“On the Israeli side, the Jewish population in Palestine, the yishuv, was 90% secular at the time. And the leadership of the yishuv was almost totally secular. The military leadership, the political leadership. It was a very secular society. You get an optical illusion when you look back from 2016 when Israel has become much more religious or a larger part, segment of its population is religious. But in 1948 the people who counted and actually the vast majority of the population was of course non-religious. In fact they were children, or actually the people themselves, who had rebelled against religion. This is what Zionism was all about, partly, against rebelling against the old world of their fathers, which was a religious world. They rebelled also against God. So they didn’t approach the war at all as a religious war, not the generals, not the politicians, not Ben-Gurion, not Sharet, not Allon, not Dayan. They were irreligious people, maybe even they were anti-religious, so the religious people saw them.” (Benny Morris on “A New Look at the 1948 Arab-Israeli War,” Wilson Center, 43:15)
As Benny Morris, one of Israel's top historians, tells us, the country was founded by rebels against Jewish tradition. So, one would not be crazy to worry that such people would produce a society that is hostile to religious people. Listening to former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and his cheering section over the past two months, we see that is exactly the situation.
Israel is a strange place. If a 1st grader in Chile were to ask why the Israeli authorities razed a Palestinian school, she'd be pounced upon as a vicious antisemite. The Israeli press would never let up on her. Israeli politicians from every party would denounce her from the Knesset floor. She would be barred from ever entering Israel.
However, Mr. Lieberman just spent two months in a full blast assault on Charedi Jews in Israel that was reminiscent of you know what. “If the word Haredim were replaced by ‘Jews’ – we would say that it was an article from Europe,” Shas leader Aryeh Deri noted, adding “The only thing missing was him saying we have big noses or don’t bathe.”
It took a Charedi man to say it. The non-Charedi part of the country has been silent if they haven't been cheering Lieberman on. No doubt they love quips like these:
"we won’t allow for the whole country to become Shtreimel wearers”
"the time has come that something be demanded of them in return for once”
"We are in favor of a Jewish state, we are against a halachic state."
Lieberman is very concerned about so-called Charedi power and he wants all of Israeli society to know it. Again and again, he referenced "Charedi coercion" even as he single-handedly held up formation of a new government and forced the country into expensive new elections. A headline in the self-proclaimed fair and liberal Times of Israel said, "Liberman is right to protest ultra-Orthodox coercion". Yaakov Katz of the Jerusalem Post wrote, “FOR TOO LONG, this country has been ruled by a haredi minority.” Charedim don't get a break on any side within Israeli society. The right hates us. The left hates us. The center hates us. Meanwhile the Charedi parties agreed to compromise offers. Reportedly, Lieberman issued unprecedented political demands for political appointments. He claims he took a stand against those rascally Charedim and their power.
Last I checked, there are no Charedim on the High Court, nor have there ever been. There has never been a Charedi Prime Minister. No Charedi President. There are few Charedim in the Prime Minister's cabinet. Here's the list of the outgoing cabinet.
Three of the thirty are held by Shas, one of them the Ministry of Religious Affairs -- thats 10 percent, not exactly dominant. Do you see anybody there from those alleged power-brokers of United Torah Judaism? No, you do not. I have tell you that you don't see it because you might imagine that you do. After all, doesn't everyone know the Chassidic rebbes dominate the country? Do we actually have to examine whether it's true?
No Charedi has ever led the Bank of Israel or any bank. There are no Charedi billionaires based in Israel. In fact, Charedim are amongst those with the lowest income in the country. There are no major Israeli newspapers or television channels that are led by Charedim. If there is a Charedi in charge of any of Israel's major corporations I can't picture him or her. Is there one? Are there two? I suppose it's possible. Anything is possible.
And then there's the military, the most powerful institution in the country. There has never been a Charedi Chief of Staff or Defense Minister. The leadership of the military generation after generation is quite clearly not populated by Charedim. Has there ever been a Charedi general or police chief of a major city? On and on it goes. But somehow, those Charedim are so powerful that we must all stop them. We must make a stand.
But what about social control? Lieberman is concerned that the country is headed towards theocracy. Does a gay-pride parade of 250,000 people take place in a theocratic country? Do 10% of pregnancies end in abortion in a theocratic country? (I am not condoning either of these.) One wonders if Lieberman has ever visited Tel-Aviv. The bathers on those beaches don't appear to be under any theocratic control -- neither do the men and women on the streets of Tel-Aviv. Is is amazing how Israelis can brag about how different they are from the neighboring Arab states and at the same time complain about theocracy. Has Lieberman been to Haifa? A restaurant owner there told me that the city won't allow him to build a Succah. Yes, there's a control problem in Israel, but it isn't Charedi control.
There is not another country in the western world that would tolerate such a barrage of hostility against religious Jews -- those streimel-wearers -- as what we just saw from Lieberman. Since 1945, there might not be a country of any kind that would allow it. Only in the so-called Jewish state is such antisemitism embraced.
Antisemitism you say? Yes, antisemitism. If being "anti-Israel" makes one antisemitic, then so does being "anti-Charedi." Charedim are too Jewish for some people, particularly those who work in the fashion of the founders of the country. Charedim are reminders of what they were rebelling against. Sure, you can be a little Jewish, but these loonies take it way too far, no?
One of the big challenges for Charedi olim is enduring the anti-Charedi sentiments that blast from every pore of Israeli society. In America, the clerk at the gas-station in Iowa might stare at your yarmulka for a second. She might even give you a blessing as an African-American woman did to a friend of mine in Virginia. She said, "I heard that anyone who blesses you is blessed. So I'm going to bless you." That's America.
