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The Rise of Haredi Power

The following is a transcript of Episode 75 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Donniel: Hi, my name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. Major support for For Heaven’s Sake comes from the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation. Our theme for today is the Haredim, continuing the theme that we started a number of weeks ago of focusing on different tribes in Israel and the way their role in Israel is changing in light of the civil unrest, the demonstrations, and the current discussion about the future of Israel. And so we’re gonna try to focus today on the Haredim and ask is confrontation inevitable? What’s going on here? 

In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself, discuss a current issue central to Israel and the Jewish world. And then Elana Stein Hain, head of Beit Midrash of SHI North America and senior fellow, explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin. 

Now, for decades, the Haredim have been the most consistent and dependable coalition partners. And as a result, they have moved from the periphery of Israeli society and power to the center. Accompanying this process has been what’s known as the Zionization, I prefer to call it the Zionification, of the majority of the Haredi community. The anti-Zionist dimension of the Haredi party is now a fringe. 

For example, Just a number of years ago, Haredi parties refused to hold ministerial titles in a Zionist government, period. Then, they refused to be ministers, but were willing to be deputy ministers. And then they’re willing to be deputy ministers in ministries which don’t have ministers. Today, they’re ministers! 

The Haredi parties no longer merely promote their own interests, even though that’s what they do and it’s perfectly legitimate, but today they also, in many ways replacing the religious Zionist community of the past, see themselves as the guardians of the Jewishness of the country. Both, by the way, for the good and for the bad, and we’ll come to that. 

One of the consequences of the current discourse around judicial reform is a heightened awareness regarding the consequences of every government decision for the future identity of the country. 

As a result, when the Haredi parties were attempting to push forth legislation legalizing their exemption from military service, as well as the approved budget which allocated unprecedented sums of support to the Haredi community, further institutionalizing their absence both from service and the workforce. A huge outcry resulted. 

In today’s hyper-divided Israel, resentment against the Haredim seems to be reaching new emotional heights or depths. The power, position, and influence of the Haredim are today at the center of Israeli public debate in ways that they haven’t been for years. And new and long-standing resentments are resurfacing. 

Now in truth, mainstream opposition to Haredi power isn’t based only on resentment, but it’s also based on anxiety. The fear that Israeli society, and especially the economy, will not be able to continue to carry a Haredi community that appears to be growing exponentially. Two generations ago, Haredim were barely four percent of the population. Today, they’re twelve to fourteen percent. One out of every four Jewish-Israeli children in first grade is enrolled in a Haredi school. 

Are we inevitably heading towards a demographic imbalance that will mean the end of liberal Israel? What are the compromises necessary for both sides to avert what increasingly appears to be an inevitable showdown? 

Yossi, unlike when we spoke about religious Zionism, today we’re speaking about an ideological community that we watch carefully, that we learn about, but none of us are members of it. And as a result, we have to exercise exceptional care. And therefore, we’re going to be a little more cautious when we speak about the Haredim, because there really is no such group. 

But I want to start where it’s safer. And I want to start with our feelings towards the Haredim, not about what the Haredi want. Do you share this increased anxiety, Yossi? And what for you is the most significant aspect of Haredi community that, if it does, that creates a sense of anxiety, discomfort, a desire to confront?

Yossi: You know, Donniel, one of the things that I love about this podcast is that we look at the lighter side of Israeli life. We kind of take we take it easy. We don’t deal with the hard issues. We give people a glimpse into the sunnier side of life in Israel. We went from the Nakba last time to to the rise of Haredi power today.

Donniel: I just want to understand, are you taking my role of irony? Are you like taking it from me?

Yossi: I had like, a good teacher, you know.

Donniel: Because like, that’s like mine, you know, that’s, that’s my, your job is to be upset. My job is to be ironic. What’s going on here?

Yossi: Okay, so I’m also going to appropriate another one of your roles, which is I’m going to begin not with the negative, but the positive. And I’d like to talk about what it is that I love about the Charedi community, and what it is that I’ve received from the Charedi community, because the resentments and anxieties that I’m feeling now are overwhelming and disturbing to me. I don’t want to go where they’re leading me. And so before I answer your question, I need to affirm what it is that I love about the Haredim. 

Two things. The first is that this is a country that was founded by young people who became pioneers and took on a kind of voluntary poverty, voluntary austerity. That’s the foundation of Israel. And that foundation has long since gone, except for the Haredim. They are the last repository of the Israeli ethos of voluntary poverty for the sake of an ideal. And that gives them a tremendous source of power. Their capacity for misirut nefesh, for self-sacrifice, is enormous. And so beyond the political maneuverings, and we’ll come to that, we need to acknowledge that this is a community that lives by its ideals. 

