The world has changed since Simchas Torah, when subhuman monsters murdered, raped, and beheaded our brothers and sisters and took so many unfortunates into captivity. In Israel, for the most part (see below), there is a tremendous unity of purpose and brotherhood to fight together for our national future. Unlike what was going on before October 7, when left and right, religious and secular, were at each other’s throats, there are now countless examples of Jews of all types coming together, appreciating each other, finding common ground as Jews, and hoping together for Hashem’s help. Many are hopeful that the necessary conditions are occurring that will hopefully lead to our final redemption, speedily in our days.
However, these developments are, I believe, quite fragile. I am old enough to have lived through the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, intifadas, and other crises, and have seen similar unifying moments (although this seems to be the most powerful yet). What happened then was that the unity waned soon after the crisis, and unfortunately, the sin’as chinam that we Jews excel at returned quite quickly. Although it is nice to talk about all the beautiful things going on, it is essential to face some complex issues now, before the inevitable crisis arises once the fighting stops.
It is already beginning to happen in the secular world. The “Kaplan Movement” leaders – who regularly led massive rallies paralyzing the country and doing much damage in the name of “Democracy” – found themselves suddenly without a platform to bloviate and feel important. Unfortunately, they found a way to be “relevant” again. They are now leading a growing movement that is cynically using the pain of the families of hostages to whip up a new wave of anti-Netanyahu and anti-government protest, blaming him and the government for the security failures on October 7 and demanding that Netanyahu resign immediately. They, of course, refuse to admit their part in causing the national weakness that our enemies saw and blame it all on others. Thankfully, this is only a minority view at this time, with most understanding that the vital inquiry into what went wrong needs to wait until after the war. Nevertheless, the seething hatred of many is still just under the surface, waiting to be stoked by these extremists.
My concern, however, is mostly with the Orthodox – so-called chareidi – world. As I wrote repeatedly before October 7, it is plain that much, if not most, of the anger and protests of the Kaplanites were not actually caused by “Judicial Reform” and hatred of Netanyahu, but rather by the anger and fear that the secular public has of the growing power and numbers of the chareidi community. They fear that the predominantly secular, liberal State of Israel is in danger of becoming far more religious and conservative, and have been strengthened in those fears by slander and lies in the media and from the intelligentsia.
What is crucial for us to consider is that, unfortunately, far too much of the hatred is understandable. The secular public sees what it believes to be a monolithic huge chareidi community that (a) refuses to serve in the Army or engage in National Service, (b) seeks to extort huge sums from the government coffers to fund their institutions and support thousands of families in which the husbands do not engage in gainful employment, (c) often seeks to impose halachic restrictions on those who are not interested in observance, and (d) contains too many who frequently engage in despicable behavior such as demonstrations against army service in which they call police and soldiers Nazis and other violent behavior.
While much of this is exaggerated by the overwhelmingly anti-religious media, too much of it is true. What concerns me is that once the war is over, there will be no going back to the way things were, and I believe that – unless things change, and quickly – there will be a disastrous blow-up between the secular and religious public. Allow me to explain.
On the one hand, the war has been a great catalyst for a growing appreciation of the chareidim. It is widely recognized that the heroes of ZAKA and Ichud Hatzalah, who are primarily chareidi, have been providing vital volunteer service under incredibly difficult conditions. Moreover, the unbelievable level of giving and chesed exhibited are simply incredible. From providing food, lodging, and every possible need to displaced families, the overflowing support for any possible help to the soldiers, to, of course, the astonishing supply of needed equipment, including thousands of tzitzis and t’filin is beyond belief, and a genuine kiddush Hashem. There is no question that the negative stereotypes and prejudices have been broken for many.
And yet, on the other hand, under the surface, many questions are bubbling to the surface. These include:
This war will incur a gargantuan financial cost. Not only to replenish military equipment but to rebuild the many villages destroyed and to finance grants for the half million reservists and businesses (e.g., tour guides like me) who have been out of work for months and families who have been displaced. There will be little sympathy to finance yeshivos and kollelim at the levels they have grown accustomed to demanding. (This goes not only for the government but also for philanthropists, who will be directing their money elsewhere.)
