Tuesday, July 31, 2012

No more draft exemptions starting tomorrow

It will be very interesting to see what happens.
Here is a graph depicting the meteoric rise in the number of draft exemptions over the last 10 years:

Source: YNet

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Straw that breaks the camels back? Charedi students caught on video trying to work off the books

Channel 10 in Israel did an undercover investigation into Charedim working off the books to avoid the army and to not pay taxes.

They put up posters in Bnei Brak looking for sales people for a fictional company called Ohel Avraham. They rented an office, put in hidden cameras and started interviewing applicants for the jobs. The conversations went like this:

Interviewer: Do you have a problem getting paid on the books?
Applicant: Yes,
Interviewer: Why?
Applicant: The problem is the army
Interviewer: Have you worked in the past?
Applicant: Yes off the books
Interviewer: What hours can you work?
Applicant: I can work from 6AM until midnight, I am simply registered at a Yeshiva

Others said they could work from 10-5 or from 1-9.

9 out of 10 applicants that were taped on video ensured the interviewer that they had ways to ensure that they would get paid and not lose their significant benefits as Yeshiva students.

Here are the government benefits that they don't want to lose:
  • 800 shekel as an Avrech
  • Guaranteed minimum income payment - 1040 shekel
  • 500-2000 shekel from the Yeshiva/Kollel
  • Significant (90%) discounts in property taxes and pre-schools
Remember this is all recorded on video and will be shown on Channel 10 tonight. This may be the straw that breaks the camels back. At least until now the battle has been an ideological one, the power of torah learning, vs service in the army. Now all of Israel will see on video that for some in the Charedi world it has nothing to do with Torah and everything to do with just avoiding the army and making money.

Source: http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4260466,00.html

Followup - Electronic water meter: Can you turn on the faucet on Shabbos?

I posted a few days ago about electronic water meters and can they be used on Shabbos.

A number of people suggested that this should be permitted because it is a פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה on an איסור דרבנן. I would like to raise 2 issues with that premise:

1. Is this really לא ניחא ליה? Everyone would agree that you cannot disconnect the meter before shabbos and use the water because you would be stealing from the water company. Therefore, the meter recording how much water you used is ניחא ליה.  If the meter didn't record your use the company would not be able to charge you and you wouldn't know how much to pay, in essence you would be stealing. Therefore, you want the meter to record your use to keep you from stealing.
2. It is not so clear that פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה on an איסור דרבנן is permitted. R' Eider in his sefer on hilchos shabbos writes that a פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה on an איסור דרבנן is assur. The Shemiras Shabbos in the new edition has an introduction to Hilchos Shabbos. In the text he doesn't discuss פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה on an איסור דרבנן but in a footnote he quotes a number of Mishna Berura's that it is assur. R' Willig in his sefer Am Mordechai on Shabbos, wanted to make the following distinction by פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה on an איסור דרבנן. He said that if the issur is עיקרו מן התורה and it is only דרבנן for a technicality (מלאכה שאין צריכה לגופה ,מקלקל, etc.) then פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה on an איסור דרבנן would be assur. But if the issur is עיקרו מדרבנן like electricity then פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה would be mutar.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Charedi Demographics vs Chiloni demographics

Recently two 102 year olds passed away, R' Elyashiv and Benzion Netanyahu (the father of the Prime Minister). Although they lived to the same age the number of descendents that they have is radically different.

Benzion Netanyahu has 12 descendents, 2 of them great grandchildren. This makes sense as he had 3 children, 1 of the three (Yoni) had no kids and the other 2 (Iddo and Bibi) had 2 and 3 kids respectively.

R' Elyashiv on the other hand is estimated to have at least 1300 descendents. The math is actually quite simple. If you take an average family size of 6 (which may be small, R' Elyashiv himself had 12 children of which 10 survived to adulthood) and multiply it 3 additional generations, you get 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 = 1296. The actual number might be higher as we know R' Elyashiv had great great great grandchildren (a fifth generation)

These numbers explain why the Chilonim are worried, sooner (rather then later) Charedim will be a majority in Israel.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Kadmia MKs try to jump ship to the Likud; Another sign that the electoral system is irrevocably broken

The events of today, and in fact the events of past year where the Likud has been trying to get Kadima MKs to defect exposes the complete bankruptcy of the current electoral system in Israel.

