Israel, Religion

Who's afraid of the big bad Haredi?

Once again Gideon Levy, Haaretz’s intrepid political columnist, has raised an issue which is sure to make him no more friends. To step back a bit, it has always seemed to me that Israelis, especially secular Israelis, but also Religious Zionist Israelis, have enjoyed attacking the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) a bit too much. There is too much vehemence to be explained by the fact that, lets say, they are “parasites” or that they don’t serve in the army and live off the backs of the country, that they discriminate against women. All this is true in whole or in part, yet it does not explain the uniquely passionate animus that is directed toward them, which is not directed toward other segments of society. My theory (which probably won’t garner me any friends either) is that Israeli society cannot abide the fact that the Haredim are a large community of Jewish non-Zionists. I suggest that the reason that so much energy is spent on castigating the haredi world for not serving in the Army—by the same type of people who, if they lived in the United States would accept conscientious objection as a given—is that they forthrightly, perhaps brazenly, declare that they have no share in Zionist ideology.
Gideon Levy gives an example of this in yesterday’s paper (and expands on it in today’s Haaretz, but today’s column is not translated yet–or at least I couldn’t find it on the English site).

The similarity is striking: two insular and arrogant population groups, different and at times peculiar, powerful minorities with authoritative leaders, both with their own laws and norms. The settlers and the ultra-Orthodox – the former is some 300,000 strong, not counting settlers in East Jerusalem, and the latter numbers about 700,000, including Haredi settlers.
[…] The Ashkenazi Haredim treat the Mizrahim abominably. It is racism. But at least it is not violent, like the racism of the settlers toward Palestinians. The Haredim put their women at the back of the bus; the settlers not only bar Palestinians from their buses, but from the entire road at times. The Haredim erect barriers between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim in their schools; the settlers carry out ethnic cleansing under the state’s aegis, like that of 25,000 residents of Hebron.
So who’s the real racist here? Compared to the settlers’ hilltop youth, the yeshiva boys are models of morality. But who gets castigated? The Haredi of course. When will the courts come out against settler racism as they have against Haredi racism? They themselves maintain different systems for penalizing Jews and Arabs. When will we hear about the thousands of fictitious civil service positions held by settlers – a salaried security official in every mobile home – in the same way that we hear about the Haredi parasites? And what about the thousands of soldiers who have to guard the settlers, the superfluous roads that have been built to serve them, the electricity and water supplies laid for illegal outposts? All of it, everything, paid by us, more than we pay for Torah study as a Haredi occupation.
So let’s call this evil by its true name: a double standard. Cowardice works too.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

18 thoughts on “Who's afraid of the big bad Haredi?

  1. We are the belligerent children of the Haskala. Hating those garlic-infested beardmen is part of our modern DNA. Then again, we also love them, and let them abuse us. O jeez!

  2. I think your point about the non-Zionist politics of the Haredim is a good one (as well as the cultural fallout of this position, along with the Haredim’s conscious desire to separate themselves from the larger population). However at the end of the day I think economics plays a huge role. The perception that Haredi men do not work and spend their lives in yeshivot and kollels at the taxpayers’ expense is a major issue. The settlers’ politics are dangerous, even corrosive, but at least they work.
    At the end of the day, a certain amount of this has to come down to productivity, or the perception thereof. What does the Haredi community give back to the state? How does it make it better? I do not doubt that there are many good Haredim, or that they do good deeds within their communities, but how much of this spreads beyond their own neighborhoods?
    On top of all this, you have Haredi leaders and politicians who seem to think that not only is living in cloistered kollels a good thing, but also that secular Israel has no business being pissy about it, that subsidizing their community is Israel’s “job.” I’d be mad, too!
    Chiloni rhetoric can be over the top, but the underlying indignation is real, and in my opinion, justified.

  3. Yaacov just wrote about the prevailing notion that Haredim are anti-Zionists, despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s well worth a read.

