Blessed Art Thou Who Creates Odd Couples

The most appropriate blessing, say the cynics, is "Blessed art thou who creates diverse creatures." Ehud Olmert has indeed created a strange creature, at Sharon's behest, in mating a national religious party with a national anti-religious party.

Now that we know it's final - having heard it from Mitzna and also from Sharon himself, the man of 100 emendations - and we can forget about the prime minister embarking on a serious process of separation from the Palestinians, we have an opportunity to look at the new government from a purely domestic Israeli standpoint - and extend our blessings.

The most appropriate blessing, say the cynics, is "Blessed art thou who creates diverse creatures." Ehud Olmert has indeed created a strange creature, at Sharon's behest, in mating a national religious party with a national anti-religious party. But precisely because of the oddness of the match, the happy couple, and even more so, the two matchmakers, deserve our non-cynical congratulations and a sincere vote of thanks, accompanied by a sigh of relief.

Two monstrous scenarios threatened to dash Israeli society to pieces after the elections: One was a "secular coalition," that would have left the entire religious-Haredi sector on the outside - despised, rejected and bitter. The other was a rightist-religious-Haredi coalition, which would have slammed the door in the face of a public just as large, which raised its voice in vehement protest by voting for Shinui.

A secular coalition might have been able to push through a whole agenda of enlightened laws and egalitarian regulations, but at what price? Is Israeli society strong enough to pay that price? The other coalition, of course, would have fattened the "society of learners," that society which has learned so well how to extort and evade responsibility and make itself hated by the general population, allowing its parasitism to swell to new heights. Intrinsic to both scenarios was an escalating and dangerous confrontation.

But now, thanks to the strange make-up of the new government, both monsters have been declawed and turned into tame political pussycats. The Haredim, it is true, have been left on the doorstep, breathing sparks of fire, but their curses and calumniation against the "apostate government" somehow ring hollow in view of the skullcaps and beards on display around the cabinet table.

As for Shinui, its fearsome image disappeared in a wink when the public realized that it is a political party like all others, no different from any other party in this country, past, present or future. To wit: It is sitting with the immortal National Religious Party (NRP), debating with it, compromising with it, drawing up drafts, understandings and agreements with it, to be pored over and discussed in committees and subcommittees from now until kingdom come.

And if the shouters of Shinui have come down from the bleachers to become players rolling on the muddy field together with all the rest, the NRP has also traveled quite a distance in agreeing to the civil registration of couples who cannot marry under Jewish law.

But those who stand to benefit most of all from this new political hybrid may actually be the Haredim - if their leaders are wise enough to take advantage of the rare opportunity that has come their way. They understand, after all, that the non-productive economy they have created, at the expense of the taxpayer (religious and secular), just cannot go on. They also know that the culture of draft-dodging they have cultivated for so many years has become insufferable when the country is constantly at war and the number of shirkers keeps growing. The tremendous outburst of anger inherent in the electoral success of Shinui is the red light that should rouse them into repairing their world.

In the hostile atmosphere that has prevailed from the days of the TV talk show "Popolitika" to the most recent election campaign, Haredi rabbis would have had no choice but to fight a government founded on secularity which would put Shinui's programs into practice. The new administration, of course, will only implement these programs in part, if at all. But the chances that this partial reform will succeed are much greater. With religious ministers sharing in decisions that will encourage - or, if you like, force - the majority of Haredim to serve in the army and go out to work, it will be easier for Haredi rabbis to swallow them. They may kick and scream, but in the end, the pill could go down.

If this happens, they would be doing their own flock the greatest favor. From those in the know, I heard that there were actually a number of Haredim who cast their ballot for Shinui. They did so confident that the world of Torah will not be harmed by exposure to the material world, but on the contrary, will emerge strengthened from the encounter. In their eyes, Tommy Lapid is an agent of divine providence, unbeknownst to him, whose mission is to nurse their society back to health. With Effi Eitam as his surprising bedfellow, he just may succeed in doing it.