You Can Make a Difference!
by Rabbi Pesach Lerner
It is common knowledge that in Israel today, there is an ongoing battle for the definition and future of Judaism in the Jewish state. Will Torah standards be preserved, and funding for Torah study be maintained or increased, or, ch”v, will the very meaning of the word “Judaism” – and critical matters such as conversion, marriage, divorce, Shabbos and Kashrus – be watered down to the most liberal of American definitions?
What is far less known is that in addition to increasing Tefillah/prayer and Torah study, there is a bit of hishtadlus activity, requiring little expense and effort, that each of us can do to help, to make a difference.
There is an organization today with direct impact upon the way both private donations and Israeli government funding are spent – hundreds of millions of dollars – on encouraging immigration, settlement in Israel, and Jewish services in Israel and abroad.
Its decisions affect whether the shlichim sent by the Israel Jewish Agency to communities around the world are observant or not, the type of conversion encouraged by those and other representatives of Israel, the nature of the “Jewish” education provided to thousands in the former Soviet Union, South America, and small communities in Europe, and many other areas of critical concern. Their decisions may even affect what the Kosel looks like in the near future.
More than this, the organization purports to represent the opinion of world Jewry, and has major influence with Knesset representatives and government officials. The representatives of this organization are understood to be representative percentages of World Jewry. The greater the Orthodox representation in that body, the greater our influence will be upon Knesset decisions affecting millions of Jews in Israel and beyond.
This body is the World Zionist Organization, the WZO – and you can help choose its new representatives.
This is not simply a situation in which a large sum of money can be spent on behalf of Torah, or spent on neutral activities that might or might not be beneficial. On the contrary, if the funds and influence are not used to invest in authentic Judaism and in Torah education, much of their resources will (ch”v) be spent trying to change Jewish tradition and the religious status quo in Israel.
To understand the importance of participation, one need look no further than the words of those who would like to see the WZO work against authentic Torah interests. According to the Reform movement, “a successful election… is the single most effective way for the Reform movement to influence policy and shape the society of Israel.” They go on:
In short, these elections are the strongest way for U.S. Reform Jews to promote and encourage the progressive ideals of social justice, equality and democracy in Israel itself and help build the kind of Jewish state we all know is possible. A Jewish state that holds true to the ideals of religious pluralism, the growth of Reform Judaism in Israel, women’s equality in all areas of life, democracy, a solution to the ongoing conflict and so much more.
Not to be outdone, the Mercaz organization, representing the American Conservative movement, plans to leverage a successful performance in this election to change the face of Israel. Given the opportunity, their representatives will demand full recognition of conversions according to their standards, of marriage and even (ch”v) divorces failing Halachic requirements, and to divert funding from shuls and yeshivos to build and support more Conservative synagogues.
Millions of dollars were distributed annually to support the Reform and Conservative movements’ agenda over the past several years, and they hope to receive a larger share of the pie should they win the majority of votes. This is a key moment for Orthodox participation. We can and must make a difference.
On the one hand, Israel recently suffered through one of its least friendly governments, in terms of its relationship to Torah study, Torah scholarship, and authentic Judaism, in many decades. The government radically decreased support for Torah, threatened imprisonment for young men who remain in yeshiva, and endangered both authentic Jewish standards and the offices that preserve them. On the other, much of the agitation for these changes came from liberal American movements, ones which claim to represent the majority of American Jews but in actuality now face a lack of interest and involvement from their purported members – only 25% of American Jews are now members of their synagogues and temples, hardly the 90% they claim to represent.
It is precisely because these American movements are in decline and losing relevance, that they have taken their fight to Israel, hoping to regain recognition and legitimacy on holy ground.
We are all well aware that Orthodox Jewry is much younger, expanding rapidly, and that our typical family stays active and within Orthodoxy. Yet what is self-evident to us is unknown to the typical Israeli, the typical Member of Knesset, and even to many of those who represent the “Jewish establishment” here in America.
Now is the time for the Orthodox community to step forward, and show our strength and our commitment. Only 125,000 American Jews registered to vote in the last election, and only 75,000 actually voted.
In this election, due to a change in the guidelines, registration and voting are simultaneous. The Reform and Conservative movements are allocating serious financial and manpower resources to acquire votes. The Orthodox community, which is both much more active and much more honestly concerned for Torah and mitzvos, can easily match and exceed their efforts. Our success in turning out the vote will have a profound effect both in Israel and here in America.
