Media Lends a Hand to Israel’s Backslide Into Religious Fanaticism

Roni Bar
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Illustration.Credit: Eran Wolkowski
Roni Bar

An idle perusal of Yedioth Ahronoth last week ended in amazement. “Combating spinsterhood,” blared the headline of the Hebrew tabloid daily in a Bible-style typeface. “Nili Stern of the religious Kibbutz Lavi was blessed with a wedding, after long years of singlehood,” the report said. The lines of type could have been sleeping inside a newspaper press since the 1950s, if not the era of the shtetel.

For Elul, the month of mercy and forgiveness that precedes the High Holy Days, Stern decided to “help other religious women who have not yet married.” She approached Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, who composed a special prayer for finding a spouse and “removing the scourge” of singlehood, the report said. It added that “the problem of latter-years’ singlehood has been very worrisome for the religious community in recent years (with no corroborating data on the average age of marriage in the community).

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At this point, I looked for an explanation. Was this an archival item, published as part of Yedioth’s celebration of its 80th anniversary? Not at all. This was a current item about the recitation of Rimon’s prayer in certain synagogues on Saturday evening. The text of the prayer appeared twice in the article, at the end as well as being displayed prominently at the top of the page. Thy beauty, O Israel! It’s 2019, and your culture is deepening its voluntary slide backward. Far from any logic, science and Western standards, this culture is withdrawing into values that belong in earlier centuries.

It was only two years ago that the media celebrated the deep revolution in feminist thought brought about by the #MeToo movement, among other factors. And here, on the back page of a newspaper that considers itself mainstream and important, a woman is “blessed with marriage,” a rabbi is enlisted in “removing the scourge” of singlehood and a phenomenon that is considered negative is fought through prayer, not action.

Every cub reporter learns that a story must pass some minimum threshold before anyone even considers publishing it. “Is it new, important, interesting?” There is not much argument about “new,” but “important” and “interesting” are subjective terms, which every editor views through their own filters. In this case, it seems the editor believed that the redemption of every Jewish woman lies in marrying in accordance with religious law, making the initiative to remove the “scourge” an interesting and important item. How would that same journalist cover sex segregation in classrooms at institutions of higher education? Would he be critical of political parties with no female candidates at the top of the slate? Would he expose an incident in which the driver of a public bus asked a woman to move to the back, because only men sat in the front, or to write about city officials who asked a female singer to leave the stage so as not to expose the male audience to her voice?

This week, 2.3 million schoolchildren returned to an education system headed by a man who yearns to turn academia into a messianic institution. “We are taking giant steps toward returning prophecy to Israel,” Education Minister Rafi Peretz claimed in videos aired last week by Israel Channel 13 News. “Instead of universities there’ll be schools of prophecy, we’ll gradually get there.” It’s shocking to see that Peretz is right. Even before millions of innocent souls emerge from under the steamroller of his extremist views, religionization has taken another step forward. It’s no longer done covertly; rather, it proudly tramples the mainstream. The writing is also on the back page of the “country’s newspaper,” as Yedioth calls itself, in Bible-style typeface.

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