The second thing that I personally have received so much from over the years is that if you’re looking for a God-centered life, there’s basically only one address. And that’s parts of the Haredi community, not by no means the whole Haredim community. But if you’re looking for God-obsessed people, if you’re looking for a tzaddik, and by a tzaddik, I mean someone in whose presence you feel the reality of God. Not someone who’s a good person, who’s self-sacrificing. You find those people across the denominations in Judaism. But someone who is obsessed with God, if you’re looking for that in your life, and I’ve been looking for that my whole life, in Judaism, that’s the address. You go there.

Donniel: Yossi, if I could stop you for a second, before you get to what you’re,

Yossi: Before the bad news.

Donniel: Before the other side.

You know, the minute you decided to ignore my question, I have to tell you, my body started to get very nervous, because I was afraid that you were going to give one of those lines of, you know, at least the Haredim are the ones continuing Judaism.

Yossi: God forbid, God forbid. 

Donniel: I know, I was, I can’t tell you, I was so nervous. 

I’m sitting here and I’m saying, oh my God, are we gonna get one of those, you know, some of my best friends are Haredim and you know, at least we have them. Like, so I was like, oh my God, please, Yossi, don’t go there. 

And you didn’t. And you gave, so, so first of all, I’m breathing and I appreciate very much. because what you’re focusing on is a core sense of ideology, that it is a profoundly ideologically committed community. And in both cases, you focus, ideology is always a double-edged sword, but you focused on a core beauty and strength, and in many ways, that’s their power. 

So first of all, I just wanted to, I wanted to frame that your answer was different than the standard, you know, you can trust at least they will always be, and will, so, thank you for that and thank you for enriching. And now if you could actually listen to my question.

Yossi: Yeah, yeah. Well, so, so, you know, Donniel, you and I both come from fathers who left the Haredi world.

Donniel: Right.

Yossi: And left because for ideological reasons, because they saw Haredi Judaism as actually a threat to Judaism.

Donniel: To Jewish continuity,

Yossi: To Jewish continuity. A threat to our ability to confront modernity in a creative Jewish way. And both our fathers were passionate Zionists. And the argument that they had with the Haredi community was ideological. And so before even getting to the obvious answers of what Haredi political power and the economic distortions of their relationship with the state are doing to us as a society, I have a deep ideological struggle with the Haredi world. 

Andquite the opposite of where you feared I was going, I see the Haredi world as one of the great threats to Jewish continuity, to a healthy, vibrant Judaism that will be attractive to large numbers of Jews.

Donniel: Because at the end of the day, for both of us, or for all three of us, Jewish continuity is not just a numbers game. It’s about what we’re continuing. And so now focus, like what would you point to as the single, let’s pick one instead of a long list, and let’s, we’ll evolve over the, let’s go point by point. 

What do you see as the biggest challenge in the way some segments of the Haredi community are acting or politically advocating for, to Israeli society right now, or to the type of Israel that you yearn for?

Yossi: So it’s rough to choose just one, but top of the list for me is the economic threat. The threat to Israel as a modern, successful high-tech society. If Haredi political power continues to grow and their political power continues to enable resources being diverted to the least economically productive part of Israeli society, the practical result will be that large numbers of young secular Israelis will leave, will simply leave the country. And high-tech Israel is not something that can be taken for granted. It needs to be nurtured. 

And look what this government budget did. It took resources that were previously being invested in encouraging high-tech. It diminished government support for the high-tech sector. And augmented support for the Yeshiva world. 

That for me is a recipe for national suicide. A country that no longer seeks life has this kind of budget. And so just on a very practical basis, before we get into the ideological conflicts and before we get into the question of military service, which you and I have spoken about before, is a very complicated issue. 

But on this issue for me is not complicated at all. We cannot continue pouring resources into what is essentially a bottomless pit of need, because the Haredim community is growing exponentially. And the more the community grows, the more its separatism needs to be subsidized. Not only do Haredim separate themselves from basic responsibilities of Israeli society, but I have the privilege, as the citizen of a Jewish state, to subsidize their separatism. And that for me is untenable, untenable.

Donniel: So let me, untenable, so let me ask you, let’s reflect on this a moment, because every tribe, every group, every lobby has a right to pursue whatever they can get. Is this a fault of the Haredi community? What’s their, you know?

Yossi: No. No. Donniel. it’s a fault of the Israeli mainstream. We don’t have to continue putting up with this distortion.

Donniel: So stop.

Yossi: I understand, yes, 

Donniel: So what’s the, the, so stop. In other words, so what’s stopping you from stopping? In other words, here we’re talking about attention with the Haredi community and it’s, we created it. They’re asking, you could say no. Every group in Israel asks and you say no. And so they’re claiming that it’s not disproportionate. 

And by the way, this is not a, you know, money is fungible. And to claim that the same dollar was taken from high tech to Haredim, I might argue against that correlation. But here it is. I want to know what is the struggle, what’s growing out of the charade community and actually their desire to increase their share in the budget. There I don’t have any claims against them. I have a claim against Israeli society, which for some reason is willing to commit harakiri. 

Like what, so, and by the way, both sides, whoever would need them would create such a compromise in equal amounts. Because the easiest thing to give to Haredim is money. The country’s wealthy. Political power and coalitions are short-term. So I’ll worry about the long term later on. Why is it their fault, Yossi?

Yossi: It’s not a question of their fault. It’s a question of a structural imbalance in Israeli politics. And again, I blame,

Donniel: No, there isn’t. I want to stop you there, Yossi.

Yossi: I blame, I blame my side.

Donniel: It’s not a structural imbalance. 

Yossi: Of course it is. 

Donniel: It’s not a structural imbalance. Not at all. You could say no. 

Yossi: So that’s where, Donniel

Donniel: And where are they gonna go? Where are the Haredim gonna go?

Yossi: Donniel, that’s where I’m at now. I do not want Haredi parties in the next coalition, assuming it will be a liberal coalition. 

Donniel: Why?

Yossi: Bennett, Bennett and Lapid were prime ministers for a year and a half. They did not have Haredi parties. And we did just fine. I want the Haredi parties to be in opposition. They are not part of any coalition by right. No party is a part of a governing coalition by right. No party has the right to take, and it is disproportionate amount of funding that goes to the Haredi community, because it’s not only in the direct budget line, it’s also in all of the hidden subsidies, and they never speak about that.

Donniel: See, Yossi, here, we have a little disagreement, not a big one. And I think it grows from the next issues and we have to talk about them. Because I would love to see the Charedim continuing to be in every coalition. I see no reason why they should be outside. But what we, the rest of Israel, have to start doing, and by the way, all of our audience, we love bashing Haredim. Stop it! It’s like you’re, again, I don’t want to use a parent-child analogy because it has a bad taste. But listen, you spoiled a group of people, join the coalition, just say no. Very simple. I want you in the coalition, we’re just focusing now on the finance. I will

Yossi: I don’t have a disagreement about this. 

Donniel: So that I don’t need them outside. Quite to the contrary, precisely a coalition which doesn’t need the Haredim for its majority is the coalition that begins a new conversation between Israeli society and the Haredim. They have every right to ask. They have every right to push. And Israel has to decide what its priorities are. 

Now the fact that we have done this and we’re going to come to this, that we are constantly willing to give up liberal Judaism, liberal democracy for fringe segments of our coalitions, that’s insanity. No one ever assumed that we were going to do this over our economic future. We thought that was safe. Okay, so stop. 

So a lot of this anger towards a segment which is creating a, almost, and I’m not accusing you, almost an anti-Semitic fervor to it. I just like, stop it. You’re giving in, you created something, just stop it. Haredim, absolutely, they’re now 14, 15 percent. I want every group to join. But the Haredim have their rights and I want to protect their rights. I don’t want to give them a disproportionate. So just say no. So, does that make sense to you?

Yossi: Alright, alright, look, I said to you earlier that I blame primarily ourselves for this situation. Mainstream Israel created this distortion. And yes, just say no, as the saying goes. This is showtime for mainstream Israel. And I feel that what we’re seeing in the streets in the last few months is the beginning of a new relationship.

Donniel: That is correct.

Yossi: This is the beginning of the change.

Donniel: So before, like, Elana where does this, like if you would look at Israel, Haredim, as if Charedim are part of Israel, but a large segment of Israel have an increased sense of hostility. Angst, as Yossi said, there’s a beginning of a recalculation of the equation and I think, Yossi, you’re absolutely right, and economics is always the easiest, and we’re gonna get to the harder in a moment.

And I think Yossi’s right, something, now Israeli society is saying woah. What would you point to, from your perspective, as the key area of conflict?

Elana: Well, the first thing I want to say is on something that you two mentioned earlier, because I’m not in agreement, I would never, ever, ever call Haredi Judaism a threat to Jewish continuity. I think that they are a form of Jewish continuity that we need as a society and there need to be options all across the spectrum. And I’m not saying that to get in good with someone. I’m saying that because I really believe it. 

Donniel: But you did. No, I, I know you believe it,

Elana: No, I, because I believe it. 

Donniel: I know. Fair enough. 

Elana: Because I believe it.

Donniel: Good enough.

Elana: Look, I’m not in Israeli society the same way the two of you are, where you see it and you feel it. What I’m actually wondering is similar to the way that we talk about trying to create some civic identity with Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel. I think there’s a question about social contract here, meaning my understanding of the social contract with Haredim is like the status quo agreement in 1947 between Ben Gurion and the Haredi parties, or the Haredim between the Aguda and Ben Gurion. 

