Sunday saw 20,000 Satmar Chassidim hold a protest rally in Manhattan against the proposed draft of yeshivah students into the IDF. Regardless of what one thinks about yeshivah students being drafted, the protest was, of course, a horrible idea, for reasons discussed previously. To hold a protest in Jerusalem is one thing – but to hold one in Manhattan? To join forces with Satmar, for whom the event is effectively a hatefest against the State of Israel in general? To empower those who claim that Israel is religiously intolerant? To sit at a dais where the speakers are describing Israel as an â€œevil regime,â€ and talking about how â€œthe very existence of the state is a rebellion against Godâ€ and about how â€œthe [Israeli] army was founded on murder and blood spillingâ€?!
Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky and other mainstream American charedi Litvishe figures, including the Lakewood establishment, were not in favor of the rally, following instructions from Rav Chaim Kanievsky. (Itâ€™s rather sad that leaders of the charedi community in the US feel a need to say that they are following instructions from Israel.) This was despite Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel claiming that Rav Kanievsky supported the rally, and even a letter of support from Rav Kanievksy – subsequentlyingeniously revealed to be a clever forgery.
However, the Satmar rabbis on the dais were joined by a small number of the more extremist Litvishe roshei yeshivah. The list reads like a whoâ€™s who of people who were involved with the campaign against my books – Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rav Aharon Schechter, etc. Rabbi Moshe Meiselman was also there (heâ€™s on the left in the picture), which doubtless comes as a great shock to some supporters of Toras Moshe and other people who, inexplicably, see him as some sort of moderate, mainstream figure.
Anyway, I would like to comment on one of the flyers that was distributed, urging people to attend the event – which presumably means leaving the Beis HaMidrash to do so. It stresses the gravity of the situation, that Torah students in Israel are threatened with being forced away from the study of Torah, the real lifeblood and protection of the Jewish Nation. It urges those in the United States to join forces with their brethren in Eretz Yisrael who are battling this threat. And, right at the top of the flyer, it quotes a passuk from the Torah for a rallying cry:
â€œShall your brothers go to war, while you sit here?â€
Yes, you read that correctly. The very words stated by Moshe Rabbeinu in order to urge the tribes of Gad and Reuven to join the rest of the nation in the army, are being used here to urge people to protest against joining the rest of the nation in the army! Alas, the irony appears lost on them. Incredibly, it appears that they genuinely did not realize that the passuk means the exact opposite of how they employed it.
The flyer, and indeed the event itself, are extremely revealing. Charedim claim exemption from military service on the grounds that their Torah study provides the true protection. But, as we have noted on several previous occasions, they donâ€™t really believe that at all. When it comes to a cause that they really support – an enemy that is truly important for them to fight against – they donâ€™t trust in their Torah to help. Instead, they leave the Beis HaMidrash and resort to regular, secular methods of battle: protest rallies at sites of secular significance.
Thereâ€™s another point of interest in the flyer. It declares that Klal Yisrael is united, as one man with one heart, in support of this rally. Now, that might sound odd, in light of the fact that not only was this rally not supported by Reform, Conservative, secular, Modern Orthodox, or national-religious Jews, but it wasnâ€™t even supported by most charedi Jews. However, the fact is that Satmar and their ilk simply do not see these others as actually being part of Klal Yisrael, to all intents and purposes. Which, as I discussed in my post The Tragedy Of Segregation, is an unfortunate, but all too common, feature of ultra-Orthodoxy.