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With the Shabbat Law, ultra-Orthodox Are Creating a Wave of Opposition

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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, Aug. 1, 2010
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, Aug. 1, 2010Credit: בלומברג

Only the naïve assumed that the ultra-Orthodox in the government would make do with a sea of funding and sweeping benefits for their community that the prime minister was happy to lavish on them, and that they wouldn’t eventually demand their pound of flesh in the form of heavy-handed intervention and religious coercion of all Israelis. After all, every day this government drops new ultra-nationalist laws on our heads, so why should the Haredim not take part in the festivities around the cabinet table going on these days?

Yet despite the joy, the reason for this free-for-all is not only the anarchy reigning among politicians due to the police investigations of the prime minister. The truth is that the ultra-Orthodox – and now, too, the Orthodox, who had once sought a synthesis of religion and modernity – don’t understand the essence of the Jewish-Zionist project of the establishment of the state. They don’t realize that its purpose is to impart a sense of sovereignty and responsibility to people whose history had humbled them and crushed their identity. The Haredi understanding, today as well, is that of noblemen controlling the ignorant masses and telling them what to do. The rule of sapere aude – “dare to know,” which Immanuel Kant formulated 200 years ago, thus instituting the spirit of secularism – scares them. They are afraid of knowledge and they fight it, and that’s the real reason they oppose the core curriculum being taught in their schools.

Knowledge is freedom, and the ultra-Orthodox don’t want free people who will study and understand the world, then decide their own fate. As unmistakable followers of the doctrine of the Hazon Ish, they are still certain that the democratic value system, which embodies the greatest achievement of the modern world, is nothing but an empty wagon. A wagon that can be used for loading content, actions and demands that contradict the modern worldview, like, for example, an egalitarian attitude to women.

Such extreme lack of understanding of the significance of the modern world and the value of equality might come as a great surprise. Where were the Haredim over the last 70 years, during which time they could have been practicing parliamentary politics? In Lublin, in Cracow? Since the ultra-Orthodox don’t understand and don’t properly interpret Israeli society, they infuriate a great many Israelis, who under ordinary circumstances would have been prepared to be sympathetic to their political existence and even their ultra-Orthodox way of life. But because of their invasive religious approach, ordinary Israelis have lost their patience. If the Haredim were smart, they would not have interfered every single day in the lives of the general public in this country, but would have made do with the hundreds of thousands of children and babies they hold captive.

The current right-wing government will do nothing to keep the ultra-Orthodox from continuing to lower their communities into poverty and growing dependence on superstition and government funds, and their numbers, as we know, are growing. If they had patience, they would obviously sooner or later achieve such decisive political influence that it would be impossible to stand in their way and prevent them from calling the shots, based on their sheer numbers in the population. But they’re in a hurry now to show off their power, based not on their real weight in Israeli society but on the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs them.

In their rush to take part in the general political festivities, the leaders of Haredi society have also abandoned the rules of caution with regard to Shabbat as a day of rest. They are creating a wave of animosity and opposition even from those considered their natural allies. It can be hoped that in this way, at least, the ultra-Orthodox will bring the Netanyahu government to a bitter, untimely end.

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