No Savior Will Save the Ultra-Orthodox From Subsidy Cuts

July 12, 2013 8:09 am 10 comments

Orthodox Jewish men and their children. Photo: wiki commons.

On my first visit to Prague some fifteen years ago, I was stunned to see a statue of the great sixteenth century Rabbi Loew, by the twentieth century Czech sculptor Ladislav Jan Šaloun. It stands at the side of the New Town Hall. He is depicted as an evil, looming, glowering wizard, like the evil Queen in “Snow White”, with “the hounds of hell” glaring from behind his cloak and the supine naked body of the church at his feet. There have been attempts to explain away the obvious, but it won’t wash.

Nothing could be more ridiculous and evil than a portrayal of a gentle, saintly scholar as this offensive object. It epitomizes to me the continuing evil of anti-Semitism that portrays the Jew as a dangerous magician out to destroy the world and incidentally how art can be misused.

The old Jewish quarter in Prague was preserved by Nazi propaganda to portray us as primitive, medieval sorcerers. But the sad fact is that we ourselves handed them the means of regarding us this way. Almost three hundred years after Rabbi Loew’s death, Jewish “enlightened” writers created the myth of the Golem. There was not a hint at such a fantasy for hundreds of years after his death, let alone in his lifetime. They had an agenda; to depict the Jewish religion as a dated, medieval culture, dependent on ancient myths, superstition, and magic, a distortion of the Kabbalah, that they would now sweep away either through reform, assimilation and, when that did not work, through secular Zionism.

The idea that one can create life is indeed mentioned in Talmudic legend, with two rabbis producing a calf through incantations and enjoying a meal. It does not require Rambam to remind us that we should not always take Aggadah literally. This legend has, of course, no legal significance, although if it did it might be useful way of avoiding animal slaughter and current methods of meat rearing; cloning we call it nowadays!

But by publicizing and even glamorizing Golems, Dybbuks, evil spirits of the night, and mad kabbalists who could curse and perform miracles, these writers were able to make the association that played into the hands of our enemies and still does to this very day. It’s like depicting American culture through the prism of an era in which Americans murdered the so-called witches of Salem. But it also serves another purpose.

We are a culture that perpetuates the myth of Superman, Batman, Ironman, Captain Marvel, and all those comic book heroes, now Hollywood blockbusters, that tell us that some extremely powerful spirit can come to our rescue and remove evil and restore order. This is every child’s dream of overcoming adults, or every adult’s dream of overcoming whatever or whoever it is that either stands in his way, threatens him, or simply lives better than he does. It is dangerous because it is an excuse for inaction and fantasy. It is a justification for refusing to come to terms with a challenge because some sort of miraculous intervention will solve all our problems. It is like expecting the Messiah to com and sort out our personal problems.

The fact is that this has always been a very powerful strain in Judaism, as in all religions. They have all tried at some stage to suggest that they have all the answers to everything. They have told us that God intervenes to defeat evil and to support good. And when this has manifestly not happened on Earth, they have told us that all will be put right in the Next World. And against this, the very same religions have added a rider that we must take responsibility for our actions and live with the consequences.

This internal conflict has always played out throughout our history. Do we seek our freedom from the Egyptians or stay slaves? Do we accept Greek authority or fight it? Do we challenge Rome or capitulate? Do we actively try to create a state of our own or wait for the Messiah? Do we withdraw settlements from Gaza or leave it to God? Do we seek a peace settlement with improbable partners or wait and hope for Divine Intervention? Do we insist on the ridiculous proposition that every Jew, regardless of his mental capacity, should sit and study Talmud for the whole of his life, or should some at least, train for a job to care for their families?

The incapacity of too many rabbis to tolerate some sort of practical compromise in relation to the state of Israel is one of the most myopic examples of paralysis that recalls the inability to take steps to prevent millions from escaping the Nazi catastrophe. The state subsidizes their academies, supports their families with welfare, and in return asks for some practical social if not military contribution to its safety. The current Israeli government is proposing exemption for genuine scholars and yet the crude responses are the objectionable scenes of religiously garbed and bearded men who ought to know better, accusing other Jews of being Nazis, victimizing those Charedim who do join, calling them rats and traitors, expelling them from communities, abusing them in public, calling rabbis who support the draft sinners and evil men. They might be dismissed as unbalanced harmless village idiots if it were not also dangerous and self-defeating.

