Dear brother Berel

Published in The Jerusalem Post on May 17, 1998

Dear hareidi brother Berel — Politicians and the media have come down pretty hard on you hareidim recently, not without justification I might add. But since I’m not unsympathetic to your ultra-orthodox way of life, here’s some free advice, in your and my best interests.


1. Stay away from military cemeteries on IDF Remembrance Day. Especially formal national ceremonies. Yes, I know some hareidim serve, and some have fallen too. But until the overall ‘why-don’t-the-ultra-orthodox-serve-in-the-army’ question is resolved or the tensions abate, your presence in these woeful places on that mournful day pours salt on open wounds. Tell Rabbi Porush Jr.


2. Seek appropriate frameworks for ultra-orthodox national service, before someone else does it for you. Get your rabbinical leadership to show some moderate leadership and back-up MK Rabbi Ravitz’s proposals for army frameworks for older, married hareidim who want to work, and for the minority of slouches who are just hiding-out in the yeshivot as refuge from reality. Otherwise, the public is going to ram down your throat across-the-board conscription for all yeshiva boys, including those who really ought to continue learning Torah full-time.


3. Try a little volunteer national service. The kollel boys sure have enough vacation time to make this possible, without interfering with gemara study. Let’s do a little calculation: three weeks off from Yom Kippur to Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, one month off in Nissan around Passover, three weeks vacation from Tisha Beav to Rosh Chodesh Elul. In what other profession can you get-off ten weeks a year? That’s lots of time for the Mir yeshiva boys to push wheelchairs around the grounds of Laniado hareidi hospital, a kosher environment, in the framework of national service.


4. Take a lesson from your ultra-orthodox brethren abroad, and get involved in society. In America today, there isn’t a sector of business, industry, the arts, academia or public achievement in which hareidim aren’t prominent leaders – without detracting one bit from their deep religious devotion or constant learning. Ultimately, that’s the way to earn respect for Torah and the hareidi way of life.


5. Institute a little discipline in the yeshiva world, with real attendance records, proper examinations, and a rigorous, mandatory curriculum to complete. Not because some government official wants to verify your books, but because it’ll be good training for the young men. Get used to having a real work schedule now. You can’t come late to your hi-tech computer job because it’s * Rosh Chodesh * or * Chol Hamoed * or * isru chag * or your second cousin’s third son’s brit mila.


6. Choose your political leaders more carefully: men (how about a woman?) who will appropriately represent the kindness, ethical refinement and devotion of most ultra-orthodox Jews. Dump the brazen, in-your-face bullies like Jerusalem deputy mayor Chaim Miller, whose sneering arrogance and brutish absolutism alienates every watcher of the evening news. Does Miller really think he’s so superior to the rest of us all? Or Shas’s Benizri, who clearly believes that he, and only he, has a direct line to God.


7. Practice ethics in public service, as religious Jews. I cringe when reading the recent State Comptroller’s report, which fingers deputy housing minister Porush as a central figure in the two main lacuna highlighted: corruption in public housing and patronage appointments. Most of our secular politicians are no better, but so what?


8. Reign in the hyperbolic, vitriolic hareidi press. The language used regularly in Hamodia, Yated Neeman and Yom Le’Yom clearly borders on incitement. (Who’s always complaining about incitement?) And the defamation of Russian olim that has become standard fare in these papers is shocking.


9. Brush-up on the Jewish religious sources of democracy and tolerance. Look up the Abarbanel, Netziv and the Rema – who demonstrate that western concepts of human and individual rights, and democratic decision-making, clearly are rooted within tradition. For help, ask the Ayala Center ‘Judaism and Democracy Project’ at Bar-Ilan University’s School of Education to send you a copy of their resource guide on this topic.


10. In politics, stick to your sectoral interests, and don’t try to dictate to the general public how to run it’s public square. Not until your sector kicks in a little more in bearing the ‘national burden’. You may have been right about the blasphemy of Batsheva on the Jubilee, and perhaps even about Dana, but at present you have no right to dictate to anyone in such public matters.


What’s worse is that the hareidi bull-in-a-china-shop behavior on these issues damages the ability of moderates on both sides of the religious-secular divide – the majority of the Israeli public I argue – to reach accommodation and understanding on the ethos of appropriate ‘public square’ behavior. And we know that the civil-war-mongering Milo’s are out there hungrily waiting to capitalize on your mistakes.


So start behaving a little more reasonably, dear brother Berel. Otherwise, your interests will suffer, and so will mine.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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