Rousing the Religious Demon

It turns out that the Haredi leadership is still the same old leadership, which is trying to stop time.

Could it be that a transportation company is violating the Sabbath, yet not a single leader or wheeler-dealer of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community is threatening to boycott it? Even though its violation of the Sabbath was not a one-time occurrence, as it was with El Al airlines, but rather occurs every Sabbath? And not only are the Haredim not threatening the Egged bus company with a boycott, but some of its lines have won the title mehadrin (very strictly kosher), because they separate men from women. And not only does the ultra-Orthodox public use the mehadrin lines, but its wheeler-dealers are demanding that Egged expand the system.

Why, then, is the Sabbath-observant El Al in danger of a boycott, while cooperation between the Sabbath-violating Egged and the Haredi leadership is flourishing and prospering? It turns out that it is not Sabbath violation that makes the difference. The ultra-Orthodox leadership is threatening El Al because it can - because there is competition. It is not threatening Egged because there is no substitute for Egged. This is selective religious fanaticism on the basis of free-market principles.

The ultra-Orthodox are trying to depict the struggle against El Al as though it involved a community standing up for its consumer rights. However, this is actually a case of a small minority of consumers that is punishing El Al because it provided proper service to the non-Haredi majority and saved it from being stuck abroad over the Sabbath after a strike. This is not a matter of an attempt to preserve the rights of the ultra-Orthodox public, but rather an attempt to deny the right of secular travelers to receive aid at a time of distress.

For a few years, it appeared that the lessons of the Shinui Party had been internalized, and the ultra-Orthodox leadership had learned that it was not a good idea to rouse the religious demon from its slumber. As a result, the religious issue was at the bottom of the agenda during the last election campaign and both factions of Shinui were wiped out. Now, however, it appears that the ultra-Orthodox leadership, and especially the head of the Degel Hatorah party, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, has lost all it inhibitions and is being swept by a new wave of fanaticism.

First, the rabbis led their public in a fight against the Gay Pride parade in which all records for verbal violence were broken. For decades, the ultra-Orthodox cultivated their own media, which protected the right of their readers, and especially their children, not to read about sensitive issues. The taboo on the subject of homosexuals was particularly stringent. But in order to sanctify the war on the Gay Pride parade, this taboo was lifted, and every ultra-Orthodox child was exposed to the fact that there is more than one sexual identity in the world. For the first time, it was not only marginal youth, both from within the yeshivas and outside them, that participated in the demonstration, but also full-fledged yeshiva boys. For a leadership failure like this, the Israel Defense Forces would have established at least three investigatory committees. But the Torah sages, as everyone knows, are infallible, and therefore all the ultra-Orthodox can do is complain.

The truth is that even while quiet reigned between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular, the Haredi leadership evinced great fanaticism in two failed struggles that it waged in-house. One was its attempt to prohibit the use of computers and the Internet, which quickly turned out to be like attempting to stop the waves with one's hands. Then, it ordered its public to return to the first generation of cellular phones - that is, to phones without information services and without the ability to send and receive SMS messages. This was another order that a large part of the ultra-Orthodox public, which is fond of SMS, could not really stomach (though it can own two phones, one of them kosher and the other less so).

In recent years, much attention has been paid to the phenomenon of the newly ultra-Orthodox, who earn their living and integrate into the modern world. However, it turns out that the Haredi leadership is still the same old leadership, which is trying to stop time. It must understand that if it continues to adopt positions that treat the way of life of these new Haredim as completely out of bounds, in the end, the new Haredim will find new rabbis for themselves.

The latest struggles are also directed at the outside world. The rabbis are thus resuming the religious wars and intervening again and again in the secular way of life. If the Torah sages, and especially Rabbi Elyashiv, do not restrain themselves, they will rouse the remnants of Shinui from the ashes, like the phoenix. Then they will be able to claim, and rightly, that they have wrought a miracle, at least a political miracle.