Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Weep For The Future

For those who follow the news up in the Great White North these are actually tumultuous times out here in the tundra.  In la belle province of Quebec university students have been rioting in the streets for several weeks over proposed tuition increases that the government wants to push through on them.
A little background: Quebec maintains the lowest tuition rates for post-secondary education throughout Canada, mostly as a result of the Rest of Canada (RoC) sending it money in exchange for the "privilege" of having the French live amongst us.  Despite this endless suckling at the federal teat, the universities there are still tight when it comes to budgetary demands and so the provincial government decided to raise tuition an average of less than $1 a day for the next few years.  Yes, less than it costs those students to buy coffee each morning before class.
Except that they haven't been in class.  Rather they've been out on the street protesting.  It's not only that they are violently against increase in tuition but they are now against any tuition whatsover.  And when I say "rioting" I mean rioting.  These are not peaceful demonstrations.  What's more, the students have taken their "strike" position quite seriously, calling those students who want to continue to go to class "scabs" and physically blocking them from entering their schools.
In the face of this the response of the provincial government has been, well, wimpy.  Pleas for calm have gone ignored.  After meeting with the leaders of rioters the education minister resigned when she learned that the students' version of negotiations meant "Give us everything we demand unconditionally".  Yesterday police finally broke up a blockage of rioters with tear gas in order to allow students to return to class only to have the teachers at that particular school announce that they couldn't teach for the next few days due to the psychological  trauma those actions had caused them!  This is not suprising given the general leftist tilt that Quebec has always suffered from.  Apparently even the head of the teachers' union has expressed sympathy for the rioters and their goals.
This, for me, is the difference between the right and left sides of the political spectrum nowadays.  Consider the two extremes in the United States.  First came The Tea Party, a libertarian right wing political group dissatisfied with the elction of BH Obama and his socialist ideals to the presidency.  After initial demonstrations which were almost never violent the movement got down to work, joined the Republican party and got members elected to office at various levels of government.
Then came the left wing equivalent, the Occupy Wall Street movement.  They too started with demonstrations but unlike the Tea Party they quickly settled into a daily pattern, sitting on public land (thereby denying the tax paying citizens of the area, supposedly the folks they were there to demonstrate for, use of that land), smoking drugs and demanding all sorts of things that no mature economy could provide.  And then when it got cold they went home.  No joining the Democrats.  No running for public office.
They were, after all, casualties of the nanny state in which people forget how to do things for themselves or how to seize initiative and instead sit back and whinge until the government does it all for them.  Not for the OWS protestors are annoying things like elections and democracy.  They would much rather stamp their feet, make their demands and then stare incredulously when society does jump to attention in order to satisfy their whims.
As bad as OWS was, the Quebec experience is far worse.  What we are witnessing in Quebec is the end of what the welfare state does to a generation that never heard the word "non" (they're French, eh?) said to them.  Until now they have shouted and received what they were shouting for.  It is not a far stretch to saty that they understand that the government is constrained not by ideology but by financial reality, one they have no comprehension of.  Why not riot if eventually their demands will be met without any compromise?
These are the future leaders of Quebec.  And in the US, the OWS protestors would like to think they are the future leaders of society in the United States, the kind that walks into the corner office without having had to work their way up from the mail room.  If these are our future leaders, then I weep for that future.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Happy Shavuos

In his discussion of the mitzvah of bikkurim in Ein Ayah, Rav Avraham Kook, ztk"l, notes a fascinating contradiction between the nature of the Jewish nation and the Gentiles of the world.
Amongst the Gentiles, he writes, the sophistication of a society is inversely proportional to its agrarian nature.  Mainly agrarian societies are generally simpler in nature and development while industrialized ones are the opposite.  A quick look around the world confirms this thesis.
However, the Jewish nation is the opposite, Rav Kook states.  If one looks through the Torah, the ideal society is one that is almost competely agrarian.  The Torah spends a lot of time dealing with agricultural laws.  Much of the Temple service (may it be speedily restarted) was based around the products of farms, either animal or vegetable.  The prophets wax eloquently of an ideal future in which every Jew sits under his own grape vine and fig tree, happily enjoying the produce of the land.
Rav Kook's belief is that it is the connection to the land and the self-sufficiency that it provides that is the difference here.  A farmer is engaged in a profession that can either lead to total kefirah - the strength and might of my hands have got me this here wealth - or an appreciation of the total dependence we must feel on God's mercy and lovingkindness.  Therefore the ultimate way to achieve the highest level of spirituality is through the closest connection to the land and the land we most closely connect to, especially when we perform mitzvos and those that apply to it is the land of Israel.
That's why there are few agricultural laws that, d'Oraysa, apply outside the land of Israel.  In golus we are not self-sufficient but part of the greater society around us.  In Israel the opposite applies.  We are to be separate from the other nations but in a way that demonstrates our complete independence from them.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, zt"l, in his commentary on Chumash notes that God did not divide our ancestors into 12 tribes by chance but that each tribe had its own unique attributes and talents to bring to the table of nationhood.  Unlike other nations that need to interact to function completely ours is one that has everything it needs.
And hence the bikkurim in which we take a symbolic representation of our tie to the land to the Beis HaMikdash and make it clear that we aren't bringing a gift to God.  After all, He already has everything.  We are stating that everthing we have, including our independence, is from Him.
A happy and healthy Shavuos to one and all.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Wishing For What You Can't Have

Rabbi Zev Farber and the YCT crowd have a fundamental problem.  On one hand they sincerely wish to be loyal observers of God's laws and traditions.  On the other, they really can't accept that those laws and traditions stand at odds with the values of secular liberalism they hold so dear.
Sometimes there is little conflict.  I doubt any YCT rabbi would counsel someone that eating pork is okay if you really, really want some bacon 'n' eggs.  When it comes to Shabbos I also doubt they'd permit driving or other gross violations of God's holy day.
But when it comes to issues that have moral underpinnings then things start to become more anxious for them.  Rabbis Hyim Shafner and Yosef Kanefsky have repeatedly written about their yearnings to somehow make homosexual marriage and intercourse permissible and accepted within Orthodoxy.  As well, who can forget Kanesky's articles on why saying "Shelo Asani Ishah" is, according to his view of Judaism, a chilul HaShem?
The underlying consistent theme in their writings is the belief that the secular liberal values of society around us are superior and preferable to traditional Torah ones and should replace them.  The frustration comes from the recognition that this is exactly what the Conservatives do - keep traditions and rules when they're harmless or in sync with society and turf them when they're not.  Rabbi Farber et al would seem to be interested in this approach but because of their desire for sincerity in worship of God they want to remain Orthodox and they know they can't have both.
That conflict is well articulated in Farber's latest piece on Morethodoxy.  His description of an Orthodox shul, for example, could have been written by any anti-Orthodox Reformer or Conservative:
Watching the Flintstones with my children one day, it struck me that our synagogues have an uncanny resemblance to lodge no. 26 of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, where Fred and Barney go to have a men’s night out. I say this in jest, but it is illustrative. The men of the LOWB wear a special garb, they have a special code and gestures which they use, and there are no women. Although our synagogues are a step advanced from the Stone Age lodge—we let our women watch—the resemblances are worth noting; only the men have the special garb, only the men know the secret handshake, and when the Grand Poobah speaks, his podium faces only men.
Perhaps his example of how only men have a special uniform betrays the ultra-modern nature of his congregation.  In most Orthodox shuls women have a definite uniform in terms of what clothes are acceptable.  No, they don't have a tallis but is that all Farber sees?  A uniform for men and not women?  Does he not appreciate the idea that there is a kiyum mitzvah involved?

I know the feeling.  In my shul one reason I started avoiding the amud many years ago was when one of the other regulars began to routinely walk through the woman's section on his way to the bimah.  The precedent was not one I wished to participate in and again, it helps to ignore the established fact that in Judaism men have an obligation to engage in public prayer and women do not.  Their presence in shul is encouraging, warm and pleasant but they don't have to be there the way men do, hence the difference in participation.  Is Rabbi Farber suggesting a sea-change in Torah law to make public prayer obligatory on women?  What authentic sources does he base this suggestion on?  And frankly, is he a posek in the first place to even suggest it?

Of course, the placement of the podium is only one way—albeit an obvious one—that Orthodox synagogues communicate to their participants that women are not really in the room. This message is also communicated by access to the holiest and most central feature of the synagogue, the Torah scroll, which is removed from the ark, inevitably by a man, during Shabbat morning services. The Torah is then handed to the man leading the services and carried around so everybody can touch it and kiss it… well, not everybody.
It is true that in some Orthodox synagogues the Torah is either passed to a woman to carry through the women’s section or is carried through the women’s section by the man leading the services. However, in most Orthodox synagogues the Torah is carried only through the men’s section; the message being that access to the Torah is only for participants in the prayer services, not for onlookers. Some synagogues that are sensitive to the problem decide on the awkward solution of carrying the Torah slowly near the meḥitza(barrier). The women can then scramble to the meḥitza and vie for access in Darwinian fashion.

Of course, Farber then throws in the whole "And they don't even wear tefillin!" argument which is so tired it's not even worth fisking over.  But it is here where he betrays his true loyalties when it comes to choosing between prioritizing Torah values or secular ones:
Modern Orthodoxy is in a bind when it comes to women in the synagogue. In a world where gender roles are constantly shifting, it becomes rather difficult for a religious group that is both modern and Orthodox to navigate the many tensions that exist between traditional practices and modern egalitarian values. Sometimes these tensions express themselves around halakhic issues: women leading devarim she-be-qedusha, wearing t’fillin, counting for a minyan, or participating in the Torah-reading ceremony. Other times the issues appear more sociological: bringing the Torah through the women’s section, women holding or carrying the Torah, placement of the podium, or women speaking from the podium.
It is certainly not shocking for me to state that the "modern" in Modern Orthodox does not mean navigating tensions between tradition and modernity when it comes to values that are in breach of the accepted standard of Torah behaviour.  Blue shirts vs white?  Fine, you have a tension.  But changing the mitvzah obligations of half the Jewish nation?  Adjusting what we consider acceptable based on what people around us think is right?  This is completely outside the pale of what the "modern" means.
Certainly this problem isn't unique to the YCT crowd.  Years ago the Union for Traditional Judaism split from the Conservatives over what they found to be unacceptable breaches in Jewish tradition like the ordaining of women rabbis.  However, unlike the YCT crowd they were starting from a position where altering inconvenient Jewish traditions, like using a mechitzah, was already acceptable which is what kept them from abandoning Conservatism completely and returning to Orthodoxy.
Farber et al have the opposite problem - they started inside the Torah-observant community and don't want to leave but have a hard time convincing other Orthodox folks to change Orthodoxy to make it more acceptable to secular liberals.  They want to call themselves Orthodox but without all the Orthodox hang-ups like different, "archaic" values that stand at odds with whatever popular culture considers "cool".
At some point they are going to have to ask themselves a hard question.  They can be Orthodox.  They can be secular liberal with a smattering of tradition but they cannot be both.  Which will they choose?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Why They're Frummer

The basic impression never fails.  Stick someone in a black hat and suit next to someone wearing contemporary clothes and a suede kippah and ask people which man is more observant.  Almost every time the response will be "the guy in the hat and suit".
Not knowing anything about the two people this is the answer most people give based on first impressions.  It could be that the guy in regular clothes sits and learns all day long while and is especially medakdek in his mitzvah observance while the guy in the hat and suit is, well Sholom Rubashkin or something like that.  It doesn't matter.  Who's going to look more at place in the Orthodox shul down the street?
Many of us recoil from this simplistic observation and feel that it is quite wrong.  Judging people by the clothes they wear is superficial and can lead to great error.  What's more, there is a resentment in the non-Chareidi community over the importance specific uniforms play amongst the Chareidim.  It seems wrong to us that you should be rated by others based on the hat you wear, not on your basic actions.
As a result there is a great deal of effort put forth by many in the Modern Orthodox community to show that the halacha does not support some of the things Chareidim treat as assumptions.  One does not have to wear a black hat while davening or at any other time for that matter.  One does not have to wear exclusively white shirts and dark suits either.  A recent excellent book reviewing issues of importance to the Modern Orthodox community emphasizes this with plenty of halachic support.
But is that all there is to it, or does the paraphrase "Methinks the Modern Orthodox do protest too much" seem applicable here?
Consider where the term "Chareidi" came from.  It is based on a verse describing folks who tremble, are "chareid" for the word of God.  The Chareidi philosophy is based on a total dedication to connecting with God through the performance of mitzvos and that no area of life is devoid of mitzvos.
Thus for a Gerer chasid, the bekishe and shtreiml aren't simply a uniform to identify membership is a group but an act of worship.  The chasid doesn't wait to get to shul and put his tefillin on to begin his religious service.  He starts it with rising from bed and getting dressed.
The importance of this cannot be overstated as it puts non-Chareidi protestations at the seeming overemphasis on outfit in a different perspective.  As noted elsewhere, Modern Orthodoxy is often defined by what it isn't.  It isn't Reformative, it isn't UltraOrthodox.  Many in the community bristle at this definition but when one looks at the complaints I noted, it seems to resemble reality.
Consider that the Chareidi approach to clothing is positive - I wear this outfit to worship God.  Consider the Modern Orthodox retort - I don't wear that outfit because I don't have to.  Then look at other areas of difference between the two communities.  What is the Chareidi approach to television?  I don't watch television because it's against the Torah.  What is the Modern Orthodox rebuttal?  There's nothing against the Torah about watching television.
In each example one brings up the theme seems to be the same.  The UltraOrthodox perform acts with the express purpose of making them part of their worship.  These acts may be inventions, a product of the revision of history, a derivative of a chumrah from the gemara in Uktzin or the like.  They may have no basis in halacha at all!  Yet they are done as part of the ongoing service of God that is prioritized in the Chareidi community.
And the Modern Orthodox?  How is watching television part of one's worship of God?  How is a colourful contemporary outfit part of one's service to the Divine?  Are these acts of dedication to God or admissions that parts of their lives are simply exempt from serving Him?
It seems to me that this is why we have the immediate impression that the guy in the Oreo outfit is "frummer" than the guy dressed in a secular style.  Knowing nothing else about the two men we can reach one immediate conclusion.  The guy in black and white is making a positive statement to all who see him about his loyalty to Torah and mitzvos.  The guy who's dressed normally is not.  He may be just as pious or even more than his UltraOrthodox counterpart but in this one aspect where we see them he is lacking a positive statement of dedication.
Now, I reject the idea that the outfit is an important part of determining one's yiras Shamayim and level of Torah observance.  The pitfall of accepting that is a culture in which the outfit goes from one determinant to the sole determinant of one's acceptability to the group.  How many times in recent years have we seen people who own only variations on the Oreo outfit who did not have problems cheating and stealing?  How many times have we seen men whose lives revolve around the hats they wear rioting and attacking others who don't share their taste in clothing?
But I do think that this area raised an important challenge for Modern Orthodoxy.  One can look at regular clothes and say "Well I can't be bothered to bring God into that part of my life" or one can note that a Jew who is dressed in normal clothes might better relate to his non-religious counterpart and show him that an otherwise "regular" guy can also be observant, that the Torah lifestyle isn't simply for the "other" that requires a restrictive dress code.  A simple re-framing and suddenly Torah is in a new part of one's life.
There is a lot Modern Orthodoxy can learn from the Chareidim and this, the idea that Torah should impact all parts of our life including the most mundane ones, is one of those things.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Where The Money's Going

