The haredi ‘state within a state’

It is the moral issue of military conscription and its weighty demands and dangers sustained by our brave soldiers that have brought the place of haredim in society to a critical crisis point.

June 23, 2013 21:41
3 minute read.
HAREDI DEMONSTRATORS protest in Jerusalem against performing national service.

Haredim protest enlistment 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

The haredi lifestyle, designed to preserve and protect their conception of traditional Jewish values, rejects the Zionist ethos, the culture contours of general Israeli society, and the integrating, melting-pot process for the “ingathering of the exiles” in the homeland. Moreover, the haredi community as a rule audaciously considers this era of Jewish national restoration in Israel as galut (exile), because the fullness of the sacred and religious themes are not in their view manifestly apparent, though the redemptive return compellingly fulfills biblical prophecy and Divine providence in history.

The ongoing public uproar and debate touching on an equal bearing and sharing of the security yoke in the country, that demands military service for all Jews, has focused attention on this specific haredi segment in Israeli society. The ultra-Orthodox haredi community in Israel, while fractionalized within, has built and conducts its daily life in a virtual “state within a state.”

Displaying pronounced insularity and separatism, this very conspicuous sector has cultivated a self imposed mental segregation that befits a religious cult. The haredi public overwhelmingly follows discernible and generally monolithic rabbinic directives regarding which newspapers to read, what modest clothing to wear, what kosher foods to eat, which hotels, beaches and restaurants to frequent, which malls to shop at, and which busses to travel on.

The parallel physical segregation is a form of secession from the broader society and culture, considered alien and threatening.

Most haredim reside in and prefer their own distinctive neighborhoods as in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, their own towns (e.g.

Beitar Illit), and robustly seek to transform non-haredi neighborhoods into haredi ones, as in Ma’alot Dafna and Ramat Eshkol in Jerusalem. Bubbling and permissive Israeli public space is considered dangerous to the solidity and integrity of traditional self-encased haredi cohesion.

One cannot blame haredim for aspiring to sustain a life pattern guarded by the rules and regulations of a conservative legal framework; but they can be expected nonetheless to accept and respect the state which offers them liberty and security, services and opportunities; and yet their attitude runs along a spectrum from revulsion of the state, ignoring its heroic history, badmouthing its political leaders and policies, to emotional detachment from its symbols like the flag and national celebrations like Independence Day.

They do not appreciate or take part in the economic-technological-medical- agricultural-scientific-military miracle that marks Israel’s political renaissance, never offering an expression of gratitude for the sensational transformation of the “Jewish condition” in modern times.

It is the moral issue of military conscription and its weighty demands and dangers sustained by our brave soldiers that have brought the place of haredim in society to a critical crisis point. The democratic equation that all inhabitants should equally enjoy the rights of citizenship is a placid and abstract definition; whereas the equitable principle that compensation should be provided for contribution establishes the primacy of duty-performance at the forefront of collective responsibility for national well-being.

As our national and personal existence is a patently daily reality under siege and peril, the defense of the country is the definitive imperative to be expected from all citizens. The last generation to willingly be recruited to the army is the last generation of Israel’s existence.

The haredim have essentially made the military draft a nonnegotiable issue. Their stance of refusing to do military service threatens to exacerbate the divisions among the people, demoralize those who carry the military burden, and tear asunder the fiber of national unity so needed in our long-term campaign for survival.

Can a divided house stand over time? How much longer can active patriotic citizens be expected to respond willingly to their draft call and do reserve duty two decades thereafter – generation after generation – while a sizable and visible segment of the population does not? The haredi community has advanced from its initial goal of religious survival, to the stage of community resurgence, and now to the point of incremental neighborhood- by-neighborhood conquest.

More than a quarter of grade one Jewish school-children will be studying next year in haredi schools; this percentage is rising from year-to-year.

The haredi success, financed by generous governmental support, is the pitfall and menace facing the wider Israeli society. While enjoying demographic growth and increasing parliamentary representation, haredim defiantly reject the call for meaningful brotherhood.

The haredim mock the State of Israel while they build their own haredi state – and hope it will ultimately replace the Jewish state with a haredi- dominated state over all of us.

The author is a retired lecturer from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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