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A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Shevat 5762 - January 23, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Luchos and the Broken Luchos are in The Oron -- Part II: You Need Daas Torah to Start a War

A hesped on Rav Shach ztv"l given on the sheloshim by Rav Zvi Friedman

Though a true hesped for Maran HaRav Shach, zt"l, this is a work of hashkofoh in its own right.

The first part of this work discussed the necessity of the chareidi community living and acting alone, without the possibility of being influenced by other communities whose lifestyle is based on principles that are hostile to Torah life. "Once, during the Holocaust, the Rabbinate [in Israel] organized a prayer meeting together with chareidi groups and, despite the severity of the situation, the Chazon Ish held that the chareidim should not join but should pray only on their own, since the foundation of our existence is absolute segregation."

Part II

The Imrei Emes zt"l already wrote that rabbonim who have nationalistic ideas constitute a danger to Judaism. It is well known how much the Brisker Rov zt"l and the Steipler zt"l fought against any cooperation with a certain party that called itself chareidi, but which at the same time adopted ideas of the compromising religious parties.

These gedolim formulated political methods of leadership and tactics for the chareidi public based on isolation and the lack of any relationship to other groups within the State, not to mention any social frameworks of any kind.

Then a group appeared on the horizon with all the outward signs of being chareidi, but it preached the opposite of all this. It treated rish'ei Yisroel in a friendly manner, condemned policies of isolation, told its followers not to vote for the Religious Bloc (in Knesset elections), preferring to cast votes for secular parties because of their strong right-wing militaristic platform. When the Chinuch Atzmai was set up it opposed it, and kept its schools within the Mamlachti Dati stream. It advocated a strong line against the Arabs, calling for the conquest of Damascus and so on.

The chareidi public dissociates itself from militant military activities, but if you (like that group) are spearheading a campaign for aggressive militarism, how can you continue supporting draft deferment for your Torah scholars? It is impossible to accept someone who calls for others to go fight and perhaps give up their lives in wars, while he himself does not participate in them.

It must be that in their hearts they are in favor of drafting yeshiva bochurim, and of the complete assimilation of the chareidi public with the secular and quasi-religious, which would mean the total destruction of the remnants of Judaism. They came up with the motto, "Am echad, giyur echad" ("One nation, one conversion process"), and the secularists immediately responded with "Am echad, giyus echad" ("One nation, one draft"). We are forced to admit that this motto has the ability to convince the masses, since if we are "one nation" how is it possible not to share the burden?

The phenomenon of "fifth columnists" is well known all over the world, but they usually work underground. The Lubavitchers, on the other hand, work openly and energetically in full public view, and there is no one to thwart their attempts to "conquer from within." What is the point of isolating ourselves from secular and quasi- religious bodies if, within our own camp, there is a group with foreign ideas, originating (according to HaRav Shach) in the universities of Western Europe, wrapped up in an insane wrapping of mystical and Messianic ideas?

The Rosh Yeshiva considered this to be a terrible danger for the preservation of genuine Judaism and called for them not to be recognized as a part of the chareidi community. However, his was a lone voice in the wilderness. Others did not see any danger. Consequently, the Rosh Yeshiva was afraid of the infiltration of foreign beliefs, which would lead to the destruction of Judaism.

At that difficult hour he demonstrated his mighty hand and broke the luchos. The bnei Torah community became an independent community, which related to that sect as a body outside of the original, historical Judaism.

We should point out that despite everything, that sect still has some influence and we see some of its ideas infiltrating our camp. We often hear avreichim make statements such as, "The year we went into Lebanon." I ask them who this "we" is referring to, since I did not go in! They don't understand my question, since they think that there is one nation, part of which learns in yeshivas and part of which fights battles, so that all of us went in "together." It has to be admitted that this attitude is an educational failure!

The Rosh Yeshiva zt"l often claimed that the collapse of religious Jewry in Europe stemmed from the fact that secular or half-secular Jews were treated as full-fledged "Jews" (didn't they come to shul on Yom Kippur?) for all intents and purposes. Chareidi Jews chose to refrain from machlokes and disputes and let the secular Jews lead communities. It was these people who were responsible for the spiritual damage.

In this context I will mention something that impressed me very much in my youth. It was the beginning of 5717 (1956) on the eve of the outbreak of the Israeli-Egyptian war (the "Suez campaign"). The atmosphere was very tense; everybody was talking about the fact that Abdul Nasser was going to launch a major attack against Israel. At the time of the establishment of the State, the armies of the Arab states were unprepared and disorganized and the Israelis were, to some extent, only up against "bands of fighters." However, since 5708 (1948) the Arab countries -- especially Egypt -- had prepared themselves intensively for war. People were terribly afraid, and there was a fear of general destruction chas vesholom.

One evening the news spread that the war had started. Feelings of a total sense of identification with the Israeli army and the expectation that it would be a source of salvation reached new peaks. Rumors about a military pact with Britain and France ("A blood pact never to be broken" -- from the press) did little to diminish the tension. In fact, they only increased the lack of security felt by the population, because it was becoming clear that the State was not able to cope on its own and was in need of the aerial protection of foreign armies. On the other hand, these news reports had the effect of boosting the Israeli ego, for "our" State was now considered a world power.

That same evening HaRav Shach was scheduled to give a shiur kloli. I don't remember whether it took place or not, but one of the regular participants at this shiur was HaRav Meir Shapira zt"l, a big talmid chochom who would come every week from Tel Aviv to hear the Rosh Yeshiva's shiur. The two of them came down from the Yeshiva and walked together along a narrow path. I took the liberty of walking behind them and listening to their conversation.

