A moment of silence
by Jonathan Rosenblum
April 29, 1998
One need not be a prophet nor the son of a prophet to know that somewhere in Israel a photographer is now preparing to capture haredim going about their business during today's two-minute period of silence.
No one will ask what honor that photographer thereby renders our war dead - just as no one questioned the patriotism of the photographer who last year provided a young teenager in Mea She'arim with a flag and encouraged him to burn it.
For those, like the Am Hofshi organization, bent on turning every event in this country into an occasion fordivisive hatred, 'proving" that haredim do not share in the national grief over those killed in war is a self-justifying enterprise.
Haredim are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If Meir Porush doesn't participate in memorial ceremonies, that is proof that haredim don't mourn with the rest of the nation; if he seeks to participate, he is told, 'Go away, you are so lacking in basic humanity that we don't believe you really grieve over the deaths of your fellow Jews.'
The 'proof" - based on a failure to stand at attention while the siren blows -is easily refuted. Those who don't stand in memory of the fallen war dead also do not stand on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Is that because they do not mourn the martyrs of the Holocaust, many of them members of their immediate family? Has anyone ever heard of haredim playing cards in the midst of a visit to Auschwitz - the final resting place not only of their families but of a Jewish civilization they continue to honor - as did a group of army officers last summer?
Haredim feel the loss of every Jew just like every other citizen of Israel.
I remember the all-night learning vigils in yeshiva during the Peace for Galilee Campaign, and I see the faces in shul whenever another soldier is lost in Lebanon.
So if haredim do share in the national mourning, why can't they stand like everyone else? The answer has nothing to do with a lack of respect for the sacrifice of those who gave up their lives in Israel's wars, but rather with the form of the remembrance.
Moments of silence, like rifle salutes at military funerals or bodies lying in state, ape the mourning practices of other nations. A people in possession of its own unique forms of mourning long before those nations came into being has no need to copy them.
And there is something profoundly un-Jewish about standing doing nothing.
Fasting, undertaking a new mitzvah, reciting Tehillim (psalms) are all more traditional ways of commemorating national tragedies. Why waste precious moments, each of which is a gift and an opportunity?
As a practical matter, however, that is an argument that will not be understood. For that reason, most haredim do stand whenever they are not in an exclusively haredi setting. There is no point in needlessly enraging and offending others.
Nor need those moments go to waste. Reflecting on the good that others have done for us is a positive mitzvah. 'Anyone who fails to appreciate the good done for him by his fellow man,' our Sages tells us, 'will, in the end, deny God as well." A Jew is obligated to sensitize himself to recognize even the slightest benefit conferred upon him.
Moses brought on all the plagues in Egypt, except for those originating from the water or the earth; those plagues were initiated by Aharon. Why?
Because of the gratitude he owed the river, in which he was hidden as an infant, and the earth, with which he covered the slain Egyptian overseer.
IF we are trained to recognize the benefit we derive even from inanimate objects, which act without intent, how much more so do we have to appreciate the ultimate sacrifice of our Jewish brothers.
The Talmud says of two brothers from Lod, about whom we know nothing other than they gave their lives so other Jews would be spared the ruler's retribution, that no one else is worthy of standing in their place in Heaven. And that is true of every soldier who gives his life defending his fellow Jews.
No one in whose heart there remains a trace of millennial yearning for Eretz Yisrael, can fail to shed tears when contemplating our people's return to our Land and the courage that made it possible.
That one of the smallest of the world's peoples has come home to a tiny sliver of land barely visible on a globe - the same sliver of land for which they never ceased praying for two thousand years - has to surely rank as one of history's greatest miracles.
The UN vote of 1948 and our subsequent military victory was viewed as a 'smile from Heaven" by virtually every great Torah leader of the time. Unfortunately, we did not acknowledge the smile. Indeed the early years of the state were marked by
systematic efforts to uproot belief in God.
That, however, is not the entire story. David Ben-Gurion's sense of the historical continuity of the Jewish people led him to assure a religious MK that the new state would fulfill the Emperor Vespasian's promise to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai: Yavne and her scholars.
Not one Yavne, but dozens, have risen here from the ashes of Europe. Torah has flourished in Israel to a degree unimagined both by Ben-Gurion and the Torah leaders of his time.
Grudgingly or not, no society has ever supported Torah study to the same extent. For that and for those who have sacrificed so much to protect Israel's borders there can only be profound gratitude.
The issue is not whether haredim stand or don't, on this day or another. It is whether we constantly work on deepening our appreciation of the sacrifices from which we benefit. We must do so not in order to become more popular - we won't be - but because anything less would mark our failure as Jews to identify with the pain of our fellow Jews and to appreciate all they have given.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics
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