Clarity, Please

GUEST EDITORIAL

The current political situation in Israel with the establishment of the new coalition has unleashed a storm of deep concern among the chareidi public in Israel and abroad. The shock has turned into fear, the worry to panic and hysteria. The rumor mill is working overtime, with “knowledgeable insiders” drawing far-reaching conclusions as to the future of Torah Jewry, some based on reality, others purely on imagination.

The overriding concern, of course, is for the future of the Torah world, the modification of the current status quo, the deep cuts in various budgets, and the near-total absence of any chareidi representation and voice in the new government.

The issues are of great political/economic/national concern and are justifiably cause for alarm. But while they are important in the political-economic realm, they unfortunately obscure the vital question that we, as believing Jews, need to be asking ourselves: Where do we fit in all of this?

In the reality of life, we have day and night, and bein hashmashos — twilight hours, when day and night rule simultaneously. Admittedly, the current situation in Israel is disheartening and appears black, but it is incumbent on all of us to analyze and understand what the message is that is sent to us from Shamayim. Is the message about budget cuts? Is the message that the loss of political influence in the coalition is a punishment?

It does not take the power of prophecy to understand that our task now is to take a deep breath and inspect ourselves. Who are we? What do we stand for? It is incumbent that instead of focusing on the downside of the recent political earthquake, we appreciate it as an opportunity to explore what our true position is in regard to Eretz Yisrael. What is our role in Eretz Yisrael? Moreover, above all, in this context, what is our purpose as Jews?

Truth be told, we should be grateful to the members of the Yesh Atid party — and even more so to those of Habayit Hayehudi — for giving us a golden opportunity to remove the facade of alliance that was forced upon us by secular Jewry in conjunction with religious Zionism over many years. We must come to terms with our true identity. It is time to examine the unfortunate fact that we were dragged into a world of confusion, where light and dark rule concurrently.

It must be stated, in the clearest possible terms, that we are connected heart and soul to Eretz Yisrael. This is the Holy Land that was promised to our ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov Avinu. It is the land that our prophets spoke of, the land where the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt, speedily in our days. It is the land that we never ceased to yearn for despite 2,000 years of bitter exile.

Eretz Yisrael is not a nationalist entity brought to the attention of the Jews at the end of the 19th century by nationalist movements that took root in Europe. Hashem designated the land for us at Creation. Our right to Eretz Yisrael is not contingent upon political elements, or the whim of one foreign ruler or another. It is imperative that we take notice that our right to Eretz Yisrael is contingent upon how we conduct ourselves as Jews. In all aspects, both private and public, our behavior must be such that befits residents in the paltin shel Melech, the palace of the King.

The establishment of the State of Israel 65 years ago created an avenue for Jews — who to our profound regret don’t identify with Toras Yisrael — to connect to our people. However, the State of Israel by all means is only a tool for connection to Judaism but in no way defines Judaism or being a Jew. As a matter of principle, the Torah-observant Jew does not seek the State to be the tool for defining Judaism.

Indeed, we must make it clear that one who lives in Eretz Yisrael as a shomer Torah and mitzvos does so out of a belief in the sanctity of the Land, not because he believes in Israeli democracy.

Chareidi Jews have participated in the government and in the Knesset since the state was established in 1948, as part of the struggle to ensure its Jewish character. This participation by no means signaled any level of ideological agreement with elements that raised the banner of nationalism over Torah and mitzvos.

The question now is what our role as chareidi Jews should be at this junction, when our influence on the State’s Rabbinate is in jeopardy?

What should our role be when many factions of chareidi society face budget cuts that could seriously impact their day-to-day lives?

As believing Jews, we must remember that Hakadosh Baruch Hu deals on all levels of existence with middah k’negged middah. The Toldos Yaakov Yosef writes in his sefer Tzafnas Pane’ach that for a Jew who stumbles with regard to lashon hara, the Divine consequence is that he creates enemies for himself. To this end, the warranted remedy is to improve the middah of chessed on all fronts, for this conduct will arouse reciprocally, middah kenegged middah  in Shamayim.

The foremost order of the day for Am Yisrael is to increase our chessed in all areas: To judge one another favorably, to daven that sins — but not sinners — be eliminated, to spread Torah and Judaism all over.

Last but not least, it is our duty to use our resources to make the institutions of Torah and chessed independent of those who seek to uproot Torah. Our hashkafah obligates us to demand State support for Mosdos of Torah and chessed, not out of concern that we won’t be able to continue to sustain ourselves and support the weaker sectors, but to provide a merit for both the government and ourselves, who are so in need of Heavenly mercy. This must be done regardless of the fact that the government does neither appreciate nor comprehend the workings of middah knegged middah. The support for such institutions will undoubtedly serve in their best interest.

It is safe to assume that the alliance of the anti-chareidi sects from right to left, with a kippah and without, is strengthened by a valid fear that the best of their youth will leave secularism and will look for a way of life based on authentic Toras Yisrael. It is a legitimate concern, substantiated by the fact that, for numerous factors, more than a third of the lower grades in the elementary schools are chareidim.

Finally, we must not allow the confrontation with other political parties to focus on attacks towards our political enemies. Our duty is to concentrate on what we are obligated to do and not to do. As such, we must enhance kavod haTorah and refrain from using expressions that detracts from that.

In fact, a debate with our adversaries is not always feasible and sometimes it’s better to refrain from it altogether.

My grandfather, z”l, Rabbi Shmuel Brown, a venerable Chassid and talmid chacham, happened to meet one of the Zionist leaders in his town. They had mutual respect for one another despite their differences in values and principles. The man challenged my grandfather to a debate about Zionism, to which my grandfather responded that he was ready on condition that it be conducted according to the principles of halachah.

The debate never took place.

Our argument with the political religious Zionists is an argument of this nature. It is an impossible debate since this political movement eliminated the common denominator between us a long time ago.

Nachpesah deracheinu v’nachkorah.

Our duty is to eliminate the confusion and to turn the darkness into light. 

Dayan Chaim Kohn