Vive la Différence
When MK David Rotem, of the Yisrael Beytenu party, said that the Reform movement is “another Jewish religion,” and then added that the Charedim [which Times of Israel translates as “ultra-Orthodox,” but I have little doubt that he used the correct and less inflammatory term “charedim”] could “of course” be considered “also another Jewish religion,” one thing happened: Reform leaders exploded, and got him to “walk back” his remarks.
If you read carefully, he may not have expressed himself well, but there is no significant change between what he said to Army Radio that got him into hot water, and in his “clarification.” What he said the first time was “the Reform are all Jews,” which, given the level of participation by non-Jewish partners in services, we know to be a substantial exaggeration. In his “clarification,” he said “I have never said belonging to the Reform movement makes anyone less Jewish.” Both times, he expressed a completely normative halachic position.
Here’s what didn’t happen: any similar uproar from the chareidim, the “ultra-Orthodox.” No fellow MKs berated him, whether in the plenary, committee room, or outside in the halls. No gedolim released proclamations or contacted the press. His comments were simply a nonissue.
The difference is simple: the chareidim don’t need David Rotem’s validation. We know who we are, we know what we believe, and we know it accords with thousands of years of Jewish tradition. So if he believes that he follows a different religion than ours, it’s his loss.
What this difference says about the Reform movement and its leaders is the topic of a longer essay.
1) Chareidim won’t overreact to this because it isn’t a sensitive issue for them. Had he stated that Chareidim were “leeching off society,” or something like that, I’m sure there would have been a reaction.
2) This comment has political overtones for Reform but not for Chareidim. From the Times of Israel article that you linked:
“A statement from the Reform movement in Israel pointed out that use of the expression “another religion” was deliberate, since Israel’s Law of Return uses the same term to exclude non-Jews from making aliyah. By using the term, the statement said, Rotem was saying Reform Jews have no place in Israel.”
“The difference is simple: the chareidim don’t need David Rotem’s validation.”
Absolutely correct. Why should they, when they themselves control various government ministries, including the Rabbanut? Or that their yeshiva bochurs get special dispensation by not having to do any kind of national service?
But threaten to do away with that special treatment….and oh, then you hear from the chareidim aplenty.
Meanwhile, in Israel Reform is not operating on a level playing field–certainly not as long as synagogue and state are not separate. It will look for any kind of scraps of validation it can find.
Reb Yid, you are only a Yid today because there were, in your past, generations of people who recognized that to sit and study Torah was the ultimate National Service, that which preserves Am Yisrael. If you refuse to recognize this, you might as well begin to call yourself Reb Goy right away — all your descendants shall no longer self-identify as Jews in 100 years, save those of your children and grandchildren who come to recognize this in time.
Rotem does not, himself, have any sort of authority over the law of return. The situation of American Reform is sufficiently dire that no politician in Israel will pay it more than lip service. The histrionics — especially given that Rotem directly compared Reform to charedi in this regard — were nothing more than that: histrionics, primarily for the political benefits [validation, in terms of lip service] to be extracted from throwing a tantrum.
By now, many or most Reform-affiliated people might not be halachically Jewish. Don’t hold your breath waiting for statistical confirmation; it’s not in their interest to advertise this, because it’s such a strong argument against granting them Jewish legitimacy.
Why did MK Rotem withdraw his comments? Anyone with a minimal amount of Torah knowledge could articulate why RJ works from a totally different set of theological foundations than someone who is Shomer Torah UMitzvos. RJ and CJ are still viewed in Israel as American imports by the vast numbers of secular Israelis who fast on YK, and make a Pesach seder, and know far more about Tanach and Jewish history than the average American RJ or CJ. Of course, what MK Rotem could have noted was that none less than Daniel Gordis pointed out in an article in Commentary that HUC/JIR and JTS are producing many graduates whose views on Israel and Zionism run perilously close to the advocates of BDS on many college campuses.
