Rabbi Grylak’s Argument Doesn’t Do It For Me

Moshe Grylak, Mishpacha’s editor-in-chief, holds an honorable position on my A list. He wisely knows the limits of his readers, but often strains against them to challenge them with new ideas. His piece in last week’s issue (Feb.1, #395), however, left me disappointed.

Entitled “This Is What You Call Iran?,” the article was two weeks in the making. His contribution a week earlier simply set the stage for the main character to appear on the middle of the stage and proclaim, “If you only knew a bit of gemara! Once you see how difficult it is to gain a capital conviction in a Jewish court, you will never fear haredim again.” The idea has some merit, but won’t work without much more that Rabbi Grylak did not say, and perhaps cannot say.

Rabbi Grylak quite correctly makes a point about inflated hysteria concerning haredim in Israel. We can also appreciate his argument that face-to-face encounters between people who rarely, if ever, speak to each other might be a good thing. His next point, however, doesn’t sit well. He wishes us to believe that what secular Israelis fear most about “the demographic trend that clearly forecasts a Chareidi majority within a few decades” is that they will be summarily executed by Jewish courts for their chilul Shabbos and for flings with their paramours. Rabbi Grylak then reports the success he has had with secular groups by explaining all the details in halacha that make it well-nigh impossible to ever execute a perpetrator. The response of students: “Why didn’t anybody ever tell us this before?” We are to believe that fear of haredim then evaporated, and everyone lived happily and harmoniously ever after (they in olam hazeh, and we in olam haboh).

I hope that secular Israelis are not that stupid, because then no one at all is running the country. The ones I know might find his point enlightening and interesting, but hardly reassuring.

One fear, of course, that he does not address is that a country with a haredi majority whose members are overwhelmingly unemployed or underemployed is simply unsustainable economically. The more haredim, the fewer working Israelis paying the taxes that pay for social services to those who don’t work or don’t get paid enough. After a while (not so long) secular Israelis get tired of footing a bill that grows larger and larger, and they leave. Even fewer taxpayers are left. Israelis are shooting themselves in the foot, reloading, and shooting again. This is the issue one hears time and time again from secular Israelis.

But let’s leave economics aside, and just focus on whether or not secular Israelis ought to fear that Israel in a haredi majority might start to resemble Iran just a tad. Personally, I don’t think so, but I understand why chiloni fears are real. And I am not so sure that Rabbi Grylak would agree with my reasons not to fear.

Rabbi Grylak only addresses the issue of capital punishment. It is, indeed, a straw man. I don’t know why he elides the most striking detail of Jewish criminal law. That is the requirement of forewarning. The beis din only metes out capital (and even corporal) punishment if the perpetrator is warned by two witnesses just prior to the commission of the crime, and verbally acknowledges that he understands how he will be punished by the court, which is just fine with him. Want to avoid the death penalty for that extramarital tryst? Just keep mum when accosted by the two (kosher) witnesses.

Capital punishment is not the issue. Two other issues are far more important in addressing concerns that Israel could become Talibanized. The first is that not everyone listens to Moshe Grylak – or his gemara. You can argue that the community should not be held responsible for the escapades of kano’im and Sikrikim – but they aren’t doing a very good job holding them in check either – or even speaking out against them. Why wouldn’t a chiloni Israel look at their activities with concern that as the Chareidi community grows, there will be more on these zealots, who will become even more brazen in time?

More important is the gemara that Rabbi Grylak does not quote: Rosh Hashanah 6, and elsewhere, which establishes the authority of the Jewish court to compel people to perform mitzvos. The plain meaning of the text is that people who are reluctant to perform mitzvos can be compelled through grievous bodily force to obey the law. Couple this with the authority of beis din to act le-afrushei me-issura/ to distance a potential sinner from his ability to sin, and you have a license for batei din to compel full observance of the Torah, both affirmative and proscriptive obligations. No witnesses, no forewarning, none of Rabbi Grylak’s niceties that calmed his secular friends. Why should they not anticipate groups of people jumping out of vans, forcing tefillin and tzitzis on their bodies, and bulldozing their soccer stadiums?

