We Owe an Answer

President Reuven Rivlin made an important speech opening a conference on chareidi employment sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee two weeks ago. He began by pointing out that the 20% of the school children in Israel between first and sixth grade are now in chareidi educational frameworks.

The chareidim are no longer a beleaguered minority, their very survival at stake, said the President, but this fact has not yet registered either with the chareidi community or its opponents. We have gone too long without “changing the tape,” as if nothing has changed from the early days of the state, said Rivlin. What is needed now, he argued, is a partnership of equals between chareidim and non-chareidim.

Much of what President Rivlin had to say will be music to chareidi ears. He strongly criticized the 19th Knesset for the discussion of chareidim. He pointed out that efforts at coercion had backfired miserably and only succeeded in triggering a backlash resulting in fewer chareidim in the IDF and lessened chareidi involvement in the economy. “When one group feels that their world and cultural existence is under threat, it will not lead to a breakthrough in the relations, but a withdrawal. I fear that this is the case with the chareidi community after the 19th Knesset,” he said.

Most importantly, he called for a cessation of efforts to coerce chareidim into an Israeli consensus: “Different camps in Israeli society cannot dictate to the chareidi public how and what is the right way to educate their children or how to conduct their lives. The concept of partnership outlined by Rivlin aims “to replace solutions based on threats or coercion with solutions based on compromise and understanding, starting with the ‘core subjects’ in education and through military service.”

In the realm of employment, he insisted, the general society cannot demand of the chareidi public to join the workforce while slamming the doors in front of them. He called upon employers to “mobilize towards the national mission of integrating the chareidi community into the economy.” He termed it unacceptable that employers should reject qualified men for jobs because of their beards or peyos or women because of the number of their children.

The public sector too must do more, according to President Rivlin. As an example, he noted that he has long supported treating Yore-Yore as the equivalent of a B.A. degree for many government positions and service on government boards.

THE PRESIDENT, HOWEVER, did not confine himself exclusively to what the general society must do. He directed some questions concerning the economy and Israel’s future to the chareidi community as well. “I want to know what is the chareidi community’s solution to the fact that we see many righteous people whose offspring go hungry,” he said. He pointed out that, according to government statistics, one-half of chareidi men between 35-54 do not work, which means that they have low incomes, accrue no pensions, and face an uncertain future. And he noted that, unlike in our father’s generation, when people could support their families without an education, the modern knowledge economy puts a high premium on education, and ever more jobs require academic or vocational training of some kind.

Rivlin stressed that he was not asking these questions on behalf the chareidi community alone “but for our society as a whole.” For instance, Israel still needs an army to protect the lives of all its citizens, and the qualitative technological edge of Israeli army is the key to its success. Even if chareidim are not drafted, he asked, “as equal shareholders in the future of Israel and its security who will fund the maintenance of this army if Israeli society is poor?” That question, he emphasized, “has nothing to do with Zionism, but only with the commitment and responsibility of all groups that make up Israeli society today.”

Rivlin’s question about the economic future of our community is one that most of us ask at least occasionally, with respect to ourselves, our children, and the broader society in which we live and with which we identify.

And the question about how we see our role in Israeli society is increasingly unavoidable as our percentage of the population grows with each passing year. And that is particularly so to the extent that the chareidi community is dependent on government income transfers. There would be something morally compromised about telling those upon whom one is dependent for sustenance that one wishes to have nothing to do with them.

The President did not presume to answer the question he posed to the chareidi community about how they see their role in Israeli society: “I do not want to formulate the answers or solutions for the chareidi community” He sought only assurance that the question was being asked.

I understood Rivlin to be asking a variant of the question that non-chareidi Jews in Israel invariably pose when asked about their feelings about the chareidi community: “Do they care about us? Do they feel any responsibility towards us?” The fact that the question is still being asked at this late date is unquestionably one of the greatest failures of the chareidi world’s public relations with the larger society. We have still not convinced our non-chareidi brothers that we do care about them or that we recognize that our fates are inextricably entwined with theirs.

