Hareidi Jews need a political awakening.
As the world commentates unceasingly on President Barack Obama marking the end of his messy, inglorious eight years of berating Israel and the Jews, hareidi/hasidic/ultra-orthodox Jews remain largely far outside of the conversation. Many in this community — my community — have long taken the tact of assuming access to our homeland as a given, and, in the face of existential challenges, lean on the assurances of the biblical promise, mixed (sometimes) with trust in a messianic future. The extent of political thought for those in the ultra-Orthodox sphere on the modern issues surrounding Israel can be summed up with the assertion, “It’s ours.”
I am a graduate of a Chabad-Lubavitch elementary and high schools and Touro College, and a depressing number of my classmates were befuddled by various maps peddled by media sources, did not know that there is a crucial difference between “borders” and “armistice lines,” couldn’t tell David apart from Oslo, and are pretty certain that the PLO, Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah and Iran are all the same thing. These are not specious slams against a community I love and classmates I admire, but all are actual matters that I have discussed multiple times with people in the hasidic/hareidi universe.
Believing that Israel is our biblically-bequeathed birthright and that our settlement of it is adjudicated by a Power greater than the UN Security Council, is not a proper substitute for knowing the facts of the last 150 years and is no excuse for being incapable of responding to even the most basic charges against the Jewish state. It is distressing that those who live by the Torah, the text that started it all, are too often uneducated and unengaged on why and how we ended up where we are today.
As Chanukah emphatically reminds us, we do not triumph as a cloistered orthodoxy that stands outside of political turmoil, rather we succeed as God-fearing fighters who ensure our own right to live in our land and by our faith. Though we know that God is the only source of both our claim to Israel and our strength to defend it, a basic tenet of Judaism is that we do not rely on miracles — and it is incumbent upon us to arm ourselves with, at the very least, the information necessary to respond to charges against our very right to live in our homeland.
This week, we are reading a parshah (Miketz) deeply invested in diplomatic matters, as Joseph — standing solidly and always on a belief and trust in God — constructs a political masterpiece, averting a national disaster of famine for Egypt, and securing the safety of himself and his family.
From Joseph to the Maccabees, Jews have risen as political actors who are unwavering in their commitment to God and sure in His covenant with us. Why, then, do so many 21st-century Jews who study Tanach daily refuse to engage in the defense of our interests as a people and a country? We cannot stay out of the fight and hide out in the enclaves of our communities. If we are to live in the way outlined by the Torah, the relentless pursuit of doggedly, intelligently asserting our right to our land as a nation must necessarily be a part of that existence.
With three more weeks to go of the Obama administration, and four more days of Chanukah, now is the perfect time to start learning.