In Wartime We Need to Fight

Response Article To "A New Response to Anti-Charedi Critics"

The negative portrayal of Charedim in secular media is not honest criticism from ‎concerned brothers but rather a propaganda tool of the liberal agenda in its war against ‎traditional Judaism. If we wish to win the war, we must acknowledge that we are under attack.‎

Tamuz 5783; July 2023

Charedim have never been so hated. Indiscriminately. Without discretion or consideration. They are all hated. Passionately. Anyone dressed in a hat, sidelocks, and a kippah. They say what we always say about despised groups: “They’re all the same.“Freeloaders.” The hate is generalizing, racist, and anti-Semitic.

These words were not written by some Charedi journalist writing for Yated Ne’eman or Mishpachah Magazine; MKs Moshe Gafni or Yisrael Eichler did not speak them from the Knesset podium. They were written by the secular journalist Yossi Klein in Haaretz.[1]

In his article from last week, “A New Response to Anti-Charedi Critics,” Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer offered some justification for the media criticism leveled recently against Charedi society, especially in matters of Israel’s economy. We should not automatically reject it as anti-Semitism. In his view, our instant rejection of such criticism derives from an imaginary division of the Israeli public into “them and us,” leading us to reject all claims on the basis that it’s “them” against “us.” If only we would see the world as “we and us,” we would think twice before rejecting the harsh critique.

Unfortunately, however, much of the anti-Charedi sentiment in the media is unrelated to economics. Instead, it’s about the fact that we proudly act like Jews

To be fair to Rabbi Pfeffer, it seems that he refrains from reading vicious propaganda appearing on platforms sometimes referred to as “journalism” and is unexposed to the hatred and enmity directed against tradition. Unfortunately, however, much of the anti-Charedi sentiment in the media is unrelated to economics. Instead, it’s about the fact that we proudly act like Jews. Yes, it is about “us versus them.” We are engaged in a cultural-ideological war over the character of the State of Israel, and anti-Charedi propaganda is a significant part of it. If we want to win, we must recognize it. Talking about “we and us” is surrender.


Why Do They Hate Charedim?

According to Rabbi Pfeffer, “Criticism of Charedim includes several components, but the central point raised in recent months focuses on economics.” The reason the media is so angry with Charedim is that “employment rates for Charedi men have been hovering around 50% for several years now,” and “the average salary of working Charedi men is approximately 55% of the average salary of non-Charedi Jewish men.” Because of this, “the poverty rate (relative poverty, albeit, but it remains not insignificant) of the Charedi public – families, individuals, and children – is far higher than poverty rates within general society.”

Before we start debating whether it’s fair to blame families with only one breadwinner (because they prioritize the father’s Torah study) or hardworking individuals with low earnings, let’s first consider whether the economic situation is the actual cause of what Rabbi Pfeffer dubbs “criticism.” To do so, let’s hear directly from those who express such concerns:

Charedim are not the worst, but they are the most hated. Surveys show that Israelis hate the Charedim. About 80% of secular Israeli Jews are concerned about “Jewish content” in state schools, according to the Hamadad website that collects data on politics, society, and identity. The funding of Charedi educational institutions without core curriculum studies concerns a similar percentage of secular Jews.[2]

This is Yossi Klein again from a few months ago. There was no talk of a budget or judicial reform. Yet, the agenda was pretty straightforward, as the title proclaims: “Secular Versus Charedi: A Tale of Fear, Hatred, and Shame.” The fear is not about economics but about religion. The economy is just an excuse:

Over half the members of the coalition that will form the next government differ from each other in how they practice religion but are similar in their extreme nationalism. There are no more “moderate religious politicians.” For most of them, a halachic state is the ideal. The gradual but consistent religious takeover of the army and education causes concern that turns into fear and hatred. […]

Hate and shame. Surveys have not determined the extent of shame associated with our hatred. How is it that enlightened, progressive people employ the same tools that have been used to hate us: stereotypes, generalizations, and prejudices? Ironically, we are the ones who employ the same accusations that were once unfairly attributed to our ancestors: extortion, exploitation, and isolationism.

