Two op-eds about Haredi society that aren't particularly well written
The most rigidly fundamentalist Jewish sects typically are lumped together under the designation of Haredim, a term that connotes “trembling” within the context of Isaiah 66:5 (“Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word.”) Only about a third of Israeli Haredi men work. Most of the rest dedicate themselves to full-time Torah study — a noble-seeming but, when conducted en masse, economically useless activity. They do not serve in the military or exhibit any other outward sign of national patriotism, comprise a massive drain on the Israeli welfare state, and exhibit poverty levels four times higher than Israeli society more generally.Alas, this misses the point some folks have been trying to make, that economic sanctions would work far better, and the army can't be expected to arrest shiploads of Chelmites who resist the draft. Despite what might seem on the surface, the sad truth is that Yair Lapid only made things harder.
What’s worse, Haredim exhibit a level of misogyny and sexual phobia that is more commonly associated with militant Muslim fundamentalists. Public spaces in Haredi communities are rigidly segregated by sex. In extreme cases, the women even dress in Jewish burquas (colloquially referred to as “frumkas,” a play on a Yiddish word indicating piety). What’s worse, Haredim have demanded that the wider Israeli society adapt to their primitive views — insisting, for instance, that bus lines offer sex-segregated service, that advertising should be free of female faces or bodies, and that beaches maintain separate areas for men and women.
Haredi publications routinely censor out women — including, in the most appalling examples, the faces of female Holocaust victims in reprinted photos from the 1940s. The editorial policies of such publications are dictated by a board of religious censors, much like in Saudi Arabia. Haredi communities even have their own Jewish small-scale versions of the ministries of vice and virtue imposed by the Mullahs of Iran and other Muslim theocrats. This is, in essence, shariah with a Jewish face. And it is destroying Israel’s hard-earned reputation as an island of Western values in the heart of the Middle East.
Fortunately, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government has mustered the courage to take on the Haredi lobby. A new law passed by the Knesset on Wesdnesday will gradually roll back the military-service exemption enjoyed by ultra-orthodox Israelis. Critics claim it doesn’t go far enough (for instance, it offers these Jews the choice between civilian and military service, an option not enjoyed by most other Israelis). But the very fact that Israel is taking concrete steps to address this problem is a positive sign. If the situation is left to fester indefinitely, the proliferation of an economically parasitical, socially backwards underclass of unemployed (and indeed unemployable) Talmud-reading bookworms would threaten to undermine Israeli society from within.
Also, this op-ed was written by Kay, the same writer who downplayed Islamofascism while discussing Haredi child abuse, and he fails to acknowledge that Haredis aren't all inherently bad, by not naming who the worst sects are, like Satmar, Toldot Aharon or Neturei Karta, the leading advocates of these Orwellian customs, nor does he give any credit to sects like Lubavitch, who manage PR much better and while not without their own flaws, aren't isolationist like Satmar are. I'd like to think Kay woke up and came to his senses about Islam, but despite any signs to the contrary, I've got a feeling he didn't.
Then, we have one by Jonathan Ostroff. He paints a rather whitewashed picture of the Haredis that actually justifies their anti-recruitment stance. First, here's one part that's legit enough:
It is perplexing to see the beliefs of militant Islamists compared with ultra-orthodox Jews (“Shariah with a Jewish face,” March 17). Militant Islam seeks to impose shariah by force. Yet, the editorial in Monday’s edition of the National Post criticizes the Haredim in Israel for objecting to enforced conscription in the Israel Defense Forces. Some history is in order.Depending on one's view, no, the Haredis can't be compared to Islamofascists. Unlike the ummah followers, you don't usually hear of Haredis being accused of murder. Unfortunately, a lot of Haredis have still committed violence like rock throwing and setting fires to trash cans and fields, as seen in Beit Shemesh, and even if it didn't lead to deaths, that's still very inexcusable, and harrassing women over how they dress and/or whether they're "intruding on their territory" is also a serious offense that contradicts the notion Haredis don't impose their beliefs by force. Now, here's some more, where it really begins to falter:
Israeli Arabs are not conscripted because they oppose the state (for their own reasons). Likewise, those Haredim who are conscientious objectors should not be forced to serve in an environment that is antithetical to their religious values. Haredim wish to be left alone to pursue their own way of life. They do not enforce their way of life on the rest of the population. To the extent that there has been enforced “shariah,” it has and continues to be that of the secular state against Haredim.As noted above, even if bigotry committed by Haredis hasn't reached the levels of Islamofascism, any aggression committed by Haredis still weighs against the defense they don't enforce their lifestyle on non-Haredis. And why doesn't Ostroff tell what those reasons are for Israeli Arabs not joining the army, or what religion leads to that mentality?