I doubt that there is only one answer to the question of how chareidim see their role in Israeli society. But it is a question that we must think about. For Rivlin is right that it is time to change the cassette. The miraculous growth of the chareidi population ensures that the community no longer has to worry about its survival, as was true in the early ’50s, when even it Meah Shearim it was said that there was “no house in which there were no dead” swept away by the Zionist ideology that seemed to be the wave of the future.

At the famous meeting between the Chazon Ish and Prime Minister Ben Gurion, the latter could grant a deferment for yeshiva students confident that there would be none within another generation or two. And those feelings found their mirror image in the small, embattled chareidi community.

But those days are no more. The threats to Torah learning today are more likely to come from within than without.

A few months ago, I was in America together with Mishpacha publisher Eli Paley raising money for the new Haredi Institute for Public Affairs. Paley is a fluent, but not native, English speaker, and I suggested that he speak primarily on those subjects about which he feels most passionately, for then his natural eloquence overcomes any need to search for the right word.

The issue that moved him most and which he addressed could have served as an affirmative response to the President’s question: the necessity for the chareidi community to begin to think not just about its own parochial interests but also to concern itself as well with its responsibility for the general society. By responsibility he did not mean integration into a common Israeli culture, which is, and will always remain, impossible for chareidim. Rather, he spoke of a responsibility to influence the broader society according to Torah values.

The world of Torah is strong enough and firmly enough established today, he said, to concern itself with the image of the Torah in the broader Israeli Jewish world, with the application of Torah values to the running of a modern state, and with what Torah Jews have to contribute to the building of a Jewish society in Israel.

How that will be done remains for a long discussion among ourselves and with our fellow Israeli Jews.

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20 Responses

  1. DF says:

    What Rivlin said, and what Paley said, is almost exactly what Yair Lapid said two years ago at Kiryat Ono. From the transcript of that speech, available on this website from 1?25/13:

    Because it turns out there’s no way to build Israeli-ness without you….And we can’t decide where Israeli education is going if you won’t be our partners, and we can’t decide where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is going and we can’t decide what the democratic nature of the country will be, or the relationship between the citizen and the Supreme Court, if you aren’t partners….

    But just as Lapid (and Rivlin, and Paley) were right about that, Lapid – and I’m not necessarily saying I would vote for him or not – is also right about the other half of that conclusion:

    If an Ethiopian child in Netivot is hungry, it’s your responsibility as much as mine. And you can’t say: I only give to Haredi charities. If missiles are being fired at Ashkelon or Kiryat Shemona, it’s your responsibility as much as mine. You can’t just send ambulances, you’re responsible as a sector, you’re responsible as part of the State of Israel. And if another huge fire breaks out on Mt. Carmel, I want to know what you plan to do about it, because it’s your responsibility as much as mine….. You’re responsible for me, too, its not only me who’s responsible for you…. now that we don’t threaten you, you can take your future in your hands and decide what your relationship to us will be. This victory enables you to be first class citizens, not second class citizens, but you’ll find that first class citizens
    work quite a lot for their country. First class citizens take responsibility for its security, for the welfare of its people, for equality, for its international relations, and more than anything else they’re responsible for enabling people who are very different from them, just as I’m different from you, to live side by side with them.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Is there any Israeli with enough credibility and respect in both the chareidi and general societies to overcome hard feelings and misconceptions?

