Ilana Cowland

Kornreich vs. Dunner: A Haredi woman’s opinion

To claim 'all Haredim' feel one way lacks nuance, which may be the real problem to begin with
Jewish Orthodox man and woman waiting for the train, near Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. (iStock)
Jewish Orthodox man and woman waiting for the train, near Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. (iStock)

Thank you, gentlemen, for some fascinating reading (links follow, just below). Question is — who wins the verdict? This may seem a little obvious, but the best way to know whether this country is full of Kornreich Haredim (anti-Zionist to the core) or Dunner Haredim, (much more Zionist than you might think) might just be to ask them. I’ve never done an exhaustive Haredi poll, but I have done the next best thing. I have sat on buses through Haredi neighborhoods on Yom Haatzmaut and admired the fashion. Things have changed over the years, yet I can’t help but noticing how, while none of the Haredi women are decked in jean (skirts), t-shirts, and a navy aniva, there is an increasing amount of bluish and whiteish being worn. Just enough to leave you wondering. That navy skirt with that pale grey knitted top. That blue blouse with that light cream skirt. Mere coincidence? I think it’s meant to be obscure. But it’s the sign of an emerging, if not outspoken, affiliation to the “kahol lavan” (blue-and-white) attire of the nation.

Those, you might say, are the Dunner Haredim. And of course, there are plenty wearing striped green-and-yellow tops on their any-color-but-blue skirts. And some are hinting at the tragedy of the day in their top-to-toe black ensembles. Those we can assume are the Kornreich Haredim. My point being, gentlemen, that deciding that “the Haredim” all feel one way or the other is perhaps the lack of nuance that creates the lack of agreement to begin with.

Personally, I know, I’m a funny mix. I’m Bnei Akiva-raised and BJJ (Bais Yaakov Yerushalayim)-educated, so I can hear both your perspectives from the viewpoint of my own inner struggle. And while my background may be somewhat unusual, my struggle is not unique. From what I see, it is a mistake to talk about “the Haredi attitude” as if there is but one. We are talking, believe it or not, and despite media portrayal, of a community that really does have a scope and a sliding scale and, more significantly, a new generation with a range of opinions that have evolved.

Many more of our kids today love Ishay Ribo and go to hike in maayanim (natural springs) and have BBQs on Yom Haatzmaut and take food to the soldiers’ bases. Yes, you do have to look back into history, as you suggest Adon Kornreich, to understand where we are today, so that you can bite the bullet on the future, as you suggest Adon Dunner. The Haredi-Zionist war of ideology was very much alive at the establishment of the state and still is in some sectors of the community. But not all. Many of today’s Haredi youth are more Israeli, have a deeper sense of Israeli identity, quite naturally, than their grandparents — a phenomenon found in any immigrant country. The desire to be a real part of society exists, and strongly.

What all Haredi-educated adults will probably have in common are these absolutes. 1) Gd gave the Torah; and 2) the tantamount value of Torah learning. But much of the rest of the discussion is more nuanced.

So where does that leave us with this whole conscription issue? Let’s go back in time just a little. It’s 1945. We are reeling. Our nation has been decimated, as has our hitherto thriving yeshiva world. There is an urgent need to rebuild. And rebuild we do! We start having big families to fill the void of six million Jews or more. And the Haredi world throws itself entirely into crisis mode. We have a 70-year goal to rebuild that which was destroyed. Put all personal aspirations aside. Men will learn. Women will support them. Time to join the cause.

This spirit was equally reflected in secular Zionist world circles, by the way. The goal there, to create a place of refuge, a shelter, a homeland of safety. The swamps were cleared at the risk of malaria, the army was made of a group of disheveled survivors, and battles were won at great personal cost. While the secular Zionists were ensuring the safety of the body of the Jewish people, the Haredim were ensuring the safety of its soul. Two equally committed societies, fighting hard for survival, with their backs towards each other.

Fast forward. 70 years have passed. And look where we are! We both succeeded! The country is amazing. Flourishing demographically, economically, agriculturally. The homeland is built, the yeshiva world is rebuilt. But. No one figured out the Plan B, in the event that Plan A should work. What now? The emergency plan to rebuild Torah life is complete. Now what? No one is addressing this.

And then October 7th. Everyone has to take their positions. But who is directing the Haredim? Who is giving p’sak (determining Jewish law) as to who should engage in Torah learning and who should engage in war efforts? How many need to fill the yeshiva auditorium to maintain the crucial learning and how many need to drive an ambulance?

We are no longer a tiny minority. The community is large now and somewhat varied. But where is the edict giving direction? Where is the voice of the leader? If I were a voice of Haredi leadership, here is what I would say to those who have not already been conscripted in the army:

1. Cancel bein hazmanim (semester break). If we believe that Torah learning is protecting the Jews, we have as much right to leave our posts as a soldier guarding a yishuv has the right to leave his.

2. Ensure that the Torah learning continues. Anyone completely dedicated to learning 20 hours a day while the country is in crisis should be allowed to do so.

3. For anyone learning eight hours a day, let us establish a kollel tzva’i (a “military” Torah study program) in every town and yishuv. A corpus that learns half-time and defends the town we are based in the other half. We won’t abandon our Torah, but we will bring it with us. All welcome to join, by the way. And with a little bit of training, in shifts, we will be on active guard duty, so the soldiers are freed for more serious war efforts. If Tzahal (the IDF) is not a great environment for yeshiva bochrim, we will create our own.

4. For those not cut out to defend, well, everything you’ve learned in the Talmud about farming and agriculture? Go apply it. Take turns in volunteering to help on the back end. If you cannot pick up a gun between sedorim (study sessions), then pick up a shovel.

5. Have enough confidence in what you contribute to this society that you are a part of, to feel appreciation for the other factors.

If no one else was serving full time, you would have to. So show some gratitude. Because if we, the Haredi community, take no initiative, the government will have to take it for us. (Oh wait. Am I too late?)  As we progress, I truly believe that this country needs a strong and safe body and a strong and vibrant soul. We definitely have Kornreich Haredim, but we also have a significant sector of Dunner Haredim. And there are those undecided floating between the two.

It is normal for there to be dissonance in a society — the stereotype is always less complex than the reality. (And this complexity exists equally in the stereotypes assigned to non-Haredim.) But if we’re loosely saying that there is a physical component to this country, as well as a spiritual one, neither priority needs to be dropped… must not be dropped! And as the new generations emerge who are less obsessed with warring against one other than their predecessors were, there really is hope for us to find unity.

There is an emerging openness to spirituality where there was once only militant secular Zionism. There is an emerging openness to Zionism where there was once only staunch Haredism. I have always knows that an individual soul cannot effect anything without a body, and a body is inanimate without its soul. But if October 7th taught me anything, it is that the soul and body of the nation too need one another and need, finally, to make peace with each other if we, as a nation are to continue to flourish.

About the Author
Ilana Cowland is an educator, relationships coach, international lecturer and author of "The Moderately Anxious Everybody."
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