Yitzchak Fishel – A Response

This morning, Yitzchak Baruch Fishel published a post entitled Toward a Redefinition of the Charedi/Zionist Divide, accessed here (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/grossly-misunderstood/) , in which he argues that the Charedi position has been “grossly misunderstood” within the non-Charedi community. Whilst the arguments have been raging back and forward over the Charedi position within Israel, it is necessary and indeed incumbent upon us to debunk various arguments that Mr. Fishel has employed in his blog:

1) “Both a mandatory draft and enforced participation in the work force as a direct result of draconian legislation that hasn’t seen its like since the Nuremberg Laws”

It is difficult to know where to begin with a statement as emotive and simply incorrect as this. For someone who wishes to redefine the divide between communities, nothing is less likely to succeed in doing so than dredging up direct references to Nazi era legislation, directly targeted at all Jews. Nothing is less likely to distance an observer from a Charedi standpoint than to claim that any opposition is to be branded in the same terms as those who murdered over 6 million Jews. In addition, there is nothing contained within the law that requires Charedim to enter the work force upon completion of there National Service, but rather they are free to spend the rest of their lives learning Torah if they so desire.

2) “Legislation to impress vulnerable chareidi youth into compulsory army service and criminalizing Torah study”

Many readers would wonder who these vulnerable charedi youth are to whom Mr. Fishel refers. They may equally inquire as to what it is that makes them “vulnerable”, and “vulnerable” to what? If, as seems reasonable to assume from the tone of Mr. Fishel’s article, this refers to vulnerability to losing their own identity, we are duty bound to investigate how 18 years of a charedi education is insufficient to protect one from new experiences. A reasonable person may indeed conclude that this is a damning indictment of the charedi education system, rather than anything else. In addition, nowhere is Torah study criminalised, but rather the government of Israel gives hundreds of millions of dollars to the charedi yeshiva system. I wonder if Mr. Fishel would like to supply us with the comparable figures from the time of the Nuremburg Laws?

3) “Apparently as a precaution meant to avoid the police brutality, water cannons and arrests that had marred the end of recent, smaller gatherings, they were then told to disperse quickly to their homes”.

Mr. Fishel helpfully supplies us with a link to these occasions of police brutality (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/16/israel-ultraorthodox-idUSL6N0DX4RV20130516). Lo and behold, in the very link that he supplies, it is written as follows, “About a dozen arrests were made when violence erupted and men hurled bottles and stones at officers, some on horseback, who used stun grenades to quell the unrest… A water cannon was also deployed as protesters set alight garbage bins… At least six officers required medical treatment and two were taken to hospital”. Enough said.

4) “Those present recited psalms and prayers consecrated by time immemorial”

I wonder if the irony of this statement, and indeed the utterance of Psalms at such a gathering, was lost on Mr. Fishel and those who attended. The large majority of Psalms were written by King David, who was both a warrior and a scholar. To use holy writings of King David, whilst claiming that only Torah study is the correct way to live one’s life, is nothing more than a white-washing of history, as is the often-repeated claim that Jews always only studied Torah without working or seeking employment. Indeed, every Talmudic sage had a source of employment, as did the Medieval Commentators.

5) Mr. Fishel categorises the proclamation issued at the gathering as an appeal for the Government to, “cease and desist all efforts to interfere with their private lives”.

I would humbly submit that many who serve in the army would like nothing more than for the State to leave than to pursue their own interests, studies and professions. However, we are not only a religion, but a nation, and as such, we bear responsibility to others as well as ourselves. If you wish to be a mere religion, there is a place for you in many nations of the world, but the Land of Israel is where we are also the Jewish People, and as such, this demands certain actions from individuals in order to assist the nation. One of these is defending your country from enemies, and ensuring that you have the capabilities to do so in the case of attack. A person’s “private life” certainly does not take precedent over this.

6) “You don’t really find qualified members of the chareidi community, save politicians, who are willing to talk to blatantly non-religious people, let alone journalists. Normal people, if you’ll pardon the term, are not about to open up to someone who doesn’t dress, eat or talk like them”

This really is the crux of the entire issue. If Mr. Fishel claims to represent the Charedi viewpoint, I would hope that many in that world would vehemently disagree with the above quote. Nothing is more likely to lead to disagreement and hatred than a population unwilling to connect and discuss with people unlike them. This view displays an arrogance bordering on contempt for those of a non-charedi mindset, as if those who are “blatantly non-religious” have no role to play in the Charedi view of the world. The acknowledged Great Rabbis of the past generation, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and others were only to happy to meet and discuss with all Jews, not only those that “dressed, ate and spoke like them”.

If Mr. Fishel hopes to portray an accurate view of the charedi world, I for one can only hope and pray that there are many within his world that disagree comprehensively with many of his views he has expressed in his blog.


About the Author
Simon worked in many roles within Jewish Education in the UK, including as the National Director of Bnei Akiva UK, teaching Jewish Studies and heading Mizrachi UK. After making aliya, he continued in the world of education, serving as the Director of Education for Lavi Olami and an educational consultant for the National Library of Israel. He writes in a personal capacity.