A View of Current Events in Eretz Yisroel Through the Prism of Our History
By Avrohom Birnbaum
The Yom Tov of Pesach is upon us. Pesach is the Yom Tov of our birth as a nation and the Yom Tov that perhaps more than any other symbolizes our survival against all odds. From Mitzrayim to Greece to Rome to Spain to Czarist Russia and, yes, to secular Zionist Israel, there have always been designs to crush us both physically and spiritually, but we have survived.
We have often been battered and bruised in the process, but while all who came up against us have been relegated to the dust heap of history, we are still here. Battered and bruised, but very much alive.
Throughout our history, the process of golus and geulah has constantly repeated itself, beginning with our redemption from the crushing slave labor of Mitzrayim to Har Sinai, where we received the Torah and dedicated ourselves to serve Hashem. After virtually every one of the difficult, decimating periods of exile, our nation experienced a renaissance of renewed dedication to Torah and Yiddishkeit.
The Historical Looking Glass
It is thus vital for us to step back and view the recent events in Eretz Yisroel through a historical prism. It is no secret that our brethren in Eretz Yisroel are currently under siege. Our gedolei Yisroel have expressed great concern that all of the institutions of the State of Israel are being harnessed to deal with the most vexing issue relevant to Jewish survival: getting the chareidim to serve in the army and severing or drastically curbing funding to chareidi educational institutions.
Certainly, the angst is great, as we have previously outlined in these pages. However, it is important to understand that in the context of history, this is really nothing new. Shlomo Hamelech said, “Ein chodosh tachas hashemesh – There is nothing new under the sun.” As we will illustrate shortly, this process is a very predictable trajectory in the constant process of golus and geulah sustained by Klal Yisroel since its birth as a nation.
That is why, when I read the words of people who call themselves chareidi – I call them “chareidi apologists” – writing either in the print media and primarily in the online media, and they consistently feel the need to apologize and bend over backwards trying to explain the seemingly inexplicable conduct of their fellow chareidim, I shake my head in wonderment. Do they have no knowledge of history? Do they not realize that as long as we don’t assimilate, we will always be a persecuted minority, both among the gentiles and even among our fellow Jews?
We are in golus to our fellow Jews as much as we are in golus to the gentiles. Not only do they show how shortsighted they are, but they also show how uncomfortable they are being associated with that great vast majority of unwashed chareidi masses who simply can’t understand the world in the “sophisticated” way that they do.
There is Nothing New Under the Sun
In truth, however, for centuries, the “enlightened white Ashkenazim” have been trying to force their worldview and values on their religious brethren, with absolutely no thought and no sensitivity to the feelings and needs of their brethren. The party line has always been, “Trust us! We really know what is good for you. You are too foolish and backward to have any appreciation for what we are doing for you.”
The amazing thing about the “enlightened white Ashkenazi elite,” whether in pre-war 19th-century and 20th-century Europe or those in Palestine and later in the State of Israel, is that for all their platitudes about the importance of equality, democracy, and accepting those with “alternative” views, they have proven themselves absolutely intolerant of anything other than their own worldview. They have shown themselves to be racist and bigoted, and they have ruthlessly tried to force and impose their worldview on others in a no-holds-barred manner through virtually any means possible. They have thus shown themselves to represent the opposite of western and liberal values of equality and tolerance.
In fact, I think it is safe to say that history has proven the enlightened secular white Ashkenazi elite as the most intolerant, bigoted subgroup in Jewish society. Observing the conduct of Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and others over the past weeks has just shown that nothing has changed. “There is nothing new under the sun.”
For the “Good” of Their Brethren: First, The Maskilim in Europe
Let us spend the next paragraphs illustrating this point by studying our recent history.
In the mid-1800s, with the rise of the Haskalah, a new philosophy was put forth by the Maskilim: The reason the gentiles hate us is because we don’t integrate. If we would just be a little more like them, dress like them, and appreciate the same things that they do, they would love us and Jews would no longer be persecuted. The problem was that not all Jews subscribed to their point of view.
What did the Maskilim do?
