"Anyone who has evil thoughts about the yeshiva students and calls them parasites is a scoundrel, a heretic, and killing him is permitted," Shas's spiritual mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, declared a few days ago in his weekly sermon. He appears almost to be testing the boundaries of freedom of incitement and continues to pose challenges to the attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein. Does Rubinstein consider the encouragement of murder to be legitimate, too?
This week, Yosef's attack was aimed mainly at the National Religious Party, which represents values contrary to the ones he espouses: "Even if an NRP man puts two sets of tefillin on his head, one of Rashi and one of Rabeinu Tam, he still has wicked thoughts. What does he say? That the students in the yeshivas and the kollels [yeshivas for married men] are parasites and make no contribution to the state? He has strange opinions, opinions of heresy, of apostasy. He doesn't understand that they [the students in the yeshivas and the kollels] vitalize the whole world ...
"Without the Torah and those who study it the world would be a wasteland. Is he to drop everything and go to the army? What will he do there, in the army?" Indeed, what will the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] young man do in the army? Will he fight to defend his home? No way. For that we have the secular guys and the heretic from the NRP. The latter is especially infuriating, because he represents the possible fusion between Torah and work, between Torah and army service. The NRP person is the proof that it's possible to observe all the commandments and still be a useful citizen - and therefore he is the most obdurate adversary of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Two years ago, the rabbi issued a religious ruling in which he stated: "Anyone who studies Torah is exempt from fighting." True, Maimonides stated that in a war of commandment everyone must go into battle, even "the bridegroom from his room and the bride from her bridal canopy" - but who is Maimonides as compared with Ovadia?
And if there are bad parents who want their sons to attend a hesder yeshiva (combining religious study with army service) and even serve in the army, in that case, the rabbi states, the son must not listen to his parents: He must attend only a "holy yeshiva" where the students do not serve in the army. So the rabbi also casts out the Fourth Commandment.
There are still a few naive people who think that the rabbi's injunctions are based on religious motives and stem from deep theological exegesis. The truth is very different and very cynical: the rabbi is building the ideological foundation on which his flock can evade army service so that they will be eternally grateful and beholden to him - for what is more precious to a person than his son?
While the mother of the NRP youngster doesn't sleep nights for worry and is afraid of every uninvited knock on the door, Rabbi Yosef gives the Haredi mother the greatest gift of all: no son of hers will ever serve in Gaza or Nablus and no hair of his head shall be harmed. The Haredi mother can sleep peacefully, and the rabbi offers her the explanation that without her son, "the world would not exist even for one minute," because "he is risking his life in the tent of Torah."
Having seen to the physical well-being of the members of his flock, the rabbi also grants his community the gift of life without working, at the expense of others, like those patsies who work and pay taxes. Four of every five Haredi men do not work. Some of them (the young and the single) are registered in yeshivas, the married ones are registered in kollels. A complicated, corrupt social structure enables them to go through life without doing so much as an hour's work.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs grants them a Torah study allowance, the Housing Ministry transfers a rental allowance to them, the National Insurance Institute gives them a child allowance (which has recently been cut), and they also have large discounts in city taxes, water, public transportation, day-care centers, kindergartens, boarding schools, health insurance and National Insurance payments.
Life without work is a non-Jewish approach, which developed only here, in the Land of Israel. It doesn't exist in Brooklyn or Antwerp - there the Haredim work. It's only here that Agudat Yisrael (the major Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party) and Shas have twisted Judaism to the point of transforming "non-work" into a Jewish value, and the taxpayer has to underwrite this madness.
All the Torah sages throughout history both studied Torah and worked for a living. Only in a few cases did they live at the public's expense, and never was there a situation in which an entire community didn't work. Maimonides ruled that it is wrong to make one's living from the rabbinate, and he himself worked as a physician. Our sages said, "Love work and hate the rabbinate" (Avot I, 10).
Why, then, is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef surprised that a whole public, which works hard, pays taxes and serves in the army, terms the yeshiva students parasites? That's exactly what they are - parasites.
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