'I Will Separate Religion and State'

Ultra-Orthodox, a woman and No. 6 on the Meretz list, Tzvia Greenfield has no qualms about criticizing her sector.

Hakablan St. in the luxury ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof in Jerusalem is considered a Shas stronghold. The neighborhood is home to party leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and ousted party chairman Aryeh Deri. If Meretz manages to win one more Knesset seat than the surveys are predicting, however, that party will also have a Knesset member from Hakablan St., and a woman at that: Tzvia Greenfield, who has a doctorate in political philosophy, No. 6 on the Meretz list. The ultra-Orthodox press and ultra-Orthodox journalists reacted with more than a little outrage to the fact that Greenfield defines herself as ultra-Orthodox. Ultra-Orthodox journalist Kobi Arieli wrote an article for Maariv's NRG Web site, entitled, "She has a dog," devoted to proving the claim that Greenfield does not answer the social definition of ultra-Orthodox. Arieli contended that just as dog ownership attests that a person is not ultra-Orthodox, so too, does not detesting Meretz.

Greenfield, 59 and a mother of five, says she is "ultra-Orthodox, American style."

"You will find a lot of American-type ultra-Orthodox in Har Nof," says Greenfield. "They are highly educated and some even have a television in their homes, but they maintain a strictly ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, including the centrality of Torah study, a certain mode of dress, a certain order to their daily routine and the observance of Shabbat and Jewish Festivals in a particular style."

Greenfield relates that an ultra-Orthodox reporter once asked her the ultra-Orthodox litmus test question, if she takes elevators on Shabbat.

Well, do you take elevators on Shabbat?

"Of course not."

But you have a dog?

"Many years ago we found an injured puppy that had been hit by a car and we raised it in our home. He was with us for 17 years, but has since died."

Did you take him for walks on Hakablan Street?

"That's not an unacceptable practice," explains Greenfield. "In the local ultra-Orthodox society it is a very rare phenomenon, but there are more than a few American ultra-Orthodox who immigrated with their dogs and there are a considerable number of national religious families with dogs in the neighborhood. When you walk down the street and there are children around, they go wild, because from their point of view, dogs belong to a foreign and threatening environment."

In Har Nof there really are a lot of Anglophone ultra-Orthodox, but Greenfield was born in Israel and graduated from a Beis Yaakov ultra-Orthodox girls seminar. Even so, she enrolled at Hebrew University, where she studied general history and philosophy, two fields of knowledge considered unacceptable and dangerous by ultra-Orthodox society.

"I was not the only one who did this," says Greenfield, "but we were certainly few in number." Greenfield notes that usually people of her generation who attended university stopped being religious.

"I remained ultra-Orthodox, and people do not understand this. It disrupts their categorization."

Working is important

Greenfield sees two main differences between the ultra-Orthodox in Israel and in the United States. One is that "in the U.S., there is a basic assumption of a separation of religion and state." She feels that in Israel, too, "in order to save Judaism there must be a separation between religion and state." The second difference is that "most of the ultra-Orthodox in the U.S., men and women alike, have a good education."

The result of education, says Greenfield, is that many American ultra-Orthodox internalize a whole universal and democratic value system, which Israeli ultra-Orthodox society does not understand.

"The problem of not going out to work," continues Greenfield, "is the worst fault of ultra-Orthodox society, and causes tremendous damage on every level. It is important for us to go to work and maintain a life of Torah and productivity."

Greenfield says that people in ultra-Orthodox society "do not understand that it is impossible to impose their value system on others. When I say that I am in favor of civil marriage and divorce, I do not mean that that is what I want for myself; I am saying that I cannot force my values on people who do not share this value system. Israel is the only democracy in the world in which a large group of people cannot marry. It is absurd. Where else did you ever hear of such a thing?"

Does that mean that you support equal rights for homosexuals?

"Certainly. Homosexuals and lesbians have the same status as any other citizen, which includes the right to marry and the right to realize any desire and any life plan that does not harm others. Why should I interfere with that? What kind of nonsense is this? Anyone else's right is not inferior to my right. It is a position that protects the rights of the minority to the deepest level. That religious society does not understand this is terrible, in my opinion. Just terrible."

No vengeance

Five years ago Greenfield published a book (in Hebrew) called "They Are Scared" (Yedioth Ahronoth, 2001), which sharply attacked ultra-Orthodox society. Meretz is using Greenfield's religiosity in its new campaign, in which posters declare "I believe in God, but I will separate religion and state." Even so, Greenfield says, "Apart from the occasional insults in the newspapers, I have never personally or indirectly encountered any unpleasant or hurtful remarks. I think that people on my street highly respect me. Since I was chosen for the sixth slot in the Meretz list, they exhibit even more respect. People apparently perceive me as a type of empowerment [of the ultra-Orthodox - S.I.] in the outside world, and this arouses respect."

Greenfield notes that her husband is a popular doctor in the ultra-Orthodox sector.

As important as it is for Greenfield to clarify that she is ultra-Orthodox, it is important for her to clarify that she is not national-religious.

"The whole world of Zionist Jewry's thinking is foreign to me," she says.

Particularly foreign is the view of the State of Israel as part of the Messianic process. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, Greenfield stresses that she is a Zionist with all her heart and soul.

"I am very, very, very [Zionist]," she declares. "I think that Israel is the most important Jewish historical event in the past two thousand years. But I do not associate any theological importance to it."

Greenfield is an unusual ultra-Orthodox politician not only because she is a woman, but also in her attitude toward rabbis. In her book, "They Are Scared," she accuses the great rabbinic leaders of this generation of "enflaming zealousness and hostility and widening the deep rift in the Jewish people."

"I don't hide my opinion that rabbis do not do the Jewish people much good," she told Haaretz. "They are not efficient leaders. In order to preserve their positions of power, they prevent change."

Not that her family does not seek rabbinic advice on halakhic questions. When there is a halakhic question, the Greenfields ask the rabbis among their neighbors.

Did you ask a rabbi whether you should run for the Knesset?

"Of course not. There is no reason to do so. Why would it be important? I can assure you that the Rambam did not ask a rabbi if he should be Salah a-Din's doctor. The problem is that the applicability of halakhic questions has expanded terribly and now includes all aspects of life. The areas about which people ask questions have grown with no rhyme or reason."

Baby machines

In "They Are Scared," Greenfield lambastes the Halpert Law, which increased child allowances for the fifth and subsequent child to NIS 850 a month. She claims that the law was passed by all the non-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox and Arab Knesset members alike, with the support of the Likud.

"This law," writes Greenfield, "actually discriminates against the working population whose taxes finance the welfare systems, and which is also the only population whose children serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Even worse, this law reinforces the ultra-Orthodox tendency to turn ultra-Orthodox women, or children, into a source of income. From the moment the income of an ultra-Orthodox family is dependent on the number of its children, there begins a necessary campaign of persuasion, even if covert, in which unbearably intense pressure is exerted on women - the possibility of having fewer children is no longer an option, and ultra-Orthodox women often have to find an escape in nervous breakdowns in order to reduce the incessant pressure on them to become 'baby machines.' Indeed, women, along with the children, are the hardest-hit victims of the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle."

Are children a source of income?

"I firmly believe this," says Greenfield. "There is no doubt that when the main source of income is the number of children, it would be ridiculous and hypocritical not to realize that this is a significant and important factor. I have heard more than a few men talking about the day they go [to the bank] to get their allowance. That is their payday."

Greenfield also feels, however, that it is important to clarify that the allowances are not the only grounds for having children, and the other reasons are very complex.