Is Yair Lapid Schizo?
On Tuesday, Yair Lapid threatened to leave the coalition if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not go along with his demand for punitive sanctions (i.e., jail) for chareidi "draft dodgers." Netanyahu, as his wont, immediately capitulated, and ordered his Defense Minister Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon, who is on record as opposing Lapid's entire approach to the draft issue, to go along, even though the coalition agreement excluded anything other than economic penalties for non-service.
On Wednesday, Lapid put on his best Kiryat Ono voice and took to the podium in the Knesset to assure chareidi young men that neither he nor the government he appears to control have any desire to make them non-religious. All they have to do is to ignore their rabbinic leaders, who are keeping them in shackles and preventing them from fulfilling their duty to the country – a duty they surely recognize in their heart of hearts.
Cynics can at least explain Tuesday's antics. Polls have shown Lapid's popularity plummeting, as the public has quickly recognized that he is over his pay grade as finance minister. One need not be an economist to be a good finance minister – Lapid's predecessor Yuval Steinitz is a philosopher by training – but one must at least have the willingness to study and become informed on the subject at hand. Lapid's mind has been too shaped by Facebook to have patience for any such study.
The threat to break up the government, in contravention of the coalition guidelines, was a demagogic attempt to distract attention from Lapid's failures and declining poll numbers by throwing the familiar red meat of anti-chareidi incitement to the public.
I'm not sure why Netanyahu did not call his bluff. Israelis have discovered that Lapid is over his head as Finance Minister; so it hardly seems likely they would have bumped him up to prime minister in these perilous times. In addition, Netanyahu had an opportunity to split Naftali Bennett's Bayit Yehudi Party from Lapid.
I guess that submission just comes naturally to Netanyahu. If the Iranians follow Israeli politics, their confidence was surely bolstered.
BUT IF LAPID'S PERFORMANCE on Tuesday was at least explicable as a cynical ploy, that on Wednesday failed even as political theater. If he bears no animus to chareidim, why was it so crucial to push for criminal sanctions the day before? How much trust does he expect the chareidi public to put in someone whose first reflex whenever he is in political trouble is to scapegoat the chareidim, and whose number two man – a rabbi, no less -- refers to yeshiva bochurim as "parasites"? One left-wing religious member of the Peri Committee to deal with the chareidi draft issue privately expressed his view that the Committee was pursuing a vendetta against the chareidim.
Nor will Lapid's call for yeshiva students to rebel against their roshei yeshiva and Torah leaders add credibility to his claim that he has no wish to destroy the chareidi world. One of the fundamental beliefs of that world is that the Torah is the blueprint of the world, and those who have the greatest knowledge of Torah are best qualified to read the blueprint.
I suspect Lapid knows very well that the government is not going to put yeshiva bochurim in jail en masse. How would the sight of thousands of chareidi yeshiva students marching off to jail play on television screens around the world? Where will the jail space come from and the money to pay for it? And how will stigmatizing every chareidi young man in the country as a criminal help their integration into the job market?
Further evidence that Lapid knows nothing will come of his call to imprison chareidim who refuse to enter the IDF is his decision to put off implementation of the Peri Plan until four years hence, when the present government will already be history. He wants to run for prime minister in the next elections as "slayer of the chareidim," without actually doing anything.
On the other hand, Lapid appears to know nothing about the chareidi community, and not to be very curious about it either. Perhaps he really believes what he said on Wednesday – i.e., that he is offering cover for thousands of miserable yeshiva students who are eager to flee their yeshivos and join the army.
The Midrash tells us that Pharoah did not work the Jews in Egypt on Shabbos. The extra infusion of kedushah of Shabbos, without any vessel to receive that kedushah, left Pharoah feeling miserable. Pharoah assumed the same was true of the bnei Yisrael. So he reasoned he could give them Shabbos off, without reducing their misery, and even extract a little more work from them in the process by allowing them to rejuvenate physically. Similarly, for someone like Lapid, who for all his obvious cleverness has little taste for sustained thought or any powers of concentration, yeshiva would be torture. But that is far from the case for most yeshiva students.
Far from providing an excuse for those who would like to leave yeshiva, Lapid has made it far more difficult for those who wish to do so. There is some – in my opinion, totally unjustified -- ostracization of chareidi men who volunteer either via Shachar K'chol or for Nachal Chareidi units, though it varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood. That ostracization had almost ceased entirely, until the swearing-in of the current government. But sadly, whatever exclusion there is at present would multiply exponentially in circumstances where enlistment was viewed as capitulation to the fiat of a government that has made ridding the yeshivos of "parasites" its chief mission.
IF LAPID'S PROTESTATIONS OF GOOD WILL from the Knesset podium did not ring true, neither did his expressed concern for the security of Israel and call for yeshiva bochurim to add their numbers to those defending the state, pass the sincerity test. If he is so concerned for the security of Israel, why was he threatening to break the coalition agreement and bring down the government at such a perilous moment?
It is safe to say that Lapid's expertise in security matters is not greater than that of former Chief of Staff and current Defense Minister Boogie Ya'alon. Yet Ya'alon has been adamantly opposed to all efforts to effect rapid change of the draft situation, and has repeatedly stated that a situation of 65 years will not change overnight. One obvious reason he has opposed coercion to effect rapid change is the huge costs that would be incurred.
More than a decade after its founding, Nachal Chareidi is still only about 1,000 soldiers on active duty, with plans to add a second battalion. The rigorous sexual segregation enforced for Nachal Chareidi soldiers has imposed an enormous administrative burden on the IDF. That burden only grows as women are integrated into every branch of the IDF. So how could the army possibly accommodate over 5,000 chareidi recruits every year, as the Peri Committee contemplates, and accommodate chareidi demands for sexual segregation? Significantly, Lapid and Peri never speak about how the IDF could absorb large numbers of chareidi soldiers.
I suspect that the cost of taking in large numbers of chareidi recruits is one of the reasons that Ya'alon has no interest in undertaking that project. The IDF faces severe budget cuts this year, even as potential threats to Israel mount. The last thing in the world Ya'alon wants, at this time, is to waste precious resources on non-military uses of the IDF.
In sum, the only achievement of Lapid's antics last week will be to further poison public discourse in Israel.
Rabbi Herzog's Charge
Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion between Rabbi Emanuel Feldman and Rabbi Berel Wein, as these two still active giants of the American rabbinate reminisced about their more than half-century public careers. In the course of the evening, Rabbi Wein told a story of a meeting with Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, and its impact on his life.
One morning in 1946, Rabbi Wein's father, the rav of a congregation on Chicago's West Side, woke him early in the morning and told him that they were going out to the airport to greet Rabbi Herzog. Eleven-year-old Berel was as excited by his first ever trip to the airport as he was by the prospect of greeting the Chief Rabbi. The greeting party, consisting of all the rabbonim of Chicago, gathered on the tarmac itself to greet Chief Rabbi Herzog.
Rabbi Wein still remembers the distinguished figure the Chief Rabbi cut, as he exited the plane in his tall top hat, with a silver-tipped rabbinical cane in one hand and a TaNaCh in the other arm. Berel was particularly surprised when the imposing-looking figure began speaking English in rich Irish brogue.
Later that morning, Chief Rabbi Herzog spoke in Hebrew Theological College, the yeshiva founded by Rabbi Wein's maternal grandfather. He told the assembled crowd about a recent visit to the Pope in the Vatican. At that meeting, the Chief Rabbi said, he presented the Pope with the names of 10,000 Jewish children whose parents had given them over to the Church for safe-keeping during the Holocaust. He asked the Pope to return the children to the Jewish people.
The Pope responded to Chief Rabbi Herzog that the children had all been baptized, and that canon law forbade them from being returned to be raised as Jews.
When he spoke of this meeting, Chief Rabbi Herzog began sobbing. In his sobbing, Rabbi Wein remembers, "one heard not only cries for those 10,000 children but for all the Jewish suffering of two millennia of galus."
After he regained his composure, the Chief Rabbi said, "I can't do anything more for those 10,000 children." But, he charged the rapt audience in a powerful voice, each one of us must answer the question, "What are you doing for the Jewish people?"
Those words still ring in Rabbi Wein's ears and have driven him ever since.
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