Haredi men in Jerusalem 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
After the recent military operation in Gaza, it is easy to forget that the
coming elections were rescheduled to an early date due to the issue of the
haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft exemption. Yet this debate is not over – it has
just begun. The question of whether the haredim should be drafted is rooted in
even deeper challenges that Israeli society has to face. The major issue we have
to deal with is the separation of the haredi population from the larger
The haredi view of the establishment of the State of Israel
is governed by the principle of messianic redemption. This community regards
national restoration to the Jewish homeland as a vision to be realized through
divine forces, in reward for the observance of strict religious practices – not
through human efforts. A wide consensus consequently exists among the haredi
Jewish populace that an independent and sovereign Israel constitutes an affront
to the divine will.
Israeli political institutions are thus perceived as
representing a violation of the sacred law.
In haredi eyes, the State of
Israel not only profanes the sacred by precluding the possibility of a
miraculous redemption but also conducts itself in a fashion which contravenes
haredi lifestyle and culture (e.g., working on the Sabbath, eating non-kosher
When Judaism encountered the European Enlightenment movement
in Western Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, the haredim chose to withdraw
from general society and secular culture to preserve the Jewish religion. Ultra-
Orthodoxy is therefore customarily characterized by a constant alertness to the
threat posed by modern, secular Western culture. The haredi opposition to Israel
is thus not merely restricted to antagonism toward state political institutions
but also represents counter-resistance to Israeli society as a representative of
Yet we should not give up on the possibility that these
social tensions can be overcome. We should view these social and political
challenges in light of the great potential they hold. Integrating the haredim
into economic and mainstream life holds a great opportunity to boost the Israeli
economy and strengthen social solidarity.
Thus, although this separation
seems quite severe, the understanding of its true nature might lead us to a
productive solution. We do not have to interpret this resistance as a “clash of
One can interpret the haredi resistance to the Western
world as an internal matter, as a protection against domestic changes. In other
words, the haredi resistance does not necessarily stem from a position that
rejects or assaults modern culture.
Instead, this resistance intends to
denounce and delay internal processes of change which haredi society is
It is interesting to better understand this idea with
organizational and psychological theories about resistant behavior in
individuals as a reaction to changing circumstances. In the world of
organizations, resistance to change is the action taken by individuals and
groups when they perceive organizational transformations as a threat to their
position or the ways they are used to working.
They resist the change
even when they agree with the need for it and claim that they do not want to go
back. In psychology, resistance appears when the patient feels that his or her
self is being exposed in the therapy process, even when they know it is for
their own benefit. The same might hold for haredi society.
apply a resistant behavior because they are threatened by the majority culture.
It is actually possible that some who behave in this way actually want to
assimilate into the majority culture and to integrate into Israeli
However, they are afraid of the unknown, the price of going
through the change, and the shift in their domestic social system.
course, there are many ideological arguments in this “religious war” against
Western Israeli society. Nevertheless, we should also give voice to those who
say: “just slow down, I’m changing, but at my own pace.” Focusing on this
perspective, we should ask ourselves: is there any real rejection of the Israeli
culture here? The answer is no.
The rejection does not arise because of
the majority culture and claims against it; on the contrary, it actually defines
the process of adoption of this new culture.
For example, there is an
increasing willingness to receive state funds and to recognize the state de
facto, establishment of national volunteer organizations, participation in
national ceremonies, and an increasing readiness to serve in the army. Thus, the
resistance might even indicate a connection to and influence (potentially, at
least) of the general Israeli culture on the haredi
Therefore, in order to understand some of the reasons for the
haredi resistance, and even predict what future trends it may follow, a change
of perspective is needed – we should look inwards, into haredi society and its
fears of change.
Interpreting this resistance as an intercultural clash
grossly overlooks a deeper understanding of these processes. We actually need to
see the fact that many haredim adopt a behavior of resistance as a call for
Now, as the elections are approaching, we should ensure that the
haredi integration is on the table in every coalition formation. The Israeli
government should promote deeper and more sophisticated policies of integration,
which understand the fears and threats that confront of this special
We should find a way to make them feel protected during every
stage that the integration process entails. By doing this, we will encourage the
processes that may actually lead toward productive integration of the haredim
into the Israeli society and economy.
The writer is a Fulbright fellow
and doctoral candidate at Columbia University, New York. He served as a faculty
member at the Mandel Leadership Institute and as the research manager of the
Institute for Social Justice at Bet Morasha College. He holds a master’s degree
in public policy and a master’s degree in education, both from the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem.