For the second time in the course of the current election campaign, senior United Right MK and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich has talked openly about his desire for the State of Israel to be run by Jewish law.
In June, he said he wanted to “restore our judges as of old,” “restore” Torah law to the Jewish state and for the country to be governed “as it was governed in the days of King David and King Solomon – by Torah law.”
The general perception is that it is ultra-Orthodox (haredi) lawmakers who are more stringent on matters of religion and state issues and more willing to wield their political power on such issues.
So why is it that the most prominent politician speaking about a halachic state, a state of Jewish law, is actually from the religious-Zionist community and not the ultra-Orthodox?
“The haredi belief is that we are still in exile,” said Avrimi Kroizer, a haredi political strategist and former adviser to former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. “On the ideological level, they do not believe that it is the path of God to bring the redemption through a secular state.
“Any participation and recognition in the haredi world with the state and with its institutions is a post-facto, flawed recognition with no ideological basis,” said Kroizer.
Eli Paley, chairman of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs and publisher of Mishpacha Magazine, puts it even more starkly.
“The haredi community is dedicated to Jewish law but doesn’t see a state, in its modern concept, as the right vehicle for promoting Jewish law,” he said.
“Jewish law is something the ultra-Orthodox want to implement in their daily lives, but it is not relevant to how a state should function.”
In short, the haredi community does not view the State of Israel differently from any other country where Jews might live, be in the US, Australia or anywhere in between, and see no religious significance in it or its establishment.
Therefore there is no grand vision of running the country in accordance with Jewish law.
The ultra-Orthodox parties do intervene on matters pertaining to the so-called status quo on religion and state, arrangements involving Jewish personal status issues such as marriage, Shabbat, independent education systems and kashrut.
But these issues were part of a set of guarantees made by David Ben-Gurion to the ultra-Orthodox community in pre-state Mandatory Palestine over such matters, and the haredi parties state, frequently, that they simply seek to preserve these arrangements.
THAT IS NOT the case when it comes to the religious-Zionist community, and specifically the hardline wing of the sector.
Rabbi Ronen Lubich, president of the religious-Zionist activist organization, points out that the founding principles of the religious-Zionist movement hold the State of Israel as something holy, the “foundation of the throne of God in the world,” as Rabbi A.Y. Kook, the founding father of religious-Zionism, expressed it.
“The State of Israel isn’t just an ordinary state for Jews or a refuge to protect them from antisemitism for religious-Zionism, it is meant to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” said Lubich.
Indeed, the religious-Zionist movement refers to Israel as the first sprouting of the redemption, an idea which anathema to the ultra-Orthodox community.
The rabbi also observed that in the early years of the state senior religious-Zionist rabbis such as Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah, a student of Kook, and former Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog openly talked of the application of Jewish law in the state because of the belief that the Jewish people needed to be redeemed not only physically through the establishment of a state but spiritually too.
These and other rabbis eventually stopped discussion such ideas in the 1950s when it became clear that they could not be implemented and would also frighten the secular public.
But in recent years, the hardline wing of the religious-Zionist community has grown in numbers and influence, and now leads the traditional religious-Zionist parties, as well as many yeshivas and educational institutions in the sector.
Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz, for example, is a student of Rabbi Tzvi Tau, president of the Har Hamor yeshiva in Jerusalem and one of the most senior and influential leaders of the hardline community, while Smotrich too belongs to this wing of the religious-Zionist movement.
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“It’s the last straw for the High Court’s justices,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked declared, calling their decision a “massive and mistaken intervention going to the heart of Israeli democracy.”
Leaders of the political right wing in Israel on Monday sharply condemned the High Court’s decision to ban Michael Ben-Ari of the nationalist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party from running for Knesset in the upcoming elections.
The 8-1 ruling disqualified Ben-Ari on the basis of his alleged incitement to racism against Arabs. One of the focal points in the debate before the ruling, for example, was his public statements questioning Arab citizens’ loyalty to the State of Israel.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the New Right party, vociferously criticized the move on Sunday night.
