September 8, 2013


Israel Must Bring Ultra-Orthodox Into the Fold (Peter Berkowitz, September 8, 2013, Real Clear Politics)

"Secular Israelis," an Israeli friend told me over lunch in the breathtaking Judean Mountains southwest of Jerusalem, "love to hate the Haredim." Hatred is an understandable reaction, she hastened to add, among those who rely solely on Israeli media for information about the ultra-Orthodox.

Not that the steady stream of grim reports reverberating far beyond Israel about the ultra-Orthodox world - sky-high birth rates, confinement of women to the backs of buses, stoning of vehicles on the Sabbath, wide-spread poverty -- are untrue. But there is more to the story.

As it turns out, rigorous observance of traditional Jewish law and a determination to keep popular culture and contemporary moral sensibilities at bay needn't negate citizenship in a modern nation-state. Indeed, beneath the radar screens of the majority of Israelis, encouraging trends can be discerned. They bespeak a small, but noteworthy, Israelization of the ultra-Orthodox.

If you had strolled, say, 25 years ago through the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, home to some of the most extreme ultra-Orthodox sects, you would have been likely to hear nothing spoken but Yiddish -- the everyday tongue of Eastern European Jews before the Holocaust. Today, you will also hear Hebrew, particularly among those under the age of 35.

On Israeli Independence Day in 1988, the only residents of Mea Shearim you would have seen taking notice would have been those denouncing the presumptuous creation of a Jewish state before the Messiah's return. On Independence Day 2013, you would have observed, here and there, affirmations of pride.

In 1988, you would have seldom seen an Israel Defense Forces uniform hanging out to dry in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. Today such sightings are not uncommon. Twenty-five years ago, it was rare for an ultra-Orthodox Jew to attend college. Today, private organizations cooperate with colleges to meet the increasing demand among the ultra-Orthodox for higher education.

Moreover, a significant majority of ultra-Orthodox citizens identify with the state. Teenage yeshiva students pray for the nation's security and admire Israeli soldiers. They enthusiastically follow Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel's top basketball team.

Israel's only hope for a Jewish future was that the Orthodox would assimilate the secular. The opposite will produce a more decent country but a dying nation.

Posted by at September 8, 2013 9:48 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus