Photo: EPA
Ultra-Orthodox voter in the 2019 elections
Photo: EPA
Israel's secular society is under attack
Opinion: Despite constituting a majority, secular and traditional Jews are weak and getting weaker in the face of increasing Orthodox power to impose their will on society, such as segregating the sexes
Former Israeli beauty queen Linor Abergil was selected to host the official torch lighting ceremony on Independence Day. Oded Alyagon, who retired from the bench 13 years ago, chose to mock her for wearing a head-cover fashionable in the Orthodox community.



Disparaging someone for their choice of clothes, whether a Haredi woman or a contestant in a beauty pageant, is of course wrong. The disrespectful comment, by a person who is not in the public eye, caused a huge amount of anger.


Linor Abergil hosts an Independence Day event (Photo: Herzliya Studios) (Photo: courtesy of Herzlia Studios)
Linor Abergil hosts an Independence Day event (Photo: Herzliya Studios)


Women of stature in politics and society decided to don Haredi head cover in solidarity, enjoying the publicity that followed. Even the spokesperson for the courts, in an unusual move, saw fit to call the former judge's comment "shameful".


In comparison, a recently reported incident involving a woman's attire received no such scrutiny.


A young woman clad in shorts was denied entry to a bus because the driver refused to allow her to board. He claimed she was inappropriately dressed and causing offensive to the religious passengers on the bus.


This was just one of many examples, but there are many more. For example, again on Independence Day, a young girl was invited to perform a duet with a singer, but was prevented from singing on stage so as not to offend the religious people in the audience. In the same vein, woman soldiers in the IDF are constantly banned from singing in public so as not to "offend" religious listeners.


These events are spared any outrage.


Now the institutions of higher education are being targeted. Orthodox students, in modest numbers, are joining universities and colleges. On the face of it, this is a positive change.


But as they join academia, they bring with them demands to separate men and women in classrooms, public areas and perhaps, down the road, even campuses.


A religious seminary for men only
A religious seminary for men only


Such separation goes against the basic values of the Zionist movement, namely the belief in equality, including gender equality.


Zionism, a secular movement, has since its early years supported women's right to vote and be elected, despite religious orthodoxy and the policies in place in 19th century Europe.


I have not heard of Haredi students joining universities abroad and making demands for gender separation. But in Israel, anything is possible.


These demands always come with a warning: you let us impose separation, or Haredi students will stay away, won't be educated, won't become productive members of the workforce, and will continue to be a burden on secular and moderately religious tax payers.


Israel should not give in.


Tel Aviv University's law department initiated a track for Orthodox students that takes into account the poor level of general studies many Haredi students are left with when they leave their religious schools. And despite the university refusing to separate male and female students at the law school, some religious students do choose to attend.


Secular society is under attack, as are its basic values. Non-religious and traditional Jews make up the country's Jewish majority. But it is a weak majority and under the current system of government, it is an under-represented majority.


A woman boards at the back of a bus in the predominantly Ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak (Photo: Shaul Golan)
A woman boards at the back of a bus in the predominantly Ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak


Haredi Jews are a minority in Israeli society, but they have and are accumulating and increasing their power.


In a new book entitled "The stories of Secular Jews", former justice minister Amnon Rubinstein tells, among others, the stories of Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud, who have contributed perhaps more than anyone to the world's cultual and scientific endeavors. All three were very connected to Jewish culture and history, but were still secular.


This force in secular Judaism, its culture and values, is what connects us with the various streams of Judaism in the United States, it enables us to absorb into our society Jews from former Soviet Union – without submitting them to DNA testing, even if only dad is Jewish.


I am not protesting the defense of Linor Abergil. But the lack of defense for all these other women, be it on a bus, in the army or on campus leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth.


The secular society that built this country, is under attack, and the question is, can it defend itself and fight for its values?


פרסום ראשון: 05.24.19, 14:49
 new comment
See all talkbacks "Israel's secular society is under attack"
This will delete your current comment