Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 9 May 2008

An Egregious Lack of Gratitude

It's one thing that the Arabs in and around Israel have no sense of thankfulness for the endurance of the State. Both ideologically and culturally, they have been raised to hate Israel and Jews. They simply don't know any other way so for them that's reality.
It's quite another that there seems to be a definite current within the UltraOrthodox world that wants to show how ungrateful they are for Israel's existence. Unlike the Arabs who can shout that they were and are being harmed by Israel, the UltraOrthodox cannot legitimately claim anything remotely similar to that. Israel's creation has been one long boon for them. What other country anywhere in the world would treat them like Israel has? Where else would they find a government willing to fund their schools, even partially, while they refuse to implement any elements of the national curriculum? What other government would exempt them from mandatory army duty and instead pay them to sit and learn? In what other environment could Torah thrive like it does in the holy land of Israel under the auspices of the current government?
Unfortunately, the UltraOrthodox community doesn't quite see it that way. Like the classic enfant terrible, they see all the negative aspects of the State and discount the positives, seeing any benefits as their natural right and not an act of generosity.
This came to mind when I recently read an article on a website I stumbled across recently. The author, Rav Pinchos Lipschutz, builds a very good case for all the failure of the State but in doing so succeeds in showing his own blinkered thinking and ignorance of history. To wit:
Zionism emerged in the late nineteenth century in response to decades of anti-Semitic persecution in Europe. It was the appalling outburst of French anti-Semitism in the Dreyfus affair that first catalyzed the movement, convincing Herzl and his followers that the key to the Jewish problem was to rid the Jewish people of their statelessness.
This is incorrect. In fact, the first "Zionists" were religious Jews, amongst them such luminaries as Rav Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and the Netziv, as well as the other Chovevei Tzion. Their problem was one of poor timing. When they began to urge a return to Israel, the situation was better in Europe due to the emancipation than it had been in centuries so there was little interest amongst non-religious Jews. As for the religious ones, they were mired in poverty and isolation in Eastern Europe and weren't in a position to migrate. As a result, their efforts disappeared into the ether. It then took the Dreyfuss trial to awaken the non-religious majority into realizing that their position amongst the "enlightened" Europeans wasn't as secuar as they believed.
The Haskalah ended up leading a large percentage of Jews astray from their religious moorings. It promised that by secularizing themselves and turning their backs on religious faith, the Jews of Europe would at last gain equal rights in their host countries.
The Haskalah was certainly a terrible influence on the masses of Eastern Europe and the damage it wreaks on the religious world was incalculable. However, it did expose one significant weakness in Torah Judaism - having adjusted to insular, ghetto-like environments, it was completely incapable of confronting or adapting to the outside world. This worked well as long as the outside world wanted nothing to do with the Jews and kept them at the periphery of society. When the outside world decided to end its Jews' isolation, this system began to collapse. This was not the fault of the haskalah but of the designers of the system.
The historic Jewish mode of surviving by playing up to host countries and corrupt ministers would no longer be necessary, Zionism preached. For in the land of the Jews, a utopian existence ushered in by a socialist state would be established. Jews would cast off the shackles of the exile, finally free of the tyranny of governments, priests and rabbis.
In truth, I have always had a problem with Theodore Herzl's vision for Israel - a state like all other states, just that it would be inhabited and run by Jews. As a community, we have not prayed over the last 1900 to simply have a chance to be like everyone else. We have prayed to witness God's return to Zion and the rebuilding of our Temple. In this regard, Herzl was quite misguided. However, one cannot have expected more from him. Given that he was completely assimilated, the fact that he adopted the Zionist cause with such passion is a miracle from Heaven.
And in any case, if the choice was between Zionism and the misery that was the shtetl in Eastern Europe, can it be any wonder that people embraced the former?
They thought that this was, at long last, the answer to Jewish poverty and starvation, the end to the centuries of torment. Especially following the Holocaust, many Jews felt that a state of their own would solve so many problems and lead to the ultimate redemption.
Of course, in hindsight, we all know that it was a false hope, never to be fully realized. There were many rabbonim who foresaw that a secular Zionist state would solve few, if any, of our problems, and would create many more.
In truth, Zionism did deliver on its major promises. It did result in the creation of Israel, it did give countless Jews the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of building the land of Israel up. It provided hope for a future generation of non-religious Jews who, had they stayed in Europe, might have disappeared into the atheistic and socialist cultures that were then arriving. No, the majority of the early chalutzim were not religious but they believed in being Jewish, if nothing else.
As for the many rabbonim, what people like Rav Lipschutz either don't know or don't want to talk about is that there were also many great rabbonim who were enthusiastically in support of Zionism. The UltraOrthodox approach to history either erases or ignores them in order to create a false appearance of unity amongst the "gedolim" that they were all anti-Zionists.
In the end, when the fires of the Shoah came, those rabbonim who had gotten themselves and their followers out, as well as the non-religious Zionists, survived to build Israel and all its benefits. Those rabbonim who refused to support Zionism and maintained, until shortly before being put on the deportation trains, that submission to the Nazis and faith in God would prevent a holocaust from happening, perished with their followers.
Not that the UltraOrthodox community ever learned a lesson from that. Following the words of the Michtav M'Eliyahu, they now assert that if you question the rabbonim who failed to predict the greatest Jewish tragedy of that last 1900 years, you are of little faith. What a way to end an argument.
Looking back over the past 60 years, one is struck by the many dismal failures of the enterprise. Yes, they made the desert bloom. Tel Aviv is a cosmopolitan city. Israel has more companies traded on the NASDAQ than any other country besides the U.S. Israel provided a home for some Holocaust refugees, as well as hundreds of thousands more Jewish refugees chased from North Africa, a true ingathering of the exiles.
You'd think that this would be enough to earn the author's praise. Think again. What didn't he mention? The countless yeshivos, schools, synagogues, publishers of Torah material, all of whom exist because the Zionists rebuilt the land. Why isn't this mentioned? Because he'd rather complain:
They created a state which was Jewish in name only, using the Jewish heritage as a convenient backdrop. They seized political control over the new country and purported to act and speak on behalf of the entire Jewish people.
The founders of the new state expected its religious community to quickly shrivel up and disappear in their new socialist Zionist utopia, but they were wrong.