Over time, Klein’s shame disappeared, and only hatred remained. His friend Chaim Levinson clarified that animosity towards Charedim was not anti-Semitism but rather a fervent and justified zeal of the enlightened who fear the dark and the primitive:

The Charedim are “sucking our blood,” according to Galit Gutman. In my opinion, this is a shocking and unprofessional statement. It is factually incorrect in the context of municipal taxes, which was the issue under discussion. This is because Charedi municipalities are very few, and the arrangement does not benefit them exclusively. The statement makes a sweeping generalization about an entire population and employs rude and venomous language that foments animosity rather than presenting factual arguments.[3]

Well said, indeed. Yet, Levinson immediately clarifies that accusing Gutman of anti-Semitism is nothing more than a “show of demagoguery” that obviates the prospect of engaging in a “public discourse, which must be based on factual information, followed by opinion, nuance, and a genuine goodwill to find a resolution.” Apparently, this is precisely what Gutman did.

In the face of a gross proliferation of incendiary speech, even journalist Gideon Levy, who has a long history of reporting on Charedim, felt the sudden urge to defend them.[4] They reminded him of the Palestinians:

Expressions of hatred toward Charedim have reached unprecedented levels. As someone who feels some affection towards them, contrary to what is common in secular and liberal society; as someone who believes that they also fall victim to being outsiders; and as someone who believes that settlers deserve greater condemnation and opposition due to their violence and the detrimental consequences of their actions, the growing hatred for Charedim triggers harsh thoughts. They and their leaders are responsible for some of the hatred but not for all of it.

Notwithstanding his greater animosity toward settlers, Levy continues to clarify that hatred towards the Charedim is entirely understandable:

They are hated because they are distinct in their clothing, language, culture, way of life, and faith –  in their entire world. This hatred cannot be tolerated and must be rejected. Israelis also dislike the poor and worship the rich – and Charedim are poor. In recent years, hatred of Charedim has increased due to their presumed arrogance, aggressiveness, domineering nature, lust for power, and sense of superiority. It is harder to condemn this hatred. They will have to pay its price.

God forbid, there is no resemblance between today’s Charedi hatred to the hatred of Jews in Eastern Europe. Those Jews were merely “different in their clothing, language, culture, way of life, and faith” but lacked today’s “presumed arrogance, aggressiveness, domineering nature, lust for power, and sense of superiority.” For Europe, only the twisted imagination of anti-Semites could attribute such characteristics to the Jews. Right.

You don’t have to despise them, he tells his Haaretz friends – not all of them. Some of them have the potential to develop into worthy and valuable human beings. Give them time, and they will change

Moving on, another opinion column in Haaretz, this time by Miron Isaacson, warns of increasing hatred of Charedim. In a column entitled “Don’t Make a Mistake, Don’t Hate Charedim,” Isaacson writes:

The atmosphere of struggle has revealed many frustrations within the secular-liberal public, and it seems that the central and most substantial of them is related to Charedi society. Unfortunately, the harsh criticism of Charedim is escalating, among many, into total enmity.

To ease the friction, Isaacson tells his friends not to worry since “the increase in the proportion of Charedim in Israel’s population will likely bring about significant social changes.” You don’t have to despise them, he tells his Haaretz friends – not all of them. Some of them have the potential to develop into worthy and valuable human beings. Give them time, and they will change.

I could go on, but I’ll spare the readers.

Destruction of the Soul

The loathing some Jews harbor toward brothers who continue to live as Jews is not a new phenomenon. In his masterful article from 1934, “Destruction of the Soul,” the great historian Yechezkel Kaufman describes in vivid colors what he calls “Jewish anti-Semitism,”[5] writing that “We inherited Jewish anti-Semitism from the Enlightenment generation.” Facing modern versions of age-old anti-Semitic accusations, the crime of Jewish Enlightenment was to sign an admission of guilt and demand that Jews repent their ways to win favor in the eyes of the nations.

Among the spiritual descendants of Enlightenment Jews, nothing seems to have changed except for replacing “Eastern European Jews” with the modern Charedi variant. Otherwise, it’s all pretty much the same. Claims of parasitism, laziness, ignorance, exploitation, greed, and arrogance – all of these are copy-pasted from the same slurs of centuries back. For instance, Kaufman cites Herzl’s resentment of Jews ashamed of their mere existence:

The Jews, too, faithfully say ‘Amen’ to the anti-Semitic slogan that we earn our living off the ‘feeder’ nations and that were it not for them, we should be forced to starve to death. This is another evidence of the decline of our self-respect under the onslaught of false accusations. (Introduction to The Jewish State)

This is the very claim leveled against Charedim today. As our brethren of yesteryear, we are parasites who enjoy living at the expense of secular Jews, insisting on and taking pride In living lives of ignorance and poverty. It is as though those in control of academia, the military, the media, the judicial system, and the government offices are there because of the divine gift they were blessed with and not because they ensure the entire institutional system works in favor of those born on the right side of Tel Aviv.