Reform and Conservative leaders claim to represent the majority of American Jews. This has been taken as axiomatic for decades, meaning that everyone, including the Jewish and political establishment in both Israel and the United States, believe it to be true.
If and when the majority of votes in the WZO election’s American section come from the Orthodox, it will dramatically change this perception. Knesset members will recognize that the Orthodox community is the majority active community in the United States, the one that is deeply committed to the future of Judaism and the welfare of our brethren in the Holy Land. They will understand that the liberal movements are claiming members who are, sadly, disappearing from the Jewish community and losing interest in Israel.
Different Rabbinic leaders may have differing opinions about whether it is appropriate to vote in this election, which requires that one express support for the Religious Zionist slate (slate #10) and for the Jerusalem program, as described in the registration process.
HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, Rosh HaYeshiva of Slobodka in Bnei Brak and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Eretz Yisrael, told me that we must do everything we can to stop the American Reform movement from obtaining and maintaining a foothold in Eretz Yisrael. And during a recent meeting with Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Rav Dovid Lau, he told me that the Torah community’s vote in the WZO elections is extremely important.
One member of the Moetzes here in the US said that if he knew that we could take the majority of seats, he would support this effort. It is very possible that we can do so – the only question is whether we shall.
I ask you to vote for the Religious Zionist slate (slate #10) to preserve Torah standards and oppose the efforts of the liberal American movements. For every one of us that does not vote, it is their votes that will have greater influence, funding, and repercussions for our brethren in Israel and beyond.
Dialogue with your Rabbi and colleagues, with family and friends, and cast your ballot at www.myvoteourisrael.com. Your voice will not only count today, but will have ramifications in Israel, and around the world, for years to come.
Did the Religious Zionists in the last Knesset ever disavow, much less apologize for, their destructive alliance with Lapid and his party? That should precede any plea to vote for their slate in the WZO election.
“HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, Rosh HaYeshiva of Slobodka in Bnei Brak and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Eretz Yisrael, told me that we must do everything we can to stop the American Reform movement from obtaining and maintaining a foothold”
So did the RY of Slabodka say to vote?
Thanks for the reminder, Rabbi Lerner. I just registered and voted, and urge all my friends to do the same
I suppose the real question is whether those “Different Rabbinic leaders ” view halacha as consequentialist or deontological (result or value driven). I’d love to hear their answers and their thinking.
I voted for religious zionists. I thought I was voting for religious zionists. According to this article, the group I voted for supports people who don’t accept the state and don’t contribute materially to the state. It is a group that hates the idea of supporting reform and conservative Jews. Furthermore, the author seems to think that the only ‘authentic’ Jews are anti-Zionist Chareidim. Maybe I need to reconsider.
i think that haredim should follow daas tora. i don’t doubt that r steinman , aurbach ,belzer rebbe etc and certainly rabbis elyashiv , shach , and chazon ish tz’l etc would NEVER sign such a declaration .
we know that the haredi establishment in Israel over the last generation took over institutions that they disagreed with to their core –such as the Chief Rabbinate, dayanus etc —- for profit [ie secure jobs] , and influence [which they would have had less of in their own guise ] . here , they are being asked to lie in order to support a slate of people who we can safely say would not be welcome on any of their daises or institutions , in order that their goals of kiruv and hashpa’ah should be furthered.
nothing good can come from sheker . it has no leg to stand on . not only should they not vote, the RZ/MO world that they quite vehemently reject should make ardent pleas for them NOT to commit such acts of sheker. I think the RBSO is strong enough to get the result in the Medina that He wants. the haredi establishment didn’t want such an entity and G-d let it happen. He can deal with egalitarian efforts to penetrate israeli society , and if that’s what He wants, subterfuge will not prevent it…
reb miller shlita
who ever suggested that the RZ’s disavow Lapid? who even intimated they disagree with his conception of the role of religion and citizenship? who thinks they disagree that the draft is for all citizens?
Passivity in the frum world must end. By sitting & doing nothing $$$ will be deposited in the hands of the Refotm & Conservative for their anti-Torah agenda..
I’m confused as to why Rabbi Lerner asks us to vote for the Religious Zionist slate by citing the ambiguous endorsements of various named and unnamed Haredi notables.
The Religious Zionist list includes many leading Modern Orthodox rabbanim including Rav Gadalia Dov Schwartz, Rav Hershel Schachter, and Rav Tzvi Hersh Weinreb. These rabbis endorse the WZO’s Jerusalem Program, and have unambigously called on the Orthodox public to vote for the Religious Zionist list. Why not cite them?
