Jerusalem – President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin said Wednesday that he supports full-time Torah study for ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Israelis who wish to follow that path, adding that the opportunity for the State of Israel to support yeshiva students is a “privilege.” The president also called on the Haredi leadership to take an active role in discussions, in Israel and abroad, about the nature of the Jewish state and the future of the Jewish people.
Speaking to the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) 2017 Conference on the ‘Future of the Jewish People’, Rivlin said the interplay between nationalism and globalism has been at the heart of Zionist thought since the movement emerged in the mid-19th century. He quoted Zionist poet and thinker Hayim Nahman Bialik, who wrote “There is no nation like Israel, nation striving to conceal itself in other groups… And at the same time remaining confident in itself, regardless of how few in numbers it is” and said that Bialik reminds Israelis of two forces “burning within the Jewish people and channeling the Jewish nation in contradictory and opposite directions.”
Rivlin also cited a wealth of Jewish and Zionist thinkers, from Sigmund Freud and Bob Dylan to staunch secularist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and religious Zionist Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.
“The State of Israel too is an audacious endeavor of statehood,” Rivlin told the conference, “of a people returning to its land after two thousand years of exile. Israel faces difficult and complex challenges. But, unlike Europe which embarked upon a process of removing partitions between nations and states, Israel wishes, and indeed must remain first and foremost a national homeland, a safe haven for the Jewish People. The Zionist choice is the national choice.”
Rivlin also noted the changing demographic of American Jewry and the growing percentage of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox families (64% of the Jewish children under 18 in New York are growing up in Orthodox families), and said that both the social and political trends constitute challenges to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel.
“This is, of course, my opportunity to call on the rabbinical leadership, whose concern for the Jewish people’s future cannot be doubted, to actively participate in the strategic and so essential dialogue about the Jewish people’s future,” the president added.
At the same time, Rivlin also emphasized this week his family connection to the Haredi community – to say nothing of his Likud Party’s long-standing political alliance with the Haredi political parties – to praise the Orthodox community for its commitment to Torah study and traditional values.
Speaking in Jerusalem to the first annual conference of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, a think tank and research institute, the president noted that his grandfather, Yosef Yoel Rivlin, was a member of the Orthodox Jerusalemite community that left the Old City in the late 1800s to build new neighborhoods in what is now western Jerusalem. Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion viewed ultra-Orthodox as “parasites,” but the president called it a “privilege” for the State to support Torah students.
“People who are dedicated to Torah study contribute to Israel’s strength as the state of the Jewish people,” Rivlin said.
“In Israel, economics does not only refer to growth. It is also a question of our ability to survive. Anyone who [tries not to connect with] the Haredi community will increase poverty, will ramp up welfare payments and will lead to an increase in the number of people who feel ignored. We will all pay the price for this in future, both in terms of economic and security.
“Israeli society needs meaningful, serious brave discussion, with the Haredi world and with itself,” Rivlin said.