As our brethren of yesteryear, we are parasites who enjoy living at the expense of secular Jews, insisting on and taking pride In living lives of ignorance and poverty

As other articles demonstrate, and as I will elaborate on below, I’m the last to accept Charedi norms uncritically. Nonetheless, blatant lies should be called out as blatant lies. Not only does the wealthy man steal the poor man’s ewe lamb, he even accuses him of theft.

At least Haaretz authors don’t feign innocence. They openly express their desire to maintain the power positions wielded by secular liberals, leaving no influential role to those Jews who continue to behave as Jews. This is what Israel’s social wars, ostensibly over the proposed “judicial reforms,” are truly about. Our liberal elites are willing to accommodate the presence of religious marionettes from time to time, provided they pledge loyalty and follow instructions. But nothing more.

Much to their delight, Charedim in Israel indeed lack power. The only power they wield is in the Knesset; as it turns out, in Israel’s democracy, it isn’t worth much. They might sneak a bite here and there from budget leftovers and “coalition funds,” and even then, they will be met with contempt and derision and labeled “parasites” and “bloodsuckers.” The truth must be told: the only thing that scares Israel’s liberal elites more than poor Charedim is rich Charedim.

Taking our weakness and misery and turning it into guilt is a labor of hate. And those among us who say “but surely we are blameworthy” (Bereishis 42:31) act like a battered woman who never ceases to blame herself

The hoped-for “Charedi integration” is nothing more than a hope that Charedim will stop being Charedim, as Isaacson clearly expressed. Once they enter academia and integrate, the hope is that they will join the struggle on the side of the Enlightened. Impressive funding is being invested in this project, and the message is clear: if you’re willing to accept the secular-liberal terms of engagement, you’re welcome to join. If not, you stay on the dark side.

We may be small and weak, “deplorable,” as Hillary Clinton once commented (much to her regret) about Trump supporters. But this is due to our fidelity to tradition under conditions that work against us. Taking our weakness and misery and turning it into guilt is a labor of hate. And those among us who say “but surely we are blameworthy” (Bereishis 42:31) act like a battered woman who never ceases to blame herself.

A Time for Greatness

Rabbi Pfeffer claims that the voices I described above belong to a very small minority within Jewish Israel. I agree. However, I disagree that their minority status should paralyze our defense mechanisms and cause us to behave as if they are genuinely concerned about our future. That same minority dominates the education system, higher education, culture, government, judiciary, media, and the economy. It has declared a war of attrition against the Charedim. Rather than a negligible minority, it is a minority that sets the agenda.

The great majority of Jews of all colors love their people and their heritage; they also feel a sense of brotherhood vis-à-vis the Charedim. However, the venomous anti-Charedi propaganda promulgated by the small and vociferous minority, portraying them as lazy and sinister creatures who only wish to live at the expense of others, succeeds in inciting hatred among all sections of society.

Moreover, I even agree with Rabbi Pfeffer’s assertion that our response to the poisonous propaganda should not be withdrawal into the comfortable corner of a victimized minority. We need to be a part of Israel’s majority, and our insistence that we aren’t is detrimental to both ourselves and the rest of the country. Yes, we need to step up to the plate.

However, I find denying an “us versus them” framing dangerous. The most potent forces within Israeli society have mobilized for a total war against the Charedim, not because of their lack of economic participation but because they are Jews who proudly want to live as Jews. Our response must not be “but surely we are guilty.” Our thoughts at this time cannot be directed toward shifting our mindset from “them and us” to “we and us.” In times of war, one has to wage war.

Charedi Jews need to stand tall. Undoubtedly, one of the critical goals we need to pursue is to assert ourselves as a significant and influential presence among the Jewish people – to gain economic, intellectual, legal, cultural, media, political, and military power. We need to change the equation in which these positions are almost exclusively filled by individuals who think like Yossi Klein from Haaretz. Our future as a Jewish nation and a Jewish State depends on it.