  4. “they forthrightly, perhaps brazenly, declare that they have no share in Zionist ideology.”
    Ask yourself, though, what they have in the stead of Zionism. A faith that their work is to bring about the coming of the Messiah by displacing the secular institutions of the state with their particular brand of Judaism, which resembles nothing I’ve seen, and rebuilding the third temple. The settlers want to be in the settlements and not bothered, the Haredi want to replace Zionism with a theocracy that has its counterparts in Wahhabism and the Iquisition.

  5. I’m sure it’s because of their anti-Zionism. It can’t have anything to do for their utter contempt for other Jews, not to mention what halacha actually says, in favor of a regressive, reactionary brand of social control. Nope, I’m sure that really, it’s all about the anti-Zionism.

  6. Leftists of late have discovered an unexpected affinity for haredim, thanks to haredi culture’s general disavowal of Zionism and military service — an ethos that matches Leftist ideology but for entirely different reasons.
    Haredim also evoke reminiscences of an earlier, more “pure and innocent” time when Jews were mainly a lowly and persecuted religious minority in Europe (and concurrently in Muslim societies) with little say in their own fate and well-being; before the Original Sin of returning to their own land, establishing a government and reassuming the messy responsibilities of nationhood.
    Leftists have come to join charedim in fondly reminiscing upon those European glory days…

  7. @Rich: “their particular brand of Judaism, which resembles nothing I’ve seen”
    @KRG: “not to mention what halacha actually says”
    Wow, for a a group of folks who are usually militantly pluralistic about what Judaism is, we are apparently pretty sure about what it isn’t.

  8. As someone with a Reform background in Israel, I feel like it’s basic healthy self preservation to engage with the Haredi menace. To the extent that they drive the denial of my co-religionists civil rights in Israel, it is wise to push them on whatever contradictions arise. The way they live off the state while not serving in the army is one of them. The reliance on state subsidies not available to other sectors is another.
    This might sounds strange but… I’d gladly accept being a permanent student in higher education in exchange for a lower standard of living. I’d love to become a seminary student without paying for it. It would be great to spend a few years in the tent of Torah, in accordance with my liberal Judaism.
    The only fair system is one that treats all Israelis the same, regardless of stream or religion. Let Israel be a country that subsidizes learning of all kinds, for all religions, equally. Let Israel be home to great centers of Muslim learning to rival al-Azhar. Let Israel be home to broad exchanges of culture as Babylon and Iraq were when Talmudic and Muslim jurisprudence fed off each other along the Euphrates.

  9. @Aryeh: SO, maybe I’m not all that pluralistic. I do know the halacha is pretety clear that you can’t undo someone’s conversion (that’s why you have to be so careful to start with) and that rabbis don’t marry people, and that marriages are pretty much presumed to be – except in a few VERY specific circumstances) judged to be considered sound almost no matter what… and that the current hareidi tendency not to consider these.. that’s untenable with halacha. What, did you think I was talking egalitarianism? – well, okay, that’s an irritant, but that’s at least debatable.

  10. @KRG: What you mean by “the halakhah is pretty clear” is that this is an unprecedented ruling (which I personally think is outrageous) however, my beef is with the fact that it has the backing of state power and not that it is an “illegitimate” halakhic move. There are lots of moves in halakhah that were “pretty clearly” wrong until they were right, or the opposite (see Hayim Soloveitchik on Lending with Interest and on Stam Yeinam). A halakhic ruling has force if there is a community which accepts it. You know that.

  11. from what i’ve seen and from the israelis that i’ve spoken to, the overturning of conversions upsets conservative jews in (or from) america more than others. what i’ve also noticed is that each time i hear a rant from an israeli friend about the haredim it inevitably has in it the words “they don’t even recognize the state.” so while it is true that people are uncomfortable with many aspects of their communal norms, it seems to be that one that sits at the root of it all. if it weren’t then that statement would be “they don’t even think women have rights,” or “they don’t even think they have to work.” No, it all comes down to “don’t like our state? get out.”

