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Monday, July 7, 2014

A Different Kind of Achdus

Rachel Fraenkel welcomes vistors at her Shiva house (Forward)
This is a good start. If we can get them to do this in person with full media attention, both Arab and Israeli - it should cool things down. And more. Who know... maybe even a lot more. From the Forward

The families of murdered Israeli teen Naftali Fraenkel and murdered Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir are drawing comfort from an unexpected source: each other.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat took to Facebook on Sunday to write about an “emotional and special telephone conversation between two families that have lost their sons.” He said that during his visit to the Fraenkel family home, he had a chance to speak to Hussein Abu Khdeir, Mohammed’s father, and express pain at the “barbaric” murder of his son.

Barkat then suggested that Abu Khdeir speak to Yishai Fraenkel, the uncle of Naftali Fraenkel who recently told the press that “the life of an Arab is equally precious to that of a Jew. Blood is blood, and murder is murder, whether that murder is Jewish or Arab.” The two men took Barkat’s advice and comforted one another by telephone.

In a separate visit organized by Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, chair of the religious council of Gush Etzion, Palestinians from the Hebron area showed up at the door of the Fraenkel family, looking to comfort the bereaved.

Asked why they had come, one Palestinian said, “Things will only get better when we learn to cope with each other’s pain and stop getting angry at each other. Our task is to give strength to the family and also to take a step toward my nation’s liberation. We believe that the way to our liberation is through the hearts of Jews.”

He later said that the visit went very well from his perspective. “They received us very, very nicely. The mother [Rachel Fraenkel] was incredible.”
“I see before me a Jewish family who has lost a son opening the door to me,” he added. “That’s not obvious. It touched my heart and my nation.”

The Palestinian visitors also mentioned an initiative spearheaded by Jews and Muslims to transform July 15, the Jewish fast day known as 17 Tammuz, into a joint fast day for people of both religions who wish to express their desire to end violence in the region.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Sometimes You Get what You Need

The Stones in Israel
I have always been a Beatles fan. Still am. The Stones? Not so much. Although I do like some of their stuff, I found Mick Jagger's lyrics and performance style a bit too raunchy for my tastes. I also liked the more mainstream melodic sound of Lennon/McCartney. But today, I am a Stones fan. And I think we should all be. From the Jewish Press:

Long time readers of yesterday’s papers know that JewishPress.com was instrumental in bringing the Rolling Stones to Israel, 2000 light years from home.
Our Rolling Stones Purim spoof was hot stuff and it was just like the hand of fate flipped a switch and suddenly the Rolling Stones are in another land.
Now time waits for no one, even the Rolling Stones when it comes to when the Shavuot holiday ends. But now it looks like time is on my side as the Rolling Stones have delayed the start of their performance to 9:15PM in little Tel (&) Aviv to allow religious fans to get to the concert. We love you!
Who says you can’t always get what you want?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sean Penn - An American Hero

