A Torn Skullcap

Perhaps those people who see observance of the religious commandments as a personal lifestyle that does not contradict with the public space are gone.

The sight of thousands of demonstrators in front of the Supreme Court, sporting beards, sidecurls and ritual fringes, gives rise to the gloomy thought that the chapter of religious Zionism in Israel has come to an end.

Perhaps those moderate people who see themselves first and foremost as law-abiding citizens who play an active role in the economy and society have disappeared. Perhaps those people who see observance of the religious commandments as a personal lifestyle that does not contradict the public space are gone. Perhaps only the "rabbis" remain.

Of course not. After all, there are more sane skullcap-wearing citizens in Israel than belligerent extremists. In that case, why is their voice not heard? Why, with the exception of weak and polite protests that are usually heard in very closed circles, does this huge community let one group - destructive, dangerous and violent - lead it by the nose?

Not that there is no internal debate, but it looks like a lost cause. A clear sign of that is the black humor of the "lite" religious, which is what the Hardalim, the members of the ultra-Orthodox national religious community, call anyone who doesn't obey their strict laws. One young woman asks her friend, who is covered from head to toe, "What, have you disguised yourself as an ultra-Orthodox woman? You're a bit confused. It's summer now. Not Purim." "No," replies the friend, "I've registered my son for the ultra-religious kindergarten in the settlement, and I'm afraid they'll throw him out because we're not modest enough."

It's not funny. The Hardal-style terror that originated in the settlements has taken over all areas of life, and it's particularly evident in the school system. The most prestigious institutions, from pre-kindergarten to yeshiva high school and hesder yeshivas that combine Torah studies with military service, have long been in the hands of the extremists and the most stringent. (With a few exceptions such as the Petah Tikva yeshiva and the yeshiva on Kibbutz Ma'aleh Gilboa ). And they are advocating an ideology that is sometimes reminiscent of the Christian evangelists or the ayatollahs: no touching between the sexes, total separation between men and women, exaggerated rules of "modesty" in dress and ultra-Haredi adherence to the most stringent halakhic (religious law ) decisions on every issue.

The rabbis advocating this policy are in a covert religious-fanaticism competition with the Haredim, and all signs show that they are winning. Take Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of the settlement of Elon Moreh, who forbade women from taking part in elections for the settlement council and explained his ruling by saying it is forbidden to give women authority. He was supported by Rabbi Dov Lior, who said the violence among young people stems from neglect by career-oriented women. Levanon was also supported by Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, head of the Ramat Gan Yeshiva, who said the greatest danger of the "neo-reformers" (the derogatory term for liberal and educated rabbis ) is that they are undermining the sanctity of the family. And these are only a few examples.

What's the connection between this benighted reactionary behavior, which deals with education, marital relations, family and children, and the demonstrations in front of the Supreme Court? The rabbis. Because those same new leaders, the heads of yeshivas in the settlements and others whose goal is to "convert" bourgeois city centers (Ramat Gan ) or mixed cities (Acre, Jaffa, Ramle ) are also the people leading the halakhic policy that is destroying the foundations of democracy and the state.

Meanwhile, Shapira said about the settlement of Immanuel, "Issues on which the soul depends should not be discussed before the Supreme Court," but rather, "perhaps traffic matters." And Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu's battle against the Arabs is succeeding beyond expectations. And then there are the rabbis from the Komemiyut movement (for a Jewish Israel ), the Regavim association (for the protection of national land ), Yad Leahim and Lehava (to prevent assimilation in the Holy Land ), which gives out certificates saying "Arab-free business." They are all reactionaries, all shouting against the "kidnapping" of Lior and favoring the supremacy of the Torah. They are all praying for a halakhic state for the Jewish race only.

One's heart goes out to the religious community that is writhing in silence in light of this unbridled behavior. But isn't it their silence, which is backed by reverence for what this community calls "values" (unlike vacuous secular people ), that gave Lior, Levanon and their friends the crucial seal of approval to lead us all toward the abyss?