To accuse the Labour Zionists of seizing political control from the religious is a fabrication. As Rav Issachar Teichtal noted in Eim Habanim Semeichah, the religious communities of both Europe and Israel, to a large extent, had little to do with Zionism and, especially in the old Yishuv, refused to cooperate with it at all. Thehn, when the Zionist enterprise bore fruit and a state was born, they complained that they had no influence in running it! Rav Teichtal openly wonders what about would have happened had the Chareidi leadership of the day embraced and joined the Zionist movement? How much more Judaism would be part of the State?
Instead of withering, those devoted to Torah and Yiddishkeit were inspired by the Holy Land and breathed a religious flavor into the state. Torah has taken root, grown and flourished in the nascent country. The number of frum Yidden, as well as their intensity in learning and devotion to the observance of Torah, has multiplied many times over.
All true, and many of the bills for these achievements were paid by the despised Zionists. To divorce the success of the Torah world from the silent support of the non-religious majority is sheer ignorance.
We travel to Yerushalayim and are overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and flavors the land has to offer. We pass by chadorim, yeshivos and yishuvim, and our hearts skip a beat as we think of all the blood, sweat and tears that went in to reestablishing everything in the Holy Land. We go the Kosel, the Meoras Hamachpeilah and Kever Rochel and are overcome by the holiness and the communal memories of thousands of years of Jewish history connected with these sacred places.
We walk down the streets of Yerushalayim and marvel at the great miracle of the rebirth of our people. On Rechov Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak, we can’t help but visualize the holy Chazon Ish zt”l walking these same streets, dreaming of a city of Torah arising from the ashes of the Holocaust.
Wherever we go in the country, there are stirring reminders of the history of our people. In Beer Sheva, we are shown wells and walls which are dated to the times of Avrohom Avinu. If we travel around the country, we encounter Har Gerizim and Har Eivol, and the pesukim of the Torah reverberate in our minds. At Har Hacarmel, the pesukim in Nach come alive. The pools of Shlomo Hamelech can actually be touched. The palaces of Hordus, Ihr Dovid, the Beis Haknesses of the Ramban in Yerushalayim and the shul of the Arizal in Tzefas are all testaments to our glorious history in this land.
The graves of the ancients evoke shivers of awe, from Adam and Chava, to Avrohom and Sarah and all the Avos and Imahos, to the kever of Shmuel Hanovi overlooking Yerushalayim, the kever of Dovid Hamelech, and all the historical figures whose Torah we study day and night.
It is so easy to be overwhelmed when visiting the Land of Israel.