The path to achieving this is not by being ashamed of our very existence. One of the reasons Torah-observant Jews lack power is that circumstances work against us. It is hard in Israel to get a job – any job – without a degree from an academic institution. Yet, studying in an academic institution, certainly at elite institutions, is deeply challenging for somebody wishing to maintain loyalty to Hashem and the Jewish People. Powerful forces work against us.

Charedi Judaism could not thrive without the Kollel institution. The strength of Charedi Judaism is its Torah scholars. It is true that religious Zionism has sincere and upright Jews who live a different modus operandi. However, Charedi society has grown and thrived to such an extent because of the prevalence of Kollel life. Only thanks to them did we maintain our cultural and spiritual independence. Moreover, the Kollelim have also benefited religious life across the Israeli board. Religious Zionists could be proud of their cultural identity thanks to Charedi success, and they even adopted the “Kollel startup” for their own Torah students.

Kollel life exacts a high economic and social cost, just as Jewish life in exile took a heavy economic and social toll. Jews in exile did not want to be poor and miserable. They wanted to be Jews, and, broadly speaking, the only life they could live as Jews was one of misery and poverty. They sacrificed comfort, wealth, and honor for Judaism. This is what the Charedim do today. We should admire them for this and not despise them, God forbid.

I agree and sympathize with Rabbi Pfeffer’s words. We need to state unequivocally that we aspire to a situation in which Charedi Judaism can influence a broad range of issues and institutions. We need Charedim in the army, economy, civil service, media, and culture. We aspire to a larger and prouder Judaism. As a society, we must not remain in the position of having to pick up scraps “rescued from the bear and the lion” – the corrupt elite. But these days, when Judaism finds itself under a vicious attack from within, we need to gather together and fight to defend the legitimacy of our way of life.

I end with the eloquent words of Yechezkel Kaufman: “Shall there be power amid the people to achieve a redemption that no other nation has achieved? We hope, and we believe. But faith will not emerge from contempt, and hope will not derive from hatred. Place not the dejection of souls burdened with sin and repenting of iniquity in the hearts of our youth, but rather the audacious pride of the Maapilim. Only by this will the redemptive passion be born.”

[1] Yossi Klein, “It’s not the ‘Charedim’ who are to blame, the ‘Gedolim’ are to blame” Haaretz, 24.5.23.

[2] Yossi Klein, “Secular Jews versus Charedim: a story of fear, hatred and shame” Haaretz, 21.12.22.

[3] Chaim Levinson, “Galit Gutman stumbles, but don’t believe the hype: not all criticism of Charedim is anti-Semitism,” Haaretz, 5/21/23.

[4] Gideon Levi, “Now the Charedim are to blame for everything, including the poor” Haaretz, 25.5.23.

[5] Republished in Hashiloach issue 12, Kislev 5779, pp. 173-188.

Photo: Nizzan Cohen, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

11 thoughts on “In Wartime We Need to Fight

  • Both hareidim and modern Jewish movements like reform emerged as a response to modernity. Its post-holocaust evolution, particularly in Israel, has brought us to the present.

    I have no issue with the hareidi form of Judaism as long as three conditions are met:

    1) they acknowledge the legitimacy of what Americans call Modern or Centrist orthodoxy.

    2) they do not demand government support for their lifestyle.

    3) they serve in either the IDF or Sheairut Leumi.

    • Spot on!

  • Nice article, but not without some inconsistency. The beginning takes strong issue with Rabbi Pfeffer’s piece. But the end really agrees: the haters we need to fight are a small Haaretz (where all the quotes are from) minority, while the majority are brothers. So it seems that there isn’t much of a machloket here, only that this article is pointing out an angle that R. Pfeffer didn’t highlight. Is that right?

  • How should we be fighting this war? By going to Academia or by not going to Academia? My suggestion: by opening up Haredi academic institutions that provide academic training without the secular indoctrination. But hey, that’s exactly what the Haredim in Israel are doing (Ono, Strauss, Hadassah, Lev, Michlala, and all the rest). So what’s the problem?

  • I have an excellent idea for how to determine for sure that the animus toward haredim is pure racism. Have all haredi boys who are not cut out for learning (possibly a significant majority) enlist in the IDF, get an education and start learning to become doctors and engineers and road builders and trash haulers, and police officers and bus drivers. Have the 50% of haredi men who now sponge off handouts, the government, and their wives go out and work for an honest living and pay taxes.. THEN let’s see if this so-called racism persists.

