Frum (Religious) Jews and Society

1) Why Do Frum (Religious) People Do Bad Things?

2) How Come the Rabbis Don’t Say Anything?

3) Explain the Tensions and Major Disagreements Among the Different Sects and Factions in the Orthodox Community?

4) Why Do Frum Jews Have Such Large Families? This is Especially Problematic For Those Families Who Are Dirt Poor.

5) Why Don’t Charedi (Religious) Men Go to the Army?

6) Why Do Many Frum (Religious) Men Sit and Learn Instead of Taking Care of Their Families?

7) Why Do Chasidim Wear Long Black Coats and Black Hats?

1. Why do Frum (Religious) people do bad things?


    Judaism is a system designed to help a person reach moral and spiritual perfection.  As such it has been remarkably successful: Observant families are generally harmonious and close, kindness and charity proliferate, drugs, prostitution and alcoholism are miniscule.  The overall standards of observant communities on the whole, range of desirable social characteristics, and are the envy of the broader world.  Nevertheless, people have freedom of choice, and otherwise observant people may choose to act inappropriately. The truth is that all people, observant or otherwise, do some things wrong at some times. The Talmud assures us that even the greatest spiritual giants transgress the “dust of speaking badly about one’s neighbor” at some time or another. We are on this earth just because we are imperfect; we are here to grow and improve.

    This is not to justify the wrongs of anyone, and certainly not the wrongs done by religious people. I am merely pointing out that Orthodox people, like the rest of us, sometimes really mess up. Now Judaism definitely regards such behavior from an observant person as being much more morally repugnant. It goes so far as to call such behavior a Chilul HaSh-m, a desecration of G-d’s name, for why would someone want to keep G-d’s Torah if those who claim to do so behave in a scurrilous fashion. In fact, a Jew who lies or cheats is no different to a Jew who eats pork or doesn’t pray - he is at best a partially committed observant Jew. And in one sense he is worse. For a Jew who eats pork only sins against G-d. Whereas a Jew who lies or steals, sins against man and G-d.

2. How come the Rabbis don’t say anything?


    This is simply not true. As an observant Jew I can tell you that the Rabbis quite clearly and forcefully give to us on every little foot we might dare to put wrong. What they do not do is hang their dirty linen in public. They are not wont to speak to the press about anything, let alone about the problems of the Orthodox community. But any reporter or anyone else who would make the slightest effort would find out the truth for himself.

3. Explain the tensions and major disagreements among the different sects and factions in the Orthodox community


    In the army there are different segments, each with their own specialty. There are Engineers, the Golani troops, the Paratroopers, etc., each with a different purpose and role.  Naturally, each squadron will boast that it is finest in order to bolster spirit and morale. The Air Force pilots feel they are the best. The Paratroopers are certain they are the most valuable.  The tankers surely believe that they are the elite. This is natural.

    However, every unit is under the subordination of the Chief of Staff whose orders must be followed by every member of the armed forces, without question, and with complete compliance.

    Furthermore, every soldier knows that they never fight against each other. Rather they are in battle with a common enemy and a common goal.

    In the past, the Jewish nation was divided into 12 tribes, with individual characteristics and strengths.  Still, they were all part of one nation, united under one leader and one G-d.  Today, we no longer are divided into these divisions but we still have different ways of serving G-d השם.

    The Chassidim have their unique ways of serving G-d.  The Religious Zionists have their ideology.  But all submit to the High Power of the Commander in Chief, הקדוש ברוך הוא.  Every soldier in the Army of G-d follows the same Code of Rules and Behavior, namely the שולחן ערוך, the Code of Jewish Law.  We are united with this mutual objective.  It does not matter what uniform we wear, whether it be a knitted kippah, or a shtreimel.  We are all soldiers in G-d’s army.  You, my friend, need only to accept the שולחן ערוך (the Code of Jewish Law) as your guide, and you will be guaranteed, from today on, to an eternal life in (the world to come) עולם הבא. (HaRav Amnon Yitzchak, The Jewish Press)

4. Why do Frum Jews have such large families. This is especially problematic for those families who are dirt poor.


    Let’s answer the second question first.  Look around any Frum neighborhood: The kids look well-dressed and fed; they look happy and well-looked after.  If frum people decide to forgo a fancier car and put that money into their kids, and if the kids are thriving, then that is something to admire, not to criticize.   

    As for the big families themselves: After the Holocaust, the world Jewish population dropped from 18 million to 12.5 million. As many as five to six million of those were in communist countries where for another 40 years, the last traces of their Judaism was being wiped out. Throughout Europe, former glorious communities were devastated, most never to be rebuilt. In Western countries, Jews were and are being lost through intermarriage at a dizzying rate. Those that remain are not replacing themselves: the overall Jewish birthrate in the States is 1.4%. In fact, almost 60 years after the Holocaust, we were able to increase our numbers to only 13.5 million. And that is about as good as it is going to get.

    There is one segment of the Jewish community, the Orthodox, who really care about this tragic loss and who have a deep sense of mission about the future of the Jewish people. They are not even making up for the tragic losses of the last century, let alone contributing to a population explosion. In the light of our recent history, this question, then, simply has no place.

