THINK ABOUT IT: Head of Knesset science committee denies evolution

The ultra-Orthodox: integrating, opposing and imposing.

AN ANTHROPOLOGIST at the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research in the middle of an excavation. (photo credit: Courtesy)
AN ANTHROPOLOGIST at the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research in the middle of an excavation.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
MK Uri Maklev from United Torah Judaism is one of the most diligent and respected Knesset MKs. Two weeks ago, he was one of the recipients of the commendation for upholders of quality government granted annually by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel (the organization established and headed by the red-headed activist Eli’ad Shraga).
In the 20th Knesset, Maklev is chairman of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee, which deals with such issues as artificial intelligence, drones, outer space research and the promotion of R&D in academia. Maklev is by definition quite an unlikely person to head this committee. The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) MK acquired his complete education in the Lita’i (Lithuanian) education system; objects to “core studies” being introduced into this system (i.e. language, literature, mathematics, nature, science & technology and physical education); believes that haredi men have a duty to study the Torah and not to serve in the army; and rejects the theory of evolution and of the “big bang” (so he said in a recent interview to TheMarker).
The phenomenon of MKs like Uri Maklev is fascinating, and requires some serious rethinking by secular liberals, who consider the haredim in general to be an ignorant and primitive community, who contribute very little and are unable to contribute very much to modern, pluralistic Israeli society. This rethinking is especially important against the background of certain sections of the haredi community (it is not clear what percentage they constitute) who want to start integrating into the general community, but under their own strict terms.
For example, we keep hearing of museums that cover up certain displays before haredi visitors arrive, or signs in archaeological sites and nature reserves that are reworded in order not to offend haredi sensitivities.
Displays that are covered may portray nude figures, dinosaurs or prehistoric versions of man, which resemble apes as much as they resemble modern man. Signs at the Beit Shemesh stalactite cave, which explained that some of the stalactites are over 300,000 years old, were changed so as not to mention the figure 300,000 – since according to religious Jews, the world was created by God 5,779 years ago...
Now, while it is certainly a positive development that haredim, even if in very small numbers, visit museums, archeological sites and nature reserves – and one may certainly respect the objection to the portrayal of nude figures of any gender – when it comes to the refusal to see the portrayal of any female figure, even if fully clad, and the refusal to view the portrayal of facts that happen not to correspond with one’s religious beliefs – and the remains of dinosaurs and prehistoric man are hard facts, not man-made fabrications; their dating is scientific, not random) – here there starts to be reason to object.
NO ONE forces anyone to visit any museum, archeological site or nature reserve, but if you do visit them, you should respect the heritage and culture to which they belong, even if you do not agree to everything that they may represent. Besides, no one prevents anyone from creating alternatives that are based on other foundations and premises.
I believe that the same applies to the universities. It is certainly a marvelous development that growing numbers of haredim choose to attend colleges and universities that are attended by all parts of the population, and not just places of learning dedicated to haredim only.
While the motivation might be largely the desire to acquire a better professional education than that offered by purely haredi institutions of learning – not a desire to integrate for the sake of the health of the society – the trend is certainly welcome.
However, there are, and must be strict limits to how far the universities and non-dedicated colleges are willing to compromise in offering suitable conditions for haredi students on their campuses. The rejection of women lecturers in classes attended by male haredim, the rejection of mixed classes (even if males and females sit on different sides of the isle), or the demand that certain topics that are part and parcel of how certain subjects are taught be left out when the students are haredim, cannot be tolerated in public institutions of higher education. In such institutions dedicated to haredim, all of these things are acceptable, even if problematic in secular eyes.
I have been told: “why be narrow-minded: compromise.”
The problem is that what is meant by compromise involves compromise by the secular, or non-haredi side only – especially by women, who have spent decades struggling for equality and non-discrimination, and are in danger of losing at least some of their gains in an effort to placate haredi men – who refuse to view women as equal human beings, allow them to run for elective office, attend cultural events with them, etc.
In fact, it is also women who are being asked to pay an unbearable price for the haredization (hit’hardut) of parts of the national religious camp in the IDF.
BUT TO GO back to MK Uri Maklev and his colleagues.
Their integration in the Knesset does not involve a refusal to work with women, communicate with women, or hold meetings in which women participate as equals. It certainly does not involve refusal to address subjects to which they object on religious grounds. Furthermore, they have not demanded that the Chagall tapestries be removed because they include objectionable scenes and images. If I am not mistaken, there is even a fossil to be seen in one of the rocks that adorn one of the many courtyards in the new Knesset wing. In fact, they have not even demanded that a statue of David Ben-Gurion, which stands near the entrance of the new wing (inside the building) be removed.
Yet the haredi MKs conduct themselves in the Knesset building as haredim, promote the interests of haredim, support issues that are in harmony with haredi principles and beliefs, and ward off issues that clash with them. And yes, there is the exemplary conduct and performance of MK Uri Maklev, and of others haredi MKs.
The one eyesore associated with the haredi parliamentary groups is that none of them include women, as a matter of principle – even though every Israeli citizen aged 21 or over who is not excluded from running by law may run in elections, irrespective of gender, religion or race. Is there any chance that the haredim will someday start viewing and treating women as equals, and that we shall see a haredi woman MK?