The Chareidi/Zionist Divide

For the sake of sanity, if nothing else, the Am Yisroel is entitled to a redefinition of Chareidi/Zionist divide. The Chareidim — as the ultra-Orthodox prefer to call themselves — have, for the most part, been grossly misunderstood on both sides of the Great Water. I suppose one must be grateful that in America the infighting hasn’t come to tit-for-tat to the extent that it has over the last two years in the Great State of Israel.

Old time xenophobia has a lot to do with it. You don’t really find qualified members of the chareidi community, save politicians, who are willing to talk to blatantly non-religious people, let alone journalists. Normal people, if you’ll pardon the term, are not about to open up to someone who doesn’t dress, eat or talk like them, especially when the interlocutor is pointing a hefty camera lens at the would-be native informant and recording their every utterance with a weirdly padded mike. Not everyone happens to be hot on the trail for his 15 minutes of glory.

A State of Denial

Every thinking person will agree that Zionist establishment of Israel is in a state of denial. Those in power have proven themselves staunchly dysfunctional when dealing with the fact that the Israel has both an Arab and a Chareidi problem. Probably the reason is that each of these other sides of Israeli plurality is in some way contesting the Zionist’s sole right to that peculiar piece of Levant real estate whose capital is unknown to the U.S. State Department and that Google Maps continues to refer to as Palestine.

This is the real, intentionally unspoken bone of contention behind the Chareidi/Zionist schism that has erupted anew over legislation to impress vulnerable chareidi youth into compulsory army service and criminalizing Torah study. From a chareidi standpoint, declaring the Tal Law to have been a breach in the Basic Laws and voicing quasi-moralistic demands for “equal shouldering” of the Zionist burden has but little to do with what has been a simple turf war all along.

Both a mandatory draft and enforced participation in the work force as a direct result of draconian legislation that hasn’t seen its like since the Nuremberg Laws are only ways and means of getting the chareidim to belly up to waning socialist ideas like manual labor and protecting the homeland when the crux of the matter is downright assimilation.

What present day Zionism is projecting is a policy of either pay up or cut out.

“Only a Call to Prayer”

Having kept an eye on the secular, non-religious Israeli and even non-Jewish international press, I’ve come to the conclusion that none of them has the faintest idea of what is actually happening in the field. A case in point is the media coverage of what happened on Sunday, March 2nd, when close to one million chareidim gathered in the streets of Jerusalem. The meeting was hailed as the largest number of Jews standing in one place since the destruction of the Second Temple.

Interestingly enough, it was the English-speaking commentator in the Aljazeera video who came closest. Alan Fisher noted that there was no anti-government rhetoric, “only a call to prayer,” but still fell short of the mark. What actually happened was that nearly all the able-bodied Chareidi Jews in Israel, except of out of town women and children,  spent their day and their energies for tomorrow in order to participate in a collective admission of guilt. The chareidim believe that only their failings in Torah observance could have brought them to this impasse.

Those present recited psalms and prayers consecrated by time immemorial, many wiping their eyes to clear burning, heartfelt tears, choking with emotion as they struggled to utter the words. Then after reciting a blessing on seeing so many Jews standing together at one time, a proclamation was issued in the name of the assembly demanding that the Prime Minister and his government cease and desist  all efforts to interfere with their private lives. Specifically, the proclamation addressed their right to learn Torah unharried by demands to serve in the IDF and called for a return to the status quo that had been respected since the founding of the secular state.

The above was followed by a declaration in the name of the assembly that all present would take upon themselves to resist all efforts by the authorities to force them to abandon their Torah studies to enlist in the IDF, calling upon all present to commit themselves not to cooperate with orders issued or to cave in to financial sanctions.

Apparently as a precaution meant to avoid the police brutality, water cannons and arrests that had marred the end of recent, smaller gatherings, they were then told to disperse quickly to their homes,  A small orchestra played, resulting in spontaneous street dancing among each of the groups present.

The organizers, seeking a highly controlled situation, turned to a chareidi PR firm that designed the only placards allowed at the meeting. Care was also taken that no specific names would be mentioned and no irreverence for political positions be displayed.

Logistics included the notable absence of a grandstand of chareidi elders and leaders, who instead were dispersed by twos and threes at second and third floor locations behind latticed windows on the periphery of the assembly. Those present on the ground were addressed from a podium built on the back of a semi-trailer, manned by a very few, well-loved roshei yeshiva not active in party politics.

Later I saw a printed placard from the assembly in English that said “Demonstration for Freedom of Religion,” stuck in the rail of a top floor balcony on Malchei Israel in Geula. I for one would be hard pressed to have called it that. True enough, the Chareidim and American-style freedom of religion are being repressed under the Zionist yoke, but it didn’t look like any kind of demonstration to me.

About the Author
Y.B. Fishel holds cum laude degrees from Princeton and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as written ordinations from members of Israel's highest, ultra-Orthodox authorities. His reason for being around ToI is to provide a chareidi insider's view of what's happening in Israel.