Strangers in a strange land

Haredim must follow the law of the land, even if they feel like strangers within it.

Haredi protesters in J'lem wear yellow Star of David 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi protesters in J'lem wear yellow Star of David 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Haredism, extremism and radicalism – these have become the predominant issues and a mainstay of conversations 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. Here goes!

Prime 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 that hold significant ramifications with an authority that does not acknowledge you in the first place?

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 at large.

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 for 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 exist.

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 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, you should be 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 tacit 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 supersedes their disapproval of segments of the haredi community.

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 lawful citizens.

These haredim most certainly do not agree with many policies of the American government. However, as “strangers in a strange land,” they must follow American law, at the very least, 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 judicial system to exist, they will continue to breach what are considered the rudiments of citizenship – 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.