Monday, May 27, 2013

Clucking His Tongue

Eytan Kobre
Eytan Kobre has got be one of the most annoying defenders of the Charedi  status quo in Israel on the face of the planet! He rarely fails to upset my sensibilities. His ‘holier than thou’ attitude goes well beyond polite discourse in disagreement about public policy. It borders on the hateful! And he did it again in his weekly Mishpacha Magazine column. Note in particular the three bullet points where he manages to disparage Jewish Action Magazine, an Orthodox blogger, Rabbi Dov Lipman and the ‘Talmidei Chachmim’ and ‘Ehrilche Yidden’ (his words) who hosted Rabbi Lipman on his recent visit to America.  

What makes Mr. Kobre particularly annoying is the way he presents himself. He is an attorney. His talented writing skills indicate a fine secular education. …attributes that would describe many moderate Charedim. And as most people know, I am a big fan of moderate Charedim – even though I am not Charedi myself.

The problem with Mr. Kobre is that he is anything but moderate. Despite his education and skills he writes like an extremist zealot.

The funny thing is that he does not really say anything about the Charedi belief system that is all that outrageous. But he uses those beliefs to disparage those who dare to challenge Charedi polices that in the view of many need some very serious tweaking at the least.  He not only says that such challenges are evil,  he implies that those who give a platform  to people that advocate them are at best a bunch of morons. Of course he doesn’t use the word moron. But he may as well have.

The subject of his most recent column is the draft of Charedim in Israel. His point is that if one were to truly understand the protective value of those who learn Torah they would know that all the miracles evident in every war were a direct result of the Zechus (merit) of those who were learning Torah. He asks in the most hyperbolic of tones: 
Now, as this fragile little country, whose 65-year history has been a string of wondrous miracles, faces the apocalypse being feverishly readied by the lunatic of Teheran, now is the opportune time to drag talmidei chachamim from their shtenders with brute physical or fiscal force, in a grand social reengineering scheme?
 … is this the moment to allow the squelching of the amal haTorah that stands between us and a violent vomiting out of the inhabitants of this most spiritually sensitive of lands?
Brute physical force? Really, Mr. Kobre? What have you been drinking? No one in the government has suggested using brute physical force on Charedi Jews.

The fact is that no religious Jew would deny the merit that Torah study contributes towards the country’s security. But it is the height of folly to believe that Hishtadlus via a strong military is therefore unnecessary. I’m sure that even Mr. Kobre understands that. But nowhere in the article does he make mention of it. The truth is that there has to be both. The only question is – what should the numbers look like.

What percentage of able bodied men who are dedicated to Torah study should be exempt from military service? In my view that has yet to be determined. I’m personally not sure what the percentage should be. But one thing I am fairly certain of is that they ought to not look like they do now. There is no way that every single Charedi Jew should be exempt from military service by simply registering in a yeshiva.

Mr. Kobre might accuse me of Chutzpah right about now. How, he might ask, do I know what the numbers should be? Am I a Gadol? Only Gedolim should decide these things, he might say. And right now they have determined that no Charedi Yeshiva student should serve, no matter what his age or status in Torah study.

True, I am not a Gadol. But I have to ask, how many Yeshiva students were there in 1948?  So many miracles occurred in Israel’s war of independence that one would have to be the biggest cynic in the world to not see the hand of God in that victory.

I am absolutely convinced that Torah study in the Yeshivos at that time protected Israel and contributed to the miracles. But the numbers of Lomdei Torah then were substantially lower than they are now. In fact they were minuscule compared to what they are now. And yet Mr. Kobre would have us believe it is all about the numbers!

One might argue that you never know where we are holding as a nation with respect to deserving miracles. So the more people that are studying Torah the better chance we have for survival. I find this attitude to be a terrible way to look at God’s beneficence towards us. I would posit that considering the miracles that took place in 1948 - God is not interested in sheer numbers.

Yes God wants us all to fulfill the Mitzvah of Torah study. But He also wants Hishtadlus - to do what we can physically to achieve success. Chazal tell us - Ein Somchin Al HaNes – Do not rely on miracles.  The way to best succeed in winning a war is to have the best physical army we can field – in addition to the spiritual army that  studies Torah full time.

The bottom line for me is that there ought to be divinity student exemptions. But they ought to be applied to the best and brightest among us - and only the highly motivated  of those! The rest ought to be willing to serve in some capacity. This does not mean able bodied Charedim must give up Torah study entirely. One can continue to study Torah by being Koveiah Itim – establishing a fixed time for it… even while serving one’s country. Furthermore all conscripts can go back to the Beis Hamedrash once their military service is completed after 2 or 3 years.

There are those who argue that once you are out of the Beis HaMedrash – you will never return to it. Well… so be it. All that means is that they were only there in the first place for sociological reasons. Real Masmidim will want to return… and they are probably the ones who would get draft exemptions anyway.

But perhaps we should take Mr. Kobre at face value. He believes that we should maximize Torah study at such a dangerous time for Israel. If that is really the way he feels, then he ought to give up his law practice here in the United States, move to Israel, and ‘pitch in’. I’m sure if he went to the Mir and asked if he could join the full time Lomdei Torah there, he would be accepted. He is after all a pretty bright fellow and his learning would no doubt contribute to his goal of relying on Nissim (miracles). How in good conscience can he continue stay here and work for a living?