Beneath the radar, the number of IDF recruits and college students is growing. They are becoming more Israeli and less Haredi. What’s happening there is different from our image of them, and from their image of themselves. This column, for example, will be read by many Haredi, despite the immodest pictures in the newspaper. They listen to the radio, decode kosher phones to surf the Web or own another phone. They own a television openly or in the closet.
I know this is happening because the place I live in is located within a Haredi Bermuda triangle, between Beit Shemesh, Beitar Illit and Jerusalem. The revolution is there, and it’s big.
The two reasons for what is taking place in the past decade are completely secular: The housing market and the knowledge market. The apartments which can no longer be purchased as a dowry for marriage require another source of income. The Internet makes it possible to reach forbidden places like Wikipedia. Whoever reads online about the conversion of the Iturea and Edom people in the Hasmonean era (without a rabbinate, in one night), the “women’s gallery” in the Temple (where men and women gathered), the Theory of Evolution or Spinoza’s biblical criticism, will find himself asking philosophical questions. Money threatens the existence; knowledge threatens the spirit.
Revolutions are usually accompanied by a bitter battle, adamant gatekeepers and a street operating without a leader. This is reflected in the politics of 2017. The Western Wall or conversion crisis. The weekly Torah portion or any other dispute on state and religion issues.
Until the Haredi tweeters arrived
The plan for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall was finalized a year and a half ago. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was married to a convert through the Conservative movement, was familiar with the US Jewry’s distress. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who comes from a family which is partly Conservative, is even more familiar with their distress. Liberal Orthodoxy in Israel is identical to the Conservatives. The branding is different. Bennett is a younger and friendlier version of Netanyahu. They both have enough donors and supporters in the Diaspora.
In those distant days, everyone agreed. The Haredi parties expressed an official protest, but were okay with it. Bennett implemented the decision and built the Israeli plaza. The Reform Jews, by the way, didn’t show up in droves. It was all agreed and signed, and the land rested for four months, until the Haredi tweeters arrived.
Allegedly, the Haredim don’t surf the Internet and are not exposed to Twitter. Their phones are kosher. In practice, an entire Haredi world exists in social media—a world which sometimes creates crises like the ones concerning Shabbat or the US Jewry. This creates pressure on the Haredi parties, and then on Netanyahu, to cancel the Western Wall plan and approve the Chief Rabbinate’s Conversion Bill. Not a major strategy, just a small tweet.
Haredi public activists are stressed out about the opening of the kashrut market, about the opening of Religious Zionist conversion courts and about the Chief Rabbinate’s loss of power. Reform Jews scare them from afar, like an Indonesian is afraid of Jews although he has never seen any in his life. The revolution at home is more concerning because it’s part of life.
The absurdity is that Netanyahu, who understands politics very well and understands America just as much, fell into the trap. The original Western Wall plan included three clauses. The most important one was an egalitarian prayer space in the southern Kotel. The conclusions were already implemented during Bennett’s term as the minister in charge. The prayer space has been opened and it’s not about to be closed. On the contrary. The other two clauses, the entrance point and the site’s management are not important enough and could be settled through a compromise.
The Conversion Bill is a different and more absurd story. The Chief Rabbinate (which has a monopoly over conversions, according to the new law), refused to recognize conversions performed by Ivanka Trump’s rabbi—until her father became president of the United States.
The day after the government’s decision, a series of apologists rushed to defend the decision to cancel the mixed plaza, although it wasn’t even cancelled. Someone missed the point in order to defend Netanyahu. One day too late, following harsh statements from the US Jewry, Bennett woke up as minister of Diaspora affairs and began doing some damage control in a bid to repair the damage that he had helped create too. He met with leaders of the Jewish Federations and was criticized by the Haredim. He spoke about compromises, while Netanyahu was half silent and half spoke.
That same confusion of roles could be seen in the cornerstone ceremony for the Ariel University’s new medical school. Bennett sat next to Sheldon Adelson in the festive dinner, while Netanyahu decided to skip the dinner (he only attended the official ceremony), and instead met with Holocaust survivors at the Knesset. Adelson, by the way, is just one of many Jews who don’t exactly belong to the Orthodox community.
The main problem at the background of this Jewish tale is that in all surveys conducted in recent years, young American Jews are drifting away from us, assimilating and disappearing. It’s a huge failure of the US Jewry and of the Reform movement, which is the biggest movement there. It’s our failure too.
The arguments made against the Diaspora Jewry are correct. It’s time for them to stop whining, and if they want to make a difference, they should make aliyah.
Considering the fact that they don’t listen to my advice, and that the leaders of the State of Israel are afraid to tell rich Jews to make aliyah, the responsibility remains with us. It’s true that they have an important part in the relations between the countries. One day, Donald Trump won’t be president, and their great fear—and I hear this in every meeting I have with leaders of Jewish organizations—is that we will turn into one party’s interest. Today’s Israel is affiliated with Trump. The Democrats hate him so much, that we may become a rebound.
It’s true that they donate a lot of money, but that isn’t the story either.
We talk so much about sovereignty, yet we think like a shtetl in the Diaspora. It’s the State of Israel which has to contain the internal struggles in the Haredi society, the politics of the tweeters and the rabbis against what is happening on the street. It’s the State of Israel’s responsibility to find a reasonable solution for the Diaspora Jews.
This is the Jewish people’s nation state. Whoever believes that can’t treat millions of Jews like a problem of some tweeter and a political deal.