In his op-ed contribution (Why haredim should be Zionists, April 24), Dov Lipman
argues that “Haredim, who accept the Bible, the Talmud and the rabbis should
embrace Zionism and the State of Israel.” I think that haredim would
disagree with his conjunction of “Zionism and the State of Israel” and argue
that the two are not identical.
While almost all of them support the
latter vis-à-vis the Palestinians, they oppose the former, but that all depends
on what one means by the term “Zionism.”
Most of Lipman’s arguments are
based on the traditional Jewish love of the Land of Israel and the desire to
live there in order more fully to live a Torah-centred life, especially by
observing the agricultural laws that apply only there. A further attraction was
the Ottoman millet system that gave internal autonomy to religious communities,
as opposed to the increasing interference by Enlightenment-inspired European
states that made its abolition a condition for the emancipation of Jews as
As a result, Jews immigrated in increasing numbers in the
18th and 19th centuries and formed the basis of the pre- Zionist Old Yishuv,
from which the haredi sector has developed. Similar sentiments also motivate
most post-1967 immigrants from the Western world.
Zionism really only
came into existence as a political movement in response to the wave of pogroms
that swept the Russian Empire in the 1880s that were perceived as signaling that
Jews could not expect equal rights and that the solution of assimilation could
not work because of often violent non-Jewish opposition.
It posited that
this “Jewish problem” was caused by the unnatural nature of Jews as a minority
within Europe and that it could only be solved if Jews formed a nation-state, in
which they would be the majority, when the non-Jews would accept them into the
family of nations. Originally it would have accepted a state anywhere (e.g.
Uganda) but soon abandoned this idea when it realized that this would not appeal
to popular Jewish sentiment and, therefore, would not attract any large-scale
The growth worldwide of anti-Zionism has shown that this
program has failed and Israel vis-à-vis the rest of the world is in much the
same situation as were Jews in Europe in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Anti-Semitism has morphed into anti- Zionism – the underlying hostility is
A further distinction between modern Zionism and its religious
precursors is that, as Herzl put it, “the rabbis should be confined to the
synagogues,” i.e. religion should be confined to the private domain and have no
influence in the running of the state. This program was implemented by Mapai,
which was the dominant power in the Jewish community during the British Mandate
and in the early years of the state.
By controlling the issuing of
admission documents, it effectively discriminated against religious immigrants
from Eastern Europe in the interwar years. After the establishment of the state,
it also made great, and largely effective, efforts to “modernize,” i.e. alienate
from religious observance, those coming from the Muslim world.
recent times there has been a greater accommodation of religious sentiments, but
this is resisted by many in elite positions such as the Supreme Court and the
higher echelons of the IDF. For example the latter’s ruling that “religious
soldiers [be] denied [the] option of using earplugs in ceremonies in which women
sing” (report, April 24) shows that anti-religious coercion is still all too
Such inflexibility is one reason why haredim by and large are not
willing to serve in the ranks of the IDF. It also explains why they are so
ambivalent when it comes to secular celebrations such as “Israel’s Memorial Day,
Israel’s Independence Day, or Jerusalem Day” and why “no prayers were said for
the state or on behalf of the IDF soldiers” in their circles.
antagonism of the majority of the Israeli press which tends to suggest that the
minuscule minority in the Natorei Karta, who are passionately anti-Israel and
participate in demonstrations against the state and fraternize with such of its
opponents as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are somehow representative of haredim only
adds to their alienation from the rest of society.
Many perceive that
they are seen by it in much the same way as Jews are seen in Europe by
Probably most readers will be unaware that these Natorei
Karta fanatics have been disowned by almost every group within the haredi world,
including the Satmar Hassidim, who hold that it is forbidden to set up a Jewish
state before the coming of the Messiah.
In Manchester, for example, their
synagogues have expelled the local activist and the haredi burial society has
informed him that it will not bury him, and returned his
Once general Israeli society understands the true, and
basically non-threatening, nature of haredi anti-Zionism and appreciates that it
can coexist with genuine support for Israel, one might hope that some
accommodation can be found that will be acceptable to both groups.
author is a retired lecturer in Mathematics at the Manchester Metropolitan
University and a frequent contributor to both the Jewish and general press
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