The Orthodox connection
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 19, 2001
A rather unusual solidarity mission arrived in Jerusalem this week. The 160 member mission, sponsored by Agudath Israel of America, arrived without fanfare or advance publicity of any kind. Even the hotel in which the visitors were staying did not note their presence. They did not show the flag around the country or even visit nearby Gilo.
The only thing that the group did was study Talmud in the Renaissance Hotel for three days. Each day began at 6:30 a.m. with the study of the daily folio of Talmud and ended at 10:00 p.m. Though a number of the participants have rabbinic ordination, none of them earn their livings as rabbis. They are businessmen and professionals, and their participation in the three-day Yarchei Kallah entailed taking a full week off from business.
What did they come for if not to be updated on the security situation? Why did they have to travel 6,000 miles to sit and learn Torah.
The mission was above all a deep expression of the participants' faith that the world ultimately runs not according to inviolable laws of nature and ineluctable laws of history, but according to the will of G-d. Nowhere is that so true as in the Land of Israel, which the Torah describes as that Land "upon which G-d's eyes rest from the beginning of year until the end of the year." The Torah contrasts the Land of Israel to Egypt. The latter draws its water from the Nile, while the inhabitants of the Land are completely dependent on rainfall. That dependence reminds us constantly of our reliance on G-d.
Torah learning, says the Talmud, "protects and saves". And there is no Torah learning like that of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Its very air is said to make wise those who pursue knowledge. By coming now, the participants in the mission affirmed their belief that nothing they could do would have such a profound effect upon the situation of their fellow Jews as learning Torah in the Land of Israel.
The participants in the yarchei kallah were able to forego the usual solidarity mission itinerary precisely because their bonds to Israel are so strong. They had no need to publicily manifest their identification with the plight of Israel's Jews by coming now; they and their children never stop coming.
Nearly everyone on the mission is a frequent visitor to Israel, some several times a year. Almost without exception, they have children currently studying or who have studied in Israel, and many have children and grandchildren living here.
A few years of study in the great yeshivot of Israel is today de rigeuer for American yeshiva students. The Mirrer Yeshiva alone has 1,000 unmarried foreign students, and at least an equal number of married ones.
Well over 5,000 unmarried young Orthodox men and women are presently studying in Israel. And there are at least an equal number of young marrieds living here. Many of them will settle here permanently.
During the worst days of the current intifada less than 10% of those students returned home, and all but a few come back to Israel immediately after Sukkot. At a time when El Al was canceling flights to Israel right and left, it had to add extra flights on October 28 and 29 to accommodate all the returning yeshiva students.
Even Tuvia Grossman, the yeshiva student pictured on the front page of the New York Times bleeding profusely after having been stabbed and having his head cracked open with a large rock, by a group of Palestinian teenagers who dragged him and his two friends from a cab on the way to the Kotel, returned as soon as he completed physical therapy.
The thousands of Orthodox parents who left their children in Israel, despite the horrifying pictures and State Departments advisories, did so not because they are unconcerned about their children's safety, but because they are convinced that the benefits of study and living in Israel far outweigh any dangers.
The intense Orthodox connection to Israel begins in early childhood. Every Orthodox child, from a very early age spends much of his emotional, imaginative life in Eretz Yisrael. At six or seven, he or she first encounters the Land in G-d's injunction to Avraham to leave his father's house and travel to "a Land that I will show you." From that moment on, the Land of Israel is an ideal. It is always before us, slightly beyond our grasp-"the Land I will show you." Only 270 of the 613 mitzvos the Orthodox child studies can be performed without the Land and our Temple.
When the Orthodox child studies the Binding of Isaac, he first encounters Jerusalem and the Temple Mount: "And Avraham called the name of that site, 'Hashem Yireh', as it is said this day, on the mountain Hashem will be seen." On that mountain, Jews gathered three times a year to see and be seen. There they perceived (yeru) the Divine Presence in its wholeness (shalem). Jerusalem or its synonym, Zion, is mentioned 738 times in the Tanach.
Nor is the connection limited to the ideal Land of Israel described in the Torah. I am frequently embarrassed to receive calls from friends in the States of England asking about events about which I have not yet heard. They seem to keep a radio tuned to Israeli stations by their desk or to be updated from the Internet every half hour.
Whatever Orthodox shul one prays in abroad, the prayers inevitably conclude with the recitation of Psalms on Israel's behalf, and then conversation turns immediately to the "situation."
American Orthodox Jews constitute the strongest supporters of Israel. The late political scientist Daniel Elazar noted several years ago that the affiliated American Jewish community is approximately equally divided between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews. Of those affiliated Jews, the Orthodox are by far the most likely to visit Israel, to make aliyah, to speak Hebrew. And as historian Lucy Dawidowicz lamented more than a decade ago, the Orthodox are virtually the only Jews who vote primarily based upon their perception of Jewish interests, chief among them the security of Israel's Jews.
This week's Agudath Israel mission did not come to make any political statement, but their presence nevertheless makes a point that Israeli policymakers would do well to heed.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, World Jewry
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