Israel has a list based election system. You don't vote for any individual person but you vote for a party list. Given that, it makes no sense to allow any Knesset member to leave his party and and form a new one or switch to an existing one. He was not elected and it is not his seat. The party was elected and the party should control the seat. If an MK doesn't like it let him resign. The current system is the worst of both worlds. There is no personal accountability, you cannot vote anyone out of office, if they are high on the list they will be in the Knesset. On the other hand the MK's can do whatever they want with the seat once they get it. This is a formula for disaster and is anti-democratic.

I have a few posts about this topic from a few years ago, unfortunately there has been a lot of talk but no action.
The electoral system in Israel is broken ...
Election reform in Israel

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Electronic water meter: Can you turn on the faucet on Shabbos?

In an interesting letter in yesterday's Yated Neeman a writer brought up this issue. He claimed that in some places in Israel they have installed electronic water meters and therefore you can't use the water on Shabbos. He wanted to warn people who are planning a vacation to keep this in mind when picking a destination.

It would seem that the letter writer is right about the problems of using water on Shabbos if you have an electronic water meter. Every time you turn on the water you are directly causing the electronic water meter to record your use which falls under the general rubric of electricity.

There is no question that in the near future electronic water meters will be everywhere. What will the religious community do? Not use water? There is little to no chance chance of convincing the water company to not switch to electronic meters. As I have posted before (Using electronic devices on Shabbos), it will soon reach a point that we will not be able to do anything without causing some reaction in some sensor. We have already reached that point with hotels:
Electronic keys
Motion sensors which shut off the lights and air conditioning if there is no movement
Faucets that go on and off based on motion sensors
Toilets with sensors
Automatic doors
Security cameras

I for one don’t see how a frum person can stay in many (if not most) hotels in the US on Shabbos based on this. 

If we just continue saying that electricity/electronics is assur we will either not be able to do anything on Shabbos or have to become Amish.

The question is what will the reaction from the poskim be? RSZA opinion that there really is no issur seems to be very well reasoned and I believe is generally accepted. The question is will anyone have the courage to run with it and say that in the modern world where circumstances have changed we need to allow certain things (like electronic locks, refrigerator sensors etc.) The fact is that in the next 10 years the incandescent light bulb will go the way of the dodo which will remove the only issur doraysa related to electricity (except for the Chazon Ish which does not seem to be accepted). I know that there is a very fine line, it is clear that we don't want people using computers, tv's, mp3 players, cell phones, etc. on shabbos, on the other hand we are rapidly reaching a point where we will be unable to do anything on Shabbos in a modern home. The poskim need to come up with some kind of balance, given what is going on in the Jewish world I am not optimistic.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Talmidei Chachamim don't need protection: Does this provide a basis for draft exemptions for yeshiva students?

The Gemara in Bava Basra 7b discusses the need for building walls around a settlement. Since walls are for communal protection, all residents have to share in the cost of erecting them. However, the Gemara rules that Torah scholars are exempt from this expense, since they are protected by virtue of the Torah they learn. This is quoted l'halacha in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 243.

The question that we need to ask is does this provide a basis for draft exemptions for yeshiva students?

In the past I have posted about this very issue. See the following posts:

Torah scholars don't need protection - does this apply now during a war?
When does תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה not apply?
Yeshivas are moving north out of danger, what about the protection of Torah learning

Here is a summary of the main points of those posts.

R' Zevin in a famous essay says writes the following.

When actual lives are at stake, may we rely on miracles? In 1929 at Hebron... didn't young students of the yeshiva, whose holiness shone like stars in the sky, fall before the malicious enemy? Please, did these martyrs need protection or not?... If you understand that the scholars don't need protection in relatively peaceful times and are exempt from building the protective walls, what consequence has this when compared to a life-and-death struggle, a war which is a mitzvah and in which all are obligated? The defense authorities ordered everyone to cover all windows as protection against shattering glass in case of an air raid. Would anyone think that some rabbis will not do so, claiming, "Rabbis do not need protection?" ...Why did rabbis leave areas under enemy fire along with the rest of the general population? Why did they not rely on this maxim? 

R' Aharon Lichtenstein wrote:

 It may be stated... that such a claim (that since rabbis "don't need protection" they should be exempt from military service) raises a very serious moral issue. Can anyone whose life is not otherwise patterned after this degree of trust and bitahon argues for exemption on this ground? Is it possible to worry about one's economic future - in evident disregard of Rabbi Eliezer's statement that "whoever has bread in his basket and says 'What shall I eat tomorrow?' is but of little faith" - and yet not enter the army because one is presumably safe without it?

