When Naftali Bennett Didn't Say About the True Ruin of Yeshivas

Even after decades in which religious Zionists combined work and Torah studies, many of their leaders still feel inferior to Ashkenazi Haredim.

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Israel Harel
Israel Harel

About a week after the electoral achievement of Habayit Hayehudi, the “Jewish Home” party (or as the ultra-Orthodox call it, “the goys’ home”), had become clear, the religious Zionist community’s leading rabbis, first and foremost Rabbi Haim Drukman, were whisked off to see the rabbinic leaders of Israel’s three biggest Hasidic sects: the admors of Gur, Vizhnitz and Belz. They were taken from court to court, where they heard “Toireh” in other words, sermons about the disaster that would befall the Jewish people if anyone dared “touch my anointed ones” by drafting yeshiva students into the military. You must instruct your politicians, the admors told the rabbis, to prevent the cruel decree of drafting Torah scholars; the entire world’s existence depends on them.

In light of the Haredi rabbis’ disqualification of his conversions and disparagement of him and his public (“clowns” is the usual Haredi term for Zionist rabbis), Drukman’s willingness to be dragged from admor to admor was an insult to his dignity and that of many members of the community he represents. Drukman and his colleagues heard out the admors’ demands but they did not voice their own doctrines, reprove the Haredi rabbis for their historical errors or demand redress for themselves and their public after years of humiliation, censure and ostracism, so thrilled they were with the mere honor of seeing the shining faces of the righteous ones.

Earlier this week, Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett visited the Mir Yeshiva, a flagship of the “Lithuanian” (non-Hasidic) Ashkenazi Haredim. “I came to learn,” he said in response to journalists’ questions. About a week earlier, the same pilgrimage was made by his party colleague MK Uri Ariel, a kibbutznik who normally goes about in shirtsleeves and sandals year-round. Buttoned up in a suit jacket, Ariel, like Bennett after him, listened to the yeshiva heads’ exhortations. Universal service, Uriel and Bennett were warned, would be Israel’s ruin.

Neither said, by way of retort, that in fact the draft, as students at Zionist yeshivas have proved, helps forestall Israel’s ruin. Nor did they mention the painful historical fact that in prohibiting their students from immigrating to pre-State Israel, the heads of the “Lithuanian” yeshivas in pre-World War II Europe brought ruin upon the people of Israel and the yeshivas themselves. Nor did they say that ever since the yeshiva world was reconstituted here in Israel, these yeshivas, which prevent their students from working in addition to their religious studies, have continued to bring ruin upon Torah learners.

Even after decades in which the path of religious Zionism combining work and religious study has proved to be constructive and pioneering path, many of the movement’s spiritual and political leaders still have a sense of inferiority to those whose “Torah” has proved catastrophically in the Diaspora and more recently in Israel too to be an erroneous doctrine that gives birth to disaster. After all, the admors ordered their flocks not to immigrate, back when the gates of pre-State Israel were still open and many of them could have been saved from the Nazis’ claws. The admors, their families and the senior yeshiva officials saved themselves and left tens of thousands of their followers behind.

Moreover, even in Eastern Europe Hasidim supported themselves through work. It is only in the State of Israel, at the command of their admors and due to the sins of the state that finances this anomaly, unprecedented in Jewish history, that they are supported at public expense.

But Rabbi Drukman and his colleagues did not say any of this to the admors, nor did Bennett and Ariel say it to the yeshiva heads. And they certainly didn’t reprove them for ignoring the commandments of our sages, such as the dictum in “Pirkei Avot” (“Ethics of the Fathers”): “All Torah study without work will result in waste and will cause sin.”

Nor did they invite them, if only as a show of self-respect, to a reciprocal visit to their yeshivas in order to tell them there: All these students served their people in the Israel Defense Forces, and contrary to your fears they remained Torah students. Not only is this possible, but this and only this is the right path.

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