Who Leads the Hareidim?

In response to previous articles I received a number of replies, some of which I will now address.

Q: Everything you say about the importance of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) and criticizing the hareidim for not taking part in it, is based on the assumption we are in Eretz Yisrael, but the Gedolei Ha’Torah (eminent Torah scholars) say we are still in galut (exile), therefore everything you say is null and void.

A: This claim is so absurd I don’t even know how to relate to it. What do you say to a person who lives in Israel, but thinks he’s in galut? This is similar to a person who gets up in the middle of the night and claims the sun is shinning…but it’s even worse, because it demonstrates an appalling thanklessness towards God, who mercifully returned us to our Land. In Sefer Tehillim, it is written: “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and to triumph in your praise” (Psalms 106:47), and now when God has begun to gather us – we shouldn’t thank Him? A person who claims we are in galut is similar to someone who gets married, has children, but cries about still being single!

True, our present situation is far from perfect. The Holy Temple is destroyed; Torah students are divided and at odds, lacking the Sanhedrin and prophecy. The majority of the nation in Israel and in the Diaspora is not religiously observant, and this is reflected in the state of affairs of the Knesset, the government, and the courts. However, this situation cannot be corrected by hurling insults towards Heaven, such as ‘we are in galut’.

As Long as the Secular Govern – We are in Galut

Q: What people really mean when they say ‘we are still in galut’, is that as long as the government is not run according to halakha, living in Israel is valueless, and there is no difference between living here, or in galut.

A: This claim is also groundless. Concerning Israel, the land we live in, the Torah says: “It is therefore a land constantly under God your Lord’s scrutiny; the eyes of God your Lord are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:12). Is it possible that when Jews lived in the land under the rule of the wicked King Ahab, or under the rule of the evil King Herod, they were not considered as having fulfilled the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz?! Did the Prophets and Sages not warn them at the time that if they continued sinning, they would be punished by being exiled from the land?!

It is a mitzvah to live in this land even when it is governed by Gentile idol worshippers, as our Sages said: “One should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a town most of whose inhabitants are idolaters, but let no one live outside the Land, even in a town most of whose inhabitants are Israelites; for whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a God, but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no God” (Ketuboth 110b). The Sages said this in Tosefta, as well (Avoda Zarah 5b), and Rambam determined this as law (Laws of Kings 5:12). How much more so is this true today in the State of Israel, which is not governed by idol worshippers, and does not chase after Torah scholars to kill them!

Criticism of Hareidi Journalists and Politicians

Therefore, all the journalists in the hareidi media who, in contrast to the Torah, equate living in chutz la’aretz to living in Israel deserve to be harshly criticized. They glorify the communities in the Diaspora, as if there is no difference between living in Israel, New York, or Belgium. And those writers who portray the harsh European Diaspora in rosy colors, as the “kingdom of Torah and Hasidism” which existed in eastern European towns – completely ignoring the terrible humiliation and harsh religious crises that took place – also deserve to be criticized. Such erroneous portrayals demonstrate ingratitude towards Heaven, as if to say God didn’t do us any favors by gathering us to the Land of Israel, and freeing us from the yoke of the wicked nations! The rabbis who are supposed to monitor these same newspapers are also guilty, allowing such false and heretical views to be printed without response.

And when they fail to condemn, it is no wonder that foolish and ungrateful attitudes such as ‘we are still in galut’ can find room in the hearts of the naïve.

It should be emphasized that the majority of the hareidi community – and undoubtedly, the genuine rabbis – acknowledge the importance of Eretz Yisrael. A number of readers from the hareidi sector wrote me thus, also informing me about important classes given in women’s seminars on the praises of Eretz Yisrael, and about the process of kibbutz galiyot (Ingathering of the Exiles).

The question is why the “rabbis” who monitor the newspapers fail to weed-out the heresy from the hareidi press?

My Attitude towards the Positions of Hareidi Rabbis

Many people questioned or attacked in various ways, why I do not accept the authority of hareidi rabbis.

A: I have written about the definition of gadlute (greatness) in Torah previously, and with God’s help, I will continue in the future. At any rate, I obviously believe that the greatness and authority of Maran HaRav Kook and his disciples is more authoritative than all others. Nevertheless, it is clearly a mitzvah to honor talmidei chachamim gedolim (eminent Torah scholars), whose fear of sin precedes their wisdom, who educate students, and who author important books.

Is Leadership Based on Excellence in Torah?

