After writing this piece in response to Sam Lehman-Wilzig’s oped, “Policy changes will impact ultra-Orthodox,” in the June 7 issue, I showed it to some friends who suggested that the tone was a little angry and perhaps I would be better served to tone it down.
I seriously considered doing that and then I realized, no, I really am very angry and justifiably so.
Had someone written about any other minority group in this way, the outcry from our super-sensitive community would have been deafening. To tar and feather an entire subgroup with one broad brushstroke would and should have our always-sensitive racial antennae humming.
Yet, when it is about our own, our brothers and sisters, our children and grandchildren and certainly characterizes what would have been many of our grandparents, we do not respond. Can that be acceptable? Of course I am angry. My outrage, I hope, is your outrage; but perhaps it is difficult to respond when you really do not understand exactly who these people are and what they are all about.
Prof. Lehman-Wilzig has the unmitigated gall to imply that people have children for financial gain, and such individuals are draining the economy and leeching off society. He then follows it up with the canard that no ultra-Orthodox men work.
Let us put them into a more normal socio-economic society, wishes the professor, let us educate and pressure these backward people into a more normal lifestyle, he opines.
The truth of the matter is that, despite growing economic pressure and the continued moral decay of the normal society around them, these individuals will continue to maintain their values. They will continue to have large families, despite the hardship it entails, because they believe it is a mitzvah to do so, a choice made by like-minded people around the world. They will continue to love, treasure and educate every one of those children and would not dream of giving up the fantastic privilege of raising yet another child to serve God. They will continue to eschew a materialistic lifestyle and forego material comforts for the privilege of leading a Torah-only lifestyle that he denigrates in his column.
Yes, that lifestyle is rigorous and demanding, but it is
one that provides those who follow it with the pleasure of delving deeply into the wellsprings of Jewish wisdom. It requires men to research, write, discuss and debate the intricacies of law, philosophy, history and Jewish practice. It pushes them to attain the highest levels of scholarship and a connection to a transcendent dimension.
Their wives choose to support these ideals by sharing the financial burden and serving as the emotional rock of stability in their homes. Together, as equal partners, they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their spouses to create homes that radiate inner peace and contentment – homes in which people are happy and gratified because they love what they have and what they are doing, homes where studying and the performance of mitzvot are primary.
While their lobbyists and government representatives may attempt to relieve their challenging economic circumstances, these families do not feel poor or deprived. Rather, they are fulfilled by their abundant love of life and of their fellow Jews, demonstrated through countless acts of selfless kindness and generosity and all of this will continue unabated.
Perhaps, some day we will all learn to appreciate these idealistic and special people for who they are. People who model the loving kindness of Abraham and Sarah, the powerful pursuit of ideas and ideals of Isaac and Rebecca and the love of family and nation of Jacob, Rachel and Leah.
Perhaps some day we can all stop slinging such derisive, polarizing and hurtful barbs and appreciate one another for all we have to offer and for who we are.
RABBI RAPHIE SCHOCHET (firstname.lastname@example.org) is dean of Providence Community Kollel.