“The High Court crossed a red line this evening,” he tweeted. “They disqualified a man whose two sons serve in the IDF and authorized a party that backs terrorists [the Balad-United Arab List]. The judges have not left us any choice but to act, and strongly.”
His party co-leader, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, agreed, charging that the court had no business intervening in a decision made by the Knesset, which represents the will of the voters.
“It’s the last straw for the High Court’s justices,” she said. “They have changed themselves into political actors. The High Court’s decision…is a massive and mistaken intervention going to the heart of Israeli democracy,” since they overrode the vote of the Central Elections Committee that allowed Ben-Ari to run.
This is the first time that a Knesset candidate has been banned by the court from running after the Central Elections Committee had backed his right to do so.
National Union Chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) called a Knesset meeting on Monday to cancel the legal clause upon which the decision was based, considering that it was ignored when it came to the petition regarding the Arab parties.
“The Supreme Court justices disqualified a candidate due to his views regarding Israel’s enemies but approved parties which openly identify with Israel’s enemies. This distortion of justice must be corrected today,” he stated.
He went even further in a letter he sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top political leaders.
The ruling “places Israel together with countries such as Iran, which have a council of wise men that is authorized to decide, instead of the voters, who may and may not be chosen for parliament,” he wrote.
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Israeli Fundamentalism – Becoming More Like It’s Neighbors…
Those of us who are of Ashkenazi descent are ashamed to say that our alleged Israeli spiritual leader or quasi leader of sorts is not so different than his nearby radical Muslim leaders. As Lau has done with his disturbing comments regarding the Pittsburgh shootings, the nearby radical spiritual leaders of Islam judge and define their own by the level of faith of their religious adherents.
Rabbi David Lau has refused to refer to the synagogue in which numerous Jews were observing a Simcha and perished at the hands of a bigoted murder. Where is Lau any different than the Muslim leader who straps a suicide vest on a Shahid? In secret, we wonder, is David Lau relieved that there are few less of the unfaithful in the world?
If Israel’s Jewish religious leaders cannot stand up and respect their fellow Jews, be tolerant and inclusionary, where does Israel differ from any of its fundamentalist neighbors. There may be a place in this world for David Lau’s brand of Judaism. We sadly do not believe it is as a spiritual leader of the Jewish state, one on the verge of being de-legitimized by its Arab neighbors, again.
BREWING CONTROVERSY: PM Netanyahu Calls Pittsburgh Congregation a “Synagogue” After Chief Rabbis Did Not
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the 11 Jewish victims of the Shabbos morning massacre in Pittsburgh were killed in a “synagogue,” taking a veiled swipe at the country’s ultra-Orthodox chief rabbis, who had refused to designate the Conservative Jewish congregation as such.
The exchange exposed some of the recent strains between Israel and the more liberal Jewish Diaspora, even in the wake of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack against Jews in U.S. history.
The shooting has drawn fierce condemnations and calls for unity among Jews in Israel and around the world. Several ultra-Orthodox Israeli newspapers, however, refrained from calling Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue a Jewish place of worship since they don’t recognize non-Orthodox denominations, instead mostly referring to it as a “Jewish center.”
Similarly, Chief Rabbi David Lau told a local newspaper that the shooting attack was “unforgivable” but also referred to the Conservative synagogue merely as “a place with a profound Jewish flavor.”
In a tweet, Netanyahu seemed to rebuff him.
“Jews were killed in a synagogue. They were killed because they are Jews. The location was chosen because it is a synagogue. We must never forget that. We are one,” he wrote.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox often question the faith and practices of the more liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism, to which most American Jews unfortunately belong.
Netanyahu’s coalition government relies on the support of Chareidi parties and he has often had to capitulate to their demands on matters of religion and state. The Chareidi establishment views other strains of Judaism as too lax in many issues – such as Geirus and marriages, while American Jews have increasingly felt that they haven’t been valued in Israel as equals despite their ardent backing and identification.