It is difficult not to mention that in reality, the hareidi community is not led by its gedolei Torah. Leadership is not determined according to gadlute b’Torah, but rather according to the degree of suitability for leadership in the opinion of the askanim (functionaries). For example, figures such as Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky ZT”L, (author of ‘Chazon Yehezkel’), and Rabbi Yisrael Ze’ev Gustman ZT”L, (author of ‘Kuntresei Shiurim’), whose greatness in Torah was no less than any other Lithuanian leader, but nevertheless, the askanim ignored their views. Today as well, important rabbis are pushed aside because their views are incompatible with either the positions of the askanim who make the decisions, or with the fanatical rabbis who are small in Torah, but big in intimidation. And in the Hassidic communities’ leadership by and large is transferred through inheritance, ensuring the stability of the community, however, not permitting leadership to be determined according to greatness in Torah.

Quite often, a person acknowledged as being a great leader is a talmid chacham who tends to draw away from dealing with public issues in depth. Such type of leader is very suitable for the askanim because he examines the narrow, halakhic side of issues, but in other areas, tends to accept the position of the askanim as if they were experts on public matters, despite the fact that many of these questions are of the highest, ethical importance.

For example, Rabbi Yehoshua Yogel ZT”L, the former head of ‘Midreshet Noam’, told me that the nasi of the Council of Torah Sages, and the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ponivitch, HaRav Shach ZT”L, told him that if it had been within his power, he would have established a vocational yeshiva for youth who are not apt to becoming Torah scholars. This was also the position of other rabbis as well. The question is: What prevented them from initiating the establishment of such institutions? If they are the leaders, why weren’t such institutions founded?

Recently it was made public that, on the orders of Rabbi Nissim Karelitz shlita, a kollel designed for hareidi people who work, was closed down. First, let me say that I am obligated not to believe this loshon ha’ra. Rabbi Karelitz is known to be a talmid chacham muvhak (Torah scholar par excellence), a dayan (judge), who is familiar with the ways of the world and the needs of the community, and the author of important books (‘Khute Shani’). It is highly unlikely he would thwart the existence of such a kollel. But the question remains: Who is the leader of the community that caused the closing of this kollel? Could it be Gedolei Torah?

A Government without Hareidim

Q: Rabbi, are you pleased that the hareidi parties were left out of the government?

A: No. I find it very distressing.

Q: Rabbi, do you think this will cause alienation by the haredim towards the settlements in Judea and Samaria?

A: I am very worried about this. True, the present government coalition can solve certain problems, but if, God forbid, it initiates a withdrawal from parts of Eretz Yisrael, then any possible successes will be dwarfed compared to the disaster. At this point it is worth mentioning that among the members of the hareidi parties, some significantly helped the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria, such as MK Meir Porush, and MK Eli Yishai. Thus, in the discussions leading to the formation of the government, representatives for the settlers consistently worked towards including the hareidi parties in the coalition, and they may yet succeed in the future. Although, to be precise, this was not the primary goal among the settlers, just as helping the settlers was not the primary objective of the hareidi parties. In the end, because the hareidi parties were ready to join the government without the ‘Bayit Hayehudi’ (Jewish Home) party, it was impossible to demand from them one-sided loyalty to the hareidi parties at the price of political suicide.

Further attempts should be made to find ways to include the hareidi parties in the government, while at the same time searching for agreed solutions to problems on the agenda. There is no doubt that in this manner the problems will be solved in the best possible way.

The Current Debate with the Hareidim

Many people asked: Why do I challenge and criticize the positions of hareidi society specifically now, when they are already feeling attacked and persecuted?

A: Recently, a number of fundamental issues came to public attention, such as attitudes towards Torah, work, army, and secular studies, and seeing as various opinions were expressed in the name of the Torah, I found it necessary to clarify the matters correctly, as my readers expect.

I will reveal another reason. Lately, individuals who feel it would be advantageous for me to acquaint myself with the mood among hareidi society began bringing me hareidi newspapers. I flipped through them, read a variety of reports and articles, and was infuriated by the various distortions of divrei Torah, and incensed at the slander and ridicule written about the National-Religious public, its rabbis, and representatives.

It is well-known that public controversies provoke intense debate, and members of the religious community have also harshly criticized the hareidim. It appears that in this case, however, we are speaking about a hostile and a derogatory attitude, way beyond acceptable limits. This attitude existed before the current arguments began. As though there are some people whose faith depends on defaming the religious community.

And yet, I still cannot decide. Perhaps it’s better to stop reading the hareidi newspapers, to ignore the “holy” and “hareidi” contempt of genuine talmidei chachamim, and avoid intensifying the arguments. But then, once again, I feel obligated to respond since in the eyes of many hareidim, what is written in these newspapers is considered pure Torah truth, because rabbis monitor whatever is written in them.

For that reason, the individuals who bring me these newspapers so that I can respond are correct. As our Sages said: “Whoever can protest but does not, is seized for the same sin” (Shabbat 54b). Likewise, they said: “’Many strong men have been slain by her’ — this refers to a disciple who has attained the qualification to decide questions of law and does not decide them” (Sota 22a).

With God’s help, through these clarifications of Torah, true peace will come upon Israel. 

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper; His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English; Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: