Messages for the prime minister from ‘silenced’ Haredim

Prime Minister Netanyahu must heed the voice of the silenced Haredim.   And Moshe Gafni, Yaakov Litzman, Eli Yishai, and Ariel Attias simply do not represent what the average Haredi wants to happen during these next two weeks, leading up to the Knesset recess. Perhaps hearing from Haredim themselves will motivate the prime minister to stop worrying the about what coalition he will form after the next elections but, rather, to do what is right and best for the country and  for the Haredim, themselves.

But there is a problem.  Haredim don’t have a way of sharing their voice with the Prime Minister.  If they speak out, their sons will be expelled from school and their daughters will have a difficult time finding a match for marriage.  This is the stranglehold which the Haredi leadership holds over its people.  While I view myself as Haredi, I am “out of the camp” and can speak my mind freely.  This freedom enabled me to stand on a stage in Tel Aviv, representing the hundreds of thousands of Haredim who have no voice, joining with the call of the nation for equality in national service.  That appearance resulted in  many Haredim contacting me this week to both thank me and encourage me to move forward in this battle for their future.  I asked them what message they would share with the Prime Minister if they were granted such an opportunity.  Here is what they said:

A mother of eight children, in her 40’s, from Bnei Brak (she was too afraid to even give me her name):

“Mr. Prime Minister.  I come from a very Haredi background.  And I embrace that background in terms of the supreme importance of Torah study, the priority placed on modesty, and I am more comfortable with our approach to separation of the genders and combating the negative influences of modern society.  However, our leaders have our children living in a prison.  How many of my children are able to study Torah day and night?  Among my children, one.  I have a 12 year old son who I think can do it. But, the rest?  No way.   And I am so nervous that my two daughters will marry young men who were forced into this path but cannot do it.  This leads to anger.  This leads to resentment.  This leads to poverty for no reason.  And it leads to our children leaving the path of Torah, as we have now had to experience with my 19 year old son.

Please, sir.  Our political leaders are only concerned for themselves.  We know that our children would be better off if they could leave the study hall and serve the country – either in the army or in some kind of community service.  They want to be part of society and yearn to experience contributing to society.  You can be the one to free them from this prison and give them the chance to live as Haredim in the world – but to live.  Please don’t let us down with a law which is a continuation of more of the same.”

A 31 year old teacher in a Haredi school who lives in Jerusalem in an extremist area where extremists wreak havoc on the lives of people both outside and inside their communities (He gave me his name but asked for his name not to be used):

“Bibi, please.  We are all counting on you.  As men we feel inadequate for not supporting our families.  Even worse, our wives go to work so we can focus on our studies and they are becoming more modern.  This is causing frictions in our marriages.  They tell us what we know to be true deep in our hearts – that non-Haredim are not horrible people.  We may disagree with them about almost everything, but they can be good and decent people who will respect us as Haredim.   I don’t want my sons to have such a bleak future.  To know that they will be poor is depressing.  To know that they will feel inadequate is maddening.   Bibi – the Plesner law makes sense.  My sons will have a few years to focus on learning Torah exclusively.  What a gift.  Please don’t make the age higher than 23.  You can even make it a drop lower.  This will prepare them for their next steps as proud, Haredi Jews but then they can have “next steps” and live their lives.  I have one son who may qualify for the elite group that will exclusively study, a very nice gesture from a secular government.  I have a second son who may be scared by the army but will love and thrive doing community service.  And,   I have a third son who will rush to IDF service.  Bibi, please, we are quietly waiting for you to pass the law based on the Plesner recommendations.  We don’t see Plesner as the devil, we see him as the Messiah.  Please stay strong.

One more thing – once you pass this law, the extremists who intimidate everyone in our communities will lose their control.  Their plan of maintaining us as isolated as possible to enable them to wreak havoc and make themselves powerful and wealthy will fall apart.  And, for that, more than anything else we will be eternally grateful to you.”

A fifty-something social worker from Bnei Brak who also asked to remain anonymous:

“Wow, if the Prime Minister only knew.  If he only knew that he would be saving Haredi Jewry and not destroying the Haredi community he would pass the new law with the broadest and strongest reforms possible.   The Haredi world is self-destructing.  The degree of abuse, crime, and erosion of core, Haredi values is at an all-time high.  The latest rage is teenage pregnancy – and not as a result of marriage at an early age.  The rate of boys and girls rejecting their parent’s values is way higher than the rest of the country.  Something as to change but the people are powerless to change it. 

Did anyone ever ask themselves why Degel HaTorah has not grown in leaps and bounds in terms of mandates as the Haredi community multiplies with 8-10 children per family?  Why have they maintained the same number of seats in the Knesset?  The answer is obvious.  Our children hate them.  They milk the government for money to keep them in a welfare system.  And, if they have the courage to break from the system, they are outcast and made to feel less religious and even ‘bad.’  

One of my patients convinced his parents to let him go to yeshiva in America.  He went for a year and came back telling his parents that the entire community has been lied to.  A person can learn huge amounts of Torah, live a Haredi lifestyle, but still go to school to earn a degree to make a living and they can even play sports!!   He went back to America and is living a happy and free Haredi life there.  Now, his siblings want to go.  I hope the Prime Minister knows that Haredim are wonderful people who could contribute so much to the country if he would free them from their leaders.   We are all waiting for this devastating ‘exile’ to come to an end.  And Netanyahu can make it happen.”

I hope the Prime Minister will see these words.  He has English speaking advisors who, no doubt, read the Times of Israel.  I hope they convey these messages to him.

I conclude with one last quote.  The Haredi press was very critical of me throughout this past week for my joining forces with the reservists who have led the fight for equality in national service.  In one of my interviews with Haredi radio, the host asked me, “What possible source could you have possibly quoted at that rally to justify your position?  I know the Prime Minister studies the parsha with his son on Shabbat so he will appreciate my answer which was based on this week’s parsha.  I told the host that I quoted Moses who responded to a request from two and a half tribes to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan and not join the rest of the nation in their fight for the land of Israel with the words: “Will your brothers go to fight and you will remain here?”  To me that makes the Torah perspective clear – no one can simply opt out of fighting with the rest of the nation.

The host paused for a moment and then said, “What does something Moses said have  to do with Judaism today?”  I think that says it all.  I hope the Prime Minister who I voted for listens to the voices from the Haredi community and sees how far off the leadership has veered to the point that they need to make Moses irrelevant to justify their stance.

The Haredi street is waiting and in need of this salvation.

About the Author
Dov Lipman was elected to the 19th Knesset in January 2013. He is the author of seven books about Judaism and Israel, and holds rabbinic ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a masters in education from Johns Hopkins University. He has been at the forefront of combating religious extremism in Israel and is a leader in efforts to create Jewish unity both in Israel and around the world. Former MK Lipman is invited to speak on behalf of the Jewish state both in Israel and around the world and serves as a political commentator for i24 News and ILTV.