Predictions Fulfilled, Sadly
Exactly one year ago, in a piece entitled "Yair Lapid Sets Back the Clock," I predicted that Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party would reverse a decade-long trend toward greater chareidi integration in the broader Israeli society. The Marker recently confirmed the accuracy of that prediction with respect to the number of chareidim seeking higher education and enlisting in the IDF.
An unidentified official in the Council on Higher Education termed the registration for the start of the upcoming academic year among chareidim as a "catastrophe." According to the best estimates of the head of the council, Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, there will be a 20 percent decline from the chareidi registration for the 2013-14 academic year. The decline has been particularly dramatic among male students
The decrease in the number of chareidim registering for academic programs comes at a time when government support — in the form of student loans and grants — for chareidim in academia has greatly expanded. Avraham Feldstein, the director of Kemach, which offers tuition stipends for chareidi students, notes "the absurdity that at the very time the government is investing significant funds to encourage chareidi higher education, it has created a public atmosphere that has caused chareidim to refrain from taking advantage of the government's initiatives."
Feldstein describes a totally new atmosphere among young chareidim coming into Kemach's offices: "They are much more concerned with obtaining rabbinical approval than in the past."
The same pattern is evident as well with respect to enlistment rates. Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon recently told the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security that the IDF had witnessed a 50 percent decline in chareidi enlistment in recent months.
Prior to the advent of the new government, decisions about leaving kollel to work, obtain academic training, or enlist in the IDF were more or less private decisions made by individuals based on their particular circumstances. While the gedolim always upheld the ideal of long-term learning for the community as a whole, when approached by individuals who felt the need to leave kollel for one reason or another, they almost always gave their approval.
SO WHAT CHANGED over the last year that led to such "dramatic" drops in chareidi men signing up for academic courses or enlisting in one of the IDF programs for married men? Can the change be attributed to the improved economic circumstances of the Torah community? Lower apartment prices? A sudden infusion of new private donations into yeshivos and kollelim? Hardly.
The only thing that changed was the advent of the current government, with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid as the treasury minister. The trends of the previous decade were not sufficiently rapid to satisfy him. So he embarked upon a campaign to squeeze the Torah community in every possible way and force men to leave Torah learning for the workplace — slashing funding for yeshivos and kollelim and yeshivos ketanos, removing municipal discounts available to kollel families. In each case the cuts were enacted with great fanfare to please his electoral base.
The rhetoric employed contributed to the impression in the Torah community that it was the very learning of Torah that was under assault. The language of "shirking" applied to those learning in yeshivah contemptuously turned yungeleit into "welfare queens," whiling away their time in ease while supping at the public trough. Never heard was an expression of appreciation of the intensity of learning that can be readily observed in hundreds of yeshivos and kollelim around the country, or of the dedication of Torah scholars who push sleep from their eyes to continue their studies late until the night.
The new draft law included specific provisions potentially subjecting those learning in yeshivah or kollel to criminal sanctions. Whether those sanctions are ever applied or not is not the issue. It was not enough to portray yungeleit as lazy ne'er-do-wells swinging in hammocks; now they became criminals as well. Even Shahar Ilan, the direct of Chiddush, an organization dedicated to the fight against "religious coercion" and which just last week won a suit in the Supreme Court against income supplements for kolleleit, warned Lapid that the so-called criminalization provisions would strike a mortal blow at chareidi participation in the IDF.
Lapid and his Yesh Atid cohorts, like Education Minister Shai Piron, spoke too of the need to forge a common Israeli identity, and the IDF as a natural place to do so. They thereby succeeded in turning the IDF, in chareidi eyes, from primarily being an instrument of national defense into an institution for the socialization of chareidim into a culture to which they have no desire to be acculturated. Chareidim do not believe that there is some happy meeting point between Torah and non-Torah values.
As a consequence of all these concrete steps and the accompanying rhetoric, Lapid and company turned the decision to leave kollel from an individual decision, based on a host of personal and familial factors, to a communal decision — one that would be handing a victory to Lapid's anti-Torah agenda. And when the Torah community and Torah learning is under attack, even things that are normally perfectly permissible are viewed in a different light.
