“In the future, people will look back and realize what terrible mistakes the haredi leadership made”

In the future, I think people will look back and realize what terrible mistakes the haredi leadership made. Just a few years ago it was obvious that changes were needed and rather than take the bull by the horns and institute these changes and thereby control the direction, the leadership did nothing, meaning that when changes came it was the non-haredim who were in charge. Haredi Judaism, like its pre-haredi predecessors, is completely reactive, never proactive and thinking ahead. It was this trait that led Isaac Breuer to become so disillusioned with Agudat Israel, as he describes in his autobiography. It was also this lack of proactivity that in the early nineteenth century let Reform grow in Germany and in later years allowed secularism to grow in Eastern Europe. Just think about how many young women left traditional Judaism before Beis Yaakov was established, and then consider how many could have been saved if instead of creating Beis Yaakov as a reaction to the widespread defections, it had actually been created thirty years prior by people thinking ahead and acting proactively (traits that while found among German rabbis and R. Israel Salanter, are very hard to find in a traditional conservative society).

My own opinion is that the haredi community has no one to blame but itself for the situation it is in. Much of the ill-will could have been avoided by taking appropriate steps years ago. For example, the haredi community in Israel is the recipient of an enormous amount of what in the U.S. we call “entitlements” (a crazy term if there ever was one). Yet they have never shown any appreciation for this. They are protected by the Israeli army, and yet they refuse to express any thanks for this or say a prayer for the soldiers. Think how public opinion would have been different if the haredim in Israel had acted like American haredim. Just think how people in Israel would view the haredi community if, when the rockets started falling in certain places, instead of yeshivot leaving, young men came to these cities precisely in order to learn Torah. Imagine how people would have reacted if great yeshivot devoted days of Torah study specifically in the merit of the soldiers, or if yeshiva students en masse attended funerals of soldiers, or visited wounded soldiers in the hospital, or paid shiva calls to grieving families to let them know how much they value the sacrifice of those in uniform. Just think how much better the haredi situation would be at present if in past years the haredi community as a whole had simply shown that it cared about what was going on in the rest of the country. One would have thought that this approach would have been followed if only from a purely utilitarian perspective, but again, as Isaac Breuer pointed out, being proactive in meeting challenges has never been a strong point of this community.

Marc B. Shapiro, “R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin and the Army, and Joe DiMaggio”, The Seforim Blog (25 August 2013), n. 1 [http://seforim.blogspot.com/2013/08/r-shlomo-yosef-zevin-and-army-and-joe.html]