Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

An Unfair Comparison

Every year this happens. Someone looks around during the Yom HaZikron siren and sees that, unlike everyone else, the Chareidim on the street don't stop and stand with respect. Yom HaAtzmaut arrives and they go about their business, refusing to join in the joy of the day. And people wonder why?
This article from Ynet tries to explain the difference but to my mind, it doesn't make the case:
The folklore that accompanies Israel's national Memorial and Independence Days, includes the perpetual question: What's the ultra-Orthodox's opinion? Will they stand for the moment of silence? Do they respect the memory of the fallen? Do they celebrate Independence Day? Do they rejoice in it?
The ritual question, which finds its expression through the images of those haredim who walk during the memorial siren, or through the heated statements of young haredim in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem, sparks a seemingly unexpected outrage among the state's secular residents: "Why don't they care?" "Why don't they stand up during the siren?" "Why are they indifferent towards Independence Day?" And so on.
And the truth is, dear seculars, that you're totally right. The haredim don't care. Memorial Day and Independence Day are not part of their historical chronology. The ultra-Orthodox don't stand up in silence during the siren, not because this is a "gentile custom"; they don't stand up in silence because this day symbolizes nothing to them, because on this day young haredim also don't recite Mishnayot or hold other religious ceremonies in memory of the fallen.
The haredi street does not celebrate Independence Day not because haredim think – like the eccentric minority that calls itself Neturei Karta – that this is a sad day, but because Independence Day, which for many is a national day and a highly important historical date, is for them a day like any other.
Many of the sector's members barbecue on Independence Day not because they wish to take part in the joyful holiday spirit, but mainly because it's an opportunity to light fire on a day off that's not a Shabbat.
Do the haredim do so out of alienation, disgust, or even wickedness? It appears not. The haredim do not celebrate or mark these holidays because they feel no connection to them. Most of them have never served in the army, and their parents did not take part in Israel's wars. Very few are the fallen, the injured or the combatants among the haredi family or neighborhood. So who have they got to remember and commemorate?
The ultra-Orthodox have never been involved in the crucial decisions of Israel's history, whether because they didn't want to be or because nobody asked them. Israeli democratic processes, which for the secular teenager seem trivial – such as party institutions, courts, primary elections, or even a student union, are alien to the haredi adolescent. What have they got to celebrate?
The two poles, which are so far apart during the rest of the year, aspire for unnatural synthesis on holidays and festivals. The haredim ask the seculars to be sad on Tisha B'Av, abstain from bread on Pesach, and study Torah on Shavuot. The seculars, who are, justifiably, unable to produce sorrow on the merry days of July-August and wail the destruction of an ancient house of ritual that means nothing to them, practically demand of the haredim to produce joy or sorrow on days that the haredim have no relation to.
So, dear seculars, get off our backs on memorial and Independence Day. We truly have nothing against them. We have no reaction to your grief, and we do not despise your joy, but however – they mean nothing to us.

There are a few serious flaws with this thesis. Let me point them out.
First, it's one thing for a person living in Canada to say "Hey, it's the 4th of July. Who cares?" In fact, life in Canada goes on as normal on July 4 each year because we don't live in the United States and therefore the day they declared independence really doesn't matter to us like it does to them.
However, for Chareidim living in Israel, this is absolutely false. The day Israel declared independence, everything changed for every Jew in the world, and especially the community in Israel. As a result of this declaration of independence, Chareidim can build yeshivos on the state's dime, sit and study without worrying about working for a living, once again on the state's dime. They can do so in safety because of the sacrifices of the brave and holy soldiers of Tzahal who do their utmost to keep all citizens of the State safe and secure. The Chareidim in Israel are direct, daily beneficiaries of the State and its defenders. To therefore say that holidays which recalls those who sacrified themselves for the State and the State which is the source of so much largesse to them is irrelevant stinks of lack of gratitude, a sin in itself.
Indeed, one might further note that it is precisely because so few Chareidim have fallen in combat as soldiers in the army that this community, more than any other, should be showing extreme gratitude to the brave kedoshim whose blood was split for them.
The second argument that falls flat is one of reciprocity. Now, I personally don't celebrate Yom HaShoah. I do my best to recall the lost souls of our people who were slaughtered during my recitation of kinnos on Tisha B'Av. That does not mean, however, that I do not care that my secular brethren find great meaning in Yom HaShoah. Indeed, in a secular culture that doesn't know about Tisha B'Av, there is no other way to commemorate the Holocaust other than on Yom HaShoah. To therefore say it is irrelevant to me, than I am exempt from respecting others' feelings regarding the day and acting as if this outpouring of pain and emotion from my brethren does not exist, is incredibly selfish. So the chilonim don't avoid bread on Pesach, but I don't walk into their homes and shove matzah in their face.
In the end, it strikes me that the attitude of this article is one of abrasive selfishness. Chareidim generally tend to ignore any recent Jewish life events or holidays they didn't create, but they do expect others to show extreme respect for theirs. They can set the standards for others, others cannot tell them what to do.
I recall being told my a Chabadnik a few years ago that one does not say tachanun on Kislev 19 because it's a day of celebration for all the Jewish people because of something that happened to one of their Rebbes (he might have had a particularly satisfying bowel movement, maybe?). When I pointed out that if I skipped tachanun, I fully expected him to say hallel with a brachah come Iyyar 5, he looked blankly at me. Accept my ways, he seemed to be saying, but don't expect me to do the same for you.
Yom HaZikaron is a day for all Jewish people to remember the sacrifices others have made so that we can have what to celebrate. Yom HaAtzmaut is the day to celebrate God's finally having remembered us to give us a place under the sun. Let those who don't see any relevance in these days remember that there is a grevious price to be paid for separating from the tzibur.


David said...

"Accept my ways, he seemed to be saying, but don't expect me to do the same for you."

Well, Garnel, they say that true genius consists of the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time. Congrats-- between this post, trashing Chareidim for their "my way or the highway" attitude and the previous post, asserting a "my way or the highway" attitude with regard to all non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, you've definitely qualified!

Being less of a genius, I at least agree with one of these two posts.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

I saw that article and wondered if it is for real. I can't wrap my head around someone so genuinely not caring about Jewish men and women who gave their lives for other Jews. And does anyone think that Torah would be thriving in Israel this way under the British, never mind the Arabs?

I almost think that article is a fake. I prefer to...

Rye said...

Great Post GI, the only reason I am asking for this grammatical correction is that I believe this blog is the genesis of a book yet to be written. So I want to save you some money on the proof reading.

"Chareidim generally tend to ignore any recent Jewish life events or holidays they did create" should read "didn't"

Yasher Koach,


The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...


Thank you David.

Welcome back Mordechai.

Concerns noted and corrected, Rye.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I invite everyone to see a different view of this quesiton at the Nishma blog

Rabbi Ben Hecht