One of the prominent and dominant politicians in Israel is parliament member Yair Lapid. Initially a media star in Israel, Lapid made his way into politics promoting an egalitarian agenda that required everyone to “carry the burden” of military service, calling particularly upon Haredi society, which refuses to take part in this effort. He was a shining star with his party “Yesh Atid” — “There is a future,” riding on the wave of controversy surrounding the Haredi community and its public image. And for the first time in many years, the Haredi parties remained outside of the coalition. During this term, the law requiring members of the ultra-Orthodox community to serve in the army also passed.
Recently, under the current government, in which Lapid and his party are in the Opposition and the Haredi parties inside the coalition, the proposed bill was postponed for several years. This led to a small storm in the media and in the Knesset. Supporters of the original bill argued that we, the general society, have once again surrendered to the separatist Haredi society.
But if we look closely, beyond the shallow clichés and slogans, we can see the beginnings of an ideological and sociological revolution in the Haredi world. And Israeli society as a whole may very well change because of this revolution.
It’s easy to miss this revolution. It’s natural that the ultra-Orthodox leaders, who are part of a conservative society that rejects revolution and sanctifies tradition, will deny it is even taking place. But de facto, there are no other words to describe it.
Sixty or a hundred years ago, the goals of Zionism were clear: aliyah (immigration to Israel), settlement in the periphery, and military service as an expression of the ultimate sacrifice. It appears, however, that ever since, the general Israeli society abandoned these goals. The question is, who is stepping forward to replace those first Zionists and redefine the aims of Zionism.
It appears that despite the stated goal of Lapid’s law of recruitment — to encourage Haredi participation in the armed forces — it actually did damage, reducing the number of ultra-Orthodox men joining the army or performing national service. Today, however, despite rejection of the bill, Haredi enlistment is growing to the extent that the army is considering establishing additional larger units for the Haredi population.
Trends in settlement and residency are also changing in the Haredi world. Where once these communities were found primarily in Bnei Brak and Me’a Shearim in Jerusalem, today we are witnessing a Haredi spread into periphery towns like Arad in the south and Hatzor Haglilit and Yavne’el in the north. In contrast, the IDF continues to have difficulty convincing career army officers — secular and observant alike — to move with their families to bases in the Negev.
So the ultra-Orthodox are joining the army and settling the land, fulfilling two of the earliest requirements of Zionism. What’s missing? Aliyah, whose aim is to establish a demographic reality in Israel. The Haredi community is fulfilling this mission too, with a high birthrate that will constitute the demographic reserves for decades to come. There are other areas where the trends are changing — in employment and education for example. More and more people in the Haredi world are opting out of life-long Torah study and a narrow Jewish education in order to become professionally marketable and self-sufficient. But these two areas impact on how well the Haredi community integrates into the rest of Israeli society. Participation in the armed forces, residency in more towns and cities and a rapid population growth will soon impact on the current hegemony. Some people might see this revolution as a threat. In my opinion it’s a fascinating change in Jewish history, placing the future of Zionism and the state in the hands of Haredi society. Maybe it’s time they took the lead?