For a part of the Jewish community that is always complaining about a lack of money for important things like education, the Chareidim seem to have no trouble rusting up cash when it comes to useless public relations stunts.  How else to explain the upcoming Asifah later today at a large sports stadium that is rumoured to cost more than a million dollars once all the bills are tallied?
The Asifah, as multiple blogs have noted, is a gathering to demonstrate the unity of the Torah-observant community in its fight against the tumah of the Internet and its ravaging effects on us.  No doubt there will be inspiring speeches, lots of advice and direct orders, all in the name of "the Gedolim" to round out the event.
But there are two points I'd like to note, before anyone gets too enthusiastic about the potential for good that the Asifah claims it will accomplish.
The first is to point out all the disunity that this call for unity has exposed.  No, this isn't a goodwill gathering of all Torah-observant Jews.  Chabad, for example, almost didn't get invited.  Rumours of various chasidic groups not wanting to show up if other groups were invited are rife.  Despite all the "Daas Torah" available for consultation, no one could figure out how to put up a mechitzah so no women will be present.  Ask people at Modern Orthodox shuls if they had any tickets made available to them (people in Flatbush seem to be particularly annoyed) and the answer is a resounding "no".  And despite the usual statements that speakers will represent all corners of the Torah observant community, no one from Yeshiva University has been asked to contribute. (I'm not even going to mention YCT!)
Yes, it seems that the definition of "unity" for the organizers is "everyone who looks and thinks exactly like us" which excludes any Torah observant Jews who dress and think differently along with all women.  As I've said before, if someone ever figures out how to do human parthenogenesis these same leaders will ban women from existence since they'll now be redundant.
The second is to note that this event is essentially useless.  The Chareidi leadership has spent the better part of the last two generations fighting a losing battle against modern technology.  First there was the war against the television which was mostly lost when people discovered those neat cubboards that you could stick a TV inside and then close up when your Rav or "holier than thou" friends came for a Shabbos meal.  Then came the internet which is so pervasive and omnipotent that it did what "the Gedolim" couldn't: it made the television irrelevant and became the new media focus in everyone's lives.
Naturally the first attempt was to ban the 'net, a move that also failed because of the internet's indispensible nature in many people's lives, for business, research, etc.  Despite this reality the fight went on.  People were told they couldn't have computers in their homes so they went to the library or simply lied to the folks asking the question.  People were told they couldn't have smart phones.  They went and got them anyway.
And now there will be a gathering where we will all be told which filters to use and the "halachically permissible" circumstances for using the internet. 
And it will make no difference, just as every other move the leadership has made.
But what's most frustrating is the cost.  Imagine how many teachers could have been hired with the money spent in this useless gathering.  How many hungry families could have been provided with decent meals for Shavuous next week?  How many kids could get good dental and health care? 
Blogs are a favourite target of "the Gedolim" because they represent the ultimate insurrection.  Yeshiva students can be dominated.  Their families and congregations can be controlled but not the 'net which must drive these folks wild.  Instead of addressing the problems that the blogs identify they rail against the identifiers and the technology that exposed the problems in the first place.
The money could have been better spent but it would have left a few egos unstroked.  Too bad, eh?

Friday, 18 May 2012

Finally I Agree With Something He Wrote

Long time readers (we're up to half a dozen, I think!) know that Rav Avi Shafran isn't my favourite writer.  I often portray him as a willing PR bagman for all that is wrong with the Agudah and its followers.  However, in his latest piece he points out something that I've been saying all along: there's something seriously wrong with the Global Warming crowd and all their supposed arguments.
For the record, I'm uncertain whether global warming, or climate change or whatever they're calling it now, is happening but as a resident of Canada I can't see why I should be against it.  Really, you're bringing Disney's weather up to me?  Where's the downside?
It's also important to distinguish between science and scientism.  Poor science does not make it easy to draw hard conclusions from anything.  Associations, possible relationships and the like are all fine but a hard and fast conclusion?  That's quite difficult as any intellectually honest scientist will tell you.  Scientism, on the other hand, is a new for militant atheoskepticism's religion, the spouting of half-truths and selected facts in the pursuit of a moral goal.  Unlike science, scientism is great at coming to conclusions.
When two people are having an argument, it's often difficult to determine who's got the better argument but sometimes there are clues.  For example, when someone says "Well it's already been settled that my position is right" that's a pretty big hint that the actual position is quite weak and incapable of vigorous defence.
And isn't that just what the global warmers say every time they're challenged?  Lines like "The science is settled", "all reputable scientists agree" and "the evidence is conclusive" spout forth in place of what would be an honest "We've decided it's happening and we don't want to argue with you about it."
And Rav Shafran takes them to task for this:

