Just Because They Are Trying To Get You Doesn’t Mean You Aren’t Paranoid: A Response To Rabbi Grylak

“To our chagrin, our aggressive style and the curses and insults that are issued by our own people and media organs are a terrible malady. These things are the cause of tremendous damage in the delicate and complex fabric of relations between the charedim and the secular populace of the State of Israel.”

Those words, penned by Rabbi Moshe Grylak, Mispacha’s editor-in-chief, make worthwhile and bearable the embarrassment of a two-page response to my earlier essay in Cross-Currents. That essay praised Mishpacha for the wealth of information and thought regarding the Yair Lapid measures, but showed where there were some gaps, including Rabbi Grylak’s contribution to that issue.

Rabbi Grylak joins me, and I imagine most readers of Cross-Currents, in mourning the sacrifice of truth on the altar of expediency, whether in Haaretz or in HaPeles. He does, I fear, miss a key point of mine. After a long citation from the original article in which I point out that hyperbole is common to both camps, and therefore not the best way of gauging what is really on people’s minds, Rabbi Grylak acquits himself of the charge of paranoia by pointing out that the voices he cites were not those of extremists, but of people “considered the mainstream of our society.” Yet my point was not that the individuals he cited were marginal people, but that they used overheated rhetoric to inflame passion, and please the masses. Who is doing it is not the point. What they really feel – and hence what they will try to achieve with their legislation – is more important.

Rabbi Grylak observes that Shai Piron should not be seen as an extremist. He is the Minister of Education, which puts him in an important position. He is not just blowing off steam. Rabbi Grylak finds upsetting that Shai Pirion explicity states that he wants to “produce a change in Israeli society…There is a need to create a cultural ethos shared by everyone.” Rabbi Grylak is concerned about the imposition of such an ethos by people standing outside the charedi community. The fact that Piron thinks that all Israelis ought to study some poems of Bialik and other secular poets is a matter of concern to him.

It should be. Unchecked, such a process could easily turn into an insidious propagandizing of charedi schoolchildren. The notorious Shulamit Aloni used that same office to propagandize for the left during her stint at that job, stripping textbooks of the pride that was instilled through telling in a positive manner the miraculous events of the establishment of the State and its subsequent battles with the barbarians at the gates. But is it fair to be conclusory about Piron? Should we not ask what kind of cultural ethos he wants to see. Does he want to cut of the peyos of residents of Meah Shearim? Does he want to lower the charedi birthrate so they won’t take over? Or does he want to see charedi soldiers in Tzahal (and DL ones, and secular ones) met with a smile and appreciation? Much more importantly – does it matter so much what Piron (a BT, rav and a ram!) wants? What kind of change is the voting public looking for? Is it fair to assume that they want what Piron wants? Should we not at least ask the question? No, I don’t think Rabbi Grylak is paranoid, but I think he is helping to ease his readership down the path of maximizing rejection of the other side, while paying minimum attention to their legitimate concerns and needs. [Aside: Last week, Hamodia put together an evening of messages on the topic by important speakers around the world. They did stay close to the predictable message, with one important exception. Rabbi Aharon Lopiansky of Silver Spring (a colleague on the editorial board of Klal Perspectives) spoke, among other things of the need to understand what the other sides is saying. He pointed to an Akeidah (Kedoshim #65) who says that women who truly care about their appearance use mirrors that maximize, rather than minimize, their blemishes. That way, they can better attend to them cosmetically. Listening to our critics, with their inflated language, helps us focus on our own faults. You can listen to his presentation by calling 718-650-6050 and selecting option 6.]

