In recent months, apparently in an attempt to increase ratings, Channel 10 has
started to broadcast three- to four-chapter mini-series on current issues in its
daily news broadcasts in prime time. The topics chosen are all provocative, and
while I am not sure whether they have increased the channel’s ratings, they have
certainly created a buzz.
One of the reasons for this is that the
producers of these series are all extremely talented and diversified
One of these reporters is the rather enigmatic Avishai
Ben-Haim – the channel’s reporter on haredi (ultra-Orthodox) affairs. From the
look of him, it is not easy to place Ben-Haim. He has long hair, which he
gathers in a ponytail, and he usually wears what looks like a black knitted
skullcap, though it is not clear whether he himself comes from a religious
background, and if so, of what sort.
The author of a book on The Haredi
Ideology According to Rabbi Shach, and currently working on his doctorate in
Jewish thought at the Hebrew University, Ben-Haim is undoubtedly highly
knowledgeable about all the nuances of haredi thought and life, and at the same
time approaches every topic on which he reports with the enthusiasm of a
(Incidentally, Ben-Haim is a reserve Lieutenant Colonel in a
paratrooper unit, and is extremely skeptical about the prospect of hard-core
haredi youths ever enlisting in the IDF in significant numbers.) The mini-series
produced by Ben-Haim, which was broadcast on Channel 10 last week, was entitled
“Shilton Harav” (“Government by Rabbis” in free translation), and deals with the
question of what will happen if and when the haredim in Israel turn into a
Ben-Haim provided a vast quantity of information on the issue,
mostly in the form of short interviews, which he crammed into three programs of
12 to 14 minutes each (all available on YouTube), and since he does not express
his own opinion about the likelihood of the haredim eventually turning into a
majority, or the implications of such a development, we are left to reach our
The reactions of the public have been everywhere from
“be’ezrat hashem!” (with the Help of God) to sheer panic.
The truth is
that no one knows what the Israeli society will really look like if and when the
haredim turn into a majority. It is difficult to imagine a society in which the
majority prefers to study at yeshivot rather than work, refuses to acquire a
general secular education, refuses to do military service, and is totally
dependent on the non-haredi minority (made up of secular and national religious
Jews, Arabs and foreign workers) to provide all the services and perform all the
functions required for the running of a modern state – particular one that
confronts a constant existential problem on the security level.
is that if and when the haredim turn into a majority, haredi society will change
beyond recognition from what it is today. The phenomenon of “modern haredim” –
i.e. haredim who have acquired a higher non-religious education, and are
gainfully employed – will undoubtedly expand in coming years. At the same time,
and parallel with such a development, we might possibly also see the
strengthening of the more fanatical branch of the haredi community,
characterized by total lack of tolerance for anyone less fanatic than itself,
not to mention those who are secular or non-Jewish.
The phenomenon of
“hardalim” (national religious haredim) might also spread beyond its current
Side by side with all these developments we should not forget
that the current mainstream haredi society is divided into splinters, and is
unlikely to unite, even if some charismatic religious leader pops up from
somewhere – and at the moment no such leader is in sight. So what sort of
majority are we talking about? Even without a clear perception of what a society
in which the haredim are a majority will look like, most seculars are petrified
at the thought, imagining that in such a society the strictest religious norms,
and the halacha, will be forcefully applied, totally obliterating any remnant of
the modern western liberal society. The majority of seculars would certainly
choose to leave the country under such circumstances.
The reaction of the
national religious and the Arabs is less clear. The national religious camp
competes with the haredim for control over the country’s religious institutions,
and also has issues with the haredim over Zionism and Eretz Yisrael. However, it
has no problem with Israel turning into a halachic state.
The Arabs, on
the other hand, are ambivalent, since the current status quo isn’t exactly what
they want, and it is not clear what impact a state with a haredi majority would
have on them.
Personally, though I do not deny that the haredim might
turn into a majority in the distant future, what with their high birth rates and
despite the fact that not everyone born a haredi remains one, I believe that
from the perspective of a liberal secular person there are two phenomena
concerning the demographic balance in Israel that will occur much before the
haredim turn into a majority (today they probably constitute less than 10
percent of the population).
The first is that the Palestinians will turn
into a majority west of the River Jordan (even today the Palestinian citizens of
Israel, plus those living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are approaching
the 50 percent mark).
The second is that the Israeli population which
does not view democracy as being of paramount importance, will turn into a
Is there anything that anyone can do about any of the above
mentioned developments? With regard to the haredim, one cannot stop their
numerical growth, but one can try to encourage the haredi society to undergo
changes that will make it more amenable to accepting the concept of pluralism as
a reality, and to a “live and let live” approach. In addition, for as long as
possible, determined action should be taken against fanatical groups of haredi
law-breakers (e.g. some of the haredi groups in Beit Shemesh).
regard to the Palestinians, those who wish Israel to remain both a Jewish and
democratic state maintain that the only solution is separation – i.e. the
establishment of a Palestinian state that will include all the Palestinians who
are not Israeli citizens, or do not wish to remain Israeli citizens.
is not clear is what those who want Israel to be a Jewish state, but do not care
if it is not democratic, plan to do in a situation in which there is a
Palestinian majority west of the River Jordan.
As to the prospect of the
majority in Israel pooh-poohing democracy, all one can do is fight a rear-guard
battle to try and convince as many people as possible that the consequences of
Israel ceasing to be democratic would be horrendous, both in terms of Israel’s
status in the enlightened group of states (which is constantly deteriorating),
and the implications regarding daily life in the country.
I do not know
whether the anti-democratic erosion can be stopped, but it is certainly worth
our best shot.The writer is a retired Knesset employee.