5. Why don’t Charedi (religious) men go to the army?


To a non-Israeli


    Torah Jews believe that studying the Torah is something deeply mystical and of great importance in upholding the world [1]. But that is for a longer deeper discussion [2]. However, even on more superficial grounds, this issue can readily be understood.

    Firstly, let me stress that Charedim (referring here to religious men in Israel who where black & white clothing) do go to the army: There have always been Charedim in the Israeli army – Charedim have died in battles and there are whole Charedi units. What many Charedim do, however, is get a deferment from the army while they are studying in Yeshiva. This is a deferment and not an exemption. (In practice, the army chooses not to call many of these men up later. This is because the army is trying to cut down on its manpower to save costs, so that it can concentrate on its elite forces and high technology equipment.)

    Every country with a draft has a deferral for purposes of study. This was the case in South Africa when it had the draft for many years. It was the case in the USA, when there was the draft during the Vietnamese War. This is because every country recognizes that its base of scholars is a vital lifeline to the country’s present and future. Every democratically elected Israeli government has chosen to include Yeshiva students as a part of this concept [3] and every election is an opportunity for the Israeli public to elect a government that will choose to change this law.

    Now, what is also true is that many Charedim are reluctant to go to the army because, although it meets some religious needs, it is hostile to others. In particular, it is insensitive to keeping the sexes separate and there is a great deal of licentiousness. The army has been slow to respond to the needs of the Charedim, partially because of its historic vision of being a melting pot for immigrants into Israeli society, a vision fashioned on a purely secular model.

    Orthodox Jews have a passionate, alternative vision, one that necessitates an army, but includes a core of the finest Torah scholars allowing us all access to the finest Jewish wisdom of the ages. This vision is rooted in the historic reality that without Judaism to give content to the State, we will lose our moorings in some post-Zionist dead-end. Indeed, this unfortunate prophecy is taking place before our very eyes. The loss of Jewish values in Israeli society, together with a rapid rise in the crime rate, juvenile and spouse violence, drugs and empty materialism.

To an Israeli


    This is one of the most difficult, painful issues which we all have to face together and resolve. I appreciate how strongly you feel about this issue, and it is therefore of vital importance that we search for a solution together. It is true that the issue is getting much smaller, as the army gives more and more exemptions to everyone. (Of the 22% of those eligible for the draft who got exemptions, only 8% were Charedi.) It is my hope that we, the secular and the religious communities, continue to get closer. Hopefully, the trust and respect we build up for each other will allow us to address this issue in time as well.

6. Why do many frum (religious) men sit and learn instead of taking care of their families?


    Every culture and civilization had its scholars. In the Western World there are hundreds of thousands of academics in thousands of universities who are paid to study, research and teach in all sorts of areas. These do not just include practical areas but also areas such as history, philosophy and anthropology.

    Jews are the inheritors of the most fabulous tradition of thousands of years of wisdom. We are proud of our Torah scholars who make this wisdom accessible to all of us. Those who sit and learn do so with the active consent of their families. All involved feel privileged, and they choose to give up whatever material benefits they might have otherwise gained.

    Indeed, the Torah observant world feels so grateful to these people that they support these people, and the Yeshivas (school of Torah learning) in which they learn to the tune of billions of dollars every year. So does the Israeli government, the greatest financial supporter of Torah of them all.

7. Why do Chasidim wear long black coats and black hats?


    There is a mistaken idea that long coats date back to the 16th or 17th centuries in Europe. This is not the case. The Talmud (Bava Basra) talks of a long coat as being the garment of a wise man. Such a man would wear a shirt and pants that show the shape of the body, and then would wear a long coat over that, covering the shape of the body, an extra
dimension of modesty. Indeed heads of yeshivas today generally wear such a coat, as do many, though not all Chasidim. Presumably, the Talmud is talking about a custom, which went way back, perhaps to Abraham.

    And why black? Truthfully, any modest color will do, a brown, dark blue, grey, etc. Black has emerged as a current trend, but it is not intrinsic to the idea.

    As for a hat, the main idea is to wear one when praying. We dress up to meet our maker. However, many have extended the idea that, as G-d’s people, we should always be dressed up (besides the convenience of the head being the best place to keep one’s hat).

    There is another idea, that of the Shtreimel on Shabbat. This is the one idea that is of recent, 16th-17th Century origin. The kings of those times wore shtreimels, and every Jew feels like a king on Shabbat. Chasidim began the beautiful custom of dressing up like a king and indeed they have continued this beautiful custom. The kings of Europe may be almost gone, but the Jewish kings and queens in every Shabbat home remain on for eternity.

[1] The source for torah learning aiding in security can be seen in   סנהדרין מט:

‘Behold, Dovid engages in matters of justice and righteousness for all his nation and Yoav the son of Tzruya is involved with the army.  What is the reason that Dovid engages in matters of justice and righteousness for all his nation?  Because Yoav looks after the army.  And what is the reason that Yoav looks after the army?  Because Dovid engages in matters of justice and righteousness for all his nation.’

