Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Elul 5764 - September 1, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Future of Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh

Eight economics professors from the Hebrew University signed a letter suggesting that "nonworking people" should be "encouraged to migrate" out of Jerusalem. The professors criticized a general plan, known as the Safdie Plan, for new housing along the western approaches to Jerusalem, arguing that it will weaken the city.

This plan is a long-term project of the current mayor, Rabbi Uri Lupoliansky. He began working on it long before he became mayor. His aim is to drastically increase the supply of new housing in Jerusalem, and thereby drive down housing prices so that young couples do not have to leave for one of the outlying new building projects. In repeated surveys of those leaving Jerusalem, the high cost of housing is cited as one of the main reasons for moving out.

The professorial letter is not, unfortunately, a riposte in an active and healthy debate about the future of a city that many, many Jews love, but is more like a desperate wail of the secular community in talking to itself. The gradual but steady increase in the religious community in Yerushalayim has become more and more evident, and the secular community is leaving in response.

"Jerusalem is Finished!" was the headline of a recent article. In a passage that is perhaps more characteristic than the writer intended, it describes a formerly prominent member of the "Yerushalmi Bohemians" who has become an alcoholic. Even at 10 in the morning, he already reeks of alcohol. But he also says that he is leaving. The changes have penetrated even his perpetual drunken stupor, and "almost everyone I knew in Yerushalayim has either left or is planning to leave."

Even Chaim Bar-Am, a correspondent for Kol Ha'Ir who is known for his balanced view of chareidim, writes, "Today there is a feeling that any liberal residents still living here are under a kind of siege, that they are a minority and they are on the losing side and that they are fast disappearing." This is clearly what is bothering the professors.

What is their response? Get rid of the chareidim. Do not build housing for them. Do not plan for them. Pretend they do not exist and build as if secular Israelis are going to move in, and then accuse the chareidim of blackmail when they demand schools for their children instead of the pools and sports facilities that were built.

Some chareidi breast-beaters like to criticize us for not doing enough to reach out to secular Israelis. The truth is that there is no one to reach out to. Generally the secular community is only willing to talk seriously to itself.

The only chareidim it is willing to talk to are those who fit their stereotypes: Yes, we are chareidi on the outside but inside we are pretty much like you. We enjoy fine food and the latest fashions. Just recently there was a series of articles in the Jerusalem Post about the "new chareidim" with ridiculous themes like "The young haredi generation is taking hitherto unheard of liberties and getting away with it," applauding the "haredim" who "want to be part of the culture of consumption."

Not one of the writers bothered to inquire if the people they were writing about were social leaders who can in any way be considered as leading a trend. In fact they are not.

Boruch Hashem the trendsetters and the movers and shakers of the chareidi community are gedolei Yisroel. The mainstream chareidi community is growing at a much faster pace than the fringes -- though they are growing too. (A few percent of a big number is more than a few percent of a small number.)

If the secular newspapers want to write about the future of the chareidi world they would do better to look in the botei medrash than in the glatt kosher hamburger joints. That is where the leadership will remain, b"H, until Moshiach Tzikdeinu comes to take over.

And if the professors want to contribute to the public debate about the future of Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh, they would do well to first recognize and accept the important role that the Torah community plays in that future. It is a very hard- working community, but the stress is not on the materialism of the economists but on the spirituality of the work of Heaven. That is out job and calling, and if we see to that, then we are promised that Heaven will take care of us.

A Note About Kollel Hours

Speaking of the hard-working Torah community, we note that there was a recent discussion about a new requirement that kollel scholars learn 45 hours a week. The press presented chareidi objections to this as an issue of how many hours a week the scholars will learn. In fact that was not the issue at all. Virtually everyone learns 45 hours a week -- and more. The cynical novelty was that they must learn 45 hours a week in one place. Typically, kollel scholars travel -- sometimes long distances -- to learn one place during the day, and then learn someplace else closer to home at night and on weekends. Together the 45 hour requirement is no problem. But requiring them to learn in one place has no legitimate purpose and serves only to cause upheaval in their schedules.

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