I am afraid that too many overgeneralizations are appearing here. The question about National Service can not be erased by saying that someone “who is learning Torah” is automatically “serving the nation”. The question really arises when we point out that many boys and men seem to say “sitting in the Beit Midrash” a few hours a day is the same is “learning Torah”. It is well know that in religious areas , in the middle of the day, men who claim to be “learinng Torah” are actually doing the shopping, taking the kids to school and other such domestic chores while their wives are working at full-time jobs, and then these men spend some time in the Beit Midrash as well. But Israelis are asking themselves if this is really serving the nation. It can also be asked if simply sitting learning Torah for oneself, while indeed an important mitzvah, is really national service anymore that one can try to claim he is exempt from national service because he lays tefillin every day or that he keeps Shabbat.
I think the question is NOT “who is serving the nation” but rather a reluctance by many religious Jews to have to expose themselves to other sectors of Jewish-Israeli society, fearing that somehow this expose will harm them somehow. I think it would be in everyone’s interests if this national service question was dealt with more honestly and not sidetracked as I believe has happened.
Yaakov Menken, your statement to Reb Yid is a bit unbecoming and historically inaccurate in the context of the current issue being debated.
The concept of sitting and learning all day as a “national service” is a new idea.
First of all, learning full time was a rarity in Klal Yisrael until the reconstruction movement of the post WWII-Churban Europa era. We survived many centuries of Galus without full-time learning as a norm.
Second, where do you get the idea that any of the great talmidei chachomim, upon whose shoulders we rest, viewed their learning as a “national service”? From those who I was privileged to know, and from that which has been written about them and told to me by their families and talmidim, the great Gedolim of previous generations (and I am going to assume the current Gedolim as well) viewed their Limmud HaTorah as a very personal form of Avoda and did not cheapen it with arrogant thoughts that they were saving Klal Yisrael.
If this is what you believe the Chareidi Hashkafa is, then it very well does need validation because it is a deviation and an innovation that does not have very strong legs to stand on. And please do not bring various Ma’amarei Chazal about how Torah is Magin. I think we all know very well that when the examples brought by Chazal are the likes of Dovid HaMelech, the concept is not easily applied to the typical Avreich or Bachur Yeshivah.
Joseph, first of all, I’m not going to mince words with a moniker. I might not say something as direct to someone with a name, but my statement remains painfully realistic. If it wasn’t obvious before the Pew Report, it can no longer be argued that Judaism without Torah study has a future. Jews who believe that Torah study is a critical part of remaining Jewish are the only Jews we’re going to have in another hundred years. As a simple matter of demographics (and again this will be the topic of a longer article), if current trends continue, the estimated 110 to 120,000 BT’s are going to produce more Jewish grandchildren than the 1.85 million members of the Reform movement. That’s how bad the situation is.
I’m afraid you have it wrong on the idea of learning being a service to Klal Yisrael, as well. I distinctly recall Rav Ben-Tzion Kokis, dedicated Talmid of HaRav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l, saying that when the Chazon Ish secluded himself in a room for decades it was not a self-centered, personal activity, but because he felt that Klal Yisroel needed what he would become. It is obvious that every one of our Gedolim is dragged into the limelight, and acquiesces because he is concerned for others.
But the best proof of your mistake is that after you describe this as a “deviation and innovation,” you insist that you not be troubled with the Mishnah, Gemarah, Medrash, and all of rabbinic literature, all of which are filled with quotations about how Torah scholars improve the world and protect the Jewish people. Once you have decided to ignore the facts, it’s easy to present your own theory as the new reality. The fact that David HaMelech is held up as a paradigm of Jewish learning hardly means that anything less doesn’t count.
While it can be said that having someone like the Hazon Ish secluding himself for years was indeed building a personality that was able to serve Am Israel, it is difficult to extrapolate
this to include everyone who says he is part of the Kollel community. The new proposal being discussed in the Knesset indeed takes this into account and will allow those who show great promise to devote themselves full-time to studying Torah. The question, as I stated above is what about the many people who are not on this level, which is the majority? I know there is an argument that as many people as possible must be encouraged at an early stage to devote themselves to full-time learning, but it becomes clear early on who is really capable of doing this, and the so the proposed legislation intends to make it possible for those who are not like this to be able to then carry out some other form of service, military or otherwise, which will then enable them to go on to be productive members of society in other ways.
