To find out about life in the Haredi world, check out the pashkvilim (wall posters) in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak. There will be one protesting any trend potentially threatening to the haredi way of life. But if the religious Zionist community interests you, go to your local synagogue on Friday afternoon and pick up a few alonim (brochures). Shabbat be-Shabbato, produced by Machon Tzomet and the Histadrut Hapoel Hamizrachi (no time to explain why Israel needed a religious labor union), has been around since the early ’80s. Other early ones include Torah Tidbits, put out by the Orthodox Union’s Israel Center, and Chabad’s “Sichat Hashavua” (lit. weekly discussion).
In recent years the alonim have become an industry. Publishers recognize this successful, inexpensive way of marketing to a relatively affluent community. There are alonim geared toward children, women, Daf Hayomi students, and others. Most have have some kind of political or social agenda.
They all discuss the weekly Torah portion, usually in light of whatever agenda they are pushing, and contain columns on the topics of the day.
The onslaught of the alonim has caused several problems. First, people tend to read them in the middle of prayers or speeches. Second, most are chock full of ads, and reading the ads may not be permissible on the Sabbath. This issue, of course, is not new, as it applies to all newspapers.
The third, most serious, concern is that they cause headaches for the religious councils operating genizot. According to Jewish law, holy books and papers may not simply be thrown away; they are collected and buried in what is known as a genizah. The massive Cairo Genizah, discovered in an Egyptian synagogue, was the source of several centuries worth of historical documents which contributed greatly to our understanding of medieval Jewish life in Egypt.
A genizah was manageable in the days when books were scarce. Since we now print and photocopy freely, collecting the material and finding space in cemeteries for the genizot has become more challenging. The tens of thousands of copies of alonim, all of which have kedusha (holy status) and cannot be thrown away, have simply overrun the genizot. I read that up to 90% of the genizot now contain alonim. In our town, funding for genizot was cancelled and a sign requests a donation for depositing the material at a box near the local synagogue.
I confess that we contribute to the problem; my children come home each week with as many as a dozen alonim.
One of the biggest, running about 12 pages, is called Maayanei Hayeshua. Maayanei Hayeshua is an outreach organization based in Jerusalem. In it Rabbi Shlomo Aviner writes engagingly about many different topics including dating, serving in the army, and Torah study. The alon contains a section for women, often including an interview of a female personality from the community. One subject was a young and successful shadchanit, an expert at making matches. Others were the founder of Binyan Shalem, an organization devoted to strengthening the family in the religious Zionist community and Shoshana Hayman, founder of the Life Center promoting attachment parenting in Israel.
A relative newcomer, Argaman (royal purple), was obviously founded in order to target female consumers. Occasionally we also find Kolech (your feminine voice), produced by the forum for religious women, with its feminist agenda. Argaman is more mainstream. Besides Shoshana Hayman’s regular column, my favoriteis called “Mother-in-Law’s Corner.” Initially it consisted of overheard diatribes by daughters-in-law about how their husband’s mothers favored their daughters over their daughters-in-law. For example: “When I was sick and needed a babysitter she was too busy, but when my sister-in-law wanted to go overseas my mother-in-law ran over with ready-made meals. When we visit, she gets the bigger room and we have to sleep in a hole.” It took a few weeks before I was certain that the author didn’t approve of this kind of carping.
I always wanted to ask whether these daughters-in-law noticed the same kind of treatment by their own mothers. Did it bother them if their mothers babysat more for their children than for their brothers’? I now like tease my kids about the unequal treatment my sons and daughters should expect a few years down the road, when God willing they will visit with their own families.
I also enjoy Olam Katan (small world), geared toward teenagers through young adults. I don’t think it’s published by any particular organization, but it has a clear right-wing ideological bent. It annoyed us a few weeks ago by publishing several articles extolling the virtues of religious zionist yeshivot ketanot, high schools with very limited secular studies (i.e. no bagrut/matriculation certificate). My husband thinks that some people in our community hope that the graduates of these institutions will be more likely to become gedolei hador, great rabbis of the next generation. He doesn’t think it will work. To be fair, that issue also contained an opinion stressing the importance of secular education for rabbis.
I thought that being a religious Zionist is more than just teaching our children to respect Zionism and the State of Israel. I thought it means raising them to be able to be part of both the secular world and the world of Torah, not to limit cross off many options at the age of 12 or 14 when they are too young to know where their interests and talents lie. I want my children to be able to contribute to Israel’s society and culture, and support their own families.
This post was inspired by an alon that collected several rabbinic opinions about the going on three weeks long high school teachers’ strike, but as you can see I got sidetracked. Let’s hope the strike ends before I get to post about it.