The Haredim have done soul-searching on two questions during the past two weeks since the suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus that claimed 21 victims, many of them ultra-Orthodox. The first was when they declared "We are to blame" and asked themselves "What was this terror attack coming to punish us for?" The second question that prompted soul-searching was "Why are we being swept with such a wave of sympathetic identification?"
After all, the attack was not the first one in which the victims were Haredim. There were already two attacks in Immanuel and an even more terrible one in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood. Nonetheless only this time was the novelist Yoram Kaniuk moved to write in Haaretz about the "nobility" of the Haredim. "I never believed," Kaniuk wrote, "that at the age of 73 I would write an article praising the Haredim ... instead of feelings of hatred and revenge, the Haredim ask themselves where they sinned." According to Kaniuk, "their strength to withstand curses, terror and calamities is a strength that we, with all of our teachings, do not know."
Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote, "There was something that aroused respect in the way the Haredi community accepted the horrific attack ... in the way the Haredim looked for the blame within themselves." Chemi Shalev wrote in Ma'ariv that "the restrained response of the Haredi public inspired general admiration and considerable envy among the large secular majority." Hayuta Deutsch asked in Yedioth Ahronoth, "Why don't we do this?" and stated that "there is something to learn from the Haredi humility." There are also various levels of admiration: Envy is a very high level and the suggestion to learn from the Haredim reaches a really top level.
Indeed, the Haredim were also surprised by the positive media attention. The second wave of soul-searching came in the Haredi press in Friday's editions. Chabad spokesman Menachem Brod wrote in the Haredi newspaper Mishpachah that "there are things in the Haredi way of life that are really painful for the general public. From their perspective, there is a group of people living here as if in a bubble. This group is not a partner in the collective pain, in the worries at night, in bereavement and orphanhood."
According to Brod, "If each and every one of us strives to alleviate the pain of others, to be sensitive to their suffering, and listen to their distress - then the wave of sympathy that embraced us last week will not be a passing wave." Brod makes reference to one issue that is painful to the secular - the discrimination between blood and blood when it comes to army service.
The editor of Mishpachah, Moshe Grelik, tried to explain the difference between this terror attack and the previous ones. Perhaps, he suggested, the secular population this time just saw the Haredim as they are "without the filters of Haredi politics." They saw the Haredim "without any pretending, without arguments, without broadcasting a facade of self-righteousness."
A similar view was expressed by Dudi Zilbershlag, the publisher of the Haredi newspaper B'Kehila, who wrote that "the original Jewish voice is strong, persuasive and finds a path to every Jew. It's a shame to mix it with politics, with disputed views, or with pretentious declarations."
The conclusions of Grelik and Zilbershlag were reinforced by a Dialogue/Haaretz survey published last Thursday. The survey indicated that the voters most satisfied with the way their party is keeping its campaign promises is Shinui. And since Shinui is keeping so few of its campaign promises, the secular public must simply be happy that Shinui is sticking to its central promise: a government without Haredim.
Is it possible that the disappearance of Haredi politicians from the television screens and front pages is responsible for all the difference? Is it only because Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni and Eli Yishai have been banished to the invisible opposition that the secular public is ready to relate to the Haredim in a completely different way? Is it possible that six months without trying to pass legislation from the Middle Ages, without unbridled extortion, without crises over transporting turbines on Shabbat, without attributing the calamities that befall Israel to some sin committed by the secular - that this is what made all the difference?
And this is apparently the real soul-searching for the Haredim. No publicist or advertising budget could have brought as much benefit to the Haredim as did the six-month hiatus from Shlomo Benizri. From the moment they return to power politics, sending Shmuel Halpert and Litzman to run the lives of the secular public, there will again be a very negative image of them.
Ostensibly, the problem could be solved if the Haredi politicians understood the limits of power and arrogance; if they wouldn't try to pass laws that grant their children an allowance five times larger than those in secular families; if they wouldn't persecute the non-Jews and homosexuals living among us; and if they wouldn't organize mass demonstrations against the courts.
In practice, it seems that the politicians from United Torah Judaism and Shas will be incapable of controlling their impulses. The Haredim are thus advised to fervently pray during the slihot period, the High Holidays, and afterward that the Likud/Shinui government makes it through to the end of its term and even wins another term in office. Perhaps God will hear their cries and save them from the hands of their politicians.
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