Yesterday’s “Day of Rage” in response to two Haredi yeshiva bochrim being arrested for not enlisting in the Israeli Army by certain sectors of the Haredi sector of Jerusalem was very very sad and, being a religious Jew as I am, embarrassing too. The worst sight was seeing teenaged boys, dressed in traditional Haredi yeshiva garb of black and white not disburse when an ambulance with sirens was trying to pass. What utter morons!

Although, as I write about often on my IsraelB online community, I would define myself as “Religious Zionist,” I do mix in moderate Haredi circles socially, when learning Torah, and in some of the shuls where I daven. The Haredim I know are working, family people and are quite, “normal” — or as normal as you can be as a frum Jew in Israel.

I want to say the following, before making my points below:

I’m not out in any way out to defend the disgusting behavior of the Haredi yeshiva bochrim, who, as we all saw on the video clip, harassed and spat on the female soldier or didn’t move when they saw the ambulance with sirens trying to pass.

I’m not out in any way to defend the way we hear the words, “Nazim.” shouted by them at the army who come to defuse their stupid demonstrations.

I’m not out to defend in any way their demonstrations which involve garbage burning and waste our time sitting in buses and traffic, waste police time and cause a hillul Hashem in the eyes of many.

I’m not out in any way to excuse the normative line of the Haredi leadership, who term the need to conscript to the Israeli army,  “Gezerat Hagiyus,” the decree of enrollment in the army. The mainstream Haredi attitude to the army stinks and is immoral and unethical.

I’m not out in any way to defend the anti-Zionist stance of the mainstream Haredi leadership who continue to live in total utopia.

I’m out to make the following 6 points:

  1. There is complexity, plurality and division in the Haredi community  which reflects things are changing on the ground, hopefully for the good. Things have got better over the past few decades. Haredim are gaining vocational skills in colleges and going out to work. You can’t generalize and whitewash all “Haredim.” There are more liberal elements who do support being more part of the State, including doing national service and working. As far as I understand, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman is part of this trend, as well as other Charedi Gedolim. They have realized that the existing model simply does not work and has no future.
  2. Haredi hi-tech is booming in Israel. Go and see how many Haredi men and women do work and are succeeding despite their lack of initial school education. Many have had to retrain later in life, and still have been able to make careers for themselves. At times,  I have worked alongside Haredim and their discipline and quality of work is very impressive.
  3. Let’s not forget or take for granted the contribution the Haredi sector makes to Jewish learning and culture in this country. Their commitment to learning, chesed, modesty and family values. Yes, there are serious problems, but we have lots to learn from them too.
  4. The previous generation of Haredi leadership, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z’l, for instance, did show recognition towards the state, including supporting serving in the army and working and forbade demonstrating and public disturbance. Since Rav Shlomo Zalman’s death, his son, Rav Shmuel, leads the extreme sector, the “Peleg Yerushalmi,” who are anarchic and provoke their students to go out and demonstrate. But, there are equally, other Haredi roshei yeshiva who forbid their students to demonstrate. The minority, Peleg Yerushalmi, do not represent the majority approach.
  5. Despite what many think, living the “Haredi yeshivish” lifestyle is miserable for many of them. Many of those learning do not suit learning all day and are bored out their minds. The families live in poverty and women are not given the opportunities they want. Given the chance and opportunities, I’m sure many would leave the system.
  6. The Haredi leadership are trapped in a rarefied mindset when they are attempting to re-live life in the shteitel in Poland here in Israel, when it wasn’t so good there either! The problem is with the leadership — empathize with the regular people. 

I know I have just tipped the iceberg here, but please, instead of slagging off hundreds of thousands of Jews, realize they are further forward now than they were 20 years ago and they need us, to help transform them and we must try to accept them.

The yeshiva “Torah Only” approach does not suit most of those in the system and there are increasingly vocational training colleges and courses that help them gain employable skills. We need to accept them in our workplace and be willing to meet them mid-way.