Sean Penn and Jacob Ostreicher in less happy times
An amazing story that should be read world-wide. From The Algemeiner:
Jacob Ostreicher, the Orthodox Jewish American who was held captive in Bolivia for three years, on Sunday revealed details for the first time on how actor Sean Penn helped bring him back to the U.S. last December and personally nursed him to mental and physical health.
“I spent two weeks rolled up in a fetal position in Sean’s house… and through it all, Sean sat with me for hours, sometimes sitting with me all night, rubbing my back, saying quietly, ‘Stay strong Jacob, give yourself some time,’” Ostreicher said in a speech at Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s This World: The Values Network’s Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, where Penn received the organization’s Champion of Jewish Justice Award.
“Who do you think was the first person I saw when I walked off that plane onto U.S. soil for the first time in three years? It was none other than Sean Penn with a team of immigration officials,” Ostreicher said. “Sean put me up in a five star hotel… and then brought me to his home and gave me a warm bath, stocked his refrigerator with kosher food and told me ‘Jacob, my house is your house.’”
Ostreicher, a Brooklyn native, traveled to Bolivia in December 2010 to oversee rice production and was arrested in June 2011 on suspicion of money laundering and criminal organization. No formal charges were ever been brought against him but he was still imprisoned, and has always maintained his innocence.
Ostreicher and Penn have been tight lipped about the details of the escape, which at the time was described to The Algemeiner by a source as an “operation.” However, during his speech on Sunday, Ostreicher revealed that Venezuela provided assistance. He thanked the Venezuelan government  for “what I can really describe as a heroic demonstration of ‘bikur cholim’ ['visiting the sick']. If it wouldn’t be for the government of Venezuela, I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.”
Penn also made Ostreicher’s health a priority when he visited the Jewish New Yorker in the notorious Bolivian prison in which he was held. When the actor met Ostreicher in Bolivia, the captive weighed less than a 110 pounds.
“Sean’s first question was, ‘When was the last time you saw a doctor?’ I told Sean that my lawyers have been working for the last six months to try to get me some medical attention,” Ostreicher said. “That very same night, at 1 in the morning, Sean came back but this time with a doctor by his side and within 48 hours, he had me transferred to a hospital.”
“I can’t get into all the details of the next year and a half or how difficult the road to freedom was, or how many times Sean saved my life, but suffice it to say he literally dropped everything for a fellow American halfway across the planet even to the point that Sean himself had to flee Bolivia,” Ostreicher explained.
Ostreicher said he was apprehensive about seeing his family when he first returned to the U.S., but Penn dragged him to see his daughter and grandchildren. During that first family meeting, Ostreicher said he stood beside Penn and told his grandchildren about the “very strong man who wasn’t afraid of anything” that helped him escape captivity.
Ostreicher told the audience on Sunday that the children looked to Penn and were “marveling at the superhero before them.”
“Was that the story you were all expecting to hear tonight? About this anti-American, Jew-hating, Israel-loving communist Sean Penn?” he concluded.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Berel Wein Does it Again

Rabbi Berel Wein (Times of Israel)
Wow! Two in a row! My admiration for this man keeps on increasing. From the Jewish Press:

I think we can all agree that the two main stories in the Jewish world in the past century were the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel.
These two cataclysmic events changed Jewish society radically if not even permanently.
Yet much of Orthodoxy inexplicably ignores them as though they never happened.
The Holocaust and the rise of Israel occupy no space or time in many Orthodox schools, and days of commemoration of these events are absent on school calendars.
Instead there is a mindset that harkens back to an idyllic Eastern European world of fantasy – a world that is portrayed falsely in fictional stories and hagiographic biographies and by doctored photographs and omission of uncomfortable facts.
An entire talented and vital society is doomed to live in the imagined past and disregard present realities. And if the view of the present is unfortunately shaped by historical and social disconnect and denial, then certainly the longer and equally important view of the future will be distorted and skewed.
Sooner or later reality must sink in and when it does, the pain, anger and frustration over past distortions and failures will become very difficult to bear.
The great struggle of most of Orthodoxy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries against Zionism influenced all Orthodox thought and behavior. As late as 1937, with German Jewry already prostrate before Hitler’s madness and Germany already threatening Poland, the mainstream Orthodox rabbinate in Poland publicly objected to the formation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel on the grounds that the heads of that state would undoubtedly be secular if not even anti-religious.
They were correct in that assessment, but since the Holocaust was then an unimaginable event in their worldview, they continued in their opposition to Jews leaving Poland to settle either in the United States or in Israel. Because of this past mindset, the Holocaust is more unsettling – theologically, at least – to Orthodoxy then perhaps to any other group in the Jewish world.
Much of Orthodoxy chooses to ignore the issue or to contrive lame excuses and causes for this catastrophe. In my opinion, while there is no human answer to the event itself, it cannot be ignored.
One of the consequences of confronting it would be to admit that great and holy men can be wrong in their assessment of current events and future occurrences. But much of Orthodoxy is so hagiographic about its present and past leaders that it cannot bring itself to admit that. As such, the past cannot truly help to assess the present. A false past is almost as dangerous as having no past at all.
Dealing with the modern state of Israel is an even more vexing issue for much of Orthodoxy. The creation of the Jewish state, mainly by secular and nonobservant Jews and by political and military means, was not part of the traditional Jewish view of how the Land of Israel would again fall under Jewish rule.
Since it occurred in the “wrong” way and was being led by the “wrong” people, this too shook the mindset of much of Orthodoxy. One of the great and holy leaders of Orthodox society in Israel stated in 1950 that the state could not last more than fifteen years. Well, it is obvious that in that assessment he was mistaken.
But again, it is too painful to admit he was mistaken and therefore the whole attitude of much of the Orthodox world is one of denial of the fact that the state exists, prospers, and is in fact the world’s largest supporter of Torah and the traditional Jewish religious lifestyle.
It is too painful to admit that our past mindset regarding the state of Israel is no longer relevant. But as long as large sections of Orthodoxy continue to live in an imaginary past and deny the realities of the present, it will remain impossible to properly address such issues as army or national service, core curriculums of essential general knowledge for all religious schools, and entering the workforce and decreasing the debilitating poverty and dysfunction of so many families.
The solutions are difficult and they cannot be dictated or legislated no matter how popular such steps may appear to be. But the change of mindset to the present must certainly and eventually occur. Jews have always been up to this task and I am confident we will be able to do so now as well.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Magnificent Rabbi Berel Wein