The blanket exemption for all chareidi young men from the Army and national service – Many old justifications for this will no longer work. Those include:
“They are needed to learn Torah full-time to protect the soldiers.” – Although one might argue that this is valid for those who are actually learning, seriously, full-time, and not engaged in other activities (which is not at all a consensus halachic view), there are many who do not meet that criterion. It is terrific that thousands of young men did so much chesed and gave so much help to those in need, but one might rightfully ask, “Why are they not in the army? Why is their “blood redder” that they should not be asked to put themselves in harm’s way when non-chareidi young men do not have that choice?
“There is only a relatively small number learning; we need to rebuild the Torah world” – This was a very valid argument in the post-Holocaust 1950s when only a few hundred full-time yeshivah students were found in the whole country. Today, baruch Hashem, the religious community has exploded, and there are now hundreds of thousands who seek to be classified as full-time learners. The Torah world has been restored to levels not seen since the Churban Beis HaMikdash, and perhaps before.
“It is difficult or impossible to remain a religious God-fearing Jew in the Army.” – Anyone who has been watching the countless examples of religious soldiers who have created enormous kiddush Hashem and are stellar examples of yir’as Shamayim knows this is simply false. Yes, 60 years ago, the secular leadership saw the Army as an educational institution that would persuade young men to leave the old religious Galus mentality behind and become proud secular Israelis. However, times have changed. That is no longer the case. If, instead of resisting it, the chareidi leadership cooperated in creating an appropriate Hesder-like framework for chareidim that would maintain proper standards of kashrus and tz’nius and Torah and t’filah, it could be easily accomplished.
“The army does not really need the chareidim – they have more than enough people.” Even before the Investigative Committee begins its work, it is obvious that a prime reason for the October 7 failure was an over-reliance on technology. The billion-dollar smart fence that supposedly obviated the need for as many boots on the ground to protect and defend worked about as well as the Maginot Line. Moreover, the genuine threat that Hezbollah in the North and Fatah in Yehudah and Shomron, assisted by other Muslim countries, will join in the fighting is keeping half a million soldiers on the front lines. There is a deep need for a large pool of fighters.
In fact, it is well-known that over a thousand young chareidi men were not willing to be accused, as Moshe did, of “Shall your brothers go to war while you sit here?” (BaMidbar 32:6), and who volunteered to be drafted. There is more and more of a desire of young men to do their share in the defense of our country. This is part of a groundswell of support within the chareidi public for a new approach that is not being addressed by the chareidi leadership.
We cannot even allow young men to enter National Service (Sherut Leumi), as this is a step on the slippery slope towards the army” – It is clear that many young chareidim are already engaged in forms of Sherut Leumi, whether it is by volunteering for Hatzalah, ZAKA, Chaveirim, Yad Sarah, or many other wonderful organizations. If only this could be recognized officially as Sherut Leumi, many complaints about those who shirk their national service would be mitigated.
The discouragement of young men from receiving a secular education – I am not speaking with those who are really learning full-time, although an argument can also be made. However, many young men are prevented from supporting their families properly by a lack of willingness to allow them to have a proper education and engage in a lucrative profession. As I argued above, the world has changed in the last 60 years. With the percentage of chareidi children over 25 percent, and growing, the present economic condition is unsustainable from within, and the large public will rebel at supporting it. Moreover, the financial cost of so many who do not work or work at menial side jobs is enormous and growing and unfair to the Israeli taxpayers. There are no fathers-in-law to support this level of need, and the secular Israelis will not stand for it any longer.
I could go on, but this essay is already long. In Part II, I will address another crucial part of this issue. But for now, I wish to underscore the point that, in all likelihood, the chareidi community will face fierce resistance if they try to make the same demands they made in the past before joining a government coalition. Although much goodwill has been generated as described above, the secular public is likely to have a very short memory when forming a government after the war.
I can only hope that those who have power and influence in the chareidi world will consider these issues, and find positive ways to address these needs before, G-d forbid, we descend into a miserable power struggle, which I fear will not end well.