I think I’ve discovered what makes me so uncomfortable about the assertion that global warming is a real and urgent problem.
A front-page New York Times story on May 1 concerned (thanks, Mr. Rumsfeld, for the pithy phrase) a “known unknown”: the earth’s cloud cover. Specifically, the causes and effects of its extent, altitude, and qualities—which are only very imperfectly understood. MIT professor of meteorology Richard S. Lindzen, the article explains, considers clouds a sort of planetary self-corrective mechanism that can counter the effects of greenhouse gases, the global warming drama’s villains.
Predictably, despite his unassailable credentials and the scientific community’s ostensible commitment to objectively consider all hypotheses, Dr. Lindzen has been excoriated by many of his colleagues, who, while they concede the enormous effect of clouds on climate, say he lacks proof for his contention and that, by raising the cloud issue, he is acting, in the words of one, in a “deeply unprofessional and irresponsible” manner.
The Times reporter mirrors that negativity, beginning his piece by stating that “a small group of scientific dissenters,” having had “their arguments… knocked down by accumulating evidence,” have “seized on one last argument,” namely, “that clouds will save us.” There is a reference to “withering criticism” of Dr. Lindzen and an assertion that the renegade researcher has been “embraced” by “politicians looking for reasons not to tackle climate change.” The sneering is subtle, but it’s there.
Less subtle was the environmental zeal of Al Armendariz, the erstwhile top Environmental Protection Agency official in Texas, who recently resigned after a video emerged of him discussing how to enforce oil and gas extraction regulations. He suggested the approach of “the Romans,” who “used to conquer villages” by taking “the first five guys they saw and… crucify[ing] them,” rendering the village “really easy to manage for the next few years.”
Of course, neither the hasty dismissal of rational speculations like Dr. Lindzen’s nor the over-enthusiasm of some environmentalists like Mr. Armendariz means that climate change isn’t real or that we have no responsibility to try to deal with it. We simply don’t know. The climate alarm-raisers may turn out to have been modern-day Chicken Littles squawking that the sky is warming. But they may turn out to have been environmental prophets. To be sure, most of the scientific community believes the latter. But in something as complex and long-term as climate change, even a scientific consensus—“groupthink,” Dr. Lindzen calls it—is only a contender for truth, not its arbiter.

Environmentalism, scientism and the like are now new religions for those who have, chalilah, abandoned the belief in God and His control of the universe.  Like any religion, however, there are core beliefs and principles that divided between the believers and heretics along with self-fulfilling definitions as to who is credible and who is not.
It's not hard to guess what the goals of this new religion are.  North America and Western European countries are destroying the planet with their capitalist economies.  Not China, the world's least regulated major polluter.  Not India which is growing faster than it can control, not Russia where environmental standards are a joke.  For some reason, it's the West and the West has to pay for its "sins".  Could it be that scientism is just international communism returned in a new guise but with the same purpose of undermining the West out of jealously of it?
The planet we live on is an incredibly complex thing.  It has been around for a very long time and is influenced by a hell of a lot of factors, some of them not even originating on Earth.  For anyone to suggest that they've got something like climate figured out, that they've drawn inescapable and inarguable conclusions as to how it works, is arrogant presumption.  And what betrays this arrogance most is how condescendingly its proponents dismiss those who would discuss the matter with them.
So yes, for once I think Rav Shafran hits the nail on the head.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Slowly Coming Around

One of Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein's tactics when writing at Cross Currents is to pretend to approach matters from the perspective of right-wing Modern Orthodox instead of a Chareidi one.  The style is ingenious in that, while he himself is Chareidi, he can present what he believes is the "correct" position to folks who would not listen to someone UltraOrthodox but might if they thought the views were coming from "one of their own".  His infamous piece condemning Rabbi Avi Shafran and the YCT crowd while demanding that the YU elite form a beis din to kick them out of Orthodoxy was a great example of this.  Were he to have openly identified as a Chareidi writer his screed would have been ignored.  Posing as "one of us" got him far more attention and discussion.
Yet sometimes things happen in the Chareidi world that make the more intelligent amongst them squeamish.  Sometimes an article is written or a position is articulated that only Rav Avi Shafran could justify while competent writers like Adlerstein and Rav Yonasan Rosenblum are forced to dissociate themselves for fear of being seeing as laughinstocks.  Such an article recently appeared in the Chareidi magazine "Ami". (Hat tip: Rafi G)
The article is, in many ways, similar to a piece on Matzav by Pinny Lipschutz from a couple of years ago.  Both emphasize that while they recognize that the State of Israel sprang into being and continues to exist, "Orthodox" Jews should not attribute anything special to it, see any religious significance to it or feel any gratitude to God for it.  It's just there, okay?
It brings to mind the words of the Eim HaBanim Semeicha.  In his important work showing that returning to Israel was not a violation of God's will and was actually a fulfillment of it he noted that strong criticism from some parts of the Orthodox world revolving around the secular nature of the new Yishuv.  How hypocritical, he noted, for them to condemn the Zionists for trying to created a Judaism-free state.  When the call had gone out for Jews to return home they instructed their followers to stay put.  Only secular Jews answered the call and returned home to build Israel and now they were shocked, shocked! that the Yishuv was secular?
The Chareidi refusal to acknowledge the special nature of the State and its importance to Jews and Jewish history reminds me of a Chabad shaliach I knew many years ago who, on Kislev 19, told me I didn't have to say Tachanun because it was the new year for Chasidus (read: Chabad philosophy) and the day the Alter Rebbe got out of jail.  When I told him that I was not a Chabadnik he corrected me pointing out that the event had significance for all Jews.  So I asked him if he said Tachanun on Iyyar 5.  He didn't realize what date I was referring to but when I told him it was Yom Ha'atzmaut he told me he generally davened at home so as to avoid people seeing him saying tachanun.  I pointed out to him that if the release of one Chasidic Rebbe from jail was important enough to have the Jewish people not say tachanun, certainly an event that directly benefited and continues to benefit the entire Jewish people should rate that much, even if he didn't want to say Hallel.
But Rav Adlerstein's point in the essay is also a must-read:

