Monday, September 16, 2019


You Can't Blackmail the Ultra-Orthodox, a reply to Rabbi Slifkin

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

On Thursday, R. Natan Slifkin wrote an article about supporting a left wing party in the upcoming election, against his own principles, because he read an article by a Tel Aviv economist stating:
"Israel’s future ability to maintain a first world economy is being determined in the country’s schools today. Only a very small portion of Israeli society belongs to the hi-tech, the universities, and the other parts of the Start-Up Nation. Most of the country’s population is not receiving either the tools or the conditions to work in a modern society – and it has been dragging down the entire country since the 1970s."
And R. Slifkin adds:
(The economic) Modern Israelis - the ones who ensure that Israel's economy and army keep it alive - are not going to hang around while the country turns into Bnei Brak or even Beit Shemesh. They'll leave, and the country will not survive.
(R. Slifkin) The goal of chareidi politicians is short-term voter appeasement via giving them cash handouts and preventing any societal change, in particular in the field of education. Consequently, they are dragging down charedi society. But even worse, they will take down the rest of the country with them...
R. Slifkin unfortunately is totally off base.  Here's why:

The Jewish community has been under attack for MANY generations in many different ways.  The Chilmenski massacres, stealing a generation Jewish children by the Russian government - the Cantonists, attempting to force Jewish children to be Russian secularly educated and forcing closure of Jewish schools by the Haskala, dhimmi status and the stealing of Jewish daughters in Arab Jewish communities, persecution and takeover of Jewish institutions by the Reform movement pre-WWII, the Holocaust, the forcing of immigrant Jewish children - particularly Yemmenite - into secular schools in early state Israel, limiting or preventing government funding of orthodox Jewish schools in mid-state Israel, preventing structural housing design for Jewish religious community needs in later-state Israel... etc etc etc.

The ultra-orthodox community, particularly the one currently in Israel, has literally over ten generations of direct experience with religious persecution.  If you think you're going to force them to change their educational approach or culture by government intervention, there is no group of people more experienced in surviving such pressure in the world.  They have generations and stories in almost every family of sacrifice and martyrs for their way of life - they are prepped for it, educate for it, as they say "drink it in with their mother's milk", and literally expect it.

So much so that when many community problems arise in Israel, their first response is "it's discrimination, it's harassment, its (anti-religious) racism" - even though these situations are somewhat rare nowadays.  (Yes this makes logical conversations with parts of the ultra-orthodox religious community in Israel difficult.)  The thing's not without precedent!

If you push this community, they will stand firm, they will stand together, and they are ready to do so "al Kiddush Hashem" - up to personal sacrifice.

So regardless of whether a secular economist from Tel Aviv or Rabbi Slifkin think that the religious community education system is properly preparing their children or not for a modern hi-tech workforce, NO government coalition in Israel is going to succeed in PUSHING a secular education down their throats.  The more they push, the LESS positive response they'll get.

But how about persuasion, how about positive reinforcement, how about opportunities that work in their context - removing most objections to "training up"?

The Israeli governments have done a crappy job doing such so far, yet even with the relatively poor approaches so far, they have effected ENORMOUS changes in the ultra-orthodox community.

They created army programs that are targeted but not really very well suited for the charedi community (I've had 4 children go through the IDF, I can go through the problems there in detail), and had a 25% jump in charedi army participation.

They (partially) funded adult education programs for various fields, including programming and other hi-tech careers, and had a 35% jump in charedi job market participation - with a significant step up the ladder of salaries.  (If you enter the charedi neighbourhood of Geula in Jerusalem today, the stores have gone significantly upscale from 15 years ago - indicating a community that has a new level of money to spend.)

Imagine what could be done if the Israeli government actually brought in some experts, closely communed with the community, aligned up from "not really well suited" to "reasonably well suited", AND DROPPED A FREQUENTLY STATED GOAL OF CULTURAL INDOCTRINATION.

As a practical example of this: the IDF often takes their soldiers to museums and has concerts and such, to acculturate the soldiers to an old Israeli zionist new-jew mindset.  How about dropping all that crap and focus on training the soldiers to be effective soldiers?

The economist and Rabbi Slifkin's point is not invalid, a workforce and defense force must continue to be staffed with people capable of performing.  But the "force the education and break the culture" idea --- besides going against every democratic and Western ideal of the 20th century of personal and family freedom to make such choices, this group has been targeted before, and before, and before... and they've stood strong, bled and died for their choices.

This is not a fight you can win, nor one you want to start.  Get a clue, figure out how to persuade, incent and nudge, and you'll see great achievements!

And therefore voting for parties that think they're going to FORCE the Charedim to change can do no better than start a culture war and break Israeli society.  Don't do it.

These are the parties in the Israeli election that have explicitly said they're going to start this culture war AND SHOULD BE AVOIDED LIKE THE PLAGUE:

Blue and White (Kachol Lavan-Gantz/Lapid)
The Democratic Camp (Machane Democrati)
Yisrael Beitanu-Lieberman (Israel Our Home-Lieberman)
Labor (Avodah)

The United Arab List would end Israel as it is (they say so in their party platform), so they're even easier to avoid.

I continue to recommend Otzma Yehudit, but if they're too strong for your taste then Yemina or Likud.

I prefer a country that's stable, secure, protects its citizens, and figures out how to compromise and work with each other.

And may Hashem send us Moshiach so this election shtuss can be left behind.


  1. R' Akiva, thank you SO MUCH for this post. In addition to everything you said, we need to ditch the whole galut mentality within Israel, and start thinking about the possibility that we have family on both sides (or the many sides) of the divide. I refer to TRIBAL family for most of us (as opposed to Ashkenazi/Sephardi/Ethiopian/etc. or Western/Eastern, color differences, etc.). As for gerim, they are family too, but has it been figured out already as to how we relate to them in a more geula-style world? If not, we'd better get started! It's getting late!

  2. Not surprised by Slifkin. He promotes 'evolution', so why would see anything wrong with the 'leftists'.


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