I grew up believing (i.e. hearing from rabbeim, when they got in the mood to speak about such things) that if we ever “took over” the Jewish State, all the above would certainly occur. Now, I don’t believe that this is so anymore. I would point to a teshuva of the Mahari Tatz (cited in Ohr Someach, Geirushin 2:20) that forcing people to comply with Torah law (at least in regard to affirmative obligations) rests on the assumption that the person does have significant regard for Hashem and His Torah, and nonetheless strays. A person who completely rejects the mitzvah system as foreign and irrelevant to him cannot be compelled to perform mitzvos by the court, says the Mahari Tatz. I would think that this might apply to the 10% of Israelis who are hard-core secular and/or atheist. (I don’t know what to say about the many, many Israelis who flout every law in Shulchan Aruch – except for a few, for which they have much regard. I can see room for opposing arguments about them.)

I cannot say that I have worked out the sugya to any decree of satisfaction. Readers, hopefully, will point us in the right direction. Whatever the outcome, I would be very careful about whom I would give Rabbi Grylak’s article with the hope of inspiring confidence that there is nothing to fear in a Chareidi majority.

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23 Responses

  1. cvmay says:

    Since you have a majority solidly behind your POV, send in a Letter to Editor to the Mishpacha with your points explained.

    Another excellent read is Rabbi Wein’s article recently published in the Jerusalem Post called “The FRIER COMPLEX”, on target regarding Secular Jews dissatisfaction with Charedim.

  2. Dovid says:

    Yasher koiach, Rabbi Adlerstein.

    The most important think about this piece, לענ”ד, is that it calls for stepping into the shoes of secular Israelis and seeing things the way they appear from their perspective. This is the critical first step for achieving קירוב לבבות.

  3. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Very good analysis, as usual. However, I think even your quite learned answer exceeds what is needed to addresses the fears of the vast majority of Israel’s population; secular, traditional, and orthodox alike.

    One need look no further than Bet Shemesh and the microcosm it represents to get a glimpse of what Israel as a whole could look like should the Chareidi population approach 50%. We know, or at least are constantly told, that the majority of Chareidim here are opposed to the imposition of extreme religious measures that are constantly being foisted on the broader community. Among which are segregated buses, separate lines in supermarkets, modestly signs in stores and on the streets.

    As we see now with the disproportionate power wielded by several small, ideologically narrow parties in the Knesset, it doesn’t take deep Talmudic insight to envision a similar scenario, a few years down the road, where small, religiously extreme groups would gain a stranglehold on key government posts. In such a future it’s not hard to imagine laws being enacted to make all public transit segregated, outlaw movie theaters and TV, place onerous limits on the arts, have separate hours at bowling alleys and restaurants, outlaw the teaching of evolution and an ancient universe, outlaw the selling of “untzious” cloths, establishing a “modesty” division of the police force, limiting or filtering the internet, etc, etc, etc.

    So, long before there would be court appointed Mitzvah Patrols forcing people to wear Tefillin under the threat of force, the “Talbinization” of Israel could very conceivably be achieved through the country’s very own democracy. All that’s needed for this to happen is for good men and women to remain silent in the face of the religious extremism that is taking root right now. This is a very real fear of secular and moderate religious Israelis alike and creating straw men to belittle our fear is really just a part of the problem, not the solution.

    Though this fear is quite realistic and legitimate, I happen to be optimistic. I think the economic factors you mentioned are already having a moderating effect as more and more Chareidim are joining various army and national service programs so they can legitimately enter the work force. We are also seeing increased desire for higher education. I also believe, for all its perceived evils, the internet is becoming an important moderating factor by giving people access to information. Many also believe that the growing extremism is actually a desperate response to this moderating trend. Let’s hope this is more of a last gasp, than the beginning of the end.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    At least part of the problem is that the groups discussed have diametrically opposed views of the ideal state—politically, socially, and economically. Even if the people in these groups really enjoyed one another’s company, as they should, these opposed views could easily persist.