Rabbi Grylak asks in large type, “Does a demand for forced social change fit in with the concept of democracy as you know it in the United States?” Unfortunately, he picked the wrong week to ask this question. Rabbi Grylak, meet Justice Kennedy, who led the US Supreme Court in a massive exercise in social engineering last week. Rabbi Grylak also asks, “From a democratic point of view, do you see a possibility for the US government to dictate the nature of education in keeping with the American ethos? Can they do this in Satmar, in Lakewood?” Maybe it is time for another US visit, Rabbi Grylak. Indeed, that is the law of the land. Some may try to operate in violation of the laws mandating general studies instruction (even for home schoolers!), but the laws in fact exist. They uphold the need of a democratic society to assure that children are given both a chance at vocational success as well as share some information about the United States that is meant to bring about some social cohesion.

Like Yair Lapid, what I say I would like to see is not the same as what I would settle for as first steps along the way. Rabbi Grylak’s concession that over-the-top rhetoric by any camp leads to over-the-top reaction by the opposing camp is a good place to start, and I am happy to have been the shliach to make it happen.

And, to illustrate the complexity and nuance of life, I will recall for readers the time some years ago that I joined an Aguda mission to Israel. We spent some time in Knesset; I was chosen to deliver a message from the group at a meeting with MK Chaim Ramon. My piece de resistance was a beautiful appreciation of the role of the beis medrash and learning as the source of strength of the Nation. It was delivered with the apparent approval of the other participants. It was authored by Chaim Nachman Bialik.

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13 Responses

  1. ben dov says:

    Missing from the Hamodia pages is any acknowledgement that charedim have done anything to bring this on themselves. It takes two to have a pathological relationship. If mainstream Israelis are guilty of insensitivity to charedim ( I think they are) this stems in part from charedi insensitivity to them.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Do you see any area in this controversy where the Chareidi and Mizrachi rank and file can agree? I’m chagrined that the leadership elements of the two groups can’t seem to speak a common language.

    [YA – In the US, they could agree about a good deal. Both groups could argue (and in one meeting with Ambassador Oren did just that!) that some aspects of the proposed legislation and the stridency with which they are described are counterproductive and destroying years of progress in bringing more haredim into the job market.]

    I am too far removed – geographically and intellectually – from the Israeli mindset to comment on that happening there.

  3. Moshe Feigin says:

    What exactly are the two of you arguing about? I read his two articles and your two articles, and all I can figure out is the argument is over whether Prion et al are 60% or 65% against Charedim.

    I also read through every word of Mishpacha’s “Who are Cheredim” articles it’s starting to get rather thin. Yes, Lapid’s way is absurd and just going to entrench Charedim more, who are once again under attack by someone that wants to stream roll his views onto others (‘secular coercion’?). On the other side, there’s nothing wrong with learning math and getting a job as an accountant. Yes, Torah learning is great and those who wish to spend their lives doing so should do so and be supported, but it is any less extreme to have yeshivas which assume 100% of the Talmidim are cut out for a life of learning Torah full time and the future accountant amongst them is to be treated like he’s quasi off the derech already?

    All too often, extremism is met with extremism. It’s not for Lapid to dictate, but the Charedi population is no longer made up of a few yeshivas, but is now, B”H a way of life of a large percentage of the population. A little thanks for all the yeshiva support from the Israel government and maybe a little more practical job training and preparation for 6 year old’s would go a long way. Just because an idea comes from a hater, doesn’t make it wrong. Let the frum world worry about what it’s doing, it’s middos towards the rest of the Jews (maybe a little thanks / hakaras hatov for all the support of yeshivas thus far from Israel government?), and be defined internally, and not by Lapid.

  4. Arnie Lustiger says:

    Thank you again, R. Yitzchak, for a characteristically brilliant piece. There is an element of irony in your exchange with R. Grylak. Of all the mainstream Chareidi media, Mishpacha contains the most nuance. Indeed, it is R. Grylak’s very admission that “our aggressive style and the curses and insults that are issued by our own people and media organs are a terrible malady” that opened the door for your exchange with him. (I often wish I could eavesdrop on Mishpacha’s editorial meetings where decisions are almost certainly made weekly on how far to tiptoe to the edge of Chareidi acceptability in their reporting). Obviously, the community that understands the need for nuance cannot begin to debate or communicate through Yated or Hamodia or Ami: without the “curses and insults” they would have little editorial content left. It is not the R. Grylak’s, but the Pinny Lipshutz’s that most need to learn that the issues that face us are not monochromatic.