  3. Barak Saffer says:

    Would love to hear an answer to my questions from R’ Rosenblum. Who is this article being addressed to? Anglo-Israeli Chareidim? It seems that most Anglo-Israeli Chareidim have these same questions but those that choose to stay within institutionalized chareidi society realize that being part of Chareidi society in Israel means relying on the Gedolim. There is no doubt that HaGaon Rav Shteinman is smart enough to have thought of the issues raised by President Rivlin and Jonathan Rosenblum. What is the point in writing an article about how we should have a discussion amongst ourselves and other Israeli’s regarding the “application of Torah values to the running of a modern state, and with what Torah Jews have to contribute to the building of a Jewish society in Israel” and “what the chareidi community’s solution to the fact that we see many righteous people whose offspring go hungry.”
    What you should be doing iuf you really want to accomplish something is go and meet with Rav Shteinman and ask him these questions. If you get a meeting then maybe you would be able to publish his plan for the future of Chareidi society. Maybe you won’t be able to publish it because he will tell you that you shouldn’t (for probably very good reasons). If you can’t get a meeting at all with Rav Shteinman (to ask him these questions) there is still no need to write such articles. All it does is be mechazek those who are already questioning Gedolei Yisrael and are turned off from the Chareidi world. A chaver of mine commented to me “seems like Jonathan Rosenblum is personally fed up with the Chareidi world but tries to do a balancing act so as not to get excommunicated”.
    Bottomline, what is your goal in writing such articles, over and over again. Who are you addressing? What are you trying to accomplish.

  4. lacosta says:

    “I want to know what is the chareidi community’s solution to the fact that we see many righteous people whose offspring go hungry,”

    —– i am afraid that many in that sector feel the solution is unlimited hiloni aid. and that anything short of that is anti-semitism….

  5. dr. bill says:

    I agree that coercion is not likely to work. However, reducing subsidies for large families, contributing nothing to schools that do not teach the core curriculum and other economic initiatives will let the haredi community use its resources in a way that will encourage the community to respond creatively. Funding/tzedaka/support may shift from higher/kollel to elementary education, from growing a population to supporting an existing one, etc. The alternative – having the state fund what its majority opposes – via coalition forming politics, does not promote unity across the Israeli Jewish population.

  6. L. Oberstein says:

    This whole discussion will be determined by the coalition negotiations after the election. If the governing coalition nees Yahadut Hatorah and Shas, then money will be returned that was taken away.
    As correct as Yair Lapid was in his role as TV anchor in describing the problems, he was inept at making changes. He was not a good Finance Minister and his hamhanded approach to chareidim showed both his own arrogance and his ignorance of that community. If Rivlin were Prime Minister, he would understand how to get the chareidim to cooperate and not see him as their enemy. As it is, he is a symbol, but he can be a valuable symbol and i hope he is able to make the chareidim see that the state is not their enemy.

  7. Ben Waxman says:

    Apparently in the last year there has been a serious jump in the number of chareidim who are working, from 40 – 50% to 56%:


    Coincidence? Trend? Proof that cutting benefits does push people to work? Evidence of that Lapid’s enabling large numbers of Chareidim to join the workforce without having to wait until they’re in their 30s was a good idea?

  8. Ori Pomerantz says:

    By responsibility he did not mean integration into a common Israeli culture, which is, and will always remain, impossible for chareidim. Rather, he spoke of a responsibility to influence the broader society according to Torah values.

    The two are intimately connected. Any influence that doesn’t come from someone perceived to be a member of the society is likely to be rejected as preaching or forcing. The integration doesn’t have to be complete, but it has to be enough not to be perceived as outsiders.

  9. Aaron Goldfarb says:

    Mr. Rosenblum lost me at the end.

    I agree that Israeli charedim have not yet convinced secular, traditional, and dati leumi Israelis that “they care about [the non-charedim].”

    I agree that Israeli charedim can contribute to other Jews without “integrat[ing] into a common Israeli culture which is, and will always remain, impossible for charedim.”

    Here’s where Mr. Rosenblum loses me: he conflates contributing to the rest of Israeli society with “influenc[ing] the broader society according to Torah values.”

    No, “contributing” and “influencing” are not the same thing. Secular, traditional, and dati leumi Jews are no more interested in being “influenced” by a charedi view of “Torah values” than charedi Jews are interested in being “influenced” by a Zionist view of modern values. Most non-charedi Jews live fulfilling lives, and do not feel the need to be influenced by a value system that they do not share.