During a time of gezeiras haShmad, it becomes forbidden to wear a particular color shoelace — not because it is inherently forbidden, but because the ruling authority is attempting to force the Jewish community to cease maintaining its distinctiveness from the non-Jewish community. I'm not comparing the current government decrees to a gezeiras Shmad. But the example establishes the principle that when Torah is perceived to be under attack, individual decisions, perfectly permissible in and of themselves, have to be reevaluated in a communal context.
That is what is taking place today. Chareidi young men who as individuals might be eager to acquire training to earn a livelihood, are putting their individual considerations aside in order not to provide succor to the enemy.
For that Yair Lapid has only himself to blame.
Marriage: Not to be Taken for Granted
Rachel Ginsberg's feature "Frayed Beyond Repair" in last week's Mishpacha about the rise of middle-age divorce among couples married two decades or more — many of whom appeared to have had perfectly stable, functional marriages — probably shocked many readers, especially those, like my wife and I, who do not count any divorced couples among their close friends.
The question I asked myself was: Does "Frayed Beyond Repair" also have anything to teach those for whom the word "divorce" has never crossed their lips, or even entered their thoughts? Can those who attribute everything good that has ever happened to them as adults to one good decision made long ago and can no longer imagine what course their life might have taken without their life partner still learn anything from Mrs. Ginsberg's account?
I think we probably can. If I took away one lesson from the feature it was: Marriages need nurturing. Just as HaKadosh Baruch Hu is mechadesh the world every moment by infusing it with new energy, as it were, so do we need to continually think about how to mechadesh the partnership upon which everything depends by infusing it with new energy. It's never a good idea to rely on momentum.
That observation sounds obvious, even clichéd. But the very ease and comfort that are the hallmark of a good marriage can easily slip into taking one's spouse or marriage for granted. Well over 30 years ago, I heard a series of classes for new chassanim from Rabbi Aharon Feldman, author of the classic book on marriage, The River the Kettle and the Bird (Feldheim). Rabbi Feldman invited us to make a list of everything about our spouses that ever irritated us — not that I could think of any in those early months of marital bliss. Because no matter how long the list, he said, it pales beside one crucial fact: She puts up with you.
Our spouse is the one person in the world from whom we cannot hide our faults, and who loves us nevertheless. That bedrock of our existence allows us to function productively in other areas.
Marriage, then, is the exact opposite of the first shidduch meeting when the pressure is on to impress. But just because we no longer feel the need to impress — and probably could not if we wanted to — doesn't mean that we don't have to strive to remain worthy of our spouse's love and respect (not the same thing). Compliments, expressions of gratitude, and shows of respect do not grow less necessary or less appreciated with time.
Even the most happily matched couple can forget to focus sufficiently on their marriage. As the family grows, many wives devote themselves to their children, and men to their work or learning. We tend to take for granted those nearest and dearest to us. Two of my closest friends made aliyah within the last decade or so. And, ironically, I see both less frequently than when they lived in the States. Just knowing that they are readily accessible seems to have lessened the impetus to see one another or even talk. And I suspect the same dynamic is often at play in marriage.
I was fortunate to learn most of what I know on building a strong marital bond from the observation of a wonderful marriage. Over a period of 20 years, I spent most of my time on trips to the United States in the home of a couple now well past their golden anniversary (who will remain nameless to preserve our friendship). The husband is something between a second father and older brother to me. Over that period, I was probably in their home for a total of a year or more, and I never once heard a voice raised or detected even the trace of irritation. Talk about comfort with one another — I always described their marriage as like an old glove that slips effortlessly onto the hand and moves with complete flexibility. Husband and wife each had the routine down pat, and seemed to know what the other was thinking at every moment.
Yet neither took the other for granted. He would call to let her know when he was leaving the office, and if something came up, call again to update her. In numerous ways, each day they would do little things that made clear they were both thinking about the other's needs.