The Boycott of the Secular

The ultra-Orthodox insistence on avoiding exposure to core studies in the Israeli education system entrenches a single truth: They are not interested in being part of the society around them.

The ultra-Orthodox students who replied to a High Court of Justice petition against the exemption in the ultra-Orthodox education system from core studies (basic studies in the state education system ) were correct in saying that a willingness to accept the other must be part of the credo of a modern, liberal society. It is even possible to expand this and say it is appropriate that the majority become familiar, if only a little, with the culture of the minorities living in its midst.

It is also possible to take the idea further and apply it to other minorities in Israeli society. For example, to show consideration for the large majority that needs public transportation on the Sabbath, to live in peace with the minority of eaters of leavened products during Passover, to respect the minority that prefers civil marriage and the one interested in secular burial. Such an embracing society would not need merciless decisions of the sort taken with respect to the non-Jewish families facing deportation.

All these examples could serve as testimony to the inclusion of the other, had the perspective of the ultra-Orthodox swiveled away from their own four walls. However, this community clings to the notion that the ultra-Orthodox "I" takes preference over the Israeli "we." Indeed, many Israelis behave like the Haredim do, but the view of the ultra-Orthodox students, which despises the study of basic vales of Western culture, takes Israeli individualism to its peak. Not only do the ultra-Orthodox regularly ask for the majority's acceptance of their otherness, they also reject outright the majority's demand that they be exposed to central ideas guiding its daily existence.

The ultra-Orthodox insistence on avoiding exposure to core studies in the Israeli education system entrenches a single truth: They are not interested in being part of the society around them. Such a harsh statement of refusal would never be uttered by any Jewish group in another country, including those who have chosen to live in ghettos. In the Diaspora they accepted the law of the kingdom. In the Holy Land the rules of the game are different. One may reject outright the majority society and even demand what the ultra-Orthodox themselves are denying from that society and the minorities living in its midst - acceptance from within, openness and liberalism.

The opposition to the use of the High Court as an intermediary between parts of society could have been understandable had the ultra-Orthodox not rejected every other attempt at dialogue. Approaches to them by education ministers over the years were answered not only in the negative but also with threats to the stability of the governing coalition. Private sociocultural initiatives at best reached the national religious public. The court is the only body forcing the ultra-Orthodox to break the boycott they are always imposing on dialogue with the Israeli collective.

In their response to the petition against the exemption from core studies, the respondents said those who are demanding core studies are ignoring "the tremendous contribution of intensive study in the yeshiva in the years that shape an individual's personality to instilling habits of learning, sharpness of thought, the developing and nurturing of fresh thinking and creative criticism."

However, the petitioners are aware of the exceptional skill of the ultra-Orthodox in shaping consciousness and want to harness this to the teaching of universalistic humanist culture and the development of modern civic thinking.

The rejection of the petition against the exemption from core studies will be another stage in ending the possibility of establishing a multicultural Israeli society. What will remain is a collection of bubbles, each ensconced in its own space. The Tel Aviv bubble, the subculture of the hilltop youth, the ghetto of the ultra-Orthodox and the other minorities. A crumbled society will not survive. It will burn itself out from within way before it is harmed from the outside.