A government decision to scrap plans for a mixed-gender prayer area at the Kosel, and insults hurled at those pushing for it, has led American Jewish leaders to warn that it could undermine their long-standing political, financial and emotional support for Israel.
The recent passing of a controversial law enshrining the state’s Jewish character, which critics at home and abroad say has undercut Israel’s traditional democratic values, has also irked American Jews, who increasingly find themselves at odds with the government’s nationalist, religious and pro-settlement bent.
Media personality Judy Nir Mozes published a tweet in which she criticized the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rishon L’Tzion HaGaon HaRav Yitzchak Yosef and Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi HaGaon HaRav Dovid Lau, following an article in which they refrained from referring to the Tree of Life Shul in Pittsburgh as a “synagogue” because it is affiliated with the Conservative Movement.
Nir Moses shared the article and called the chief rabbis “miserable. “People were murdered in the synagogue only because they are Jews, and you, you wretched ones, cannot even honor them with their death?”
Nir Moses added: “The God I believe in respects every Jew, even if he is a Conservative or a Reform Jew. Nir-Mozes turned to Rabbi Lau in a dismissive way and wrote: “Lau Junior, your father would not express himself like that, it’s a shame that the apple fell far from the tree.”
Yair Lapid, head of the centrist opposition Yesh Atid party, said the tragic shooting should serve as a reminder to “those who claim the Reform and the Conservative are not real Jews.” He called on the government to restore the mixed-gender prayer site and to recognize the conversions of all strains.
“The state of Israel bows its heads for their deaths, but this is not enough,” he said in parliament. “Not only in their deaths are they Jews like us, but in their lives. Not only in their deaths should the government respect them, but also in their lives.”
‘I want to be a doctor, not a rabbi’: how Israeli ultra-Orthodox are being drawn into work
His education was limited to religious study, first at a private school that barely taught mainstream subjects and later at a yeshiva, a religious school, where he spent 14 hours a day studying Jewish texts. Sabiner, a bright boy and an outstanding student, was earmarked to become a leading rabbi.
But he never forgot his dream. When he was 21 he confessed his ambition to his new wife. She was horrified: she had married him on the understanding that he would be a rabbinical leader. Also, he had no knowledge of science. But Sabiner’s yearning would not go away.
Now 28, Sabiner is embarking on the final year of his medical degree. He will be the first person born and raised in a Haredi community in Israel to become a mainstream doctor, and he plans to specialise in internal medicine.
Sabiner has benefited from a pioneering scheme at the Technion university in Haifa to draw young ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews from largely closed communities into mainstream education and then into the workforce.
The numbers are still tiny – about 60 out of a total student population of 10,000. “But the idea is to bring the number to 200 within five years, and to 400 within 10 years,” said Prof Boaz Golani, a vice-president of the university. “Engaging the Haredi community is important for Israel. Having a civil society where entire segments live in their own world and with little interaction with others is not healthy. It’s a recipe for tension and animosity.”
In 2017 the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel rose above one million for the first time, accounting for 12% of the population. By 2065 they are expected to make up a third of Israel’s population.
Traditionally, Haredi men are not economically active. Many spend their time in religious study, relying on state benefits to support their large families, which average almost seven children. But in recent years the Israeli government and educational institutions have taken steps to integrate the Haredi population into colleges and workforces.
“There was a concentrated effort launched a few years ago by the ministry of transport, which needed more engineers,” said Golani. If the Technion could get Haredi students on to its courses, jobs could be guaranteed.
“We knocked on the doors on yeshivas in Bnei Brak [an overwhelmingly ultra-Orthodox town near Tel Aviv]. We found a few rabbis ready to talk to us. The idea was to take young men who had the brain and intellect to meet the scientific admission criteria, and who were not perceived as chief rabbis of the future.
“We said we would not try to force any change of lifestyle of students, such as [strict] dress codes or praying. We kept a low profile.” Continue reading