    If Israeli charedim want to contribute to the rest of society without losing their distinct value system and identity, I suggest that they find ways to contribute that the non-charedi Israelis would actually appreciate. Most Israelis are distressed that they have to pay high taxes to support able-bodied adults who do not work; charedi men could contribute by getting jobs which would enable them to pay income tax and be m’pharnes their own families. Many Israelis lament the lack of mutual respect among Israeli Jews; charedi leaders could contribute to solving this problem by not libeling political rivals as “goyim” or “Amalek.” 66 Israeli families–none of them charedi–are mourning the loss of sons killed in Operation Tzuk Eitan this past summer; charedim could contribute to the nation’s defense by serving in special IDF units like Shachar or Nachal Charedi which allow them to maintain charedi standards of shmiras shabbos, kashrus, tznius, davening, and learning.

    Israeli charedim undoubtedly have a lot to teach other Jews about Jewish faith, commitment, and self-sacrifice. Israeli charedim treat one another with remarkable charity, hospitality, and kindness. There are a lot of positive ways in which charedi society could influence non-charedi society. But as Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “nobody cares how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Until charedim show how much they care about the rest of klal Yisrael by working to fulfill the perceived needs of non-charedi Jews, the charedim will be unable to seriously influence the rest of Israeli society.

  10. Phil says:

    “The two are intimately connected. Any influence that doesn’t come from someone perceived to be a member of the society is likely to be rejected as preaching or forcing. The integration doesn’t have to be complete, but it has to be enough not to be perceived as outsiders.”

    And any insiders, no matter how respected, that dare attempt to use their influence to change the status quo can expect every form of harassment and violence for their efforts. Just look at how Harav Shteinman, Shlita, is treated for telling individuals to go to work!

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    RJR should correct me if I am incorrect, but I detect a suggestion that the Charedi communities in Israel would be far more influential and create a Kiddush HaShem in the political , cultural, and educational arenas if they emulated the Charedi ( Yeshivish and Chasidish) communities in ChuL where a person’s contributions outside of the Beis Medrash and shietble , if viewed as appropriate, create a Kiddush HaShem and foster a far more favorable view of Shomrei Torah Umitzvos. It is not quite like saying as RYBS did in one of the drashos to Mzrachi that one must have the educational tools to compete with the secular world, but I also detected some of that logic as well-in addition to the recognition that you don’t fight a blitzkrieg with the Maginot Line.

  12. Natan Slifkin says:

    Indeed, as Jonathan Rosenblum makes clear, the question of “who will fund the maintenance of this army if Israeli society is poor?” is a very important question, as is the point that “the modern economy puts a high premium on education, and ever more jobs require academic or vocational training of some kind.” But what do the Gedolim, and the charedi politicians, say about these questions? Rav Steinman came to Ramat Beit Shemesh last year and spoke out strongly against secular education for children.

  13. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Natan Slifkin,

    What did Rav Shteinman mean when he spoke out against secular education for children? Did he mean a)no general studies at all for anyone; b)no general studies for anyone under 18 or who has not completed basic limud of shas and poskim; or c) general studies taught under the rubric of Torah hashkafa (also dependent on the age question, etc.)?

  14. Y. Ben-David says:

    Rav Rosenblum himself wrote a piece some months ago (around the time of the Tzuk Eitan war) lamenting the fact that there is a perception that the Haredi world is not in synch with the rest of the Jewish people and its concerns. If one believes that the kollel/yeshiva world is THE most important thing and maintaining in order to turn out the next Gadol Hador is the only thing that matters, than it is at most a secondary concern what happens to those who don’t fit in and can’t keep up. If one believes that allowing for kollel/yeshiva people to receive at least some secular education which will allow them to leave full-time kollel study in order to work is a catastrophe because of the danger that the next potential Gadol Hador went to work as an accountant instead, there there will be NO grounds for compromise, even if there is a large human toll of embittered drop-outs who may go all the way and give up Torah observance entirely, as happened to many yeshiva people in the decades before the Holocaust. Thus, I don’t see any grounds for believing that the non-Hasidic Haredi leadership will agree to any modifications of their anti-secular education stance, no matter what happens internally to their student body.

