Will these sexy Ultra-Orthodox Jews save Israel?
IS Israel diving over religious lines? Are Israeli Jews splitting between the ultra-orthodox haredim and the secular Israelis? BelleMode, is satirising the split in a saucy photoshoot (below). Last year Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that public serving Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities cannot enforce separation between the sexes.
But things may chance. The very religious are growing in number. Demography is changing.
Paul Pillar wrestles:
The disproportionate growth of the Haredim, as the ultra-Orthodox are also called, has severe implications for Israeli society and the Israeli economy. About 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work for a living. They spend their time in religious study at yeshivas while they and their fast-growing families subsist on government stipends. This already constitutes a major burden on the remainder of Israelis and is a contributor to the economic discomfort that stimulated widespread demonstrations earlier this year. If the projected increase in the ultra-Orthodox proportion of the population involves a proportionate increase in those not contributing to the economy, it is hard to see how the even larger burden on everyone else could be sustained.
The ultra-Orthodox also are not subject to the same military service requirements as other Israeli Jews, constituting another area where the burden is all the greater on the others. Then there is the effect on social mores and freedoms. The growing influence of the ultra-Orthodox has already raised issues regarding the status and liberties of Israeli women. A further expansion of that influence will make Israel an ever more illiberal place.
Gershom Gorenberg says the ultra orthodox have been spoon fed by the State:
Remaining a full-time Torah student allowed a man to stay out of uniform. The deferment helped lock young men into the kollel lifestyle. So did the education gap: Though ultra-Orthodox men spent years engaged in study, their schooling did nothing to prepare them for jobs in a modern economy. From their teens on, their curriculum was devoid of mathematics, sciences, foreign languages and other general studies.
Peter Beinhart explains how the legacy of fear haunts Israel’s present:
Ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) Judaism—it can never be stressed too often—is not Judaism as it was practiced in centuries past. Traditional Judaism was fluid and diverse and accommodated itself to the practical requirements of the day. Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, by contrast, is a modern creation born out of terror and hatred of the Enlightenment, which in the 19th century seduced many previously cloistered European Jews. Although ultra-Orthodox Jews claim to reject religious innovation, ultra-Orthodoxy is constantly innovating because it is based, above all, on the rejection of secular values. And since secular values change, ultra-Orthodoxy does too.
Are bad things happening?
Israel’s president has urged Israelis to rally against ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremism in what he called a fight for the “soul of the nation”. Shimon Peres was speaking as hundreds gathered in the town of Beit Shemesh to protest against the way some ultra-Orthodox Jews treat women.
There have been two days of clashes in the town after a girl said she had been harassed on her way to school. Some ultra-Orthodox in Beit Shemesh are seeking to segregate men and women. Mr Peres said today was a “test for the nation”, not just the police. “The entire nation must be recruited in order to save the majority from the hands of a small minority,” Mr Peres said.
The girl was called Naama Margolese. Before the rally she told reporters:
When I walk to school in the morning I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared … that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting,” the girl told reporters before last night’s rally. “They were scary. They don’t want us to go to the school.”
Jon Donnison wrote on the BBC:
By early evening thousands of demonstrators had gathered in Beit Shemesh, waving banners saying “Free Israel”. People are angry at the growing influence of Israel’s conservative ultra-Orthodox Jews and in particular their treatment of women. Local girls – some as young as eight – have been harassed for supposedly dressing immodestly.
It is a tiny minority of ultra-Orthodox who carry out such attacks. But many Israelis believe the country’s character is at stake. They resent the fact that most ultra-Orthodox men don’t work or serve in the army. Instead, the government gives them subsidies to carry out religious studies. One man here told me Jewish religious extremism posed a bigger threat to the country than Iran.
The Israeli government, so often critical of religious extremism in Islamic countries, has ordered a crackdown on intolerance at home. In this country there is often a debate about co-existence between Jews and Arabs. In Beit Shemesh, people were asking whether the varying strands of Judaism could co-exist.
Can they? Or is that what happens when a young idealist nation gros up – it divides within, like every other nation?