Growing influence of Haredim changing character of Israel
JERUSALEM– I should perhaps be out on the barricades protesting against the growing haredi domination of Israel. Apart from some disaffected children who grew up in liberal Jewish households, particularly in America, and are “born again,” the high birthrate and culture of early marriage steadily increases the ultra-Orthodox population. The demographic imbalance is becoming something of a threat to the very fabric of Israeli society.
Most haredim contribute little to the state – e.g., by not trying to earn a living in addition to yeshiva study, whether or not they’ve the aptitude for it, and by not serving in the army – but they take much out of the state by living on welfare and getting subsidies for their institutions where anti-Zionism and bigotry are being promoted.
They harass those who don’t share their outlook and lifestyle, both by collective demonstrations that at times go out of hand and individual acts of violence, e.g., burning a mosque or spitting on Christians. It seems that their aggressive impulses, repressed in their education and human relations, erupt in the guise of righteous indignation against one or other act they see as being against Jewish law: hooliganism in the name of God.
One doesn’t have to be a psychoanalyst to recognize their neuroses and inhibitions around sex to understand why so many haredi men have it in for women, be it in domestic abuse, by insisting on segregated buses that put the women at the rear, and of course in constant attempts to make life difficult for non-haredi women who wish to express themselves religiously at the Western Wall and elsewhere.
The range of abuses is very wide. The need to try to stop them, at least symbolically, is obvious. Yet, I find it difficult to get involved in the various campaigns, for I recall what I once heard Ehud Barak say, when he still had a Labor Party to lead, that the issue of religious coercion in Israel is very important but not that urgent.
Urgent domestic issues include the state’s treatment of the poor, of the Arab minority, of refugees and other immigrants, and a host of related issues. Though I understand why Reform and Conservative Jews in the Diaspora should wish to take action against the challenges to their legitimate interests in Israel and protest against successive governments colluding with haredi behavior, I wish the liberals broadened their campaigns to include injustice in general, not only those that affect their adherents.
The late James Parkes, a distinguished British Christian champion of Jewish causes, used to say that prejudice is most effectively challenged by those who aren’t affected by it. According to this understanding, middle-class Diaspora Jews should be particularly concerned with the suffering of the underdog in the Jewish state, precisely because none of their own is personally touched by it. In that broader context, they should, of course, also further their own organizational agenda, but never only that. In this way the important issue of religious coercion could also become more urgent.
It’s, of course, true that none of us can take on the whole world but at best only our little corner of it, yet in this case to deal effectively with our own corner we may have to take on the whole world, difficult, perhaps even quixotic, though it may be.
Prudent friends who say they know the real world and are sensitive to effective PR that promotes organizational agendas disagree with me. I hope they’re wrong. That’s why I’ve written the above.
Marmur is rabbi emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto and now divides his time between Canada and Israel