Rabbi Berel Wein
If more Charedi rabbis would think like him, what a wonderful world it would be! From an interview in the Times of Israel:

Chicago-born Rabbi Berel Wein made aliya 17 years ago — “because this is our home; because this is the only place you can really live a Jewish life; because the future of Jewish life is here.”

A former congregational rabbi in Miami Beach, and later the kashrut supervisor of the Orthodox Union, he founded and for 20 years headed Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, New York, handing it over to his son when he moved to Israel. Just turned 80, he’s now the rabbi of a synagogue in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem where he’s made his home.

I wanted to speak to Wein after the Knesset last month finally passed a law ostensibly aimed at ensuring a fairer “sharing of the national burden” — intended to compel ultra-Orthodox Israeli males to serve in the army and then enter the workforce, with provisions for criminal penalties for draft dodgers. Hardly beloved even by its legislators, the law strikes many as a missed opportunity — an imposed solution that is unlikely to produce its desired result and is already being bitterly resisted. Central to the probable failure, critics argue, is the degree to which it was formulated amid resistance from ultra-Orthodox leaders, rather than via genuine consultation with them.

I figured Wein, a smart, original thinker who ran a yeshiva in the United States and who clearly regards himself as Haredi, might have some thoughts on how we could do better. Excerpts:

Where do you see the root of the Haredi-secular disconnect?

Most of the Haredi community has not made peace with the existence of the State of Israel: It shouldn’t have happened. It couldn’t have happened. The wrong people made it happen.

They’re still fighting the 19th- and 20th-century battles of Eastern Europe. This ignores the Holocaust and other changes that have affected the Jewish people.

‘This country began as a socialist, atheistic, anti-religious country. It has since moved away. But the scars still affect our society. As Nixon said, you’d be paranoid if the whole world was against you’

There was a period when it was a little different. When the state was founded, [the ultra-Orthodox newspaper] Hamodia headlined with a Shehechiyanu (blessing thanking God for the achievement) — even though they knew Ben-Gurion was not about to put on tefillin. But religion here became so politicized — it became a fight over the school system…

But the basic problem, again, is that the Haredi community — not to compare it to the Arab world — didn’t accept the state. If it did, the problems would be diminished.

Still, bottom up, acceptance is taking hold. Shas [the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox political party] has accepted the core curriculum in its schools…

Not so the Ashkenazim.

 Charedi protest of the emerging draft law  on March 2, 2014 (TOI)
The Ashkenazim demean the Sephardim. Why aren’t there 15 Ashkenazi Haredi Knesset seats? Because many of their voters don’t vote Haredi. The community has grown but the number of MKs hasn’t grown. Too often, the politicians don’t serve the community; the rabbis follow them and not vice versa, and the politicians feed them [self-serving] information.

This country began as a socialist, atheistic, anti-religious country. It has since moved away. But the scars still affect our society. As Nixon said, you’d be paranoid if the whole world was against you. MKs pass a law — you assume it’s out to get you. We’ve spent 150 years battling just to eat kosher! [Tel Aviv Mayor] Ron Huldai wants stores open on Shabbat? We won’t give in on anything. We’re not sending one guy to the army! We’ll bring out 300,000 people to demonstrations.

So how would you fix all this, notably including the army and employment issues?

