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If the State Grants the Haredim a License to Kill, Why Denounce Them?

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Two ultra-Orthodox children in the Haredi settlement of Beitar Illit in the West Bank.
Two ultra-Orthodox children in the Haredi settlement of Beitar Illit in the West Bank.Credit: Emil Salman
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

A Jewish state can’t complain about an ultra-Orthodox civil revolt that is erupting in the name of a supreme rabbinical authority. That’s because after the government granted the “sector” the authority to dictate the laws of the state, to rob its budget and to operate an education system that undermines all the principles of the democratic state, and also released it from the obligation to serve in the army, gave it the power to bring down governments and now has even signed a license for it to kill in the name of heaven – exactly which law is it violating?

MK Moshe Gafni, the chairman of the Haredi political faction Degel Hatorah, who explained that in the Haredi sector there is no violation of directives, is right. “The Haredi public obeys the instructions of Rabbi [Chaim] Kanievsky,” Gafni told the prime minister as he explained the entire Torah in a nutshell. The Army of God has one commander, the Jewish state has another leader, and when a dispute develops between those two leaders, the commander of the Army of God will always win, because this is a Jewish state.

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And the fact is that the Haredim didn’t give themselves this power, they received it thanks to the ancient status quo delineated by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, but they knew how to nurture it until it reached monstrous dimensions.

Ostensibly, the State of Israel can be proud of its democratic mantle and justify its forgiving attitude towards the Haredi lawbreakers by invoking the principles of enlightened liberalism, which espouses freedom of religion and cultural independence. If there is a cult of believers that wants to worship in its own way, to adopt stringent kashrut laws, to forbid members of the cult to watch television or to use smart phones, let them enjoy it.

If its members want to separate boys and girls in the classrooms, exclude women or seat them in the back of the bus, liberal democracy will wrinkle its nose, restrain itself and turn a blind eye. But what if this group wants to commit mass suicide, in the name of its faith? Jewish democracy is apparently willing to accept even this insanity. After all, the heroes of Masada also committed suicide, and death for sanctification of God’s name is a part of the faith.

It’s easy to complain about the Haredim now, but they’re not the only religious sector that considers the law a non-binding recommendation. They were preceded by the settlers, who gave the divine command priority over the laws of flesh and blood.

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the spiritual father of the settlers’ movement, ruled clearly that “when there’s a situation of coercion, whether on the part of the goyim [non-Jews], or God forbid on the part of the Jews, due to distortions of politics and distortions of opinion – we are all obligated to be killed rather than to transgress! For Judea and Samaria, for the Golan Heights – it won’t work without war …. for our bodies and our limbs!” A civil war, civil revolt, the killing of Jews by Jews – anything goes, if governments decide to give away territories to the goyim.

And just as with the Haredim so, too, with the settlers, Israeli governments and the public have adopted the violation of the law and see it as an integral part of the definition of nationalism and religiosity of the state. You can’t be a real Jew if you don’t support the settlements, even when their residents beat up policemen or rob the land of “goyim” – and so even a Jewish citizen is likely to betray his link to his Judaism, and in any case to lose his identity, if he doesn’t allow the Haredim to run riot in the streets of the “red” cities, where coronavirus infection rates are high.

The rational demand to separate religion from the state is a pipe dream. By its very definition the state will be afraid to perform this lifesaving surgery. It will continue to fear the false threat that such separation would destroy the ground that under which lies the basis for its existence.

We can continue to decry the inequality of enforcement, the deception in the testing in the Haredi street and the total disdain for the regulations and the laws. But anyone who still believes in the validity of the divine absurdity that pairs a Jewish state and a democratic one, should keep his mouth shut. We recommend to all the others to reexamine Theodor Herzl’s idea of establishing a state in Uganda.

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