By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
I recently had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with the noted and famed baal teshuvah, Rav Uri Zohar. He told me that lately, when he speaks in front of secular audiences in an attempt to be mekareiv them, he opens with the following introduction: “It is said that I am a chareidi. Well, don’t believe it. Chareidim are terrible people. They steal. They are dishonest. They all have money hidden under their floorboards. I am not chareidi, chas veshalom. I am really just a chiloni who observes the mitzvos.”
He brings the house down and is then able to open their hearts to the truth.
Chareidim are under attack. We are being vilified wherever you turn. All forms of media – secular, Jewish and religious – write and propagate about how evil the chareidim are. Spokesmen of every stripe are falling over themselves giving interviews to whoever will spell their name correctly about how there is something wrong with those chareidim. There is something wrong with their educational system. There is something wrong with the water they drink. They have gone off the deep end. They are insular. They are uneducated. They have no manners. No decency. Nothing.
And, of course, they are so different than everyone else.
And you know what? They are right. We are different than everyone else. Our chinuch is different. We do behave differently. We really do. Let’s admit it.
We don’t rob people. We don’t have guns. We are good neighbors. We don’t have all the problems that general society has. We don’t have 50% intermarriage and divorce rates. Our children, by and large, are well behaved and intelligent. They are neat, clean and raised well. They don’t cause mayhem on the block late at night drinking beer or smoking weed, with their boom boxes booming, keeping the neighborhood awake.
We live our lives for our children. We work day and night so that we can pay tuition for our children’s schooling. We seek the best for them and, of course, we spend much of our time learning with them and making sure that they will grow up to lead responsible lives.
Yes, we are different. Our lives are guided by an ancient code of laws, behavior and ethics. We try to ponder how G-d would judge our actions and we endeavor to find favor in His eyes as well as the eyes of man. After all, that is the way the sages of the Talmud taught us to live and that is the way we have been doing it for centuries. We taught the world ethics. We introduced to the world laws and jurisprudence. And though much of what we taught to various societies through the ages has been forgotten, we have never forgotten it and we have never given up on finding favor in the eyes of G-d and man.
Are we always successful? Of course not. We are human. Humans make mistakes. We have a yeitzer harah which seeks to entrap us daily. But when we do fail, we seek to learn from our errors and we pick ourselves up and become better for it.
If we are intellectually honest, which by our very nature we are, we know that our educational system has flaws and is far from perfect. But it is so far superior than to any alternative that some who have had to endure what is offered out there would even find our self-criticism to be excessive. However, while we point out the flaws and encourage more accountability in our mosdos hachinuch and improved standards of education, we must acknowledge the beautiful and unadulterated system of education that our communities are blessed with. And we should, at the same time, point out how shameful it is that some would suggest that it is our educational system – and its flaws – which produces dishonest individuals who go on to break the law.
Jews who cleave to the Torah and observe its precepts are without a doubt the most generous of any civilized people. It is in our genes. We have been giving charity ever since the Torah commanded us to. Even Jews who have strayed far from their home from Torah and have little or no connection to their religion have charity so embedded in their psyche that they rise to the top of communal giving.
There is no community which is as charitable as the Jewish community. Go anywhere in this country where there are plaques commentating generous donations; it can be a zoo, aquarium, museum, hospital, or any other non-profit entity serving the public. Look at the names and you will be amazed at the percentage of Jewish ones listed there. If those who have strayed from the Torah are so charitable, imagine how much chesed and tzedaka are performed by the people who follow the Torah. The amount of chesed that goes on in our chareidi world is unparalleled and is taken for granted. And, pardon my asking, but when was the last time you read an article anywhere about the middas hachesed so prevalent in our world?
The purpose of this column is not to sing our praises and not to whitewash the inevitable slippage. It is to put everything in perspective. It is time we all took a deep breath and said, “Hey, hold on a second. Who are you talking about? Why are you talking that way about us? Who appointed you as chief apologist for our way of life?”