What a Chillul HaShem, a Desecration of the Divine Name, to see the New York Times blazoning across its pages this primitive abuse by Orthodox Jews of others, supported by some ( thank goodness not all) supposed great leaders, great wise rabbis. All this does is proclaim in public for everyone around to the world to see and say, “You see, the Jews are as crazy as the Mullahs.”

Instead of finding ways of relating to the issue, instead of trying to offer vocational education alongside Torah education for those who will not be the scholars, they are cutting the ground from under their own feet, humiliating Torah and relying on Superman to save them and their subsidies. They no doubt are, as I write, calling on Kabbalists to issue curses and exorcisms and Golems to do what common sense and good will could achieve.

As we approach the great fast of the Ninth of Av and remember how we blame our own mistakes for those catastrophes that befell us, I pray a spirit of wisdom might enter their souls and get them to think again.

10 Comments

  • THEY CAN SAVE THEMSELVES, AS IT IS SAID, G-D HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES … THEY CAN GO TO WORK OR THEY CAN GROW VEGETABLES ON THEIR ROOFTOPS.

  • George Hulme

    They sit on their butt’s reading all day, they are just scrounging weirdo’s who add nothing to society, quite a few of whom like to spit on schoolgirls who dare to learn.

  • The Charedim have been living in Yerushalaim since before 1948. When the Tzionim came – they caused problems for the Charedim even before 1948. The MeaShaarim community had close ties with the Jews in Hungary. They know the Tzionim preferred the Charedi Jews of Hungary burn in Nazi ovens, rather than come to the new Jewish nation that would stand in the brotherhood of nations – without mentioning G-d in their Declaration of Independence.
    The fear and hatred of Tzionim is real in MeaShaarim. The Charedim know the Tzionim would like to abolish them – and taking boys into the army is another attempt to destroy their culture. (I doubt I have to mention to readers the adorable pictures of girl soldiers in the IDF posted on the internet with their rifles…)
    So the Charedim are fighting back.
    Eight years ago, this week, the Jews of Gush Katif did not fight back. They are victims who lost everything. The Charedim are not about to choose to have a cushy image in the media in exchange for their core values. They fight back!

    As for them being parasites. I don’t think so. I live in NY. They do a lot of fund raising here. Here and around the world. It could be that they bring in money and do not declare it – so it looks like they do not have funds. But they bring in fresh money into the economy. They are in the export business and it is flourishing. They are exporting the good feeling of supporting Torah learning in Eretz Yisroel – and people are buying.

    And most of them do work. It could be they work half a day and learn half a day.
    Even the women work. Some are highly trained.

    There is a self-righteous license to bash Charedim. And since they don’t care – it goes untamed in the media.

  • But a savior has already come forward, as I read in the newspapers that a One Hundred Million fund was established by Orthodox Rich Jews to help the Hareidim in supporting what the Government took away. The loss will be the Haddasah hospital and a few universities who were the recipients from the funds run by orthodox Jews abroad, who will not give for the Hereidim in order to subsitize the losses.

  • Esther Sarah Evans

    b”H

    I would not go so far as Rosy, but it seems to me that there needs to be a middle way. The author is right in pointing out that some Chareidim are just not listening – e.g. to the fact that exemption is indeed being offered to true Torah scholars. It is time for some good old fashioned honesty. Who is really a Torah scholar, and who is biding his time on somebody else’s pocket-book? It is also time for some real Chinuch.
    On Shabbos on my way to the Koisel I was shocked by a number of posters written in red saying that it is preferable to have Chinukh Yehudi under Shilton nachri – Jewish education under foreign rule. This is Chillul HASHEM. Aside from the fact that the PA would not tolerate a Jewish presence, what would the future bring for such people aside from the miserable state of dependency on money from without to provide for an existence on soil that would not bear fruit – as was the case here under the Turks and under the British? And speaking of Chinukh, that is one of the things that seems to be missing amongst a lot of the supposedly observant here. It is pretty appalling. Once a year on Layl Tisha b’Av a Rebbe talks Mussar to a crowd on Kikkar Shabbat here in Yerushalayim. Otherwise, Mussar often gets swept under the rug. We say Derekh Eretz (respect) precedes Torah, but it is sorely lacking – especially for the land and our oh so holy city of Yerushalayim. Not just children, but even some adults drop their candy wraps or pop cans, etc. right where they empty them onto the street or the courtyard of an apartment building, on the Koisel square even or the Ezrat Nashim (or Gevarim). This is HASHEM’s living room, people! How about a little bit of Derekh Eretz? Would you go to visit your Rebbe and drop your garbage in his living room? – People think that just because they do not see HASHEM, HE is not there or not looking. If they would but open their eyes, their hearts and their conscience, they would acknowledge that without HIS constant care for us, we would not be here right now. Look around at all the neighbours who are ready to make short work of us. Do you think we are here thanks to the US and their iron dome? If you do, then you are extremely naive. Without HIS help we would never have got back in here. Without HIS help, HIS special gift to us, this land would never produce the plenty that it does today – under our Jewish Shilton (government) and nobody else’s! Simu Lev. TAKE NOTE, and be grateful, be thankful.
    At the same time it is important to stress that a thank-you is due to our soldiers – both in the army and those who learn. A big thank-you is also due those who build (and you know the part of our morning Tefillot dealing with this and saying not Banim, but Bonim – not boys, but builders – not students, but builders. Truly we have to build – together – with each other and with HASHEM.