The piece has generated vigorous discussion. Is it true that most Orthodox Jews ignore Yom Ha-Atzmaut? Do not a majority of Jews who accept the Thirteen Principles of Faith, i.e. the Rambam’s definition of who is an “insider,” in fact celebrate the day? (We should probably accept the author’s protestation that by “Orthodox” he meant “charedi,” and was guilty of poor word choice, but not malice.) Is it true that “subsequent…military action stirred additional rabbinic opposition to Zionism, and was seen as proof that the Zionist idea was, from a perspective of Jewish tradition, illicit from the start?” Wasn’t this just the reaction of Satmar and Brisk, and in fact rejected in all other Torah circles? Can the position of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik be reduced to nothing more than seeing the State as “a buffer against assimilation,” while dismissing “the idea that its creation was in any way associated with the concept of redemption?” Does Rav Kook merit any attention at all? Did the author ever see the newsreels of Novemeber, 1947 (the reaction to the UN partition vote), with circles of charedim and secular Jews dancing together in unbridled joy? They don’t really support the conclusion of a wholesale charedi rejection of the State. Nor does the signature of R Itche Meir Levin on Israel’s Declaration of Independence, nor all of those who did mark the first few anniversaries of the Declaration with joy and thanks to Hashem.
I will leave to others to develop those objections, and turn to one that I believe may be the most serious flaw in the editorial. Even if the facts would have been as the author has them (and I do not believe that this is the case), they would have little relevance to us today.
Yom Ha-Atzmaut is not a celebration of secular Zionism, or any kind of Zionism. It is the celebration of the coming into existence of an independent Jewish community – no, nation – in the land that is ours. Israel is the largest Jewish community in the world. Its continued existence, its thriving against all odds, is a gift from Heaven. It can, should, must be appreciated as an enormous chesed from HKBH, Who allows us to live in our holy Land and work again to slowly build up a Jewish nation. How can we fail to acknowledge the incredible saga, past and present of rov minyan and rov binyan of the Jewish people? What do we do to ourselves when we stand to the side as literally millions of Jews celebrate in their own way (even if not the way we would have designed such celebration), and we do not feel their simple joy of being Jewish? What damage to we foist on future generations of our people, as we propagate division and dissension by not smiling at them and saying “Chag Sameach,” even if it is not mentioned in Parshas Emor?

Like the Arabs who still talk about returning to their orange groves in Jaffa, too many in the UltraOrthodox world still refuse to acknowledge that the battle over whether or not Zionism will succeed is over.  Too many hang on to the twisted Satmar philosophy that says that whenever something bad happens it's God punishing us but when something good happens, well that's just the Satan teasing us.
Rav Adlerstein goes on to note:
This is not dependent on the ideology that is called Zionism. Many years ago, I heard a young rosh yeshiva argue that all of us were like the Japanese soldiers who remained holed up on Pacific islands many years after the end of World War Two, still keeping guard at their posts. They were living a war that had already ended. There was a war for the heart and soul of the Jewish people between secular Zionists and those faithful to Torah. Secular Zionism lost that battle! We in the Torah community should have declared victory and moved on! We now have a country of our own, and we should take our places in its development, without fear of supporting an ideology that died a long time ago. Yom Ha-Atzmaut is not about ideology today – it is about the privilege of having a place where we need bow to nothing but Hashem. Recall the words of the Rambam (Chanuka 3:1) writing about why Chanuka was important: “Jewish governance returned to for more than two hundred years, till the churban.” Those two centuries were presided over by rulers a good deal more evil than the people sitting in Knesset.
There is a great spiritual thirst in Israel today.  Presented properly and moderately, Torah Judaism could accomplish so much to quench that thirst.  It could easily introduce proper Jewish values into the life of the State and its culture.  People are looking for direction, a future, a great meaning to the sacrifices they make every today and Torah Judaism has the answers to all those but those on the UltraOrthodox side of the spectrum who currently insist on turning away as many Jews as possible would have to radically accept that they have a new mission in life, that of turning Judaism back from a religion of exile to a nationality of Torah based in Israel.
Until they make that change then we will fight all the same old battles and, come Tisha B'av every year, wonder why God hasn't redeemed us yet.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Optional Obligations

One of the problems with being a moderate or middle-grounder in Western society today is that the extremes are currently where all the social action is.  In a world where the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer it is becoming harder and harder to remain in the middle class.  One need not look any further for an example of this trend than Judaism today.
On the right side we have the UltraOrthodox who have taken control of the definition of Torah observance and are attempting to rewrite Jewish history and law in order to make them fit their strict agenda.  On the left side we have the ultra-Reform and humanists for who no secular liberal value is too secular and liberal.
And somewhere in  the middle we have the Conservatives, a movement that was once the largest and most influential of the so-called streams of Judaism in North America and which today is dwindling as its moderate message - you can be sort-of religious - is rejected by more and more people searching for either observant or non-observant authenticity.
The problem for Conservativism, however, isn't that it is trying to remain in the middle in a diverging society but that its response to date hasn't been to defend that position but to rather weakly imitate its left-sided competitors.  In an attempt to staunch some of the bleeding they have reached towards the Reformers and, in the process, made themselves less distinguishable from them.  Indeed some might conclude that Conservatism is just Reform with a few more rituals.
Into this comes an attempt by the movement to rebrand itself.  Previously the one meaningful piece of literature produced by the movement was The Guide To Jewish Religious Practice.  I say meaningful because while lots of stuff has come out of the Jewish Theological Seminary, this book was the one that defined what red lines the movement had when it came to what was permissible and what wasn't.  It defined the proper behaviour for a Conservative and it did so with a lot of detail.  One of the ongoing jokes in some parts of the Orthodox world is that if Conservatives actually strictly observed what it preached they'd be taken a lot more seriously by the Torah-observant.
The problem, of course, is that most Conservatives either don't own the book (I wonder what percentage of Conservatives bought it vs the percentage that received it as a bar mitzvah gift from their synagogue) or never cracked the spine.  It's hard to expect practice from folks who can't even find the rule book.
But now news comes that the book has been upgraded and updated.  A new, larger book, The Observant Life, is expected out in the next few months and will be the replacement for the old Guide.  Unlike the Guide, which pretty much stuck to an analysis of the laws regarding daily Jewish life and holidays, this one will go further and be more comprehensive:
I wonder, though, if The Observant Life will end up like the Magan Tzedek hechsher - a potentially great idea, one in which the Conservatives could really have distinguished themselves, that went nowhere because only a miniscule proportion of its target population cared about its existence.
Consider the title, for example.  The Observant Life was probably chosen by those same folks at JTS who brought us the old Conservative slogan: "the authentic voice of traditional Judaism".  For a long time the Conservative leadership deluded itself into thinking that its so-called Rabbinical Assembly was like a modern day Sanhedrin and that just as Chazal had supposedly voted all sorts of laws into existence and changed things they didn't like so too the RA was an authentic halachic body.  Whether it was Harold Kushner openly announcing at one of their conventions that they were no longer such a thing or the ordination of homosexual rabbis, something no amount of halachic misrepresentation could accept as legitimately traditional, there is no doubt any longer that the Conservative commitment to halacha nowadays is limited to those sections of Jewish law that don't violate the tenets of secular liberalism.  In short, the authors may want to bring a form of observance into the lives of their flock but not what is currently considered "observance" in North America which means a commitment to mitzvos without exception.
To be fair, the old Guide was similar but not blatant about it.  Issac Klein would generally bring real halachic sources for rulings where he could but he used the handy "In a vote by the Rabbinical assembly" to justify those which violated the Shulchan Aruch.  I would guess this book will do more of the same, quoting a variety of real sources where possible and the RA where it is not.
 Another problem is that the book, by its nature, will spell out what is forbidden for Conservatives.  On one hand, that sounds fine but on the other consider that one of the tenets of secular liberalism is that the answer "No, you're not allowed" is considered unacceptable in most situations.  It's easy to say when one asks "Can I cheat" or "Can I steal" and I don't doubt the book will emphasize lots of areas where cheating and stealing, many times by Orthodox Jews, occurs and show how Jewish law opposes this.
But what about when a Cohen wants to marry a divorcee?  What about when an intermarried couple where the mother isn't Jewish wants a bris?  What about the young couple that wants to live together without having gotten married?  What about same-sex couples?  What will the book say to them?  Will it have the courage to say "Look, we have rules and they aren't the same as society around them, good intentions and "I want this and it doesn't hurt anybody!" isn't enough and the answer is 'no'"?  Or will it again bring in "rulings" from the RA or other fluffy statements about love and tolerance to justify wholesale breaches in real Jewish law?
That's why Conservatism has spent all its time aping Reform and not Orthodoxy even as many of their number, seeking real Jewish values and observance, drift to the right.  Bringing in homosexual rabbis is easy. Telling people that only men can be counted for minyan?  Not so much.
I suspect a lot of the latter because, let's face it, these authors will want to sell books and a book that tells people what they don't want to hear is not going to sell well.  The authors will probably play the same game Conservatism has been for the last several decades.  They will redefine observance in such a way as to minimize the difference between "Judaism" and secular liberalism so as to promote a religious life that will not offend any of their target audience.
And once again people looking for authentic Judiasm will go elsewhere.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Welcome to Obamanation

Liberals in the US are in ecstasy now that President Obama and his sidekick Joe Biden have endorsed homosexual marriage.  Long considered the primary goal to be accomplished by the left, they see these announcements, while lacking any meaning in a legal sense, as an important step forward in their campaign to change the definition of marriage for everyone.
What many of them don't realize is that they are being used by Obama and his 2012 campaign team and the outcomes won't be pretty.
Think about it.  So President Obama announces that he has no problem with homosexual marriage.  So what?  Despite what he might prefer, his presidential musings have no legal force.  He does not rule by fiat.  Heck, his sole ability to influence the law making process is through vetoing the hard work of Congress.  He accomplishes nothing practical by stating he thinks marriage can be about Adam and Steve in addition to Adam and Eve.
What's more, he shows disdain for a large portion of the American electorate that still quite passionately opposed the redefinition of marriage.  In multiple state referendums the proposal to legally change the definition of marriage has been defeated time and time again.  Do the outcomes of those referendums mean nothing or does Obama share the view of the typical leftists that democracy only counts when the correct side wins?
If Obama has endorsed homosexual marriage one can be sure that it's not because he cares about it.  The president has, through his actions during his political care, made it quite clear that he cares only about one thing: himself.  If he is making this statement it's because his pollsters and strategists have determined that to do so will increase his election strategy.
Yet on the face of it the move might seem to backfire.  Coming as it does on the heels of a North Carolina referendum rejected accepting gay marriage as legal one wonders if a portion of the electorate that might quietly have no problem with gay civil unions but still care about the definition of marriage will turn and reject him.
This will probably not happen though because Obama's opponent, the man named after winter handwear, will likely stumble into the trap the president has set for him.
Consider that the real issues in the upcoming election are the economy, the imminent bankruptcy of the United States and the need to deal with increasing hostility from the very countries around the world Obama has been sucking up to over the last three years. Legalizing homosexual marriage is a priority issue for only a very small part of the country and if that small part had any clue about the trouble America is in they'd also put it aside for a while.
But on all these issues Team Obama is a losing proposition.  Despite trillions in stimulus unemployment remains high, manufacturing hasn't recovered and the outsourcing trend has not reversed.  Obama cannot campaign on his ability to manufacture bipartisan cooperation in government.  He cannot trumpet his foreign policy which has reduced America's influence and prestige around the world.  He cannot talk about his health care plans which will never see the light of day. He did try the class warfare card a few months ago but that tactic burned out when the Occupy Wall Street protesters went home for the winter.
It would seem then that this is all he has left: declare his approval for gay marriage, wait for Romney or some redneck Republican official to oppose it and then start painting his opponents as hicks, savages and fools.  If the Republican campaign has any discipline then they will see this coming and take a page out of Bill Clinton's book, shouting "It's about the economy, stupid!"  I don't have high hopes they'll be this bright.
And if the tactic doesn't work, expect the next strategy to be "If you don't like Obama, you're a racist!"  After all, if one has nothing positive to campaign about, why not sling the mud?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

How Are You Going To Do That?

There is no question that the current state of the Chareidi community in Israel is a source of stress.  It stresses the secular population which supports the "learn, don't earn" lifestyle and it stresses the Chareidim themselves, condemning them as it does to a life of poverty and near-illiteracy.  There is no question the society they live in has to change to benefit themselves, secular Israel and Torah in general.
The only real question is how to do it.  As I've noted before, forcing change will result in bad results.  Leaving things along will cause a community implosion at some point.  There needs to be developed a strategy to encourage a functional evolution of the community.
However, what is not needed is a simplistic solution with threatening overtones such as this one in Ynet:Hasn’t the time come to openly say what we feel? Haredi society educates people to be parasites and cultivates poverty. Indeed, it is the most powerful agent of spreading ignorance, prejudice and all sorts of other nonsense. It is an enemy of the sciences, shuns the arts, disparages the rule of the people, hates women and exploits them. It despises those who are different, regardless of whether they are foreigners or members of our own people. The strengthening of haredi society is a guarantee for weakening Israeli society to the point of ultimate defeat. Hence, the intellectual effort dedicated to the issue of IDF enlistment should be dedicated to the great challenge: Shrinking the ranks of the haredim.
Really?  Their numbers need to be reduced?  Chareidim are suddenly rabbits in Australia or roaches in New York city?
Pray tell: how will that be done?  I doubt the author means an actual physical culling of the Chareidi "herd".  Despite their enunciated hatred for them, even the most radical elements of the Israeli left would shudder at the thought of Jewish soldiers mowing down Charedim in the street.  (Well, at least I hope they would)
Should it be a forced indoctrination, similar to the efforts of secular Zionists to destroy the religious culture of the Yemenite olim of 60 years ago?  Again, while radical elements on the left might enjoy such a campaign I would like to think that the average secular Israeli is quite uninterested in forcible conversion to secularism on a mass scale.
What is required, as I've noted before, is an attempt to reach out directly to the Chareidi population by bypassing their dysfunctional leaders and appealing to those common values that all Israelis have: love of children, desire for a stable, sustainable lifestyle, respect for law and order.  Much of the Chareidi world is locked in an intellectual ghetto and many of those who would open the gates to that world carry keys that just don't fit the lock.  But it is only through slow, cooperative integration that Chareidim can remain Chareidim but also become productive members of society.
Not through veiled threats.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

