Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 1 November 2010

Needed: Insight

One of the biggest reasons for conflicts between different groups is a lack of insight on the part of leaders and followers on each side.  So busy are both sides in accusing one another of various crimes that neither steps back and asks: Are we part of the problem?  If we fix ourselves, might things improve?
Years ago my wife and I visited Israel together and spent time with both Chiloni and Chareidi friends.  While with the former we heard about all the evils of the ultra-Orthodox population.  While with our religious friends we heard about how degenerate secular cutlure was.  And it occured to me: both sides are right.  The Chareidim are guilty of what the Chilonim accuse them of, and vice versa.  Both groups have their strengths but also their shortcomings which their opponents constantly choose to focus on.
But when each group confronts the other from a position of righteousness - you are the evil ones, we are the victims! - then only bad consequences can emerge.  Such is the nature of the ongoing strife in Israel between the religious and non-religious populations.  A splendid example of a complete lack of insight into the situation can be found in this Ynet article:
We can understand those who disagree with people who value Torah studies over convenience and the good life. We did not ask anyone to laud these yeshiva students – but why humiliate them?

If you do not want minorities in the Israeli state, and if you are unwilling to live alongside those who are different than you, declare it openly and expel us: The Arabs to Lebanon and Egypt, us haredim to the United States, and leave the State of Tel Aviv intact. The scope of venom directed at us makes it appear as though we personify all the wickedness and corruption around here, yet none of these loud critics have the courage to stand up and say the same things about Israeli Arabs. When it comes to the Arabs, these critics support dialogue, patience, and affirmative action. But not with the haredim.

We, the haredim, do not need anyone’s kosher certificate for Israel’s right to exist in the Holy Land. This land is promised to its scholars and thinkers in the Book of Books. Without substantive attachment to the Bible, we have no place here, amidst the hundreds of millions of Muslims. Hence, despite the occasional waves of incitement, more and more people move closer to the Creator.
The problem with this cri de couer is that it completely ignores the reasons why the secular community has become so virulently anti-Chareidi.  In the last year we have been subjected to non-stop stories about Chareidi violence, Chareidi corruption, Chareidi chumros, Chareidi demands, and with the advent of the internet what the Chareidim are saying about non-Chareidim is now also publicly broadcast.  The image of the poor, innocent, suffering shtetl dweller who has done nothing to bring down the wrath of the Satan upon himself but endures nonetheless carries no weight outside those who would love to believe that image is true.
Is the average Chareidi an evil entity?  No, chas v'shalom we should think that the average Chareidi is anything other than decent, devoted and full of love of God and Am Yisrael.  But the public face of the community is not representative of this individual.  Whether its triumphalist bovine faeces at odds with reality, revisionist screeds lacking in facts, or just generally poor writing, the appearance is one of a community completely oblivious to its negative points and willing to smear any outsider in the name of God the all-merciful.  And it is this appearance that the Chilonim are rallying against.
Who is right?  Well, as I concluded during that visit years ago, both sides are.  The bottom line is that the secular community in Israel brings many important things to the country.  Their spirit, innovative spirits and willingness to work hard under pressure is what has allowed Israel to survive the hatred of its neighbours and much of the world since 1948.  They are the builders and sustained of the State and without them Israel would still be a malaria-infested swamp/desert.
But on the other hand, Israel is a nation unique in that its raison d'etre is constantly relevant.  No one questions Britain's place in Europe, or Luxembourg but the idea of a Jewish state in the MiddleEast is controversial enough, all the more so a secular European-style social democracy.  If not for the Jewish element, Israel would lose its relevance, its need to exist.  After all, there are lots of places in the world for secular socialists and capitalists to live but Jews have a special tie to a very specific tract of land in only one place in the world.  The Chareidim at their best provide much of that Jewish character and ensure that it endures.
In short, both sides need each other for Israel to endure as it has.  One must hope against hope that leaders will emerge on both sides that will realize this and announce to their followers that it is time to listen to the criticisms directed against them and respond constructively.  Perhaps the secular community could stand a little more Torah in their lives.  Certainly the Chareidim could go to work.  And that would be the ideal outcome.


Y. Ben-David said...

It is important to remember that much of the energy behind the hiloni protests is simple politics. In the elections of 1992 and 1999, the Likud was going into the campaign being in a government coalition with the Haredim. The Left (Labor-MERETZ) used the slogan that the Likud had sold the country out to the Haredim. This worked and the Left won both elections (it is important to remember, though, that this wasn't the only reason-the Likud was also badly split at the time). In fact, when the Left came to power they included Haredim parties in THEIR coalition and gave them more. In other words, this campaign is totally cynical politics. However, the Haredi leadership play into their hands by not making a very good effort in public relations on their part.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

There is an important element in this discussion that needs to be highlighted. That is the frame of reference of both sides. While you maintain that there is merit on both sides, you are reflecting a frame of reference that yields such a conclusion. The reality is, though, that this frame of reference in itself is different than either the chiloni frame of reference or the charedi one. Before you can advocate for your position of sane discussion, there has to be some movement on the frame of reference of each side. To see value in the activities of the other you have to adopt a method of evaluation that will see value. The problem is now becoming not only that each side does not see the other's value but that each side cannot even evaluate that what the other brings to the table even has value.

Rabbi Ben Hecht