The new black

Op-ed: Israeli public's inability to distinguish between black skullcap wearers has created process of shared identity within haredi society

The haredi society is in a crisis. The new reality it has been forced into is leaving its mark. The new government is reducing financial resources, making a living is difficult and even political partnerships from the past have disappeared and been forgotten. New politicians have turned the haredim into a punching bag, and they are responding with a pashkavil war. Such moments of distress create a shared identity.


Identity clarification is a very Jewish phenomenon, with a lot of emotion. Identity is sometimes a choice, and sometimes compulsion. Poet Yehuda Amichai wrote that the Jews are a geological people, with rifts, collapses, strata and fiery lava. Identity changes in accordance with the intensity of the heat, and in the first years of the State of Israel Ben-Gurion considered using the fiery lava hear as a melting pot – creating a new and shared identity in which members of different denominations and factions fall in. Within the mixture of identities flooding the young state, the haredim in black were just another layer, nothing more. Jews like any others.


But Ben-Gurion's melting pot was a total failure, and the heaviest price was pushing the haredi society outside the camp – the State of Israel gave up on military service for those who are not Torah prodigies, gave up on integration in the labor market, and mainly gave up the Israeli clarification process.


The recent years have seen the development of institutions and conferences in Israel dealing with self-clarification and questions of identity. The question "who is a Jew?" has been replaced with the question "who is an Israeli?" And we even had such a talented writer here, who engaged in so many clarifications, that he eventually reached the position of finance minister.


But the haredim were not part of this process. They remained in the old identity. That's how they were left in the Israeli discourse. There was the man on the street – the average Israeli who likes falafel, Shlomo Artzi and "Givat Halfon Eina Ona" (Israeli cult film) – and there was them. The haredi issue was dealt with in the academia and studied in schools, and media outlets even appointed special reporters to cover the haredim. But the acquaintance remained superficial and distant, and the haredi society was perceived as a homogenous stream characterized by the uniform color of its clothing and thought.


Black is black?

The best examples could be seen in the media in the past two weeks, in the documentation of the enlistment to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion (known as Nahal Haredi) and the photos of those who desecrated the monument for soldiers killed in the 1997 helicopter disaster. In both cases, the cameras showed people wearing black skullcaps, in one case positively and in the other case negatively.


It doesn't take a thorough inspection to realize that the young soldier is being drafted clean-shaved, with short side-locks and only a black skullcap on his head. He is far away from the definition of haredi. It doesn't take extensive knowledge to understand that children who enter the water half naked, despite their black skullcaps, are not representatives of the haredi society, and definitely not of its modesty rules.


To a certain extent, the general Israeli public's inability to distinguish between black and black created a process of shared identity even where it doesn’t exist. Instead of encouraging multiple voices, the indistinctness leads to unity of the ranks. The haredi society is facing dramatic changes these days, and it has no other choice other than integrating willingly or under the law. It is no longer a minority, like it was in the Ben-Gurion era, but a mass affecting the State's nature and economic growth. In order to encourage the moderate voices and fight the extremists, we must first of all recognize their identity – and become familiar with them.



פרסום ראשון: 08.06.13, 19:57
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