‘Who is the wise person? The one who foresees the consequences,” the Talmud sagely tells us.
As Jews, we are taught to look ahead, to understand what the future holds and try and prepare for it.
The coronavirus pandemic has had many unforeseen consequences. One of them is to be given a taste of our future in the State of Israel if we continue to allow the growth of a state within a state, whose leaders teach their followers to take without giving, and not to heed the country’s laws. To see themselves as separate and not part of wider society, to maintain their way of life even if it costs others and themselves their health, livelihoods and lives.
In some instances, as we have witnessed recently, the issue is even more worrying as the violence and deterrence emanating from parts of that community have cowed most of our leaders and law enforcement into silence and inaction.
From the very beginning, many ultra-Orthodox leaders would not countenance the closing of synagogues and yeshivas, even when it was clearly demonstrated they were a major source for the spread of the contagion.
They ignored medical and scientific warnings to continue holding mass gatherings, without masks or social distancing. Some of their leaders even said other members of the community were not welcome should they choose to wear masks.
Some haredi leaders told their followers not to take coronavirus tests because it could increase the numbers of positive cases in their communities, which would ensure they would come under even greater scrutiny. They even created a parallel health system, hidden from the authorities, with life-saving equipment inaccessible to those outside of the community.
Nonetheless, I do not blame anyone in the ultra-Orthodox community for these ethical, moral and halachic errors. I blame a political leadership which assisted in these life-threatening ways at worst and looked the other way at best.
A case in point is that while the haredim currently represent 40% of new coronavirus cases, they have only received 2% of the fines for breaking the restrictions.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has talked frequently for over half a year about multiplying the fines for non-compliance of coronavirus restrictions, this was never done, because the ultra-Orthodox leaders told him not to and he duly obeyed despite his repeated promise to the general public.
Even now, Netanyahu plays games with the public by purposely lengthening the Knesset debate on raising the fines through law so it will only be passed after the lockdown, and thus be rendered irrelevant.
Over the last nine months, this government refused to use the “traffic-light system” of only closing down areas of high infection, as doing so would have shut down mostly haredi areas.
Thus, instead, the government shut down the entire country so as not to be seen as singling out the ultra-Orthodox.
Tens of thousands of businesses have been irretrievably harmed or forced to close, with hundreds of thousands of people sent to unemployment and children forced from their schools, solely to enable the prime minister to maintain his current and future political alliance with the haredi political parties.
We witnessed police coming on a daily basis to shut down businesses or distribute fines for non-compliance all over the country yet ignoring mass events that continue in the ultra-Orthodox areas, even when they were known to all.
After increasing public outrage, finally and belatedly, police officers have been sent to close down the odd school or yeshiva while dozens of others continue about their day completely untouched – in a public relations exercise whereby our police officers are being attacked with feces and rocks and called “Nazis.”
Passersby and bus drivers have been assaulted and almost lynched, and to criticize this is to be called “antisemitic.”
Actually, it is antisemitic to allow this to continue. Thousands have died and the ultra-Orthodox have been disproportionately hit. Those who call out these outrageous, dangerous and violent events are people who care about the health and welfare of this community and beyond, and display a deep awareness of societal responsibility.
Those who allow these things to continue with a wink and nod, or with a limp and vague condemnation, have little care for health, life and livelihood.
Even more so, they are sending a clear message of immunity and impunity to this community, and its leaders.
We, the general public, religious, traditional and secular, should also be learning our lessons.
We dare not forget what we are witnessing. While today it is about a pandemic that hopefully will be under control in a matter of months, we must start preparing for the future.
In a generation – or less – it will be too late to change the future, as the ultra-Orthodox population moves from 10% of the population to 20% and beyond. Today, around half of all Israeli children in the first grade are haredi. This will ensure a political reality which demographically will be exponentially harder to ignore.
This means that when our children and grandchildren are ready to serve in the army, go out into the world and make a living, the situation will become increasingly unsustainable. They will sink under a constantly rising tax burden that will need to be farmed out in order to keep others in the manner to which they have become accustomed.
Dealing with this problem next year is too late; it must be dealt with today. We can no longer afford to tut at our screens and move on when we see these outrages, because they will become ever more grave and affect our lives in many ways beyond the health sphere.
We must use our voice and our vote at the ballot box. We need to vote for a party which will leave the ultra-Orthodox factions and their increasing demands in the opposition, a party which incentivizes contribution and declares openly that those who contribute more will receive more and those who contribute less will receive less, regardless of their community affiliation.
A fairer Israel today, a sustainable Israel for the future.
This future must be understood now, and we must be wise enough to foresee the consequences of the policies we formulate, the criminality we ignore, and the state within a state we allow to flourish to the detriment of all others.
The writer is an MK and the Knesset faction chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu Party.