And all this is made possible only because of the sacrifices of the Zionists and Israelis. Would there be a Bene Beraq to walk in without the original aliyos? (RememberL the Mizrachi built Bene Beraq, the Chareidim only came later) Would we be able to pray at Kever Rachel or Me'arat HaMachpelah if not for the brave Israeli soldiers standing guard? Is this so difficulty to admit? Is a word of gratitude so hard to utter?
It is with a great deal of ambivalence that the anniversary is celebrated. Obviously, Zionism didn’t cure the Jewish problem. Anti-Semitism is as ugly as ever, and much of it seems to be caused by the very state which was founded to get rid of it.
Whenever he hears about an anti-Israel act or statement, my father utters a silent blessing. "If it weren't for Israel, they focus on us." To say that Israel is a cause of anti-Semitism is stupidity. Israel has acted like a lightning rod and allowed Jewish communities around the world to delude themselves into believing one of the biggest lies ever told: We're not anti-Semites, we're just anti-Israel.
Did Zionism solve the Jewish problem? No it didn't. But it did change the face of world Jewry in incredible ways that no other movement has in the last 1900 years.
Miraculously, the army succeeded in fighting back the country’s attackers several times throughout the decades. Lately, the vaunted army has not merited miracles of that nature, and has been dishonorably defeated several times.
Yes, an army which people like Rav Lipschutz will do anything to avoid serving in or supporting.
The country is led by one of the most corrupt elected governments on earth. The prime minister faces no less than five investigations and can be indicted at any given moment. The president was thrown out of office in disgrace. Ministers have been accused and found guilty of crimes of moral turpitude.
So in other words, they're finally catching up to what the Chareidi parties have been like for years. Should you doubt this, ask yourself which party is currently propping up this corrupt government? Oh yes, the Shas. Wait, aren't they religious?
When we travel to Israel, we generally stay in Yerushalayim where we meet and spend time with other like-minded English speakers. Most of us can’t speak Hebrew coherently and thus have no real interaction with Israelis other than superficial chit-chat. The Israelis we do converse with are Chareidim like ourselves. The only secular people we engage in conversation with are Arab waiters or rabidly right-wing Sephardic taxi drivers. It is unfair to judge an entire country based upon our interactions with those small segments of the population
I don't know if this was meant to be an admission of ignorance or a statement of pride. Having written an entire article judging Israel and finding it guilt, he then states that what he has done is unfair. Did anyone proofread this other than the spellchecker?
And I like the right-wing Sephardic taxi drivers (who are usually religious, but not being Chareidi I guess it doesn't count for this article). They're fun.
In the end, Rav Lipschutz shows what is wrong with the Chareidi world's external attitude today. It is arrogant and self-righteous, dismissive of any position that disagrees with it and so convinced of the rectitude of its beliefs that it doesn't feel it even has to interact with "the other".
One does not have to be enthusiastic with the situation in Israel today. Certainly there is much that can be improved. This does not change the fact that Israel is our best option for the bringing the eventual geulah and that the alternative would have been much, much worse. A kind "thank you" and a smile isn't too much to ask.

Or maybe it is from some people.

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