Secular coercion is no less violent and invasive than religious coercion. Coercion by definition violates the most fundamental right of a human being, the liberty and ability to choose how one lives one’s life.
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Thus on Monday, when images of ultra-Orthodox Jews continuing their lives as usual on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day were again in the news, I found it hard to be angry. I even felt a certain indifference.
I’m no longer bothered by the fact that, at a time when most Israelis elect to connect with the memory of the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, people in the ultra-Orthodox town of Modi’in Ilit are out shopping for groceries. It no longer drives me crazy to see Haredim not standing for the Memorial Day siren, or who choose to hold a barbecue precisely when the nation of Israel mourns. But hypocrisy still upsets me. And the hypocrisy of leading ultra-Orthodox politicians such as Arye Dery, Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni ought to upset everyone.
The residents of Modi’in Ilit have chosen to live extraterritorially, with their own unique laws, customs and cultural mores. The people who live in Modi’in Ilit aren’t trying to outrage us, but are simply starting from the assumption that a secular Jew has no reason to be in their extraterritorial zone; he doesn’t sit in their restaurants or buy his clothing in their stores. In effect, Modi’in Ilit residents know that if a secular Jew doesn’t take the trouble to visit their extraterritorial zone, he’ll never know what happens there, and therefore, he also won’t feel anger and revulsion.
Yet the reaction of Dery, Litzman and Gafni to last week’s High Court of Justice ruling allowing some businesses in Tel Aviv to open on Shabbat is the polar opposite of the “extraterritoriality” of Modi’in Ilit. Of all people, these Haredi politicians are the very ones who refuse to respect the extraterritoriality of Tel Aviv.
After all, Dery doesn’t spend Shabbat sitting in Tel Aviv cafes, Litzman doesn’t go shopping at the Tel Aviv Port, and Gafni presumably doesn’t go out to buy a few things he has forgotten at the Super Yuda supermarket on the Sabbath. Yet none of them has any qualms about intruding on the extraterritoriality of Tel Aviv residents, of secular Jews, of families who seek to enjoy themselves as they see fit one day of the week.
“Why can’t they do their shopping before Shabbat?” Dery asked Army Radio host Rino Tzror this week. “When you and I are having Shabbat in Israel, Jews worldwide are having Shabbat together with us. Jews don’t work on Shabbat.”
Dery ought to be asked one simple question: Why can’t Haredim do their shopping before Memorial Day? But clearly, there’s no point in this. In his view, the ultra-Orthodox are permitted to have their own extraterritoriality, but secular Jews aren’t. That’s why he, together with Litzman and Gafni, is also pushing a bill to circumvent the High Court and shut down secular extraterritoriality on Shabbat.
All three are covering their bill in a veneer of social concerns — the desire to prevent harm to small businesses and to employees who will be forced to work on Shabbat — but this is merely sanctimonious hypocrisy. After all, have they ever thought to concern themselves with the welfare of those same employees who might prefer not to work in Modi’in Ilit on Holocaust Remembrance Day, but would rather commune with the memory of the six million who were killed?