Monday, 5 October 2009

Haredi Takeover of Zionism

I would like to direct you to the following Toronto Globe and Mail article entitled "A hostile takeover of Zionism" at:

The article, of course, is not perfect. For example, the author, I believe, presents Haredim as, basically, a monolithic group, not fully understanding the reality of the spectrum of views found within the group and the impact of these distinctions on his subject. I, though, believe it to be important to read this article for it encapsulates what really is a major shift in the general Haredi view in regard to Israel, specifically in its political role within the country.

I once heard a noted Rosh Yeshiva, who has since passed away, present the following distinction between Mizrachi and Agudah vis-a-vis their role in Israeli politics. He said that Mizrachi saw itself as trying to influence the religious nature of the State, i.e. bring Orthodox practice into the day-to-day workings of the State. It was thus Mizrachi that insisted that marriage and divorce be in the hands of the religious and demanded certain national rules in the areas of kashrut and Shabbat. He then said that this was not Agudah's interest which he defined as protecting the rights of the dati to observe Torah. A focus of Agudah was thus, for example, the exemption of women, specifically religious women, and yeshiva students from the draft, He then raised a most significant issue in the further defense of the Agudah position. For two reasons, he added, Torah, in any event, should not be imposed in the manner that Mizrachi is advocating. The end result is not a Torah state but a hybrid of Torah and the secular leaving a entity that does not truly represent Torah and, in fact, misrepresents it. In addition. Torah should be imposed in this manner on a populace.

I did not have the ability to further discuss his words with him, but this Rosh Yeshiva raised significant issues within my mind and now that I read this Globe and Mail article, my questions and concerns become intensified. First, I find it interesting that the Haredi world has gone through this transformation from the Agudah perspective, at the beginning of the State , that its role was simply to protect the dati to the present role that has been adopted by many Haredim to impose its perspective on others even with more intensity than with which Mizrachi initially undertook this role. Mizrahi still saw a certain value in Am Yisrael even without observance that the present Haredim do not share and thus the need to impose their values on the populace is ever more necessary and more obvious for these Haredim. There is no reason not to impose. What I find interesting is exactly this point. These Haredim do not see any reason for not acting in the manner that they are undertaking -- and therein lies the problem on so many levels. My contention would be that an imposed Torah in this manner is not Torah -- both in regard to the people upon which this behaviour is being imposed and in regard to the ones who are imposing this behaviour.

In a certain way, I, to some extent, accepted this Rosh Yeshiva's words regarding Mizrachi although I also recognized the necessary value in the Mizrachi position. It is a most difficult dilemma. What is an Israel without some semblance of Halacha although this partial imposition of Halacha may create and has created new problems (and the answer is clearly not full imposition). Mizrachi, however, still saw the greater picture and the complexity of what is the present Klal Yisrael.

I remember when Khoumeni first came to power in Iran, a chassidic friend of mine commented that it is too bad the we do not have a leader like Khoumeni who would bring Torah to the forefront. I responded: chas v'sholom. For many reasons, I truly believe that this is not the way of Torah (and, from writings I have read from the Rav, I think he would share this viewpoint). If what this article is contending is happening in Israel, my greatest sadness is for Torah.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


micha said...

I think a central question is what were the Sanhedrin trying to do when they exiled themselves from Har haBayis. Were they "only" trying to do away with the death penalty?

Thinking about it, it's unlikely the motivation was to prevent the killing of murderers. So, we're talking about a move to eliminate killing people who heard testimony, accepted the testimony, knew they were about to commit a capital offense, and announced that they would do so anyway. People willing to risk their lives in a rebellion against halakhah.

Also, the term dinei nefashos sometimes is used broadly to include makkos -- corporal punishment in general.

So to me it sounds like the Sanhedrin's self-imposed exile was more about a decision not to enforce religious mandate on a population where so few wanted it than about capital punishment in particular.

To quote R' JB Soloveitchik ("Thinking Aloud, pg 41): I am at loggerheads with the entire Jewish community. But I can’t help it. No undue influence and no coercive circumstances must interfere with the behavior of the person. If one is constrained by legislation which is provided by effective sanctions, by public opinion, by ulterior considerations to conform to certain codes of morality or ethical standards, then the sublime sacrificial action is desecrated, vulgarized.


Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I thank Micha for his comments. His quote from the Rav was actually one that I was including in my reference to the Rav in my post.

His point regarding the move of the Sanhedrin from the Har Habayis is most significant as the gemara specifically states that it was a reaction to an increase of murders in the nation. Is it not most strange that a judicial authority would weaken its punitive powers in response to an increase in crime? Of course, the Sanhedrin still had its emergency power to do what was necessary to protect law and order but the focus in this move must have been on its perception as an enforcer of personal religious standards. You punish if necessary to protect the community but in order to affect a person, the effect of potential punishment clearly has its limits.

Rabbi Ben Hecht