There needs to be greater acceptance of the Haredi public in secular Israel. I just read a poll that showed a large proportion of employers don’t want to employ Haredim.

We need to change the curriculum in Haredi and secular schools. Average Israelis are completely ignorant of Jewish history, tradition and faith. We have to meet in the middle. We can meet in the middle. Lapid the father [the late Yosef (Tommy) Lapid] was anti-religious. [Yesh Atid party leader Yair] Lapid the son wants to be more gracious. He should have gone to [leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis such as the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi] Ovadia Yosef, to the Gerer rebbe, to Rav Shteinman.

As regards the yeshivot and entering the workforce adopt a US-style model: A young man studies in yeshiva till say 22-25, and then he decides if he wants to do that all his life or go out into the world. In the US, you can get a bachelor’s degree in Talmudic Literature and then you can go on to study law, medicine. The Association of Rabbinical Colleges is recognized by American universities. It gives a degree. Here that’s anathema — the interaction with the university world — to get a degree, go to Hebrew University, say. But the community needs this — it needs psychologists and doctors.

If you’ve studied Talmud for six years, you’re not dumb. You sit for hours tackling problems. You have developed language skills. Analytical skills. Apart from the spiritual. It’s not all about two people fighting over an ox. Most yeshivot here are serious.

The Talmud contains a great deal of worldly knowledge. It’s the best provider of psychological knowledge that I know of; it offers a breadth of knowledge. Yeshiva graduates can excel.
Haredim want to enter the workforce. And Haredi politicians know — they tell me privately — that the current situation is untenable. If Lapid had sat down with the Haredi leadership, they could have come up with something together.

Where should the army obligation fit in?

For one thing, most of the world’s armies are volunteer armies.

Not enough people would volunteer here.

‘Those who oppose the army as un-Jewish are misunderstanding Judaism’
People would serve. What is the IDF today? 250,000 to 300,000 people? (Actually some 175,000 in the standing army, with 450,000 in the reserves.) You’d get that without a problem, especially if there were inducements.

The IDF performs a social function too, as an integrator, offering opportunities…

It did. I don’t know that it does today.

There’s no point in forcing Haredim to go in. The IDF, though it has bent over backwards, is not able to meet the lifestyle demands of the Haredim. And the IDF doesn’t want 40,000 Haredim. The IDF is seen as a straw man to put the Haredim in their place, which is not what the IDF sees itself as doing. And the Haredim see it as being out to convert them, which it isn’t.

But those who oppose the army as un-Jewish are misunderstanding Judaism. Those in the Haredi world who say it’s the yeshivot that save and protect Israel? Through all of Jewish history from Joshua to the Second Temple, there was an army. The Maccabees were an army. King David.

God helps those who help themselves. God gives us opportunities.

How do you think the draft and employment issues will play out?

More Haredim will join the army — a slow, but steady trickle. The Nahal Haredi [unit] is a success, beyond what was imagined.

Some sort of core curriculum will be negotiated. More Haredim will join the workforce and general society, the rest of society, will be less afraid of them, will start to see them as people rather than black-hatted caricatures.

That’s very optimistic.

The Lord has a plan for us. It takes time. Sixty-six years is not long in historical terms. It took the United States 200 years to tackle slavery and work toward equality. Here we’re integrating people from all over the world, all backgrounds. We’re a miracle.


In 1900, there were 6,000 Jews here. By the 1920s, it was 60,000. In 1948, it was 600,000. And last census was 6 million. If Herzl woke up to this, he wouldn’t believe it. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Exchange, Part 2

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
(It’s long... but it’s worth it. Rabbi Pruzansky is my new hero.  - HM )