First they wrested control of the institutions that shape public opinion. They opened newspapers and began to poison the minds of the youth through the power of the pen. They established political parties and muscled their way into becoming the “representatives” of all Jews in the eyes of the secular government. They had no compunctions about using the government and the courts to force their fellow Jews to become as “enlightened” as they were. They understood that education was the tool through which one can transform a society, so the first order of business was closing down the chadorim and yeshivos.
What did they do?
They instituted a law that every teacher and every melamed had to have a teacher’s certificate attesting to this secular knowledge. That disqualified virtually all G-d-fearing teachers and paved the way for new “enlightened” teachers. They instituted similar laws requiring chadorim and yeshivos to teach secular studies. They instituted laws stating that no person could become a rabbi without knowing the Russian language, and then they opened their own rabbinical seminaries and made sure that only rabbis with their “semichah” would be officially allowed to serve as rabbis. Of course, all of these important new laws, whereby the Maskilim used the brutal power of the Russian Czarist government to impose their will on the masses who were not as enlightened as they to realize how much they were helping them, were enacted only because they cared deeply about their fellow Jews. “For Brutus is an honorable man…”
If this stuff sounds a bit familiar, if it sounds almost identical to what is happening today, it is. One thing you can say about the “enlightened white Ashkenazim” is that they are consistent and not very innovative. It’s the same old playbook again and again.
Then the Secular Zionists…
One more example from post-State Israel: When millions of immigrants came to Eretz Yisroel after World War II both from Ashkenazic and Sefardic countries, how did the institutions of the newly founded State of Israel treat them?
The enlightened white Ashkenazim were totally intolerant of anything for which they stood and which they held dear. They took broken, battered Holocaust survivors and insensitively propagandized that, in a sense, the Jews were responsible for their own deaths and for being persecuted, because they were foolish enough to go “like sheep to the slaughter.”
They placed these penniless refugees in kibbutzim and maabarot, absorption tent cities where they did their best to indoctrinate them with the new socialist secular order that the nascent state had become. The indoctrination was forced and ruthless, because they held complete economic control over the refugees.
Their treatment of those from Sefardic lands – Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and others – was even more reprehensible. They robbed them of their heritage and were instrumental in creating a bigoted, biased attitude toward Sefardim that exists in every echelon of Israeli society today. They robbed them of their heritage, thereby creating a suppressed, depressed Sefardic underworld.
Of course, all this was done in the name of helping those uncultured, “smelly,” Oriental Jews who were just too backward to help themselves.
Sharing the Burden or Selling Our Souls?
The army was another vehicle of choice to shape society. Take a teen who is 18 years old, indoctrinate him for three years, and you have captured his soul.
That brings us to chareidim and the army. We hear all of these platitudes about “sharing the burden” and similar catchphrases. My question for the enlightened white Ashkenazim is: Don’t you realize that it was you who drove the chareidim out of the army? During those early years of the state and until today, you insisted that they go to the army, but only on your terms. You were never ready to accommodate their unique lifestyle and sensitivities. You were far too intolerant to even contemplate such a thing. If anyone drove the chareidim out of the army and out of “sharing the burden,” as you call it, it was you, enlightened white Ashkenazim. You dictated, “It is either our way or no way.” Of course they opted out. No one is obligated to sell his soul, and that was the price you demanded. Nothing less.
Today, too, Lapid and his ilk keep on telling us that an entire sector of society cannot opt out of serving in the army and working. On the flip side, he and his likeminded allies make it impossible to join – even for those not engaged in learning – because the price of “joining” is giving up our nearest and dearest values.
The Lapids and the Bennetts of Today Are the Same Bigots as their Predecessors
The bitter truth is that today’s enlightened white Ashkenazim – the Lapids and the Bennetts – are the same intolerant bigots as their predecessors. They don’t want us to join on our terms. They want us to join on their terms. They want us to sell our souls, to conform to them, to assume their worldview. They are prepared to use the power of the courts and the power of the government to persecute us, to reduce us to poverty and to take the bread and milk from the mouths of our children, all, of course, for our own good, because we are too unenlightened to realize it ourselves.