  • If you substitute any other ethnic group those who criticize Charedim in the Israeli secular are bigots who oppose Charedim whose criticism echoes back to the Maskiilim of Eastern Europe.The key for Charedim who desire to work and have careers such as their brothers and sisters in hi tech is to do without jeopardizing their personae as Charedim which is how the American Yeshiva and Chasidishe world has confronted this issue That can be fine if the Israeli secular educational establishment is open to the idea that Charedim want to work but don’t want their way of life challenged to the point where they view themselves as sliding in any way towards religious mediocrity

    • In other words haredim should be allowed to continue depending on life support provided by the people they revile and look down upon until such time as they get ironclad guarantees that, by deigning to actually. work, their beliefs will not be compromised. By this I presume they mean their allegiance to the roshei yeshiva and rebbes who control their lives now and are loath to lose their iron grip. Aside from the glaring hypocrisy of this counting on the existence of ‘kofrim’ (which includes, of course, the tens of thousands of very frum religious Zionists) to serve them hand and foot, it also reveals a great mistrust of haredim themselves to maintain their ethos. Apparently the fear that ‘haredi’ refers to has more to do with fear of maintaining their tribalism than it does with any fear of the Ribono shel Olam.

  • When I saw this headline on the Tzarich Iyun homepage, I was hopeful that an article called “In Wartime We Need to Fight” would advocate that in a literal wartime (for example, a military operation in Gaza or Jenin) the Charedim actually fight against Israel’s enemies alongside the datim, masortim, and chilonim who risk their lives to protect all citizens of Israel.

    Alas. Apparently the “wartime” the article references is negative criticism of the Charedi lifestyle by Israeli taxpayers tired of funding and defending it, the “fighting” the author calls for is against other Jews, and all of this means that Charedim should continue to exempt themselves from military service and normal economic participation.

    I’m sure there is genuine dislike and hatred against Charedim by non-Charedim (and vice versa). Much of this would persist even if Charedi men did join the military and workforce in a more critical mass–just as there is tension between datim and chilonim, Ashkenazim and Sefardim, and left-wingers and right-wingers. Jews are good at finding reasons to dislike one another.

    But the criticism of the charedi lifestyle by non-Charedim contains several large grains of truth, and pointing to a supposed “wartime” as reason to ignore this criticism is both dishonest and irresponsible. 15% of Israel’s population (projected to be 30% by 2050) demands (a) exemption from universal military service, (2) that an unlimited percentage of its male population be allowed to study religious texts full-time with a public stipend, and (3) that its students attend state-funded schools that teach boys almost no English, math, or science.

    This is not normal. It wasn’t the norm in Jewish history (where only a small number of scholars studied full-time). It’s not the norm in Diaspora Charedi communities (that teach boys and girls secular subjects.) And it’s not a situation that any other country would accept. As long as this status quo persists, the hatred the author rightly bemoans will only worsen.

    • If historical norms were the golden standard (often revisionist ones, but I digress), then army service should be dropped from the list of demands.

  • Kudos to the writer for bravely attempting to defend the indefensible.
    A thought experiment will suffice.
    Imagine a Haredi state in which a secular minority refuses to work, defend the country or study Torah. It insists the hard working Haredim subsidize their full time humanistic studies, which directly contradict Torah. The secular minority grows relentlessly, threatening to turn the country secular. In 2023, they begin to interfere in the workings of the Batei Din. When challenged on any of this, the secular minority replies “Well, they just hate us for who we are”.

  • We need to stop accepting the idea that there are two types of Jews – religious and irreligious. Our message to the irreligious should stay consistent, and on our terms. Not ‘freedom of worship’, not ‘rights of the minority’, but a strong message that we all need to keep Torah and Mitzvos, and until some people understand that, we will daven for them and try and help them to start keeping MItzvos.
    When they scream ‘Demokratyah’, our answer is ‘Torah and Mitzvos’. Not our version of Democracy, not a legal twist, and not whining about bigotry. We need to stand tall and unapologetic about this stance.

    We may still be hated, but we will not lose the argument and our own self-esteem on the way. And the message will be delivered that Torah is eternal, and will outlive this period of history like it did all others.

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