“the Mishnah, Gemarah, Medrash, and all of rabbinic literature, all of which are filled with quotations about how Torah scholars improve the world and protect the Jewish people.”
First of all, there are precious few such quotations. Second, such quotations are generally referring to TEACHERS of Torah, not STUDENTS of Torah. Third, most (and probably all) of the Rishonim were of the view that learning Torah (as opposed to teaching Torah) is not considered to be contributing to the rest of society, such that it exempts one from military service and entitles one to communal support. Fourth, the Rishonim in general did not see learning Torah as providing protection in such a concrete form as to exempt Torah students from military service during a time of threat; Radvaz, for example, greatly restricts the extent of the Gemara’s ruling about Torah scholars being exempt from contributing towards security, including stating that it does not apply in cases where the rabbis consider themselves in need of protection.
Even Netziv, who is at the other end of the spectrum and was of the view that learning Torah does provide protection, says that those who don’t serve in the army must pay higher monetary taxes to support the military, must be available for whatever the nation needs (i.e. national service), and must learn on the front lines.
You might not agree with Rambam’s sharp formulation that “One who makes up his mind to involve himself with Torah and not to work, and to support himself from charity, has profaned God’s Name and brought the Torah into contempt, extinguished the light of religion, brought evil upon himself, and has taken away his life from the World-to-Come…” (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:10). And you might not agree with Rambam’s position that there is no exemption from military service for learning Torah (Hilchos Melachim u’Milchamos chapter 7). Indeed, many people disagree with Rambam. But to say that anyone who does agree with Rambam is a “goy” whose descendants will not identify as Jews – well, don’t you think that that is a little excessive, to say the least?!
A person who is truly a great Torah scholar and is constantly occupied with Torah should surely be encouraged to do so and not be troubled by the outside world. OTOH the person who is taking advantage of that status to avoid dealing with life while not sufficiently learning Torah, takes money from the taxpayers who largely don’t approve of such expenditure. At the same time the effect is that by underproducing economically and underpreparing themselves educationally to produce economically they sentence their families to a life of poverty. There are plenty of balabatim with kippot or hats of whatever color who have acquired professional education and work at reasonably paying jobs and spend a number of hours in the day or night dedicating themselves to learning Torah, which enriches the Jewishness of the general society without impoverishing their families. Many of them actually learn more Torah than many of the men who are in kollel because they are used to the standard of the productiveness of their work rather than just putting in the time. I see plenty of people who work and learn and I know what I am talking about.
“it can no longer be argued that Judaism without Torah study has a future”
Judaism survived very well from the time of Avraham through the time of Volozhin with virtually no one learning full-time, period. (Yes, Chazal speak about the importance of Torah. They were *not* speaking of what goes on in the Charedi world today.) From 1800 to 1950 or so, the numbers of those learning full time (and then only for a few years) remained miniscule. It’s kind of a left-wing trait to see one’s own time as being the acme of civilization, and the ideal.
Ah..So instead of being forced to absorb the import of this post ,the commenters will spare their intestinal angst by again regurgitating their ultimate strawmen!
one day, in the distant future, historians may tell us about deviations from the traditional jewish norm. Currently, all such rapid distortions are troubling and need to be walked back. for movements to change takes time.
My upstairs neighbors, an israeli 40ish couple both here(a large N.american community) for postdoctoral research ,candidly and half wordlessly admitted how stunned they were to discover how many fervently religious/charedim have managed so well beyond the borders of Israel.Totally contrary to the propaganda that thoroughly suffused their upbringing,charedim,in their intimations,could have survived more than well without the( structure of) the state!It’s the others ,who may need it!
dr. bill et al,
Napoleon Bonaparte — ‘History is written by the winners.’
(Or to paraphrase Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveichik:
G-d talks to us through history. We do not live isolated from reality.
