Monday, May 6, 2013

Manhattan Haredi Protest: The Ugly Truth

Sir, - I was both profoundly grieved as well as deeply angered when reading about American haredim who planned a major rally in Manhattan to protest the draft of Israeli yeshiva students. The planned rally was canceled before it was held. I would like to address my thoughts about the rally and its subsequent cancellation and how it reflects an ugly, growing and misguided gap between that group of American haredim and the God-fearing, Torah observant, Zionist community in Israel.
Although the Almighty's thoughts are beyond our mortal comprehension, I would venture to say that He desired the cancellation of the rally, because if it were held the Desecration of His Name and that of the State and people of Israel would have been beyond his sufferance. A number of glaring aspects of the portrayal of the reasons for the rally and its cancellation testify to its being conceived in sin and motivated basically by ill-will toward the State of Israel and its glowing accomplishments.
Unfortunately Agudath Israel still is unable to embrace the reality of the sovereign State and is thus forced into the tortured casuistry expressed by its executive vice president who states that "while Agudath Israel was not a sponsor [(why not?)] of the rally it nonetheless enjoys the strong backing of Agudath Israel's rabbinic leadership." It is important to note the anonymity of the rabbis in support of the rally, while the only named rabbinic luminary, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, who assumed the mantel of world Torah leadership upon the passing of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, was reported to be against the event.
Agudath Israel spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran, usually an intelligent and well-balanced presenter, is evidently forced into the unenviable comical position of trying to explain the patent absurdity of the reasons for the cancellation. He offers that "the senior ultra-orthodox rabbis felt that now [(i.e. during the wake of the Boston marathon attack)] would not be an appropriate time to gather masses of visibly Jewish Jews into one area for such an event." We are compelled to ask Rabbi Shafran how this rally is any different from the tens of rallies held by visibly Jewish haredim -- and this rally was
scheduled for Manhattan, which is a fair distance from Boston.
However, the most troubling question is what was the initial purpose of the rally and how that relates to the Torah-committed and army-serving community in Israel. We are informed that it was intended as a forum for prayers for "heavenly mercy" in the face of the ''possibility" that full time yeshiva students may be required to serve in the Israeli army. It is again worthy of note that there are far more efficient ways to evoke heavenly mercy, such as declaring a day of fasting and prayer, that do not require the presence of screaming masses.

The biggest violation of truth and self deception took place when the formerly quoted Agudath Israel executive vice president emphasized that the rally was not meant to be "a demonstration or protest against the State of Israel, or an effort to enlist the American public or the American government in a campaign to fight the proposed new law." I am sorry to say that anyone with a minimum of intelligence and integrity, including the anonymous rabbis themselves, would understand that a visible mass demonstration like the one planned was designed to accomplish exactly that.

 The important truths concerning this issue may be summed up as follows. The draft laws in the state of Israel are not those of Czarist Russia which meant being drafted into a hostile environment. There are tens of thousands of Hesder Yeshiva students that willingly and proudly study Torah and combine it with army service vital to the security of Israel and the continued existence of the Jewish Homeland. Instead of organizing massive protests against the State, any rabbi worthy of the title should positively embrace the state of Israel and the fact that here, where we are surrounded by major hostile forces, God has enabled and blessed the State of Israel with the ability to engulf in its midst more Torah learning and learners than any other period of Jewish history, while at the same time enhancing His name by the state's achievements in science and technology, agriculture, medicine, and all worthy areas that can alleviate suffering, and help make His world a better place.

Petach Tikva

[Image credit: IDF spokesperson]