The fact, however is that enlightened white Ashkenazim have just ensured that the “chareidi dysfunction,” as they call it, will continue. It is no secret that in the past decade, there has been an exponential increase of chareidm joining the workforce. Numerous chareidi institutions of higher learning that teach all kinds of white collar vocations have opened and thousands have joined. All indicators pointed to even greater increase in chareidi male participation in the workforce in the coming years.
Why was this happening? There were economic factors, but equally important was the fact that these colleges and vocational schools were being opened by chareidim for chareidim, often with the sanction and blessing of leading chareidi roshei yeshiva and rabbonim, and thus truly catering to the sensitivities of chareidim. They were not forces for indoctrination, but rather vehicles for chareidim to engage in the mitzvah of sustaining the families Hashem had blessed them with.
Again, they preach platitudes of liberalism and “live and let live,” but in practice they have shown themselves to be the most intolerant, racist and ruthless adversaries. No, the enlightened white Ashkenazim have not changed much over the last couple of hundred years.
Integration or Tolerance…At What Price?
That brings us to our dear brothers, the Religious Zionists, Mizrachi, Mafdal or Habayit HaYehudi, as they call themselves of late. One would think that after all of these years of obsequiously and slavishly trying to ingratiate themselves with the secular enlightened white Ashkenazim, they would have realized that they will never be accepted as a member of the elite club. They will barely be tolerated. Perhaps they’ll be used and eventually thrown away like a dirty rag that is soiled and can now be discarded.
Did serving in the elite combat army units for Ariel Sharon do a whit to ensure that they weren’t driven out of Gush Katif? Even the Arabs engender more sympathy from the enlightened white Ashkenazim than the “settlers.”
And what price have they paid for this so-called integration into Israeli society?
It is no secret that even the most conservative estimate is that more than 20% of Religious Zionist youth discard religion in the army. That is according to Rav Zalman Melamed, a prominent Religious Zionist rosh yeshiva, in an interview with the Religious Zionist publication “B’Sheva.” Others say that the rate of attrition is closer to 40 or 50%.
They sold their souls to the enlightened white Ashkenazim, and what did they get in return? Tolerance, barely. It is no secret that every effort is made by the enlightened white Ashkenazim to ensure that kipah srugah-clad boys do not advance to the higher echelons of the army.
That is why the conduct of Naftali Bennett has been so troubling and disappointing. Does Bennett not realize that as soon as Lapid and Netanyahu have squeezed him for whatever they can get out of him and his party, they will discard him? He is the ultimate “Uncle Tom,” and by the time he realizes it, it will be too late. His betrayal of the chareidim will not have gotten him anything other than an infamous place in the annals of history that embodies the contempt-filled words of Yeshaya Hanovi, “Your destroyers will come from within…”
Rav Shteinman: Pure Torah Learning Persisted Then and Will Persist Now
As for the chareidim, it seems that we are in for a difficult time. Things will not be easy. There will be many nisyonos and increased poverty, but we can take comfort in the fact that “there is nothing new under the sun.” We have played this record before. Indeed, the venerated rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, related that in Russia and Poland, we were similarly persecuted and we persevered. Torah learning performed in purity continued despite the tzaros and that is the way it will be in Eretz Yisroel.
When thinking of the betrayal of Naftali Bennett and the so-called Religious Zionists, the words of the Megillah come to mind: “Revach vehatzolah – relief and deliverance – will come from another place while you and your father’s house will perish.”
So this year, as we sit down to the Seder and again tell the story of our slavery and redemption from Egypt, it is important that we realize that nothing is new. This process of golus and geulah, of persecution and redemption, is the story of our nation.
Nations come and go. Jewish persecutors and betrayers come and go, while we, despite the difficulties, tenaciously hang on without compromise. We don’t look to enlightened white Ashkenazim to help us nor do we place any hope in betrayers.
We know that only Hashem’s promise is lasting, and when the time comes, we will be redeemed by Hashem – “Ani velo malach – I and not an angel, Ani hu velo acher – I and not an emissary!”
Chag kosher vesomei’ach.
The above article originally appeared in Yated Ne’eman USA.