A Letter From a Troubled Charedi Father
My late rebbi, Rav Dov Schwartzman z”l, once told me that the essence of the sin of the spies dispatched by Moshe is that they were motzi dibat ha-aretz in chutz la-aretz [they defamed the Land of Israel at a time when they were outside that land]. I can very well understand those who would contend that there is a substantial difference between motzi dibat ha-aretz and motzi dibat ha-medinah; nevertheless, I am profoundly disturbed by the postings and comments – and even more so by the tone – of those
who permanently reside in the Diaspora and choose to analyze the questions and challenges raised by the current draft situation in EY based on hearsay evidence, isolated incidents or the agenda driven reporting of the chareidi and non-chareidi press.
Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the total self-denial characteristic of many elements in the yeshiva world that we – the chareidi world of which I consider myself a member in good standing – may well be at least partially at fault for the success of Yair Lapid and his cohorts. The question of national service is not new and has been festering in Israeli society for decades. A percentage of avreichim who chose to leave kollel or bachurim who chose to leave yeshivot found the means in the past to fulfill their national obligations. But many did not do so and chose to remain registered as toratam umnutom – with the full co-operation of the yeshivot – long after they had left full time residency in the beit midrash. The resentment that they engendered in both the chiloni and dati world is, to my mind, the source of the strange pact between Bennet and Lapid.
Is it difficult to be a chareidi in the IDF? Yes, it is, but as far as I know that is not a heter for avoiding the draft. Many years ago, at the petichah of Ponovezh’s annual Yarchei Kallah, Rav Shach zt”l spoke forcefully against those who are registered in yeshivot but are not learning. He specifically declared that they should enlist without mentioning that doing so would present challenges. Enlisting in the IDF twenty or thirty years ago was far more difficult than it is today. There were compromises that had to be made – but the bachurim in Chevron who chose to enlist before the Six Day War – some of whom are prominent roshei yeshiva today – never heard Rav Chatzkel Sarne tell them that they were on the road to shmad.
As the father of a young man who served for three years in Netzach Yehudah, and as a friend [and relative] of those responsible for creating the unit, I feel duty-bound to reply to some of the allegations made and inferred in some of the posts and comments. First of all, Netzach continues to grow despite the brouhaha surrounding the current controversy. The past draft created a situation wherein Netzach was forced to create a second battalion.
It is important to understand that Netzach was not the creation of the roshei yeshiva, the Chassidic world, the Va’ad ha-Yeshivot or the politicians ostensibly representing the chareidi world. The same is true of the Shachar units in the airforce and military intelligence designed for young married avreichim who find it necessary to leave kollel for a variety of reasons. The Netzach battalion was founded by a number of apolitical askanim involved in working with young men who did not find their place in the olam hayeshivot. They recognized that the lack of a suitable framework and structure for these young men was a disaster. Never has Netzach attempted to woo students from the beit midrash. But it should be clear that to characterize the battalion as a haven for shababnikim is to besmirch fine young bnei
Torah who have chosen an alternative path.
The non-chareidi commanders and officers of Netzach continue to do everything to make the idea
work. Yes there are problems as is true of any organizational framework asked to change long standing policies. But in my discussions with the rabbanim of Netzach I am told that there is a great deal of good will and desire to remove all of the obstacles. Netzach soldiers continue to be sent to officer training courses but have you heard even one new incident of being forced to listen to kol isha? I can tell you that at the recent celebration of the founding of the Kfir division to which Netzach is attached, the officers in charge of the program arranged that no women sing so that the Netzach soldiers could participate fully even though their commander had assured the officers that they would simply absent themselves from that part of the program.
Sadly, I cannot say that I see the same good will in the chareidi world. I cannot fathom how prominent rebbes and roshei yeshiva publicly declare that no-one – learning or not learning – will serve, and reinforce their positions by raising images of Cantonistim while spewing rhetoric about g’zeirot shmad.
Our community needs to do some hard thinking as to where we are headed and how we see ourselves within the jurisdiction of a sovereign state. In many ways we have made a Kiddush Hashem in Israeli society. Yad Sarah and Ezer mi-Tzion, to name but two of the many service organizations serving the entire Israeli population, have changed the attitudes of many to the chareidi world. But there are a number of gestures that we could easily make that would change the atmosphere immensely.
Imagine the impression that would be created if one of the gedolim came to the swearing-in ceremony of Netzach and exhorted the young men to be m’kadesh shem shamayim. Imagine how powerful the message would have been had the recent tefillah asifah closed with a mi-shebeirach for the soldiers and police who risk their lives to make it possible for us to live in relative security. M’at min ha-or docheh harbei min hachoshech – a little bit of love dispels much darkness. Similarly, a bit of ahavat Yisrael can eradicate the sinah that is so rampant.
Rabbi Dovid Landesman is a magid shiur at Yeshiva Tifferet Yerushalayim