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At All Costs

Menachem Pines and Daniel Hofstedter

When the Maharil Diskin arrived in Yerushalayim in the late 1800s, he had already seen firsthand the devastation of the secular inroads into the Jewish educational system. Yerushalayim, he determined, would not succumb like the vulnerable communities of Europe. Today, say leaders of chareidi institutions, the battle is still on.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The masses of people who stood at the top of Har Hazeisim in Jerusalem barely noticed the bitter cold. Hunkered into their coats and scarves, they had one focus: petitioning at the gravesite of Rav Moshe Yehoshua Yehuda Leib Diskin — the Maharil Diskin ztz”l — on his yahrtzeit, the 29th of Teves.

It’s 116 years since the Maharil Diskin’s passing, yet his gravesite is more popular than ever. The tenacious gadol, who made his way to Eretz Yisrael from Lithuania and became the spiritual guide of the Jews of Jerusalem, and a paternal figure for the city’s orphans, has gained renewed interest. His pledge to be a “meilitz yosher for whatever is needed, in This World and in the Next,” for anyone who aided the orphanage he founded, seems to wrap his burial site in a halo of promised salvation. Stories of wonders and miracles, of success and consolation achieved in the merit of the tzaddik buried here, are enthusiastically retold by those who come to pray at his grave.

Hundreds of people visit the kever every Erev Rosh Chodesh, thousands come on the Maharil Diskin’s yahrtzeit, and in fact there are visitors almost every day. While tales of salvation abound, many of the visitors — chareidi and chiloni alike, both from Eretz Yisrael and abroad — are unaware of the role Rav Diskin played so many years ago in shaping the contours of today’s chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael.


At the Core

Two of the most burning issues on the chareidi agenda in Israel today are the matter of vocational training for chareidi men and their integration into the workforce, and the question of government supervision of the chareidi educational system — in particular, the introduction of government-mandated core subjects (state-supervised curricula in science, math, English, and civics) into the syllabus of chadarim and talmudei Torah.

Could it be a coincidence that 29 Teves — the Maharil Diskin’s yahrtzeit — fell out this year on January 1, the very day a new law took effect that, in essence, enables Israel’s Ministry of Education to cease all funding for chareidi schools that do not meet the ministry’s demands?


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