We should not live as if the myriad monumental developments (e.g.modern science) do not exist.
Ipso the “reconstruction movement of the post WWII-Churban Europa” should be supported by those who so loquaciously wrap themselves in his mantle!
But selectivity Rules)
If Jewish continuity was as loudly proclaimed the prime purpose having the state
I don’t think it’s outrageous to grant draft exemptions and benefits to people who sacrifice their self actualization and aggrandizement and are willing to spend 10 to15 years pregnant (women) or experiencing their spouses’ pregnancies, morning sickness, exhaustion, hospitalization etc and the ensuing Everest of diapers
Or ,once and for all, admit the decades of deceit !
c-l,c: Yes, of course: Because people who serve in the IDF don’t have many kids. Please.
I am not sure what your point is, but I am sure that you are aware that during the 19th and 20th centuries, in the Galut-Exile, the large majority of Jews abandoned relgious observance, including in the heartland of Jeish scholarship in Eastern Europe where the famous yeshivot and Hasidic courts were located. The fact that Haredim have flourised in recent decades outside Israel is wonderful, but one can not necessarily extrapolate this to the future. The US and Europe are in long-term ecnonomic, and more importantly SPIRITUAL decline, throwing away values Western Civiliation have had for generations, many of which come from the Torah. Today the family unit is derided as “opressing women”, homosexuality (a major sin as defined by the Torah) is celebrated and even viewed as an ideal in some radical circles, allowing the separation of women from men, and general values of honesty are replaced by “what is right is what you can get away with” and even the Supreme Court and Presidents proclaim these things. Interestingly, the Haredi community in locate geographically in the heart of the source of all these destructive values. Do you really think the Amercan Haredi community will be immune from this degeneration?
Natan, really? You don’t need to make a siyum on Brachos to stumble upon Rebbe Eliezer’s statement b’shem Rebbe Chanina that Talmidei Chachamim bring peace to the world, although one can’t make a Siyum without it — all you need to do is daven. Nusach Ashkenaz outside EY is the only Nusach that doesn’t read it daily (and it makes up for it by reading it on Friday night in addition to Shabbos morning). In no other context would you assert that the repetition of the same quotation, republished in many different places, and included in our daily prayers, makes it less frequent as in “precious few” simply because it is included verbatim.
That’s a reference to Talmidei Chachamim, not only teachers as you argue. And I am not aware of any field in which one can become a teacher without first learning the material.
Yehoshua, I completely agree with you that learned professionals are contributing to global Torah study in important ways. As I was saying to Natan, every person should aspire to be a Talmid Chacham! But nonetheless, the myth of “many” Kollel students simply lazing around instead of studying remains exactly that, a myth. It’s just a claim generated by those who wish to malign the concept. In even elite universities, you learn that 9 AM classes are for Freshmen, and that a heavy course load involves 18 class hours per week in class — during the 24 weeks per year that classes are in session. Even with a demanding schedule, there is plenty of time for fraternities and eating clubs, extracurricular organizations, theater programs, and fascinating lectures such as the origins of hip-hop in African tribal dance. In yeshiva, 10 hours per day is the baseline expectation for every student.
Nachum, it is simply not true that virtually no one learned full-time. The robust development of study in the past decades is indeed something the Jewish community could not accomplish in Europe, but that doesn’t mean it is in any way a new goal, never desired previously.
Yaakov, R. Eliezer’s statement is irrelevant to my comment for several reasons:
1) I did not say that there were NO such sources, just that there are precious few. The fact that it was put in the siddur does not make it into a multitude of sources.
2) R. Eliezer does not say “kol halomed Torah,” but rather speaks of “talmidei chachamim.”
3) No Tanna, Amora or Rishon ever said that because a Talmid Chacham brings peace to the world, he does not need to serve in the army or otherwise support it. In fact, I quoted Radvaz and even Netziv who clearly held otherwise.
4) I’m not sure if you were claiming that R. Eliezer is talking about Talmidei Chachamim protecting from military threats, but that is certainly not the traditional understanding of his position – he was talking about internal peace.