 I received a response from my interlocutor, and reprint it fully with some minor editing. To make it easy on the reader, I have interspersed my comments within his response. As he asked not to be anonymous, I include his final salutation. May there be shalom al Yisrael!       - RSP
 E – I hope all is well with you and yours.   May you see Yiddishe nachas from all of them.
Thank you for your response. I did not write this letter to you b’mikreh. To the contrary, I heard about your speech and was shocked. No question that we have very bad PR, and I’m also not claiming that our community is perfect – and thus I can be דן לכף זכות — but there are aspects of your response that are so misleading and false and based more in prejudice than in fact or understanding that I felt a need to respond.
The attached document responds in depth to your points. Don’t be offended but we have to know how to respond to an אפקורוס כגון מאן אמר רי כגון הני דאמר מאי אהנו לן רבנן לדידהו קרו לדידהו תנו אל אביי האי מגלה פנים בתורה נמי הוא שכתוב אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חוקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי
SP-    I don’t assume that every Haredi is a “rabbanan” in the language of the Gemara. Most are not. I don’t know why you would assume that. And I thinks the problem here transcends PR.
E – Anyone who has had any actual human contact with Hareidim is generally struck by the extent of giving, rather than taking, that characterizes the community. The Har Nof directory has 36 pages of phone numbers and names of gemachs and community services! That’s not to mention, Hatzala, Zaka, Yad Sara, Zichron Menachem, Yad Eliezer among an endless list of large and effective tzedaka organizations that serve the entire Jewish community, frum and chiloni. The endless time and money and energy spent in the world of kiruv rechokim to  bring unaffiliated Jews back to Avinu Sh’b’Shamayim, whether on college campuses, via outreach kollels or baal teshuva seminaries and yeshivas also largely traced to people who until they were in their mid-20s, sat and ingested Torah values and learning in yeshivas and seminaries. Then they spent the rest of their life living it through tzedaka v’chesed rather than chasing money for themselves. The idea that the Haredi world rests on taking rather than giving simply has no correspondence with reality and you should be ashamed of yourself for suggesting otherwise.
SP - The Haredi community has a plethora of chesed organizations. That is very true and speaks to their essential good hearts. But it is often true that the chesed organizations take the place of actual work because they typically lack a secular education that would enable them to join the work force in normative way, especially in Israel. E.g., I often have people come to my door from Israel – heads of “new” chesed organizations – who are simply collecting money for five families, ten families, twenty families, and of course including their own. The chesed is not without its financial benefit. Let us not ignore that.
     Here in America, people do chesed as well and volunteer for organizations. The local Teaneck volunteer ambulance corps is just that – volunteer. We support many of the organizations you mentioned, but you are ignoring the real story. Most chesed organizations provide services – primary or supplemental – and jobs for the organizers. These are jobs also – but jobs that take money out of the economy cannot substitute for jobs that grow the economy. You do not grow an economy with a plethora of chesed organizations. You just re-distribute income from those who work for it to those who don’t. Much more important are organizations that foster employment. Give a man a fish and you’ve given him a meal; teach a man to fish and you’ve given him a livelihood.
    And most of these organizations exist in some form in the non-Haredi communities as well, but they are not as prevalent simply because they usually deal with hardship cases – the sudden poor caused by illness, death, loss of employment or some other tragedy, not the willful poor. When people choose to be poor they encounter a different dynamic entirely. And kiruv is not limited to Haredim, obviously. The fact that there are 36 pages of gemachs in the Har Nof directory is a sign of kindness, but might it not also be a sign of dysfunction? The lack of otherwise gainful employment? And you would certainly be shocked to hear of the abundant charity organizations run by non-Jews in America. The Haredi – even Jewish – instinct for chesed is admirable, but it is not exclusive to them, and certainly should not substitute for gainful employment.
   Note, also, that the “giving” is exclusively on your terms, and not what the rest of the society needs or is asking for.
E – Nearly all my male Hareidi friends and relatives work and pay over 60% in taxes – meanwhile the Government cut our kids’ school budgets by 50%. My son currently gets no milk in the morning because the budget was cut.  Somebody is stealing my tax money, and it’s not the Haredim.
SP – But those are your friends! And you do come from a different background. The rate of adult-male employment in the Haredi world is one of the lowest – I think it is the lowest – in the industrial world. A recent statistic in the Haredi press “boasted” of a 54% adult male employment rate – but that is extraordinarily low. In the rest of the world, the rate in industrialized countries is around 70%. That means that 46% of adult males are being subsidized by someone else.
