Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fisking R' Feldman's latest speech against Yesh Atid

Last week, our friend Yaakov Menken reproduced from memory a speech given by R' Aharon Feldman of Ner Israel regarding Yesh Atid and their plans for Haredi Judaism. The account Menken provides is full of lies, errors, misstatements and school boy howlers. Out of deference to the Rosh Yeshiva I hold Menken responsible for all of these stupidities.

What follows is Menken's (obviously faulty) recollection of the Rosh Yeshiva's words, with my commentary provided interlinearly. See it after the jump.

One must begin with history. At the founding of the state, the Zionist establishment needed to show that all of Jewry was under their umbrella. The state and religious Jews, though, had diametrically opposed definitions of what it means to be a Jew. The Zionist definition is a nationalist one. According to the religious definition, a Jew is part of a nation that received the Torah at Har Sinai, adheres to its laws, and believes that it is a nation because of the giving of the Torah.

What about religious Zionists? Where do they fit in? What do they believe?

Some Jews chose not to back the state. Our Gedolim felt that they could join with the state, on condition that they be granted autonomy. They would have their own education system, and other autonomous rights. This was the basis of the status quo agreement. Whatever took place before the formation of the state would continue in the same manner: the laws of marriage, Shabbos as a day of rest, and religious Jews would have an autonomous education system.

As would the Arabs. The religious Zionists (remember them?) also received their own education sector. 

Soon after the founding of the state, Ben-Gurion went to visit the Chazon Ish to persuade him that religious Jews should be drafted into the Army. Ben-Gurion said that the state could not survive without it. The Chazon Ish countered that the Torah could not survive with it. The Torah has a 3500 year record of survival, while Zionism was a nationalistic theory with no real ideology — and the latter must yield.

This isn't consistent with the accounts I've read. I don't believe that Ben Gurion went on a mission of persuasion, nor have I found a source that says he wished to draft any of the 400 or so men who made up the Israeli community of Torah scholars in 1952. There was a meeting, and the Chazon Ish did relate the parable of the laden camel, but in other details the various accounts do not agree with each other. 

The Chazon Ish knew that Torah learning could not flourish, and Gedolim could not develop, if youngsters spent three of their most formative years in the Army. 

True. But Yesh Atid isn't asking prospective Gedolim to join the army. 1800 scholars will be given exemptions. The best and the brightest won't spend three of their most formative years in the army (unless the exemptions, which will be managed by the Haredim themselves, are issued to the ones who have the best father-in-laws and not the ones with the best brains. I concede this is a real possibility.) 

But even more important, Ben-Gurion wanted the Army to be a melting pot for immigrants from all over the world, to forge them into a new nation. Charedi Jews did not, and do not, want to be melted down. Living in an environment of chilul Shabbos, rampant immorality, and questionable Kashrus is toxic for our youth.

If Haredim join the army in large numbers, the army won't be an environment of chilul Shabbos, rampant immorality, and questionable Kashrus. 

What Charedi parent in the United States would send his son to dorm in a co-ed secular university for three years? There are parents who do this, but we also know the tragic results.

This is a very poor analogy. The "tragic results" occur when someone who is weak in observance goes off to college alone. They occur fall less frequently when someone who is strong in observance and proud of his or her culture goes to college together with several like-minded peers. I don't expect tragic results if scores of well-educated Haredim go off to the army together. To the contrary, I expect those scores of Haredim to have a profound influence on the other soldiers. Its very strange that R' Feldman doesn't trust his own culture to win on a level playing field.

This is why we have separate schools, separate newspapers, no television, no unfiltered Internet. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on education systems that isolate our children from secular culture.

They are also isolated from secular math, secular science, secular language skills, and secular history -- with tragic results.

The politicians’ promises to the Charedim are like all promises of politicians. You don’t need to be a general to understand that a general cannot issue a command to march tomorrow, call up the commander of the Charedi unit, and have the other say “wait a minute, tomorrow is Sukkos, I have to ask my Rav if we’re allowed to march.” 

This is very curious. R' Feldman presumably would like to have a Torah state one day. How does he expect the Torah state's army to function? Will every order be checked with a Rav before it can be carried out? And if the soldiers of a Torah state can obey their commanders, without deferring to a Rabbi,  why can't the soldiers of a secular state do the same? If we can allow an expert doctor to tell us when Shabbos must be violated to save a life, why can't an expert military man be entrusted with the same power?

You can’t run an Army in that fashion, and the Army itself says so. Benny Gantz, Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, told Shas Knesset member Nissim Zeev that it is simply not practical to have large numbers of charedi-only units. An Army must be integrated, and at the most they could handle one more battalion like Nachal Charedi.

