We do so much on behalf of the ultra-Orthodox. Then they try to shove
their way of life down our throats. Haven’t they ever heard of baseball?
By LAWRENCE RIFKIN
With all the wajaras over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government, the sticking point that seems to come up most, at least where Yair Lapid and the ultra- Orthodox parties are concerned, is the burden of national service.When we talk about this burden, no one is referring to those who cannot serve in the IDF – and there are many, be it for reasons of disability, a criminal record or family hardship – or to those who prefer making the rounds of pubs and clubs at night instead of taking up point on a patrol through hostile territory.Instead, the ones we see in our mind’s eye are the tens of thousands of haredi men who spend their lives immersed in Torah study (or at least are listed on yeshiva rolls as doing so) and therefore have no time to serve the Jewish people in more prosaic ways, be it in uniform or by changing bedpans in a hospital or working with underprivileged kids in impoverished neighborhoods.And for good reason.Non-Orthodox shirkers often end up choosing a form of alternative service, and usually end up studying something useful or finding jobs, or at the very least receiving financial assistance from their families. Some are even very well off, in part because they are able to use the time they otherwise would spend in uniform constructively to further very lucrative careers (see Bar Refaeli – although that creepy Super Bowl ad should get her, at the very least, the equivalent of a draft-evader’s sentence and fine, if only on aesthetic principle).In short, these shirkers are off our radar because for the most part they ultimately find a way to contribute to society or at the very least make no major demands on the rest of us to look after them.Ultra-Orthodox shirkers, on the other hand, not only avoid their responsibil- ities to society, they do not work. They often come from families in which the father does not work, either, so there goes the specter of parental support.AdvertisementThey do tend to marry young, though, and their wives often do work – but with just one income and so many mouths to feed, hundreds of thousands of haredi citizens are on the dole, rely- ing on assistance ranging from child payments and yeshiva-study stipends to outright income supplements.Here such assistance is called benefits.Elsewhere it’s called welfare.Worse yet, the core curriculum in haredi schools is heavy on Judaism and devoid of subjects that give people the necessary skills to cope with life in the real world, whether in math or science or a foreign language. While this approach might create world-class Torah scholars, it most certainly creates a cycle of poverty, even for those ultra- Orthodox men who do not go on to study in a yeshiva. The longer this is allowed to continue, the harder the cycle is to break.The upshot is that most of the rest of us serve in the IDF on their behalf and pay for much of the food on their tables and clothes on their backs. In baseball parlance that’s two strikes, although with two strikes it’s still possi- ble to get on base and even score.But the ultra-Orthodox seem to be courting a third strike, for they also seek to shove their way of life down our throats, telling the rest of us inter alia what to eat, when to drive, how to get married and divorced, and what our families must do to bury and mourn us.PEOPLE TEND to forget that Israel first and foremost is not a Jewish state but a state for the Jews. These Jews come in all sizes and shapes, and with varying backgrounds and beliefs, from the black-clad and ultra-pious to those the late, revered Lithuanian Rabbi Eliezer Schach once derisively referred to as “rabbit-eating kibbutzniks.”Were it to be a state where eligibility for citizenship rested on Orthodox reli- gious practice it would be closed to a majority of the world’s Jews, making it something other than the safe haven Herzl and the founding fathers had in mind. As it is, with the stranglehold the haredim already have on religious life in Israel, a lot of people who might oth- erwise be inclined to attend an egalitar- ian prayer service or sit down and study a page of Talmud out of mere curiosity are instead repelled straight into the arms of the rabbit-eaters.This is not to say that ultra-Orthodox Jews cannot request, nay, demand that people visiting their enclaves act according to certain norms. I fully understand their ire if someone drives through a neighborhood that has been closed to Shabbat road traffic according to legally mandated standards (although I draw the line at violence, such as rock-throwing). I can also accept the desire of religious people for modest dress on their streets (although I draw the line at the so-called modesty patrols, whose zealous members often take things beyond mere warnings or requests to leave).And yes, I can accept that reason- able numbers of ultra-Orthodox men – perhaps even more than the few hundred Yair Lapid said he was will- ing to countenance – devote their lives to Torah study rather than attend to the more earthly demands of self-defense or community service.I fully understand that close to 70 years later, a large part of the yeshiva world destroyed in the Holocaust still needs to be reborn. Besides, someone around here has to practice an authentic Torah Judaism, with all the bells and whistles, if only so the rest of us who believe in tolerance can practice what we preach.I’d also be willing to have some of my hard-earned tax money go to support reasonable numbers of Torah scholars and their families. And you know what else? Within reasonable limits I could stomach the religion that sneaks its way into so many nooks and crannies of Israeli life, and perhaps even wel- come some of it.The key word quite obviously is “rea- sonable.” But things today are totally unreasonable, and judging by the way Lapid came out of nowhere to head the Knesset’s second-largest faction, a whole lot of Israelis feel the same way – and somehow, perhaps subconsciously, have integrated the rules of baseball into politics.TO THE ultra-Orthodox I say: Lapid wants to send your young men, or at least most of them, to the army or to perform some other form of national service. To me, that’s not the most important thing. Neither is getting you off the dole, although that would be nice. And it’s not necessarily the way you’ve forced religion into so much of everyone’s daily life.To me, the main thing is simply to back off. You can choose what is really important to you and then make com- promises elsewhere. But you can’t have it all. No one can – not, at least, in as fractured a society as ours. You can’t be greedy. Because in politics, like in base- ball, three strikes, you’re out.
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