   Now, who gets what from the government is always a political question. For decades, the Haredi parties chaired the Knesset Finance Committee and used that position to funnel money to their communal needs at the expense of other communities. The election results turned them out of power, and with it, loss of those sinecures. It is a lamentable aspect of Israeli politics that too many people take care only of their own constituents, but, I guess, that is true of politics everywhere, even here in the US. There is nothing moral about it; it is politics. When the Haredim next join the coalition, it will be back to business as usual. BUT: were the school budgets cut because schools refused to comply with the core curriculum? Because there is an expectation of national service that is not being met? Because of bias? The kibbutzim used to have patrons that took care of them in the Knesset, as did the haredim. They also fluctuated based on electoral outcomes. That’s life. Your tax money is not being stolen – it is just being redirected for other national uses.
    Do you feel you are not getting your fair share of return on your tax dollar? If so, welcome to my world! In Teaneck, the Orthodox community pays more than 60% of the property taxes, and our return in services is less than 20% (mainly because we don’t use the public school system). And, double whammy: New Jersey has the lowest ratio in the nation – 50th out of 50 states – in the return to the state of federal spending based on federal taxes paid, about 60 cents on the dollar. These complaints are universal, not limited to you.
E – How about what Haredi education produces relative to morality? In our schools there is virtually no drugs, sex or violence. There is not a yeshiva in the world that has metal detectors to check its students – how does that compare to the secular system of education?
SP – None of our schools have metal detectors either. And the yeshiva system even here still produces a decent product. The dropout rate in all religious communities is roughly the same. But – what is their educational product? Does the haredi system produce a student who can function in civil society?
      I find it fascinating that your straw man is always the “secular” system or world, as if there exists only this dichotomy: Haredi v. secular. But that is not true. There is an entire world of religious Jews who are neither Haredi nor secular (not that the Haredi world is completely monolithic). You certainly know it from your background, but you know it from Israel as well – the Hardalim, the Dati-Leumi, etc. – people whose lives fully implement the Torah system in the real world, not just theorize about it in the Bet Midrash. I have always assumed that one of the great fears of the Haredi establishment about military service was not the exposure to secular culture but the exposure to Torah Jews who know how to learn Torah, perform mitzvot, fight in G-d’s wars, build a country, get an education, etc. – i.e., a balanced life. That life undercuts the Haredi argument that mandates segregation as the only means to the preservation of Torah.
  E – From high school on, the men’s educational process is focused on Torah. Isn’t it amazing that people without college are nonetheless able to start and operate successful businesses of all kinds, from crafts (plumbing, electrical, contracting) to retails to finance to real estate to start-ups. All without having studied Shakespeare or art history – without knowing how many wives King Henry 8th divorced or beheaded – and without having had to subject themselves to the looseness, depravity and coarseness of midos one finds with such ease on a college campus. But the Israeli Government feels it knows better and wants to impose its standards on our time-tested curriculum. Not a culture war? Really?
I am an investment banker and have raised over 50 million dollars for Israeli companies supporting hundreds of secular families. Nearly all the owners of those businesses are secular — They love me and I love them ( I don’t hide my peyot) certainly not in Teaneck. My Partners supports hundreds if not thousands of Israelis in construction, law, accounting, security, insurance, architecture and engineering, to name a few, via his real estate business. I have another close friend who moved his family here to open a baal teshuva yeshiva that is one of the largest employers in its neighborhood. We all pay taxes here. All of my friends and peers are busy with tzedaka projects – many if not most not content just to give money, but insistent upon giving time and effort and talent as well. All this in addition to commitment to regular Torah learning. Is that really a hateful existence?
SP- Here is the crux of the issue. You are not typical, obviously. They are many Haredi businessmen, many successful Haredi businessmen. But you know they are not typical of Haredi society, unless you are asserting that what is perceived as the endemic poverty in the Haredi world is a “secular” myth . I also don’t care how many wives Henry VIII (or for that matter, the VII) had – but I do care that in today’s world, children learn English, math, science, writing skills, even Jewish history and Jewish philosophy. An eighth grade knowledge of those subjects is as embarrassing as an eighth grade Torah education (or, as it might be, a fourth grade education).
