UTJ's demands will have opposite effect from what it intends - analysis

UTJ demanded that Israel not generate electricity on Shabbat and increase the number of segregated beaches among other religious demands.

 United Torah Judaism leaders Yitzhak Goldknopf and Moshe Gafni attend a party meeting at the Knesset, November 21, 2022 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
United Torah Judaism leaders Yitzhak Goldknopf and Moshe Gafni attend a party meeting at the Knesset, November 21, 2022
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

One of the most popular Jewish rituals that is a consensus in Israel is the circumcision of baby boys. Even as the years go by, Jewish Israelis, from all backgrounds, continue with this ancient custom, one that probably looks odd to secular liberals. According to a survey that was published in 2017, almost all (98%) of Israelis said that they have circumcised their son, just days after he was born.

Why is the rate of circumcision higher than participation in almost any other Jewish ritual in Israel? The answer is simple: The government hasn’t interfered dramatically in this process and it isn’t a requirement to be considered as a Jew or for Jewish marriage through the Chief Rabbinate.

N12 news commentator Amit Segal exposed the agreement between the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) Party and the Likud as part of the coalition negotiations.

Included in the reported agreements, which were denied by the Likud on Tuesday, the station claimed that Israel’s next government will halt the generation of electricity on Shabbat, fund the genizah (permanent storing away) of holy books and institutes dedicated to answering halachic (Jewish legal) questions, and increase the number of sex-segregated beaches in Israel. In addition, it was reported that the government will also take affirmative action to integrate haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men into state-owned enterprises, among other reported clauses added to the coalition agreement.

These types of reports and decisions create great antagonism toward Judaism and religion in Israel – and at times, do the total opposite of what the ultra-Orthodox politicians intended. Their intent is to assist their communities to be able to live their lives in accordance with Jewish law, but at the same time, they create more and more negativity toward what they think they stand for: Judaism.

 FROM LEFT, prospective coalition partners Yitzhak Goldknopf, Bezalel Smotrich, Yoav Kisch and Moshe Gafni in the Knesset plenum this week (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) FROM LEFT, prospective coalition partners Yitzhak Goldknopf, Bezalel Smotrich, Yoav Kisch and Moshe Gafni in the Knesset plenum this week (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

If the Knesset ever decided to force every Israeli Jew to circumcise their sons, the amount of Israelis who would actually do so would decrease dramatically, just as they began boycotting marriage ceremonies that are required to be done through the Chief Rabbinate. According to official statistics, some 36,915 Israelis got married through the Chief Rabbinate offices in 2021, a 7% decrease from 2015, when 39,111 Israelis got married legally through the Rabbinate – even though the birth rate would indicate that more Israelis would be getting married as time goes by.

The surprising trend of secular Israelis moving to the US or other Jewish communities – and reconnecting with their Judaism while in the Diaspora – is huge. So many Israeli emissaries of the Jewish Agency had never visited a synagogue before going on their shlichut (emissary mission) and reconnecting with their Judaism, that the organization implemented a visit to synagogues in their preparation course.

Why do Israelis need to go to US to feel Jewish?

MANY YOUNG secular Israelis are overwhelmed when participating in Jewish summer camps in the US, of Reform or Conservative backgrounds, when they are told that the morning begins with a prayer service. Staff at these camps always state that they know the Israelis need time to adjust to this new reality to which they have never been exposed. “I came to the US as an Israeli, but I returned to Israel as a Jew,” many of them will state at the end of their experience.

Why is it that they need to get to the US in order to feel Jewish? The answer is that the ultra-Orthodox are to blame, as well as secular leaders who distanced themselves from Judaism for many decades.

Any Diaspora Jewish community knows that it needs to fundraise in order to support its Jewish communities. In Israel, many religious Jews expect the government or their municipality to build synagogues and community centers. As more and more religious services become government-funded, the Israeli public is becoming more and more apathetic toward these causes. Others, mainly secular, want no connection whatsoever to these initiatives and therefore distance themselves even more from these Jewish causes.

Yes, Israel is a Jewish state and therefore there needs to be a certain connection between religion and state. The connection in Israel is becoming more and more absolute – a situation that is good for specific groups and bad for those who will be distancing themselves from it as a result.

But it may be argued that this isn’t good for the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and religious-Zionist Israelis: Anything that is a given will be treated as such. If you receive a building for a synagogue from your municipality without fundraising and fighting for it, you will appreciate it a lot less. If your community rabbi is paid by the Religious Affairs Ministry, he doesn’t need any congregants or support from the public. He can continue receiving his salary for decades without anyone threatening him that he should step down. If Israelis are forced to wed only through the Chief Rabbinate, many will do the opposite – that’s just human nature.

During Yair Lapid’s first term as minister, he tried to force ultra-Orthodox Israelis to be drafted into the army, against their will and despite the opinion of their rabbis. When Lapid later returned to the opposition for many years, suddenly more and more young haredi men voluntarily joined the army.

The explanation is simple: When there is no external pressure on people to change something they are used to doing, they can make a decision to take a dramatic step on their own. But when it is enforced by external parties, they will be as conservative as can be – and sometimes become even more extreme as a result of this pressure.