The Hesder model is not truly separate, and the results are predictable; a large proportion of them are lost to Judaism. According to Rav Eliezer Melamed, Rosh Yeshiva of the Religious-Zionist Yeshiva Har Brachah, 20% come out completely secular. 

Source? And how did they go in? We need to know more than the results. We need to know how observant and knowledgeable they were when they entered the army.

UPDATE: The claim is completely false:  R' Eliezer Melamed never said what R' Feldman (or more likely Menklen) attributes to him.

Those who return to Yeshiva are weakened in their commitment to Torah. When I moved to Israel, the Religous Zionist party had thirteen seats in the government, and today they have five. This is in no small part due to the secularization of their youth in the Army.

This is just wrong. The National Religious Party disbanded in 2008 and merged with Tekuma (itself a religious Zionist party) to form the Jewish Home. Together they won 12 seats in the last election.

Even were it true that it had the status of pikuach nefesh, which it does not, Charedim cannot serve in the Army. Spiritual pikuach nefesh is of no lesser importance than physical pikuach nefesh. We should have the status of conscientious objectors in any democratic society.

In order to have the "status of conscientious objector" you have to claim it on an individual basis. It isn't assigned collectively to entire populations. I agree that Haredi men should have they right to claim this status, and that those who meet the criteria should be assigned some other substitute service. I'd support any Haredi effort to set up a system such as this. However, R' Feldman's claim that every democratic society allows conscientious objectors to be absolved of any responsibility is simply false. Some democracies do not recognize conscientious objectors; others force conscientious objectors to accept unpleasant occupations. 

So they say that instead, students should leave Yeshiva and stop learning Torah for “public service.” How absurd! Learning Torah ensures the survival of the Jewish people; it has done so for thousands of years, and, as we have seen before our eyes, it rejuvenated American Jewry after the Holocaust. 

I don't agree American Jewry required any such rejuvenation; reports of its pre-war demise were greatly exaggerated. Moreover, its arguable that "learning Torah" ensured our survival. Our survival was often in serious jeapoardy, and I'm not aware of anything more concrete then rhetoric that directly connects Jewish survival with Torah learning. If R' Feldman has data -- or anything else that is more solid than appeals to authority, emotion, and tradition -- I hope he presents it.

UPDATE:  As G3 says in his great comment, what about the Holocaust itself? To which I add: If Torah learning ensures the survival of the Jewish people, and can be guaranteed to protect us from all harm, how were 6 million of us slaughtered? The answer, of course, is that Torah learning protects us --except when it doesn't. That isn't much of a guarantee. 

Learning Torah should not be considered on a par with changing bedpans in a hospital?! How outrageous that this should be suggested in a Jewish state! Without Torah, there would be no Jewish state, no claim to the land of Israel. How can learning Torah not be considered a valid public service?

How, exactly, does it serve the public? How does it benefit a secular Jew living in Tel Aviv. I'm not saying it doesn't offer benefits to secular people who never enter the study hall or interact with Torah scholars. I'd just like to know what those benefits are and noting that an affirmative argument has not been provided.

Now let us turn to the attempt by the government to introduce secular subjects into our educational system. We may wonder, why do we object to introducing the same subjects taught in American Torah high schools? But we cannot judge Israel like the United States. The problems and challenges are different, and the ways that we must respond to those problems are different.

I'll note the question has not been answered. We still do not know why he "object[s] to introducing the same subjects taught in American Torah high schools." Are we expected to guess?

Lapid’s party says that they have to impose these changes on the Charedim, because they will not do it otherwise. How helpful! Did he ask the Charedim what they want? Shouldn’t the natural leaders of the Charedim be consulted before making such changes?

The Charedim want what everyone else wants - the bigger piece of pie, the best bed, and the easiest situation. Lapid wants that, too. We all do. That's why you can't ask Charedi leaders what they want. We know what they want, ie, the same thing everyone else wants. In a democracy, every faction fights for itself, and the faction that claims to be interested in the "greatest good" is met with well-deserved suspicion. For decades, the Haredim have won every fight which is why they enjoy the best deal: The other factions pay their way, while the Haredim contribute nothing -- or very little. The sea-changing thing about the last election is that other factions finally found the courage to say "enough." For decades, the Haredim took, while everyone else gave. Its entirely natural for them to resist a change to this status quo, and I don't disrespect them for it. I only wish they come clean about what's happened and why it upsets them.

