Early this past week, I came across an article in the English internet version of Yediot Ahronot saying that Haredi activists are asking the mayor of Jerusalem to close the city’s famous Biblical Zoo on Shabbat (see: Haredim want Biblical Zoo closed on Shabbat). This certainly isn’t the first time that people in the Haredi community have tried to prevent certain institutions or places of commerce from operating on the Jewish Sabbath and it definitely won’t be the last. Indeed, I can tell you from my own personal experience that Jerusalem on a Saturday can seem like a ghost town. But of course, restrictions on many activities during Shabbat are not limited to Jerusalem.
Most daily activities, including grocery shopping, dining out, going to the movies, or even using public transportation are significantly curtailed in all parts of Israel, either because of religiously-based laws preventing such activities from taking place or because of pressure from local Haredi communities. In fact, this has been the reality in Israel since independence, though it’s a reality that many Israelis would like to change. It’s bad enough that many Haredim refuse to contribute to modern Israeli society by say, getting a job, yet these same people have the nerve to tell ordinary, hardworking Israeli taxpayers how they should live their lives.
It’s not like the rest of the Israeli public tells the Haredim how to live their lives, other than asking them to contribute to the country’s economy, which many of them still refuse to do. On the contrary, the rest of Israel’s citizens make the Haredi way of life possible since it is their hard-earned taxes that the government uses to pay the masses of unemployed and unproductive Haredim to sit in their synagogues and study the Torah all day. And how do these folks repay the Israeli majority? By gathering on the streets every Saturday to yell at, spit at, and throw stones at Israelis driving their cars, yelling “Shabbos! Shabbos!”
My response to the Haredim who insist on telling the rest of Israel how to live their lives and telling them what they should and shouldn’t do on Shabbat or other Jewish holidays is the following: No one is stopping you from living the way you want to live. If you want to live your lives according to how interpret the Jewish religion, that’s fine. If you want to continue walking around in your medieval Polish garb, speaking Yiddish and acting as if you are still living in the shtetls of Europe, then by all means, go ahead. But don’t insist that all Israelis must live as you do. Learn to live and let live.