5) If you were to live in Israel and follow what has been going on in the charedi world in the last few years, with Ponovezh and Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Shmuel Auerbach, you would realize that R. Eliezer’s statement is demonstrably not applicable today.
I repeat: To call Reb Yid a “goy” whose descendants will not identify as Jews, simply because he follows the position of Rambam and other Rishonim, is wrong, and you should apologize.
Finally, Nachum is most certainly correct that before Volozhin, virtually nobody learned full-time. And to say that it was “technically impossible but still desired” is also incorrect – Chazal and the Rishonim were very clear that it is vastly preferable to work for a living than to learn and be supported by others. The Rishonim in Ashkenaz were even opposed to teachers of Torah being supported by others!
Second, such quotations are generally referring to TEACHERS of Torah, not STUDENTS of Torah.
This is just plain false. Anyone who believes that STUDENTS of Torah do not provide protection is a flat-out Apikores. The Gemara in Sanhedrin says לדידהו תנו, not מתנו! (which makes no sense anyhow — “They teach for themselves”!? It could not possibly be any clearer.
Natan, I have to make this my last reply, for several reasons. I’m sure others will hash out remaining details.
1) Fine, I should not have said multitude of quotations, I should have said “a small number of quotations, one of which in particular we are told to repeat a multitude of times because of the importance of this concept.” Does winning a semantic game make the situation any different? You said there were “precious few” such quotations, as if the concept was not accepted by all or somehow unimportant. Neither is true.
2) Again, one cannot become a Talmid Chacham without learning.
3) רבי יהודה נשיאה רמא דשורא אדרבנן, אמר ריש לקיש: רבנן לא צריכי נטירותא, דכתיב: אאספרם מחול ירבון, אספרם למאן? אילימא לצדיקים דנפישי מחלא, השתא כולהו ישראל
כתיב בהו: בכחול אשר על שפת הים, צדיקים עצמם מחול ירבון? אלא הכי קאמר: אספרם למעשיהם של צדיקים – מחול ירבון, וק”ו: ומה חול שמועט – מגין על הים, מעשיהם של צדיקים שהם מרובים – לא כל שכן שמגינים עליהם
Now one could argue what it means to be a Tzaddik, but cannot argue that everyone found in the Beis Medrash in his day was called “Rabbanan,” including those who Rabban Gamliel wouldn’t let in but Rav Elezar ben Azaryah did — and the Gemara equates the two. A person willing to give up his livelihood in this world to go study Torah deserves our respect and admiration, not to be called a slacker.
4) It refers to all of the above.
5) The fact that outstanding Talmidei Chachamim have a machlokes hardly means that they are not bringing peace to the world. You are claiming that were they not present the situation would be better, when the Knesset proves immediately that the opposite is true. If the left-wing didn’t have charedim to bash, they would have nothing to do but fight with each other.
Finally, you have completely misread my statement, for many reasons, and it is probably you who owe me an apology. Reb Yid will, I hope, thank me and take corrective action, after pondering my remark.
You see, I did not call “Reb Yid” a goy. While I owe a moniker no kavod, the person behind it is undoubtedly Jewish and cares that his descendents should remain so. But you distorted my statement, because I never said it was about military action. I said “that to sit and study Torah was the ultimate National Service, that which preserves Am Yisrael.” We didn’t have an army for the last 2000 years, we were scattered all over the world, yet we remain Jewish. Every Dati Leumi person, every working person who studies Torah when he can, knows that Torah is the only reason why. “Ki Hem Chayeinu V’Orecha Yameinu” is another quotation that you could claim doesn’t appear many times…
And the Pew Report documents, still more clearly than the surveys which preceded it, the tragic and unambiguous future of those who do not believe that Torah is what has helped the Jewish people together, or can be altered to keep up with modernity and somehow still be relevant to the next generation, for whom modernity is but the golden oldies.
“We didn’t have an army for the last 2000 years, we were scattered all over the world, yet we remain Jewish. Every Dati Leumi person, every working person who studies Torah when he can, knows that Torah is the only reason why.”