And I’m wondering, like, there has to be a new social contract because even if economics is, let’s say, Yossi, the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of just like safety for everybody, there are other pieces at play here, like what does democracy look like as more illiberal elements become part of the conversation? 

Right, so if you’re thinking horizon line, you keep going up that Maslow’s hierarchy and you start realizing, wait, this whole thing is actually gonna change. And so that’s really what I’m thinking about from afar, is what is the nature of the social contract with Haredim and how do you actually renew it, how do you change it for 21st century?

Yossi: There’s a very interesting paradox here, which the two of you have touched on, which is that the more that Haredim become integrated into Israeli identity, the more the resentment of the mainstream grows, because the more they threaten what we’ve always regarded as a normative Israeli identity.

Elana: Right, it’s a little, 

Yossi: That’s what’s under threat.

Elana: It’s a little bit like a little Zionization is dangerous. Right? You’re sort of like, oh great, so now you call yourself minister, but wait a second, you have a different view for what this place should look like than what we thought. So do we want to Zionize you more and try to get you into liberal Zionist thinking, or do you want to Zionize you less and say, no, no, go back to being an enclave where you’re just involved in your own interests?

Donniel: It’s safer.

Elana: That’s the question mark.

Yossi: And does the integration of the Haredim happen entirely on their terms? In other words, they get to decide how far they’re going to integrate, how much support they get in exchange for that, and there’s no payback.

Elana: And by definition, a social contract can’t work that way.

Yossi: No, it can’t work that way.

Donniel: Right, so let’s go to the next stage. First of all, Elana, I appreciate very much because when you said, I can’t see Haredim as a threat to Jewish continuity, I said, oops, like I can’t say that either. So first of all, I agree and I appreciate your correction. They’re Jews like everybody else.

Elana: Yep. Yep.

Donniel: And they have a right. I’m talking about, I don’t see Haredi Judaism as an option for the survival of the Jewish people. That’s what I meant. So the word came out differently and I appreciate your correction. 

So, and you added, Yossi’s first stage was the economic challenge. Second one is the Zionification or the Zionization of the Haredi community points to a lack of social contract, given their new role in Israeli society. Because the reality is they don’t accept Judaism as a constitutional democracy, they never have. Modernity, religious pluralism, core features of democracy and modern society haven’t been inculcated. And when they feel their power, they’re having a profound, or potentially can have a profound impact on the way Israeli society sees itself. So we have those two. 

Yossi, what for you, ideologically, is the great challenge? Is it military service for you? Is it education, modernity? Which ones? Or is it something else?

Yossi: Yes. It’s all of the above. It’s participation.

Donniel: Pick the one, pick the one that you think. Let’s pick one because the reason why I’m doing this, and I apologize for putting a straight jacket, is that I don’t want to have lists because then it’s all gonna, if we do one, we have a chance to, again, if I’m making words today, together with Zionification, I’m going to add nuance-ify.

Yossi: Okay, so let’s nuance-ify, but my nuance-ified answer to you is that I have an emotional number one issue and I have a rational number one issue. Emotionally, it’s military service. But I understand that that’s very complicated, so I’m going to leave that aside because that’s a whole conversation in itself. 

My rational answer to you is Haredi education. And the refusal of most Haredi schools to integrate basic skills that would allow their students to enter the job market.

Donniel: Their male students, by the way, the girls get.

Yossi: Their male students. That’s right. The girls get what they consider to be irrelevant skills, like English and math, because they’re just girls. And parenthetically.

Donniel: No, they have to be part of the workforce, actually.

Yossi: That’s exactly right. And so parenthetically, one of my hopes for the future of the Haredi community is that the young women, who are carrying an unbelievable burden, not only are they the principal breadwinners, they’re also the principal child-rearers. They’re running the family. They are the heroes of the Haredi world. It’s not the guys sitting and learning in Yeshiva. That’s the easy part. It’s the women. And I’m hoping and praying for a revolt among Haredi women. And I think that that may be coming.

Donniel: So but now, so the issue for you then, the key problem is their rejection of

Yossi: Basic skills.

Donniel: Basic skills.

Now here there’s a very broad consensus in Israel. And let’s pull this apart a little bit. Because I want to separate between objectives and tactics. And how do we deal with this issue? Because here too, I find a lot of the conversation about Haredim, we love having them as the them. We have so much fun having this group which makes all of us feel sophisticated and nuanced and modern etc. 

So here it is, there’s no doubt. You can’t have a generation of Hardedi men who don’t speak English and don’t know math. Math you could actually catch up on, English you can’t. It’s one of those that a crash little course is not going to work and if you’re lagging behind then your ability to function in a modern workplace is negligible. That you are basically destining a generation of people to profound poverty. 

Now they say I’m willing as long as you support, but in the long run as a community grows, their inability to join the workforce is across the board one of the great, great challenges. And what makes it even more complicated is the fact that their school systems are publicly funded. So Israeli society is publicly funding its economic demise. 