On Denying

Three years ago I wrote about what I thought was one of my better ideas - that once upon a time 3500 years ago it would have been absurd for a Jew to deny Matan Torah at Sinai but over time such denials became much more plausible since eye witnesses to the event were long dead and buried and all people had to go on was tradition and the Torah saying that the event happened.  I then extrapolated this to the Holocaust, pointing out that in the future, probably sooner than we think after the last survivors have passed on, people will do the same thing.  In fact, I think that in an age of photo-shoping and increasingly sophisticated technology people will find it all that much easier to deny the existing evidence of the Holocaust and come up with "reasonable" alternative explanations for our claims that the tragedy happened.
And then out of nowhere a comment appears from someone monikered "FQ":
Sorry I'm a couple years too late. I think this is an interesting comparison and a good point. The issue I have with it is when I take your argument and turn it around. Let's say I start making up proofs that aliens landed in my neighborhood and I spread it around and tell my kids and friends, and they play along. If someone is skeptical 100 years later because he's not convinced by the "proofs", is that the same as a future holocaust denyer?And if it is different, then how does sinai denial resemble holocaust denial more than alien denial.
Now let's approach this piece by piece.  This is not the first time such a question has been asked and, in one of its more absurd manifestations, it has morphed into a pseudo-movement whose whole purpose is simply to mock God's existence.  As FQ might have implied, all major religions start with a claim of some kind of interaction with or manifestation of the supernatural.  The story must inevitably be taken on faith.  Why should I believe my religion's story is any more legitimate that any others?  Why must I believe any of them?
The first  part of the answer derives from the Kuzari proof which is quite a good argument for the truth of Torah when applied against the two rival monotheistic religions which claim to have supplanted Judaism as God's chosen revelation.  This is not what I think FQ was getting at so I won't pursue it.
So let's look at the example he brings (if FQ is a she, I apologize for using the male gender to identify her).  Let's say alien's landed in my neighbourhood one afternoon and subsequently departed without leaving a trace of evidence behind.  There are now two possiblities.  One is that they appeared, looked around, maybe enjoyed a Big Mac, and then departed.  The other is that they interacted with the local populace, gave them information or told them about life on other worlds, and then departed.
If it's the former, then really, who cares?  Yes, aliens were here.  No, they weren't.  Yes, there's advanced life out there but so what?  We can't even get a man to the moon any more and any advanced enough life form will be able to wipe us out from space so again, who cares?  How does my life change on a daily basis?  Other than knowing that we are not alone in the universe my day-to-day existence is unaltered.
On the other hand, let's say the aliens leave something behind, like rules to live by.  I ask again: why should I care?  Why should I do anything they say?
And this is something I think people don't realize when they dismiss the Kuzari proof, mostly because it's not part of that original argument.  The Jewish claim is not that God revealed Himself once at Har Sinai, gave us the Torah and then went back to Heaven but that He continued to reveal Himself on a regular basis afterwards to ensure we remembered His presence in our lives.  Ours is not a revelation on the road to Damascus or in some dark Arabian desert but rather an ongoing revelation.  
Unlike Chrisianity which started by promising a monotheistic-sympathetic Roman culture that they could have all the reward of Judaism (Heaven, blintzes, etc) without any of the obligations, and unlike Islam which was supported by the military prowess of its military leader, Judaism had to overcome the opposite of both. Remember that the Bible, unique amongst ancient documents, narrates our stumbling as avidly as it does our successes.  We learn that early on, right after conquering part of Israel that our ancestors were invaded and oppressed on a repeated basis by their neighbours.  We learn that the various mitzvos were not happily accepted by our ancestors.  It was only through crying out to God and seeing His miracles in rescuing us that we continued to exist.
Remember what the Torah tells us - the Shechinah, the physical manifestation of God's presence, accompanied our ancestors for forty years in the desert.  It was present for much of the First Temple's existence.  It was this ongoing revelation that cemented the loyalty in Torah in our ancestors despite all their documented backsliding.  
So yes, on one hand if aliens landed and looked around my neighbourhood then denying they did in a few years would be no different on a superficial  level than Holocaust denial.  If you want to keep things simple than Sinai denial, Holocaust denial and alien denial are all the same thing: a denial about an event that happened.
And that was my point, not trying to prove the truth of Sinai which I've done in other posts.  My point was simply that those folks who get into a hot lather about Holocaust denies but then turn around and say "Yeah, but Matan Torah didn't happen the way the Torah says it did, of course" are engaging in a denial that's no different.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Resignation Syndrome

I remember reading an article in The Jerusalem Post about Meron Benvenisti in the mid-1980's.  Back then he had recently finished serving as Teddy Kollek's deputy mayor of Yerushalayim and failed to unseat him despite having seen himself as his heir apparent.  In those days Teddy was a proponent of an eternally undivided Yerushalayim so it was no surprise that Benvenisti became a champion of dividing the city between Jews and Arabs.
It's a repeated event in Israeli politics for failed or retired politicians to become anti-Zionists, it seems.  Benvenisti was the first I recall reading about but after Abba Eban was forcefully retired from the Labour Party in 1988 he went from being an Israeli super-patriot to a hard-core supporter of the two-state solution and blaming Israel for its troubles in the Middle East.
Yuval Diskin has also recently joined this august club by publicly criticizing not just his goverment's policy vis a vis Iran but also the character of the current leadership, something that might be expected from only the most amateur or frustrated politician.  It seems that in Israel you're either a success or you want to bring the whole state down in a case of sour grapes.
None, however, can match the hypocrisy and bitterness of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.  Until Olmert came along, the title easily belonged to Shimon Peres, a man who had twiced served as prime minister despite never having won an election and who has still not been properly investigated for bringing mass murderer Yassir Arafat, y"sh, to Israel, handing him guns and all but writing him a licence to kill Jews with impunity.
Olmert, for those with short memories, replaced Arik Sharon as prime minister when the latter was felled by a stroke.  He subsequently won an election running on "Sharon's legacy" and then fell from power when he could no longer change the public's belief that the multiple criminal investigations of him somehow meant that he just might be corrupt.  And somewhere in between those two points in time he tried to give away almost all of Yehuda,Shomron and East Yerushalayim in a deal that would have seen Israel's enemies get 99% of what they asked for without having to give anything in exchange.
To this day Olmert has shown no regret for anything.  He continues to deny his corruption.  He continues to deny that his peace deal did not having the backing of a majority of Israelis.  He continues to deny that his government's policies weakened Israel in the eyes of its enemies.  But he continues to do what he's best at: blaming everyone else for his failings.  Hence his recent appearance before a hostile crowd in New York:

