In recent days I’ve been quarreling with all my friends. They are good people, these friends – liberal, tolerant, moderate and sensitive to any injustice. These are people that in our complex reality were never confused between good and bad. This is why I love them, among other things. I’d like to think that we are cut from the same cloth. That’s why I’m so amazed to see how uncaring and hateful they become when a group of people known as the haredim comes up for discussion.
My liberal friends propose various steps against the haredim and religious: A cadet who cannot bear female singing will not be an officer in the IDF,
said one friend. As simple as that (“as simple as that” or “at once” are words that always accompany discussions about the haredim.) A segregated bus shall be stopped! The driver and bus operators should be sent to jail. A yeshiva that will not teach the core curriculum shall be closed at once! We shall not allow primitive ignoramuses to be raised here, and at our expense no less. A neighborhood that features separate sidewalks for women shall immediately lose its municipal services! They can go ahead and choke in their own garbage.
There are more proposals that are even more terrifying. Disconnect haredi neighborhoods from electricity, water and whatnot. The same people who would quiver, and rightfully so, if such proposals were made about Gaza, forget that behind the dark clothes, odd views and challenging (and annoying) behavior lie human beings. They are different than us, but they are human beings.
I’ve been following haredi society for many years yet I don’t remember such anger. And that’s odd, because the secular fury comes at a time when secularism is winning while the haredim are on the defense. Once upon a time the haredim sought to educate us. They made pretenses of telling us where and what to eat, what to do on Shabbat, where and how to be buried, and how to get married. Some time has passed, and the seculars won most battles.
Today it’s the seculars who wish to educate the haredim. The seculars are upset by the segregated bus routes. This doesn’t upset haredi women, but it does upset the secular Tania Rosenblit. The seculars are upset that math is not being taught at yeshivas. They know better than haredi parents what’s good for their sons. The seculars are upset by the relationship between men and women in haredi society. Why can’t the haredim be like us?
I look at the holy secular anger and fail to understand it. It lacks the modesty of one who looks at another society from the outside. It has no hesitation – maybe we are wrong after all? Perhaps we failed in understanding the other?
I, for example, very much want the haredim to study the core curriculum, I will try to convince them this is needed, but I won’t enforce it upon them. Why? Because somewhere in my head I’m not certain that the core curriculum is truly important for the life meant for a haredi child. Perhaps for him math and English are less necessary than another Talmud class? In all such matters I will hesitate, because in my view when a civilized liberal looks at someone who is different, this should be done with the required modesty.
However, the seculars are furious and are unwilling to show any modesty in the way they look at the haredim. Had I been a religious Jew, I would be concerned. I would take this fury seriously and understand how I contributed to it. I would try to calm the atmosphere through some concessions.
And here I get to the heart of the matter: We need a new social covenant. The old status-quo may have secured political calm, yet caused a flare-up in secular-haredi relations. Both sides must be brave and go for a new covenant premised on a simple principle: Life in the country will be secular in every way. The haredim will let go of their need to care for our secular souls. This means buses on Shabbat, civil marriage and everything associated with a modern state.
On the other hand, the secular majority would allow the haredim to have full cultural autonomy within their neighborhoods. This means letting go of the need to education them and allowing them to live their life as they see fit. And yes, this means segregated buses in haredi population centers and tolerance to haredi education.
That’s the principle. Implementing it isn’t simple because there would be red lines, of course. If the haredim want to educate their children by beating them up, we won’t agree to. However, within the boundaries of logic, we must make every effort to accept the differences of the other.
In my arguments with my liberal friends, one of them sometimes places a hand on my shoulder and asks in a concerned voice: “Amnon, what happened to you? After all, you are secular, a devout atheist; what’s happening to you?” So here is the answer: It appears to me that being a liberal, progressive and humanist today means resisting this blatant incitement against the haredim; standing up against the bon-ton and saying: I’m not taking part in this orgy of hatred.