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Op-Ed: Homegrown Enemies of Jewish Life

There are internal enemies that we must conquer so we can face the very real external threats. Remember Pogo's line? Rabbi Wein tells us what and how.
Published: Monday, December 05, 2011 3:04 PM


There was once a fascinating commentary on life in the form of a comic strip called Pogo. One of its most telling captions to my memory was the paraphrasing of the famous line “We have met the enemy and they are ours” into “We have met the enemy and they are us!”

The time, energy and effort spent on fighting imagined enemies and illusory dangers in the Jewish world, including the observant Jewish world is fairly mind-boggling. This is unfortunately in line with much of Jewish history where identifying the real problems, the true enemies of Jewish existence and
comfort was somehow secondary to quarrels about fabricated enemies and minor issues of differing ritual and custom.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the great  hassidic rebbe, Rabbi David of Tolnoah, changed one word in the daily prayer service because of a holy dream that he claimed to have had. This touched off a war in Jewish Galicia that split families, caused divorces and created violent confrontations.

This dispute lasted generations until it was finally settled by Hitler who did care what word was used by Jews in whatever prayers they recited. All of the energy, wealth and talent expended on that issue a century and half ago could certainly have been better used to combat the rising tide of assimilation, secularism, anti-Semitism and poverty that was then threatening to the observant Jewish community in that part of Poland.

The enemy was misidentified. The real enemy escaped with almost nary a scratch.

Well, this sad situation is being reenacted in our times and societies as well. We simply are tilting at windmills while the real enemies of Jewish life and growth insidiously march on to attempt to overwhelm us.

I feel that one of the great enemies of traditional Judaism in the United States is the high cost of tuition in Jewish day schools and yeshivot. Everyone talks about it and recognizes the problem. Families have fewer children because of it. Jewish children from otherwise observant families are sent to Charter Schools and Public Schools because of it. Both the quality and quantity of Jewish education suffer because of it.

But apparently nothing is done about it. The major national organizations are busy with their political offices, fighting turf battles and using their funds as they wish. They are legally entitled to do so but I would think that they could and should allocate a given percentage of their budgets to support local day  schools and yeshivot that lower tuition rates.

That is the true enemy, not all of the supposed deviations from the “true” faith that each group finds present in the other group or organization.

The argument over the age of the earth is a sterile one that will not be resolved through articles, speeches and conventions. And worse, it is completely irrelevant to the current problems that face the Jewish world.

How can we improve the world that we live in is the question that faces us. How to create a Torah society in Israel and the Diaspora; how to protect ourselves physically and spiritually from the enemies that threaten us so menacingly is the true issue that needs to be addressed. It should not be
ignored.

In Israel the supposed enemy is the Charedi society. The media is obsessed with it and the only thing apparently that Israel has to fear is that there will soon be more Charedim in its midst.

But again this is a false enemy. The true enemy lies in the secular society where the rate of disaffection from Israeli army service is far greater
than with the Charedim. It lies in a university system that somehow under the guise of academic freedom produces the greatest number of Israel  bashers and haters of Judaism than anywhere else in the Western world. It lies in a generation of youth who feels entitled to being given everything  without having to work for it and who does not in the main have a sense of Jewish solidarity and traditional loyalty. It lies with an electoral system and judicial system that is devoted to only replicating itself and its particular viewpoints.

And the external enemy is a real one. Pious statements about how the Moslem brotherhood will become moderate once in office fly in the face of
the reality of our history of the last century. Iran is an existential threat to Israel. In short, there is no shortage of real enemies both within and without our society. These enemies should be identified and combated while we should no longer invest our energies in dealing with enemies who are either nonexistent or long ago defeated and dealt with.