The ultra-Orthodox in Israel are not going back to the glory days; rather, they are going back to the days of the Diaspora. Therefore, the dispute between them and Zionism is deep and fundamental in both directions: While the haredim reject Zionism, the Zionists don’t accept the Orthodox passivity. This is precisely the spirit of the change Zionism sought to bring to the lives of Jews: To turn them, as Ben-Gurion put it, to independent people who take responsibility for their own fate.
The struggles we see emerging between the two sides as of late – the parking lots in Jerusalem, the question of enlistment to the IDF, the economic policies dictated by Shas, the issue of conversion, and the question of core curriculum at schools all pertain to the following fundamental disagreement: In Herzl’s and Ben-Gurion’s view, the State is the tangible expression of Jewish independence. Yet in the eyes of the haredim, the State constitutes a foreign regime, and just like in the Diaspora they try to get as much as possible out of it, while at the same time viewing it as a despicable force, whose future and stability are not a Jewish concern.
Therefore, Shas’ incredible level of corruption, for example, does not attest to the different nature of Shas members, but rather, to the weak inhibitions they have in respect to plundering the public coffers. After all, the “master” is good for benefits, but the rules it dictates are viewed as harsh decrees, rather than laws.
Hence, participation in the political game becomes a right to get benefits, rather than a right shared by all citizens. It is therefore no coincidence that spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef never spoke out against the corruption in his party: Adherence to the law is not a moral issue, but rather, a pragmatic one.
Yet just like the haredim feel responsibility for the fate of secular Jews in religious terms – they must convince them to re-adopt the way of the Torah – Zionism has a sense of responsibility for the fate of the haredim in political terms. It seeks to encourage them to become independent people – both in economic terms and also as partners in respect to one’s obligation to our state.
The child allowance fiasco
Hence, the disagreement over the core curriculum at Israeli schools, for example, is not merely a cultural dispute, but also a debate regarding the State’s ability to fulfill an important duty: Granting citizens the means to become independent – the kind of skills that would enable them to make their way and make a living in a modern economic world. The State’s capitulation on the issue of the core curriculum therefore constitutes a betrayal of its duty to Orthodox children.
Israel grants its minorities extensive cultural and educational autonomy, but it is not obligated to fund education that it believes to be harmful. The fact that we gave up on conditioning government funding for education on the obligation to follow a core curriculum at schools is a mistake in both moral and pragmatic terms.
Yet the capitulation on the child allowance front is much graver. Netanyahu secured the premiership because of this capitulation, and he is in fact aware of its price. As research showed a dramatic decrease in birthrates upon the annulment of child allowances, their reintroduction will amount to augmenting the Orthodox sector, while minimizing its ability to make a living.
What is the effect of child allowances? They turn the economic and pragmatic considerations of parental responsibility upside down. Instead of a person examining whether he can afford to raise another child, that person makes a living by producing more children. We cannot force the haredim to accept the principle of one’s responsibility for his own fate, but in this case we’re truly encouraging them to shirk their responsibility to become independent.
They rely on us, thank God. With our own hands we reduce our productive sector and augment the sector that needs to be supported. This is the real price of Netanyahu’s chair.