One sector of society does not care about others: The haredim

The approach of negating the other person is not new in the relationship between haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and other sectors in Israeli society.

Israeli police officers clash with Ultra Orthodox Jewish men during a protest against the enforcement of coronavirus emergency regulations, in the Ultra Orthodox jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, October 4, 2020 (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Israeli police officers clash with Ultra Orthodox Jewish men during a protest against the enforcement of coronavirus emergency regulations, in the Ultra Orthodox jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, October 4, 2020
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
A few years ago, Ya’acov Litzman, then the health minister, was asked why he was not willing to lift his veto on the establishment of a pluralistic prayer plaza at the Western Wall.
Litzman, the interviewer said, had spent his formative years as a youth growing up in the United States where out of the six million Jews there, only a small minority (maybe 600,000) was Orthodox. “Don’t you want to keep them engaged and close to Judaism and Israel?” the interviewer asked United Torah Judaism Party leader Litzman.
No, said Litzman. Reform Jews are not Jews for me. I will never let them have a place at the Western Wall.
This approach, of negating the other person, is not new in the relationship between haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and other sectors in Israeli society. This is true when it comes to matters that impact the haredi way of life like service in the IDF, allowing pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall, participation in the workforce and paying the necessary price of closing down yeshivas and synagogues to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in Israel.
This statement turns out not to be true when the matter does not impact the haredi way of life. That explains, for example, why so many nonprofit organizations are founded and run by haredim that help all Israelis no matter their background – secular and Arab alike.
But when it comes to religious life, those policies stop, which is why the country finds itself on the eve of the exit from the second lockdown with a part of society that continues to think that the rules of the country do not apply to it. Despite making up 50% of infections when they are only about 10% of the population, the haredim continue to insist that they be allowed to reopen their yeshivas, even though those same institutions saw major outbreaks before this latest lockdown.
They insist on expanding the number of people allowed at weddings, and when they don’t get their way, they hold large weddings anyhow, with disregard for the restrictions, rules and laws.

THAT IS how the wedding in Givat Ze’ev that took place last week ended in violence and arrests. The police released recordings of calls made by several Givat Ze’ev residents who complained about dozens of guests at the event. Videos of the wedding taken by neighbors showed a large number of people in attendance.
According to the police, when police officers arrived at the scene in Givat Ze’ev, just north of Jerusalem, they were subjected to hostile treatment by the hosts, the bride’s parents. That led to a physical confrontation in which a brother of the bride was injured while being arrested.
On Thursday night, a video from another wedding circulating on social media showed dozens of people sitting together without masks. Both weddings were of ultra-Orthodox Israelis.
To Israelis who are not haredi, this is not only disturbing but another illustration of what Litzman said a few years ago when explaining why he would not allow progressive Jews to pray the way they want at the Western Wall. It unfortunately reflects an attitude of how one sector in society does not care about others.
This attitude is why weddings need to continue to remain under restrictions. Since the coronavirus came to Israel, weddings in the haredi and Arab sectors have been one of the highest sources of spreading infections. Nevertheless, Shas leader Arye Deri stormed out of the cabinet meeting on Thursday night after his request to have 200 people at weddings was not approved.
This type of approach will not work. For Israel to get through the crisis that the COVID-19 has created, politicians like Deri and Litzman need to understand that they have to work with all of Israel and not against other people. They have to start to care about all Israelis and not just their voters. They have to recognize that when one group violates the regulations, it impacts everyone – not just the community from which they come.
Israelis have to start caring about one another. That is the only true way to beat this pandemic.