Using the Gemara as a Turf to Take on the Haredim

For the past three years, Da'at Emet has been mailing out pamphlets and booklets of religious teachings, complete with contradictions and logical problems from the Gemara and the writings of the Sages - proof that the Torah is the work of man.

On the Sunday after Shavuot, Haim, the son of Yaron Yad'an, called from the army, telling his father that at the entrance to his base in the North, Haredim were collecting signatures of soldiers and promising them a letter from the Torah in return. "Tell the soldiers to refuse to sign," Yad'an replied.

The head of the Da'at Emet (True Knowledge) association, which is involved, inter alia, in the direct mailing of heretic literature to the ultra-Orthodox, experienced a moment of pleasure. "In general, my children don't feel comfortable with my activities," Yad'an says. "After all, they study in the state education system, which respects the religion. They think I deal with the religious in too obsessive a manner."

When you have seven dissatisfied children, you have to take their objections into consideration. But it appears that the eldest, Haim, is having a change of heart. "The more he rubs shoulders with Israeli society, the more the religious coercion begins to bother him," Yad'an says.

It took 17 years in the depths of the ultra-Orthodox world to open Yad'an's eyes. Some seven years ago, the father of seven and head of a yeshiva for married men in Rechasim took his family out of the Haredi society and slammed the door shut behind him. Ever since, he has been involved in a private campaign to sow seeds of doubt among the ultra-Orthodox and disseminate what he perceives as the truth, as revealed to him prior to his return to secularism - that God did not give the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

For the past three years, Da'at Emet has been mailing out pamphlets and booklets of religious teachings, complete with contradictions and logical problems from the Gemara and the writings of the Sages - proof that the Torah is the work of man.

Yad'an wants this message - that the Torah, and the Gemara in particular, was written by commentators who were influenced by the mood and knowledge of their periods - to find its way into secular society as well: "Secular individuals were also raised on the notion that the Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, that the Torah is moral and that we, the Jews, are the Chosen People," he says. "Hence, they gave the Haredim possession of Judaism. They don't understand that there could be a halakhic state here and that they must fight to maintain the democratic nature of the country."

Next week, Da'at Emet will hold a conference at Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem, and the meet will constitute a turning point for the association. If, till now, its activities had focused only on the ultra-Orthodox sector, today, Yad'an is directing his energies toward the secular public. Beginning next month, Da'at Emet will be holding two conferences a month in various cities around the country.

Yad'an says he intends to establish a secular movement that will fight for providing the ultra-Orthodox with civic studies and basic tools such as English and arithmetic, and that will demand to decide for itself with regard to the laws of matrimony, burial and all the personal crossroads that, today, come under the monopoly of Haredi society. Yad'an is preparing a group of disseminators of his theories, teaching a series of issues from the Gemara in which he has found scientific contradictions, so that his disciples can confront the Haredim.

Yad'an is arousing harsh reactions from the Haredi public. Following the stickers he posted some two weeks ago in ultra-Orthodox areas, advertising his conference, he received two explicit death threats over the telephone. His last conference in Holon was marred by protests from some 40 Haredim and a car belonging to one of the association's activists was torched. The Jerusalem police are preparing to secure next week's meet and Yad'an intends wearing a flak jacket during his lecture.

Prof. Menachem Friedman, a religious sociologist at Bar-Ilan University who specializes in the workings of Haredi society, says phenomena like Da'at Emet have been expected for quite some time. "Haredi society requires that its children believe in a complex array of faiths and opinions," he says. "There can be no questions asked. If someone questions a small component, the germ of doubt steps in and fells the entire defense system."

Friedman continues: "Da'at Emet is a very worrisome matter for the Haredim. The Haredim have a lot of time on their hands to think. After all, not all are capable of studying. Thoughts are a serious enemy. Perhaps your life is a life of lies. The vast majority overcome the doubts, but there are many people in the ultra-Orthodox public today who are consumed with doubt. Da'at Emet grew on fertile ground.

"There is a large public that is concerned with the economic distress and the ever-increasing social problem. It feels as if it is facing a dead end. Therefore, there are many in this public whose hearts are devoid of faith or morals."