  5. E. Fink says:

    Great article.

    I find it quite disheartening that the frum media does not find truth the be the most important value in reporting the (and even editorializing) the news.

  6. David says:

    I find it infuriating when I hear the argument that the charedim are afraid of coming under the control of the Zionists by joining the IDF or allowing limudei chol. If you live in a country and demand its government’s services, then, duh, you must come under its control. As RYA pointed out, there are certain basic demands that every government makes of its citizens. Sure, in western democracies these demands are minimal, but there are demands. And I think sharing the burden of defense given Israel’s unique security needs, and learning basic skills that contemporary professional life demands, along with allegiance to the state, are not unreasonable demands.

    And I think RMG’s hysteria over Rabbi Piron’s remark of a “shared ethos” is over the top. Does RMG really think that Rabbi Piron wants to turn charedim into Zionists? This kind of hysteria really makes reasoned debate impossible.

  7. L. Oberstein says:

    This is what I sent to Mishpacha. It probably won’t be printed, but it should be.
    Rabbi Grylack:
    I think it is important to clarify some misunderstandings of the difference between the way many of us think in the United States and how you portray chareidi thinking in Israel.
    You quote Rabbi Shai Piron as follows and ask So, am I being paranoid?
    “For 65 years, the state has not dealt with establishing its own personal identity; it has allowed every subgroup within it to set its own path. We must think about how we can advance a social core curriculum that will put us all on the same page and mold us into a single society…”
    In the United States, all immigrants become Americans, we all pledge allegiance to the flag, our dollar bills have on them “e pluribus unum”, “out of many ,one”. American Jews participate fully as Americans , not as a foreign group happening to live in this country. It would be unthinkable in the United States for Jews to refuse to fly the US Flag, to ignore July 4, to refuse to sing the national anthem. Nor would any of your readers in Great Britain refuse to show allegiance to their government in such an overt way. Only in a Jewish country ,can Jews get away with such an attitude.
    You also write:

    ” From a democratic point of view, do you see a possibility for the United States government to dictate the nature of chareidi education in keeping with the American ethos? Can they do this in Satmar, in Lakewood, and who knows where else? Is the religious Secretary of the Treasury in America considered unfit for his office, due to the fact that his allegiance is to the Torah and mitzvos and not to the American ethos? ”

    You are greatly mistaken. Satmar schools and Lakewood schools teach a core curriculum, some more than others. Not only that, private schools do not receive government funding in the US and still are obligated to teach a core curriculum. In Israel, you get money from the government for schools that are religious. All public schools that get government money in the US must be secular.

    I have had the pleasure of davening in the same shul in Riverdale when the Secretary of Defense, a Shomer Shabbos Jew was there. If you told him that his allegiance was not to the “American ethos” , he would laugh in your face. Like all modern orthodox Jews and most of those to the right of that, he does not see his Jewishness as unAmerican and he certainly is considered by all in this country as an American, not as a Jew who lives in this country.. It was irrelevant when he was chosen and not a factor in the slightest.

    I understand that the State of Israel has a much different history and that the founders of Israel were secular socialists who fought religion and uprooted many immigrants forcibly from Torah observance. I understand that there is an ongoing Kulturkampf in Israel and that is why this battle is another one in a long war for survival by the chareidim. We in America all support the Olom Hatorah and are on the same side, but we do not live in identical worlds .If you want American Jewish support, you need to understand our history better. For what it is worth, I hope that once the anger is over, all factions in Israel can sit down like Jews who are one people, brothers and sisters, and find a way to live in peace with one another.

  8. Zvei Dinim says:

    Any mandated education program with the stated attempt of programming ethos would end up in the Supreme Court. In USA education is officially meant to inform, not program ethos.

    [YA – 1) All bets are off on what SCOTUS would say. About anything 2) Education is not meant to inform. It is meant to ensure that a new generation is given the tools to contribute to society as adults. That is the State interest. And that is what lots of Israelis, right or wrong, are saying about the core curriculum. ]

  9. Chardal says:

    >Any mandated education program with the stated attempt of programming ethos would end up in the Supreme Court. In USA education is officially meant to inform, not program ethos.

    Growing up in America, I, along with everyone else, was compelled by my teacher to say the following words every morning:

    “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    If that is not meant to instill and ethos, I don’t know what is.

  10. Hoffa Fingerbergstein says:

    ben dov – your assumption that the chareidim started this and the chilonim react is baseless. In light of the fact that anti-religious socialism is a at the root of much of where traditional “chiloni” societal perspectives came from, I don’t thinks its unreasonable to conclude that attack on religion was what started things. The chareidi media never helped by continuing the back and forth. Anyway, if we want to have a conversation, I think everybody should stop trying to figure out who started what.

    David – R’ Piron is the 2008 recipient of the New Israel Fund UK’s human rights award. The NIF is not exactly know either for its support of Israel or its fondness for religion. Anyway, yes, the goal is to make Chareidim into de facto Zionists, at the very least, because non-Zionism or anti-Zionism is a major roadblock to service int the IDF and in “sharing the burden” when a large group of people question the validity of State of Israel. To think otherwise is absurd.

    Also you comments and those who say “why can’t they learn math, science” ignore the history of the chareidi community in Israel with its roots in the Yishuv Yashan, which was there way before the 1st wave of Zionists arrived and which relied on financial support and the culture that this support devloped.

  11. cvmay says:

    “Do you see any area in this controversy where the Chareidi and Mizrachi rank and file can agree”?

    In order to see agreement or disagreement it is essential to fine tune the Charedi and Mizrachi kehillas. The Charedi media and spokesmen are 100% (homogeneous) on target with their Rabbonim and less in tune with their voters, the Mizrachi media & spokesmen are diverse and heterogeneous and therefore their message is as diverse as the people they represent. There have been meetings between Rabbonim (some)of both communities and signed declarations on issues of draft and core curriculum. So agreement there is, depending on whom to ask or follow!!!

  12. ben dov says:

    Hoffa, you misread my words. I said the insensitivity of secularists stems IN PART from the insensitivity of charedim. There are other factors. I said it TAKES TWO to have a pathological relationship. I spoke of MUTUAL insensitivity and never addressed the question of which came first. You also overlook that charedi insensitivity can EXACERBATE even a pre-existing secular insensitivity. I agree with you we should not focus on “who started it”, but my post was intended precisely to get away from that.

  13. cvmay says:

    Dear Hoffa,
    “with its roots in the Yishuv Yashan” – Yes correct this ban began in 1856 as a backlash against the Lamel school which was established by Yekke Jews in Yerushalayim.

    “The Ashkenazi opposition culminated – on June 12, 1856 -with the issue of a ban against study at the Laemel or a similar school which incorporated secular study in the school curriculum. The text of the ban specified that it applied to “all present and future members of the “Kollel Ashkenazim”. Among the signatories was R. Samuel Salant (1816-1909), later officially recognized as Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazic community of Jerusalem. In later years, especially under the aegis of R. Moses Joshua Leib Diskin (1817-1898), the ban was reissued and expanded”.

    BTW Who are ‘future members’ of the Kollel Ashkenazim? Does that include olim of the last 20 years? are all Sefardim exempt from this ban? How long was this ban to be upheld? Definitely an interesting historical event, is this what is holding back ‘secular studies’ of today in Eretz Yisroel? and should it?.

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