An Onslaught of Alonim

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 The massive Cairo Genizah, discovered in an Egyptian synagogue, was the source of several centuries worth of historical documents which contributed greatly to our understanding of medieval Jewish life in Egypt.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.


  1. mominisrael says

    You’ll have to wait for the next post.

  2. the purpose of such yeshivot, I think, is to compete with the Haredi yeshivot and show that they can be just as serious about Torah… whether it produces gedolei hador or not is something that will take a long time to find out. I see no reason it should not..
    What did the alonim say about the strike?

  3. Rafi G: In Bisheva it was very clear – the strike is assur.

  4. merkazbabe says

    I laughed at the MIL diatribe column because I’m so bitter about how my SIL gets so much more childcare then i do! And she usually gets first priority for staying at my in laws for shabbat/chagim.
    And btw, my mother goes out of her way to be fair in spending time with my brother’s family, though it’s a different situation, because she lives in the states and my MIL is here.

  5. As the only daughter, I do feel like I benefit somewhat disproportionately from my parents’ attention to me/my kids. But I also think the relationship goes both ways. I live nearest to my parents and am the one who goes over to visit with the kids (and not to turn it asking them babysit), whose husband will go over to help out with something in the house, who’ll send over some cake or challah, or have them over here for Shabbos (though incidentally, we have the smallest living space).
    So I try to minimize my guilt over it, but also to minimize what I mention to sisters-in-law regarding things my parents and I do for one another.

  6. mominisrael says

    MB: My sympathies. But maybe when your mother comes she buys gifts, takes you to restaurants, and babysits. Maybe your SIL is jealous of you.

  7. mominisrael says

    RM–I always enjoy your thoughtful comments. You make a good point– the daughter often has responsibilities as well as privileges.

  8. merkazbabe says

    My mother does bring kids clothing for my brother and I- but I don’t parade it around (my kids wear them and she notices them).
    Our situations are different because she works basically full time as a pharmacist/manager at a big pharmacy and I work partime from home, on a flex schedule. So it was always assumed that I could get along no matter what, while she has to go in at night to do inventory, all day seminars out of town, etc.
    At the end of the day, she is the daughter. I’m married to the first born genius son, who was also always considered very independent and I think that image rubs off on me as well. Since the son is so self-reliant, I must be too.
    I’m still bitter, because the only close family I have here is my brother, who’s wonderful, but has 4.5 kids of his own and travels a lot for work.

  9. mominisrael says

    MB–please don’t be bitter. It’s easy to wish we had what others have. Accept whatever help your MIL offers with graciousness. Many olim are in the same boat, and some don’t have family in Israel at all.

  10. MB–
    How is it possible to have 4.5 kids?

  11. mominisrael says

    Ora–nice to see you’re still around. I missed you.
    RA–Yuck. I hope you have a different high school option for your daughter.

  12. Regular Anonymous says

    In my neck of the religious Zionist woods there is growing sentiment that all things secular are best avoided.
    One friend proudly proclaims that she never reads anything secular. A neighbor just pulled her kid out of the yeshiva tichonit hativa and sent him to a non-bagrut yeshiva. Teachers at the local ulpana are discouraging girls from Sherut Leumi, urging them to get married straight out of high school.

  13. mominisrael says

    I’m glad your feelings don’t affect your relationship with your MIL. I still hope that you can find peace with the situation.

  14. merkazbabe says

    Ora- My SIL is due in January with #5.
    MII: I actually do have a decent relationship with my MIL, even though deep down I have resentment. I just don’t let the bad feelings get in the way of shalom bayit and getting along with my daughters’ savta (and my husband’s mom!)
    We used to live around the corner from them and now live about an hour away, which helps things.

  15. Alonim sound like shabbat-paper-blogs!
    I wonder if they’ll have awards – just turn down the corner if you vote for this one, sent the rest to the geniza…
    Good luck on the Weblogs, Mother-in-Israel. I only voted once, but I meant it!

  16. mominisrael says

    “Alonim sound like shabbat-paper-blogs!”
    They don’t have awards, but last Purim Olam Katan had parodies of the others.
    Every vote counts, thanks.

  17. Lion of Zion says

    “people tend to read them in the middle of prayers or speeches”
    better than talking and/or napping
    “Second, most are chock full of ads, and reading the ads may not be permissible on the Sabbath.”
    what’s the problem?
    “According to Jewish law, holy books and papers may not simply be thrown away . . .”
    iirc, there are different views on what can’t be thrown away. some people hold that anything with hebrew letters is a problem; others say only if it has shem ha-meforash.
    “The massive Cairo Genizah . . .”
    one of the reasons that the cairo genizah was so valuable is that it contained many secular documents as well. do you want to deny futire historians the source material they need to study contemporary israeli life?

  18. mominisrael says

    Better than talking or napping–maybe, but still disrespectful.
    I was also wondering what is wrong with reading the ads–hirhurim mutarim–but I have heard people say it’s a problem.
    Again, most people say the alonim must go into the genizah.
    LOL about the Cairo Genizah. Hopefully future historians will be able to access blogs.

  19. Lion of Zion says

    “Again, most people say the alonim must go into the genizah.”
    and the weekend papers that have a devar torah also?
    “hirhurim mutarim”
    i’ve never understood what that means in the poem. (it is one of may favorite zemirot)

  20. mominisrael says

    good point about the weekend papers. Esp. since the alonim are full of stuff that’s not Torah, including ads and columns, Just like the newspapers.
    I thought hirhurim mutarim means that you could think about business on Shabbat.


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