One of Lapid’s cohorts, who is a Rabbi, has said that the Gedolim are against any changes in their society for “corrupt” reasons. This is the word he used. He obviously never came into contact with Gedolei Yisroel. According to him, only Lapid is uncorrupted, 

Has he actually said that Lapid is uncorrupted? More likely he agrees that Lapid, like any human being, is corrupted. That's why factions have to fight each other. The factiosn themselves are made up of men, and all men are corrupt. The only way to ensure something resembling fairness and equity is if the government is set up so the factions can fight each other, but non violently.

only he does not care for power and fame — he whom Time magazine describes as “walking with the swagger of someone who expects to become Prime Minister.” Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman shlit”a, Rav Chayim Kanievsky shlit”a, Rav Shmuel Auerbach shlit”a, cannot be trusted to care about the Charedi community… only Lapid, the television host turned politician, son of perhaps the most rabid charedi-hater in Israeli history.

Of course, the Rebanim care about Haredim. That's the point. They care about Haredim, but not about the other Israelis who have for decades been forced to support them. Lapid represents those other Israelis, not the Haredim. Its faction vs faction. 

Nowhere in the world would they act so paternalistically towards a minority. Imagine the United States government telling the Amish, “you are not productive enough, and this is why you are poor. Therefore we are enacting laws to force you to stop using the horse and wagon. Oh, but we’re not doing this out of discrimination or lack of respect for what you’re doing, but for your own benefit.” What an uproar would sweep America!

The Amish are a negligible minority, who work and pay taxes, and don't expect the rest of America to carry them. So of course, the Amish are left alone to live without technology if they wish. They aren't asking anyone else to bankroll that choice. Why don't the Haredi spokespeople ever recognize that the fundamental problem isn't that Haredim wish to learn. The fundamental problem is that they are asking everyone else to pay for it.

Why does this happen in Israel? In truth, it doesn’t happen in Israel either, except with the Charedim. Do you know how they teach arithmetic in Israeli Arab schools? “Ten Jews are standing at a bus stop. A suicide martyr kills seven of them. How many Jews are left?” Yet we dare not interfere with their educational system.

This is another of the Menken's little lies, and he should be ashamed of himself for putting it in the Rosh Yeshiva's mouth. Math is not taught this way in Israeli-Arab schools. Israeli-Arabs schools are monitored and managed by the Israeli government. Moreover, the government DOES "interfere" in the Arab school sector. The Ministry of Education provides funding, designs the curriculum and more. 

Even from a secular standpoint, the primary purpose of education should not be to expand a government’s tax base, but to educate young people to be human beings.

Incorrect. The point isn't to create "human beings" but to create workers. The state educates children so that employers have a pool of literate employees.

Thank you, Mr. Lapid, but we don’t need your help. We don’t need the assistance of a morally bankrupt society, in which you can buy nearly everything with bribery, in which two presidents and seven ministers have been indicted. 

I count ten indicted ministers, and three - THREE - of them were members of Shas, a Haredi party. They are: Rafael Pinhasi, Shlomo Benizri and Aryeh Deri. I count twelve indicted MKs, and four of them are Haredi, all from Shas. So, with all due respect, your track record here isn't great.

We don’t have 60% of our children coming to school with weapons. 

Who does?

We don’t need abortion clinics or drug rehab centers.  

Our students are educated not to lie, cheat or steal, but to love Jews, love Judaism, honor their parents and respect authority. If anything, the secular education system, which is producing a decadent society, should be copying our system, not trying to interfere.

If the secular society copied your system, how would anything get done? No one would know any math or science. Who would pick up the garbage? Who would build the bridges? If all of Israel became convinced that its men were too holy to do anything but sit and learn Torah the country would revert to the stone age within 10 years. 

Moreover, Gemara prepares a person for modern technology more than even math and science. 

So where are all the brilliant Haredi mathematicians and scientists who have mastered these subjects without ever studying them formally. Can you name one?

When our students enter job training, they score higher than their secular counterparts, because their minds have been developed. 

This is an apples to oranges comparison. The best and the brightest Americans aren't in "job training." They are in prestigious universities. It doesn't impress me to learn that yeshiva students can outscore the sort of Americans who end up in "job training."

A recent United States Department of Education study concluded that in order to deal with the computer-based society of the next decade, education should not emphasize facts, but critical and logical thinking. And this is what Gemara does to a mind.

No it isn't. Gemara doesn't encourage critical thinking, by which we mean "way of deciding whether a claim is always true, sometimes true, partly true, or false." Gemarah discourages that kind of thinking, and encourages you to accept everything it says as true. It also doesn't encourage logical thinking, as much of the deductive principles upon which gemerah is based - puns, gezayrah shavas, etc - are anything but logical.

The real reason why they want to change our educational system is not our purported poverty, but to secularize us. 

No the real reason is this: They are tired of you getting a bigger piece of the pie, and nicer bed. Now THEY want a bigger piece of the pie, and they want it come at your expense. Welcome to representative politics.

-- Continued in the next post

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