One of the most prominent bloggers on this site recently wrote a piece entitled “Israel’s last chance to fix its Ultra Orthodox problem.” As a member of “ultra-orthodox” Jewry, I don’t appreciate my segment of society being defined as a problem. Imagine if the New York Times ran a piece titled “solving America’s Jewish problem.” Certainly, the title alone would be enough to make many Jews feel uncomfortable.
What’s most bothersome is that this article was handpicked amongst dozens to be promoted on the front page of the Times of Israel as a “featured post.” This was an interesting editorial choice for several reasons. Most strikingly, this article featured both the promotion of hatred based on religion and gross misinformation — which both happen to be violations of the TOI blog policy. Aron Heller managed to malign an entire group of Israeli citizens, of Jews, based on their religious affiliation while also grossly misinforming the public by claiming that the Ultra-Orthodox are responsible for spreading coronavirus to others through their flouting of the laws.
While it is undeniable that there are certain ultra-orthodox individuals that have flouted restrictions, it is equally undeniable that there are many other non-Haredi individuals that equally flouted the coronavirus restrictions including many politicians (ie Avigdor Liberman, Gila Gamliel etc) that famously were caught inviting their children and extended families to their homes in violation of Corona restrictions, when the rest of the country was sitting alone and suffering in silence. There were also many instances of parties being broken up in hotels, public parks and beaches and reports of cafes in Tel Aviv opening despite corona restrictions. The fact that Mr. Heller handpicked the Haredim for condemnation in this regard indicates that his analysis of the “Haredi problem” has little to do with objective analysis and more to do with personal bias against Haredi Jews.
Mr. Heller makes the very trite and sadly misinformed claim that the ultra-orthodox have large families and thus leach off of government benefits at the expense of the secular taxpayer. In reality, the amount of money the Israeli government spends on subsidizing university studies for each humanities student (which has a questionable benefit to the overall Israeli economy) far exceeds the meager support that it gives for each Kollel student. Furthermore, the amount of money that the Israeli government spends on its meager child benefits that helps the Charedi public is probably the most cost-efficient tool at its disposal in terms of ensuring Jewish population sustainability and growth. If Mr. Heller believes that Israel must remain both Jewish and Democratic, the only possible hope to sustain such a model is through population growth, to which the ultra-orthodox are the only significant contributors.
Perhaps the most interesting claim Mr. Heller makes is that ultra-orthodox political extortion is “empowered by Israel’s system of proportional representation.” In other words, the ultra-orthodox are taking advantage of the fact that Israel is a democracy, to vote, and thus affect policy in their favor. Kudos to Mr. Heller for perhaps the most subtly worded and sophisticated attack on democracy that I have read in quite some time.
On a more sympathetic and conciliatory note, when discussing the ultra-orthodox educational system, Mr. Heller noted: “But those most harmed are the vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox themselves, who are being provided few skills to cope with the challenges of the modern world” and he ends his article “It’s time to tackle this head-on with a broad coalition that seeks the wellbeing of everyone, including the ultra-Orthodox themselves.” You see, it’s actually his love for his fellow Jew, that compels his argument that the Charedim need to be marginalized and excluded from the political process. These people are so primitive and backward, that we need to show them, guide them and unfortunately even force them to comply with our standards of proper social, political, educational and religious life.
In the Western, liberal, democratic world this line of imperialist thinking has been abandoned and condemned long ago. Apparently, it’s still alive and well in the Times of Israel “Marketplace of ideas” in 2021.