The new edicts of Antiochus
The ultra-Orthodox public sees itself as an extraterritorial community that is not beholden to the fundamental values of the state. No normal country can agree to this.
Those who heard the bitter cries of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators who were escorting the parents from Immanuel to jail and followed the rather hysterical articles in ultra-Orthodox newspapers might have thought that the High Court of Justice had imposed the decrees of Antiochus on them - or, as one parent put it, the edicts of destruction. But that is not the case.
The parents in Immanuel were not asked, heaven forbid, to desecrate the Sabbath or refrain from circumcising their sons. And the High Court did not prevent them from granting their children the Haredi religious education of their choice. On the contrary, they are permitted to continue sending their children to independent schools where they study, at government expense, their choice of syllabus with teachers they choose. The only demand made of the parents was that all Sephardi girls (and not only the elite ) be allowed to study with Ashkenazi girls, since their parents wanted them to receive the same religious education as the Ashkenazim.
The Immanuel parents' response was that their authority figure, the Slonim grand rabbi, had forbidden them to do so, and they had to heed his voice. Here lies the basic obstacle to ties between the Haredim and the State of Israel. The appearance of a clash between the High Court's authority and that of the rabbis, or between secular law and religious law, is a distortion and an untruth. There is no such clash in the State of Israel; there never was and never will be. The real question up for discussion is the correct balance between the need to respect the fundamental values and norms of the majority, and the need to take the unique lifestyle of a minority into consideration.
This question is not exclusive to Israel. Every democratic country and every pluralistic society must consider it. Figuring out the right balance is complicated, and varies from country to country and from case to case. All the same, the principle that has arisen around the world and which must be adopted by any society that seeks to survive is extremely clear: The majority must be considerate of issues that are at the core of the lifestyle of the minority, that are fundamentals of their faith, part of a tradition that goes back generations; and the minority must realize that it cannot carry out every item on its agenda in the face of the norms and values of the larger society.
Judaism is not up for grabs; it isn't some newly minted religion. In private, anyone can decide to take on any stringency, whim or innovation espoused by one rabbi or another, but people don't have the right to do so in the state's "public sphere": the schools. Religious education is indeed something the Haredi community holds close to its heart, and it is entitled to receive it. But discriminating against some children, like failing to adopt the state's core curriculum, is not essential to Judaism and may even be contrary to it - and is certainly not a condition for religious education.
Gender segregation on public buses has never been part of a Jewish lifestyle. After all, all over the world Haredim and leading rabbis travel on mixed trains and buses; why should Israel be any different? It is not one of the commandments that apply only to the Land of Israel. As a human being, an Israeli and a believing Jew, I - and, it seems, most Israelis - find it outrageous that this country has public buses that relegate women to the back. And that's without talking about the serious damage this causes to Israel's image around the world.
The ultra-Orthodox public thinks that it is the only group with any values, and sees itself as an extraterritorial community that is not beholden to the fundamental values of the state. No normal country can agree to this, and Israel must not lend a hand to this thinking.