Haredi former MK: Secular Israel should also miss Rav Shteinman

Haredi former MK Dov Lipman says 'all of Israel' owes Rabbi Shteinman a debt of gratitude for his contribution to the IDF.

Dov Lipman ,

Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman
Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman
Flash 90

Haredi former MK who served as a member of the secular Yesh Atid party on Friday said secular Israelis should join in the mourning for Lithuanian-haredi Torah leader Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, who died this week at age 104.

"While the rest of Israel was just amazed by the size of the funeral and the roads that had to be shut down, the vast majority didn’t really feel any sense of loss; but they should," Rabbi Lipman said.

"Rav Shteinman was certainly a leader who walked the party line when it came to issues of religion and state. Indeed, he set the line as the spiritual leader and decision maker for Degel Hatorah, the Lithuanian faction within United Torah Judaism. The red line he and they fought hard to prevent being crossed was the integration of the haredi population into Israeli society.

"Nevertheless, there are elements of Shteinman’s leadership that have impacted broader Israel, giving reason for him to be missed by all Israelis.

"Many are unaware that the Nahal Haredi unit, the IDF’s haredi battalion, was created with Shteinman’s blessing. I would even go one step further: it could not have been established without his approval.

"The concept of the unit was not to pave the way for yeshiva boys to join the army, but rather to provide young haredi men who did not want to continue studying in yeshiva with a framework for army service, which also provided for their spiritual needs."

Lipman explained that Rabbi Shteinman's support was crucial to Nahal Haredi's success.

"Without the support of a leading rabbi, even those who had no interest in continuing to study in a yeshiva would never have enlisted in the IDF," he said. "I vividly recall when the head of the first-ever haredi yeshiva that combined study with military service asked for my assistance in obtaining recognition from the defense minister."

"I asked whether the rabbinic leadership would condemn the project, and the yeshiva head answered that Shteinman would not come out against it. That set the stage for the yeshiva’s first class, which attracted a small group that has now increased tenfold.

"It was Shteinman’s courageous blessing of the haredi unit and his silence regarding other programs like the yeshiva-plus-service that enabled introducing the haredi population into the IDF, despite his continuous public criticism of any attempt to draft all yeshiva boys.

"All of Israel owes him a debt of gratitude for the reality of today: more haredi boys serving as soldiers and officers than ever before. Rav Shteinman was aware of the need for change in the haredi world, and while he didn’t publicly advocate for it, he did set the tone for a more moderate and normal approach."

Lipman also said that the rise in the number of haredi men in the workforce was only due to Rabbi Shteinman's support of the trend.

"When I served as a member of Knesset from 2013 to 2015, I headed the task force that helped haredim enter the workforce," he explained. "During that time, we saw haredi male employment rise to over 50%, and this was only possible because of Shteinman’s quiet support of this growing trend."

"Because of him, an atmosphere was established in which young men were not chastised and made to feel like outcasts for joining the workforce. That in and of itself was a major change for haredi rabbinic leaders, and broader Israel must recognize Shteinman’s vital contribution on this front.

"Finally, Shteinman was not looking to make waves and create strife with secular Israel. He certainly was capable of coming out against others in the harshest of terms, but he usually did so in one context: against haredim whom he felt were too extreme.

"Rav Shteinman did not use rhetoric or campaign against secular Israel, a stance which has enabled some level of healing between mainstream haredim and the rest of Israeli society. To be sure, his position was more of a passive stance, but it was nevertheless a fundamental shift away from some of the language which was often heard from previous haredi leaders. While we have a long way to go, this stance has set the stage for improving relations in the future between these populations.

"Rav Shteinman was a pious, quiet, and humble leader who strove to maintain the traditional haredi approach, while also leaving room for change and adaptation based on the needs of the time. All of Israel should mourn his passing, with the hope that the next haredi leader will continue this approach: enabling more haredi integration into Israeli society, and less friction between the haredim and the broader population.