Ya'acov Litzman speaks to an audience at Tel Aviv's Dan Panorama Hotel.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
That no one is very surprised Agudat Yisrael’s Council of Torah Sages decided on Thursday to allow Deputy Minister Ya’acov Litzman to take up the full ministerial position of health minister is very instructive.
Perhaps it’s because the decades-old principle of the Ashkenazi haredi (ultra-Orthodox) political parties not to take full ministerial posts was always a symbol, a way of showing the haredi community and broader Israeli society that the haredim are separate and want to be separate.
So the fact that a symbol has fallen is itself purely symbolic.
It was never a sacrosanct idea, or something based on Jewish law, and therefore dispensing with such an emblem is not particularly problematic.
And there is therefore no reason to believe that the haredi rabbinic and political leadership is any more inclined now to stop preaching the gospel of segregation between haredi and non-haredi society than it was before Thursday’s decision.
The haredi leadership fought fiercely during the recent coalition negotiations to restore stipends for yeshiva students, generous National Insurance Institute child-allotment payments and other welfare payouts to their pre-Yair Lapid levels.
Whereas Lapid sought to squeeze the haredi sector financially to encourage men to perform national service, obtain an education and integrate into the workforce, the haredi leadership has fought uncompromisingly against these goals.
Litzman himself has said he would never encourage a haredi man to leave the study halls of the yeshiva for the study halls of university and a place in the workforce.
And yet, despite this heavy rearguard action by the haredi rabbinic and political decision-makers, their community has in recent years begun to change in ways that were almost unthinkable 15 years ago.
There are now almost 9,000 haredi men and women in higher education, enlistment to the IDF in 2014 was 24 percent of the possible annual intake, and the number of haredim employed in the business sector continues to grow.
It would seem that despite the pressure from above, there is a growing awareness and will among the haredi public and on the haredi street to bring down, or at least lower, what their leaders call the “Walls of Holiness” around the community.
This is something that should not be underestimated, and more important must not be endangered.
Ever growing numbers of haredi men are embarking on the arduous journey of performing some form of national service, enrolling in courses to make up for their lack of a basic education, and gaining academic or professional qualifications, very often while married and with children to support, because they see no contradiction in being haredi and in taking part in Israeli society and responsibility.
It was Lapid’s antagonism that led to the massive haredi rally against IDF enlistment, that gave rise to the vicious campaign by extremists against the draft, and that forced the rabbinic leadership rightward and even further away from moderation and integration.
Finding a policy balance in which the processes of integration are nurtured and encouraged while avoiding capitulation to the demands of the haredi leadership would be a far greater achievement for Israeli politics than Lapid’s success in granting Litzman a pay rise and a promotion.