Undaunted, Olmert noted at the outset that Israeli leaders should “avoid unnecessary slogans” like speaking of Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of Israel — as he often did as mayor, by the way — and rather show the “courage and honesty” to deal with reality. That reality, he said, calls for Israel to adjust to “the requirements of compromise” in earnest.
“Why do I need the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?” he asked, citing a requirement Prime Minister Netanyahu has made of the PA.
“We need the courage to go forward,” Olmert continued, “and we are not doing it today” under the Netanyahu government, he charged.
Even if the Palestinians rejected Israel’s offers, as they did when he was willing to give up Jerusalem’s holy places in 2008 negotiations rejected by the PA, Olmert said the U.S. and much of the world would recognize Israel’s willingness to make peace and ease international criticism.
Most important, Olmert said, was not to “fight” with the president of the United States over Mideast policy differences.
He said Obama was a friend of Israel — no crowd reaction — and that the U.S. has the political and military power to lead the effort to keep Iran from achieving nuclear arms.

Let's state the obvious: it wasn't Olmert's fault that the peace deal didn't go through.  The Arab leadership has and will continue to reject any such offer that Israel makes since they aren't interested in a deal but rather the destruction of Israel.  It is Olmert's fault that he really did think that such a deal might be accepted.  it is his fault that his government brought Israel to within a whisker of 1967 "suicide borders" in his idiotic attempt to gain world approval for Israel's existence.
Perhaps Israel should rent an island in the Canadian arctic and routinely send all retired politicians, whatever their political strip, to live there.  It would probably make Israel a better place to live and give the polar bears a great afternoon of entertainment.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Needed: Societal Change

Now that rumours of an upcoming general election ahead of schedule are circulating throughout Israel, it's important to take a step back and look at what precipitated such an idea.  Unlike many times in the past, the current governing coalition is quite stable.  There is no economic crisis that requires an urgent change in course.  There have been no personal scandals of any significance that might demand new elections. 
In fact, one might jump to the conclusion that it is the elevating tension with Iran that is the cause of the potential decision to dissolve the Knesset.  After beating the drums of wars for several months, Prime Minister Netanyahu has recently had to face down critical statements from the head of the army and the former head of the Shin Bet, both of whom directly denied that Iran is either a necessary or desirable target.  The idea of striking Iran to prevent further development of its nuclear program, an act that would likely trigger a regional war, might be a good impetus for calling elections to ensure that the government that pulls the trigger has popular support.
But no, that's not it.  Believe it or not, the reason behind the potential dissolving of the Knesset is the recent striking down by the High Court of Justice of the Tal Law, the legislation that allowed able-bodied Chareidim to avoid army service.  Draft exemptions based on being in full-time learning have always been controversial in Israel.  After all, most of the population considers them to be unfair and would do away with them in an instant if given the chance.  Unfortunately the Chareidi leadership doesn't agree.
Now that Yair Lapid has started his "Future" party, the issue has come even more to the fore since one plank in his platform is introducing a universal draft.  Momentum is building around this matter, helped in large part by the recent aggressiveness displayed by some elements in the Chareidi community when it comes to things like separate seating on buses and in public venues as well as their willingness to riot whenever they perceive any disrespect, intended or not.
Having read some of Lapid's public material, it's clear he's not Chareidi-baiting.  His platform, assuming he's sincere about it (he's a politician now, after all) is one demanding equality in the matter of the draft.  This might sound reasonable to most people but one of the psychological limitations of any group that has lived on entitlements is a vitriolic reaction when those entitlements, as unfair or unreasonable as some of them might be, are threatened.
Thus we have Moshe Gafni dismissing any alternatives to the Tal Law while Yisrael Eichler was so incensed by the idea of Chareidim being drafted that he became incoherent with rage:

 but for him to say I don’t hate haredim is like someone putting a kebab on the barbecue and saying I don’t hate lambs, or a duck hunter saying he doesn’t hate ducks or a fisherman saying he loves fish.

I don't know about you but I don't cook duck or fish because I hate them.  Quite the opposite actually.
Here's the basic problem: you have a society which, for almost three generations, has been handed a huge entitlement: they are able to sit and do nothing while avoiding army service and they get paid by the State which they are taught to villify to do it.  You have political leaders who will use any public forums they can to insist that this entitlement is a basic minimum that their community has coming to them.  They have religious leaders who, through the skewed information presented to them by their askanim, have invented two new principles of faith that have been annointed with yehareg v'al ya'avor status: not serving in the army and not working for a living.  Add traditional Jewish stubborness to this and it is clear that the situation will not change over night.
Consider a sudden change in the law that says that all eligible Chareidim have to go to the army tomorrow.  What might the consequences of such a move be?  Mass yeridah (some seculars might think that's a positive thing but it really isn't) and mass civil disobedience.  Is Israel prepared to deploy riot police all over Yerushalayim, Beit Shemesh, Bene Beraq and elsewhere?  Is there enough space in Israeli jails to hold all the Chareidim who will answer the clarion call of their leaders to "defend the Torah"?
A gradual start to such a program with a phase-in period like Lapid suggests would also not work.  According to the recent numbers, only 75% of secular Israelis eligible for army service are actually drafted.  There are numerous loopholes and possibilities for exemption.  Imagine Chareidi youth who are trained at splitting legal hairs being presented with all those opportunities.  How many will claim sore backs, bad eyes or possibly a brief case of tuberculosis?
Ultimately there is one way to effect such a societal change on the level needed: the government needs to approach the Chareidi community directly.  Forget the "Gedolim", forget their askanim and ignore their MK's.  Their agenda is to maintain the current entitlement situation despite how it has turned their followers into impoverished, unskilled batlanimi who thinking sitting around the Beis Medrash all day drinking coffee makes one a talmid chacham while their kids wonder if that mouldy piece of bread in the back of the fridge is for sharing. 
The one thing working for the Israeli government is this terrible leadership which, in its zeal to protect the "purity" of the "Torah camp" has led the Chareidim into a dead-end situation which is making so many of them miserable.  It seems that the best idea is to simply approach the average Chareidim en masse and try to reach out to them while vigorously fighting against the incredulous claims of their leadership and PR men.  Most Chareidim are, by any standard, reasonable people.  No Chareidi father wants to see his children hungry or dirty.  No Chareidi woman wants to think that the rest of her life will be spent living in the dark corner of an underground parking lot.  They surely want better and, like most oppressed population, are prevented from getting it by their leadership.  Perhaps a determined effort at circumventing it will result in a positive outcome - one in which Chareidim see that secular Israel is no longer the bogeyman society of the 1930's and 40's and that it is possible to live amongst the populace and be productive in society without compromising one's genuine religious standards.  And that would be the best thing to happen after the next election.