I saw the this in a Charedi publication. The following interesting halachic question came up. There was a wave of burglaries in a particular Charedi neighborhood so the residents decided to hire a private security company. However, then the question of how to apportion the costs came up. Since the Gemara says that תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה and the majority of the people in the neighborhood sit and learn in kollel (and presumably have the status of Talmidei Chachamim) who should pay?

R' Elyashiv answered as follows:
The principle of תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה only applies in a normal situation, before there is a rash of burglaries. However, now that there already was a rash of burglaries it would be considered a נס for the talmid chacham not to be harmed. Therefore the principle of תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה does not apply and everyone has to pay equally for the security company.

If  תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה doesn't apply to a rash of burglaries then how much more so it doesn't apply to a situation of war.

Last but not least the Charedi Yeshivas themselves don't believe this. During the Cast Lead operation in 2009 many of the Charedi yeshivas (Grodna, Petersburg,Belz,Ger) in the South (Ashdod and other places) temporarily moved to Yerushalayim or Bnei Brak for safety reasons.

On one hand the move is understandable, with rockets landing in Ashdod they wanted to move to a safer place. However, on the other hand, this raises some serious questions. The Charedi world justifies the draft exemption for yeshiva students based on the following:

1. Torah learning protects everyone
2. The boys are engaged in מלחמתה של תורה
3. Talmidie Chachamim don't need protection

Based on these it would seem that the Yeshivas should stay where they are. If the boys who are learning are engaged in war just like the soldiers why should they abandon their posts? In addition if Torah learning protects, let them stay where they are and be protected by their Torah. Their move undermines the claim for draft exemptions and looks very bad. The soldiers are entering Gaza to fight while the yeshiva bachurim are fleeing to safer havens.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fascinating articles/posts about drafting Charedim

Father's Lament for Son Who Should've Served - One Ultra-Orthodox Father Sees Good Side of Israeli Draft

This is a really interesting article written by a Charedi Baal Teshuva who is upset that his son is not serving in the army. One of the most telling quotes is:
my son never decided — it was never on his radar screen — not to go into the army. That decision was made for him by me, almost 20 years ago.

This is so true, no one is making a conscious decision today to dedicate himself to learning, it is just expected and the thing to do in Charedi society

That’s NOT Self Sacrifice!
This is written by a Charedi girl who went to the army and kept up her religious standards.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are they really out to destroy the Torah world? Will there really be no Yeshiva world if Yeshiva boys are drafted?

According to the Charedi press the answer is yes and yes. See the Yeshiva World News for an example of this where this is called a שעת השמד and that everyone should prepare to go to jail.

A commenter on YWN wrote a very insightful comment which expresses really well what I have been thinking and blows away the whole Charedi conception of what is going on. Here is the comment with my thoughts interspersed in [brackets]

I know the whole “the world’s out to get us & they’re controlled by the big bad Zionists” thing is very appealing. It’s also effective at accomplishing a specific goal of rallying the troops. However, it’s hysteria in this situation. The big bad Zionists are not out to rid the world of Torah & Mitzvos. Are there anti-religious Zionists? Are there people in the State that hate religion? Yes, but they are a minority just like the Neturei Karta who meet with the Iranian president. The majority of Israelis believe in Hashem & are religious to one extent or another (80% according to yet another recently published study in Israel that I saw this week [see this post of mine for the data]). No one is asking the chareidi tzibur to close their yeshivas or to drop religion & learning. They are simply asking for help. [the average middle class Israeli is simply staggering under the load and has reached the breaking point]
The government discussions at this point are NOT saying that every 18 year old ben Torah will be drafted to the army. In fact, the plan is to allow some full time learners to get a deferment and some to have to serve. [many of the proposals talk about a deferment until 22, also, Hesder has existed for over 50 years, the Charedim could have created an equivalent where they learn in Yeshiva for a year and half to 3 years before the army and then serve in separate units for a shorter time]. Also, no one said they will have to serve in the army – they are being given a choice of army OR a CHESED program (called Sheirut Leumi, National Service). The fact that the rav is quoted as having said this tells us that the person who has been informing the rav of the situation has neglected to tell him the truth or the whole truth. Unfortunately, this is often the case – there are askanim that have very specific & biased intentions when they ask a question of a rav or give him information or even when they “quote” him.
Additionally, if some chareidim are asked to help serve, this in no way means “there will be no yeshivos.” Are there no other people in the chareidi batei midrashim?? Only boys who are 18 – 20?? [To me this is the most important point made here. They want to draft yeshiva boys for a very limited amount of time and are flexible on when. After their 2-3 years service they can go back to the yeshiva.  I will say it again, you don't have to reinvent the wheel, Hesder has been doing this for over 50 years. In Hesder they learn for almost 2 years, then go to the army for a year and a half and then back to yeshiva for a year and a half]. Perhaps the other chareidi tzibur members need to pitch in for a bit to cover while those boys are serving. Oh, and there are hours before & after “service hours” for soldiers & national service members. Just like all the frum people of the world that work & learn or serve & learn – the yeshivas can & should stay open. Perhaps they’ll need to adjust their hours a bit but it’s worth it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It just doesn't stop; Another Charedi wrote an idiotic article about the draft

