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April 15, 2016 6:27 am

Who Is Really Endangering the Future of Judaism in Israel?

avatar by Dov Lipman

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A yeshiva student. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A yeshiva student. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Every Friday night, I help run a “Carlebach” service in Beit Shemesh. It’s a unique service that brings together Jews from all backgrounds to pray, sing and dance on a weekly basis. While closing up the synagogue this past Friday night, a Hasidic man in his early thirties who was at this service  for the first time approached me and introduced himself.

“Before you were elected to the Knesset, I was in Kollel (religious seminary for married men), and could not support my growing family,” he began. “So I went to work. But I felt like a second-class citizen when I did so, and was made to feel that way by those around me who were still in Kollel.  It got so bad that when I saw someone who knew me walking by the place where I worked, I would hide so they would not see me working.”

I began telling him how bad I felt for him, but he cut me off.

“Don’t worry, it all changed when you came into office. The moment you changed the government’s policies and cut the stipends, and it was no longer financially worthwhile to stay in learning instead of working, massive numbers of Kollel guys began working. This made it acceptable in our community to work, and I no longer felt like a second-class citizen and I did not have to hide any longer.”

He said that despite the protests against the stipend cuts from many in the ultra-Orthodox community, he and many others supported our effort. He also agreed that working to support your family with dignity is not only consistent with being a Talmudic scholar and fervently religious, but is actually the ideal.

My new Hasidic friend then said that while he was thankful he had a job, it was not not the type of job he wanted. He blamed this on his inability to speak English, and was frustrated that many religious schools in Israel don’t teach English. “Why didn’t they teach us English? What could possibly be wrong with English?”

I told him that he was correct, and that was why my political party, Yesh Atid, cut into the funding of schools that did not teach English, and pushed to introduce English instruction in all schools.

I said that I needed to start walking home, and he asked if he could join me to ask one last question.

“Those young men with the knitted kippot and untucked white shirts who were in that service just now — are any of them IDF soldiers?”

I told him that many are active soldiers, and that two or three of them were home from their first week of basic training.

“Unbelievable,” he replied. “They have it all. The way they danced and prayed, they are clearly very spiritual and religious. They are serving the country. And they, no doubt, have a general education. They have all that, while half of my cousins who were presented with a life of Torah-only are no longer religious. Had they known that an option of balance was available, they would still be religious.”

I told him that many in Israel are aware of the problem, and reassured him that we are committed to correcting it — and that this was among the reasons I entered politics in the first place.

This remarkable conversation reminded me to tune out the propaganda and rhetoric coming from the ultra-Orthodox media and its political leadership, and to keep on working at the important task at hand.

The American ultra-Orthodox and yeshiva community must wake up and recognize that this Hasid was not an aberration. He is a part of the silent majority whose voices have been stifled but are crying for help. We must not fight them; but help them. This is what will ensure the continuity of Judaism for generations to come.

Rabbi Dov Lipman served in the Israeli Knesset (2013-2015) with the Yesh Atid party, the first American born MK in 30 years. He holds rabbinic ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a Masters Degree in Education from Johns Hopkins University and currently serves as Director of Public Diplomacy in the vice chairman’s office of the World Zionist Organization.

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  • Miriam Reed

    It took only two clicks to discover this: Rabbi Hillel was a woodchopper before he became the Nasi (President of the Sanhedrin) and Shammai the Elder was a builder. Abba Chilkiyah was a field laborer; Rabbi Yochanan b. Zakkai was a businessman for forty years; Abba Shaul was a gravedigger; Abba Chilkiyah was a field worker; Abba Oshiya was a launderer; Rabbi Shimon P’kuli was a cotton dealer; Rabbi Shmuel b. Shilas was a school teacher, Rabbi Meir and Rabi Chananel were scribes; Rabbi Yosi b. Chalafta was a tanner; Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar was a shoemaker; Rabbi Yehoshua b. Chananiah was a blacksmith; Rabbi Safra and Rabbi Dimi of Nehardea were merchants; Rabbi Abba b. Zavina was a tailor; Rabbi Yosef b. Chiya and Rabbi Yannai owned vineyards; Rabbi Huna was a farmer and raised cattle; Rabbi Chisda and Rabbi Papa were beer brewers; Karna was a wine smeller (he determined which wine could be stored and which had to be sold immediately); Rabbi Chiya b. Yosef was in the salt business; Abba Bar Abba, (father of Mar Shmuel) was a silk merchant; and (Mar) Shmuel was a doctor. So tell me again why Modern Israel’s Hassidim think work is beneath them?

  • Frank Adam

    First the idea that it is a fault of socialism is wrong as the abusive expansion of the Yeshiva bachurim population of Israel took place under and after the Begin government- as a bribe to obtain a Knesset majority. Second the manner of seeing people as religious or secular goes back to the whole question of Jewish survival in these last two centuries: take up secular knowledge and professions to live (well)or just pray and study religion all day and wait upon the Lord. Well those with secular education and careers live well and since the creation of the State of Israel we have not lost a kehilla and have salvaged a lot of people and knowledge. The problem is the balance which the majority manage but are understandably annoyed with the freeloading of a certain type of perpetual student whose efforts do not appear to benefit much or anybody.

  • Emanuel

    It’s just easier to do nothing, I mean study, and collect a check and vote for the nice “jewish” guy and give yourself a big pat on the back. Work is tough, reality bites. Socialism and government entitlements foster mediocrity and moral decline that’s all it is. Many are prepared to cope with the outside world because of this culture of hypocrisy and abuse.

  • Jay Lavine

    One thing that needs to be done is to get Israelis to stop classifying everyone as either religious or secular. It’s a false dichotomy that creates divisiveness and is inconsistent with the Jewish way of thinking. Not everything is black and white, not even tallitot.

    • I prefer “looters” v “looted”.

    • Absolutely! At different times in people’s lives, they have different religious needs and feelings. This is normal. They should not have to hide their explorations and that makes it more likely they will come back.