  5. Shmuel says:

    Yishar Koach for this forthright, and bold, piece. Curious why you are comfortably optimistic that the view of the Mahari Tatz would carry the day in our society which largely resists opposing Chilul Hashem, such as the likes we’ve seen over the past few months.

  6. Joe Hill says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Why should you be disturbed by the fact that halacha allows or demands that Batei Dinim compel compliance with halacha (other than the fact that this halacha is at odds with Western values)?

  7. Daniel says:

    Are you arguing why chilonim are correct to be afraid, or why you also are scared. That is; do you think a chareidi majority would not run the state according to halacha?

    And as far as the economics; if anything a chareidi majority would finally force the chareidim to go to work, and would alleviate pressure on the chilonim. Especially since then we could join the army and not be worried about being shmaded.

  8. Baruch Gitlin says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, as always, thank you for bringing honesty and forthrightness to this web site. Your articles remain credible, whether one agrees or not. I agree with this one; I also very much agree with Menachem Lipkin’s comment – there’s a dynamic in the haredi world that enables zealots to intimidate the majority, both haredi and non-haredi, which goes beyond numbers and majorities, and I believe that’s a much more urgent issue than the question of what will happen if and when there is a haredi majority in the state of Israel. As for Joe Hill’s comment, I did not see the word “disturbed” in Rabbi Adlerstein’s article. I think the purpose of the article was to refute another article that painted a false picture of what a halachic state would look like. Falsifying the consequences of what a halacha-based state of Israel would be like should disturb anyone interested in truth, whether they support such a result or not.

  9. Baruch Gitlin says:

    Actually, thinking about this issue again, I don’t think either article addresses what I believe may be the most legitimate fear about the haredim, or the orthodox, taking over Israel: the power struggle. Would Israel remain a democracy? If so, would the religious parties be able to actually form a coalition and govern? I don’t think they have done a very good job of cooperating with each other now, when they are not the majority. Would they all of a sudden do a better job once the combined orthodox, or combined haredi parties, held a majority? And if not democracy, then what? A theological/democratic state along the lines of Iran? A monarchy? A straight theocracy, led by a council of rabbis? Who would choose the leading Torah authority/council of sages/king? Degel HaTorah? Agudah? Shas? What would be the place of women in such a state? Minorities? Who would decide these questions, the Beit Din of Rav Elyashiva, Rav Lior, Ger, Toldas Aharon? The Eida? If legal constitutional questions were to be decided by rabbis, who would determine which rabbis? Would dati leumi rabbis have a place on this council? Would rabbis that believe in an ancient universe have a seat on this council? Would rabbis with Internet have a seat on this council?

    I think these issues should give pause to everybody, including those that believe completely in a halachic state.

  10. Nachum says:

    Because, Joe Hill, people compelled to observe religion are not a religious ideal under any circumstances. I would like to see how religious say, Iran was without the morals police going around.

    [YA – It is claimed that a greater percentage of Americans go to church on Sunday than Iranians attend mosque on Friday – even with (or despite) the morals police.]

  11. Yosh says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    First, excellent piece and thank you for writing it. One thing I would like to add however.

    Rabbi Grylak’s article also points to a deeper issue. How could anyone think this is a convincing argument in the first place? It seems likely that at least Rabbi Grylak and others at Mishpacha must have thought so, or it would not have made it into the magazine. To me, that highlights a disturbing lack of even a basic understanding for others. It’s like a secular Israeli arguing that “because we are not dosing the public water system with 1 in 59 parts pork fat, you should not worry about sending your children to our schools.” It’s so clearly off base that it makes me wonder about our daas.

  12. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    RYA wrote:

    “I hope that secular Israelis are not that stupid, because then no one at all is running the country. The ones I know might find his point enlightening and interesting, but hardly reassuring.”