It is not the only reason why. Torah study is necessary but not sufficient — the other mitzvos, and the directives of Chazal, remain obligatory as well, from teaching Torah to fulfilling our kesubah obligation to provide for our wives. And according to Chazal (Avos 2:2) our Torah will be worthless and lead to sin if we do not combine it with work. Of course, the Jews would have starved to death if they hadn’t worked, and few if any Jews until recent times learned Torah without working. Thus, only by combining Torah and work did we survive 2000 years of exile!
I would like to add to Shaya’s comment the fact that one other major factor kept us alive in the Galut–the hope that eventually we would return to Eretz Israel. Galut ultimately means assimilation, death, annihilation, as was tragically seen in the last two centuries. Most Jews came to the conclusion during this period that the Torah was no longer relevant and they abanondoned its observance.
It is the return to Eretz Israel, and the realization that Jews had to become active, that has lead to the renaissance of Torah and the realization that it is still relevant to us. Add to this the new respect with which Jews are treated around the world, which is a direct result of no longer being perceived as the ultimate punching bag of the world. Where did this new-found respect come from? From the observation that Jews were TOUGH, and much of this came from renewed Jewish military prowess, which we had in the past (Yehoshua, Devorah, Yehuda Maccabi, Bar-Kochba) and which we have renewed. Thus, Torah has directly benefitted from this radical turn away from the Galut morass which were sinking in. I know that the early leaders of Zionism viewed the Torah as some sort of diversion and the “new Israeli Jew” of that period (decades ago) was perceived as being not religious, but today, Israelis now see that the leaders of the national renaissance are those who have restored the COMPLETE Torah , not only Kashrut, holidays, the synagogue, but also agriculture, industry, military prowess. This is what is fueling the renewed respect for Torah.
R. Yaakov, I would never disparage the learning of yeshiva and kollel students. It is quite clear that it is far more intense than that of university students. But from my experience kollel productivity falls off among quite a few longterm avreichim who suffer from burnout as well as the weight of parnasa and a large family. When an avreich reaches the point at which he needs to acquire a profession and lacks the basic skills to enter an academic program, it could be too late. In America that is less likely to happen, but in Israel it does. Israeli hareidi education for boys is weak in the fundamentals and general knowledge that are needed to get into a marketable academic program. I am basing this on reports from Machon Lev. I would also add that most Israeli university students are not goofing around for four years, they are after army and working for a living, sometimes married, so don’t disparage them either.
“you are only a Yid today because there were, in your past, generations of people who recognized that to sit and study Torah was the ultimate National Service”
It’s more likely that he’s a Yid today because his ancestors had NO CHOICE but to be a Yid. As soon as European Jewry was let out of the Ghetto, most chose to abandon Judaism.
“Yehoshua, I completely agree with you that learned professionals are contributing to global Torah study in important ways. As I was saying to Natan, every person should aspire to be a Talmid Chacham! But nonetheless, the myth of “many” Kollel students simply lazing around instead of studying remains exactly that, a myth. It’s just a claim generated by those who wish to malign the concept. In even elite universities, you learn that 9 AM classes are for Freshmen, and that a heavy course load involves 18 class hours per week in class — during the 24 weeks per year that classes are in session. Even with a demanding schedule, there is plenty of time for fraternities and eating clubs, extracurricular organizations, theater programs, and fascinating lectures such as the origins of hip-hop in African tribal dance. In yeshiva, 10 hours per day is the baseline expectation for every student.”
you are clearly talking about an american university. israeli universities are nothing like that. although my degree is possibly more grueling than average, it’s still indicative of something– 30 credits a semester– oh, and yeshiva students don’t have hours of homework.
also, the american university you’re talking about is offering a liberal arts degree. my friend in cooper union does not have a life remotely resembling the fantasy you described.
[For the record, I received my B.S.E. from the Princeton University School of Engineering and Applied Science. I did say it was a demanding schedule, but the expected level of focus and concentration in yeshiva is quite a step up. — YM]