  15. L. Oberstein says:

    If we remove ourselves for a moment from our world, think how absurd this discussion seems to Jws outside the Chareidi world of Israel. In all of Jewish history, this distortion has never existed. Previous generations were much too poor to guarantee ligfetime support from family or kehilla. Boruch hashem, several genarions have arisen who are strong lerners and their numbers have grown beyond anything we could have imagined. But, it is absurd. A married man with children is ashamed to work for a living and his wife is embarresed and his children are kicke out of school becuse the father works for a living. Is there anything more asurd than that.
    Even with coalition agreemtns wich may temporarily ameliorate conditions, this cannot continue.
    By enablilng this system are we not contributing to a cycle of poverty? If it weren’t so sad, it would be almost comical. Work is bad, poverty is good.Where in chazal do we see this is the norm?

  16. L. Oberstein says:

    Is barak Saffer serious? If I understand him correctly, Rabbi Shteinman is the sole arbiter and we are not really allowed to qurestion or formulate an opinion, we must just adhere to the line.”Kshov Vetzayets” Hear and Follow was the name of one of the facdtions in Agudath Israel back many years ago when they sort of had primaries. None of the great people who were my teachers ever demanded that kind of absolute fidelity without question. It doesn’t sound like anything normative in Judaism and i do not believe that it is a true description of what goes on even in Lithuanian Charedi society. What you are describing is putting everything on the head of a man who is over 100 years old. Yisro told Moshe that it would destroy him but you are willing to put that burden on Rav Shteinman. There is not room for diversity and everyone has to follow one posek . How did this come about and who invented it? Rav Ruderman, Rav Dovid, Rav Yaakov kaminetzky never made such demands.

  17. Dovid Eliezrie says:

    Congratulations to Yonason for the intellectual honesty and moral courage to put this issues into the communal debate.

    At the core of the issue is a fundamental question. Do Harediem have the confidence in their beliefs that they can both contribute to the society that surrounds them and do they fear engagement with Jews less observant due to anxiety that it will weaken their own values. With the advent of an open society a century ago many Jews left observance. However a century has elapsed. Maybe the time has come for Haridiem to have a greater spiritual self confidence that they will inspire others instead of the reverse.

  18. Barak Saffer says:

    L. Oberstein. Your point is a non-sequitur. Presuming (fairly) that R Rosenblum is addressing mainstream Israeli Charedi society, it by and large has accepted upon themselves the public policy decisions of Rav Steinman. Rav Steinman is their “posek”.

    Correct me if I am wrong but at the beginning of your post you seem to have been advocating a person having his “own formulated opinions” (in the areas being discussed by R Rosenblum and President Rivlin). What did you mean by that? That one is allowed to think and ask questions? I believe every Gadol b’Torah in the litvishe Israeli Chareidi world would encourage asking questions and thinking for oneself. If, however, you meant that one can independently act upon his “own formulated opinions”, then that is entirely different. These gedolei Yisrael, Rav Ruderman, Rav Dovid, Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky clearly rejected such an approach.
    Although there might be other Gedolei Yisrael that disagreed the aforementioned Gedolim taught a hashkafa that regarding issues central to the future fabric of klal yisrael (or even to a particular Kehilla), the setting of public (kehilla) policy, requires being qualified in areas of Halacha as well as Hashkafas HaTorah. I believe those are the minimal qualities that qualify one as a “poseik” in “normative Judaism” (“Posek” is the term you yourself used for someone to be qualified to make these major decisions).