It’s not, you know, a little coalition agreement. Here it is. We are looking at a group of people and then comes along and says, we know, this is where the challenge is, we know what’s good for you. And the truth is, we do know. I want to speak really clear. I have no doubt that studying English and math is better for Haredim than not. I’m not saying that it’s better for you to be more enlightened, it’s better for you to be democratic. Like there are areas where we say these and these are the words of the living God. There are areas where, you know, sorry, this one’s not complicated. 

You know, you don’t want to work, God bless you. The purpose of high school is to give you certain key tools to be able to be a functioning, independent, productive member of a society. And a society that has more productive people in it is a society that’s stronger and that is more vibrant. And a Haredi community which gives its individuals choices is also one that’s better. 

But here, let’s notice something. The more secular, traditional, and religious Zionist Israel tries to legislate what’s called in Hebrew, limudei libah, core education in the Haredi schools, the less successful we are.

Yossi: But, Donniel, that’s not true. That’s not true. The last government got one of the major Hasidic groups, the Belzer, to agree to a core curriculum. This government,

Donniel: Ah! Oh! But you also just mentioned the whole word. You just, first of all, they got them to agree for 15 minutes until it came to the press and then they had backstrap.

Yossi: No! No, it wasn’t that. It was when this coalition came in and the political parties pressured Netanyahu.

Donniel:  Okay, we are at a moment which is that which is one of the most difficult moments and that’s called factual disagreements.

Yossi: Uh oh.

Donniel: But I’m gonna let it go. I’m even gonna assume it doesn’t matter. But the point for me is critical.

Yossi: We don’t do facts at the Hartman Institute. We only do concepts. 

Donniel: That’s in general. Why should I let a fact get in the way of my opinion? But besides that, it doesn’t matter. The point is to agree. The reality is that even if you are certain, you’re not going to coerce another community to give up on an issue which they have chosen and made, whether rightfully or wrongfully, as their defining issue, as the issue that defines their identity.

And the Haredi community has for two centuries created a very interesting transformation in which the study of Torah truly surpasses it all. A community dedicated almost to the study of Torah and now in Israel as something that applies to everybody, not to a few. 

Yossi: And as the only, and as the only worthwhile field.

Donniel: As the only worthwhile, everybody else is secondary. 

Now, I believe that the Haredi community, if we would work with them differently, many and more and more segments of that community would be choosing schools and to accept these core curriculums. Just like the Belz did, they negotiated. 

When you try to legislate, this is the problem. And this is what I want our audience to understand. To understand my position, of course.

Yossi: Not just to understand, to agree, to agree with you.

Donniel: I was waiting for you to say that. Thank you. 

We’re handling this whole thing wrong. I understand a lot of the hostility. I do. We’re just handling it wrong. And there is a community now, as you said, what was the first thing that you learned from this community that you respect? And that is a community which is willing to sacrifice for its values. We have to stop creating these dichotomies. Israel loves these dichotomies. Israel loves these zero-sum game conversations. Everybody wants to win. It’s always about winning. You know, as we always say, it’s like every, there is no win-win in Hebrew. There’s only zero-sum game in Hebrew. In Hebrew, there’s no word even for win-win.

We have to stop this. The Haredi community is going through huge transformations and reflections. I was sitting the other day with one of the top political leaders of the Shas Party. I don’t want to go with any more details. He says, of course I send my kids to a high school where they’re getting an education. This is Shas. So what is he doing? But if you try to push him publicly, there’s, something is happening. 

So what we want to do is instead of allowing the Haredi community to evolve, we want to defeat them. And this connects to the first issue that you mentioned. Everyone in Israel has a right to achieve or to receive their fair share of the social welfare pie. And it’s not contingent on the amount of taxes you pay, and it’s not contingent on how productive you are. Societies don’t do that. You don’t distribute your goods deferentially and say, oh, we could do strategic investment, where we say this is a strategic issue for the well-being of the country. We’re going to now give extra funds to engineers, to doctors. You could do to rabbis, to educators, but overall you can’t between in the distribution of the goods of a society on the basis of my assessment of the share that you are carrying. 

Yossi: Well, what about if it’s

Donniel: What we need to do,

Yossi: What if, 

Donniel: But, just one, I’m sorry, yes, you’ll see. Go on, you can stop me. I was just getting warmed up.

Yossi: Just, a point of clarification here, which is, you’re right that society cannot penalize its poor, but what do you do with a whole community that has chosen poverty?

Donniel: Fair enough. What do you do about a community that’s chosen or that is underemployed, or, that is so dangerous from a democratic human rights perspective, I can’t tell you. When we start assessing that. But what we need to do is we have to decide what is the package of resources that we’re willing to give our citizens. 