Is everyone perfect? Of course not. Are there people who cheat and steal? Of course. But why is it that we permit the world out there to paint us all with the broad brush of those few rotten apples? Are we lacking in self-respect? Have we forgotten where we come from and what we are all about?
A kulturkampf has been fought for the past one hundred years in Eretz Yisroel. The secularists have had the upper hand most of the time and have won many of the battles. Despite all the attempts to destroy it, the religious community has continued to thrive. This drives the anti-Torah forces crazy and they never miss an opportunity to mock and deride us as well as attempt to curtail our growth and minimize our power and effectiveness. But nothing they try works, and despite all their best efforts, they realize that they are losing and we are gaining.
Many years ago, I met Ariel Sharon and interviewed him for this newspaper. He told me of the time he went to meet a rebbe as part of the coalition building process. The rebbe‘s office was located upstairs of a bais medrash. Mr. Sharon arrived for his morning meeting after he had woken at 4 a.m. to see his son off to his army base, in the driving rain. As he walked in to the building, he saw the chassidim assembling to daven. No one was in a particular rush, he said.
He recounted that he was furious. “My son had to wake up at 4 a.m. to go train for war, and these young people were able to live freely, seemingly without a care in the world.
“But then I thought to myself, you know the difference between me and them? They all know that their grandchildren will be Jews. I don’t.”
And with that he forgave them.
The man who gave his life for the Zionist dream realized that it was the religious folk who would guarantee the Jewish future of the land. He didn’t have the courage to mend his ways and return to the G-d of his forefathers in the city of Brisk, but somewhere in his conscience, he knew the truth. And he’s not the only one.
Different people of his ilk deal with the truth differently. Some harbor a modicum of respect for the chareidim and for the lives they lead, while others build up hatred for all that the religious people represent. It is as if they lie in wait for the minute a religious Jew is accused of doing something wrong. They pounce on the perpetrator and, as true racists and bigots, convict all religious Jews of aberrant behavior. If one religious Jew is indicted for a crime, immediately every religious Jew in the world is accused of the same misdeed.
And we let them get away with it. We don’t respond that we are bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We don’t respond that we have a common creed which predisposes us to an unassuming, law-abiding way of life. We don’t respond that we are the Am Hanivchar and that one yungerman living bemesiras nefesh and learning in Lakewood is worth more to us than all the educated crafty spokesmen who pour oil on the anti-chareidi fire with their erudite, pedantic, pithy soundbites.
When they use the sorry situation of a couple of out-of-control teenagers to besmirch masses of fine young frum boys, we don’t analyze the numbers and show how many thousands of boys travel thousands of miles away from home to grow in Torah and become better Jews and better men.
Since the time Jews have been driven into exile, there haven’t been as many people learning Torah as there are now, there hasn’t been as much money given away for hachzokas haTorah, there haven’t been as many families dedicated to the values of Torah, and there haven’t been as many children following in their parents’ ways as there are today.
The yeitzer harah can’t take it. He can’t stand to watch all this go on. He fights mightily to ensnare us and our children. Despite all that he has thrown at us, the Torah world continues to strengthen. Now he has drafted the media in a way we were unprepared for. They contribute a lot more than we think to the way other people view us and the way some of us have begun to view ourselves.
It’s about time we stood up and proclaimed that we have had enough of this. Stop lecturing us. Stop judging us by the alleged actions of a tiny percentage of our people. Stop ignoring all the good, and concentrating on the bad.
Let us do all we can to return the shine to our lives. Let us work harder on improving ourselves and separating ourselves from all types of thievery and heresy. Let us cleave yet stronger to the words of the Torah, ki heim chayeinu ve’orech yomeinu.
It’s all nothing new. The novi Yeshayahu [66, 5] said over two thousand years ago, Listen to the words of Hashem you who are chareidim to his message, your wicked brothers who despise you and seek to shunt you aside, tell you that they are closer to G-d than you are and He likes their actions and the way they conduct themselves more than He favors the actions of the chareidim, for in the end you the righteous ones will be blissfully exultant while the evil ones will fade away in embarrassment. May it come to pass speedily in our day.