  12. @Justin: I wonder. Do you think that they are as annoyed at the groups who don’t take money from state and then deny its legitimacy as those who do?

  13. i suppose, as an american, i see that type of argument through the american welfare system, and what i tend to hear in welfare debates comes down to not whether or not the cause is legitimate. the question, in a democracy, is that the state has authority because the majority of the public place their fear/trust in its hands. they monopolize violence and then dole out funds as they see fit. that the national ethos in israel is to deny rights to those who deny authority to the monopoly of violence and funds, well, welcome to democracy. a democracy doesn’t get to pick and choose who its citizens are. it gets to pick its laws of how it gives out welfare and you’ll never hear me argue that yeshiva students are a worthy recipient of welfare (especially like they had been given). i think it’s probably a good thing that israel will keep those funds, i hope the money goes to education or poverty relief and not to the occupation. my point, and i think Aryeh’s point (maybe?) is that haredim are an unfortunate scapegoat for their political beliefs (in addition to their racist and sexist beliefs, their economic status and so many other factors). i think we can’t underestimate the effect that the “new jew” narrative had on the israeli national ethos. i’ve met police officers who have told me about their chance to beat up haredim. i myself was once accosted while smoking a cigarette on shabbos, as a teenager, while I walked by a group outside a shul. they made a ruckus and surrounded me until blue lights flashed and cops chased them away. i spoke with one for a moment after, and he expressed his irritation that he didn’t get to hit any of them… there’s something wrong with that. I think that it may be unwise to overlook the relationship between the political narrative of that community and how it conflicts with the political narratives that make up the national ethos of the jewish state. I have an israeli friend who laughs at haredim when they walk down the street. this israeli is a lovely person, truly, but they have some interesting ideas about haredim (and arabs). the point is that a state has authority because the public gives it authority, but that doesn’t give it authority to treat people like shit. i think this is about economics more than anything, but it’s no secret israeli society and culture looks down on the practices and customs of eastern european jews and since they are a group of clustered communities that are isolated and yet prevalent, they make for easy economic scapegoats. i wonder how much more money Israel would save by reevaluating the occupation than by taking it away from the haredim (which, like I said, I think is a good idea). a democracy that takes away money from the poor BECAUSE they question its legitimacy, and on religious grounds, no less! that’s a problem for democracy. a true democracy has to deal with all of its citizens, not just the ones it wants.

  14. Aryeh, nice try but I really don’t think you understand the ‘haredi’ mentalite, I would venture to say that the comparison concernign violence between the charedim and settlers is unfortunately becoming less apt. This reminds me of Edward Said’s misreading of the Iranian Revolution. Eric is right, but the kind of view shared by Aryeh Cohen is nothing new. When there is a narrative that runs counter to state power and especially of the jingoist, right wing kind many on the left are quick to side with the counter culture, especially when their modes of resistance, seem prima facie to be of a different type than other militaristic movements. Spend some time with actual charedim in their largest communities and you soon find out that their non-Zionism is complex and nothing akin to the non-zionism of the left. At a wedding recently in a well known hall in Williamsburg there were some pretty acerbic remarks reserved for those who didn’t believe the flottila was full of Jew hating Arabs (never mind that they were Turks). I seem to remember, but I guess no one else does, the outpouring of hate for Sharon and his disengagement in all of the major charedi papers. Or the interviews of yeshivish Jews in Brooklyn after the assasination of Rabin, not a mention of anti-zionism, just that he was the one who wanted to be friends with the arabs. Teh charedim, if there is one group that can be called that is a group that includes a great spectrum of political views, most have particular interests for their community, many want much less oversight by the state and many on paper are indeed against Israel. But I doubt you will get anywhere intellectually satisfying if you put a Ponevitcher with someone in Toldos Aharon for the purpose of the category non-zionist. Who cares if in theory they are non-zionists, where does that get us if many of the people involved in this current issue are basically racist?

  15. @shmap: My point was not about what actual chareidim believe (which is a large spectrum) about Zionism, but what most Israeli Jews believe about them.

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