See חילונים, מה פתאום נזכרתם אחרי 64 שנה

Don't these people realize that they are doing more harm then good? Don't they realize that they are not convincing anyone except themselves. Just the title of this article, חילונים, מה פתאום נזכרתם אחרי 64 שנה?, Chilonim what happened that you woke up after 64 years? is stupid beyond belief and shows a complete ignorance of history. The original exemption was for 400 Yeshiva students and until 1977 was very limited. It was only in 1977 that the exemption became unlimited. Besides that, the Chiloni population has been talking about this for years, where does he think the Tal law came from 10 years ago? Nothing was done about this until now because teh Charedi parties have disproportionate power in Israel's crazy parliamentary system. As the Charedi population keeps growing and the number of exemptions keeps growing the issue is becoming more and more acute until now where it has reached the breaking point.

The article itself is even worse. He writes that the Chilonim are right, it is not fair that Chilonim go to serve in the army and put their lives on the line and Charedim don't. However he says, in life you should be smart not right. He says that if Charedim go to the army for 3 years they won't come back Charedim. That is a very weak argument for a number of reasons:
1. It doesn't speak well for the Charedi education system
2. The army can create separate units etc., Hesder is very successful

Last but not least he makes the claim that Charedim pay their fair share of taxes (specifically VAT) as they have large families and spend a lot of money. Here also, the facts are against him. The fact is that the average Charedi income is 6111 NIS (source), much of it coming from government money. Even if they spend all of it every month on goods and services and therefore pay VAT they are paying VAT on a maximum of 6111 with much of that money simply going from 1 government pocket to another. The average chiloni makes double that 12021 and is also using most if not all of their money for consumption as well so they are paying double the VAT. In addition, many Charedim buy things from Gemachim and other similar type sales where there is no VAT. The simple fact is that 56% of the Charedi population is classified poor and poor people pay little or no taxes.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Parallels between the tuition crisis in America and drafting Charedim in Israel

R' Yitzchak Adlerstein wrote a very important article about what is going in America with tuition,
 A New, Ugly Wrinkle in the Tuition Crisis. I don't live in America, however, I would like to draw a parallel to the situation in Israel. The feeling of middle class parents that R' Adlerstein describes in America is very similar to the feelings that the middle class in Israel have to the Charedim. The middle class in Israel works very hard and doesn't get much for it. A very large part of their salary goes to the government in taxes. They then see the Charedim, not serve the country in any meaningful way (in their eyes), not work, and live off government stipends and jobs (see this post where I detailed many of the statistics, only 39% of Charedi men are in the workforce and half of those are working work for the government in some capacity). It is no wonder that they feel resentful just like the middle class religious parents feel resentful. These people work hard very hard long hours and have little to show for it at the end of the month.

Last year I posted a story (it is worth the read) about someone who felt entitled to tzedaka. I believe that a big part of the resentment (both in America and in Israel) is this feeling of entitlement and lack of hakaras hatov by the recipients. The Charedi world in Israel shows no hakaras hatov whatsoever to the soldiers in the army and to the government that gives them millions of shekels. The same applies in America, the middle class parents paying full tuition get no recognition and no hakaras hatov from those who benefit from their work. Does the middle class parent ever get honored by the school? The answer is no, the honorees are generally rich people or Rabbis/Rabbeim. At some point the middle class person reaches a point where they say enough is enough. I believe that the middle class in Israel has reached that point with the Charedim and it sounds like they have reached that point in America as well.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Would you make a thief's story the centerpriece of your complaint?

