Opinion |

The End of the Haredi Era

B. Michael
B. Michael
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Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir on election night
Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir on election night, last year.Credit: Rami Shllush
B. Michael
B. Michael

A clear note of panic has recently crept into the voices of the machers of the ultra-Orthodox parties. That’s not surprising. Even with the naked eye they see their voters trickling towards seductive thuggish chauvinism.

They’re not the first to experience such a process. The National Religious Party of blessed memory preceded them by decades. It, too, became extinct when its electorate became Hardalim (ultra-Orthodox religious Zionists). Zevulun Hammer, the conquests of ‘67 and the masses of religious youth who were frustrated – historically, sociologically and hormonally – were the ones who did it. They found their release in the nonsense of the Land of Israel and the mannerisms of ultra-Orthodoxy.

Now comes the turn of the Haredi parties. They, too, have masses of frustrated young people who are searching for a new place for themselves, and for outlet for release. Years ago they discovered that vociferous hatred of Arabs and screeching ultra-nationalism provide a release from several oppressive prohibitions and ease their absorption into Israeli society. Their streaming to the margins of the right began already then. Now it is like an overflowing spring.

The heads of the Haredi parties will probably look for someone to blame for their disintegration. They should look in the mirror.

The story of Haredi Judaism is fascinating. Even the greatest atheists, heretics and agnostics would find it difficult to deny the central place of Haredi Judaism in the huge family tree of Judaism. It is – why deny it – a part of the roots, from which emerges the trunk, which gives rise to branches, which grow leaves, from which the flowers and fruit burst forth (in favorable times). It’s been that way for hundreds of years.

But a disaster befell Haredi Judaism in Israel. The government attached it to its teats, and taught it how to suckle from them. It quickly became addicted. After decades of suckling, there is no longer any chance of weaning it. And as is typical of addicts, it has become apathetic, disconnected, focused only on itself and its needs. In the past it also had ideologies, a philosophy, principles, opinions. Nothing remains of all these. Today there is only a cash register, and here and there some skeletons in the closet too.

The Haredi parties spend most of their time on glorifying the exclusion of women, spouting idiotic nonsense about “modesty,” waging a war against billboards, and holding profound discourses on the precise size of a “kezayit” (like an olive) when the olive is defective. They should be dubbed “Neturai Harta” – “Guardians of Nonsense,” (a play on the name of the anti-Zionist Haredi sect Neturai Karta).

The Haredi parties reached the height of their futility on Jerusalem Day this year. Before their eyes, the Temple Mount, their most exalted holy place, was trampled by the feet of thousands of ritually impure Jews. It is hard to exaggerate the intensity of such a desecration in Haredi eyes. It’s as though someone broke into a synagogue and filled the Holy Ark with the carcasses of pigs. That’s how serious it was. The absolute prohibition against entering the gates of the Temple Mount has been a global Orthodox consensus for hundreds of years. Both Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and his son Zvi Yehuda were among those who prohibited it, as was the Chief Rabbinate.

And how did the Haredi parties react? With a yawn. Maybe with a belch too. And instead of moving heaven and earth, taking to the streets with the force they reserve for the war against cell phones, and shouting “Gevald,” they swore allegiance to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. A warm and ingratiating Haredi embrace for the man who nurtures, praises and exalts those who desecrate their holy places.

Is it any surprise that their voters are fleeing and rushing to join the desecrators?

Ostensibly this is only the problem of several superfluous parties which are turning into empty shells. In effect, it’s the end of an epoch: The end of the era of Haredim, the beginning of the era of those sowing fear. Religious Zionism MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir instead of Haredi spiritual leader Rabbi Elazar Shach and religious Zionist leader Haim-Moshe Shapira.

It looks as though the Jewish tree has once again produced a rotten branch. What a shame.

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