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Why Are Haredim Hated and Envied?

Yossi Klein
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Young ultra-Orthodox men in a Jerusalem neighborhood. 5 July 2020
Young ultra-Orthodox men in a Jerusalem neighborhood. 5 July 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Klein

It’s easier to admit to hatred of the Haredim than to envy of them. It’s easier to give expression to hatred than to envy. We envy the Haredim, and hate them. The envy is over the obedience, the stubbornness and the herd-like behavior. They have no moderate left, radical left, white left and Mizrahi left. That is, they are a varied and multifaceted public, but they unite as one when (we) the enemy loom at the gates.

One can envy the Gur Hasidim, who would never consider marrying someone from Vishnitz but would go protest alongside them if that is the order that comes from above. We envy them because they are rigid and uncompromising, with none of that “let’s meet in the middle” stuff. With them it’s all or nothing. We envy them because their public servants serve them and not themselves, and then we hate them because they trample on us on the way there.

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Their display of religious and political identity stirs powerful feelings of envy in us. The pride and the disregard for what others may think. They are part of the street, but not assimilated in it. Yes, they say, this is how we are, we’re different. You see the beard, the long coat and the shtreimel? So now you know where we live, what we eat and who we vote for. We who are so careful to avoid automatically labeling a kippa-wearing Mizrahi person as a rightist and a guy with glasses on a scooter as a leftist, are stunned by how they go right along with the diaspora Ashkenazi stereotype we created for them.

They don’t wage wars, they present facts. They crowd in the synagogues not to protest or be defiant like the protesters on Frishman Beach. They’re there because prayers are not the government’s or anyone else’s business. Nor do any of them rebuke another for protesting the wrong way, for being impolite, for holding a meal on Balfour Street during the lockdown, for not keeping quiet between 2 P.M. and 4 P.M.

We envy them, but we wouldn’t trade places with them. The price of obedience, herd behavior and obstinacy is too dear. We won’t live with eight kids in a cramped apartment, we won’t depend on our wives to support us, we won’t keep our children ignorant even if that was what would make us the most democratic country in the world. We wouldn’t be willing to be wretchedly poor while our leading rabbis are incredibly wealthy (The admor of Gur is estimated to be worth $100 million).

We can distinguish between their generals and the soldiers, but still we envy them and hate them. We ourselves are startled to see how much racism and hatred of the other they evoke, and how much of it we harbor. Their scorn for democracy frightens us (Rabbi Shach called it an “incurable decree”) and their incredible ability to exploit it infuriates us.

We’re angry about the fiction known as a “Jewish and democratic state.” This notion does not have any foundational basis anywhere. We’ve been seduced into believing that it was handed down at Sinai or appeared in the Declaration of Independence. But it doesn’t. It was no more than an amendment to a law that came into being in 1985 to prevent Meir Kahane from being elected to the Knesset. Ever since, their “Jewish” has been stepping on our “democratic” toes, and pushing that part to the wall. They’ve pushed us away from Judaism and tossed us to “Israeli-ness.”

They are not above the law, they don’t even oppose it. But they have laws of their own, and you better not bother them with your laws. You take care of your health, and we’ll take care of ours. No police officer who values his life will dare enter Bnei Brak on Yom Kippur to check if people are praying in the mandated capsules, and whoever wants to thank them for letting him drive to the beach on Shabbat should remember that he helped finance them himself with the taxes that came out of his pocket.

We envy them and hate them because they were the first to notice that “solidarity” is nonsense and “unity” is a joke. They were the first to realize it’s every tribe for itself. We envy their politicians who have Bibi by the balls. Oh how we wish we could say that about our politicians!

We envy and hate them for the skill and speed with which they take advantage of the weakness of our democracy. In his book “Haredim, Ltd,” Shahar Ilan illustrated the Haredim’s relationship with the state in a story told from their perspective: Cossacks overturn the cart of an apple peddler. Passersby snatch up her apples while she stands there shouting. Why are you shouting, they say to her – grab some yourself.