    Who said anything about everyone having to follow one posek? I specifically referred to Rav Steinman as he is the only address for Rav Rosenblum to get answers. He and and all those that have accepted Rav Steinman as their posek would love to hear his views. If you, L. Oberstein, have your own Rav and Manhig that is qualified, you have no obligation to follow anyone else.

    Once again let me clarify, all I was trying to do is get an answer as what R Rosenblum was trying to accomplish in his post “We owe an answer” (and some of his other posts that he has written lately).

    Therefore, let’s consider the possibilities here:

    Possibility 1: R Rosenblum thinks his column can be squared with Rav Steinman’s policies. I think that deserves mention front and center in a column such as this, no?

    Possibility 2: R Rosenblum thinks it cannot be squared with Rav Steinman’s policies. That leaves these two options open:

    2a) R Rosenblum is telling us what he (or his Rabbeim) think HE should do (which I think is your point). That might be interesting (especially if it’s his rebbeim), but utterly irrelevant to Israeli Charedim.

    2b) R Rosenblum is telling us what he (or his Rabbeim) thinks Israeli Charedim should do, contra Rav Steinman. If it’s him – I think that is something that R Rosenblum himself would deem inappropriate to say the least. If it’s his rabbeim, that are bonafied Talmidei Chachamim, equipped have an opinion, who are they? What standing do they have among Israeli Charedim?

    Presuming (again fairly) that R Rosenblum wants to be taken seriously by Israeli Charedim in matters of public policy, there is one address: Chazon Ish 5, Bnei Brak. Otherwise, this piece is (in the best case scenario) a berachah levatalah.

    If, however, he is merely addressing a group of concerned Anglo-Israeli Chareidim (that he is seemingly a part of), then they ALL have the questions he mentioned. They no doubt are confused and struggling hashkafikally within the Israeli Chareidi society that they have chosen to align with. The best way to serve them is to try to get some answers. Why strengthen their doubts about the viability of the Chareidi Litvishe Torah community in Eretz Yisrael.

  19. Shades of Gray says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum works within the Charedi system. I doubt anything he writes, even if novel, would contradict the Gedolim. JR wrote in “Kollel Is Not Always Forever” (Cross Currents, December, 2009):

    “KollelGuy seems to think that because he has not seen a front-page announcement in Yated Ne’eman that it is now permitted to work that the exalted figures he mention believe that every yungeman must stay in kollel indefinitely…And if KollelGuy asks, so why no announcements in Yated Ne’eman, I suspect he already knows the answer, or should…any such public announcement would be interpreted as a statement that everything we did, everything we have built over the last sixty years was a mistake..There is another reason that there will be no such public statements. Any such statement would be met with vicious attacks by the “kenaim,”…One of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the United States told me recently that the gedolim cannot even discuss questions surrounding poverty because if they did the “street” would just label them fake gedolim”.

    Ten years ago in the Summer, 2004 Jewish Action, JR wrote similarly about the evolutionary nature of change in Charedi society, about the pushback after change in forced from without, and about the backlash from Kannoim resulting from any change(“Israel’s New Economic Reality: Will Israel’s Charedi Population Have To Reinvent Itself?”). See also “Yesh Atid Sets Back the Clock”( Mishpacha, 6/14/13), and “Mistakes Foretold – Sadly”(Jerusalem Post, 6/19/13).

    At the recent Agudah convention (24:45 in speech), the Noverminsker Rebbe said, apparently about the American scene (he endorsed “Adopt a Kolell” for Israel): “This system hut g’ratavet unzerer velt, we all ought to know. Yes, there are questions and issues about individuals, and parnasah is an overriding question sometimes–all the time. And they must be addressed individually. But not to become self-styled commentators on the Torah scene today…”. The Rebbe also spoke about “ah sach gevirishe Yidden who are ready to step up and support all the tzorchei Am Kodosh” who became wealthy in merit and in reward of the Kolell system’s impact (27:00).

  20. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Phil, I actually meant attempting to influence secular Iseaelis to draw them towards the Torah. Sorry I was not clear.

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