Letters to the Editor – Sukkot-Simchat Torah Edition 5783

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Religious Zionists and Charedim

In the Tisha B’Av issue of HaMizrachi (Vol. 5, No. 3), Rabbi Aryeh Meir’s article, “For the Sake of Heaven”, makes many cogent points concerning the relationship of Charedim and Religious Zionists.

His basic thesis – that we have more in common than not – is accurate, and is a great step towards lessening the feeling of “us” and “them”. At the same time, I must reply to many points and ideas that he raises in this article.

While discussing the matters that separate the communities, he ignored two salient areas of disagreement: the place of women in Judaism, and higher education. In an article such as this, they both deserve to have been mentioned.

Rabbi Meir makes some troubling statements. He writes: “Religious Zionists have become far more diverse on matters of halachic stringency and the distance from secular culture, to the degree that there are no clear and set norms on these and related matters. For some, the commitment to religion is very rudimentary, while the halachic observance and cultural isolation of the Chardal (Charedi-nationalist) sector is indistinguishable from those of mainstream Charedi society.”

On the one hand, Rabbi Meir seems to question the commitment to Torah-based Judaism from a large percentage of Religious Zionist Jews. He then asserts that those who are Chardal are subject to “cultural isolation”. Really? I know hundreds of individuals who fit into both of these classifications. The Chardal community is hardly “culturally isolated”. And how can the author legitimately assert in very broad strokes that many of the Religious Zionist community have only a “rudimentary” commitment to Judaism?

Rabbi Meir appropriately states that the Religious Zionist community has produced outstanding Torah scholars. But does Rabbi Meir honestly believe that the mainstream Charedi world considers these scholars as “top tier” rabbis worthy of being called “gedolim”? The tone of the article indicates that it is nice to see that some in the Religious Zionist community have eschewed the leniencies of the rest.

Rabbi Meir refers to the Religious Zionist community’s “religious liberalism”, opining that mainstream Religious Zionism is too liberal and that there are porous boundaries between those who adhere to halachah and those who do not. Those are a lot of accusations in an article that hopes to bridge gaps between the communities. In addition, his insistence that “Religious Zionist education focuses on love far more than on fear” is false and misleading.

Finally, there is the critical issue of the refusal of the great majority of Charedi society to serve in the IDF. Religious Zionists’ views on the matter range from disappointment to open anger. The implication of this refusal to serve, though never stated openly, is that the blood of Charedim is more important than the blood of Religious Zionists. It would be most welcome if Charedim would acknowledge this deeply emotional issue, and offer concrete suggestions for how to address the problem. Serving in Sherut Leumi, though not the same as serving in the IDF, would be a wonderful start!

Despite my criticisms, I am very grateful to Rabbi Meir for having written this article, and I hope it will serve as a springboard for more dialogue.

Rabbi Zev Shandalov
Ma’ale Adumim, Israel

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