No longer outsiders. Haredim in Jaffa
Photo: AFP
Haredim aren’t outsiders
Op-ed: Haredi bashing must end, mainstream Israelis must change their attitudes

The ultra-Orthodox look different, live in segregated communities, want more from society than they contribute, and are growing at a rapid rate. Applying the status of outsider, however, to someone who is on the inside, is socially destructive. This is the primary problem with haredi bashing. They are no longer outsiders in Israeli society, but rather, central players in Israel's social and political environment.


It is clear that haredim deserve their share of societal goods as citizens of Israeli society, independent of their productivity. Second, in a Jewish state, the funding of some advanced Torah study, no less than many academic disciplines, is legitimate. Third, coalition politics always leads to sectorial overfunding. Fourth, Israel cannot afford a large and undereducated, under-productive segment of its society. To do so is to fund its own demise. Fifth, as the haredim increase their political power and benefits, there must be a parallel increase in their obligations.


At issue is not the choice between funding yeshiva students or the universities. The problem we face is that the discourse between the Zionist majority and haredim is one in which the Zionist community leads with political and economic considerations. But when you cede the ideological high ground you undermine your own position and make it impossible to impact those with whom you are arguing.


Time for real conversation to begin 

The haredi community needs to undergo a process of serious rethinking about its role in Israeli society. Haredim need to develop their own Israeli or Zionist narrative and can no longer continue to carry the ideology of the outsider while functioning as insiders.


They will not, however, rethink their positions unless the majority of Israelis demands that they do so. Israeli society must ask itself how it wants to integrate non-Jewish citizens, what relationship it wants to have with liberal Jews around the world, what a Jewish marriage means, what type of Shabbat it wants and how it wants to celebrate the Jewish calendar year in the public sphere. It must ask itself what are its commitments to modernity, and what must be demanded of all citizens who live in and benefit from this modern, democratic state.


A voice must ring forth loud and clear demanding that the ultra-Orthodox understand that the same freedom of religion they demand for their own lives will only be allocated to them to the extent that they accept similar freedom of religion for others.


Up until now Israelis abdicated much authority on social issues to the haredim for the sake of votes on foreign policy and the budget. Israelis must take responsibility for the nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The haredim are now sitting at the table; it is time for the real conversation to begin.


Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is President of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, Israel



First published: 11.05.10, 14:08
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