Is Israel on its way to Civil War?

If you followed the Israeli news these last few weeks, it feels as if Israel is on the brink of a civil war!

On the one hand, the “Hilonim” — the secular group.
And on the other, the “Haredim” — the ultra-Orthodox group.

These two groups are in constant clash over the fundamental things that make Israel a powerful democracy; “The shared burden” of participating the mandatory military service (most Haredi people avoid military service based on the “Torato Umanuto” exemption), joining the workforce (even though Israel’s unemployment rate is under 4%, Haredim participation rate in the labour force is 51%, compared to 89% in the rest of the Jewish population), and core curriculum at elementary and high schools (math, English, science and other basic subjects of study are often dismissed by the Haredi community).

(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

For Israelis, these two groups define the scale of the Jewish faith, where somewhere in the middle you’ll find the Religious Zionism (Dati Leumi), and the Masortim – People who perceive the preservation of the Jewish tradition and family customs, as an educational and a Family value (it is estimated that 30%-40% of Israelis, identified as such).

As most Israeli-Mizrahi-Jews, I grew up Masorti, and as most Israelis in general, the “Jewishness Scale” was something in between these two groups.

Only after arriving the States (or to be more exact, only after starting this journey), did I truly realize the Jewish spectrum was something much wider than I thought.

From the reform and conservative Jews on the one hand, to the messianic Jews on the other, there are entire groups of people, we, Israelis, were taught are just not “Jewish enough” (even though a lot of them are much more “Jewish” than me and a lot of other Israelis I know).

Why It Matters?

In 538 BC, nearly 50 years after the Babylonian captivity, came the Cyrus Cylinder, a declaration by the Persian king Cyres the Great, allowing a selected group of Judean exiles, to return to their homeland and reconstruct the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem!

Another half a century will pass before Ezra the-Scribe and Nehemiah would return to Jerusalem and start their religious revolution with the nation, banning mixed marriage (and enforcing it retroactively, forcing all Judeans to divorce their foreign wives), excommunicating those who refused to comply and even sentencing violators to death.

Credit - Zely Smekhov, 'Rebuilding the Temple'
Credit – Zely Smekhov, ‘Rebuilding the Temple’

The exiled Judeans looked down on the Judeans who stayed in the land during the Babylonian captivity and saw them as inferiors, and during the rebuild of the Temple, Nehemiah chose only a small group of families to help build the wall surrounding Jerusalem.

The Samaritans (one of the groups who stayed in the racks of the Kingdom of Israel, and descendants of the tribe of Ephraim and tribe of Menashe), offered to help with the construction work.

Nehemiah refused, and made sure they understand their not part of the “clique” (something that eventually lead them to distant themselves from the Jewish people entirely).

Some 500 years will pass before the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the second Temple. An event, which by the Jewish Rabbinic study, The Talmud, happened due to baseless hatred between Jews. The seeds for this division, as we can tell, can be found at much earlier time…

The Destruction of the Second Temple (Credit: Francesco Hayez - Wikipedia)
The Destruction of the Second Temple (Credit: Francesco Hayez – Wikipedia)

To conclude

You don’t need a PhD in political science to see the parallels with what’s happening today in the Jewish world.

We must understand the catastrophic outcome that could happen if the secular “State of Tel-Aviv” would disconnect from the haredic world, or that the American Jew would no longer see Israel as its second home.

Criticism and reforms are vital tools for building a more equal and just society for all. Yet it should be done from a place of involvement and engagement, with care and understanding to the other side, and not from a place of division and separatism.

Haredi and secular entrepreneurs attend a Kamatech high-tech forum event. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Haredi and secular entrepreneurs attend a Kamatech high-tech forum event. (photo credit: Courtesy)

“If the Second Temple was ruined because of baseless hatred, the Third one will be built thanks to baseless love”.

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About the Author
Lior Vaknin, is an Israeli entrepreneur, and is currently on a mission to promote Israel's Startup Nation in all 50 States, and share with local communities how Israeli tech can help turn anyone to an Hasbara expert and a mini ambassador of the state of Israel. He's a former paratrooper with the IDF and the founder of the largest Israeli-American tech community in New York - Israeli Startups NYC.
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