We have to say to our citizens, do you know what? Secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, alike. You get four years. You get four years of BA. You want to do it in four years of yeshiva. No problem. Let’s create a system of equality where there’s a package that no matter who you are, you get. And then, and then you’re on your own. Instead of trying to coerce, I’m going to fund the educational systems. But at the end of the day, the consequences are going to be on you. 

Right now, we’re focusing in the wrong direction. We’re trying to coerce people to change their educational system instead of infantilizing them at the same time. Instead of saying, you make your choices. If you want to choose, then poverty, you’re going to choose poverty. 

But let’s start a real conversation. Instead of blaming, and instead of trying to coerce tactically, I can understand it, it’s never going to work. And it’s time for us not to repeat the same mistake over and over and over again. Because as the Haredi community is growing, there are real chances of the Haredi community adopting new positions just like they’ve adopted on Zionism. They’ve changed. Has anybody coerced them to be Zionists? No, it was in their self-interest. Only when a community sees it’s within their self-interest could they change;

Yossi: A point, I just want to be sure I understand, I just, a point of clarification. Are you saying that the state needs to guarantee the education, whatever form of education you choose, through university level or the equivalent, which would be, let’s say, three years of higher Yeshiva education, everyone is guaranteed if they qualify, right, certainly in the case of university. And then beyond that, once you graduate, you’re on your own?

Donniel: You’re on your own. Then, you see, what happens is, when you go to a community and you say to them, I’m gonna change your high school education. You’re now saying to them, I know what’s best for your kids. And then you’re invading the dignity of the community. That’s a decision they have to make. And whatever consequences that are gonna result.

Yossi: Alright, sign me up, sign me up.

Donniel: Sign you up?

Yossi: Yep. I’m on board.

Donniel: Okay. Yossi, so I’m willing then for you to be Prime Minister of Israel next time. Because I certainly, I don’t want it, it’s like, I have four people now committed to vote for me, but I think that might not be sufficient. But it’s just, I’m using this, you have another suggestion, I don’t care.

Yossi: Yes, how about if you take on the role of education minister? Why don’t you do that?

Donniel: Oh thank you. I thought you loved me. I thought you loved me. Now, so okay, but here then what I want to end to it, I want to then take a break. And you know, we didn’t get to the mother of all issues, and that is the service in the army.

Yossi: That’s the mother of all emotional issues.

Donniel: Emotional issues. 

Yossi: Not necessarily rational issues.

Donniel: Right, because here too, there’s a very big difference between Israeli parents who send their kids to the army. And I remember my father stopped speaking to his brothers when I went into the army.

Yossi: Wow.

Donniel: He couldn’t.

Yossi: Wow. 

Donniel: And two of his brothers died within the first six months of my military service. And he never made peace with them. He never could.

Yossi: Unbelievable story.

Donniel: Because my first cousins weren’t serving. So this, to say my child’s life is worth less than is, is allowed to be in danger. That is a pain, that’s always going to cause a schism with Haredim. Even if, the truth is, and could I just say the truth for a minute? Will you let me get away with that one?

Yossi: I don’t know. I don’t know. It depends what the truth is. 

Donniel: Uh oh. Well, the truth is, is that the army doesn’t want Haredim. The truth is, is that today, the army doesn’t need as many soldiers. When I was in the army at the age of 45, you got out of reserve duty. My son got out of reserve duty at the age of 32.

Yossi: Yeah, mine too. Mine too.

Donniel: There aren’t even enough tanks. We don’t need them. They don’t need them.

Yossi: Yep.

Donniel: The reality is, is we have too many people. The reality is, is that the Haredim cost too much because they’re married. And the economics of defense is an integral part of Israel’s security. Three,

Yossi: And Haredim also change the culture of the army, which is, which is,

Donniel: You’re not letting me, I wanted to give the facts.

Yossi: I needed to say at least one.

Donniel: Okay, fair enough. And the fact is, is that when they join a unit, there’s challenges with egalitarian service. The Army, the problem is, is the emotional one. And the sense that, and that’s what the Supreme Court is troubled by. How could you, if you’re committed to the human, to the freedom and dignity of all of Israeli citizens, choose one community to die and another community? 

So it’s, the emotional dimension of it is unbelievably challenging and in a society where everybody has zero degree of separation from someone who died, outside of the Haredi community, it’s very, very tough.

And what aggravates it even more is that on Yom Hazikaron, on Memorial Day, the Haredim haven’t yet found a way to participate in a meaningful manner. So, but we’re going to leave that issue aside. B

ut the thing that I want to just put one last time is we can create a society in which Haredim are the others. And it does a lot of service. And the truth is, is that deep down, as you and I said, as you know, I’m the only white sheep in my family, my whole family is Haredi. It’s very reaffirming. They make a great other. They really do. They make a great other for the liberal. Part of what we need,

Yossi: But Haredim also see themselves in many ways as them. 

