A (minor) religious earthquake

In the last month, the partnership between of Tzipi Livni and Yitzchak Herzog, the emergence of Moshe Kahlon`s party, and the corruption scandal surrounding Yisrael Beytenu have changed the Israeli political landscape.

What may have been missed is that a change in the religious landscape has also occurred, one that may be no less significant to the long term future of the State of Israel than the changing political makeup. Eli Yishai`s new party, by openly associating with the national religious community, may be creating a major shift in the Charedi community.

In the past, Charedi newspapers, spokesmen and leaders, have often been openly critical of other section of Israeli society, and the national religious community has not been spared from these attacks. Before the previous election, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef lambasted the religious standards of the Bayit Yehudi, and called the Jewish Home party “a House of Gentiles.” Another spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Shimon Cohen referred to the national religious community as “Amalek”. It has not been uncommon for national religious leaders to have had the title “Rabbi” stripped from their name in Charedi newspapers.

Yet now, Eli Yishai has brought the national religious community into the midst of his party. The Tekuma faction of the Bayit Yehudi nearly joined Yishai`s party, before voting against it last week. Currently, the only other member of Ha`Am Itanu except for Yishai is Yoni Chetboun, a national religious MK, who served in a senior unit of the army and was formerly a member of Bayit Yehudi. When Yishai spoke in Bnei Brak at a campaign event, he was talking a language that has never really been heard on the Charedi campaign trail – “I do not define people as Charedim, national religious, or secular – we are all Jews.” There were even reports emerging that this new rapprochement received the official approval of Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, the spiritual leader of Ashkenazi Charedi Judaism.

The traditional barrier that the Charedim placed between themselves and the rest of Israeli society has been partially removed. There is a long way to go before the relationship between the Charedim and secular Israeli society is repaired, but the events of the past weeks do indicate a definite shift. The normalisation of relations between the Charedim and the national religious community may mark the beginning of Charedi entry into wider Israeli society.

About the Author
Aron White, 22, is currently studying and teaching in Yeshivat HaKotel, whilst studying for a degree in Politics and International Relations through LSE.