Attempts at Social Engineering

In the new political climate in Israel, secularists aren’t content with altering the country’s Jewish character by introducing public transportation on Shabbos, civil marriage and the like. They’re seeking to use their clout — in the courts, in the media and in the powerful ministries that are now falling into their hands — to, chalilah, impose change on the Torah world.

It has suddenly become fashionable to challenge basic assumptions that enabled 50-plus years of peaceful coexistence between the chareidi community and society at large.

Take, for instance, the latest attempt by the attorney general to curtail the power of batei din belonging to the Eidah Hachareidis, who don’t take a penny from the government. In what can only be described as the height of chutzpah, he issued a directive making it a criminal offense for a beis din to issue a ksav seiruv.

A ksav seiruv, which has its source in Shulchan Aruch, is issued when someone either refuses to come to beis din or to heed its ruling. It instructs the community to put the recalcitrant individual in cherem, which includes not counting him in a minyan, not giving him an aliyah, and other sanctions. It is practically the only means of enforcement that the beis din has at its disposal.

Weinstein’s directive, addressed to law enforcement bodies, notes that although “the ksav seiruv is recognized in Hebrew Law, its purpose in the past was to protect the autonomy and standing of the judicial bodies of Jewish communities while in the Diaspora, but today the batei din operate in the State of Israel, which is a Jewish Democratic State.”

In other words, the attorney general, with his profound knowledge of Torah and halachah, has decided that kisvei seiruv are no longer relevant in the “Jewish Democratic” state of Israel.

The same patronizing attitude underlies attempts to impose the “core curriculum” on chareidi schools. Education Minister Gideon Saar openly stated that “contrary to former ministers of education who concerned themselves with the curriculum in state schools, I see my responsibilities as education minister as demanding my involvement in chareidi schools as well.”

And whether or not Saar continues at his post — at this writing the education portfolio is a sticking point in the coalition negotiations — or, chalilah, is succeeded by a member of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, we can expect continued attempts by people who don’t understand the first thing about chareidi life to seek to intervene in the education of our children.

Just this week we saw another manifestation of this attempt at secular coercion, when a group of women came to the Kosel in tallis and tefillin to create a deliberate provocation. As the Rav of the Kosel, Harav Shmuel Rabinowitz, stated, these women have been assigned the nearby Robinson’s Arch, where they can perform their misguided “service.” In choosing to come to the ezras nashim at the Kosel, they violate the sanctity of the site and the rights of
G-d-fearing Jewish women who wanted nothing more than to be left alone to daven.

But, of course, the most serious and unacceptable attempt at social engineering is the proposal to dictate to the Torah world who will continue to learn full-time in yeshivah and who will be forced to do military or national service. How can people who don’t understand Torah — its power to protect the nation and its vital importance in building committed Jewish men and their families — even think of tampering with our holy yeshivos?

The secularists always have a way to explain how their attempts to intervene in Torah life aren’t patronizing, coercive or anti-democratic. (Democracy, after all, is supposed to be about allowing people to lead their lives according to their principles — even if they disagree with yours.)

The sanctions included in the kisvei seiruv, says the attorney general, “impinge severely on one’s most fundamental rights such as freedom of education, freedom of religion and worship, the right to bring a case before the secular courts and freedom of employment.”

(What about the secular courts? When they issue fines or sentence someone to prison, don’t they also “impinge severely” on individual rights?)

And, of course, the education minister has only the best interest of the chareidi world in mind when he seeks to undermine the accepted doctrine that only the Gedolim determine what the curriculum should be. He wants chareidi children to be able to find jobs when they grow up, so he feels it is legitimate to tell menahalim what to teach and when. It’s absurd, firstly, because thousands have found work without the advice of the education minister and secondly, because even if there is a need for some secular studies, it must be done at a time and place that is authorized by the Gedolim.

The only fitting response to these varied attempts to force change in the Torah world is that given by the Raavad of the Eidah Hachareidis, Harav Moshe Sternbuch, to the attorney general on the kisvei seiruv. “The batei din receive their instructions only from our holy Torah… Rabbanim will continue to act according to din Torah and the authorities should be aware that we are prepared to go to prison, but under no circumstances will we forgo our responsibility to judge and to rule as per the din Torah.”