, lectures, workshops, chesed drives, etc. where all shuls, no matter Mizrachi or Charedi, can come together. Ask your Rabbanim to come together with the other group’s Rabbanim. These are the only ways we can live with a true achdus.
    A Charedi Jew

  5. Mark says:

    Moshe Weiss,

    “If we would all focus on what we agree on, rather than what we disagree on, the Chareidi space would be a kinder gentler, place.”

    I would dare say the same is true for the MO world. Last I checked the number of blogs decrying the Hareidim from the MO world far outnumbers the reverse. If this so longed-for Achdus will ever be achieved, it will have to be a dual effort.

  6. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The more we all learn Torah together rather than spout ideology, the better. This is the time to deepen those channels. This is what I noticed at the recent regional daf yomi siyum at Tel Tzion with participants from various surrounding yishuvim.

  7. David Rosenbaum says:

    Re: #2 by Dr. Gewirtz: As I heard it, it was not Neturei Karta but rather the Eda Hachareidit. The former are a miniscule but vocal group, whereas the latter is quite a large group and share the same outlook, in general, as Satmar (the Satmar Rav was their Ga’avad). It is important not to confuse them.

    Re: #5 by Mark: You are correct, though I think that’s because there’s much less surfing going on in the Hareidi world. In fact, those surfing from the Hareidi population would tend to be those least extreme in their community. But it is true that the feelings are not just one way. There are, of course, differences, but ultimately it has to be mutual. As I heard from Rabbi Lamm, one has to say “mipnei hataeinu”, not “mipnei hataeihem”.

  8. Chaim Wolfson says:

    David Rosenbaum, you are correct that it was the Eda Hachareidis. The seceratary of the Eda, Rabbi Yossel Scheinberger, came to Boston every year for a few days to collect money, and Rav Soloveitchik was always one of his first stops. Rav Soloveitchik would give him what even today would be considered a very large donation. Once, one of Rav Soloveitchik’s Boston talmidim was present, and asked him how he could give money to people who would likely throw stones at him if he ever came to Yerushalyim. Rav Soloveitchik answered, “What do you think, that they don’t they put on tefillin every morning just like we do?!” I heard this story from my father, who drove Rabbi Scheinberger to Rav Soloveitchik’s house that time.

    And Dr. Gewirtz, I know Rav Soloveitchik meant reason #2 as a joke, but I’m sure he knew that Yerushalmim are not so sentimental that they wouldn’t cash the check. There is an acropyphal story about the Yerushalmi who was collecting money. Someone gave him an $18 donation with the comment that 18 is the “gematria” (numerical value) of “chai”, life. To which the Yerushalmi responded, “If you would give me an amount equal to ‘meesa meshunah’ (an unnatural death), I wouldn’t be bothered in the least.”. [For those keeping score at home, the “gematria” of “meesa meshunah” is 806.]

  9. Mark says:

    David Rosenbaum,

    “Mark – You are correct, though I think that’s because there’s much less surfing going on in the Hareidi world.”

    Instead of assuming something that isn’t the case, why not go by what we know. There isn’t a single blog that I’m aware of whose raison d’etre is to demonstrate Hareidi superiority over MO or whose overarching theme is to highlight every flaw in the MO system. I can think of numerous [even “respectable” one] that do the reverse.

    I’ve spent my entire life in the Hareidi community and there is hardly discussion of the MO world, let alone to dismiss it or prove anything. It comes up occasionally and there are definitely strong opinions about our differences but this obsession with Hareidi inferiority that is found on Jblogs from the MO world, has no counterpart in the Hareidi world.

    If you really want achdus, lowering the shrill tone of those blogs would be a very good place to start.

  10. James Bourne says:

    Dear Avi,
    Some interesting thoughts here.

    Are the same thoughts aroused when talmide yeshivot hesder fall during a battle protecting the State of Israel. Or is this different because they are not learning at that particular moment? Is their action less kadosh? The fact that they are, by their act, protecting those talmidei yeshivat Toldot Aharon or Yeshivat Mier.

    I would appreciate a response from anybody.

  11. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Chaim – I refered to it as “lore” and thanks for the precise facts. My point is what happens around a tradgedy/levaya pales in significance to how one behaves everyday. I hope this show of achdus stays around.

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