Haredi protesters in J'lem wear yellow Star of David 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
extremists, radicalism: these have become the predominant issues and
mainstay of conversation throughout Israel and the Jewish world over the
past few weeks. There comes a time when one begins to question the
point and its purpose in search for some answers; so here goes!
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has consistently made it clear (until only a
few days ago) that he would not sit down to negotiate with the
Palestinian Authority on the grounds that it does not recognize Israel's
right to exist as a Jewish state. How can one justifiably discuss
critical issues of significant ramifications with an authority that does
not acknowledge you in the first place. And so Netanyahu has set a
platform stating that prior to any discussion there must be a unilateral
declaration that Israel and the Israeli government are a legitimate
entity with the democratic right to exist. It is time we recognized that
this same platform must be adopted with regards to the haredi community
The main problem with the haredi community,
representative of 8 percent of the Jewish population in Israel, is the
fact that for the most part it does not recognize the Israeli
government. In fact, significant segments of its population would
actually prefer that it did not exist at all and some members of its
population actively campaign for its demise.
Therefore it is vital that the non-haredi segment of the Jewish
population in Israel to realize that demonstrations, social
responsiveness, media coverage and even the implementation of the
judiciary system, are insignificant to the haredi world, not only
because these methods and institutions are detestable to them, but
mainly because from their perspective, fundamentally, they simply do not
This exhibits itself within the current unfortunate dispute between the
haredi and non-haredi population in Beit Shemesh and is representative
of Israel at large. There are numbers of haredim who claim that on the
basis of their rabbinic leadership, they do not agree with the"
extremist haredim" who have resorted to such vile tactics (such as
repulsively dressing their children in Holocaust prisoner garb), and they disapprove of both the beliefs and actions of their "extremist" populace.
Yet, one of the tiffs that the non-haredi population has with this
attempted sympathetic voice is that their silence seems to demonstrate
that this is simply not true. After all, if you disapprove of an action
or find it detestable, then you are obligated to say so publicly!
Certainly the haredi rabbinic leadership's disapproval of the
extremists' actions warrants a reaction, preferably a public
proclamation against indecency, harm and disrespect towards fellow Jews,
let alone human beings.
This unfortunately has not been the case and it is reminiscent of the
concept in halachic literature which states, "shtika kehodaya dami" -
silence is the same as acknowledgment.
Yet, this lack of reaction or silent approval should not surprise us
considering what was iterated above. The haredim and their leadership
have remained silent simply because their denial of the Israeli
government's existence exceeds their disapproval of segments of the
In the United States, there are also haredi extremists who attempt to
forcefully dictate and impose their religious policies on those around
them. However, they and their influence on surrounding communities are
kept at bay simply because they must abide by American law to remain
These haredim most certainly do not agree with many policies of the
American government. However, as "strangers in a strange land," at the
very least they must follow American law within reason; failure to do so
results in prosecution. Much of the haredi community in Israel has
chosen to estrange itself from the Israeli government. Many of its
members (not all, some haredim do serve in the army and some do identify
with the government and its infrastructure) have confirmed that here
too, they are "strangers in a strange land."
However, they must understand that they are subject to the laws and
regulations of a legitimate government, granted one which they may
disagree with, but one which has the right to enforce the law and
prosecute those would be citizens who breach it.
There are certain acts which can help facilitate this understanding,
such as enforcing (mind you, not legislating, as some of these laws are
in place but unfortunately are not implemented) standards of education
such that all schools, regardless of their religious affiliation, are
required to teach the basics of a secular education, as is applied to
schools in the USA, and that as citizens of this country all schools and
offices are closed on Independence Day; not because everyone has to be a
Zionist, but because everyone has to follow the judicial regulations of
living in a country called Israel, which happens to be Jewish.
So long as a majority of the haredi world does not recognize the right
of our government and judiciary system to exist, they will continue to
breach what are considered the rudiments of citizenship in what they
consider a non-existent entity.
The writer teaches at Yeshiva Hesder
Kiryat Gat and serves as a lecturer under the Harel Division for the
Rabbanut of the IDF. He is also an author and lecturer on Israel,
religious Zionism and Jewish education.