    I am afraid that the people running the country are not particularly wise, and legislation and jurisprudence are rather hit-and-miss enterprises. Basically we are still around with a state intact because of divine providence rather than overwhelming wisdom.
    Another issue I would like to address is the difference between being hareidi politically and hareidi religiously. A political hareidi takes issue with the State of Israel as currently constituted because it does not follow the Torah and, to a much lesser degree because Jewish national government is dependent on messianic redemption. The latter is an issue for a relatively small percentage of the hareidi population and rabbinic leaders. The more serious (hardal) of the dati-leumi population and their rabbis would certainly like the state to be Torah-observant no less than the hareidim but also place a value on national redemption as part of the fulfillment of the Torah. As the state becomes more religious, the gap between these groups decreases in the middle, with the less seriously observant (silver-dollar kippa of whatever color) on one side and the NK/Sikariki/kanoi group on the other. If mainstream religious people are running the country, they will have no choice but to deal with the economic issues of how many people can be allowed to stay in kollel as well as cracking down on kanoi terror. But the distinction between national and private religious observance will have to be ironed out. My son points out to me that in the Temple there will be no glatt and no other humrot because causing a korban to be burned is halachically not permissible. There will have to be some coalescence of political shtieblach into a viable national force in order to apply the Torah intelligently and generally in the public sphere. That sounds to me to be pretty close to a Sanhedrin. The quantum step of a significant majority of Israel being Torah observant would leave no choice but for the rabbis and statesmen to pull together, write some frum Federalist Papers, hammer out the consensus and then make it stick with all the power of the state behind it.

  13. Jon_Brooklyn says:

    The Charedim will never control the state. Why? Because it’s the secular minority that will have the guns no matter what. Thank God, because most Charedim will not care for the opinion of the Mahari Tatz.

  14. Chaim Saiman says:

    In addition to RYA’s point about a B”D’s power to compel the performance of mitzvot, I would add that pursuant to the principle of B’D makin veonshin shel min hadin, a B”D can execute a variety of judgments and punishments outside the boundaries of the rules set forth in GM Sanhedrin. See also Choshen Mishpat siman 2 and the famous Derashot HaRan #11, which authorizes a court to deviate from halakha to maintain social order. In his book, HaOnshin Acharei Chatimat HaTalmud (1922) R. Simcha Assaf collected scores of teshuvot where Rishonim such as the Rosh and Rashba used this principle to authorize cutting off of fingers, noses, etc. for violations of halakha that would not conform to the rigors of capital/corporal punishment set forth in GM Sanhedrin.
    More broadly, RYA is correct to note that there are plenty of halakhic resources (e.g. MaHari Tatz) that call for/allow for what we might call a non-coercive halakhic state. In fact nearly 100 years of Mishpat Ivri scholarship has produced what must be hundreds of books and thousands of articles on this topic (many building off the aforementioned Drashot HaRan). But there are also a great number of sources (and often the very SAME sources) that can be employed for the exact opposite purpose. The question is which sources will be chosen which Rabbanim will interpret them, and how will they be implemented? Here I must agree with Shmuel. Recent events might certainly give pause to those who fear the “Talibanization” of Israel.

  15. S. says:

    The whole matter is strange. Theocracy is repugnant to the Western mindset, and even to many without such a mindset. This is well before the question of “Will it be my theocracy or your theocracy?” or “Can we somehow trust people to be fair, just and incorruptable?” There can be no reassuring those who find the idea of theocracy to be utterly wrong that “when we do it” it will not be Iran. To them it will be Iran.

  16. DF says:

    One need not go to Iran for examples of half-hearted religiosity fostered only by peer pressure. Huge percentages of Eastern European Jews who were ostensibly “orthodox” in their customs, metaphorically “threw their tefillin” in the NY harbor the moment they arrived. It wasn’t b/c of hardship in finding shabbos-observant jobs, it was lichatchilah. Why? Because they never truly bought into orthodoxy, and it was only peer pressure and the social powers of the official rabbinate that kept them going through the motions. Were it not for the anti-semitism holding them in, they would have left en masse. in other words, contra all the myths so often taught, anyone who knows even a little of Eastern European life knows how awful it was, and how Jews by the millions yearned to get out. And so when America proved to be exactly the beacon they were looking for, they left, with no regrets. Many of these Jews carried a bitter resentment to their previous life of forced orthodoxy that they passed on to their children and grandchildren, a lingering emotion we are all still suffering from today.

  17. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the comment by DF February 13, 2012 at 11:33 am

    DF conflates two reasons people had for leaving Europe and coming to the US:

    1. Economics (brutal poverty vs. opportunity)

    2. Objections to religion

    Unless DF offers some actual evidence to the contrary, I’d say economics played the primary role. The regions where most Jews lived had extreme poverty for Jew and non-Jew alike, whether religious or not.

    DF wrote about “anti-semitism holding them in”. Antisemitism logically made moving out because of economics even more urgent (anti-semitism limited job opportunities and degraded living conditions).

  18. DF says:

    Bob, clearly both factors were at work, and one or ther other may have been stronger depending upon the exact time and region. But as to my point, that forced religious observance existed in Europe on a wide scale only to come a crashing halt, there are entire libraries full of evidence. Read any of the novels from the great Yiddish writers (in English.) As Rabbi Wein always says, paraphrasing Mark Twain, the committment of Jews in Europe was like the Mississipi – a mile wide, but an inch deep. With the gradual spread of enlightenment in Europe, the autonomy of the Jewish community lessened and as a result, the power of the rabbinate weakened. Concurrently with this came growing numbers of non-observance. And I think the tens of thousands of erstwhile religious Jews who ceased observance the moment they left their community behind is already well-documented.

  19. Bob Miller says:


    What is your model of an effective way to enhance Jewish religious observance in Israel through example and persuasion, and not force?

  20. Baruch Gitlin says:

    To Bob Miller – you asked DF, not me, but I would like to chime in. I think you answered your own question – “through example and persuasion.”

    I think there is a great desire to know more about Judaism among secular Israelis. If they would see a better example from those of us that hold ourselves out to be religious, I think this would have a tremendous effect. A fairer distribution of the burden of serving in the army wouldn’t hurt anything either.

    In any case, force sure as heck isn’t going to accomplish anything. The only area in which I support force, so to speak, is in the area of Shabbos observance, and that’s because if there aren’t laws to enforce closing on Shabbos, the pressure of competition might force people that want to observe Shabbos to open their businesses on Shabbos.

  21. Shlomo says:

    Um, did Rabbi Grylack just hope that no one he talks to about this will have ever read Choshen Mishpat siman 2?

  22. cohen y says:

    Bob, clearly both factors were at work, and one or ther other may have been stronger depending upon the exact time and region. But as to my point, that forced religious observance existed in Europe on a wide scale only to come a crashing halt, there are entire libraries full of evidence. Read any of the novels from the great Yiddish writers (in English.) As Rabbi Wein always says, paraphrasing Mark Twain, the committment of Jews in Europe was like the Mississipi – a mile wide, but an inch deep. With the gradual spread of enlightenment in Europe, the autonomy of the Jewish community lessened and as a result, the power of the rabbinate weakened. Concurrently with this came growing numbers of non-observance. And I think the tens of thousands of erstwhile religious Jews who ceased observance the moment they left their community behind is already well-documented.

    In the Near East and North Africa it worked rather better.

  23. meir says:

    Amen to Chaim Saiman and the Serashot Haran reference, would also note that i believe the great R Chaim Ozer is quoted in a teshuva of R’ Herzog with respect to relying on the Ran as a basis for establishing a secularist jewish state with classic laws of a commonwealth and without the “higher law” of the Torah, as the Torah allows the ruling class (whether a beit din, judge or king) to establish a basic law necessary to keep the peace.

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