   It is interesting that Haredim in America have never embraced the value system of Haredim in Israel, at least not until recently. Some went to college, some didn’t (there are even online colleges today for which you almost never need to leave home) – but all knew they would have to support families someday, and not through starting chesed organizations. An educational system that produces bnai Torah, good citizens (I’ll add – Ahavat Yisrael of all types, Ahavat Eretz Yisrael, and a willingness to fight for it as Haredim did in 1948) who can support themselves and help others would be embraced by all, even the secular. No one intends to produce violent, depraved, backwards, drug-addled, parasitic, drunken miscreants. Not all secular schools produce the latter, like not all haredi schools produce the former. That’s reality.
E – How about the families that you so revile where the husband is learning in Kollel? Let’s check a few facts here. The government used to help with $200 a month; Lapid and Bennet cut it to almost nothing!  The average hareidi family has about 8 children. We pay 18% vat tax on all we consume. Do you really think these families live on Government handouts? In these families the wives are all working (did you assume they were home redesigning their kitchens, eating bon-bons, shopping at our equivalent of the Short Hills mall or Nordstroms and filing their nails?). Do you have a similar problem when one of your secular friends has a wife who works and the husband stays home? I never heard anyone ever complain about that concept. So why is it that a family that is willing to forego all the pleasures of the olam ha-gashmi to pursue a self-sacrificing spiritually oriented existence voluntarily, supported in dignity by a working wife who believes in the primacy of Torah study be so reviled by you?
SP – I don’t revile anyone! Chas Veshalom! I love all Jews. But I still fail to see why the government – someone else’s tax dollars – is obligated to support someone in kollel. Find a Zevulun, a private benefactor. Similarly, I fail to see why the government – someone else’s tax dollars – would be obligated to support a talented artist, poet or basketball player. Is it the same? Of course not, based on my value system. But the Tel Avivian who has not yet been attracted to Torah has a different value system. Don’t tell me – tell him why he has to pay for yours.
    Better question: how many extra hours should my children in Israel work every week in order to support those who wish to learn full-time? And what if they would rather use those extra hours to learn Torah themselves? Why is that option foreclosed?
    I also have no secular friends, not that I’m proud of that! Then again, I don’t get out much. But I do think it is troubling if a wife works to support her husband and the family. Ultimately, as we know from our world, it causes real shalom bayit issues. But I don’t judge. If it works for them, it’s fine with me. In fact, the only cases I know of secular families in which the wife works and the husband doesn’t (the Mr. Mom dynamic) is where the husband has temporarily lost his job or is incapable of working. But if a Haredi family chooses that – tavo aleihem bracha – but just don’t expect the rest of society to subsidize it.
E – With large families the Hareidim are massive spenders on consumption and investment in Israel.  Ask Osem or Pampers or Simalec. Or anyone in the world of real estate and contruction. As consumers we give back a multiple of what we “take”.
SP – I’m not sure your statistics are accurate. But this is: EVERYBODY pays VAT, everybody pays taxes, and everyone consumes. They just make different consumption choices. And I must be missing something: if Haredim are such massive spenders on consumption, real estate, etc., why is a cut in school milk money so devastating? Ha’ikar chaser min hasefer – something essential is missing from your argument.
E – All this is without any reference to the spiritual value of what we contribute to our society – which as a rabbi and learner I hope you might at least modestly appreciate……אפקורוס כגון מאן אמר רי כגון הני דאמר מאי אהנו לן רבנן לדידהו קרו לדידהו תנו אל אביי האי מגלה פנים בתורה נמי הוא שכתוב אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חוקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי
As far as the Rambam, please see the attached. There are almost 30 poskim listed who disagree with the Rambam, including the Mechaber in three places.  In addition, we can probably agree that the Brisker Ruv’s son, R’ Moshe’s son and R’ Aharon’s grandson know a thing or two about the Rambam  – yet they attended.
Like you, I grew up with Zionism uber alas. But we did not hate the Haredim . I told a friend of Bennett’s ( to paraphrase Golda Meir) that I can forgive him for stealing our money, starving the avreichim, and supporting legislation to jail our kids … but I can’t forgive him for causing me to hate him and causing you to hate me.
SP – I appreciate everyone’s Talmud Torah. I just don’t genuflect before the altar of those who insist that Haredi Talmud Torah is superior, nor to those who think their Ahavat Yisrael is superior. Every person – groups – has strengths and weaknesses.
