בתיה כהנא דרור
Batya Kahana-Dror
Hasidic Jews at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman in Uman during a previous Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage

Uman fiasco highlights ultra-Orthodox MKs' political opportunism

Opinion: The pilgrimage is just another parable for Haredi political art of taking a questionable narrative and turning it into their raison d'etre in such fashion that even the general public buys into it; Prof. Gamzu, stand your ground!

Batya Kahana-Dror |
Updated: 08.31.20 , 00:09
This whole festival around the pilgrimage to Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav's gravesite could have been easily replaced with any other religious ritual as the High Holy Days approach – like visiting the graves of the righteous scattered across the country from Metula to Eilat or praying in nature across the forests and landscapes of the country.
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  • But when a dubious and relatively modern tradition becomes a political struggle that refuses to get off the agenda and puts freedom of religion head-to-head with the country's coronavirus response and public health, one cannot simply ignore the pilgrimage's bourgeois nature, pagan characteristics and chauvinistic essence as a Jewish men-only club.
    Hasidic Jews at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman in Uman during a previous Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage Hasidic Jews at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman in Uman during a previous Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage
    Hasidic Jews at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman in Uman during a previous Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage
    (Photo: Israel Bardugo/Archive)
    The truth is that we do not need the Uman pilgrimage to see that the desire for the Diaspora is still rooted deep within us, and the impetus to reach the gravesite of the righteous man on Ukrainian soil is alive and kicking inside of us just like the desire for nightclubs in Berlin.
    The disappointment in the unity government's conduct and the general loss of public trust in the politicians also gave way to this discourse of demands and power plays on behalf of different interest groups in Israeli society - and ultra-Orthodox MKs have significant experience in this field.
    Will one honest public figure, a rebbe or another religious leader, stand up and remind us of this simple truth? If preserving human life (pikuach nefesh) is more important than Shabbat, then it is also more important than a trip to Uman.
    However, the Uman pilgrimage and the frenzy around it are fueled by political interests.
    Shabbat dinner in UmanShabbat dinner in Uman
    Shabbat dinner in Uman
    All the different sects within the ultra-Orthodox community are taking advantage of this helpful trend, and above all, it brings to light the failings of the "unity" government that generously promotes the ultra-Orthodox control over our agenda and important power centers in Knesset.
    If this whole Uman fiasco ends in a defeat, which it likely will, it may undermine the ultra-Orthodox narrative and expose other pagan rituals that made up the foundations for other political agreements and have slipped into historical status quo arrangements.
    Uman is just another parable for the ultra-Orthodox political art of taking a questionable narrative and turning it into their raison d'etre in such fashion that even the general public buys into it.
    Entire communities live under the grace of heaven and the state, enjoy budgets that pave the way for them to continue to deprive their children of core studies that will allow them to live off their own hard work, make a decent living and integrate into modern society.
    טסים לאומןטסים לאומן
    Israeli travelers to Uman at Ben-Gurion Airport
    (Photo: Dani Sadeh)
    Ultra-Orthodox leaders continue to rebuff any attempt at drafting yeshiva students to the army, although the drop-out rates from these institutions are staggering and are turning into a social and financial problem for the entire country.
    And all this even before we mentioned some phenomena on the festival's margins that are enough to warrant its complete abolition, from Uman being an asylum for men fleeing debt, divorce and other tribulations - leaving their wives and children to celebrate Rosh Hashanah at home by themselves – to the abundant abuse of drugs and sex workers.
    Prof. Ronni Gamzu, as Israel's senior coronavirus health official, stand your ground and don’t allow this pilgrimage to take place, even if some members of the coalition refuse to back you.
    Maybe you will be the one to pull the people of Israel from this Diaspora mentality that casts its shadow over us even here in the motherland. Countless righteous, God-fearing wives are wailing and praying for your success.
    First published: 23:43 , 08.30.20
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