The Volume That Speaks Volumes
What could be the connection between intensified Israeli media incitement against haredim and the appearance of a new Yom-tov prayerbook designed exclusively for Israeli Jews? On the surface, none. But let’s glance beneath the surface.
Media incitement against haredim is old hat, an automatic Pavlovian reaction against their favorite bête noir. Were there no haredim, they would have to be invented for the benefit of the secular elites and their servile media. Whipping boys are hard to find.
Recently, however, the incitement has become unusually shrill. Granted, haredi society is far from perfect, and the behavior of some of its adherents far from exemplary. But even though one expects higher standards from those who defend Torah values, the fact is that whenever a haredi commits a wrong that would normally be reported on the page 15, the anti-religious media, religiously faithful to the tradition of yellow journalism, pounce on it and create a media circus: screaming headlines, attack columns, admonishing editorials.
Certainly the ugly behavior of some haredi hooligans, such as those in Beit Shemesh, are abhorrent. They bring shame to the name of Gd, Torah, and Orthodox Jewry, trampling upon the pleasant dracheha darchei noam face of Torah. Still, one cannot help wondering: if, say, Israeli Russian hooligans — and not haredim — were committing such outrages, would the liberal media condemn the entire population of Russians?
Fast forward to the unique new Feldheim Yom-tov machzor. Until now, all machzorim were designed for Israel and for the Diaspora, because only in this way could they be commercially viable. But the need to produce one machzor for both communities created numerous opportunities for prayerful confusion. For example, Israelis celebrate only one day of Yom-tov instead of the normative Diaspora two days. And of course, on the day after Yom-tov in Israel, Diaspora Jews are still celebrating the last day of Yom-tov. Machzor publishers historically made valiant efforts to address everyone’s prayer needs within one volume, but with this new publication the wide net is no longer necessary.
Now to connect the dots: The fact that Israel now has enough Jews to justify the publication of machzorim for Israelis alone demonstrates that in Israel there exists today a critical mass of davening Jews — i.e., religious Jews, both haredi and non-haredi. This mass is constantly increasing in size — the haredim exponentially, and the non-haredi Orthodox at a rate far beyond the rest of the country. A leading demographer estimates that within one generation the haredi population alone will constitute fully one-third of the entire Israeli population, without even counting the other Orthodox Israelis. In effect, religious Jews , through numbers, political influence and economic strength are on the verge of becoming the dominant force in Israel.
Such a prospect terrifies the ideological secularists and the elite opinion leaders. [I refer here to the secular ideologues who are few in number but large in influence, and not to the majority of non-observant Israelis who are respectful of Torah.] Their vision of Israel as just another democratic state — kechol haGoyim, like all the nations — is rapidly evaporating. Fear and trembling has set in. Circle the wagons! The haredim are coming! Aware that they are losing the battle for Israel’s soul, the long knives come out. Opposition leader Tsipi Livni on December 28 says it openly: unless something is done immediately about the haredi school system, ”Israel’s character will change in ten years.” And another government official chimes in immediately that “families with 8-plus children (guess who that means?) are sinning against society.” On cue, their media flacks sensationalize every haredi misdeed into an international cause celebre.
But it is not only the black be-peyosed, be-caftaned, and be-shtreimeled Jews who ignite their fear; their apprehension and distrust extends to the full Orthodox spectrum, even to strictly observant kippah-serugah officers in elite units in the Israel Defense Forces. The secular future is gradually dissipating: one can almost sympathize with these unanchored Israeli Jews and their frenetic — and pathetic — exercises in irreligious coercion. Last flings tend to get out of hand.
Granted, it remains to be seen whether the Orthodox are inherently capable of handling a dominant role in Israel. In the interim, however, the Israeli-only Yom-tov machzor is a harbinger of huge spiritual tectonic shifts — a volume that speaks volumes.
This article first appeared in Mishpacha.