Yair Lapid
Photo: Yoni Hamenachem

Letter to my haredi friend

Yair Lapid tells ultra-Orthodox Israelis seculars can no longer support them

Let's talk about this once and for all without anger.


Let's talk about it without needless hatred, without memories from the good old Shinui days, and without you thinking that I'm trying to undermine your way of life, your faith, or the way you choose to be Jewish.


I do not wish to level charges at you, but rather, just tell you – in the subdued way typical of desperate individuals – about my situation. Because I cannot go on.


I indeed keep moving up the hill, like an old vehicle running out of gas, but I won't make it to the final stop. Soon, we'll hear the engine's last grunt and everything will come to a halt.


I look to my right and you're sitting next to me, in the passenger seat; to my surprise, you look satisfied. You have a big smile on your face. I ask you what's so funny but you don't answer. Your optimism despairs me even more. Both of us are here, yet I feel like I'm alone.


Our children are sitting at the back; my 2.6 kids and your 6.9 kids. My son is munching on a snack. "Give them a little too," I tell him in English, so the haredi kids won't understand. He offers them some of his snack. He's a good boy.


But why don't the haredi kids speak English? Why are they allowed to speak Yiddish – an entangled combination of Hebrew and German – but refuse to learn English? Rashi spoke French, Maimonides spoke Arabic, and the Talmud was written in Aramaic.


Did you know, I ask the kids, that Aramaic isn't a Jewish language and has no religious significance? It was the administrative language of the Persian Empire and was imported to Israel during the Second Temple era by the immigrants from Babel?


The kids don't respond. My children are used to their father's silly remarks; the haredi kids simply don't study history.


Already strangers 

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was the most prominent adjudicator of Jewish law in America's haredi community. In the 1980s, he wrote a letter to the managers of Torah institutions across America and warned them against trying to elicit greater financial support than what the government set aside for them.


The silence in the backseat grows deeper. They're not hostile, heaven forbid; that just have nothing to talk about. They can't talk about computers, literature, geography, history, or even the Bible. Yeshivas barely teach any Bible, only Talmud. That doesn’t leave much to talk about. They're just kids, but they're already strangers.


And they don't study math. I studied math and I was terrible at it. Perhaps this is why I fail to figure out the equation I see in the rearview mirror: How exactly will 2.6 children support 6.9 kids?


Twenty percent of students in Israel's schools are haredim; another 20% are retired; another 20% are Arab. I have no problem with any of them. One is allowed to be haredi, or Arab, and certainly a pensioner. However, if at this time already it's unclear how 40% of the country's citizens are able to support the other 60%, can you imagine what will happen here in 10 years?


Make no mistake about it, my smiling friend; I do not wish to live in a world where everything is examined through the economic bottom line. Yet this is hopeless. My children in fact have no future.


This is so because in the past eight years we've seen a 24% decline in the number of students in teacher colleges in the national education system. People don't want to be teachers in our sector; not with the current salaries. Why are the salaries so low? Because in those same eight years, the number of teaching cadets in your sector leapt by 111% - and all of this comes from the same budget.


Help me save our children 

You want private education for your students? No problem whatsoever; pay for it. There is no other country in the world – not even one! - where the government funds private education. There is no other country in the world where Education Ministry representatives are not allowed to enter a school whose bills they pay (and fully so – 100% of the bills.) There is no other country in the world where teachers refuse to present their curriculum to the body that pays their salary.


Forget about ideology, and forget about the fact that I fail to understand how you're not bothered by the fact you live at my expense, but I can no longer pay. The money is gone. There's no more left. I don't have enough to give my children, and I don't have enough to give yours. Do you understand how this makes me feel?


And what am I asking of you after all? I want your children to study some more things – again at my expense. Of course, at my expense. I give up on anything that you suspect of being tainted by our values (are they truly so terrible?) so let's stay with the basics: Hebrew, English, math, and computers. Merely the fundamental toolkit that enables a person to turn into a productive citizen who supports himself one of these days.


Let's decide that you and I were already screwed, but at least help me save our children.


Partnership or death 

Is this truly what you wish for them? You want them to be doomed, from the day they were born, to live in abject poverty? You want their apartment to be even smaller and more crowded than yours? You want them to live on government allowances like beggars, at the mercy of every government and every fleeting public mood? Do you want them to depend on the good will of seculars – good will that is quickly dissipating?


I look at you and you seem like a good father to me, but loving your children also means concerning yourself with the kind of people they'll grow up to be and the kind of world they'll be living in.


Our children are heading for a world where they won't be able to coexist. I support you unwillingly, subjected to an aggressive and conscienceless coalition, yet my children will simply not be able to do it.


This won't happen in 30 or 40 years, or on some date which we can ignore – as we always do - because it will happen after we die. I already admitted that I'm terrible at math, but even I can figure out that if more than 50% of the children who entered first grade this year are not part of the national school system, in 12 years more than 50% of our 18-year-olds won't join the army. In 15 years, more than 50% of them won't go to university or join the workforce.


I'm looking at the numbers time and again, searching for another way to read them, but there is no other way. We need to find the way, my friend, or it will end badly. As the Talmud says (Ta'anit 23), it's either partnership or death.


p.s. Despite the rumors, I do have a haredi friend; in fact, I have more than one.


פרסום ראשון: 05.01.10, 13:59
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