    One of the bigger mistakes of the Haredi world is projecting the sense that their Judaism is more authentic than everyone else’s and therefore deserves the support of others. It is not. The Haredi world has strengths and weaknesses like any other group. Indeed, there are many things that the Haredi world can teach other Torah Jews and many things that the Haredi world needs to learn from other Torah Jews. But the Haredi world is trying to recreate something that never existed, and thus has run into problems.
     And – whatever you, I or others might say – the Rambam is still the Rambam. People do disagree with the Rambam, but they haven’t refuted his basic idea, which has turned out to be spot on:Kava me’or hadat. People have lost respect for the Torah lifestyle because of the Haredi estrangement from general society, not grown in respect. And, obviously, there are many Rabbanim who have an interest in keeping the status quo, or fear a public dissent from it.
    But, there was a time when Haredim understood this as well. In last Friday’s Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Stewart Weiss, whose son Ari hy”d fell in battle while protecting Jewish life, including this observation from post-1948:      “Indeed, no less a figure than the late Grand Rebbe of Gur – a Chassidic leader far ahead of his time – appealed to the yeshiva world to break down the wall of separation and allow yeshiva students to do their fair share in “giving back” to the nation. If they did not, he warned presciently, they would eventually provoke major animosity and resentment from the general public, resulting in a terrible Chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name. Tragically, the Rebbe’s plea was rejected, the number of yeshiva exemptions grew exponentially, and the problem was left to simmer and boil. Now, the polarization and hatred it has created has divided our nation and been laid bare for all to see.
   I tell you that it is critical not to hate. I don’t hate Haredim at all, although I do feel sorry for many who – as they have told me – feel trapped. And you should not hate anyone, r”l, especially Naphtali Bennett. I have met him several times, he even has some good Teaneck roots. He is a wonderful person, very dedicated to Klal Yisrael. He really believes he is helping Haredim (I think he is right) – not just with the army but with entering the work force. He knows – you know – the present economics are unsustainable. The people who were paying for it no longer want to pay for it, secular and religious. And you know as well that permanent exemptions from army service or employment are also not sustainable. That is the society in which you live. Do not forget that all this came about because the High Court ruled that the current system was inequitable and therefore unlawful. Even the present Shaked Bill which Haredim so revile might not pass muster! But the status quo could not go on much longer, as the Gerrer Rebbe anticipated.
E – In the world of Israeli kiruv (just like the global phenomenon) there’s an amazing reality: virtually all who become frum — and there are well over 100k — become chareidim (of one form or another). They all grew up interacting with the datei Leumi, yet when push comes to shove, that’s not the lifestyle and community they choose. How odd for such a highly educated and unbiased (other than the extreme anti-Haredi bias they are raised with) to choose such a different way of life (one that will surely bring them no prestige or power or connections). How strange that they choose to join what you view as a cult of takers and uncaring, non-contributing families and individuals. Somehow the appeal of authentic and committed Torah and Yiddishkeit weighs more than the alternative.
The official prayer for the army? We love the soldiers and pray for them every day. In times of stress and war our shuls are full of people davening and saying Tehillim and personal prayers. We also cry when they fall, and Hatzola and unfortunately Zaka are there to pick them up! We don’t need the nusach of the chief Rabbi; we have Chazal אחינו כל בית ישראל……
With love,
Ephraim
SP- I think you are right about the kiruv statistics (not in our part of the world, of course). That is because the cloistered life poses fewer challenges, and I can see why a baal teshuva would want to sever any connection with his prior life even if not all do. But the balanced life appeals to others – not violations of halacha, r’l, but just a comfort level interacting with the rest of society.
   Your last paragraph is the most troubling, because in your entire response, you neglected to address one key point: the rejection of army service. That is bad enough – haacheichem tavou lamilchama v’atem teshvu po? – but the reluctance to say the accepted tefila for Tzahal wins no friends in the dati-leumi community. Must you be different just to be different? Are you still fighting Herzl? Is tefila really a substitute for actual participation in national defense or national service?
  If so, perhaps then you can relate to this analogy: the dati leumi community (we’ll try to get the seculars involved as well) will offer heartfelt tefilot in our own way and of our own composition for the material success of the Haredim. You just won’t get any money from the government and the society you so disdain. That would be too practical.
With blessings for continued success, your friend who loves, values and respects you,
 Steven Pruzansky