Lacost & Aryeh Lev
Chacham YOSEF zt”l was the first to support the WZO elections & even set up a Sefardic/SHAS party to join.
Americans who “Pledge Alliegance to the Flag….” at their workplace, employment or at festive occasions declare a questionable statement also, so what!!!!
If we let HKBH run the world & put $$$ in the right hands & fight the battles against Reform & Conservative fifth columns — then no need to vote in the holy land (tell that to Reb Chaim) – no need to fund raise for yeshivos ( tell Reb Finkel -no more trips to the U.S.) – & no more huge Yerushalayim rallies.
I think it is exceedingly hypocritical for the non- and anti-Zionist community to vote in the election of the World Zionist Organization.
1. Between Bob Miller and Noam Stadlan, Rabbi Lerner has a difficult – if not impossible – job.
2. Aryeh Lev: Are you being cute? He’s appealing here to a chareidi audience. I’m sure he issued a different letter while appealing to other audiences. That’s a pretty basic rule of advertising, no?
It was written above: “Passivity in the frum world must end. By sitting & doing nothing $$$ will be deposited in the hands of the Refotm & Conservative for their anti-Torah agenda..”
Were we trained to write: “Passivity in the frum world must end. By sitting & doing nothing $$$ will be deposited in the hands of the Refotm & Conservative for their agenda..” I wonder how much would we gain and lose?
Hag kosher ve’sameah
lacosta and Aryeh Lev:
It would be a neat experiment to see if Yated, Mishpacha, or Hamodiah would accept a paid advertisement for Vote Torah, with either the signature of the Slabodka RH, Rabbi Lerner, or those of the above-mentioned Rabbanim.
This article saddens me a little. This article is written by the head of Young Israel, concerning religious Zionism, and yet it is chock full of the Agudah’s world’s tropes and clichés. He tells us, repeatedly, that the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah have told us its ok to vote in the election. Leave aside the point that “the Gedoilim say” itself is an Agudah construct. Beyond that, does he not realize that, despite its grandiose title (that, oddly, doesn’t seem to bother them) that is just the rabbinic board of the Agudah? Does he imply the religious Zionist world has no rabbis of its own? Speaking as a YI shul member (as well as a sfardishe one) I’m not pleased to see the head of my organization speaking this way. It lowers the “shtoltz” of YI, and is perhaps indicative of larger issues.
As for the Agudah voting in this election – well, what can one say? If you know the history, the Agudah has never shown any clear ideological conviction in its relationship vis a vis Israel. It’s like something happened with the founding of the state that they were not equipped to handle, and they’ve been confused about it ever since. By default more than anything else, it fell to taking what it calls the “pragmatic” approach, which is another word for “rudder-less.” They’ve never been in favor of it, but unlike Satmar, they were not adverse enough to not take money from it. They’re both for it and against it. It’s politicians remain that way today, nor really caring about the state one way or the other, just concerned with the money. This latest step, asking people to vote in the World Zionist Congress, to obtain more money, is just the latest.
Is this the smart approach? Apparently its leaders believe so. But I’m not so sure. Conviction and Ideology means something. It means a lot, actually. People notice it, and they notice the lack of it. Ambivalence might help you survive, but so what? Neutrality has helped Switzerland survive too, but you know Orson Welle’s famous line: “In the past 500 years, all they’ve produced is the cuckoo clock.” Not a single great man has come out of it. Ambivalence doesn’t produce greatness. And for a Jew claiming to live by the Torah, no one can be ambivalent about Israel.
Chacham Yosef zt”l was far from the first Orthodox rabbi to endorse voting in the WZO elections, although he did eventually come around. The first Zionist Congress was in 1897. It had religious representatives, as had every subsequent congress.
My question wasn’t that religious Jews shouldn’t vote for WZC–I strongly believe we should. My point was simply that the Modern Orthodox and Dati Leumi communities have our own rabbanim to tell us to vote, and we shouldn’t have to rely on the ambiguous endorsements of non-Zionist rabbis.
As a side point, the Zionist Spring list also has Orthodox rabbis and communal leaders running on the list. The list contains Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, and promotes tolerance and cooperation between different Jewish communities. It is another list worthy of consideration for American Religious Zionists.
What’s the connection?
RZ are as heterogenous as the Charedi world, especially seen in the last election. RZ & CHAREDI voters are found in every single KNESSET party … & even as non-voters. So U are punishing whom for what?? Makes NO sense!
