I responded by writing that I think there is a confusion here that misleads many members of the secular public. The Eda Haredit ultra-Orthodox sect is one thing, while the general ultra-Orthodox population is something else entirely.
The group referring to itself as the Eda Haredit is a collection of radical Hasidic camps that constitutes a ghetto within a ghetto: As opposed to most members of the haredi community, members of the Orthodox sect are unwilling to reconcile themselves to the State’s existence, boycott the elections, reject the authority of the rabbis, and object to the existence of ultra-Orthodox parties.
There are various estimates regarding the number of Eda Haredit members. A haredi affairs reporter I spoke with estimated that they comprise 70,000 people. This is a rather generous approximation. They are concentrated in Jerusalem’s haredi area, mostly in the Mea Shearim neighborhood, and also in the haredi neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh.
In Beit Shemesh, they sow fear among the moderate religious population there, and mostly among the women. For example, they vandalize benches posted by city hall along the street. Women are not allowed to sit and rest; certainly not in public. Women are also not allowed to travel on buses, unless they sit at the back and adopt haredi dress codes. This terror is also applied to businesses. Shops that failed to capitulate to their demands were torched.
In Jerusalem, the haredi terror against other haredim takes on a mostly political nature. A Torah school that agreed to host the mayor was immediately smeared and boycotted. Leaflets distributed over the weekend urged followers to boycott a religious newspaper accused of not sufficiently covering the sect’s protests. Meanwhile, functionaries who called for an end to the violence were widely condemned as collaborators with the evil Zionist regime.
Time for iron fist
The leaflets got the job done: The rabbis and politicians who are supposed to lead the ultra-Orthodox public are paralyzed by fear. One rabbi, Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss, the senior Eda Haredit rabbi, frightens an entire community. In the process he makes the life of police unbearable, causes economic and public relations damage to the city, and risks the lives of his own people.
Some haredi struggles can be respected and understood. Yet this is not the case with the fight against the opening of the Karta parking lot on Shabbat. This is a demagogic, baseless struggle held for spite. In respect to the Shabbat’s honor, it would be better for cars to enter the parking lot rather than to park on the sidewalks outside. Yet the Shabbat is not the issue in this fight, but rather, the haredi street. The Eda Haredit mafia is taking over.
A mafia should be treated the way other mafias are treated: Just like the police and courts are adopting – terribly belatedly – an iron fist against mob families, the same should be done with Rabbi Weiss’ troops. A total of 230 young people were detained during the riots. Up to now, dozens of indictments had been served. Those found guilty must be punished with the full severity of the law.
The State is a powerful institution. Until now, it allowed Rabbi Weiss’ community to conduct itself like a state within a state while completely disregarding the law. Perhaps the time has come to change policy, look into their funding sources, and send in investigators on behalf of the Income Tax Authority, the National Insurance Institute, and police units that handle money laundering. I assume that they shall not return empty handed.
The Eda Haredit radicals have the right to live their lives within the ghetto walls they built for themselves, yet the moment they seek to impose their Taliban rules on their surroundings – the haredi street in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, public transportation, and life in Israel’s capital – the State’s duty is to regain their sanity. Most haredim will never admit it, but deep in their hearts they will be grateful.