    Furthermore, in regard to the Golem and Kabbalah, anyone who regards this as primitive and mediaeval is an utter fool. While it is indeed necessary for someone to be over forty and with a corresponding solid foundation in Torah to learn Kabbalah, some people – perhaps because they lack that foundation – are immature enough even at a much more advanced age to fail to recognize the value of this aspect of our learning, which requires people a cut above the average to master it.

    Furthermore, even from the folklorish side these traditions are rich sources for all of us – adults and children alike. Anybody can see even from the sales of I.B. Singer’s books translated from the Yiddish how integral these aspects are to Yiddishkeit.

    Well, now that I have both lambasted and praised almost everybody, I would just add that you are all dear to me and that I think we should all just wake up to our strengths and to what we need to fix to get our act together.

    Shavua tov, Choidesh tov, and a meaningful, but headache-free fast. Maybe someone will have a brainwave that will help us faster to Geula shlema if it has not arrived by Tisha b’Av. Seid gesund, bleibt gesund. Be healthy, stay healthy.

  • Ilbert Phillips

    This author states, “We are a culture that perpetuates the myth of Superman, Batman, Ironman, Captain Marvel, and all those comic book heroes . . .that tell us that some extremely powerful spirit can come to our rescue and remove evil and restore order.” Hey dude, these are comic book characters [the operative word is "comic"]. As a culture we have historically believed that good guys will come to the rescue and the good guys are us, the American who came to the rescue of when we defeated the Muslim pirates (in Tripoli) in the 1800′s; Europe and Asia during WWII; South Korea, South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan afterwards. These comic-book characters represent a Jewish belief (adopted by our forefathers and the American population at the time who were essentially Christian) that is at the core of our culture: there is an ongoing battle between “good” and “evil” and “good” will always win as long was we identify the “evil.” This author seems to be confused about who is “good” and who is “evil.”

  • There is nothing self-hating about this article. Sometimes, the truth is difficult to read. The pogrom against the WoW and ongoing attacks against Haredim that go into the army (two of my nephews completed their front line service without incident) is hillul hashem. At its heart the chief rabbinate has failed the national Jewish community. This is where we must start to make the change:

    http://thebilateralist.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/abolish-chief-rabbinate-or-reform-it.html

  • Whether or not I agree with the author’s core point that Chareidim should serve in Tzahal, this is a self-hating article. The author demonstrates absolutely no comprehension of the army experience, or the viewpoint of the Chareidim, and bashes his fellow Jews in the ugliest manner. To see this in print during the 9 Days, when all Jews need to increase in Ahavat Yisrael, is truly sad.

    • Elliot J. Stamler

      The Haredim are a cancer in Israel and an abomination to the rest of world Jewry. In Israel they are the worst parasites, cowards and in many cases disloyal traitors. Why should all Israel pay to support them? If they refuse allegiance to what they insult as an illegitimate state, why should they be permitted to live there while other Jews pay for their existence and die for their protection? They and their apologists like Rosy in this comments column are appalling.

      • Elliot, your objections are too broad. There are many Chareidim who believe in a strong state of Israel, who serve in the army and work and contribute (Chabad chasidim are an example of all this). Chareidim are good people who have suffered from poor leadership and an absurd political system that permits bribery in cobbling together a coalition government (there have never been anything but in the State’s history). Change is coming and it will come. Rather than react to them with contempt we can accomplish far more with patience and understanding but also firmness.

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