HaRav Shapira was describing the difficult and complicated situation, without realizing that there was a note of identification in his voice, as was indeed felt by the rest of the public. Then I heard Rav Shach responding angrily, "S'is gornisht, es is nisht al pi Torah," in other words, all this was irrelevant, literally "nothing."

HaRav Shapira continued and Rav Shach, for his part, replied: "Did they ask daas Torah about whether to start the war? All this is nothing." With HaRav Shach there was nothing except for Torah and the authority of Torah. He was not swept along by the emotional mood of the rest of the public.

When the Jews took part in the feast of Achashverosh, they were not held responsible for the actual act of participation because they were legally obliged to do so and they had to obey the law. They were only held responsible for having enjoyed the event. Chazal derived the fact that they enjoyed it from the posuk stating that the meal was meant for "the whole nation" in Shushan, not for "all its inhabitants." In other words, the Jews were part of one nation. "One nation -- one king -- one meal."

The sin was the feeling of satisfaction at being part of the one nation in Shushan. Jews have to cut off any links with their environment. In our case, the chareidim, who are the continuation of Judaism [the Jewish nation] must do so. When HaRav Shach saw that this detachment from our environment was being threatened he decided that there should be a split.

HaRav Shach was very troubled by the indifference displayed by the chareidi camp. There was someone who put out the "Babylonian Talmud" with his own commentary, according to which the Tannoim and Amoroim were influenced in their decisions by economic and political considerations. This approach converts the peak of kedushoh into the peak of secular literature, with severe ramifications.

HaRav Shach naturally fought against this project, but was very surprised to discover that on this topic too he was the dynamic party arousing people into action, where others failed to take the initiative. He was especially disappointed when apparently consistently zealous groups who do not even grant de facto recognition to the State, also remained indifferent to the subject. The "770" group's silence on this issue was also in stark contrast to its militaristic nationalism. They should have been the first to protest. Was this not proof of a fundamentally flawed ideology?

"Look on my right hand, and see, for there is no man that knows me." This was also one of the grounds for HaRav Shach's concluding that in the long term the Torah world could only be relied upon if it was organized independently.

Chareidi educational matters were close to his heart. He regularly participated in Chinuch Atzmai meetings, and occasionally, together with other gedolim, he published angry pronouncements against the temptations of chareidi colleges for girls or yeshivas which incorporated secular studies. His guiding principle was that it was preferable to have one boy or girl in a complete chareidi educational system than to have many educated in institutions influenced by other factors, even if these were chareidi establishments, which also taught professions etc.

For example, one activist was signing people up to join traditional yeshivas in Ohr Yehuda. Subsequently, representatives from a yeshiva with a "professional stream" with a chareidi administration held a parents' evening at which they signed up boys for their yeshiva. A meeting was then arranged at which some influential personalities were going to speak on behalf of this yeshiva.

The activist who had previously signed up boys for yeshivas teaching only Torah, was afraid that the new registration might affect his, and that two or three boys might move over to the "professional stream." Local activists asked the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l about this.

There were weighty considerations either way. Two boys might abandon the pure yeshivas, but on the other hand there was a possibility that many more might join the "professional yeshiva." Which was preferable?

The Rosh Yeshiva ruled unequivocally that the planned meeting should be cancelled. It was preferable to have one boy in an unadulterated yeshiva than many in "lukewarm" institutions.

In sefer Bereishis we read about the bnei Keturoh and others who were educated according to the principles of emunoh, but who was left in the end? "For in Yitzchok shall seed be called for you." The future and continuity only lies with the complete individual; the many who are incomplete will lose their way eventually.

Moreover, the same group, which was educated with a pure yeshiva education and identifies with the principles of the chareidi public, namely "a nation that shall dwell alone" and a complete negation of ideals not derived from the Torah, makes up the core of religious Jewry as a whole. Although not all members of the religious population belong to the Torah chareidi camp, the consistent chareidi minority is its nucleus. In other words, without the yeshiva community, which identifies with chareidi principles, a religious person would not exist at all.

When Rivko Imeinu said, "Why should I become bereaved of both of you in one day?" she was saying, "As long as Yaakov is alive there is still a chance that Eisov might become somewhat affected by ruchniyus, but if I lose Yaakov, there will be nothing left."

It is important to point out that the principle of isolation adopted by the gedolim does not call for an attitude of indifference towards everything that happens on "the other side of the fence."

On the contrary, we have to do everything possible to influence all parts of the Jewish nation, but this must not be on the basis of so-called common social, cultural, or ideological values, but only on the basis of our family relationship. Outreach activities are only to be encouraged on condition that absolute isolation is maintained and that the spiritual level of the activist does not become affected.

This approach also applies to relations with governmental institutions. It is important to prevent injustices against the chareidi population and to look after the interests of Judaism in every sphere, but it is not possible to serve as ministers in a government, since this would, in a sense, constitute recognition of the moral justification of the secular form of government. In order to preserve the principles of nonrecognition and dissociation, it is worthwhile giving up some achievements and making do with administrative positions, despite the "losses" involved.

When the "Shas" movement [still] followed the rulings of HaRav Shach zt"l, he made an exception to this principle and ruled that its members could take up senior positions as ministers within the government. This ruling surprised many people. Why was something "forbidden" to Ashkenazim "permitted" to Sephardim? We shall attempt to explain this matter according to our limited understanding. As we know, the "Shas" episode went through many ups and downs. The Rosh Yeshiva had great hopes and expectations on the one hand, and experienced severe disappointments on the other hand. With your permission, I am forced to explain the background to this and the developments that took place at some length.

End of Part II

HaRav Friedman is a member of the Vaada Ruchanit of Yated Ne'eman and of the BaDaTz of Shearis Yisroel.

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