Open Hunting Season on the Ultra-Orthodox

By Moshe Feiglin

1 Kislev, 5771; Nov. 8, '10

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Translated from Ma'ariv's NRG website

Editor's Note: A major controversy and media brouhaha has surfaced over the small increase in state funded stipends that married yeshiva students learning Torah full-time are slated to receive. The university students, backed by some politicians, have protested loudly, claiming that the increase is unfair to them.

To me, it looks like somebody involved with the student's protest against the Ultra-Orthodox wants to run for office. Usually, a protesting group has some goals. If the students would be demonstrating for additional funding for higher education, I would understand. But why are they demonstrating against the Ultra-Orthodox? It is impossible not to sense that this is a simple case of Ultra-Orthodox bashing that will help somebody to get elected. I have no other explanation.

We could argue over whether it is worthy or not for a Jewish state to provide men who study Torah full time with a miniscule stipend. What is not clear is why the funds that the Ultra-Orthodox get is called 'extortion', while what the Broadcasting Authority or the theatre get from our taxes is called 'democracy at its finest'.

As a rule, I would be pleased if the state would pay no one. A community that would like theatre should allocate funds for theatre. A community that would like full-time Torah study should allocate money for Torah students. A community that would like both should fund both. I am a proponent of minimal state intervention in every area except for security and justice.

Until that goal is accomplished, though, we have to live with Big Brother and the regime that is still tainted with socialism from the days of Mapai. We have no choice but to try to understand what lies behind this controversy.

The Ultra-Orthodox are completely right about the value of Torah learning. More than the Nation of Israel has protected the Torah, the Torah has protected the Nation of Israel. Our short experience of the last 3,000 years has taught us absolutely that without Torah, the Jews simply disappear off the pages of history. So when the Ultra-Orthodox say that Torah study protects us – we should take them very seriously.

This is the place for two qualifications: First, are all of these Ultra-Orthodox men really learning Torah? Second, why just the Ultra-Orthodox? Why can't every Jew who learns Torah receive a government stipend?

I have no doubt that many men in the Ultra-Orthodox community are seriously learning Torah day and night – despite the smear campaign against them. The problem is that Ultra-Orthodox society more or less forces all young men to learn Torah exclusively. This cannot work. Most people are not capable of learning all day long for years upon years. Ultra-Orthodox society must change its approach to those members of its ranks whose first choice is to join the work force while setting aside time in their busy schedules for Torah study. This is not the taxpayers' problem. First and foremost, it is the problem of thousands of Ultra-Orthodox men who would like to live normal lives and work to provide for their families but instead find themselves trapped on a one-way track.

As to who should receive the Torah-study stipend, there should be no connection between the stipend and the Ultra-Orthodox. Every Jewish citizen of any stripe who decides to devote himself full-time to Torah study should receive the same symbolic assistance that the Jewish state now gives the Ultra-Orthodox Torah students. The Torah is our culture and the essence of our existence – certainly no less than the opera, for example.

This is a fine solution for the demonstrating students. What is the problem? You can also get stipends. All that you have to do is to sit and learn Torah.

Source: The Jewish Leadership Blog 

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