Sunday, March 02, 2014

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Social Upheaval in Israel–The Great Protest

(Mystical Paths – Reb Akiva)

This Sunday afternoon in Israel will see a great protest.  Up to 1/10th, if not more, of the population of Israel will come to protest the lawmaking actions of the current government… protesting proposed changes in the national draft law to draft religion students into the national army for 3 years of service.

A reader sent these questions…

I don't understand the behavior of the Haredim (the ultra-orthodox religious Jews of Israel)?

- Their perspective is unique to their community and situation. At the founding of the modern state of Israel, the modern Zionist culture was going to create a “new Jew”, one who build by the level of his work and defended himself by the strength of his arm.  The “old Jews” who had literally been slaughtered throughout the generations, culminating the Holocaust, were pitiful and to be avoided.  The kibbutzim (collective farming societies) and army were going to forge the wretched souls and refugees of Europe, the Holocaust, and expellees of Arab countries into a single strong new Jew culture.

- But a small group of religious Jews, adherents to the ancient mesorah (the path of generations) of Judaism, the survivors of Holocaust, the remnants of the great yeshivas and chassidic groups of Europe, who numbered a mere few hundred families with 500 Torah students, were exempted from army service and the national social indoctrination.  Whether this was in memory of the holy religious grandparents of the founders of the State of Israel, a confrontation they didn’t want to deal with, a belief that these adherents to G-d would fade away on their own, or G-d’s commitment that Torah will never be lost from the Children of Israel, this became the social pact for 4 generations.

I don't really see a valid crisis propelling them?

- The status quo is changing.  Regardless of how the law comes out in the end, the Torah community of Israel is going to be impacted in a big way.  AND, due to the parliamentary winner takes all system of government in Israel, in the current ruling government coalition – they (the charedi community) have no say, no representation, no vote. 

- This type of mass protest is the ONLY way they (we) have to have their (our) voice and concerns heard, as well as noting the impact they can have on the country.  Their (our) strength is exclusively in standing together.

Mass emigration??? To America??

- People feel frustrated, their way of life being threatened.  Whether this is really the case or not is besides the point – they’re saying extreme things because they feel they have no say and no options.  It doesn’t help that the Knesset members pushing these changes are themselves making extreme statements about how they’re going to change charedi society – directly playing into charedi societies fears.

Are they shooting themselves in the foot?

- Well, yes and no.  They’re riling up their own community and increasing everyone’s fears.  Their ability to pull such a massive demonstration will terrify parts of secular Israeli society – who are specifically worried that these people are taking over (and demographically they are or will be).  It pushes both sides to extreme positions.  On the other hand, if this is the only way they can be heard, it gets them heard.

Is this a Community-wide nervous breakdown?  The psychological effects on plain G-d fearing followers?  The unwarranted panic of bochurim?

- Yes.  But secular Israeli society really was out to get them as few as 2 generations ago.  And in non-Jewish armies around the world, Jews who were inducted frequently fell to the anti-semitism of their co-soldiers or were placed in the most dangerous positions.  These stories survive as regular tales in ultra-orthodox Jewish society. So this situation directly plays into traditional communal fears. 

Can you shed some light on this hysteria?  Am I out in left field?

- This is Israel, the Holy Land, the land constantly under G-d’s eye.  The country often survives, or even operates daily, by niisim and niflaot, miracles and wonders.  It has the intensity of New York City, dangers of Harlem, weirdness of Central Park and Venice Beach, and the religious intensity of – well, of Israel, all together.  Sense, negotiation, compromise… wrong country.  Perhaps it’s also the wrong decade, as the world itself seems to have moved from order to increasing chaos.

A few notes.

1. It is the Jewish tradition since the time of King David that 1/3 fights, 1/3 supports, and 1/3 prayers and learns.  The Jewish people have always stood on the merit of Torah and prayer.

2. In the merit of governments supporting Jewish Torah communities, they have accrued immense spiritual benefit.  Are the Erev Rav about to lose the spiritual strength they gain through supporting Torah?  It would seem so.

3. From the rationalist perspective, the government’s main leverage over the Torah community comes because of the community’s reliance on government assistance.  Remove the assistance, remove the government having ANY influence on the community.  In the long run, that’s a very good thing.


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