It is hence derived that both physical and spiritual efforts are necessary.  This point is also emphasized in the War of Midian in which 36,000 men were recruited.  One third of these men were sent to the back, one third fought in the front lines and one third were sent to learn.

          Further, consider that in the conquering of Eretz Canaan under the military leadership of Yehoshua, Yisachar and Levi did not participate in the physical fighting.  Those exempted from duty is given at twenty %.

The war, it should be noted, was a milchemet mitzvah or war of mitzvah, war of the highest order, and yet it was still acceptable to opt out of physical fighting.

          Torah study was considered integral to an army and so no complaints were hurdled at those who stayed back to study torah. Moshe, however, did levy complaints against those tribes settling on the east side of the Jordan when it was thought that they would not assist in conquering the west side.  Moshe told these tribes that not assisting would be sinning to G-d. (במדבר לב:כ-כג) While some may use this source to demonstrate that the charedim are obligated to participate in the physical army (Yechezkel Cohen; Halachically Drafting Deferred Yeshiva Students; Torah VeAvodah Kibbutz Dati Publishers; Jerusalem; 5753.), this argument is erroneous.  After all, the eastern tribes were not going to be furthering the war cause through torah study as was the case with the twenty percent which did not fight physically.

          A further source which may appear at first blush to negate the religious stand against participating in the physical army is that ‘ a war of mitzvah, all must be involved - even the groom from his room and the bride from her chuppah’. (Mishneh Sota; Perek 8; mishneh 7.) To understand this source, one needs to consider that a war of mitzvah involves the obligation to help the people of Israel from the hand of their enemy.  This necessitates that every state have a standing army even without specific threat. By application, if a war is being fought and yeshiva students are needed, then they should fight.  Even if there is no war but military experts nevertheless declare that a certain number of men are needed and these can only be found amongst the yeshiva students, then the halacha would likely require these men to be trained because they are bound by ‘war of mitzvah’ as defined above.  Today, where there is no active war, the service of the yeshiva students would only be required if a military expert indicated the unique need for the service of this group.  To date, this has not occurred.  Hence, the service of the yeshiva students is dispensable.

[2] The idea that the Torah holds up the world needs an extensive introduction. It is worth pursuing this explanation, but only if one has the time. I have chosen a simpler explanation for the three minute version.

[[3] The religious deferral is derived in law from the inclusion in S. 36 of “or other reasons”.  The deferrals, interestingly, precede the establishment of the State and hence precede the legal structure, or laws, of the State.  On March 9, 1948, two months prior to the establishment of the State, a directive came from the Rosh Hamateh Ha-Artzi, Yehuda Gelili, to exempt yeshiva students from security service. This order is attributed to the direction of David Ben-Gurion, Minister of Security. This practice of deferrals was then accorded additional weight by David Ben-Gurion who proclaimed in a 1949 letter to Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Levine, head of Agudat Yisrael and also its representative in government, that he agreed to postpone conscription of yeshiva students for whom ‘toratam umnatam’ (their studying of torah is their craft/profession). A 1953 assembly of the Knesset again shows David Ben-Gurion supporting this position. It may be noted that while the deferral of yeshiva students was not explicitly enumerated in the law, the law has been interpreted traditionally to include them.

          In subsequent years, the conditions surrounding the deferral of yeshiva students were broadened.  Occasionally, attempts were made to thwart the legal deferral but these were obstructed, leaving intact the legal authority for deferral from army service.  Examples of this development include 1954 attempts by Minister of Security, Pinchas Levine, to draft all yeshiva students who had studied for four years after the legal draft age.  Moshe Sharet, then head of state, subsequently instructed him not to do so.  In 1968, Minister of Security, Moshe Dayan, indicated in an article in the newspaper ‘HaAretz’ that he advised not to draft against their will those individuals who believed fully in their study of torah. A final example can be seen in Minister of Security Shimon Peres’s 1975 attempt to limit new deferrals every year to 800.  This measure was in force only until 1977 when Minister of Security Ezer Weizman cancelled it.

          S. 36 of Israel’s

Security Service Law

(1986 edition) indicates that the Minister of Security is authorized to order dismissals from regular service or reserve service of Israel’s National Defence Army for ‘reasons connected to needs of education, secure settling, state security, or for reasons of family or other reasons…’ That same year, as a result of the increase in deferrals, MK Geula Cohen requested an investigation into the matter of the deferrals. Interestingly, Minister of Security Yitzchak Rabin was noted to have said at the time that the ‘deferral from service is anchored in law and in custom from the time of the establishment of the Israeli Defence Forces (Tzahal) and that there is nothing new which would justify changing that which existed from the beginning (of the State)’.

          In 2000, the supreme Court ruled that the arrangements for Yeshiva deferment were illegal and instructed the legislature to enact more appropriate laws. Subsequently, a series of temporary enactments valid for up to two years, were promulgated.

[4] My experience has been that most Israelis are just too passionate about this issue to begin a serious discussion about this.

Posted in: Jewish Beliefs & Philosophy