Then there's Israel. Olim come trying to escape the antisemitism they are told is erupting all over the world (so they are told) but walk in many cases into a hostility worse than the kind their great-grandfathers remembered from the 1920s in the Ukraine.
It's hard to unpack hatred which itself is an illogical impulse. In the Charedi world many say that the hostility stems from feelings of guilt about not living Torah lives, but that's a theory, impossible to prove. And of course a Chiloni will object to that idea as what's to feel guilty about? If you ask Chilonim, they'll refer inevitably to military service. Evidently, in their eyes the only meaningful way of contributing to a society is via a government program. Those Charedim refuse to serve. (Actually, 30% of Charedi males enter the military.)
I have been been waiting for years to hear somebody ask respectfully, why do they refuse? This rather than the knee-jerk impulse of condemnation: they are bums, they have no gratitude, they want us to do the work. Instead ask why. Pose a question. We learn when ask questions.
The Charedim clearly are not bums. You trying waking up everyday and spending an hour in prayer no matter the weather or how tired you feel. They are not undisciplined people. They live a life that is chock full of rules of the kind that Lieberman abhors. They fast five times a year. Let him try that. They are not disloyal people. They are upholding the traditions of everyone's great-grandparents. They live conservative lives.
I wasted considerable time over the last few weeks reading at least three-dozen articles in the mainstream press on Charedim and the draft and did not see one single Chiloni writer ask the question. Why do Charedim not want to serve? Why?
Since you did not ask, I'll tell you: they do serve. They serve God. The question is why do Chilonim refuse to serve. See, it's the same question for the controversy over the draft is a religious one.
The military was founded and designed in large part as an assimilation mechanism into secularity. The very anti-religious David Ben-Gurion referred to the military as "the melting pot" through which “that human mixture which is flowing from many exiles, [can] be smelted, refined, and purified of its foreign and worthless dross.” As writer Zvi Zameret notes, “this dross no doubt included many of the commandments that condition behavior between man and His Maker, commandments which Ben-Gurion did not value.” The Israeli military was designed to create secular Israelis. Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz explained it well in his article, “Forget Judaism – the Military Is Israel’s State Religion.” He wrote, “But as far as any form of Israeli secularism, or religion, goes, the IDF is the most powerful one Israel has today. It’s the closest thing we have to a state religion. It’s certainly the strongest stream of Judaism.”
This is what Charedim are opposing. We have our reasons. I promise you, we aren't bums and ingrates. Military training in most countries is designed to train young people to follow orders from strangers and to kill. People don't naturally do such things. The military does this by breaking them down. The Israeli military uses those same conditioning mechanisms to brainwash soldiers in ideology that Charedim find abhorrent - that no divine being protected us in exile and that only the guns and tanks of the IDF will ever do it. For those who are unschooled in religious thought, this is an heretical idea. It pervades Zionist thought, Israeli society, and the military in particular.
To Charedim, religion is life. To the founders of the country, getting away from religion was life. They built the country in their image. See the problem? It is a massive cultural contrast. But it isn't the Charedim coming after the Chilonim for the most part. Yes, there is rabbinical control (more Dati Leumi than Charedi) over marriage licensing and certain activities on the Sabbath in many places, but not much more than that. In the sum of things, Chilonim have way more control over the country than Charedim do. It isn't even close. And the Charedim aren't coming after the Chilonim even remotely on the scale that Chilonim are coming after the Charedim via educational policy and most of all via the draft.
And the Charedi response to that? To employ the most tired of Israeli cliches, the Charedim have a right to defend themselves. They see the military as heretical and a threat to their values. This isn't just about Torah study, it's about an entire way of life.
Given that the the State of Israel has not been invaded by another country in half a century, the Chilonim really need to consider just letting it go. They already see the Charedim as living in another century, in another world. Look at them as a nation apart like they do the Arabs who also don't serve - don't serve the military. As I said, 30% of Charedi males enter the military. It's enough already.
But what about money, don't the Charedim extort money? Tell me, did you go to private school? Most of the private schools I have seen in Israel are Charedi schools. And even the ones who get state funding are mostly privately funded. This is another one of the little truths that are not spoken of in Israel. Charedim bring in billions of shekels from overseas. Israel doesn't exactly have a Western European welfare system. If Charedim are eating and living under roofs, it isn't because of the largess of the Israeli government. It comes from working and from overseas donations. And by way, one of the reasons more Charedi men don't work is because working eliminates their draft exemption. The Israeli government is the biggest cause of Charedi unemployment.
Have you ever seen Charedi school buildings? On the outside of any building of any substance you'll see references to places like Brooklyn, NY and Los Angeles. That's where the money comes from, not from the Israeli government. Many Charedi children attend school in trailers.
Not so the secular Israelis. They have lovely buildings, paid for by the Israeli government, well taxpayers ultimately. Somehow this isn't called extortion. It's just normal. Kids go to public school. But if Charedim ask for half the money that Chiloni schools get they are branded extortionists.
On and on it goes. The doublespeak, hypocrisy, and ignorance directed at Charedim in Israel indicates that the founders of the country succeeded in creating a European society -- and by that I mean an antisemitic one with its very own version of blood libels.
Nevertheless, Israeli politicians and journalists will continue to brand people all over the world as antisemites for daring to ever utter the slightest criticism against Israeli anything, except when it concerns Charedim. And not only that, certain Israeli Chilonim will lead the way on those attacks. Reportedly, the Knesset seats for Lieberman's party are projected to increase from 5 to 9. His antisemitism, ah anti-Charedism, struck a chord it seems with some Israelis. May God protect us from the antisemites.