Donniel: That’s true. That makes it even easier or more problematic. And the question is in our national unity coalitions that we’re trying to form now, we have a challenge. We could keep them on the outside, but the truth is I believe we don’t have to. There are ideological foes on the ultra-nationalists which are going to be much more difficult. It’s about re-educating, or to use Elana’s words, developing a new social contract. 

Let’s take a break. And when we return, Elana will join us again. 

Hi, Elana.

Elana: Hi.

Donniel: Since there were Haredim, secular, liberal Jews back in the period of the Talmud,

Elana: Seriously, seriously,

Donniel: What classic Jewish sources,

Elana: No anachronism.

Donniel: What insight on this type of moment do you have for us?

Elana: Well, you know, this, I think winding its way through your whole conversation is the relationship between ideological registers and practical registers. And what I mean by that is, on both sides, what are the ideological issues that as soon as you bring up Haredim, people are sort of triggered by, they’re like, oh, their ideology is different, it’s not democratic, it’s not liberal, it’s not, right? And then what are just the practical issues? Like we need the economy to function, right? Now don’t get me wrong, democracy is also a practical issue, but there’s something to just the ideological triggers versus the practical triggers that I want to pull apart.

Donniel: Elana, I gotta stop you just for one second.

Elana: Sure. 

Donniel: Because as you were talking, I don’t know if the two of you know this, but as I was traveling around America, people were telling me that, yeah, oh yeah, sometimes they listen to our podcast at 1.2 speed. But as you say, the only one we can’t do 1.2 speed

Elana: Is me

Donniel: Is Elana. 

Elana: Because I don’t talk slowly.

Donniel: No, not slowly, as you were talking, I thought you were actually, I was checking my computer to see, am I hearing you at 1.5? 

Elana: I’m fast. I’m fast.

Donniel: Like this is, you’re like, poof,

Elana: I’m fast. I’m trying to help them not have to use 1.2.

Donniel: They can’t! They have to shut it down. So, Yossi and I, we get speeded up and you, they’re running after you at normal speed.

Elana: Right, they’re slowing it, slowing it down. 

Donniel: Slowing it down.

Yossi: Elana, I think that what we’re hearing is the cadence of the yeshiva world. That’s really what, that’s how I hear you.

Elana: So interesting.

Yossi: And it’s so wonderful to hear, I mean, I grew up in the all-male yeshiva cadence and to hear that cadence through a woman’s voice is quite beautiful.

Elana: Oh, that’s very sweet. So is that to say I should slow down or I shouldn’t slow down?

Yossi: No, no!

Elana: That’s great. 

Donniel: I just felt, just Elana, as you were talking, I just felt, we just, like, we’ve got to put it on the record here.

Elana: It’s on the record.

Donniel: Stick in like 45 minutes in six minutes. Go.

Elana: Look, I have, I have a family member, my father-in-law is from Danville, Virginia, originally, and we always have this conversation about how when we talk our cadences are very different. He’s lived in New York his whole life, his adult life, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still there.

So, I want to talk about the register of the practical versus the ideological in terms of our conversation, and also the register of the practical versus the ideological in terms of how you make change. 

Right, there are places where you’re basically going to say, I want to change the ideology of the Hariri community, so I’m going to support change agents who are working in that direction, like that leader of Shas who you were talking to, or whomever, right? Our good friend, Dr. Nechumi Yaffe, who was a fellow at Hartman a while back and does a lot of work on ideological change.

But there’s also just the practical, like, let’s just figure out ways, you’re not trying to change people. You’re trying to figure out a new way of just working together in some way. And I think it is important to pull these apart. And I want to offer two sources that I think are just so, I would say, like, delicious, in talking about this question of like what happens when you get stuck in the ideological, when it’s time to just be practical? And of course we can say the opposite when you’re just being practical and you have to get ideological, which I think Israel is kind of in that moment right now, like practically we’ll just make this work and then we realize no you need a new ideological social contract, but here it comes.

So one is the Babylonian Talmud in Menachot 37a and it’s talking about phylacteries, right? It’s talking about tefillin that people wear on their heads and their arms. And it relays this great moment. So, Plimo, seems like a person who has an interesting profile just in terms of his name. It’s not every day that you hear a Plimo. So, Plimo asks Rebbe, Rabbi Judah the Prince, who’s really the ultimate insider, right, the leader, says, if someone has two heads, which one do they put their tefillin on, their phylacteries on? 

And it’s like, you know, you hear a question like that. And you don’t think of it as a practical question. You think of it as like, what are you doing? What are you mocking? What are you trying to undermine? And so, Rebbe says to him, go exile yourself or accept ex-communication on yourself. And Rebbe is responding to him not as there’s a practical question here that I have to deal with, but you’re a problem. You’re a problem, and I don’t want you here. 

