Michael Boyden

He doth protest too much

Deputy Leader of the Knesset, Yisrael Eichler, of the charedi United Torah Judaism party is notorious for his controversial remarks.

Following a Supreme Court ruling back in 2016 that Reform and Conservative Jews should be allowed to use public mikveh facilities, he was reported as having compared non-Orthodox Jews with the “mentally ill”

He is quoted as having said: “The High Court can’t force a hospital to allow the court’s surgeons and the court’s medicines into the operating room. And, so, it is intolerable that the directors of ritual baths should have to allow organizers of Reform religion-changing ceremonies into a Jewish ritual bath.”

Given those views, it is hardly surprising that United Torah Judaism is part of a government coalition that is committed to clipping the wings of the Supreme Court.

Irrespective of where one stands on the issue of religious pluralism in Israel – a principle embodied in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, most thinking people will be aghast at his latest accusation that the charedim are living in a country where they have no rights(!)

“All they want us for is to pay taxes, city taxes and our debt to society,” he is quoted as having remarked.

Eichler did not mention the child benefits that he received, or receives, for his 14 children. More importantly, he fails to take into account the colossal sums of money allocated to the yeshivot and kollelim at the expense of Israel’s medical services, social services and educational system.

And if we are taking about “debts to society”, then how about military service? Eichler, incidentally, believes that compulsory military service should be abolished and proposed ten years ago that Israel should just have a professional army. I wonder why!

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics’ figures for 2019, secular Israelis paid six times as much tax as charedim. As for income tax, they paid nine times as much, while the charedi household was responsible for only 2% of income tax revenues!

All of this explains why the OECD warned Israel this week that the transfer of funds to non-productive sectors, such as diverting money from education without focusing on core studies and increasing subsidies without proper allocation to welfare, health and public order, is a grave error that Israel cannot sustain for much longer.

That may all serve to explain why Eichler chose this opportunity to attack the government of which he is a part and protest that all they want the charedim for is to pay taxes while they have no rights.

As we say in Hebrew: Ashrey Ha-ma’amin, which loosely translates as: Happy is the one who really believes that!

As Hamlet’s mother put it: “(He) doth protest too much”.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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