Michael J. Salamon

Kotel Standoff

There are so many easier, smarter and more efficient ways to allow all people to pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall, than the limited and restrictive approach that led to rioting this past Friday morning, an approach that seeks to completely eliminate a small group of women from having access to the holy site once a month. So many Haredi youngsters allegedly acting at the behest of their leaders screaming, whistling, throwing things and generally threatening a few dozen women made a scene that they say was a move to protect Judaism. This approach to intimidation has led to nothing more than condemnation from all other sides. As I understand it a compromise had been found but was somehow bypassed by the Supreme Courts’ recent ruling. But here is a newsflash – For some who have a rigid obsessive problem with their cognitive dissonance a compromise may never be possible, and these people may very well lose all credibility. Take for example MK Rabbi Yisroel Eichler quoted in the New York Times as saying “if the state of Israel fights ” the Hariedim “it may win, but it will be erased from the face of the Earth…There were thousands of seminary girls there (at the Kotel) today. Each one of them will have 10 children. That is our victory.” These incindiary words typify a base hatred for all the State offers and more importantly what the Jewish religion stands for.

There is more than that wrong with R. Eichler’s statement than the virulent animosity that is palpable in his statement. He is very likely wrong not just religiously but demographically, sociologically and psychologically.

Presently Haredim make up about eight to 10 percent of Israel’s population. If their birth rate continues at the present level Haredim will be approximately 30 percent of the population in Israel in about 40 years. If that is true than Eichler’s statement is a serious threat.  – down the road. But, that is a statistical statement not necessarily an accurate forecast of the future. A more accurate view would take into account that the Haredi birth rate dropped over the last 10 years and the birth rate among secular Israeli’s rose and is now among the highest in the world at close to three per family. Further, according to some sources, the drop out rate among certain Haredi groups is higher then ever. More people are leaving their rigid family and society and seeking different ways to approach their Jewishness. Using this data suggests that the Haredi threat of being the most dominant group based on birth rate may very well not occur for 70 years, if ever. In addition, one would have to take into account that lumping all the ultra-Orthodox into one cohesive group is nice for statistical manipulation but not a completely accurate presentation of all of the facts. There is a large and expansive group of individuals who are classified as Haredim that are not as militant as the media tends to categorize. Many of them want to see the State succeed, they join the military and are willing to become contributing members of the workforce.

All of these facts do not diminish the current reality that Hareidim as a group represent a large block of individuals that tend to think, vote and act in a block much of the time. And, much of the time their position is an extreme one. But, that may be changing.

The Haredi position is being met by a growing vocal opposition that has begun to push back politically and legally. This is more than the issue of where the “Women of the Wall” can or even should, be allowed to pray. This has everything to do with the issue of subsidizing individuals who seek to undermine the very society that cares for them. In the United States the argument against financially subsidizing individuals and helping them with food, shelter and other basic needs used to revolve primarily around the theory that by providing these services the government reinforced the idea among these groups that they are entitled to the assistance and they need not give back. There is some support for that argument but only among a very small segment of the population. Many view the government hand out as a hand up and take advantage of the support as a springboard to enhance their education, seek better employment and join the military or other government service. While there is always a hardcore segment of all societies that need charity to get by proper assistance combines support with a measure of balance – take what you need but give back as you can. This principal of reciprocity is a foreign concept to some in the Haredi world but not to many.

I can not predict the future but I do not believe that birthrate will destroy the State. Base hatred though just might and there is historical precedence for that.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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