In the 1950s and 1960s, following the State’s establishment, Israel’s leadership under Ben-Gurion’s guidance sought to create the “new Jew.” This was Zionism’s ultimate aspiration, a Jew who does not study the Torah all day like in the Diaspora, but rather, works the land, mostly disconnected from religion.
The creation of the “new Jew” was done through the “melting pot,” premised on the notion that secular society is best: “the society of light” as Moshe Sharett once referred to it, or the “enlightenment of education,” according to Ben-Gurion himself. And if seculars are the light, then the black-clad, primitive haredim constitute darkness. This is the direct continuation of the perception that modern times are an “era of light,” compared to the medieval darkness.
For years we’ve seen incitement against the haredim for not bearing the burden, not joining the army and not working. They were said to offer no contribution and harm society, by “only sucking the blood of the secular.” Such arguments usually do not offer facts. There is no mention, for example, that some 61% of haredim work, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Yet if a religious student at a Kolel is considered a student who does not work, why is a university researcher considered a worker?
In the mid-1990s, and mostly after the year 2000, the army started to take in haredim, yet encountered a serious problem – they are different than the rest of society. Leading rabbis and top military officials looked into the required needs and established the “Nahal Haredi” platoon, on the basis of the haredi distinction.
The haredim, as opposed to other soldiers, do not wish to interact with female soldiers, so there are no females. The food served in the platoon is strictly kosher (mehadrin,) and soldiers are given time for prayer and Torah studies. The platoon achieved stunning success, and within a year became a regiment. Meanwhile, we saw the launch of the Shahar project to integrate haredim into the Air Force. These soldiers were to face no women, receive kosher food, and have time dedicated for religion.
Radicalization mythHowever, the army, just like society as a whole, does not really wish to integrate the haredim. The military wishes to create a melting pot, thereby making the haredim like them. In other words, this is about secularization. This is what the secular and Zionist society did to Sephardic Jews (“the Mizrahi Shoah in Israel”), and this is what it’s now trying to do to us, the haredim. But not only to us.
The army was pained to see that 70% of cadets in the last officers’ course are national religious soldiers and settlers. Suddenly, the army realized that the military’s leadership is shifting into the hands of the religious, God forbid. The result was that our political and military leadership started to discuss the army’s radicalization in an orchestrated manner.
Suddenly they discovered that some cadets in officers’ course do not wish to hear female singling in official ceremonies because they are banned from doing so by Jewish Law. This is where it starts and ends. However, army officials immediately said this was about “exclusion of women” and “radicalization.”
It’s obvious that with more religious soldiers in officers’ course, more cadets seek to strictly adhere to Jewish law, and this has nothing to do with radicalization. In the past, they simply didn’t make it to officers’ course.
The army took a miserable decision in recent days, whereby soldiers will have to attend ceremonies even if these include female singling, and in violation of their conscience and religious beliefs. How could it be that the same soldier who does not wish to hear female singing has become the one who forces itself upon the others? After all, it’s the others who force these rules upon such soldier. Yet when resorting to distortions, everything becomes distorted.
By now, the army has brought in female soldiers to the Shahar project, and is also minimizing the number of hours earmarked for prayer and Torah studies. Moreover, the food is not always strictly kosher. By the way, workplaces that provide haredi men and women with a suitable work environment have achieved great integration. The conclusion: It’s possible, if we really want it.
Ohad Shaked is a history and civics teacher at a Tel Aviv high school