Kashrut Reform Is Only the Beginning

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Ultra-Orthodox men walk in a funeral procession in Jerusalem, in October.
Ultra-Orthodox men walk in a funeral procession in Jerusalem, in October.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The reform in kashrut supervision launched this week is a significant part of the Bennett-Lapid government effort to loosen the Haredi establishment’s grip on numerous areas of Israeli life. It follows the establishment of the state commission of inquiry into the Mount Meron disaster of last April. These are positive developments, with potential to improve the lives of Israelis – whether by reducing food prices or increasing safety at mass events.

More important, however, is the fact that these steps are taking place after decades in which Israel’s governments repeatedly submitted to the dictates of a handful of Haredi rabbis and wheeler-dealers who had in their sights not the good of the general public, nor even of their own communities, but rather their own welfare.

Still, this is only the beginning of a process. The “government of change” provides a historic opportunity to repair the warped relationship between religion and state. The status quo agreement, problematic from its inception, signed with the state’s creation between David Ben-Gurion and the Haredi leadership, has long been unsuitable to the realities of modern life. In its stead, in recent decades an alliance between the ultranationalist right and Haredi leaders has become entrenched, guaranteeing to Likud the coalition support of United Torah Judaism and Shas, in exchange for meeting their rabbis’ demands.

The list of topics requiring urgent repair is long. It includes, on one hand, freedom from religion for those who seek it (as in introducing civil marriage and public transportation on Shabbat), and on the other hand providing religious services to those who want them. Haredi control of the government rabbinical courts has caused ongoing bullying of hundreds of thousands of citizens whose Jewishness is not recognized by those courts, and women to be trapped in abusive marriages. To create change in these areas, it is not enough to set up a conversion program as conceived by Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana. A deep systemic change is required, one that will improve the status of women and Israelis wishing to convert to Judaism. This improvement will not take place as long as the rabbinical courts are dominated by dayanim who are appointed through quiet deals made by Haredi power brokers.

The government must also see to the interests of the ultra-Orthodox community, but ironically this is impossible when the Haredi parties belong to the governing coalition. Changing the way in which Haredi schools are funding could raise the level of education in secular subjects in them, a necessity for joining the labor force. As a lesson from the Chaim Walder and Yehuda Meshi-Zahav affairs, assistance must be provided to survivors of sexual assault and abuse in the Haredi community, a phenomenon that many rabbis try to keep under wraps.

For the good of all Israelis, including Haredim, the government must not miss this rare opportunity.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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