Last month, at the outset of the upheaval over enforced haredi gender
separation, I wrote a column titled “Confront Unbridled Religious Zealotry
Regrettably, the fundamental issues requiring attention have been
totally submerged by a flood of histrionics and outright haredi-bashing that will
only intensify divisions within the nation.
Many Israelis regard haredi
lifestyles and the halachic interpretations of their rabbis as excessively
stringent and incomprehensible. But as long as haredim do not seek to
impose their lifestyles upon others and as long as they fulfill their civic
obligations like the rest of society, we are obliged to respect their right to
practice their rituals or customs. Besides, there are many positive
aspects of haredi lifestyles that non-observant Israelis would do well to
emulate and benefit.
However, when haredim seek to impose their standards
on the nation, we are entitled to become angry. This is what should concern us,
rather than the criminal behavior against women by individual thugs – whom the
bulk of the haredi community and their rabbis have unequivocally condemned. Yet
the media frenzy suggests that the principal threat confronting us is violence
from hordes of violent zealots seeking to impose Taliban standards of conduct on
This has fanned waves of hysteria, demonizing haredim who are
held collectively responsible for the crimes of a small number of degenerate
Despite the Natorei Karta extremists who shamefully undermined
the haredi cause by demonstrating in the streets wearing yellow stars and
comparing themselves to Holocaust victims, the failure to deal with these
fanatics rests principally with our own law enforcement officials. Over the
years, they frequently avoided addressing these issues and stood aside,
emboldening the wild fanatics.
The same applies to the price tag
outlaws. Instead of directing collective blame toward law-abiding
settlers who are outraged by such actions, the media should be condemning law
enforcement officials for failing to apprehend and jail these
IN SHARP contrast to the hysteria directed against haredim
collectively, it is noteworthy that the media is far more accommodating toward
far-left Israeli agitators who encourage and even orchestrate violent
demonstrations that include stone-throwing and physical clashes with police and
military authorities, often culminating with serious injuries. The
Leftist media downplay such violent behavior and even shower praise on the
The problem we face today is not the haredi lifestyle. It
is their increasing effort to control all religious issues and challenge the
credentials of rabbis unwilling to subscribe to the stringent rulings of their
The critical areas affecting the general population
are conversion and marriage, for which a haredi-controlled Interior Ministry and
Chief Rabbinate have created nightmarish obstacles to deter sincere converts.
The rabbinate also indirectly encourages increasing numbers of non-observant
Israelis to wed abroad, either because of the stringency of their pre-nuptial
requirements or because growing numbers of secular Israelis simply want nothing
to do with the institution.
In the national interest, it is incumbent on
the government to ensure that moderate national-religious rabbis serve their
constituencies in these areas without interference from haredi
THE OTHER crucial issue, which has been overlooked in
the current hysteria, is the ever-increasing proportion of Israeli
schoolchildren attending state-financed haredi schools. By excluding all secular
subjects from their curricula, these institutions guarantee that increasing
numbers of Israelis will not be prepared for gainful employment and will thus
remain dependent on state welfare all their lives.
Despite the fact that
vast numbers of haredim are sinking deeper into excruciating poverty, Rabbi
Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, their centenarian spiritual leader, last week urged his
followers not to permit their children to be tarnished by secular studies –
stressing that they should live apart from society at large.
observant Jews from earning a livelihood is unprecedented and there is no sound
halachic foundation for rejecting secular knowledge. Maimonides was a physician,
a philosopher and thoroughly versed in worldly knowledge. Today he would be
disqualified from teaching at most haredi educational
Indeed, religious Jews throughout the ages took pride in
earning a livelihood. Throughout the Western world, with few exceptions, haredim
today are educated in secular subjects in their schools, enabling them to
contribute productively to the economy. Yet, here in Israel, this is considered
inconceivable. If we are not to become a third-world country, it is
imperative that the government intervene in this area.
In addition, the
issue of military service continues to generate rage among secular and
national-religious Israelis. Over 90 percent of haredim remain exempted from any
form of national service.
There are absolutely no grounds for Orthodox
Jews living in a Jewish state surrounded by enemies to be exempt from serving
their country. Haredim should be obliged to fulfill their civic obligations by
serving in the army or other forms of national service.
It is these
issues, rather than the obsession with degenerate zealots, that represent the
crucial challenges of the demographically expanding haredi population and that
we are obliged to resolve now.
Most Israelis would eagerly welcome
electoral reform that would deny one-dimensional groups from exerting excessive
political leverage to extort governments to capitulate to their ever-increasing
If the Likud and Kadima parties could set aside their political
shenanigans – which are based on power struggles rather than ideology – and
unite to resolve this problem, they would be enthusiastically supported by the
vast majority of Israelis.
Those who consider this inconceivable because
the Netanyahu government is heavily dependent on haredi support are
mistaken. The prime minister is fully aware of the extent of the rage
generated over the past few weeks. He would be well advised to introduce reforms
now which could be gradually implemented, allowing haredim to maintain their
lifestyle but also obligating them to become productive members of society and
thus gain the respect of the nation. In the long run, this would also benefit
haredim because with their demographic growth, the country will soon be unable
to economically sustain the status quo and they would fare better by having
reforms introduced gradually rather than facing collapse.
The writing is
on the wall and if Netanyahu fails to move soon, at the next elections he may
face a party led by someone like Yair Lapid, who could emulate his late father
who resurrected the Shinui party which primarily focused on
haredi-bashing. By harnessing the anti-haredi hysteria sweeping the
country, the Left could well destabilize Netanyahu’s coalition and regain the
reins of government.
The prime minister would be well advised to take
preemptive action now to forestall such a situation.
The writer’s website
can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He can be reached at