This is so so wrong, so shockingly wrong, there are no words. It’s too late now, the damage is done: a whole bunch of Orthodox Jews have signed up and joined the Zionist Organization. The correct response would have been for all Orthodox Jews to unite and loudly, vociferously, REFUSE to join an evil organization that is bent on eradicating Torah from the Jewish body politic. It should have been widely announced and universally known that this organization does not and will not represent us!! That would have been a huge kiddush Hashem. Instead we have a huge chillul Hashem, with Orthodox Jews once again seen as abandoning their principles and dialing for dollars. Shomu Shamayim al zos.
lacosta, I would be interested in what American rabbanim of stature say too. As this is starting to dovetail with another thread, may I suggest that people take Rabbi Lerner seriously, and then go their LORs for clarity.
I see – so Conservative and Reform are on the decline – their collective influence in Israeli politics will inevitably wane as time passes. So what is the best course of action for Chareidim in America to take? Let us throw them all a lifeline! Yes, let us join forces with them at this very moment and vote for the continued distortions of Yiddishkeit, for the continued attacks on Torah, INHERENT in participating in the WZO election,for exactly whom would we be relying on to protect Torah? On the professional capitulationists rampant in the religious Zionist world. The whole thing reminds me of Obama’s throwing a lifeline to the Iranian regime, just when they’re on the ropes. Is anyone out there familiar with the Netziv and others who left the Chibas Tzion movement when it was becoming obvious to them that the secularists were gaining the upper hand? This was BEFORE the movement was actually completely overrun by them. No, no , no – this way has never worked for us in the past. If we, indeed, have growing strength, we must follow an independent course.
The RZ world has not- never did- never will eradicate Torah learning – Torah observances or Torah principles from the Jewish people.
As a Talmida of Rav Bulman zt”l, I share his admiration to the Mosdos of Mercarz Harav, it’s rabbonim, Talmidim& talmidos who have/are spreading Torah throughout Eretz Yisrael. Many are aligned with HASHKAFA of Religious Zionism in a torahdige manner. Since the very beginning of Knessiah Conferences in Europe, there has always been a sector of Rabbanim who were the “OHAVEI Eretz Yisroel” group. In fact, the Chofetz Chaim & RAV Kook participated together at one.
Funds, power base decisions & a loud voice advocating for Torah ideals is essential in this WZO GROUP. Go out & vote!!
I must apologize for my earlier post. I didn’t take adequate note of the April 1 post from Aryeh Lev: I in no way meant to say that the rabbanim mentioned aren’t of stature. All that said, in light of Mrs. Katz’s post, I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable voting without formally asking my LOR.
CVMAY – The Chofetz Chaim was never at a conference together with Rav Kook, it is just not true.
Second, when the Aguda debated the partition plan, the Chofetz Chaim had passed away, but his prime talmid Reb Elchonon Vasserman was vehemently against the discussion. He believed and constantly repeated that the only focus of the Aguda should be Jewish education, chadorim and Yeshivos. Everything else is secondary and should be relegated as such.
My error, if I may quote from “An Angel Among Men” (recommended as a history primer to the years of 1900-1940s in Europe & Eretz Yisroel).
“In 5683 (1923) Agudat Yisrael held its first K’nessiyah Gedolah in Vienna. The greatest Torah scholars and Chassidic masters of the time came from all over Eastern Europe to discuss important issues facing the Jewish World. Among the gedolim in attendance was the Chofetz Chaim. A delegation from the Eretz Yisrael branch of Agudat Yisrael came as well.
At the opening session of the conference, one of the rabbis made an insulting comment about Rav Kook. Utterly shocked, the Chofetz Chaim, who was sitting at the dais, stood up and said, “They denigrated the Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael! We should rend our garments”. He then left the room in protest.
The Chofetz Chaim decided not to participate in the rest of the conference. He simply stayed in his hotel room and waited to return home with the other rabbis from Poland. Anyone who wanted to speak to him or receive his blessing had to visit him in his room.
On day, the members of Jerusalem’s delegation came to receive a blessing from the venerable sage. The Chofetz Chaim, however, refused to extend them his hand, saying, “I do not give Shalom to those who stir controversy against the Rabbi of Jerusalem”. Then, he added, “You should know that he is holy and pure, and whoever harms him will not be absolved” Page 244
The Agudah debated the partition plan and voted against it.