And then, of course, the Gemara, the Talmud comes with this term that is like such a dubious term. The term is ad hachi, in the meantime, which means what’s about to happen is Rebbe’s going to get hoisted on his own petard, you know? 

So in the meantime, a person enters and says, congratulations, we just had a baby. Our firstborn was born with two heads, right, the question that he was just asked. And now it’s a practical question. He says, well, how much do I have to pay to the priest, the Kohen, to redeem my firstborn? Because we usually give for the firstborn, I’m gonna say born not of a C-section, that’s a shout-out to my firstborn, right? For a firstborn male, we give five coins to a priest, to a Kohen, to redeem them. So this kid has two heads, do I have to do 10? 

And you can imagine, Rebbe’s like, I’m having a bad day. You know what I’m saying? Like, he’s like, you know, Plimo says two heads, he says, this must be, you’re trying to make fun of me. And it’s like, no, practically, we really need to know. And then the best, the kicker, the best, is an old man just walks by and says, oh, by the way, it’s supposed to be 10, double the usual amount, I know, I’ve seen this before, right? 

And there’s something here in this conversation of, are you asking me a question that challenges my fundamental ideology? And that’s how I wanna respond to you. Are you asking me a question that for you is real and practical, and for me just isn’t on my horizon yet? And I need to figure out a way to deal with it practically. And I think it’s all over this conversation.

And I would say it’s not just a matter of, like, I’m speaking in an ideological register and somebody else might be coming to me with this is what I really need, but the danger of moral imperatives is so real, meaning the danger of saying like, this is my core and this one must stick to, it’s so, so, so real. And I wanna just examine that through one more beautiful passage, right?

So if you’re listening to this on 1.2 speed, 0.75 speed, it’s gorgeous nonetheless, okay? So here it goes. We’re in the Babylonian Talmud still, tractate Sanhedrin, 97a. Rava says, initially, I thought there was no truth in the world. And then there was one of the sages, Rabbi Tavut, or maybe his name is Rabbi Tavyomi, and he was so honest that if people tried to give him the entire world, he still wouldn’t deviate from the truth, no matter what. And so he explained to me how that happened. Why did he become so honest, Rava says. 

He says, one time I happened to come to a certain place. And you know what the name of the place was? It was called Truth, Kushta, in Aramaic. And its residents wouldn’t deviate from the truth in their statements. And nobody from there ever died prematurely because they were all, I guess, pious. They never, they were so honest. They never died prematurely. They never got punished. And he says, I got married actually. I married a woman from among the Truthers and I had two sons with her. And then one day, his wife was sitting and washing her hair, okay? Her neighbor comes and knocks on the door. And the husband says, you know, it’s not proper to tell the neighbor that my wife is bathing, it’s not right. So he tells a little white lie. He says to her, she’s not here. 

And guess what? Since he deviated from the truth, his two sons died because he’s living in Truth. The people who lived in the place came before him and said, what is going on? Why are your children dead? Nobody dies here. He said to them, well, this is what happened, and this is what I thought was right. And so I did what I thought was like a good compromise. And they said, get out of here. Stop provoking premature death on these people. Leave. 

And then he takes that with him out of the town. Now, if I would have left the town, I would have taken the opposite, the opposite lesson, right? Don’t ever go to Truth. 

And I think the question of, do we live in a town called Truth? Very dangerous. Very dangerous. We can’t live together if we live in a town called Truth, if we can’t think about the practical issues, and all we’re working on is our ideological truth. And I think that’s where we need to go. It’s where we need to go and it’s where you’re pointing to, Donniel, in a certain way. Don’t try to always change people. Try to work with them. And yes, there will be people among them who will make their changes, but it’s going to look like their change. It’s never going to look like our change. And we need to accept it.

Donniel: You know, we always recognize how dangerous it is to live in a town where somebody else owns the truth. But we don’t recognize when we’re creating a town of our own truths. And it’s equally as destructive.

Elana: Totally. Totally.

Donniel: Oy, we have, you know, as you said, Yossi, at the beginning, another light episode. It was a pleasure, Yossi, Elana, it was just so wonderful learning with you.

Elana: Always.

Donniel: For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman with support from Michal Taylor. It was edited by Gareth Hobbs at Silversound NYC. Our production matter is M Louis Gordon. Maital Friedman is our vice president of communications and creative, and our music was provided by Socalled. 

Major funding for For Heaven’s Sake is provided by our friends, the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation of Los Angeles, because of our shared commitment to strengthen the connection between Jews in North America and Israel. 

Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman visit us online at We want to know what you think about the show. You can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. You can also write to us at [email protected]. Subscribe to our show everywhere else podcasts are available. See you in two weeks and thank you for listening.

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