It pains the Haredim that so many Jews living in the state of Israel are so distant from their heritage. Haredim recognize that an army is needed today, but what kind of army? Armies, both ancient and modern, are not exactly institutions that nurture purity of soul. Anyone who has served in the military will recall the drinking, the coarse language and worse. When Israel was founded, Haredi leaders understood that Torah learning could not flourish if youngsters spent three of their most formative years in the army.Oh please, is this serious? I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there are classes for Torah and a variety of other subjects taught in army schools, and the Haredis would still get plenty of that while working there. And plenty of non-Haredis who are still very religiously observant have served in the army, studied Torah too while they're there, and serving did nothing to screw up their education. Ostroff gets worse with this:
Ben-Gurion and the other founders of the secular state of Israel wanted the army to be a melting pot for immigrants from all over the world. Haredi Jews did not, and still do not, want to be melted down. Living in an environment of rampant immorality and lack of commitment to Jewish observance is toxic to their youth. And yes, Haredim believe that marriage is between a man and a women; they do not want to serve in an institution that enforces the acceptance of homosexuality. Religious Zionists who consider it a great virtue to serve in the army complain that more than 20% of their youth loose their religious commitment during their service.Not if rabbi David Stav is any example. He served in the army and continued afterwards to work as a rabbinical scholar, so this statement is exaggerated at best. And with all the child abuse scandals that rose up in recent years in Haredi communities, among other offenses, I'm not sure how he can imply Haredis aren't already living in rampant immorality. Some of those abuse crimes were acts of homosexuality, and one could argue that a society that promotes gender segregation may have bred such mindsets too. So while the disapproval of homosexuality in itself is fine, the bizarre gender segregation customs are not, and if Ostroff's saying the army is an institution that literally enforces acceptance of homosexuality, that's stupid and insulting.
The Post’s editorial accuses Haredim of misogyny and perpetuating hatred against women. This is completely false, as any visit to a Haredi school for girls would surely reveal.As a matter of fact, some of these schools with managers of Ashkenazi descent refuse to take girls of Sephardic descent and vice versa. It was a notorious scandal in recent years, and may still be prevailing. So he's missed a legit argument there.
Our commitment to the observance and study of Torah has kept the Jewish identity alive throughout the long years of exile and persecution. Today, it is the Haredim who bear the main burden of a high birthrate, which is essential to the survival of the Jewish people, especially after the holocaust, when one-third of our population was decimated. Most Haredi love the land of Israel and its people, but they believe that Jews only have a right to the land by virtue of their commitment to God and His Torah.If they were committed, they'd honor what Moses said about why the Israelites shouldn't just sit on their hands.
Some correspondents to the paper made points better than Ostroff did. For example:
It’s so nice that Jonathan S. Ostroff and the Haredim have taken the job of being the guardians of Israel’s moral well-being. He states that, “they do not enforce their way of life on the rest of the population” and then goes on to tell us how much “it pains the Haredim that so many Jews are distant from their heritage.” This kind of judgmental thinking — that the Haredi belief system is the right and only way — is what is odious about all religions extremists. It’s a burden that Israel and the Jews do not need. The Haredim are far from idyllic, contrary to the picture that Mr. Ostroff would have us believe.And then:
In January, my wife and I took our first trip to Jerusalem, after talking about going for the past 30 years. It was a fabulous experience and we would love to go again. Overall, the Israelis, both observant and secular, were wonderful to us, but the Haredim, who have a dominant presence in Jerusalem, were not so welcoming.Tsk tsk tsk. Acting like beggars instead of getting a job? Shameful. And a pity Ostroff didn't research any of that kind of shtick. As a result, he's no better than Kay in getting points across.
While at the Western Wall, I was taken aside by a Haredi gentleman who seemed at first inquisitive about me, offered blessings on my family and then proceeded to ask me for money to support him and his 11 children. I refused. This type of aggressive begging goes on throughout the Old City and elsewhere in Jerusalem.
Rather than take responsibility and work hard to support their families, the Haredim seek handouts. Regardless of their religious intent, I found the arrogant behaviour of many of the Haredim distasteful and certainly lacking in moral responsibility, a view that was shared by most of the Israelis I talked to.