This is exactly what Hamodia did this past week. They wrote a long article about the problems /abuses of passengers on the light rail in Jerusalem. The article had 3 stories, 2 very legitimate (a woman having to pay for a stroller and a problem with 2 transfers on the same card). Then came the third story which was the focus of the article. It told the story of Aryeh, an 18 year old foreign Yeshiva bochur who had no money but decided to take the light rail anyway (in short, steal/cheat). He figured the worst thing that would happen is that he would get caught and he would pay a 186 shekel fine. In plain terms the Yeshiva bachur was a thief who expressed no remorse about his actions and had no thought of paying back the company. He was caught and because he had no id on him he was arrested. Once he was arrested he was mistreated in jail etc.

I have 2 major problems with this story.
1. Why publicize the story about a thief? It just takes away from the legitimate complaints about the light rail. It also is a chillul hashem that someone who is learning in Yeshiva can steal without any reservations.
2. The Hamodia article was supposed to detail issues with the light rail. This boys story did not do that. He tried to cheat the light rail, had no id, and was arrested, there is nothing wrong with that. Whatever happened after that in the police station has nothing to do with the light rail and does not point to any problems with the light rail (it might point to other problems such as police brutality but that was not the point of this article).

What really bothered me about this story was the fact that this kind cheating is basically condoned by Hamodia and parts of the Charedi world. Yes, Hamodia paid lip service in the article by stating that he was wrong but that is all it was. If the cheating/stealing truly bothered them then they would have found a different story about the light rail to print. After all, according to the story there are hundreds of incidents to choose from.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Why do Charedim write these stupid articles in secular newspapers?

I posted a few days ago about an article in YNet about the draft and Charedim. Today another Charedi wrote an even stupider article on this topic. The article is all about how hard it is to be a Yeshiva bochur and what they give up. He then says, after all that "burn 3 years in the army"?

Again, this article is just going to inflame and anger secular Israelis. To say that because they give up, TV, movies, sex before marriage and going out, they deserve special treatment is idiotic for a number of reasons. As many of the commenters on YNet said, this is a lifestyle choice. Just because you choose this lifestyle doesn't mean that you should be exempted from serving the nation. No one else gets to make a lifestyle choice and exempt themselves from the army. There are also many chilonim who serve in the army 3 years and then go to University, also studying hard and working long hours to pay for their education. In addition, they are doing this by choice. Last but not least, anyone who has been around the yeshiva world, walks around Charedi neighborhoods etc. sees with their own eyes that many yeshiva bochurs don't give up so much, don't learn so many hours and enjoy life. The number of people learning 18 hours a day is quite small. This line of reasoning will not convince a single chiloni.

More importantly, this whole article is based on a false premise that learning Torah is not enjoyable and that the ben torah is giving up עולם הזה. This is simply not true, learning Torah is supposed to be the greatest pleasure a person can have, R' Aharon Kotler once commented to a rich donor, you will get the reward for all of the Torah learning that you support in עולם הבא but I pity you for your עולם הזה. If this is the case then the ben torah is not giving anything up he is doing the most enjoyable thing in life.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The dummies guide to Charedi rabbinic titles

Yated Neeman (Hebrew) made history yesterday when it called R' Aharon Leib Steinman מרן. The title מרן until now had been reserved only for R' Elyashiv and crowns R' Steinman as his successor.

This led me to realize that many of the casual readers of Yated Neeman and this blog don't know the subtle differences in titles used and what they mean. Therefore I offer an an explanation of the Rabbinic titles that the Charedi press (mostly Yated) uses:

1. הרב - This is used for every Charedi public figure. All of the Charedi MKs are called Harav, for example, Harav Eli Yishai.
2. הרה"ג - הרב הגאון - Since everyone is called Harav someone who is a Rabbi  of a community, shul, etc. or a Rosh Yeshiva, Ram, etc. can't also just be Harav. Therefore they have now become הרב הגאון and when they are introduced the speaker generally just says Hagaon.
3. הגאון - This is applied to certain important Rabbinic figures as they are more important then the average rabbinic figure who is הרב הגאון
4. הגאון הגדול - Since every shul rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva is already הרב הגאון, we need a new title for the Gedolim. We can't have someone like R' Chaim Kanivsky referred to by the same title as your local community Rabbi. Therefore they came up with הגאון הגדול, the great Gaon, for Rabbanim like R' Chaim Kanievsky, R' Shmuel Auerbach etc.
5. מרן - This title is reserved for the person who is considered to be the Gadol Hador. First it was R' Shach, then R' Elyashiv and for the first time yesterday R' Steinman.

(Edited July 5th)